The winter solstice signals the shortest day and the longest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. Bare branches wave in the winds. Only the cawing of crows, the honking of migrating geese or chirping of chickadees breaks the silence. The snow reveals those beings still awake; footprints betraying their nocturnal travels.
Mother Nature demands this rest, this sleep of renewal. Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, November 4, 2014) written by Joyce Sidman with illustrations by Rick Allen recreates this natural interlude in all it's fascinating elegance. We listen. We read. We marvel. And we grow in understanding.
and the cold came creeping,
came prickling into our hearts.
This is the first sentence in the first poem of twelve titled Dream Of The Tundra Swan; transporting us into the residents' realm. Not only can we claim a clear vision of white wings shaking off gathered flakes of ivory but to know these creatures soar up to 5,000 feet in the air is astounding.
Readers may shiver not from cold but from the thought of thousands of garter snakes gathering to slumber together in the same spot year after year. Water drops drop from clouds gathering vapor on formed crystals moving without direction, each one different, and each one adding to the growing crowd to layer the ground with snow. A moose moves with its mother from one spring season to the next weathering winter depths on tall thin legs built for its bulk.
Did you know busy honey makers huddle around their queen, a living buzzing ball? Beavers hide beneath the ice all winter never seeing the light of day unless it dimly shines through the walls of their mound of sticks and chips. Ravens and wolves work together in the air and on land, not in complete harmony, to find food.
If voles are fortunate snows will fall deep enough so tunnels can offer protection and passage. Clever predators are always ready to listen, dig and capture them. Those sentinels, standing silent except for the creaking and cracking on bitter windy days, those trees survive through the ages.
Chickadees cheerfully maneuver from point to point seeking food until the shift in seasons. Tiny arthropods gather by the thousands as winter weakens and those early floral harbingers send out their skunky scent. A change is coming.
Poetic master, Joyce Sidman, creates amazingly realistic images with her words. Reading her poetry is an experience for our senses bringing us into the essence of her subject. Free verse, rhyming patterns, repetition, and two voices speaking surround us with their pulse, Nature's heartbeat in rhythm to our own. Here are two examples from this title.
In the fat white wigwam
made of ripped chips and thrashing twigs
is a heart of fur, curled and cozy,
far beneath the winter sunshine.
(Under Ice; a pantoum)
From dawn to dusk in darkling air
we glean and gulp and pluck and snare,
then find a roost that's snug and tight
to brave the long and frozen night.
To the left of each poem are short informative paragraphs offering intriguing details about each subject. They are the types of facts which get to the heart of each. They are the types of facts which will garner even more appreciation for each animal, snowflakes, first flowers and trees.
Unfolding the matching dust jacket and book case, readers are greeted by the first of fifteen illustrations spanning across two pages. With a color palette as icy as the temperature except for the warmth of the featured beings, we are moved to the woodland as surely as if we walked through a door. Many parts of this world sleep and slow but others are as animated as the foxes moving over the snow. A steely blue-gray covers both the opening and closing endpapers. After the turn of the title page highlighting a moose deep in the snow facing readers, a tree branch spans from left to right, final clinging autumn leaves falling, shifting to bare twigs and huge snowflakes drifting downward. At the book's close the branch is there again. Snowflakes leave to reveal new buds.
Rick Allen rendered these artistic pieces as stated in this portion taken from the verso.
The individual elements of each picture (the animals, trees, snowflakes, etc.) were cut, inked, and printed from linoleum blocks (nearly two hundred of them), and then hand-colored. Those prints were then digitally scanned, composed, and layered to create the illustrations for the poems.
You want to pause at each visual to gaze in wonder at the details, the movement, the background and the texture. You can hear wings being lifted in flight, the soft fall of snowflakes and crunching and tearing of moose teeth on willow. Every scene is a study in the marvels of animal and plant adaptation shown in varied perspectives. In every double-page image but three the fox can be seen.
Several of my favorite illustrations are of the moose and its mother foraging and resting together to sleep. The shades of color in the background are a striking contrast to the warm browns of their fur. The beavers moving beneath the ice, gathering sticks, swimming and curling up inside their lodge is fantastically portrayed; the shadows of being near the bottom of the stream against the clarity of the room. Having walked the woods for many years in the early spring to see the first flower, skunk cabbage, I know this close-up view is perfect. The reflection of the fox drinking in the pool of water is stunning.
Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold written by Joyce Sidman with illustrations by Rick Allen is a beautifully conceived and executed work. The poetry literally sings off the pages, elevated by breathtaking art. This title would be a welcome addition to a personal or professional collection. Reading it aloud is mesmerizing. A single page glossary is included on the final page.
To learn more about Joyce Sidman and Rick Allen please follow the links embedded in their names to visit their personal websites. Joyce Sidman has several extra items for her titles including videos. Here is a link to an educator's guide for this book. Author and blogger at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, Julie Danielson, interviewed Rick Allen recently. The questions and his answers along with the pictures and artwork are wonderful.