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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:
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."
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.
Two weeks ago, Borton Magnet School had a special visit from author Kate Bernheimer as part of the Poetry Center’s Matinee series that brings local writers into area schools. The students had been waiting for her visit, prepping by reading and writing poetry based on Bernheimer’s books for the past month. The students came with a list of questions for Bernheimer including “Where do you write?” “Do you make the pictures?” “Where do you get your ideas?” “Who is Xia?” Bernheimer answered their questions and read to them from a class favorite, The Girl Who Wouldn’t Brush Her Hair. Together, the Aloha and Earth rooms discussed the process of making the story with its author, who told them that she had gotten to read their class poems before coming to visit.
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.
What happened to the pint-sized pig who ran across a sleeping cat?
How does a baby t-rex feel about his condensed version of Alice in Wonderland?
What does a mini panda bear scaling a California orange have to do with poetry?
This week, as part of the Poetry Center’s Matinee series that brings writers to local schools, I had the opportunity to visit Borton Elementary, (thanks to teachers Kathleen Edgars and Caroline Castrillo Pinto who hosted the residency), where the tiny characters pictured above got to mingle with a group of first grade students who jumped head first into writing activities inspired by the work of Kate Bernheimer.
The tiny creatures here were part of a lesson plan that I developed with the help of my colleagues at the Poetry Center. The lesson was one focused on entering into the perspective of something minuscule through writing. One that mirrored some of the motifs found in Bernheimer's children's stories.
For this "Pre-historic" themed Family Days, we welcomed a hoard of young time travelers, who took poetry into their own hands with a variety of fun and exciting activities: they tapped out poetry on vintage typewriters, molded ancient fossil impressions, made early paper out of iron age materials, jammed at a stone age dance party, and added their voices to live songs and storytelling groups. They re-energized with snacks and dove right back in to our dress-up boxes, our bucket of leaves and petals, and our stacks of poetry.
We caught a few of these rare adventurers on camera as they passed through a curtain of vines and entered our video booth staffed by UA Honors students enrolled in a service learning course in partnership with the Poetry Center. Take a peek at one of the videos from our past Family Days! We'll be sure to post more of these videos, as we gear up for our next Family Days on Saturday, October 26th!
Dulton Children’s Books, 2003
Judy Schachner’s Skippyjon Jones might be one of the most delightful children’s stories I’ve read in the past year. The story cinematically comes to life on the page. The narrative surprises you, takes you on Skippy’s make-believe adventures, which are wildly playful and push the boundaries of play and imagination. With Skippyjon, there’s no telling just how crazy and fun the journey might be.
What’s most notable about this story is the attention to language, particularly in the form of its bilingual narrative. When Skippyjon jumps into his closet, he jumps into another world. In this story, it’s Mexico. And in this story, he is a Siamese cat, but by the power of his imagination, he transforms into a Chihuahua! When he travels down a long, dusty road in Mexico, he comes across a "mysterioso band of Chihuahuas” called the Chimichangos. Skippyjon renames himself El Skippito, and when he approaches the pack of dogs, they ask him:
Written and Illustrated by Janell Cannon
HMH Books for Young Readers, 2005
What happens when a crooked-winged cockroach, who moonlights as a skilled sculptor, gets bullied? Anything. Written by popular children’s author and illustrator, Janell Cannon, who’s famous for her book Stellaluna, Crickwing follows the journey of a little cockroach-fellow by the same name, who finds himself getting bullied by animals larger than him. In his angst, he starts to pick on animals—a colony of leaf-cutter ants, to be exact—who are smaller than him. This is a great book to read when discussing themes like bullying and friendship with youth. In addition to a strong and captivating story, Cannon’s artwork is absolutely breathtaking. She creates such tactile images in her art—the monkey's fur actually seems soft to the touch; the green tree leaves look like they’re covered with a mossy fuzz. Youth and adults alike will be charmed by this story and its incredible illustrations.