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.
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.
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!
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.
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 Smart young caddis worms select only the best to dress them- selves: strong sticky silk, pin-point pebbles, snips of leaves, or the tiny whorled 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:
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 one.at.a.time 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.
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
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.
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!
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.