Well, this is depressing news. I ran across that particular article recently, but there’s no shortage of a thousand other write-ups on the same subject—how sitting all day is making us unhealthy.
Read the last Seven Impossible Things on Kevin Henkes' 'Penny and Her Song.'
It makes all the sense in the world, but many of us have jobs that simply necessitate sitting at desks most of the day, such as, ahem, writing about children’s books. So, even though we know it’s true, it’s still a bummer to read.
A friend who’s a second-grade teacher visited recently. She told me that she did a quick, informal survey with her students about the number of screens in their lives on which they could, say, watch a movie, whether it’s a laptop, a monitor in their family’s vehicle, an iPad, etc. Two students in her class had over 25 screens in their home and car on which they could watch a movie or TV show. None of them had less than five, and only one had less than 10.
I’m not one to demonize A) working at one’s desk, or B) modern forms of entertainment for children, even if I will always prefer snuggling with my own children and reading aloud picture books and novels. But our sedentary, screen-filled lives are all the more reason to share Marilyn Singer’s latest poetry collection with our children, with the primary reason being that it’s simply a good book.
A Stick is an Excellent Thing: Poems Celebrating Outdoor Play delivers just what the title promises. Brimming with the joyful illustrations of LeUyen Pham (she depicts children here at their happiest), this poetry collection, to be released at the end of the month from Clarion, celebrates the beautiful thing that is imaginative outdoor play in the lives of children.
Whether it’s playing catch with one’s dog, swinging with wild abandon, catching fireflies, or running through the sprinkler, Singer captures the inherent exultations of being young and carefree in the outdoors. One of the book’s pleasures, in fact, is that she gets very specific in some poems, noting particular games: Double Dutch on the jump rope; jacks on the sidewalk; Monkey in the Middle with the basketball; a variation on Swinging Statue (my favorite as a child), involving a Sculptor and Clay; and more.
Framing the collection within the span of a day—Singer opens with a poem celebrating outdoor play on a summer morning and closes with a poem about stargazing—she includes variety in her poetic forms. There are rhyming couplets, there’s a poem for two voices, and there are other surprises in between (including one take on “Hey Diddle Diddle”).
Two weeks ago, I wrote about new picture books that address depression in children’s literature. Consider this the flip side: Pham depicts nearly every child in this book (and there are many) with huge smiles. Her digitally colored, pencil-and-ink illustrations are filled with movement and color. Kirkus’ starred review on this title notes the Ezra Jack Keats vibe in Pham’s art here, pointing out the great warmth. This is an observant point, but the penultimate spread is also its own Wild Rumpus, so throw in a note of Sendakian joy, too. In this, the book’s titular poem, the children parade with their sticks in hand, one boy with a crown on his head: “A stick is an excellent thing. / If you find the perfect one, / it’s a scepter for a king. / A stick is an excellent thing.”
Now, when you take the advice of health professionals and get up from your desk to get yourself moving for a bit during the work day, perhaps your legs can take you to the nearest library or bookstore for this collaboration from Singer and Pham.
It’s well worth the exercise.
Julie Danielson (Jules) has, in her own words, conducted approximately eleventy billion interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog focused primarily on illustration and picture books.
A STICK IS AN EXCELLENT THING: POEMS CELEBRATING OUTDOOR PLAY. Copyright © 2012 by Marilyn Singer. Illustrations © 2012 by LeUyen Pham. Published by Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York.