Thursday, October 14, 2010

Reading the Seasons

Last weekend was a Grand time at our house. All seven of the grandest of grands arrived Saturday for an overnight visit. Evidently the changing of seasons had been a topic of discussion in K-6 classrooms last week because the five who are in school were all eager to talk about fall. The five-year-old brought in a leaf to show me. “It’s fall because the leaves are falling,” he said, and his almost-nine-year-old cousin’s patient explanation of the autumn equinox and light falling did nothing to change his mind. After all, he could see the falling leaves.

In keeping with our conversation about seasons, I read to them a wonderful book that celebrates all the seasons, Pieces: A Year in Poems and Quilts by Anna Grossnickle Hines. I don’t know a lot of books that work for an audience that ranges from just-turned-two to eleven going on thirty, but this book did. The little one loved the colors. We all laughed when she touched a page and lifted her hand to stare at it as if surprised to find slick paper beneath her fingers rather than the soft fabric the vibrant illustrations promised.

As I read aloud the poems and we looked at Hines’s amazing quilts—each one 12 by 18 inches, designed and hand-stitched by Hines to match seamlessly a poem about a season—I thought about the recent report that said the sales of picture books were suffering because parents were pushing even early readers into reading chapter books. All four of our readers are reading well above grade level, and they all have their favorite chapter books, Harry Potter, the Wimpy Kid, and Percy Jackson among them. But picture books were an important part of their learning to love books, and they are still frequent choices for reading aloud because of the memories and because they lend themselves so well to pausing for important discussions.

The book opens with a short poem: "Pieces of the seasons/ appear and disappear/ in a patchwork pattern/ making up a year." We spent a long time on that page, talking about what “patchwork” means and sharing images we associate with seasons and laughing at how funny it is that even here in Georgia where we don’t often have enough snow to build a snowman or snowwoman, the image says winter to us. The eleven-year-old wondered if she could learn to quilt. The ten-year-old, who has inherited the family allergy to math, was amazed at how much math Hines had used in creating her quilts. His just younger cousin, our artist, marveled at all the gradations of colors.

When we reached “Good Heavens,” my favorite poem in the collection, we ended up talking about new words and how imagination helps us see different views.

Here’s the poem and the quilt illustration:

Our lawn is astronomical
with dandelion blooms.
A green sky filled
with a thousand suns
and then
a thousand moons
that with a puff
of wind become
a hundred thousand stars.

The six-year-old loved the word “astronomical.” “It rhymes with comical,” said our red-haired, laughing imp and set the crew off on other rhyming words, most of them nonsense words such as "hippopomical" and "Bakugonical" that left everyone giggling.

On the following page, “Do You Know Green?” starts with spring green sleeping . . . waiting . . .  resting . . . but then “Green comes …. / tickling the tips / of twiggy tree fingers” and poking, springing, bursting until throughout the natural world “green grows.”  The words move on the page.
“It makes me want to dance,” the five-year-old shouted. He began to jump and twist and whirl around the room. The two-year-old joined him with a shriek of delight, and soon his other cousins and even his sister, who thinks she’s too old for such childish games, were whirling with him. The room was filled with dancing, laughing, happy children. So was my heart.
Another favorite, “To Each His Own,” carried us back to the autumn leaves that started our conversation. We all loved Hines’s images of leaves floating “lazily / wavily / and taking all / daysily."  The nine-year-old said, "She makes up words too."  And we all sighed in satisfaction to find a link between us and the writer who had given us such pleasure.

Just an ordinary Saturday became a series of special moments because we were reading the seasons.
If you have young ones to whom you read aloud, or if you are just someone who loves poetry and quilts, I highly recommend Pieces. It’s not a new book. It was published in 2001 to starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and Kirkus. It won the 2002 Hopkins Award for the best anthology or single volume poem written for children in the previous year. Hines published a second collection, Winter Lights: A Season in Poems and Quilts, in 2005, but it’s a subject for a holiday blog I'm planning for December.

