It's my tradition (and pleasure) to peruse my local indie bookstore for books as one of the presents for each of my grandchildren at Christmas time. Their insistence upon growing up makes the choices more difficult with each passing year, but luckily I still have some younger ones for whom I can purchase a beautifully illustrated picture book. The manager, Lois, always has a fabulous find for me and this year was no exception.
One of her recommendations was Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold by Joyce Sidman & Rick Allen, published by HMH Books for Young Readers (November 4, 2014). This duo teamed up to produce the 2011 Newbery Honor Award winner, Dark Emperor & Other Poems of the Night, combining scientific facts about night creatures with stunning illustrations and hauntingly lyrical verse. I was happy to see their new 2014 release continued this theme with the same quality of line and art.
Being a beekeeper's helpmate, the first poem I turned to was "Winter Bees".
We are an ancient tribe,
a hardy scrum.*
Sidman's words catch the hum and feel of the hive deep in its tree trunk home, keeping the heat on by the act of "shivering" - which keeps it a balmy 92 degrees, by the way. Her vocabulary is picturesque but not difficult for the age group - don't you love the word, "scrum"?
However, my favorite poem was "Brother Raven, Sister Wolf". Having been a wolf watcher for many years, this poem took my heart. She portrayed the relationship of bird and canine as I have often imagined it to be. Although not exactly friends, they have been observed to be of great use to one another in finding and providing something to eat - though they often squabble in the process.
Silver winged thief,
Yellow eyed snarler,
Other subjects in the book are voles, chickadees, and even a triolet on the lowly skunk cabbage, a plant I eagerly look for in late winter. I highly recommend this lovely, lovely picture book not only for the young ones in your life, but for you and anyone who loves nature, poetry and the treasures of the winter season. Ms. Sidman also hints of the promise of spring, for as she says in "Chickadee's Song",
winter doesn't last forever.
Hopefully, the team of Sidman and Allen (his linoleum block prints are truly amazing) will continue to give us more enjoyable collaborations. Bravo!
*Book cover and quotations from poems with permission of Ms. Sidman.
What is your favorite holiday memory? For some, it is a special time in their life, such as a young married couple’s first Christmas together, or a child’s first Hanukkah. For others, it is a bittersweet moment, such as when a son or daughter is far away serving their country, and can only share the holiday by letter or e-mail. Memories from childhood teem with sights, sounds, and smells that linger far into our golden years.
One of my many special memories happened when I was about seven or eight years old. We had gone to my paternal grandfather’s on Christmas Eve, as was our tradition. Santa, as was his tradition, had come while we were gone. After we had opened the gifts the jolly old elf had left us, and the ones we had made or bought for each other, my father told us to sit tight, and went upstairs. Carrying a huge box wrapped in orange butcher paper, he struggled down the steps and into the living room.
He set it in front of my mother. She carefully unwrapped it. It was one of those new Motorola stereophonic record players! It played 78-, 33-1/3-, and 45-speed records, and had speakers you could put across the room! We were all so excited! My mother loved music, and although she knew it was more than they could afford and said so, she was happy with the gift. My father, who had used an unexpected holiday bonus to pay for it, was so pleased with himself for picking such a great present that he looked like the Cheshire cat! I remember sitting on the floor by the twinkling Christmas tree, and listening to records that night before we went to bed.
My mother, my sisters, and I played many records on that stereo over the next decade. When I was eighteen, my mother died of cancer. For the next few weeks, my father, who had seldom used it, repeatedly played “Um bel di” from the opera, Madame Butterfly. He had never been a fan of opera. Why that particular plaintive melody? He never explained, but it seemed to give him comfort. His gift to us that long-ago Christmas, which had given us hours of pleasure and a wonderful holiday memory, had traveled full circle, and become a gift that helped him to work through his loss.
Using your own holiday memories, write a poem, short story or essay or just jot it down in your idea book for later inspiration. This time of year is full of stories!