Linda Sue Park, illustrated by Istvan Banyai,
Tap Dancing on the Roof: Sijo (Poems)
Clarion Books, 2007.
Newbery Award winner Linda Sue Park (A Single Shard) has taken on the formidable project of introducing an unfamiliar poetic form in a picture book for elementary school children. The form is sijo, a Korean poem that typically has three long lines of fourteen to sixteen syllables, the third line offering “an unexpected twist or joke” at the end. The lines can also be divided so the poem has six shorter lines of seven or eight syllables.
This much is explained briefly on the flyleaf and more fully on an introductory page, after which the book offers twenty-eight of Park’s original examples of the form. Istvan Banyai’s humorous cartoon-like drawings, executed digitally in largely monochromatic tones, illustrate each sijo. Some of the poems rhyme, internally as well as at the end of lines. Titles mix upper and lower case letters, creating another level of the unexpected and humorous.
The sijo “Long Division,” is a good example of the ambitious nature of Park’s project and the range of its appeal. Even to children not yet cognizant of long division’s perplexities, the adorable characters, hanging from the “roof” of long division’s shed-like symbol, will charm. Older kids will appreciate more subtleties in the imagery and metaphor: a number’s peace is disturbed by other numbers “Bumping the wall, digging up the cellar, tap dancing on the roof.”
“Defender” offers more of Park’s multiple levels of meaning and internal rhymes. “…when we win one-nothing,/ that ‘nothing’ means everything...Defense: Intense immense suspense.” In the poem “Word Watch,” word warrior kids will delight to learn, after lines about how words mean what they sound like (“Jittery seems a nervous word”), that the meaning of sesquipedalian is “having lots of syllables.”
Tap Dancing on the Roof is a book that will likely require some adult support, either reading the poems or encouraging older children to talk about their observations and try out the form for themselves. Park’s informative author’s note at the back of the book is a helpful aid. A page of tips for writing your own sijo follows a brief historical note and suggestions for further reading.