Friday, September 9, 2011

Poetry to Take You through the Year, Part 1

When I was an elementary school teacher, I was always looking for poems about the seasons, weather, holidays and special days that I could share with my students over the course of the school year. Today, I’m taking a look at some fine poetry books that take us through a calendar year…poetically.

Sharing the Seasons: A Book of Poems
Selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins
Illustrated by David Diaz
Margaret K. McElderry, 2010

This is a beautifully designed and illustrated anthology of forty-eight poems, which are equally divided among the four seasons. Sharing the Seasons has a wonderful variety of works on seasonal subjects, nature, and the weather—which includes polliwogs, flowers, the sounds of spring, the hatching of a snake, a Fourth of July parade, swimming, building a sand castle, a summer storm, insects, apples, a scarecrow, pumpkins, Halloween, Thanksgiving, snow, icicles, animals in the winter home they built, a deserted boardwalk. This compilation includes a wealth of “never-before-published” poems. In fact, twenty-nine of them were specially commissioned for this book! That’s what gives this book of poetry about the seasons such freshness. Open the cover of this anthology and you’ll “see” the seasons as you’ve never seen them before.

In one of the book’s first poems, Rebecca Kai Dotlich provides readers with directions in her Map to Spring, which begins like this:

Go straight to Seed,
Turn right on Bud,
Around a bend to Breeze until
You cross over Puddle…

In Beverly McLoughland’s Don’t You Dare, a Robin warns poets not to write another spring poem with a “redbreast in it”—and ends by giving the writer an idea for another poem subject:

Take your pad and pencil
To the reedy bog.
When you feel a poem coming—
Think: Frog.

Elizabeth Upton’s Summer Sun speaks for itself about the things it does:

warm blue-lipped lake children
freckle, burn and brown their skin
linger in the evening so they play

In Indigo Sky, Candace Pearson writes about how crickets “write a summer night” with their song that “slices through clouds,/seesaws off the rising moon,/bounces back from the stars.”

Terry Webb Harshman’s The Scarecrow Prince describes a scarecrow that appears shabby and forlorn…until the shines upon him. Then he’s transformed:

But when the sun
   shines down on him
his golden hair
   and friendly grin,
it seems to me
   a prince reborn—

Royal Keeper of
   The Corn.

The threat of snow prompts autumn to go out of business in Beverly McLoughland’s Closing Sale.

From Closing Sale:

Bumblebee’s out browsing
Nectar’s almost gone,
It’s Autumn’s final bargain days
With winter coming on.

Joan Bransfield Graham’s Boardwalk in Winter is a boarded-up, bare, deserted place that’s "swept by cold/and salty air/the ocean’s/roar/is all that’s loud,/an echo of/last summer’s/crowd."

In Marilyn Singer’s Cat, a feline speaks contentedly about its preference for staying indoors in the December:

I prefer
warm fur,
a perfect fire
to lie beside,
a cozy lap
where I can nap…

Sharing the Seasons is an exceptional anthology that I would definitely have considered a “must have” for my classroom library when I was teaching.

David Diaz’s stylistic mixed-media illustrations are gorgeous. Diaz used color skillfully to evoke and to impart a flavor of the seasons. His illustrations are both brilliant and subtle. They serve as a perfect complement to the fine poetry.

Days to Celebrate: A Full Year of Poetry, People, Holidays, History, History, Fascinating Facts, and More
Compiled by Lee Bennett Hopkins
Illustrated by Stephen Alcorn
Greenwillow, 2005

Days to Celebrate is another excellent anthology from the master of children’s poetry—Lee Bennett Hopkins. This book is a “soup-to-nuts” compilation of poems about various and sundry subjects—famous Americans, holidays, weather, nature, the seasons—that would be an excellent resource in an elementary classroom. The poems in the book are organized by month. The February section includes poems about the groundhog, love, and Marian Anderson; the July section includes poems about a Fourth of July parade and the Statue of Liberty; and the November section includes a poem about Thanksgiving and an Iroquois prayer.

Each of the sections opens with a calendar of that month with interesting facts noted on it. For example, the January calendar informs us that Paul Revere’s birth date was January 1, 1735, and that the state of Georgia was admitted to the Union on January 2, 1788.

