Friday, December 15, 2006

POETRY FRIDAY: Winter Lights & Christmas Trees

Written and illustrated by Anna Grossnickle Hines
Published by Greenwillow Book (2005)

Don’t let the cover illustration of a Christmas tree lead you to infer that WINTER LIGHTS contains poetry only about the Christmas holiday. This book includes poems about the winter solstice, Kwanzaa, a Hanukkah menorah, Chinese New Year, the early setting of the sun, and the aurora borealis. Hines “enlightens” us with her multi-faceted look at the natural light and manmade light that brighten the winter season.

Anna Grossnickle Hines received the 2002 Lee Bennett Hopkins Award for Children’s Poetry for PIECES: A YEAR IN POEMS & QUILTS, her wonderful book of seasonal poetry. WINTER LIGHTS is a fine follow-up to that award-winner. While the poetry in this book is not as strong as that in PIECES, I recommend the book without hesitation. Like PIECES, WINTER LIGHTS is also illustrated with the author’s sewn artistry—magnificent quilts, some of which can be described as dazzling. To illustrate logs burning in a fireplace, the flickering flame of a candle, lines of farolitos glowing in the dark, Christmas lights “twinkling on rooftops” at night, and a full moon shining in a winter sky, Hines stitched pieces of yellow, red, orange, and white fabric on dark cloth backgrounds. And the designs in which Hines sewed pieces of brightly colored material do give the impression of a flickering candle flame and firelight and an icicle glistening with little stars of reflected sunlight.

Hines is a creative artist with words as well as with cloth and needles. In Star Catcher, the book’s first poem, she writes about an icicle that, while growing overnight, captured stars—then how, in the sunlight, it set the stars free again. What an imaginative way to think about an icicle. Her poem about different colored lights blinking and twinkling and sparkling on a Christmas tree is written in the shape of a Christmas tree. In Lights Out, she writes about a child pretending to be asleep—a child who is deliciously reading a book under the bedcovers with the help of a flashlight. Here are excerpts from two of the poems in WINTER LIGHTS.

From Nian is Coming, a poem about Chinese New Year:

Lurking at New Year,
he waits for his chance.
Hang the red paper
to scare him away.

Stomp with the lions!
Burn the bamboo!
With streamers of fire
we light up the skies!

The final poem in WINTER LIGHTS is about an inanimate artist that paints shadows on the snow-covered ground at night:

From Artist:

It’s high overhead,
but far below
the moon paints pictures
on the blue-white snow.

At the end of the book, Hines includes information about the winter “light” traditions of different cultures. She also provides illustrated descriptions of how she made her quilts for the book.

WINTER LIGHTS: A SEASON IN POEMS & QUILTS is definitely a book that shines brightly in words and pictures. And it’s written and illustrated by a truly talented “Material Girl.”

Written and illustrated by Rebecca Bond
Published by Little, Brown (2005)

A CITY CHRISTMAS TREE isn’t a book of poems. It isn’t even a picture book written in verse. So…why, you ask, am I reviewing it on Poetry Friday? Well…since you’ve asked, I’ll give you an answer.

Some picture books are poetic in nature—their texts have a lyrical quality. There is a rhythm to the author’s writing—writing that may also be rich with sensory images and figurative language. Rebecca Bond’s text in A CITY CHRISTMAS TREE has a poetic rhythm. It has refrains and repetition and some lovely use of language. But, before I provide you with excerpts of Bond’s writing, let me explain the simple storyline.

This is a cumulative tale about an interracial family—a tale in which we are told what a city Christmas tree means to the different members of this family. First, we meet Maggie Laroche twirling down the street on Monday to the end of her block where she sees a man selling Christmas trees. This gets her to thinking about the smell of city Christmas trees and what the foresty scent brings to mind. This same thing happens to other members of her family when Maggie brings them down to the end of the block. On Tuesday she brings her brother Teddy; on Wednesday she brings Teddy and her brother Lucas; on Thursday she brings Teddy, Lucas, and her sister Ellie; and on Friday she comes with all her siblings and her parents. Her parents purchase a Christmas tree on Friday and all six carry “it merrily home.” On Saturday, more family members arrive at the Laroche’s apartment in the city—and everyone celebrates the Christmas holiday together.

Here is how Bond begins her happy family tale:

“When the Christmas tree man set up his shop
on Liberty Street at the end of the block,
it started the city all dreaming great dreams…”

To Maggie, the smell of a city Christmas tree…

“…was wild and windy.
It spiced up the air with the freshest of zest,
like a day in the spray of the sea.”

To Teddy a city Christmas tree…

“…was the color,
the deeply, densely green-blue hue.
He felt he was home in the heart of the woods,
all brightly and lushly alive.”

To Lucas it was the tree lights that “dazzled and glittered like lantern-lit globes.”

To Ellie, it was an angel “with her marvelous wings and her butterfly grace.”

I have read poetry books that have less poetic language in them than can be found on the pages of this simple and satisfying tale. There is even visual poetry in some of the book’s illustrations—in the pastel-colored two-page spread of the children standing on rooftops looking up at yellow, green, and pink lights swirling in the sky over their city and in the picture of Maggie sailing her billowed-sailed boat over a wind-whipped sea. You won’t find many straight lines or sharp angles in Bond’s art. No, she favors more natural rounded shapes. We see curves in the swirling waves of the sea and bow of Maggie’s boat, in Maggie’s arms flung up in celebration, in the outspread wings of an angel, in a building at the end of a city block, in the rooftops of row houses.

It is the rounded shapes, the color palette Bond used, the body language and happy facial expressions of the people pictured in the illustrations that depict Maggie’s city as one that is warm and welcoming—as a city where people like Maggie, her siblings, and parents can fulfill their dreams of a happy Christmas and family closeness.


Anonymous said...

Hello! I like your blog!
Merry Christmas!
Hug x

Libby Koponen said...

WINTER LIGHTS sounds like a book I would really like -- one of my favorite books as a small child was CHILDREN OF THE NORTHERN LIGHTS by the D'Aulaires. I've never seen this book anyplace except in our house: maybe it was my mother's when she was a child? ANyway I wish someone would reprint it and in the meantime I'll get WINTER LIGHTS -- thank you, Elaine, for pointing it out!

Elaine Magliaro said...


There's a book written by the late Barbara Juster Esbensen, one of my favorite children's poets, called The Night Rainbow. It's about the aurora borealis. From her author's note: "...I have set down, as poetry, some of the ancient legends from people who, for centuries, have lived in the northern reaches of our planet."
It sounds like a book you would like. I am not sure if it is still in print--but I have a copy. I can bring it the next time the BRG get together.

Andromeda Jazmon said...

I love that book Winter Lights. The quilts are fabulous and the poems lovely. Thanks for reviewing it!