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We've enjoyed putting Wordplay together over the last four years, but now it's time for us to take a break so we can strengthen our resources and offerings. We're still here and planning to return soon. In the meantime, please check out our extensive archive, filled with insightful Recommended Reading Lists, Book Reviews, Interviews, Lesson Plans, and so much more.
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Photo credit: dmums, via Creative Commons on Flickr
Written by Mark Reibstein
Illustrated by Ed Young
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2008
A children’s story such as Wabi Sabi, might come across to readers as too philosophical for a child to understand. That is far from the truth. The book speaks quietly and deftly about how children often perceive reality. Children are more curious about deeper questions about life than adults realize. The author makes this clear through the musings of a Japanese cat named Wabi Sabi. She is on a mission, which is to discover the meaning of her name. She asks a dog and another cat. No luck. On the recommendation of a bird, she decides to travel to Mount Hiei to ask Kosho, a wise monkey. However, the monkey simply says, “Simple things are beautiful.” The cat goes home, not unhappy, but at peace with a name she simply is blessed to have in all its simplicity. But before she goes home, she spots a temple, and realizes that beautiful things do not have to be “grand” and “fancy.” Children exploring the meaning of their name will find joy and pleasure in the cat doing the same. I was happily lost in the quiet path of haikus that trail along the pages of the story, and with the astonishing art work representing trees, ponds, and mountains that makes up the landscape of Japan. It made me think of my own name and made me wonder, “What does it mean?” Toward the end of the book, Wabi Sabi is moved enough by his simple name to write these beautiful haikus that weave together into a beautiful poem after he sees the simple beauty of a palace:
In the introduction to Nancy Willard's A Visit to William Blake's Inn: Poems for Innocent and Experience Travelers, she writes about her first encounter with William Blake's poetry:
"I was seven and starting my second week in bed with the measles when I made the acquaintance of William Blake. 'Tell me a story about lions and tigers,' I said to the babysitter...Miss Pratt, the sitter...began:
Tyger, Tyger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?"
Two days later, Willard's babysitter anonymously sent her Blake's Songs of Innoncence and Songs of Experience with the following inscription:
Poetry is the best medicine.
Best wishes for a speedy recovery.
Written and Illustrated by Uri Shulevitz
Sunburst Books, 2004
The story opens with a familiar bleakness, the kind that one often finds in winter, before the snow falls:
"The skies are gray.
The rooftops are gray.
The whole city is gray."
But, then, some hope:
"Then one snowflake."
“At the first big party
we sometimes forget
that birthday bear
may end up upset.”
—Stan & Jan Berenstain, The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Birthday
One of my mother’s favorite anecdotes of me as a child is the story of my first birthday. I was a finicky, temperamental kid and she was a stressed-out new mom. She forgot I was allergic to eggs. I ate a piece of cake and broke out in hives. One of my fellow party guests thought it would be funny to lock me in the attic, so no one could find me. When freed by an adult, I was so upset I crawled underneath my crib with a jar of pickles, and my one-year old self ate them until I threw up everywhere—the party was awful. Three simple words now fully capture the complexity of the situation for me: TOO MUCH BIRTHDAY.
Fast-forward twenty-seven years, and this phrase is one I tend to use a lot. Whenever I’ve had too much fun, or become too overwhelmed, or altogether cannot handle the enormity of an any given situation, it’s become rather customary for me to whisper to a friend, too much birthday, and quietly exit the scene.
Written by Pat Mora
Illustrated by Raul Colon
Dragonfly Books, 2010
Doña Flor is the story of a giant-sized woman who could. Who could do anything. As a child, Flor's size often made her the brunt of jokes. But, as she gets older, the people of her village come to respect her. Doña Flor is a beautifully poetic story of courage and generosity, of looking at one's weaknesses and seeing how they can become one's strengths. In Doña Flor's case, it is her gargantum size. She takes her ginormousness and plays it up as a strength to help the people of her pueblo. Flor, an expert tortilla maker, makes tortillas for her pueblo's peeps. And they find other uses for the huge ones: "People used the extra ones as roofs. Mmmm, the houses smelled corn-good when the sun was hot. In the summer, the children floated around the pond on tortilla rafts." But her biggest claim to fame is saving her pueblo from the wild mountain lion who roars loudly, wildly around town.
The poems in Mites to Mastodons, from Pulitzer Prize winner Maxine Kumin, are seriousness about play. The language and the rhythms found in each one are fun and original and dance off the page with delight. One of my favorite poems, about an owl, reminds me of a story I once heard from a friend who told me that, when owls hoot at night, their call sounds like they're saying, "Who cooks for you?" So, as you can imagine, I was smitten when I came across this poem:
My favorite barred owl, who lives in the woods
nearby, wakes me, hooting, "Who cooks for you-u-u?"
And if I could hoot I'd answer, "I do-oo-oo
but I wish you could, you could, you could."
The Desert Is Theirs
Written by Byrd Baylor
Illustrated by Peter Parnall
It's hard to write a thematic reading list about the desert without including a handful of Byrd Baylor books. And who better than Byrd Baylor--a resident of both Tucson and Arivaca--to describe firsthand the sights and sounds of the desert. The Desert Is Theirs is the perfect book to get this reading list started. The book opens with poetic text, describing what the desert is not:
Written by e.e. cummings
Illustrated by Deborah Kogan Ray
Knopf Books for Young Readers, 1989
If all-hallow's-eve could be summed up in two syllables, it would be e.e. cumming’s hist whist. Accompanied by taut illlustrations from Deborah Kogan Ray, this reinterpretation delivers a mouthful that we’ll be chewing on for some time.
The book is one of the most sensory works of art that I’ve come across in a while, and it’s also the most simplistic. It takes us through a cast of some of Halloween’s greatest: ghosts, witches with warts, toads, mice, and, to top it all off, devils. In that sense, it’s traditional in its subject, but there is nothing traditional about e.e. cumming’s approach. The writing is quick and playful, especially with its cadence, rhyme, and onomatopoeia, as in the following: “histwhist/ little ghostthings / tip-toe / twinkle-toe.” You have to see it on the page to fully appreciate the affect. It’s skintight. It’s an image of three ghosts in bed sheets hovering over a moonscape of blue, one with a bright, yellow circle of light. Minimalistic in both language and imagery, it strikes a sort of primeval cord that’s the basis of fear and really the basis of Halloween.
The Poetry Center recently sat down with Iván J. Orellana, third place winner of the 2013 Corrido Contest. Iván had great insight into the Corrido Contest process, from entering the contest, to practicing for the performance, to performing at the Concert and Awards Ceremony. Below is our Q&A with him. The deadline for this year's Corrido Contest is December 2nd at 5 p.m. For more details and to submit, please visit our website.
Q: In your wonderful corrido, "La Gloria," you write from the perspective of a man who leaves his pueblo, and his wife and children, in search of a better life in the United States. Can you talk more about how you inhabited the voice of this narrator?
A: Well, first of all, I thank God I have not been through that experience in my life, but a person I admire, which is my father, did years ago. Although he did not leave a family behind, he made the dangerous journey, like many others. Another fact about this corrido is that I don't specify from which country the immigrant is coming from. I did this intentionally because the "immigrant" can be from any country, whether it's El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, and the list goes on and on. To inhabit the voice of the narrator, I had to take the responsibility of a father; I had to think like one and act like one. So I made a fusion of stories my father told me and the result was "La Gloria.”