April brings the first signs of spring—warmer days, blooms in the trees—or at least the hope of spring, if you're somewhere still suffering through the last gasp of winter. With all the changes in the natural world, it's a fitting time of year for National Poetry Month. We've been celebrating with hilarious new rhymes for young readers and even verses for babies.
Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems is something quite special. Thirty-six very short poems, selected by poet and anthologist Paul B. Janeczko and illustrated by Caldecott Honoree Melissa Sweet, take us through the four seasons. There's no better way to introduce little ones to the verses of Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, Richard Wright and more.
We asked Janeczko and Sweet about their favorite poems from Firefly July:
Paul B. Janeczko, editor
Pick a favorite poem in this book? Oh, my. That's the anthologist's delight: I get to include all my favorite poems that fit a particular collection. But let me offer two of my favorites: "In the Field Forever" by Robert Wallace and "The first September breeze fluttered" by Liz Rosenberg. Like the other poems in this book, they show a reader that a good poem is built on a clear and vivid image, one that appeals to the reader's senses.
Beyond that, they were written by poets that don't normally write for children, and I want my young readers to reach a bit, so I always include poems written by poets not considered to be "children's poets."
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Melissa Sweet, illustrator
Making the art for Firefly July went very smoothly until I came to my favorite poem: "Window."
This poem captures the staccato feel of traveling by train at night, and it reminded me of taking the train from Maine (where I live) to New York City—a very scenic ride.
The art took a few tries before it expressed what I wanted.
The first attempt was to make one big picture, then divide it up into by drawing windows on top of the painting . . . but there wasn't enough detail or variation in the scenes.
Next, starting with the dark background and pasting down each window separately . . . it was too messy and not cohesive enough.
What was missing? Making a list of imagery I remembered from previous train rides: street lights, backyards, woods, towns and cities, roads, nocturnal animals, harbor with fishing boats, rivers, a clock. People all ages reading books, dozing, looking out the windows.
On the final try, I concentrated on each train car, one at a time—Who was in it? Where were they going? What did they see?—and painting very loosely, letting the watercolor softly tell the story.
The final piece reflects the quiet elegance of a train at night, each moment a new scene rambling by. It became my favorite spread, and I happen to know it was Paul’s favorite, too!
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FIREFLY JULY: A YEAR OF VERY SHORT POEMS. Compilation copyright © 2014 by Paul B. Janeczko. “Window” from Chicago Poems by Carl Sandburg, copyright 1916 by Holt Rinehart and Winston and renewed 1944 by Carl Sandburg, reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. “In the Field Forever” by Robert Wallace from Ungainly Things. Copyright © 1968 by Robert Wallace. Used by permission of Christine Wallace. “The first September breeze fluttered” by Liz Rosenberg, used by permission of the author. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by Melissa Sweet. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.