What This July Needs

July 23, 2014 § 1 Comment

Firefly July by Paul B. Janeczko & Melissa SweetFor all the reading that we intend to do with our children in the summer, many of the days pass instead in a sweaty haze of shifting feet, slamming doors, and long afternoons at the pool. By the time our little ones are ready for bed, their eyelids (and mine, if I’m being honest) are too heavy to sustain more than a few pages.

For this Reading Deficit Disorder that hits right about July, I have just the prescription, which you will want to dish out to your own family, as well as wrap up for all those summer birthday parties. I’m talking about POETRY! Poems are the answer! Allow me to introduce the delightful and timely-titled anthology, Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems (Ages 5-11), with poems selected by Paul B. Janeczko and spectacular mixed-media illustrations by Melissa Sweet (yes, I’ll say it again: I adore everything that Sweet puts her hands on).

This is not the first (or second) time I’ve celebrated seasonal poetry, although these poems are quite different from, say, Muth’s original haikus in Hi, Koo!: A Year of Seasons. These republished poems span the twentieth century and include many of the Greats, like William Carlos Williams, Langston Hughes, Robert Frost, and Anne Porter. That’s right: these are not children’s poems. They are everyone poems. Most don’t rhyme; many take some puzzling to figure out; and all of them rely on just a few words to convey loaded meaning. The gift—the real gift here—is that by lending a visual interpretation to each one, Melissa Sweet has made these poems accessible and relatable to children. The other gift, of course, is that each one is just a few lines long, the perfect antidote for restless bums or closing eyes.

Take the poem “Sandpipers,” by April Halprin Wayland, where “Sandpipers run with/ their needle beaks digging—they’re/ hemming the ocean.” I just love Sweet’s collage with the fabric-swatched beach towels and the busy sandpipers up front, poking wavy lines of perfect little needle holes in the sand.


One might easily pass right over Carl Sandburg’s three-lined poem, “Window,” about gazing out into the night from within a moving railroad car, if it weren’t for Sweet’s stunning double spread with snapshot views of imagined sights outside a train window (my kids love pointing out things they notice in each window).


While we have been especially enjoying the summer selections, like J. Patrick Lewis’ “Firefly July” and Emily Dickinson’s “The Moon was but a Chin of Gold,” there’s something kind of awesome about recalling (or anticipating?) the damp fog of fall in James Stevenson’s “Screen Door,” or the chill of winter in Ted Kooser’s “Snow Fence.” At the moment, my kids’ favorite poem is Joyce Sidman’s “A Happy Meeting,” which describes what happens when rain meets dirt (first, “soft, cinnamon kisses,” then, “marriage: mud”).


In all honesty, my daughter may be more drawn to the polkadotted tights and striped rain boots, both front and center thanks to another of Sweet’s brilliant plays with perspective; but at three and a half, Emily’s still a bit young for such abstract language. JP, however, is on the cusp of falling in love with poetry, and he’s especially intrigued by how non-threatening these shorter poems can be to read aloud (I talk more about poetry’s lure for early readers here). For him, the idea of something like rain kissing dirt is unpredictable and silly and, well, pure magic. Much like the fireflies that light up his summer evenings and occasionally take the place of a bedtime story.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one copy of this book free of charge from Candlewick. I was not required to write a positive review in exchange for receipt of the book; rather, the opinions expressed in this review are my own.

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