Clementina’s Cactus, as far as my research can tell is the only wordless picture book published by Ezra Jack Keats, a prolific book author and illustrator who has published more than 80 children’s books in his lifetime. It’s a lovely 6 x 4 book that shows a child’s fascination with a cactus in the desert, and a father’s fascination with his strong-willed daughter.
The Desert and Unexpected Rainshowers. One of the book reviews I’ve read on Clementina’s Cactus (Puss Reboots, A Book Review a Day) indicate that the setting could possibly be in the New Mexico desert. I particularly enjoyed the play of colors: (1) the pristine white and yellow background to depict the heat; (2) the dark blues and purples with jagged white-scar lightning to depict the sudden rainshowers;
(3) the multicolored rainbow after the rain; (4) and the pastel-peach hues to highlight what I believe must be early-morning before the sun rises. The play of colors alone suggest a multitude of things making words totally unnecessary. Truly another perfect book for our Bimonthly feature this March-April on Wordless Picture Books: “When Words are not Enough.”
Papa’s Little Girl and Clementina’s Little Plant. Most children’s books highlight this beautiful bond between mother and child. Yes, there are books that occasionally show father-and-daughter kinship but .. well, not as much as I would wish (do give me suggestions if you find any).
I find that Keats’ wordless book on Clementina highlight that beauty. The father in the story is also shown to be like some kind of hippie, long-haired, extremely thin man with a beret. Definitely not your usual doting, father-type with the continual absent-mindedness, eyeglasses, and balding hair – with the perennial newspaper in front of him at the breakfast table (read: Gaiman’s The Day I swapped my Dad for two goldfish).
More than anything, the father in Clementine’s Cactus reminded me of Angela Montenegro’s rockstar bad-ass Dad in Bones the series.
Clementina’s Surprise. Our rockstar father had to take her kicking and possibly-screaming little daughter indoors when he sensed that it was about to rain. Not without a great deal of resistance though seeing how “into” the cactus this little girl was, as could be seen below.
As the rain raged on outside, the little girl looks out her moon-lit window wondering about her plant.
It warms the heart knowing how the rain, the little girl’s imposed-exile, and the father’s patience were rewarded with a little surprise from the skies. You would have to flip through the water-colored pages yourself to find out exactly what that ‘surprise’ is.
I also discovered that this picture book is quite known for one of Ezra Jack Keats’ illustrations entitled Moon in the Desert as could be seen below:
Teacher Resources. There are quite a number of classroom activities that teachers can use to introduce this book to their students (or parents to their own children). This Southwest Literature post demonstrates how Clementina’s Cactus can be used with students from Grade 6th to 8th and how students can write a story based on the illustrations. Student outcomes, class preparation, materials needed, and a step-by-step account of how the book can be used in the classroom are enumerated.
Scholastic Printables also shares a 4-paged detailed lesson plan on how concepts and themes could be introduced as well as Extension Activities that can be done in class including Sand Painting and What Makes a Rainbow. You would have to register though in order for you to print the materials.
In this website, you would also be able to find Preschool Cactus activities and quite a number of possible art activities that you can initiate with children including a 3d Cactus, a Desert Scene, and Textured Cactus.
Ezra Jack Keats, born to impoverished Polish immigrants in March 11, 1916 was said to be the first American picture-book author to give the African-American child a central place in children’s literature even before multicultural themes and characters became in vogue. He has written and illustrated twenty-four children’s classics including The Giant Turnip, a beloved folk tale. Click here to be taken to his official website.
PictureBook Challenge Update: 31 of 72
Clementina’s Cactus, by Ezra Jack Keats. The Viking Press, New York, 1982. Book borrowed from the NIE Library.