Friday, April 29, 2011

The Rainbow Hand: Poems About Mothers and Children by Janet Wong

One thing that annoys me greatly is that so many wonderful poetry books for children go out of print in a short period of time. It’s frustrating when there are excellent poetry books that I’d like to recommend to people—but I know that they may not be able to pick up a copy for their classrooms, their school libraries—or for themselves.

A few years ago, Janet Wong decided to use the services of BookSurge to put her book The Rainbow Hand: Poems About Mothers and Children back into print. I was happy to hear that she had done that. The Rainbow Hand, which received a Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Honor Award, is a collection of touching—but not sentimental—poems that speak to the relationships between mothers and their children.

The Rainbow Hand: Poems About Mothers and Children
Written by Janet Wong
Illustrated by Jennifer Hewitson

When I asked Janet what had inspired her to write the collection she said: "I wanted to write a book honoring my mom. Andrew was 3 years old and I had just reached the point where suddenly I understood how much she'd gone through, all the work it took to mother me."

Janet’s Foreword from The Rainbow Hand:

I love my mother very much—now. When I was young, I liked my father much more than my mother, and let her know it. Daddy wasn’t busy cooking, too busy to play ping-pong with me. Daddy didn’t rush off to do the dishes, he told stories. He didn’t shampoo my hair, with the water running into my eyes. He never made me clean my room. He was fun.

Now that I am a mother—and not very much fun anymore!—I can see what my mother has done for me. Still, she can drive me crazy the way no one else can. Still, she makes me cry. But each time I wade through my three-year-old’s pile of toys, I wonder how my mother kept the house so clean. Each time I hand the whining little guy a piece of candy, I thank her for giving me a piece of fruit she grew herself.

I hope to follow her in the tradition of great mothers. I am glad I did not become a mother too soon, before I had seen a bit of the world. Now I am ready to walk in her shadow, bright with hope.

The first poem in The Rainbow Hand picks up where the Foreword left off—walking in a mother’s shadow.

From In Mother’s Shadow
By Janet Wong

I walk behind Mother
through the woods
not to touch the poison oak
she points to with her stick.

She sees snakes before
they move.

You can read the rest of the poem here.

Isn’t that what mothers do? Lead the way for us, teach us about the world, care for us, watch over us, help provide for our needs? Yet, there are times when we don’t show our appreciation for all our mothers do/have done for us. Janet Wong wrote this tribute to motherhood—which gives us the sour along with the sweet of mother-child relationships…but always with a respectful understanding of the mother-child bond.

In one poem, The Rainbow Hand, Janet writes about how a mother holds her baby in her “strong arms,” runs with her child so a cool breeze will be sent through his toes, makes an umbrella with her arm to protect her child from the rain…

And when lightning
flashes bright,
too bright,
see how she slips her hand
over his eyes,
her fingers curved

like a rainbow hand.

Janet gave me permission to print the full text of my favorite poem in her book—The Gift of Breathing Slow.

The Gift of Breathing Slow
By Janet Wong

The mother
holds her baby
and face to face
gives him
his first gift,
the gift
of breathing


She blows
his hair
like the ocean
flowing in waves
over the shore.

The baby breathes quick
and soft and shallow,
not even enough to make
water ripple.

And so,
the mother tries,
lying warm and still as a summer night,
breathing full as the moon,

in and out,

and soon
the baby is her echo,
breathing slow
and steady and deep—

his breath
a smile
in his sleep.

Is that a lovely poem? It takes MY breath away!

Jennifer Hewitson’s watercolor and scratchboard illustrations are bold and striking—and, like the poems—aren’t fussy. In their simplicity, they convey the emotions and feelings expressed in or the central core of each poem.

Here is something else that Janet wrote about The Rainbow Hand:

When I wrote the poems for The Rainbow Hand: Poems about Mothers and Children, I hoped to write a book that a child (eight or forty-eight) would want to share with a mother, maybe with a mushy little note tucked inside. Not all the poems in The Rainbow Hand are loving and sweet, though, and a few of the poems are even a bit angry at this meat loaf cook who ruins plans and nags about the messy house (as my mother still does). No one drives me crazy the way my mother can, this onion of a mother who makes me cry. But without her, who would I be?

When young readers and their mothers and fathers and uncles and aunts and teachers finish reading The Rainbow Hand, I want them to say, "Yeah, I love my crazy mother, too," as they sit down to write a poem of their own.

Now, I think I should sit down and write two poems before Mother’s Day—one for my mother and one for my daughter. I have another plan in mind, too! I’m going to write a mushy little note to my daughter, tuck it inside a copy of The Rainbow Hand, and give it to her when she has her first child! Won't that be a special gift?


Here is information that Janet provided me with about BookSurge (now called CreateSpace) and eBooks.

"I read an article about BookSurge, a print-on-demand publisher, at the time that my book A SUITCASE OF SEAWEED had just gone out of print. Less than a year later, THE RAINBOW HAND was out of print despite steady sales with all the school visits that I do. I thought about poor Karla Kuskin who, ten years ago, told me with such sadness that only a handful of her books were still in print.

