Friday, February 09, 2007

POETRY FRIDAY: Happy Haiku to You


Last Friday when I stopped by my favorite children’s bookshop, the owner lent me some F&G’s of books that will be published this spring. She mentioned that there was a nice little collection of haiku poems in the batch she gave me. That collection, today and today: haiku by Issa, was illustrated by G. Brian Karas. Now, I’m a true admirer of Karas’s style of illustrating. I especially like his illustrations in ATLANTIC; MUNCHA, MUNCHA, MUNCHA; and CAR WASH. But…a book of poetry? “Would his style of art enhance a collection of haiku for young children?” I wondered. Well…I am happy to tell you I was pleasantly surprised with Karas’s concept for this book and impressed with his selection of poems and with his illustrations.

today and today: haiku by Issa
Illustrated by G. Brian Karas
Published by Scholastic (2007)

In his note to readers on the verso of the title page, Karas explains that he selected and arranged eighteen of Issa’s haiku “to tell the story of a year in the life of an imaginary family.” I think this story telling approach works well. As we read through the book from beginning to end, we experience the passage of the four seasons with three generations of a loving family. We see members of the family enjoying the weather and appreciating the beauty of nature with each other and privately.


I’ll describe one illustration from each of the seasons to give you a sense of the art in the book. I will also include three of Issa’s haiku that Karas selected for today and today.

A Spring Illustration
An old man, the grandfather, sits under a blossoming cherry tree peeling an orange.

The haiku that appears on the page with this picture reads…

Just being alive!
—miraculous to be in
cherry blossom shadows!

A Summer Illustration
The father, son, and grandfather lean on a fence and gaze over green fields at dawn.

An Autumn Illustration
Two children, a girl and a boy, are shown offering chrysanthemums to their grandfather as he sits near the bare cherry tree in their yard, which is blanketed with golden leaves.

And the haiku that accompanies this picture reads…

How well we have slept
to feel so fresh this morning,
dear chrysanthemums

A Winter Illustration
The parents and children visit a grave as snowflakes fall over a cemetery.

The final haiku in the book brings us full circle and back to spring again:

As simple as that—
spring has finally arrived
with a pale blue sky

In the accompanying illustration, the granddaughter sits in the chair under the blossoming cherry tree—as her grandfather had done the previous spring.

For his art in today and today, Karas combined a number of different materials: rice paper, wood plank, pencil, and paint. There’s a simplicity to the illustrations. They are not busy; they do not overwhelm the haiku. There’s also a softness to the colors and the shapes. Like the haiku poems included in the book, each of Karas’s illustrations captures the essence of a single moment in time.

Karas portrays a kind of innocence and sweetness in today and today. This is a little gem of a poetry book that is perfect for younger children—and is one that may help them to develop an appreciation for haiku. I am definitely ordering a copy of this book for myself.


Written by Celeste Davidson Mannis
Illustrated by Susan Kathleen Hartung
Published by Viking (2002)

This is a nice combination of a counting book and a haiku poetry book. Mannis, the author, adheres to the traditional Japanese haiku of seventeen syllables in her poems about counting animals and objects in a Japanese garden. Hartung, the illustrator, takes us along with a young kimono-clad girl as she counts her way through the garden.

Here is an excerpt from the book:

Hoping for some crumbs,
they nibble at my fingers.
Nine glittering koi.

In the illustration for this haiku, Hartung paints a close-up of a young girl lying next to a fishpond in a Japanese garden. She is looking at nine koi—a kind of fish “admired for their colorful appearance and hardiness.”

In one of the loveliest illustrations in the book, the artist paints the same young girl sleeping on a grassy mound near the pond. Eight pink lotus flowers bloom on their floating leaves in the foreground. On the opposite page we read the following poem:

What do flowers dream?
Adrift on eight pond pillows,
Pink-cheeked blossoms rest.

Hartung’s art, done in oil glazes, is striking and a fine complement to Mannis’s text. The objects to be counted are clearly visible. In the final two-page spread, the artist includes all the objects and animals the girl has counted in the garden: one leaf, two carved temple dogs, three bonsai, four birds, five roofs on a pagoda, six wooden sandals, seven “sweet surprises” on a lacquered tray, eight pink lotus flowers, nine koi fish, and ten stone lanterns.

The haiku poems are printed on the right-hand pages of the book in large black type with the appropriate numerals placed above them. At the bottom of the poem pages, in small print, Mannis includes information about such things as bonsai, the Shinto religion, the pagoda, lotus flowers, and koi fish.

All in all, ONE LEAF RIDES THE WIND is an attractive package that lends itself well to a number of uses in an early childhood classroom.

Written by Miriam Chaikin
Illustrated by Hiroe Nakata
Published by Henry Holt (2002)

In this book, Chaikin does not adhere to the traditional haiku that is written in three lines, with seventeen syllables. But the author does include an “About the Poems in This Book” at the beginning of DON’T STEP ON THE SKY. She explains to readers about traditional haiku and about how the rules for writing this form of poetry have become more flexible in modern times. She does stress, however, that the haiku should “capture a moving experience in a few words.” The book includes haiku about birds and bugs, flowers and weather.

Here are a few examples of poems from the book:

Lovely lily
alive for only a day.
Take good care of yourself.

A blade of grass
pushes through cement.
Hello, world.

After the rain
a puddle.
Don’t step on the sky.

Nakata’s winsome watercolor illustrations celebrate the joy of a little girl as she plays with her kitten, admires the quick growth of a bamboo tree that has grown taller than she, jumps over a rushing brook, and imagines the raindrops on her window at night as “a gallery of diamonds.” The artist used a delicate hand in painting her fluid illustrations. There are no bold black lines defining shapes—no thick solid colors giving the illustrations a sense of weight on the page. Rather, the paintings have a light, airy appearance that complements the childlike wonder expressed in Chaikin’s haiku.

DON’T STEP ON THE SKY would make a nice introduction to haiku for children. It’s perfect for spring reading.
Read some autumn haiku written by my second grade students during the last year I taught in an elementary classroom.
After the blizzard
snowmen are sprouting up like
winter wildflowers


Anonymous said...

I understand you're doing the poetry friday roundup this week. You can see the Photopoetry results for the week over at Wordy Girls.

Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Nice reviews, Elaine. And a nice haiku, too! Wish we had some snowmen sprouting up...

7ITBB is in for Poetry Friday, too, with "Falling In Love is Like Owning a Dog" by Taylor Mali.

Anonymous said...

I reviewed a rhyming picture book for Poetry Friday.

Anonymous said...

I really liked today and today also. Very pretty illustrations...

I'm in on Poetry Friday with a review of Tour America here:

Anonymous said...

I just love haiku. I wrote about it LAST week on Poetry Friday. In particular, a charming children's picture book called Basho and the Fox...