As we look ahead this weekend to Daylight Savings Time, which will roll out the red (or, more accurately, green) carpet for spring and bring us extra daylight in our afternoons, I’m looking today at When Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All Seasons, a new children’s poetry collection from Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Julie Morstad, that celebrates all four seasons.
There’s certainly no shortage of picture books about the seasons, but this one is exceptionally good. Fogliano has already proven with both And Then It’s Spring, which won her an Ezra Jack Keats Award, and If You Want to See a Whale—both illustrated by Erin E. Stead and named, respectively, a Kirkus Best Book of 2012 and 2013—that she’s a children’s poet to keep an eye on. Each of those previous books constitutes one poem, spread out over 32 pages. In this new one, we are treated to a collection of Fogliano’s evocative free verse poetry, accompanied by Morstad’s delicate, child-friendly paintings, which feature children in the natural world.
The tomato-red endpapers are a lovely tribute to the book’s very title. Fogliano and Morstad then kick off the collection with poems about spring, with a date (minus a year) attached to each one (to be sure, Fogliano certainly doesn’t have a poem for each and every day of the year, or it’d be a tome), followed by summer, fall, and winter. The book proceeds in this chronological, month-by-month manner, expertly capturing the whole range of feelings that can accompany the seasons of one year.
The poems here are E. E. Cummings–esque with things like a disregard for capitalization and parenthetical comments nested throughout. I learned, as I read these poems aloud to my own daughters, that my youngest is way too subservient to the rules of punctuation and finds it hard, in particular, to accept the lowercase “i.” She twitched nearly every time she saw one, which made me laugh (though we also discussed why some poets choose to do this), and I appreciated that these poems challenged those perceptions. Unless she gets over this—it’s likely, although those poor souls uninitiated to lowercase “i”s just need a bit of time to acclimate—it’s pretty safe to say she won’t be reading Cummings’ collections as a teen, unlike her mother.
Now, where was I? Oh, yes. The poems also showcase playful language, the kind children will delight in. There’s the “muddy mud” of late March; the “blowing-est” snowstorm of a February in winter; and the orange “feet-le” of a white duck who stops to “eat-le” in mid-November. (This entire “November 17” poem, dominated by an infectious rhythm, begs to be read aloud.)
The poems are also infused with vivid imagery, engaging all five senses of the child reader. Why, you can “taste the sunshine / and the buzzing / and the breeze” while eating berries in mid-June. Better yet, when you’re deep into summer, you could possibly taste sweet peaches if you could take a bite out of the very morning itself. (What a delicious idea!) You can smell lilacs in early May; that is, after all, what you’re supposed to do with a nose at that time of year. You can feel the summer heat that “drips / hot and thick like honey,” touch the mushy pumpkins of October, hear the sound of the last leaf of autumn falling. (For the latter, illustrator Morstad captures this beautifully in a spare, rather haunting spread.) There are even the songs of flowers in early June: “a song much more than purple / and beyond every red.” As for the glorious sights of the season, they’re abundant. There are the flickering fireflies of summer, the vibrant leaves of autumn, the always-moving life in the grasses of early July, and much, much more.
The precise imagery is peppered with appealing moments of figurative language. A crocus sits in the snow, “just like a tiny, blue hello.” You can see mountain tops in winter, likened to furry hats, as well as experience a quiet day in late January, where you stay in and the house “sounds like slippers.” These moments represent Fogliano’s strength as a poet; she brings to readers a fresh, new awareness of our world—all in ways that are never too earnest or cloying.
She also personifies elements of each season to great effect. From the brokenhearted birds of rainy April days under a sulking sky; to furious strawberries—and even roses—impatient for summer; to a December morning, where snow arrives on tiptoes, Fogliano stirs the imagination of children. She even personifies, delightfully, the entire month of October, imploring it to get back in bed: “your sneezing woke december.”
The poems strike a variety of tones as well, from contemplative, in a poem about how you feel staring at the ocean, to funny, in a poem about the intransigence of cows. All in all, this entertaining collection would also make a superb writing prompt for children in elementary classrooms and libraries. Show children the thought-provoking September 10th poem about what a star is, and have them write their own. Language arts gold.
The book starts and ends with the same poem, bringing everything full-circle, fitting for a book about what’s caused by the earth’s yearly journey around the sun. These opening and closing illustrations feature the same child, tree, and bluebird, but the final illustration shows the child just before the events in the first illustration. It’s a smart and inviting way to organize and design the book.
A captivating addition to any picture book library, this is one for enjoying all year long.
WHEN GREEN BECOMES TOMATOES: POEMS FOR ALL SEASONS. Copyright © 2016 by Julie Fogliano. Illustrations copyright © 2016 by Julie Morstad. Published by Neal Porter Books/Roaring Brook Press. Illustration used by permission of Julie Morstad.
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.