Hibernating with Poetry (Joyce Sidman Style)
February 26, 2015 § 2 Comments
News flash: right now, under your very own backyard or front porch, there could be as many as 20,000 garter snakes huddled together, using the body warmth of one another to wait out these cold winter months. SAY WHAT? If you think I’m exaggerating, I’m not. And now you, too, can be reminded of said news flash by your seven year old every morning as you leave the house. All thanks to one of twelve poems in Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold (Ages 6-12), the latest lyrical and visual masterpiece by poet Joyce Sidman and printmaker Rick Allen.
Thankfully, Winter Bees IS a masterpiece, so you won’t mind reading about snakes, which may or may not be lurking in “hibernaculums” beneath the ground on which you tread (if you remember, our snake obsession started here). Thankfully, too, most of the poems in Winter Bees are more beautiful than creepy, inspiring awe for animals like tundra swans, moose, beavers, moles, and chickadees, as well as frosty events, like ice crystal formation.
Joyce Sidman has long been one of my favorite poets for the elementary crowd (see her other books at the end of this post), crafting odes to the natural world that are packed with figurative language both compelling and accessible to a young audience. Unlike much of the poetry targeted at this age, Sidman’s poems are neither silly nor funny. Like the natural wonders that she describes, her poems soar, move, and transcend. And the best part? You’ll be astonished at how much your children’s minds absorb and expand while reading them. Take “Dream of the Tundra Swan,” the book’s opener about swans preparing for a migratory flight:
That night, we dreamed the journey:
ice-blue sky and the yodel of flight,
the sun’s pale wafer,
the crisp drink of clouds.
My seven year old doesn’t tolerate my pausing for discussion after every poem, but I’m usually able to milk a few. “What do you think they mean by ‘sun’s pale wafer?’ I ask. “Because the sun is round like a cookie,” he responds. “And why would it be a ‘pale’ cookie?” I ask. “Because it’s not very bright that day? Because sun in the winter is kind of dull,” he offers. And then he adds, of his own accord: “I never thought that you could taste water if you flew through a cloud and you weren’t in an airplane—that’s cool!”
While us adults often shy away from poetry, children—if given the chance—often run towards it. Think about how non-literal and non-linear children’s minds are, how front and center their imagination is each time they take in the world. Is it any wonder that poetry has been called the language of childhood? Is there better proof of this connection than discussing Sidman’s poems with your children?
But Joyce Sidman has gone the extra mile here. She has not relied on poetry alone to teach children about the hidden secrets of the winter world. She has paired each poem with a fact-filled paragraph that enhances through juicy, relevant details. Honeybees, my children were shocked to learn (because when was the last time you saw a bee in the snow?), actually remain active throughout winter, eating their way through stored honey supplies and “shivering” on especially cold days to generate warmth inside the hive.
No plug for this unique book would be complete without acknowledging the impact of Rick Allen’s stunning, take-your-breath-away illustrations: a winter wonderland like no other. Blending old and new art mediums, each image has been cut, inked, and printed from over 200 linoleum blocks; colored by hand; and, finally, digitally scanned and layered on the computer. I’ve always been drawn to woodblock printing, but…wow. Just WOW. This is winter at its best. This is the winter of our dreams (NOT the winter that Boston has been having, nor the ubiquitous school delays and sub-zero wind chills.) It’s the perfect contrast of warm oranges and chestnut browns against the crisp white snow. It’s the twinkling, ethereal effect of snowflakes caught on a moose’s fur. It’s the bare white branches of trees against a purple sky-filled night. It’s OMG GORGEOUS.
Read from start to finish, Winter Bees takes us on a journey from the beginning of winter to the first hints of spring (can we have a Halleluiah please?). As the days lengthen, the chickadee calls out announcing a new nesting season. Skunk cabbage “peeks up through the snow:/ the first flower in the wood./ Wreathed in an eerie purple glow,/ up through the slick of soggy snow,/ smelling of rotten buffalo.” Tiny flea-like creatures called springtails (with anti-freeze in their bodies!) burrow up through melting snow and somersault into the air, celebrating the change of season (“we have to move!/ we have to spring!”).
As much as I love wintery books like this (all the better to read to my children under the covers or with a hot mug of tea in my hand), I know I’ll feel akin to the springtails in a few weeks, more than ready to catapult my family into spring.
Other Favorite Poetry Picture Books by Joyce Sidman:
Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature, illus. Beth Krommes (Ages 4-8)
Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors, illus. Pamela Zagarenski (Ages 5-10)
Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night, illus. Rick Allen (Ages 6-12)
Song of the Water Boatman and Other Pond Poems, illus. Beckie Prange (Ages 6-12)
Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow, illus. Beth Krommes (Ages 6-12)
Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature’s Survivors, illus. Beckie Prange (Ages 6-12)
Review copy courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All opinions are my own. Amazon.com affiliate links are above, although I prefer that we all shop local when we can!