Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems just might be one of the brightest choices you make this year in the field of children’s books. It takes only a few minutes to sample this collection of 36 well-chosen poems that span the seasons, but many a child –and adult–will pause to savor the dazzling lines, illustrated with such verve by Caldecott Honoree Melissa Sweet.
This singular collection, selected by acclaimed poet Paul B. Janeczko, shines with poems by such popular children’s poets as Lillian Morrison, Eve Merriam, and James Stevenson, as well as some surprising choices: William Carlos Williams, Richard Wright, and Charles Reznikoff.
Beginning with spring (yes, it’s arrived!), each season plays out in nine poems. Ms. Sweet gives us her painted bright red pickup truck loaded with hand-drawn images of old fans to accompany Gerald Jonas’s energetic poem “In Passing.” Readers can bump along while reading about the “dumpy junktruck/stacked full of old floor-fans,/unplugged, unsteady, undone,/free-whirling like kids’ pinwheels… .”
The illustrator’s detailed collage-watercolor-gouache illustrations vary in style as they encounter distinct poems and moods. Her gape-mouthed gulls, for instance, humorously evoke the ravenous creatures depicted in X.J. Kennedy’s brief poem that compares the birds’ cries to rusted gates. For another summer poem, the titular poem by J. Patrick Lewis, Ms. Sweet shows fat globes of light encircling the fireflies’ tails and childlike pencil drawings of grass, trees, and weeds sprouting in the dusk. It’s enough to inspire us adults to return to our firefly-chasing ways.
To my ear, two of the special surprises in this book arrive in the winter portion. “Snow Fence” by Ted Kooser is a stunning six-line beauty. I’m not going to spell it out for you; just find your way to the page with the vivid red fence and ponder his lines. Another remarkable entry is Reznikoff’s two-line riff on what the house-wreckers left.
What marvelous activities teachers, librarians, and parents can concoct with Firefly July. Language arts teachers can find writing prompts here, teach metaphors or sensory images or point of view … art teachers can use the book to inspire collages … parents can relish a sweet morning or bedtime to share these vivid little creations. Highly recommended for every home, school, and public library, especially for use with grades 2-5.
And see my previous post on Water Sings Blue and these titles …