Poetry Friday: Iguanas in the Snow and Other Winter Poems by Francisco X. Alarcón, illustrated by Christina Gonzalez

Friday, January 11th, 2013

This week seemed to fly by and I can hardly believe that Friday is upon us and it is time to celebrate Poetry Friday! For those who may not be familiar with the concept, at the end of the week many children’s book aficionados and bloggers often use their sites to contribute favorite poems or chat about something poetical in an event called Poetry Friday. The features can be original poems, reviews of poetry books, reviews of poetic picture books, links to poems at copyright protected sites, thoughts about poetry, song lyrics and  more.  One blog rounds up all the posts on the subject, so that poetry aficionados can read more posts on a favorite subject. The list of blogs scheduled to host  Poetry Friday in 2013 can be found here and you can delve into our PaperTigers’ Poetry Friday time vault here.

For this week’s Poetry Friday contribution I’d like to highlight one of my favorite children’s poetry books: Iguanas in the Snow and Other Winter Poems / Iguanas en la nieve y otros poemas de invierno by Francisco X. Alarcón, illustrated by Maya Christina Gonzalez (Children’s Book Press/Lee and Low Books, 2001). If the winter days in your neck of the woods are depressingly short, dark and gloomy, get hold of a copy of Iguanas in the Snow and prepare to have your spirit restored. You’ll immediately be taken to a wintery world of bright, engaging colors that looks to be just as magical as the long, golden days of summer are. Celebrate winter with a Mexican American family in Nothern California and witness their joy as they frolic in the snow, an experience that reminds the author of the iguanas playing by his grandmother’s house in Mexico. Celebrate life in a city where people are bridges to each other and children sing poetry in two languages. Be dazzled by the promise of seedling redwoods—like all children—destined to be the ancestors of tomorrow. This book was a well deserved winner of the 2002 Pura Belpré Award Honor Book for Narrative and can be read online on the International Children’s Digital Library  website by clicking here.

Iguanas in the Snow
what fun
to see snow
for the first time

on the Sierra Nevada
all dressed in white
like a bride

get out of
Papa’s car
in a hurry

touch the wet
snow with our
bare fingers

and throw
snowballs
at each other

what a ride
to slide
down slopes

on top
of black
inner tubes

together with
brothers and sisters
cousins and uncles

all sporting
green jackets
and pants

gotten
in a sale at
the army surplus

“Ha! ha! ha!”
Mama laughs
and says with joy

“we look like
happy iguanas
in the snow”

This week’s Poetry Friday is being hosted by No Water River

Poetry Friday: Talking with Mother Earth/Hablando con Madre Tierra – poems by Jorge Argueta, illustrated by Lucía Angela Pérez

Friday, June 15th, 2012

Mother Earth is not only a source of life in Talking with Mother Earth/Hablando con Madre Tierra, a profound collection of poems by renowned Salvadoran poet Jorge Argueta (Groundwood Books/Libros Tigrillo, 2006), but she also provides the young native boy Tetl, in whose voice the poems are written, with joy, a connection with his land and heritage, and, most importantly, a comforting stability in the face of racist jeering from his peers.

Argueta’s poems are written in succinct free verse, presented in both Spanish and English with smatterings of Nahuatl, the language of the Nahua people passed down from the Aztecs and that Argueta grew up with.  From the first poem in which Tetl presents Mother Earth, or “Ne Nunan Tal” in Nahuatl, readers are welcomed into Tetl’s life.  His joy in the creations of Mother Nature is contagious, from poems such as “Walking and Whistling”, “The Wind” and “Water”; and I love the wordplay in both languages in “Suenos Días/Gourd Morning.”

These poems alone would represent a lively collection that provides insight into Nahuatl culture – and this impression is enhanced by Lucía Angela Pérez’ vibrant illustrations that leap out from the pages.  What makes this book outstanding, however, is the way it draws young readers in to think about how they themselves might have behaved, whether deliberately or thoughtlessly, towards their peers from a different cultural background.  The first indication that Tetl has to deal with such abuse comes in the fiercely upright poem “Yo/I”:

 […] Sometimes I feel like yelling

From my toes to my head.
Yes, I am a Pipil Nahua Indian.
[…]
I wear feathers of beautiful birds to protect me
from the bad words and the looks
that come my way from some people
because I am Indian.

Immediately after “Yo/I”, the poem “Tetl” rings with the boy’s name, Tetl: “It is the name my grandmother gave me”.  The name Tetl runs in counterpoint to “But everybody knows me as Jorge” – a clue to the autobiographical nature of the poems.

A little further on, the poem “Indio/Indian” addresses the verbal abuse head on: and the illustration shows Tetl rising above it, proud of his identity, even if some people don’t understand or respect it.  Indeed, what makes this collection work so well, and makes it an excellent resource for young children discussing issues of racism and bullying, is that it presents a complete view of Tetl’s life so that the cruel behaviour of his peers towards him fails to define him.

To find out more, read our PaperTigers review of this beautiful book.  When I first opened it, I was expecting to be transported to another culture.  I got that and so much more.

Today’s Poetry Friday is hosted by Mary Lee at A Year of Reading.  Head on over!

Poetry Friday: The Poet Pencil

Friday, September 5th, 2008

Poetry FridayPoetry Friday is here to enchant our eyes and ears!… In anticipation of Hispanic Heritage Month (Sep 15 – Oct 15), I am currently re-reading The Tree is Older Than You Are, an incredible anthology of bilingual poems from Mexico, selected by Naomi Shihab Nye. And I’d like to share one of its many gems with you all:

The Poet Pencil
by Jesús Carlos Soto Morfín, translated by Judith Infante

Once upon a time a pencil wanted to write
poetry but it didn’t have a point. One day a boy
put it into the sharpener, and in place of a point,
a river appeared.

Wild Rose Reader is brimming with poetic activity as host of this week’s Poetry Friday round-up. Check it out.