One will find the works of some of the “poetry greats” of the past (Browning, Frost, Dickinson, Tennyson, Eliot, Lear, Stevenson)—as well as the works of well-known contemporary children’s poets (J. Patrick Lewis, Janet Wong, Bobbi Katz, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, X.J. Kennedy) in this anthology.

Previously reviewed at Wild Rose Reader and Blue Rose Girls
Swing around the SunWritten by Barbara Juster Esbensen
Illustrated by Cheng-Khee Chee, Janice Lee Porter, Mary GrandPre, and Stephen Gammell
Published by Carolrhoda Books/Lerner, 2003

Barbara Juster Esbensen, the recipient of the NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children in 1994, is one of my favorite poets. Esbensen, who passed away in 1996, was a master of imagery and a true wordsmith who used language in elegant and inventive ways. I was ecstatic when one of her out of print poetry books, originally published in 1965, was reissued in 2003. The new edition of Swing around the Sun is a lovely book with full color illustrations created by four different artists.

Swing around the Sun is a collection of poems about the four seasons. Each of the book’s four artists illustrates the poems for a particular season: Spring poems are illustrated by Cheng-Khee Chee, summer poems by Janice Lee Porter, fall poems by Mary GrandPre, and winter poems by Stephen Gammell. This collection is one of just two books of rhyming poetry Esbensen penned. (Her other book of rhymed poetry is a delightful collection entitled Dance with Me, which is now out of print.)

In Swing around the Sun, Esbensen captured the different elements of the four seasons in her fine poetry: the fading of winter as birds, rain showers, and warmer days return in spring; the lightning storms, fireworks, and yellow of summer; Halloween, golden leaves, and the “pointed flavor in the air” foretelling a dramatic change in the weather at the end of autumn; snow, ice, and the steely cold of winter. One feels the passing of a year when reading through this collection. The book’s four artists, for their part, have captured the essence of Esbensen’s poetry in their illustrations.

From Yellow:

Yellow pollen
Dusts the breeze,
And yellow
Lights the summer trees.

A yellow buzzing
Prints the air;
In dappled yellow
Dreams the pear.

And from the finch’s
Yellow throat
One golden, flowing
Yellow note!

The Wind Woman

The Wind’s white fingers
Are thin and sharp,
And she plays all night
On any icy harp.

On her icy harp
Of stiff, black trees,
She plays her songs
And the rivers freeze.

today and today: haiku by Issa
Illustrated by G. Brian Karas
Scholastic, 2007

In his note to readers on the verso of the title page, Karas explains that he selected and arranged eighteen of Issa’s haiku “to tell the story of a year in the life of an imaginary family.” I think this story telling approach works well. As we read through the book from beginning to end, we experience the passage of the four seasons with three generations of a loving family. We see members of the family enjoying the weather and appreciating the beauty of nature with each other and privately.


I’ll describe one illustration from each of the seasons to give you a sense of the art in the book. I will also include three of Issa’s haiku that Karas selected for today and today.

A Spring Illustration: An old man, the grandfather, sits under a blossoming cherry tree peeling an orange. The haiku that appears on the page with this picture reads…

Just being alive!
—miraculous to be in
cherry blossom shadows!

A Summer Illustration: The father, son, and grandfather lean on a fence and gaze over green fields at dawn.

An Autumn Illustration: Two children, a girl and a boy, are shown offering chrysanthemums to their grandfather as he sits near the bare cherry tree in their yard, which is blanketed with golden leaves. The haiku that accompanies this picture reads…

How well we have slept
to feel so fresh this morning,
dear chrysanthemums

A Winter Illustration: The parents and children visit a grave as snowflakes fall over a cemetery.

The final haiku in the book brings us full circle and back to spring again:

As simple as that—
spring has finally arrived
with a pale blue sky

In the accompanying illustration, the granddaughter sits in the chair under the blossoming cherry tree—as her grandfather had done the previous spring.

For his art in today and today, Karas combined a number of different materials: rice paper, wood plank, pencil, and paint. There’s a simplicity to the illustrations. They are not busy; they do not overwhelm the haiku. There’s also a softness to the colors and the shapes. Like the haiku poems included in the book, each of Karas’s illustrations captures the essence of a single moment in time.

