Book reviewed: When Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All Seasons – Julie Fogliano and Julie Morstad, Roaring Brook Press, 2016
It’s poetry month. There are innumerable books to help you introduce children to poetry. These range from the classics by A.A. Milne and Robert Louis Stevenson to the modern classics by Jack Prelutsky, Bobbi Katz, Jacqueline Woodson, and so many others. There are great anthologies, some with inviting illustrations that do as much to attract readers as the poems themselves. Even very young children will at first enjoy listening to brief selections for the rhythm and sound. Even if you have read many of these, you may not be familiar with When Green Becomes Tomatoes by Julie Fogliano, and one of my favorite illustrators, Julie Morstad (see here and here and here and here).
These are poems for the seasons, but they are not about Christmas, Hanukkah, or the Fourth of July. They are, instead, quirky meditations in lower case, a mix of Haiku-like imagery, e.e. cummings, and William Carlos Williams (“So much depends upon a red wheelbarrow…”). The book is organized by season, with each short poem having a specific date. Nature is personified, sharing feelings with the child narrator: “today/the sky was too busy sulking to rain/and the sun was exhausted from trying.” Some are meditations on the universe and its inconsistencies from the perspective of a child: “if you ever stopped/to taste a blueberry/you would know/that it’s not really about the blue, at all.” Note the distinction here. The speaker does not deny that the berry is blue, but rather that its blueness is not its essence, which you have to taste to experience. If you don’t get it, your child might.
Julie Morstad’s pictures are, as always, exquisite.
On August 10 and August 30, the two-page spread shows a pair of pink high top sneakers resting on a pier, while a little girl is happily diving in, her legs above the water and the rest of her submerged. Over three days in October a two different children experience a pile of leaves by running towards it, diving it, and wearing it as a brown and gold skirt. In many pictures, Morstad uses a palette of earth colors punctuated by one bright green coat or pink umbrella. In winter (December 21 and December 29), the white blanket of snow is studded with orange-brown trees, but the girl wears a pink scarf.
If your idea of winter fun is reading a newspaper in front of a stone fireplace, you might appreciate Fogliano here:
it is the best kind of day
when it is snowing
and the house
sounds like slippers
and there is nowhere to go
but the kitchen
for a cookie”
Or, for the slightly more existential:
and when the orange is gone
and the red is gone
and the pink and yellow are gone and gone
the green that stays
is not just green
the green that stays
is cold and alone
in a forest
but not sad
Enjoy this unusual book!