Janet S. Wong, illustrated by Julie Paschkis,
Twist: Yoga Poems
Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2007.
Readers and listeners alike will have a hard time sitting still during a reading of Janet Wong's stunning new collection of poetry entitled Twist:Yoga Poems. The sixteen poems are spare and focused, and beautifully complemented by Julie Paschkis' paintings which evoke ancient Indian miniatures. In a “twist” on this author/illustrator collaboration, as we find out from the Author's Notes, Wong actually wrote her poems for the illustrator herself, who loves yoga. This is the second time the team has paired up to awe its audience: their previous book Night Garden: Poems from the World of Dreams was named a New York Times Best Illustrated Book.
Children will likely be most captivated by the variety of animal poses ranging from cat to cow to cobra. My own young daughter’s cobra pose improved dramatically after hearing Wong's description of the snake as, “She lifts herself higher, to dry out her heart.” Vivid language captures both the characteristics of the natural world's flora and fauna, and its connection to the human body. “Crow depends on his elbows,” and with trees, “at the tip of each branch there is an eye.”
Unlike many books about yoga for children, Wong's does not get bogged down in step by step instructions on how to execute each pose. The reader sees images of young yogis stretching and breathing in the position itself as well as the lion or mountain or half-moon etc. for which the pose is named.
Paschkis' striking, color-saturated paintings show children of all ethnicities practicing yoga, but the overall sensibility of the book’s artwork is strongly Indian, in keeping with yoga's historical origins. Each page reminds one of a decorative tapestry rich in golds, deep burgundies, and brilliant blues, and the style has a dreamlike quality to it.
The exquisite artistry of both author and illustrator perfectly captures the harmony of body and breath by linking words and imagery to the physical expression of each pose. This book is a well-timed addition to children's literature in light of the explosion of kids’ yoga classes in the Western World, particularly in the United States. Young and old are sure to come away with a deeper, poetic understanding of basic yoga poses and all its fun twists.