Seasonal Poems with a Twist (National Poetry Month)
April 15, 2021 § Leave a comment
I have a soft spot for picture books with poetry organized by season. I’m not sure whether I’m particularly drawn to nature poetry, or whether these types of poems just tend to dominate picture book publishing. All I know is that back when my children were smaller, when there were at least twelve extra hours in every day, it made me happy to track the changing world outside our window with delightful little nuggets of word play.
Consequently, no shortage of wonderful poetry picture books has appeared in these pages. I’ve sung the praises of When Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All Seasons, Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems, A Child’s Calendar, and Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold. And, of course, we can’t forget the meaty anthology, Sing a Song of Seasons: A Nature Poem for Each Day of the Year, which, given how many of you have reached out to me, remains one of the most popular books I’ve recommended (just wait until you see its follow-up, coming next fall).
With so many good titles, you might think there would be little need for more. But you haven’t seen the treasure 2021 has dropped in our laps. Beautiful Day! Petite Poems for All Seasons (Ages 4-8) features Haiku-inspired poems by Rodoula Pappa, alongside art by favorite French illustrator, Seng Soun Ratanavanh. It turns out we were missing something. In those earlier anthologies, the visuals accompanying the poems are largely literal. By contrast, Beautiful Day! infuses seasonal poems, still lovely and lyrical, with a touch of the fantastical. The abstract. The fanciful. There’s a playfulness in these pages, where a child paints rainbows in the sky, butterflies become lanterns, and origami birds take flight. The line between reality and imagination becomes deliciously blurred, as we see the natural world through a child’s eyes, up close and personal.
(If I’m being honest, Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors, by the stellar team of Joyce Sidman and Pamela Zagarenski, does something similar, though with an entirely different aesthetic. The two books would make a fun pairing.)
Beautiful Day! begins with five poems for spring, then follows the sequence of the seasons, as a black-haired child in blue-printed overalls explores the ever-changing outside world. Ratanavanh employs similar artistic techniques to those she uses in the Miyuki books (I reviewed the first of that series here and the latest on Instagram yesterday), juxtaposing bold colors and patterns against a crisp white backdrop and taking influence from Japanese fabric and paper wherever she can.
Look: in the sky
they blossomed again,
The expected springtime image of blossoming flowers is given a fun twist, as red, yellow, and blue kites sprout alongside the greenery in a pot. At the center stands the child with a watering can.
The next poem—the title poem, in fact—is matched with an even more abstract visual: a cloud of geometric shapes, perched on by the child, whose pockets overflow with black birds taking flight. Here, too, we begin to identify the child’s voice in the poems.
Teach me, too, how to fly,
The illustrations frequently blurs the line between poet and subject. In this next spread, the child wears a mask in the style of the butterfly wings on the page.
On tender wings,
As we transition into summer, straight out of the gate comes a giant yellow labrador. Again, not the first image that comes to mind when we think of summer—and yet, the picture perfectly conjures up the daze of a hot summer afternoon, this dog asleep beside the child in a field of clover.
What a deep sleep!
On puppy’s nose,
Fireflies are more expected, to be sure; and yet this next spread, one of my favorites, is an excellent example of the way Ratanavanh manipulates scale to immerse the child in the natural landscape in inventive ways. Is the barefoot child reading aloud to the fireflies, towered over by the reeds?
Among the reeds,
a new galaxy—
As we move through the four seasons, we discover the title spreads always depict the same bird house, in various stages of completion and surrounded by cues of seasonal transformation. Here is the one introducing autumn, otherwise known as show time for my favorite tree, the gingko. (Though gingko leaves turn only yellow in real life.)
Winter arguably brings the most playful visuals to date. The first poem is a seemingly straightforward one about a first snowfall, though the accompanying illustration is anything but. Yes, the child shovels a snowy front walk, surrounded by snow-capped trees, but closer inspection reveals the snow is actually the sweet icing of a layer cake, set on a doileed plate.
they fall softly, they melt,
They fall softly…
In another, there’s a classic snowman, but both snowman and child are miniaturized, perched atop the snowy forehead of a grey donkey.
Even your ears,
covered with now,
By the book’s end, we have come to understand that the child is part creator, part participant in this marvelous universe of color and pattern and living things, ever shaping, painting, tending, and playing. The natural world might surprise and delight, but so does a child’s imagination. And when the two converge, there’s no end to the fun.
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Review copy from Princeton Architectural Press. All opinions are my own. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases through the links above, although I prefer we also shop local and support our communities when we can.