Do you think picture books are important for children? Do you have memories of picture books from your own childhood or that you read to your children or grandchildren? What’s your favorite seasonal symbol? Can you see it in a quilt?


PJ said...

What a wonderful blog, Janga. You draw such lovely pictures with your words. I had no trouble visualizing each stage of your evening, culminating with the joy and laughter as the Grands danced around the rooms of your house.

I have three young children (honorary niece and nephews ages 2, 5 & 8) on my Christmas list. I buy each an individual gift but I also like to buy one book that they can all share as a family. I can always count on you for the perfect recommendation!

Off to check out Pieces and Winter Lights!

Anna Grossnickle Hines said...

I am touched by your lovely description of sharing my work with your grandchildren and their delightful responses. It's wonderful to know when something I've done touches another heart...and here are eight at once! Lucky children to have you, and lucky me, too.

Janga said...

Thanks, PJ. This was one I loved writing. I'm happy to know you "saw" the fun we had. I hope the children in your life love the book as much as the ones in my life did.

Janga said...

Welcome, Ms. Hines! Thank you for your kind words. I'm honored that you stopped by, and I'm looking forward to Peaceful Pieces in March.

MsHellion said...

Awwww. I love the "it makes me want to dance" and everyone did!! And daysily is totally a word. I'm using it ASAP.

Yes, picture books are important. My favorite picture book is probably The Giving Tree; but I also discovered when I was older, a book called Love You Forever, which is a book people either love or hate. I mean, I get the criticism that the mother seems creepy and needs a life, but I don't think that was the point of the story--and I just loved at the end when he held his mother and sang her the song. And I will have to quit discussing it or I will cry now.

Janga said...

Hellion, The Giving Tree was the favorite of my #3 nephew when he was small. When his first child was born, reading it to her often became one of the rituals the two of them shared. It became her favorite too, and now she reads it to her younger brother.

quantum said...

Janga, coping with Seven Grands definitely places you in the SUPER-GRAN category. Coping for a day with my one Grand left me exhausted and groping for the scotch bottle!

Hines does sound a very interesting author.

I like to write short stories for youngsters using people they know and their personal experiences. Getting the computer to read the stories aloud with highlighting or underlining of the word being spoken, can also help them develop their reading skills. When the child is the heroine she is usually captivated and concentrates very hard!

I think that I would now like to include a little poetry in my stories, but don't want to ruin their future appreciation of poems by using my own amateurish efforts!

Extracting lines from 'Pieces' sounds as though it could be a perfect solution. I would not plagiarise of course, as this is purely for personal use and full acknowledgement of the source would be included.

The poem about the lawn,'green sky filled with a thousand suns .....' might fit very nicely into a story about my Grand 'helping' in the garden. *grin*

I might include some pictures for illustration as well, and again Ms Hines's book sounds very interesting as a source. It might even encourage the children to 'persuade' parents to buy her books.

Oh yes. The questions:

I think that picture books are extremely important, especially in the early stages. Someone once said that a picture is often worth a thousand words, and its quite true, even for adults.

In autumn I especially love the colurs of leaves on trees. Each year I regularly visit an arboretum, quite close to Prince Charles's estate in Gloucestershire. It has been specially designed for the autumn colours and is quite stunning. After my next story about colours in the garden (as a primer!) I may take the Grand to visit the arboretum. She will love picking up leaves and playing hide and seek among all the trees ... and its very educational!

Thanks for a superb blog Janga .... one of your best! *smile*

Janga said...

Thanks, Q. We don't often have all seven overnight at once, but we try to do it several times a year because they enjoy one another so much. One-on-one time is important too though, and we try to do that as well. It's all building memories.

The arboretum sounds like a wonderful trip for your granddaughter and for you. The Bat Walk that an honor society hosts at my university's arboretum each October fascinates the eight-year-old, but it's not really intended for little ones. He'll have to settle for the owl show at nearby public gardens.