Every living thing notices the changes each season brings. Careful human observers can pretty much rely on the signals sent by birds, insects, creatures inhabiting yards, fields and forests, trees, flowers and weeds. They know much more long before we do; perfectly in tune with their world.
Poets take the time to pause, to record, these subtle shifts. They capture moments with words like a photographer does with a camera. Author Paul B. Janeczko has selected thirty-six sterling examples in Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems (Candlewick Press, March 11, 2014) with illustrations by Caldecott Honor winner, Melissa Sweet.
The work of thirty-two prominent poets spanning decades is divided into four sections; spring, summer, fall and winter with eight to ten poems in each. A single poem introduces the transformation from one to the other. The volume begins with spring.
Daybreak reminds us---
the hills have arrived just in
time to celebrate
Rain, a blossoming flower, a vividly-colored wheelbarrow, a contrasting chicken, a stone resembling an animal giant acting as a pathway for birches, and a hearse for dead floor fans depict tiny portions of life awakening from winter's slumber. A water lily and a water bird color the landscape with their particular sights and sounds. Travelers gaze outward from the windows of a speeding train as the night flashes by in segments.
Daisies and buttercups declare the advent of summer as a furry beast roams among their stems. A crowded subway, a union of rain and dust, flashing stars skimming the night yard and spindly-legged critters making patterns on a beach take us to places and points we might otherwise miss. Stored treasures emit odors of days long past. What are the sun, moon and stars? Flowers? Faces?
Wild wind, rain and falling leaves boldly broadcast autumn. Misty mornings, dying slender stalks, crunching and bareness stretch across the wild and populated areas. There are no moons like those moons shining in the months of September, October and November.
A truck like the surrounding vista is ready for rest; winter is coming. As a prelude to snow the fog forms in and around city structures. Fence lines lead and slice. And the moonlit nights usher in much-needed sleep.
Only a master of poetry could glean such expressive beauty from the vast array of verses found in human literature. Paul B. Janeczko has never been more skillful in his choices than in this collection. What each poem brings to the reader's mind's eye are brief seconds, here and gone in a flash, but remembered always in the written word.
The illustration on the front of the matching dust jacket and book case is so full of life it breathes. The layout and design on this, on all the pictures, are exquisite. Each conveys the essence of the text presented.
Using watercolor, gouache and mixed media Melissa Sweet alternates between single page and double page pictures one flowing into the other, colorful hues blending. Delicate flower petals, panoramic sea scenes, bulging frog eyes following a fly, striped boots stomping through mud, a party of insects among fall weeds, and squirrels nestled in a wintertime nest are all made with infinite care. Each visual radiates refreshing warmth.
For the signature poem, Firefly July, a jar filled with fireflies is superimposed over children and their dog on a summer's night outside. Their home and yard are sketched in the background. It's stunning.
It's no wonder this book has received five starred reviews, The Horn Book, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Booklist and School Library Journal. Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems selected by Paul B. Janeczko with illustrations by Melissa Sweet is a poetry book everyone should own and share with others. It's destined to be a classic. It will definitely be among those titles listed in my Mock Caldecott for 2015.
To learn more about Paul B. Janeczko and Melissa Sweet please follow the links embedded in their names to their official websites. Make sure to visit this interview at Book Page.