Sharing the Seasons: A Book of Poems
Selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins
Illustrated by David Diaz
Margaret K. McElderry Books (an imprint of Simon & Schuster)
On shelves now
Yesterday I was frustrated. Very very frustrated. I’m a children’s librarian. Patrons tell me what they desire and I find just the right book for the right occasion. Recently a fellow walked into my children’s room with a simple request. He was going to read to a group of preschoolers and he wanted easy books on the seasons. This is one of those seemingly simple requests that can make your mind go blank faster than anything. After gaping like a fish for approximately a minute my brain started churning up a couple potential goodies from the depths. One such book was Sharing the Seasons: A Book of Poems. I figured that even if the kids were too young to hear all the poems, at least they’d like to hear some of them, and maybe get a little knocked out by the images. Alas, our copy was missing (grumble grumble grump) but at least I was able to conjure up a copy of Old Bear by Kevin Henkes instead. Just the same, I’ll be replacing our missing copy of Seasons and pronto. Here we have some of the finest minds working in children’s poetry today, selected for this magnificent collection of seasonal verse. It’s just the thing to welcome in a new time of year and say goodbye to the old. And the pretty pictures don’t hurt much either.
Four seasons. Twelve poems apiece. In this way, poet Lee Bennett Hopkins has culled a wide selection of poets and their poems, weaving their verses into a single book. Quotes from famous sources begin each season, as when we read Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s lusty “Spring in the world! And all things are made new!” With great care and timing, a passel of poets tap into those elements in each season that speaks both to child and adult readers. “Suddenly Green” by James Hayford says that “Our trees have grown skin / And birds have moved in.” Meanwhile Rebecca Kai Dotlich admits that she is “Bewitched by Autumn”, conjuring up Halloween with its “bits of legend in a broth”. By the end, every season has had its say, the last by Sanderson Vanderbilt tying it all together, speaking of the boy who shovels the dirty snow, “helping spring come.” Backmatter includes Acknowledgments, an Index of Titles, and Index of Authors, and an Index of First Lines,
I think I got my copy of this book after a different reviewer. I say this because inside my copy was a note with individual poems listed, one by one. Poems like “August Heat” by Anonymous and “Summer Sun” by Elizabeth Upton. I’m not entirely certain what these poems have in common except that each one presents a pitch perfect tone to the season in question. But then, all the poems do that. In some kids will recognize the truth of what the poem says as when Rebecca Kai Dotlich writes that a wild rainstorm is “proud as a prank”. Other times they’ll stop and just stare at a line that captures the feel of a season. Karla Kuskin’s poem about winter does that, referencing all the industrial uglies that are beautified beneath a snowfall. Best of all, that introspective dreamy quality a poem sometimes has (“Flashing white wings in the May sun.” – Carl Sandburg) are matched here by the equally dreamy and just as introspective pictures by David Diaz.
The illustrations are very much on display here and have been the source of quite a bit of conversation amongst the children’s literature fans as of late. Artist David Diaz has recently been rendering most of his children’s illustrations in the form of computer graphics. Indeed, the images you see in this book have had the hand of a computer at work. Some folks distain this method, and say that the technique ends up making all his books look the same (Diego: Bigger Than Life, Ocean’s Child, etc.). In contrast is another illustrated book coming out at the same time and also by Diaz. Me, Frida by Amy Novesky marks the first time Diaz has painted on canvass. The pictures in that book are acrylic, charcoal, and varnish on primed linen and they are utterly magnificent. Arguably Diaz’s best work. In contrast, there are the images in “Sharing the Seasons”. It is important at this point to take Diaz’s choices into context. For a book about Frida Kahlo, Diaz knew that computers just weren’t gonna cut it. There had to be actual paint involved. Seasons, however, requires a lighter touch. Literally. Diaz plays here with the quality of light. A sunbeam striking an orange leafed tree has a different feel from that of a cold and hazy spring morn. Everything glows in Sharing the Seasons because that is what the book requires. Diaz’s methods, therefore, suit his pieces. And even if you eschew computerized graphics, you have to appreciate Diaz’s command over the form.
As with any collection, I become interested in the editor’s choices. In this book, Mr. Hopkins needed to select and perhaps commission the poems found here. That would have required knowing what kinds of poets to make use of. Then he would have decided what order they would appear, within each season. There must have been a great deal of fun that went into placing “Don’t You Dare” by Beverly McLoughland (containing the lines “When you feel a poem coming – Think: Frog”) alongside Candace Pearson’s “Polliwog”. Once the order was selected, it was up to Diaz to create his own narratives. For example, the poem “Summer Sun” appears on the left-hand page across from the poem “The Fourth of July Parade”. The art, a blaze of hot oranges and yellows yields the jumbles and meandering silhouettes of figures that eventually resolve themselves into a definite parade of sorts.
Will kids like it? Well, let me put it this way. I grew up with a season book of my own as a child. It was Tasha Tudor’s A Time to Keep and it was chock full of poetry and some very adult quotes. Heck, the title page sported the sentence, “Time is the image of eternity” by Plato. And kids, I loved that doggone book. I loved it so much that I have it sitting on my lap again right now. Same copy and everything. Part of the allure was the food, I’ll admit that. Tasha Tudor made cupcakes look particularly toothsome. But the other allure was that here were the seasons coming, month by month, in a format that made sense to me. I loved seeing the changes, much in the same way that kids will enjoy the changes wrought in this new book of poems. Seasons are eternal and they tap into something deep inside our children.
One shouldn’t approach children’s literature with potential assignments in mind. That said, there are some ways of looking at this book that might be fun to do with students. For example, you could ask a kid to look at all the poems and then pick their favorite, one per season. Which one do they like the most? I think they’ll like quite a few, actually. Coming out in the same year as Bob Raczka’s Guyku, seasonal poetry clearly never goes out of style. There’s nothing wrong with tapping into the evocative with a child. They take in everything on some level. Best to give them enchanting books like this one, and woo them early with the power of poems.
On shelves now.
Source: Galley received from fellow reviewer.
Other Blog Reviews:
- Read the starred Booklist reviews as well as those from Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal.
- Carmen Oliver takes a second look at the book.