Karas portrays a kind of innocence and sweetness in today and today. This is a little gem of a poetry book that is perfect for younger children—and is one that may help them to develop an appreciation for haiku.

Click here to look inside this book.

Our Seasons
Written by Grace Lin and Ranida T. McKneally
Illustrated by Grace Lin
Charlesbridge, 2006

Our Seasons is both a poetry and an informational book. In it, we follow a multicultural group of children named Ki-Ki, Owen, Lily, and Kevin through the year. This book has an attractive layout. Each two-page spread has information about the seasons and weather written by McKneally and a haiku written by Lin. McKneally provides her information in a question and answer format. Her prose is clear and concise. The questions include the following: Why do leaves change color? Why do I see my breath? Why do bees like flowers? Why do fireflies glow?

Lin’s haikus are child-friendly and would serve as good models for a classroom haiku writing activity. Here are two of her poems:

Ki-Ki sees her breath
She pretends she’s a dragon
Blowing out hot steam.

Lily hears thunder.
“You don’t have to yell!” she calls.
Still the sky grumbles.

The illustrations in Our Seasons are done in typical Lin style—with a palette of bright colors, with lots of different patterns, and with swirls in the sky. The exuberant pictures of children raking leaves, climbing trees, building a snowman, and catching fireflies on a summer night help to unify the poetry and prose. This book is a neat little package that would make a wonderful resource for a kindergarten or primary grade classroom.

Click here to look inside this book.

One Big Rain: Poems for a Rainy Day
Compiled by Rita Gray
Illustrated by Ryan O'Rourke
Charlesbridge, 2010

One Big Rain is one delightful little anthology of poems about rain that takes readers through the year. It was a NCTE Notable Poetry Books of 2010.

Click here to read my review of the book.

Click here to look inside this book.

The Cuckoo’s Haiku and Other Birding Poems
Written by Michael J. Rosen
Illustrated by Stan Fellows
Candlewick, 2009

The Cuckoo’s Haiku is truly one of the finest books of seasonal haiku for children that I have ever read. It’s a wonderful amalgam of lovely haiku about birds, exquisite realistic watercolor paintings showing the different birds in their natural settings, and factual information about the avian creatures in the back matter of the book.

Click here to read more about the book.

Click here to look inside this book.

Red Sings from Tree Tops: A Year in Colors
Written by Joyce Sidman
Illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski
Houghton Mifflin, 2009

In Red Sings from Tree Tops, Joyce Sidman gives readers insight into colors through her novel approach to writing about them. Sidman takes a seasonal look at BLUE and YELLOW and RED and GREEN and other colors—and shows us what they embody during different times of the year.

Zagarenski received a Caldecott Honor Award for her stunning mixed media illustrations that draw readers into the seasonal lives of colors. Her illustrations and Sidman’s evocative poetry are perfect pair.

Click here to read my review of this book.

Click here to look inside this book.

The Poetry Friday Roundup is over at Secrets & Sharing Soda this week.


Jeannine Atkins said...

What a great way to start the school year. You make me want to go back to school. With you as the teacher, please.

Michael J. Rosen's The Hound Dog Haiku leapt from the shelf at me because I'm dog crazy and Azarian crazy. But now I see I must order The Cuckoo's Haiku, which I missed. Glad this also includes endnotes, which I loved in Hound Dog. That could be the key to new improved winter bird watching!

Mary Lee said...

Wow! If you had just these books on your poetry shelf, you'd be set for the year! Great recommendations!

laurasalas said...

So many fabulous seasonal poetry books! I loved Sharing the Seasons last year, and Swing Around the Sun (the remake) is on my top 5 picture books of all time list! And of course Red Sings and others you've mentioned are fabulous, too. Off to put Our Seasons on reserve right now. Thanks!

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GatheringBooks said...

I have a feeling that I would be leaving the library tomorrow with all the poetry books that you just recommended. While I lovelove everything (particularly the Diaz illustrations that you shared), I seem to have an affinity with One Big Rain. Will look out for this one.

So beautiful to be taken to such a rich rich collection of poetry books. I shall repost this in my google plus and twitter account. Too valuable a resource to pass up. :)