Edited by Debjani Chatterjee and Brian D’Arcy, illustrated by Shirin Adl,
Let’s Celebrate! Festival Poems from Around the World
Frances Lincoln, 2011.
Let’s Celebrate! is an effervescent anthology of diverse poetry put together by poets Debjani Chatterjee and Brian D’Arcy. It invites young readers to share in the exuberance of a wide array of festivals celebrated around the world. Starting with “The Chinese Dragon” bringing in the Chinese New Year, ending with “Kwanzaa” in December, and visiting different cultures, countries and religions in between, the book takes children on a journey whose unifying thread is the happiness that each of the festivals awakens. Children will likely find poems relating to festivals that are familiar to them, and their curiosity will be aroused to find out about the rest. Endnotes about each festival give relevant background; and again, children may want to know more after reading them.
The poems themselves come in a variety of forms – some with regular patterns of rhyme and meter, others in free verse. There are choruses that just have to be chanted aloud, like “Carnival! Carnival! Everybody shout out – Carnival!” in Valerie Bloom’s wonderful poem “Carnival”. There are also translations, like the selection of Japanese “Cherry Blossom” haiku; “Dance, Dance: A Poem for Rangali Bihu” from Assam; and extracts from Pablo Neruda’s “Ode to Tomatoes”, used to commemorate the Spanish Tomatina Festival. Illustrator Shirin Adl’s exuberant splashes of red paint certainly get the message across here!
In fact, the illustrations are a joy throughout. Adl uses an effective blend of painting and paper/fabric/photographic collage (I especially love the seeds, pulses and herbs illustrating Chatterjee’s acrostic “Diwali”). Plenty of authentic contextual detail helps to bring the celebrating to life, and lots of happy children and their families are an open-armed invitation for young readers to join in the celebrations too, whether it’s helping to scrape pancakes off the ceiling while “Tossing Pancakes” (by Nick Toczek), running to “get your skates on” for the “Ice Festival” (by D’Arcy), or counting out the significance of each candle for “Hannukah” (by Andrea Shavick).
So yes, let us indeed celebrate – you can’t help but be caught up in the joyous spirit of this anthology. And with every day being a festival somewhere in the world, as Chatterjee and D’Arcy point out in their introduction, if there isn’t a poem for their particular festive day (or indeed, even if there is), Let’s Celebrate! will doubtless inspire young readers to compose one of their own.