The author of the BookSurge article raved about how easy the process was. EASY: one of my favorite words! All I had to do was send a Word file or even just a copy of the book to scan and—a couple hundred dollars later—my book would be brought back to life, available through, with a 35% royalty deposited in my bank account every month. THE RAINBOW HAND cost a little more for me to resuscitate because it is in full-color, but the process was the same, just a matter of weeks, requiring very little effort on my part, and I had a new listing. I had read good things about the Back in Print program of the Authors Guild, but their royalty was less, and I like the idea of 35%!

I have only two complaints. The main problem, with both books, was that BookSurge would not let me set what I considered an affordable price. They set initial prices of $9 and $13; I was able to negotiate a lower price of a dollar per book, but not more than that. I explained that many more books would sell if we could get the price down to $7, but they wouldn't do it. The second problem is distribution. Many people use, but not everyone; buying the book through other channels is possible but difficult.

BookSurge is now called CreateSpace, but is still affiliated with I haven't brought my other books back to life through CreateSpace as I'm more excited now about the eBook format and the environmentally-friendly aspect of no energy wasted in printing and shipping. By the end of next month, I hope to have GOOD LUCK GOLD, BEHIND THE WHEEL: Poems about Driving and NIGHT GARDEN: Poems from the World of Dreams available in the Kindle store and Nook store. In addition to feeling good about the lack of environmental impact of these eBooks, I'm going to be happy about their affordability; these books will probably be priced at $2.99 or $3.99. The initial investment of an e-reader is $115 or more, but a neat thing that many people don't realize is that you can download free apps at both and that allow you to read an eBook on your phone or regular computer. With the hundreds of free and affordable books in the Kindle store, it's possible to build a pretty substantial eBook library for the cost of 10 regular hardcovers. Of course we still need (and should still buy) our gorgeous hardcovers, but not everyone can afford to buy several dozen new $18 books a year."

NOTE: I want to send a giant-size THANK YOU to Janet Wong and Jennifer Hewitson for all their help!

Over at Blue Rose Girls, I have two original acrostic poems about the month of May.

The Poetry Friday Roundup is at The Opposite of Indifference.


Anonymous said...

What a great post. I appreciate all the information on BookSurge/CreateSpace, and also loved the poems and illustrations shared.

Bridget R. Wilson said...

Looks like a great collection. Thanks for sharing it just in Time for Mother's Day.

Linda B said...

Thank you for the review of The Rainbow Hand, a wonderful book, it seems, & just right for Mother's Day gifts! What I read was just lovely. And, congratulations on your re-issuing of your book, & more to come!

Jeannine Atkins said...

I'm sorry I missed The Rainbow Hand, and will look for it now. Thank you!

Janet Wong said...

Thank you so much, Elaine!

I really appreciate the fact that you mentioned an "old" book. With books going out of print so quickly today, it is becoming increasingly common to find out about them only after they've gone out of print. And yet how can we afford to snap up every title that we want to buy? Thank goodness for libraries (and these new ways of bringing books back into print)!!

Everyone: let's encourage kids to keep checking poetry books out of the library, even after National Poetry Month is finished. (How can it be that it's done and gone already?!)

Is there a way to make poetry books more popular choices for the "free reading time" that many have during the class day, or the "half-hour of reading" homework?

Andromeda Jazmon said...

I love those mother/child poems! They really speak to the complexity and nuances of these relationships. And I am really glad to learn of a way to keep poetry books in print. I am going to check that out further.

Janet, what I have seen at my school this month is that poetry month activities seem to build on each other. When I read more poems to the children and push the poetry books to teachers and parents, the other adults start reading more and assigning more and the children discover more that they really enjoy, they write more, and the love just goes around and around. Every bit of encouragement helps! Plus it's so fun to be part of the process & witness another generation discovering poetry.

Janet Wong said...

Andromeda: You are SO right. Poetry is like chocolate...taste a little bit, and you want more.

Now, for BREAKING NEWS: it's kind of creepy how sometimes emails will pop into your Inbox on the VERY subject you've been thinking/griping about, isn't it? This morning I got an email from CreateSpace, asking me to update my sales channels for THE RAINBOW HAND and A SUITCASE OF SEAWEED. Apparently, now that I've clicked some additional options, the books soon will be available to several more retail and distribution outlets, in print-on-demand form, and also (if I clicked correctly) in eBook form.

Most significant: I was allowed to lower the prices! The high fixed prices of the print-on-demand industry had been my biggest complaint. The lowest price that the computer would let me offer is $7.65 for each book. (I tried putting in lower prices, but kept getting a message saying $7.65 was the lowest legitimate price; how they arrived at that odd number is beyond me.)

If you happened to buy a copy of THE RAINBOW HAND recently at the old price of $12, let me know and I will send you a little gift! My email is