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When Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All Seasons Hardcover – March 1, 2016
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From School Library Journal
K-Gr 3-Fogliano celebrates the four seasons through journal entries in poetic form. Starting and ending with March 20, the vernal equinox, the author marks randomly chosen days with short, free verse observations ("if you want to be sure/that you are nothing more than small/stand at the edge of the ocean/looking out."). The timely text describes blooming crocuses, rainy spring days, warm summer sun, and falling leaves. Cleverly written and personal in nature, these offerings convey the beauty of the seasons. Fogliano creates verses that capture not only the colorful images of nature but also the human emotions that the changing seasons evoke. Morstad's simple, inviting illustrations express a sense of wonder. Spreads filled with gentle, watercolor depictions of children experiencing seasonal activities include some surprising details that demand closer perusal and wonderfully complement and extend the text. Teachers will also appreciate how this title lends itself handily to classroom lessons on writing poetry and personal journal narratives. VERDICT Highly recommended.-Carole Phillips, Greenacres Elementary School, Scarsdale, NYα(c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Complementing the poems are Morstad’s gouache and pencil crayon illustrations that range from effectively simple (a firefly glowing in the dark) to tantalizingly detailed (spot the inchworm or the ladybug in the shrubs). A multiracial cast of children relishing the delights of the seasons adds to this title’s appeal. ―Booklist, starred review
"Spreads filled with gentle, watercolor depictions of children experiencing seasonal activities include some surprising details that demand closer perusal and wonderfully complement and extend the text. "―School Library Journal, starred
"This combination of poetry and art in praise of the familiar, natural world is sweetly, successfully dazzling."―Kirkus Reviews, starred
"Working in gouache and pencil, Morstad (Swan) creates an appealing, multiracial cast of children in scarves and swimsuits, pajamas and parkas, while helping highlight the way that small things―a sprouting plant, a falling leaf―can herald big changes."― Publisher's Weekly, starred
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“from a snow-covered tree / one bird singing / each tweet poking / a tiny hole / through the edge of winter”. In the very first poem in “When Green Becomes Tomatoes” (a poem called “march 20”) the child reader is alerted to a change in the air. The snow is still present and the weather still gloomy, but there is hope on the horizon. Yet rather than turn the book into a paean to warmer weather, poet Julie Fogliano takes time to both celebrate and criticize the passing seasons. By the end of spring you look forward to summer and the end of summer leads to the relief of autumn, and so on and such. Accompanying these thoughts are small poems in lowercase and illustrations carrying the weight and expectations these seasons evoke in us. The end result can only be described in a single word: beautiful.
Like I said, I’ve read a lot of poetry books for kids about the seasons in my day. The good ones have some kind of a hook. Like Joyce Sidman tackling it with colors in “Red Sings from Treetops” or Jon J. Muth writing the poems entirely as haikus as in “Hi, Koo! A Year in Season”. But Fogliano doesn’t really have a hook, and so I approached the title with trepidation. No hook? You mean it was just going to be . . . poems?! It takes the courage of your convictions to do a poetry book for kids straight these days. And it’s not true that Fogliano didn’t have one ace up her sleeve. A lot of works of poetry start in January (when the year itself technically begins). Using a technique of highlighting random dates, this poet begins the book on March 20th, the first day of spring. A small hook, sure, but at least it's something.
As for the poems themselves, I was impressed not just with the writing, but with Ms. Fogliano’s grasp of what each season actually entails. There are a LOT of cloudy days, rainy days, and generally blah days in this book. They don’t weigh down the narrative or really make it all that gloomy. You just end up experiencing precisely the same feeling you have when you’re living those days. This is the rare book that acknowledges that spring doesn’t immediately mean sunshine and 55-degree temperatures. There’s a lot of snow and some mud and a whole ton of rain. Listen to how she puts it, though: “today / the sky was too busy sulking to rain / and the sun was exhausted from trying / and everyone / it seemed / had decided / to wear their sadness / on the outside / and even the birds / and all their singing / sounded brokenhearted / inside of all that gray.” It really isn’t until June that things even out, and I respect that. All the seasons are like that. It’s great to watch.
As you might have noted, the poetry found in this book straddles a line between being child-friendly and introspective (the two aren’t mutually exclusive, but neither are they always natural pairs). I found myself noting line after line after line that I wanted to quote. Here’s a small taste for each season.
On Spring: “shivering and huddled close / the forever rushing daffodils / wished they had waited.”
On Summer: “if you ever stopped / to taste a blueberry / you would know / that it’s not really about the blue, at all.”
On Fall: “october please / get back in bed / your hands are cold / your nose is red / october please / go back to bed / your sneezing woke december.”
On Winter: “a gust of wind / blew by my nose / i think i will be frozen soon / this living room / (all cozy chairs and fireplace) / has some real explaining to do.”
Some books of children’s poetry lean heavily on the works of other poets. I won’t presume to name her influences but if the July 12th poem is any indication then William Carlos Williams might have had some influence here. And maybe e.e. cummings too (with all that mudlicious mud).
When she was much younger it’s clear that author Julie Fogliano made some kind of a blood sacrifice to the God of Perfect Illustrator Pairings. How else to explain how she has managed to work alongside such artists as Erin E. Stead and now Julie Morstad? Morstad is no newbie to the field, of course. I’ve been a big fan of her for years, starting with her art for “The Swing” by Robert Louis Stevenson. Morstad’s great talent lies not necessarily in her waiflike black-eyed children, but rather in how she creates tone. Though there are plenty of sequences in this book of kids playing together or sharing food and soup, for the most part her characters go it alone. These poems are the contemplations of a young person with time and space and nature in spades. I don’t know that if I read Ms. Fogliano’s poetry without the art I would have picked up on that myself. Note too how cyclical the book is. The first poem is the last, sure as shooting, but so too is the person seen at both the beginning and the end. It’s the same kid wearing the same clothes, which makes a subtle implication that though a whole year has gone by, time is simply doubling back on itself. Not sure what to make of that one, frankly.
With poetry, we have to play the game of answering what ages we think the poems are appropriate for. This book poses a bit of a challenge on that front. Some are younger, some definitely older. This mix will allow kids of all ages to take part in the fun, even as the book asks questions like whether or not there is a space between where things begin and things end “or just a slow and gentle fading”. Enticing to the eye but, more importantly almost, alluring to the brain as kids parse what Fogliano is trying to say, this is a book that has the potential (with the right teacher or parent) to convert the formerly unconvertible to the wonders of poetry itself. The truth of the matter is this: Fogliano and Morstad will make poets of us all.
For ages 6 and up.