A single word contains immense power. It can save a life, cause unbearable grief or generate immeasurable joy. Sometimes the manner in which it is said or written will convey an entirely different meaning. We can play with words and we can work with words. We can make pictures with words preserving time or dreaming of future possibilities.
Poets do many of these things with words. They can even create music with words. The life and work of one of the most well-known American poets is celebrated in enormous SMALLNESS: A story of E. E. Cummings (Enchanted Lion Books, April 7, 2015) written by Matthew Burgess with illustrations by Kris Di Giacomo.
Inside an enormous city
in a house on a very small street,
there once lived a poet
I would like you to meet.
It's E. E. Cummings currently living at 4 Patchin Place in New York City. From the room in which he writes he can hear the birds and the elephant bell rung by his one true love, Marion Moorehouse, when she calls him to tea. To learn more about the man we need to turn back the clock to follow him from birth to the present.
Born and raised at 104 Irving Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts Edward Estlin Cummings had a childhood filled with people and love. Besides his parents and younger sister, five more relatives, a handyman and a maid along with an assortment of pets shared this home. At an early age, Edward took joy in noticing the world about him. In fact his first poem was uttered when he was three.
Surrounded by parental support Edward's affair with words flourished. His poems were written in a book by his mother. His father played make-believe with him, built him a writing house at their summer place in New Hampshire and a tree house at their home. It even had a stove!
No matter where he was E. E. added his own playful take on whatever anyone was doing. At ages eleven and fifteen he received two important gifts, encouragement from a respected teacher and a guide to writing poems from his Uncle George. Attending Harvard his pursuit of weaving words his way grew and grew. From there the lure of New York City was too strong to resist and E. E. was in his element.
Life experiences in World War I and visiting the city of Paris shaped his writing. When he published his first book of poems, he expanded his unique style by experimenting in lower case letters. Nothing was going to stop e. e. from being true to his heart, except for tea time with Marion.
I could read this book over and over again. The words of Matthew Burgess are smooth like a lullaby. His narrative flows with ease informing as it charms us. Without a pause in the cadence, quotes and poems by E. E. Cummings are embedded in the text. His inclusion of specifics is supported by his extensive research. Here is another passage.
e.e. liked to break the rules of rhythm and rhyme and to make words
dance across the page
in sur(priz)ing ways.
He wanted his reader's eyes to be on tiptoes too,
seeing and reading poetry (inaway) that was new.
When you first look at the matching dust jacket and book case, you notice the limited, muted color palette and typography. It calls out to writers. It represents two of E. E. Cumming's favorite things, birds and elephants, small and enormous. On the back, to the left is a page looking like it's a scrap of something larger, torn edges on all four sides. It's covered with birds doing what they do best. Tucked at the top is a typewriter with the words e.e.cummings on the paper rolled inside it. The opening and closing endpapers are shades of blue and green filled with white typewritten words on the bottom half. Prior to the title page is the image of the elephant from the front with a quote from E. E. Cummings.
Twenty-three stunning double-page images compliment and extend the narrative. Kris Di Giacomo blends varying perspectives in the same visual to draw us into those memorable moments in this poet's life. On many of the pages cut-out individual letters will be scattered as elements in the scene. The matte-finished paper assists in elevating the texture she has provided.
My favorite illustration is a night scene. There is a huge tree on the left crossing the gutter to the right. High in the branches is E. E. sitting in his tree house gazing outward. Beneath the lowest branch on the right is a silhouette of homes and the tree-filled hills. It's done is hues of black, gray and white. The tree house in brown makes for a striking contrast.
Whether you, your children or your students enjoy poetry or not, you are going to seek out the works of this poet after reading enormous SMALLNESS: A story of E. E. Cummings written by Matthew Burgess with illustrations by Kris Di Giacomo. The blend of writing and illustrations supplies readers with a remarkable look at this poet. It is sure to inspire exploration in the writing of poetry. At the end are a chronology, poems, an author's note and acknowledgements along with a twenty-fourth illustration that is perfect.
To seek out further information about Matthew Burgess please follow the link embedded in his name to access his website. Julie Danielson, author, reviewer and blogger at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast features artwork and this title. This title is highlighted (along with a recipe) at Jama's Alphabet Soup. You can view several spreads from the book. To learn more about Kris Di Giacomo read an interview at Art of the Picture Book.
I am happy to participate each week in the 2015 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by educator Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy. Please stop there to see the other titles showcased by other bloggers this week.