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“I think what poetry finally does is to help us experience our world as intensely as possible.” (Mark Strand)

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Have I mentioned just how much I love this year’s National Poetry Month poster?

Featuring the first stanza of Mark Strand’s “Eating Poetry” cleverly drawn by New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast, it’s the poster to top all posters. Period.

As we gear up for the official start of Poetry Month next week, we simply must don our finest bibs, polish our knives and forks, and wholeheartedly nosh on Strand’s delectable words. As he once said, “The reader has to sort of give himself over to the poem and allow the poem to inhabit him.” Ladies and Gentlemen, lick your chops!

EATING POETRY
by Mark Strand

Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.
There is no happiness like mine.
I have been eating poetry.

The librarian does not believe what she sees.
Her eyes are sad
and she walks with her hands in her dress.

The poems are gone.
The light is dim.
The dogs are on the basement stairs and coming up.

Their eyeballs roll,
their blond legs burn like brush.
The poor librarian begins to stamp her feet and weep.

She does not understand.
When I get on my knees and lick her hand,
she screams.

I am a new man.
I snarl at her and bark.
I romp with joy in the bookish dark.

~ from Selected Poems (Alfred A. Knopf/Random House, 1980)

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Clean, precise, surreal. Vintage Strand. A good poem produces a visceral reaction in the reader. As we internalize it, it may momentarily dally with our intellect, but ultimately it taps into our emotional core and arouses our instinctual essence, raw and animalistic. A good poem is a transformative experience.

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Shanghai Noodles via The Daring Gourmet

NOODLES
by Janet S. Wong

Noodles for breakfast,
Noodles for lunch,
Noodles for dinner,
Noodles that crunch,
Noodles to twirl,
Noodles to slurp–
I could eat noodles
all day! Burp!

~ from Good Luck Gold (© 1994 Janet S. Wong). All rights reserved.

Pardon my burp, but I’ve just polished off a bowl of warm, steamy ramen — really hits the spot on a rainy Spring afternoon. Just like Janet, I love noodles at any time, any place; even just seeing the word “noodle” makes me happy.

Whether you’re talking about ramen, pho, guksu, pancit, lo mein, wonton, udon, yakisoba, saimin, japchae, chow fun, dandan, somen or any form of pasta — it’s all good. There’s nothing more comforting or satisfying than slurping up those long chewy strands of goodness with gravy, sauce or soup.

Saimin via The Tasty Island

It’s almost like every time I eat a noodle dish I’m tasting part of my childhood — a savory bowl of saimin with teriyaki barbecue sticks at the Fred Wright Park carnival, Crispy Gau Gee Mein from Waimalu Chop Suey, cold guksu with my two grandmas at Seoul Inn, somen salad at beach picnics, or the wonderful Chinese noodles with char siu and vegetables my Auntie Ellen always made for family holiday potlucks. And how could I forget those simple but restorative bowls of chicken noodle soup my mom ladled out whenever I was sick?

Since March is National Noodle Month, I thought it would be fun to look at two recently published noodle picture books. Both are steeped in Chinese culture, both feature a young girl named “Mei” learning about noodles from an elder, and in both stories noodles are an important part of a birthday celebration. Grab your chopsticks and let’s start slurping!

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One, two, three, and as pleased as can be to see this delectable new counting picture book  by award-winning poet, author and teacher Kathi Appelt!

For one, I’ve long been fascinated by crows and their supreme intelligence. Did you know they can distinguish individual humans by recognizing facial features? Or that they can not only use, but in some cases, manufacture tools? They engage in sports and play, and yes, they can actually count!

(Uncanny, but just as I finished typing the previous sentence, I heard three jubilant caws of approval in the back yard. I’m sure our resident crows know when they’re being written about. Told you they were smart!) :)

The two things I love most about Counting Crows (Atheneum BFYR, 2015) are the varied, innovative rhyme schemes and the fact that the crows are counting, of all things, SNACKS *licks lips*! Not to mention Rob Dunlavey’s fetching feast of whimsical illustrations capturing the peckish personalities and comical antics of these red-and-white sweater-clad flappers in a striking three-color palette of black, white and red.

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One, two, three
crows in a tree.

Three roly-poly bugs,
three ripe mangoes.

Three for the counting crows.
Three, by jango!

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Every year, Seattle-based author/illustrator Julie Paschkis attends a big neighborhood party hosted by her sister Jan and husband Greg, where family and friends gather to decorate eggs and eat lots of delicious food.

Their eggs, Ukrainian pysanky, are decorated with patterns of beeswax and layers of dye, and are part of a longstanding folk art tradition that honors the Sun and welcomes Spring. Julie’s new picture book  P. Zonka Lays An Egg (Peachtree, 2015), which officially hits shelves this week (!), was inspired by these marvelous egg-decorating parties, and is, in a word, GORGEOUS.

P. Zonka herself is no ordinary hen. Unlike her clucky friends Maud, Dora and Nadine, she’s a not a regular egg layer, preferring to spend her days gazing at the wonders of the natural world. Much to the bewilderment of the other hens, who think she’s either daft or just plain lazy, P. Zonka is enthralled by soft dark moss, the deep blue of the sky, pale mornings, and the shining centers of dandelions.

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After much pestering, urging and coaxing by the other hens, P. Zonka finally decides to give egg laying a try — and the result is well beyond any could have imagined — in a word, SPECTACULAR!

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Put on your aprons and dancing shoes, it’s time to SALSA!

So pleased to see another yummy book in Jorge Argueta’s popular bilingual Cooking Poem Series. Previously, Jorge treated us to Sopa de frijoles/Bean Soup (2009), Arroz con leche/Rice Pudding (2010), Guacamole (2012), and Tamalitos (2013). Mmmmm!

Now, with Salsa (Groundwood Books, 2015), illustrated by Pura Belpré winner Duncan Tonatiuh, Argueta infuses his lyrical, lip-smacking recipe with savory musical instruments, lively rhythms, a wealth of sensory details, and just the right amount of spice to make readers crave more.

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A young boy first describes the molcajete, a type of stone bowl dating back to the time of the ancient Aztec, Mayan, and Nahua peoples used to grind tomatoes, corn, chilies, vegetables and spices. He mentions how every weekend his family uses their molcajete to make salsa while they sing and dance.

Before proceeding, he and his sister “play” the ingredients from their very own “salsa orchestra”:

I am ready with four tomatoes.
They are bongos and kettledrums.
My onion is a maraca.
Cloves of garlic are trumpets,
and the cilantro is the orchestra conductor
with his shaggy, green hair.

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Ya tengo listos cuatro tomates.
Son bongos y timbales.
La cebolla es una maraca.
Los ajos son trompetas,
y el cilantro un director de orquesta
con su pelo verde todo despeinado.

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