Poetry Friday: Light Caught Inside

h1 May 9th, 2008 by jules

I’m going to stray a bit this week from the usual share-a-random-poem moments on Fridays, which are always lovely, and tell you about two new picture books: The second is written in rhyme (rhyme that won’t make you want to gag)—and it just so happens that it’s an exemplary book for the wee, wee, wee’est in your life—and the first is by a picture book author who has been reading and writing poetry with children for many years (and who is also a visiting poet in schools), Susan Marie Swanson. And a beautemous book it is, indeed. I also snagged a spread from each book so that I can show you some of the art work inside.

To Be Like the Sun by Susan Marie Swanson and illustrated by Margaret Chodos-Irvine (Harcourt, April 2008) is written, it’s safe to say, in a free verse style (I see that School Library Journal refers to it as free verse, too—“lyrical free verse,” at that). In this luminescent book, which celebrates both the sensual and abstract joys of summer, a young girl ponders a little sunflower seed in her hand:

“Hello, little seed,
striped gray seed.
Do you really know everything
about sunflowers?”

The girl then proceeds to break up the earth to plant her seed, considering the “real work down in the dark” the seed does:

“Not radish work or pumpkin,
not thistle work—
sunflower work.
All the instructions
are written in your heart.”

Continuing to address the seed—and the flower it becomes—throughout the book, the girl delights in the wonder of metamorphosis — from seed to flower. But, as the days get longer and she nurses her flower (as well as celebrates it — “Now you’ve made your own sun up over my head!”), she also notices the seasons change and continues to wax philosophic:

All these seeds—are you tired
of holding them up?
What makes them so heavy?
Is it light caught inside?
There are so many—
more than all the days of summer.

Eventually, having taped a photo of the sunflower on her fridge during the cold, crisp days of winter, she considers the sunflower seed again, “smaller than a word,” remembering how hard the seed worked to sprout and grow, how hard the flower worked to be like the sun.

Now, I ask you: How beautiful is that? And Chodos-Irvine works her usual magic of line and, this time, lots of circles (she “juxtapose{s} images of sunflower and sun and emphasize{s} curving circular shapes that reinforce the recurring progression of life, the seasons and day and night,” wrote Kirkus in their starred review). Using what she calls a variety of nontraditional printmaking techniques and materials, she brings to vivid life the girl’s wonder and the sunflower’s radiance. I love Chodos-Irvine’s books and could pore over the shapes she creates for hours. Don’t miss this one, which happens to be the perfect spring- and summer-time read as well. It’s especially for those whose hearts are set on gardening and growing, and if you’re planning sunflowers (pictured here is one of ours from last year), consider it a must-read.

Another book whose illustrations have their own particular “light caught inside” is Cynthia Rylant’s Puppies and Piggies, illustrated by Ivan Bates (Harcourt, March 2008). Bates is a master of the rounded, comforting line, illustrations that are sweet and endearing without being maudlin — one of your go-to illustrators for picture books for the wee’est of children.

Rylant takes us through the barnyard and to all the animals there and what they love (and what they love to do) — from Puppy to Kitty to Bunny to Chicky and much more. Here’s Puppy’s spread (“Puppy loves the farmyard, / Puppy loves the rain”):

With a simple, sing-song rhyme, she takes us at the book’s close to baby:

Baby loves his blanket,
Baby loves his bed.
Baby loves his mama, who will
Kiss his sleepy head.

And on the final spread, with Baby napping quietly in his room (making this a good bed-time read), we see all the farm animals gathered at the window, watching over the wee babe. Publishers Weekly wrote in their review,

Working in watercolors and wax crayons, in panels and vignettes, Bates . . . animates the verse with an unapologetically anthropomorphized cast of creatures: his Bunny lounges against a gardener’s workbasket as it snacks on lettuce leaves; his Mousey clasps pretty leaves in its paws as it gazes, enthralled, at a ladybug overhead. It’s almost as if a particularly cute stuffed-animal collection had been the models.

But I think that’s what the very youngest of readers wants sometimes in these books. This is perfect for that board book crowd (though it’s not a board book at all). Also a good story-time read-aloud choice for your preschoolers or kindergarteners — even toddlers will be enamored with it.

Happy Poetry Friday to one and all . . . The Poetry Friday round-up today is over at writer2b’s Findings.

Top spread: Illustration from TO BE LIKE THE SUN by Susan Marie Swanson, illustration © 2008 by Margaret Chodos-Irvine, posted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.

Second spread: Illustration from PUPPIES AND PIGGIES by Cynthia Rylant, illustration © 2008 by Ivan Bates, posted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.

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8 comments to “Poetry Friday: Light Caught Inside”

  1. To Be Like the Sun is lovely, isn’t it? And Susan Marie herself is just like her book!


  2. Jules,

    I love TO BE LIKE THE SUN. Swanson’s lyrical language and Chodos-Irvine’s illustrations are perfectly paired.

    I also love the illustrations of Ivan Bates. One of my favorite books to read aloud to preschoolers in my library was Judy Hindley’s DO LIKE A DUCK DOES. Bates’s illustrations in that book are a pure delight!


  3. I *reeeeallly* like the illustrations on the Sun book, I love cut paper illustrations almost as much as — or more than — gouache, and the words are very sweet — just a simple love of gardening.


  4. […] And around the kidlitosphere… Covers are still on topic at Nonfiction Matters Bob Raczka lists his inspirations at I.N.K. To Be Like the Sun author pops up at Cynsations and peek inside the book at 7-imp […]


  5. Mmmm-mmm that is some pretty pretty art….


  6. Thanks for the reviews! I just sent the Sun book out to a reviewer for the Forest 🙂


  7. The sunflower book sounds lovely. I adore Margaret Chodos-Irvine, and I like the concept of “sunflower work.”


  8. Thanks, all. Elaine, yes, Bates is a great illustrator for the very young. And Swanson’s book is a top-notcher here in ’08.


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