If you like poetry and picture books, there are some promising new titles coming your way in Fall 2015.
If concrete poetry is your thing (or something you teach to students on a regular basis), poet Betsy Franco and illustrator Michael Wertz will be back with a third collection of concrete poems—after 2009’s A Curious Collection of Cats and 2011’s A Dazzling Display of Dogs—in A Spectacular Selection of Sea Critters, coming in early October. Fans of the National Geographic Book of Animal Poetry (named a Kirkus Best Book of 2012), edited by J. Patrick Lewis, will be happy to see that the National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry is publishing in mid-October, with even more spectacular, full-color photographs from the folks at National Geographic and including a wide range of poets, once again selected by Lewis, a former U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate. And just a couple of weeks ago, Mina Javaherbin released Elephant in the Dark with illustrations from Eugene Yelchin. It’s not a poem, but it’s a tale based on Persian poet Rumi’s 750-year-old poem, the one that morphed into what is most commonly known as the story “The Blind Men and the Elephant.”
One of the most beautiful poetry offerings—indeed, it’s generally an outstanding 2015 picture book, no matter the genre—is Julie Paschkis’ Flutter & Hum/Aleteo y Zumbido: Animal Poems/Poemas de Animales. Lucky for readers, it arrived on bookshelves last month.
As you can tell from the title, this is a bilingual picture book, one that celebrates the animal kingdom. Each spread includes the English version of one of Paschkis’ original poems on the left, and the right side displays the Spanish version. There are poems about animals of both land and sea—turtles, crows, fish, owl, deer, whales, and more—and they strike a variety of moods. “Owl” is evocative and laced with mystery. (“A shadow whistles / through the grass. / A whisper.”) “Dog” is exuberant and lively. (“His wagging tail /fans wild happiness / into the wide world.”) And “Crow” is dark but infused with hope. (“He hops, / stops, / and stares / at a yellow umbrella—/ the only sun shining / today.”)
The poems are solidly good, and remarkably this is Paschkis’ first attempt at poetry. It’s also her first attempt at Spanish. She explains this in an informative closing Author’s Note. “[S]omehow I found myself writing poems,” she notes, “in Spanish and English,” despite the fact that she isn’t a native Spanish speaker. Years ago, she explains, while working on the illustrations for Monica Brown’s picture book biography of Pablo Neruda (published in 2011), she fell in love with Spanish. She adds:
Somehow my unfamiliarity with Spanish freed me to write poetry. I felt
like a visitor wandering through a forest of Spanish words, marveling at
the beauty of sound, meaning, and syntax.
When first composing the poems for this book, she would do so in Spanish and then translate them into English. When completely done, she showed the poems to friends who are native speakers, all in the name of proofreading.
The results are playful, inviting poems with artwork that incorporates both Spanish and English words into the spreads; often these words mirror each other in both languages. These are compelling words, many of them robust verbs or vivid adjectives, which reflect the poem’s meaning. The mammoth strawberry on the “Fly” spread is divided into half by the book’s gutter, and words like “FRESH,” “TEMPT,” “JUICY,” “GIDDY,” and “BLUSH” dot the strawberry’s left side, with the Spanish equivalents on the right. A large part of the book’s joy is exploring these words that are a part of the illustration’s architecture, much like what Paschkis did in the visually exquisite Neruda biography: there are words that stream in grasses, float in the air, adorn flower petals and leaves, and swirl in ocean waves. It’s a delight to see—and to share with children.
Beautiful. Hermoso. Either way you put it, it’s a splendid book.
FLUTTER & HUM / ALETEO Y ZUMBIDO: ANIMAL POEMS / POEMAS DE ANIMALES. Copyright © 2015 by Julie Paschkis. Published by Henry Holt and Company, New York. Illustration used by permission of Julie Paschkis.
Julie Danielson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.