Children's Poetry Blog Hop: On Haiku

When my friend (and fearless leader of Wednesday writers) Jackie Jules asked if I would participate in the Children's Poetry Blog Hop, I knew I had to say yes. What I didn't know was what I was going to say next. You know, on the subject of children's poetry. I'm supposed to ask (and answer) three questions in a Mortimer Minute. Here goes:

Formal or free verse? Formal. As a writer, I like the freedom of working within certain contraints, and the subversive pleasure of defying them.

A favorite form? Haiku. Three lines: one breath. I teach haiku as part of a program for families that uses observation, discussion, and poetry (or sketching, or sound) to explore works of art, and I encourage my families to think about haiku as an experience--capturing a moment--not an exercise in counting syllables. 5-7-5 doesn't work in English the way it does in Japanese; try short-long-short instead.

A collection of haiku for children? My favorite is Today and Today; haiku by master Kobayashi Issa, pictures by G. Brian Karas (Scholastic, 2007). Karas selected and arranged 18 of Issa's haiku to tell a story of four seasons--one ordinary, extraordinary year--in the life of a family. Our library shelves it with the picture book fiction rather than the poetry, actually. It's beautiful, understated but very sad.

That's all for the Mortimer Minute! And thank you, Jackie, for asking me to participate: as it turns out, I did have something to say about children's poetry. Maybe even more than a minute's worth! If you do, too, please consider participating in the Children's Poetry Blog Hop. Mortimer and I will thank you.

[Poetry Friday is at Jama's Alphabet Soup today. Thanks, Jama!]

The ballad of Long Lankin, for Poetry Friday

Debut author Lindsey Barraclough's YA novel Long Lankin was inspired by the eponymous old English ballad (Roud Folk Song Index 6) in which Long Lankin, aided and abetted by a nursemaid, murders a lady and her infant son--by pricking him all over with a pin (shiver):

"Where's the heir of this house?" said Long Lankin. / "He's asleep in his cradle," said the false nurse to him.
"We'll prick him, we'll prick him all over with a pin, / And that'll make my lady to come down to him."

The baby's cries bring his mother, and she dies in Long Lankin's arms.

Barraclough sets her retelling of the ballad in postwar England: Sisters Cora and Mimi are sent from London to stay with their great-aunt Ida in the coastal village of Bryers Guerdon, but Auntie Ida, stern and secretly terrified, doesn't want them there. Of course, Cora and Mimi disregard her warnings (Ida doesn't even want them in the great big house alone) and go straight to the forbidden church and graveyard. Don't they know they're in a gothic horror story? Sigh. Poor Mimi.

Moo, Moo, Brown Cow for Poetry Friday

Baa, Baa, Black Sheep is probably my favorite nursery rhyme--I sang both my children to sleep for years with Raffi's extended version, Cluck, Cluck Red Hen (Milly still likes to hear it at bedtime).  In Raffi's version, the singer asks a hen for eggs, a cow for milk, and a bee for honey. Here's the exchange with the cow:

Moo, moo, brown cow, have you milk for me?
Yes, sir, yes, sir, sweet as it can be.
Churn it into butter or make it into cheese.
Freeze it into ice cream or drink it if you please.

The little boy in Phyllis Gershator's new picture book Moo, Moo, Brown Cow (illustrated by Giselle Potter; Random House, 2011) does the same sort of thing (he also asks a gray goose for down, but otherwise the animals are the same); however, Gershator's narrative is more purposeful: the little boy is looking for a blanket for his bed, a pillow for his head, and a sweet and simple bedtime snack of bread and honey with a glass of milk.  Here's his exchange with the cow for comparison:

Moo, moo, brown cow, have you any milk?
Yes, sir, yes, sir, smooth as silk.
Does milk make me sleepy before I go to bed?
Yes, sir, yes, sir, the brown cow said.

It's also a little more difficult to sing (lines 3 and 4 of each stanza especially), but even I was able to manage it. The reward comes in the closing stanzas, when animals and boy alike go to bed ("in the hive... / in the barn... / in the coop... / in the shed").  Giselle Potter's final illustration shows him tucked in bed with his own collection of farm animals (there's even a bee mobile), dreaming of jumping over the moon.

Potter's palette could have been inspired by the classic colors of old-fashioned milk paint, which lends her work here a folksy farm feel. My favorite illustration is this one of the black sheep knitting the boy's blanket out of a ball of his or her own curly wool:

Bonus points for showing the sheep holding the needles correctly; how many times have you seen them pointing up in picture books?

Poetry Friday: My Uncle Emily and the Buccaneers of Buzz

"One day when we were in the garden, choosing flowers for the table, my Uncle Emily gave me a dead bee and a poem for my teacher."

I was reminded of this incident with the dead bee, as reimagined by Jane Yolen in My Uncle Emily (Philomel, 2009), while writing yesterday's post about The Humblebee Hunter.  The poem in question is Emily Dickinson's "The Bumblebee's Religion--".

There are a lot of bees in Dickinson, actually; but the poem that is important to this book is Yolen's favorite, and maybe yours: "Tell all the Truth."  The book itself is beautifully written in something like free verse, and illustrated with period-appropriate style in pen-and-ink and digital media by Nancy Carpenter.  And it pairs perfectly with The Humblebee Hunter, now that I think of it.  Even the covers match!