Award-Winning Books Picture Book Challenge 2011 Picture Books Poetry-Filled Yuletide Cheer Reading Themes

Nonfiction Monday: Song of the Water Boatman and Other Pond Poems by Joyce Sidman and Beckie Prange

Rarely do I find a seamless and lyrical marriage of poetry and science in picture books (who would have thought of such an unlikely pair anyways?) – yet the Song of the Water Boatman & Other Pond Poems has made me smile with glee, the lines of the poems rolling off my tongue with such ease. I also felt that it was perfect for our Poetry-filled Yuletide Cheer theme this November and December.

Poster courtesy of the ever-talented Iphigene.

It brings me great pleasure to share this Caldecott Honor book for Nonfiction Monday today, hosted this week by the fabulous Zoe of Playing by the Book.

Changing of the Seasons. There are eleven poems in all matched with strikingly vivid – yet translucently-soft-and-quiet – illustrations. There are also notes on the side of the page which I feel teachers and well-meaning parents would enjoy. I find myself reading the poem, then the factual scribblings, then going back to the poem again. I find that the reverse is also true if I begin reading the factual notes. Speaks volumes about the quality of the writing as the reader gets to find new meaning in each re-reading.

The book begins with a courtship – a love song, if you may, by spring peepers. Imagine a frog filled with love singing his nighttime song to you, the high-pitched peeps coming from their balloon-like throat sacs (see photo below).

last two stanzas from Listen for Me 
My throat swells with spring love,
with rain love,
with water love.
My throat swells with peeper love;
my song is high and sweet.
Listen for me on a spring night,
on a wet night,
on a rainy night.
Listen for me tonight, tonight,
and I’ll sing you to sleep.
An actual spring peeper - photo taken by George Grall for National Geographic. Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

The book ends with the rhythmically-slow breathing of the painted turtle as he sinks deep deep into the winter quiet:

a few lines from Into the Mud
… No more days of bugs
and basking. Last breath, last sight
of light and down I go, into the  mud. Every
year, here, I sink and settle, shuttered like a
shed. Inside, my eyes close, my heart slows
to its winter rhythm. Goodbye, goodbye!
The painted turtle - click on the image to be taken to the websource - and to be regaled with even more facts about this turtle.

Circle of Life. Aside from the passing of the seasons, the book also highlights the progression of nature through life’s food chain with the algae at the bottom of the summer pond being eaten by the flea which is drunk by the “nymph with feathery gills” which is nabbed by the bug which is gulped by the frog and so on and so forth – as could be seen In the Depths of the Summer Pond – one of my favorites from the book. Reminiscent of The House that Jack Built – this poem begs to be read aloud.

Nature’s Bounty and its Magic. I feel that the gift that this book brings is that it opens the reader’s eye to the wonders of nature, often taken for granted. There is even a fascinating riddle that celebrates the bounties of the duckweed.

Duckweed! My own photo. Taken in a swamp in New Orleans.

It heightens one’s awareness, making one listen closely to the backswimmer’s refrain, one’s pulse quickening with wonder as the reader reads about how the animals that flit and hover – create their little homes, fashion their own unique clothing made of leaves and pinpoint pebbles – as they fly free into the night sky. There is poetry in such magic. One of my absolute favorite in this collection is Aquatic Fashion:

Aquatic Fashion
caddis worms
select only
the best to
dress them-
selves: strong
sticky silk,
snips of
leaves, or
the tiny
eyelets of
snail shells,
edged in
sand. Who
cares if
each sleek
suit measures
less than
an inch?
First prize
gets wings.

Apparently caddis flies are known to be nature’s underwater architects (source here). Oftentimes their cases are likewise harvested to make jewelry as could be seen below:

From Natural - click on the image to be taken to the websource and read an interesting article about caddis flies.
The caddisflies' cases harvested to make bling-blings - click on the image to be taken to the websource.
An adult caddis fly - click on the image to be taken to the websource.

Clean Lines and Quiet Refrains. I love the fact that even the way the lines are broken in the poems suggest a certain symmetry with the animals or the movement being portrayed: the letters dropping in Spring Splashdown, the flowing verses rippling quietly with the waters as seen In the Depths of the Summer Pond, and the lovely duet between the Water Boatman and the Backswimmer in Song of the Water Boatman and Backswimmer’s Refrain. No detail is too little, no line superfluous – yet the poetry maintains a playful quality, inviting you to chime in at any time. Teachers would also like the fact that the book has a Glossary of terms at the very end which children can refer to.

Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

Joyce Sidman is a multi-awarded writer who was given recognition such as the ASPCA Henry Bergh Children’s Book award for Poetry, a VOYA Poetry Pick and a Bulletin Blue Ribbon Winner (source: jacketflap of the book). She currently teaches in Minneapolis schools as a writer-in-residence. When asked about her inspiration for Song of the Water Boatman, she recalled that she was fishing with her children one day and “I noticed a pool that was obviously drying up and wondered about its inhabitants: Where would they go? I imagined them as creatures in a drama, with personalities of their own.” Click here to be taken to her official website.

Beckie Prange has a degree in a biology and a graduate certificate in natural

Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

science illustration (no wonder!). In the jacketflap of the book, it was noted that she used to live near a creek when she was a child in west-central Illinois with her professor father and artist mother. She recalls that she was always fascinated with nature and would often draw about it at an early age. She is said to frequently lie on the limestone bedrock, peering into the pools of the creek, fascinated by the tiny strange creatures below the surface. No wonder she has done the wonderful animals in this book justice. Click here to be taken to her official website.

A photo journey of Lake Sebu in South Cotabato, Philippines. As I was flipping through the pages, there are burning images in my mind that I feel would complement this feature of Sidman and Prange’s work. Thus, I dug up the photographs that my husband has taken while we were visiting in the Philippines, July of this year. Reading about the water boatman, duckweeds, and dragonflies reminded me of this time that we had in Lake Sebu in South Cotabato, near General Santos, in the Philippines. We were fortunate that we had such wonderful hosts who were generous with their time in touring us around. Here are some of the photos from that trip. Hope you enjoy them.

A real boatman in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato, Philippines
A four or five year old 'Boatgirl'
Brimming with plantlife - no changing of the seasons though.
Ominous clouds - mirrored in the quiet, seemingly-creepy lake
Shanties near the lake - there is also a thriving human community along with the plant/animal life within/around the lake.
Waiting for Fish - Circle of Life in Mono
Greens and more greens.
Varying degrees of womanity - boatwomen.
Community around Lake Sebu
My nine year old with her obligatory solo shot

The Creepy Swamp in New Orleans. I have just recently gone on a trip in New Orleans to attend the National Association for Gifted Children Conference (see my post about that here). It was also a good time to meet up with a few friends who flew all the way to Cajun Land to see me. Naturally, we had to go on a swamp tour. Here are some of the photos I have taken – I thought I might as well add these pictures since the water boatman has thoroughly inspired me. Enjoy!

Supposedly a famous tree - where Lestat died.
Strange configurations under the trees and duckweed everywhere - kind of reminded me of voodoo dolls. It's New Orleans, after all.
Spanish moss hanging from trees - if this does not inspire you to write gothic novels, I don't know what will.
Rustic and Charming in its old-world glory.
Couldn't resist including this. A random New Yorker (with a tinge of Aussie/British accent) found in the Swamp of New Orleans. He's got this vampire vibe going on.

PictureBook Challenge Update: 123 (120)

Song of the Water Boatman & Other Pond Poems written by Joyce Sidman and Illustrated by Beckie Prange. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 2005. Book borrowed from the NIE Library. Book photos were taken by me. Photos of Lake Sebu in General Santos were taken by my husband with post-process-editing by me. Photos of the swamp in New Orleans taken by me.

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

11 comments on “Nonfiction Monday: Song of the Water Boatman and Other Pond Poems by Joyce Sidman and Beckie Prange

  1. Sounds like a tremendous book. I really love the illustrations. And I also like how you’ve illustrated your post with photos matching the book illustrations. Thankyou!


  2. Song of the Waterboat is fantastic! Glad you’re recommending it. Also, loved your photos of your trip. Thanks.


  3. Wow! What a great post — weaving photos, yours and others, the book spreads and poetry together. Thanks for recommending the book — I love the poetry!


  4. Myra, this is a fantastic blog post! I love the photos and poetry together. I need to find a way to include Joyce Sidman into our poetry unit and to also visit New Orleans. Thank you for sharing.


    • Thanks Jeff, you are way too kind. And yes you definitely should include Joyce Sidman. just breathtaking illustrations and thoughtfully-wrought-out phrases/sentiments.


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