Seriously, who could resist a poetry book called Laughing Tomatoes?
Well, I certainly couldn’t, but I shamefully admit I didn’t actually know about this fabuloso feast of pure delight until just a few months ago.
This Pura Belpré Honor Award-winning bilingual 20-poem collection by Chicano poet Francisco X. Alarcón and Maya Christina Gonzalez was first published by Children’s Book Press back in 1997. Where was I?!
Likely staring at grumpy, aloof tomatoes and not appreciating strawberries for the “sweet tender hearts” they are, living a bland life full of ho-hum edibles, certainly not hearing the warm morning sun calling to me through my window, and — *shakes head* — totally oblivious to dew, “the fresh taste of the night.”
But now, having read this glorious, jubilant celebration of Spring and its earthly delights, family, culture and community, my life is complete!
I’m happy to say Laughing Tomatoes and Other Spring Poems/Jitomates Risueños y otros poemas de primavera is one of my favorite children’s poetry books ever.
Oh, I know what you’re thinking. But it’s not just because of the food (though it’s easy to love tortillas who applaud the sun, exploding chiles, and the gift of corn, whose “tender ears are born pointing to the sky”). It is the exquisite marriage of text and art, that rare commingling of creative visions that takes your breath away, when you know you are witnessing something extraordinary (Red Sings from Treetops and Water Sings Blue come to mind).
Here, poetry is art, and art is pure poetry.
In a Writer’s Sanctuary audio interview, Gonzalez compares their collaboration to jazz improvisation. Alarcón playfully riffs on the wonders of nature and life (first rain, smiling green hills, his grandmother’s songs, his dream of “a garden in every home”), enabling us to see everything for the first time. Gonzalez responds with vivid, exuberant, magical, bursting-from-the-page riffs of her own, complete with an expanded narrative featuring dogs, cats, and joyous children swinging from trees, picnicking, picking strawberries, adorned with colorful flowers.
Perhaps you are wondering why the tomatoes are laughing? How much do I LOVE these tomato smiles!
Sí, this festive feeling is downright contaigious, and it’s beautifully balanced with tender feelings of sadness and reverence — we play, but we also honor these marvelous people and things in our lives. Have you ever laughed and cried at the same time?
In his Afterword, Alarcón says he started writing poems by jotting down the songs his grandma sang to him in the kitchen. He believes a poem is incomplete until someone reads it and makes it their own.
A collection of poetry is like a tomato plant. From a small seed it sprouts, then grows and grows. Poems need good soil, sunlight, air, and lots of care and tending. Some of these poems were written first in Spanish, others in English, and some came out in both languages almost at the same time. Poems, like tomatoes, grow in many forms and shapes. And somehow they change every time you read them. This is the magic of poetry.
Laughing Tomatoes was Alarcón’s first published book of poetry for children, and is actually part of his Magical Cycle of the Seasons Series, which earned three Pura Belpré Honor Awards as well as many other well-deserved accolades. I’m anxious to see the other books in the series, especially From the Bellybutton of the Moon and Other Summer Poems/Del ombligo de la luna y otros poemas de verano. I imagine it has the same timeless feel, perfectly capturing child mind and spirit.
A beautiful closing thought:
Did you know “words are birds that arrive with books and spring . . . the letters they leave on this page are the prints they leave by the sea.”
What child could resist this invitation to wonder?
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LAUGHING TOMATOES AND OTHER SPRING POEMS/JITOMATES RISUEÑOS Y OTROS POEMAS DE PRIMAVERA
written by Francisco X. Alarcón
illustrated by Maya Christina Gonzalez
published by Children’s Book Press/Lee & Low Books, Inc., 2012
Poetry Picture Book for ages 6+, 32 pp.
Cool themes: Seasons, Family, Community, Cultural Diversity, Bilingual, Poetry, Mexican Americans, Spring, Nature, Food
*Visit the publisher’s website for a Teacher’s Guide and audio interview with author and artist
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Margaret is hosting today’s Roundup at Reflections on the Teche. Flash your biggest tomato smile and check out the full menu of poetic goodness being served up in the blogosphere this week.
*Spreads posted by permission of the publisher, text copyright © 1997 Francisco X. Alarcón, illustrations © 1997 Maya Christina Gonzalez, published by Children’s Book Press/Lee & Low. All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2013 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.