Ages 2 and up
By Julie Fogliano
Pictures by Julie Morstad
Roaring Brook Press
Every April, elementary school teachers and librarians scramble for books to celebrate National Poetry Month and booksellers are hard-pressed to produce anything new and worthy. The standard favorites and repetitive collections are highlighted and praised for 30 days then poetry gets shoved back in the closet for eleven months. But poetry—often glossed over, taken for granted or dismissed as frivolous—is an essential medium. It often seems to get the same treatment as jazz: it is deemed important but does anyone really understand it, or care?
Generally, the very first words read to an infant are those of Mother Goose: simple rhymes whose rhythms are meant to soothe an audience instinctively soothed by a mother’s heartbeat. Rhyming poetry is, in a real way, meant to speak the language of the heart. But poetry doesn’t always rhyme or follow any convention; it sometimes seems purposely vague, and it is generally accompanied by lengthy explanation, and so, appreciating poetry takes a certain kind of awareness. A recent article in The Atlantic focuses on the importance of teaching poetry. And it is important; supremely important. These two paragraphs sum it up perfectly:
Yet poetry enables teachers to teach their students how to write, read, and understand any text. Poetry can give students a healthy outlet for surging emotions. Reading original poetry aloud in class can foster trust and empathy in the classroom community, while also emphasizing speaking and listening skills that are often neglected in high school literature classes.
Students who don’t like writing essays may like poetry, with its dearth of fixed rules and its kinship with rap. For these students, poetry can become a gateway to other forms of writing. It can help teach skills that come in handy with other kinds of writing—like precise, economical diction, for example. When Carl Sandburg writes, “The fog comes/on little cat feet,” in just six words, he endows a natural phenomenon with character, a pace, and a spirit. All forms of writing benefits from the powerful and concise phrases found in poems.
However, despite being such a necessary form for understanding both language and the human spirit, well-crafted poetry collections are few and far between. When Green Becomes Tomatoes, a truly exceptional poetry book, is a rare gift and will no doubt be a timeless classic for generations to come.
Poetry is characterized by an economy of words and Fogliano is adept at economical writing. Poetic in their simplicity her picture books, And Then it’s Spring and If You Want to See a Whale, demonstrate this austerity as well. Her refined prose is imbued with a childlike perspective that speaks to its readers on an elemental level. Reading her carefully chosen words, it’s clear that none are wasted. Fogliano writes with a beautiful simplicity that can make people believe writing for children is easy, but I assure you it is not; achieving this kind of elegant perfection requires an immense amount of skill.
Beginning and ending with a poem for the first day of spring (March 20th), the 47 poems in When Green Becomes Tomatoes are named for the dates they honor. Fogliano’s masterful compositions encapsulate the very essence of each season and every one of these captivating, playful poems immerses its reader in a moment.
Some of these poems could easily stand alone as their own books.
Morstad’s art is perfection: never excessive, always inviting. Her illustrations, luxurious at times and modest at others, harmonize with the text. Adjusting her palette to the season, choosing warm or cool colors as needed, she captures the spirit of the ever-changing flora and fauna. With a style that is reminiscent of Alain Grée and Ezra Jack Keats, she depicts a diverse group of children to accompany readers on their journey through the seasons. At a time when the lack diversity in children’s books is being spotlighted, her multi-cultural cast is an oasis in a desert.
I’m an avid lover of the changing of the seasons; it’s such an invigorating time. I love seeing the first heralds of spring, feeling the first hint of summer heat, smelling the first breeze of autumn and experiencing the unadulterated joy of the first snow. Superbly capturing all the inherent delight that these harbingers induce, Fogliano and Morstad have created the perfect companion to all the glorious wonders of the seasons.
A marvel as welcome as spring’s first blush of color after a long, drab winter: When Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All Seasons is a thing you knew you needed but didn’t fully comprehend how much until you finally had it.