Several years ago, in order to illustrate Monica Brown’s Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People (Henry Holt, 2011), Julie Paschkis immersed herself in Neruda’s poetry and took Spanish language classes.
She fell in love with Spanish, its sounds and structure. Already a lover of words, she found these new words both interesting and fascinating, so much so, that she incorporated them in her paintings to stunning effect. She had created her own brand of visual poetry inspired by Neruda’s words.
Her love affair with the language didn’t end with that book. As one thing can sometimes beautifully lead to another, Julie discovered that her unfamiliarity with Spanish freed her to write poetry. The fourteen free verse animal poems in Flutter & Hum/Aleteo y Zumbido (Henry Holt, 2015) were first written in Spanish, then translated by Julie into English. And as she did with the Neruda book, she added words inspired by the poems to her illustrations.
In this exquisite tapestry of three languages — Spanish, English, and Art — we are treated to Julie’s charming insights and observations of creatures inhabiting land, sea and air, inviting us to appreciate them in new and surprising ways. Did you ever wonder what a turtle might be hiding in her shell?
The turtle hides
in her shell.
But maybe there is space,
for hidden treasure.
Just for pleasure
she could put an emerald
and a ruby or two
When she walks
she listens to the rattle of the gemstones.
That is why she goes so slowly —
she doesn’t want to spill
La tortuga se esconde
en su caparazón.
Tal vez hay un vacío,
para un tesoro escondido.
Sólo por gusto
la tortuga podría meter
una esmeralda y unos rubís
escucha el traqueteo del tesoro.
Por eso ella anda lentamente —
para no deja caer
And the snake? He writes “a slippery poem/with his body . . . He only knows one letter: ssssssssss.” There’s also a whale that dances “In a dazzle of bubbles.” Sheer delight!
The poems vary in mood from playful (a dog’s wagging tail “fans wild happiness/into the wild world”) to peaceful and evocative (“Out of the darkness/an owl hoots./An echo./The night train/is leaving”) to ethereal (“I am a fish in the sea of dreams”).
I really love the CAT:
naps on a map.
When she gets up
s h e s t r e t c h e s
from Arequipa to Zanzibar
and her belly bumps Topolobampo.
La gata gorda
se duerme en un mapa.
Cuando se levanta
s e e s t i r a
desde Arequipa hasta Zanzibar
y su barriga choca contra Topolobampo.
La gata elástica.
Isn’t ‘Topolobampo’ the best word ever? Even if we didn’t know it’s a city in Mexico, we get a good sense of how the cat’s moving in that winsome alliterative line, so much fun to read aloud. Flutter and Hum truly celebrates words, languages, and instinctual creative expression. It certainly contributes to our appreciation of how and where poems might emerge, and it’s fun to imagine Julie playing with both Spanish and English and exploring some of the magical places in between.
As someone who loves hand lettering, I fairly swooned over Julie’s gorgeous paintings. As words slither on long blades of grass, swirl in the ripples of pond water, ride atop the backs of crows (“crass/brash,” “craven/crooked,” “brujo/brusco”), float in clouds, adorn both halves of a juicy strawberry (“fresh, blush, ripe, giddy, gozo, julio, frivolo”), and stream in dark ocean waves (“nightfall, fill, flow, flung, luna, lustra, bunco, oscuro”), we hear these juicy words spark and sing, bask in their collective serenade, feel the heart quicken. Her careful choice of words, as well as how they are paired or juxtaposed, creates a new energy, another poetic revelation.
Readers will also enjoy the little touches of humor: the parrot is “cheery, cheeky, beaky,” the whale, “buoyant”/”oh boy,” and that irresistible cat, “now/then,” “here/there.” Surprise gifts in the fine details, a veritable feast of words. Perfecto!
I know you’ll enjoy hearing more from Julie herself, and we thank her for visiting today, and for creating this treasure of a book. Perhaps the turtle should stash a copy in her shell? 🙂
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🐢 CHATTING WITH JULIE PASCHKIS 🐋
Why did you decide to write poems about animals? Is there something about the Spanish language that inspired this thematic choice?
I wrote a bunch of poems about a lot of subjects. When I put them together I realized that many of them were about animals or included animal imagery, so I focused on animals as I went forward.
You said in your Author’s Note that your unfamiliarity with Spanish freed you to write poetry. What was your overall process like when beginning a new poem – did you think in terms of certain Spanish words or phrases first, or did you think of images or perhaps emotions you wished to convey?
The poems mostly arose out of individual words. Then I spun ideas around those words. For example when I wrote the poem about the deer I realized that the word ve (he looks) was part of the word venado (deer). And the word vistazo which means glance is such a brittle delicate word – like a deer running away with branches snapping.
Were there any reference materials about either the animals or the Spanish language that were especially helpful?
The Spanish/English dictionary! I would troll through the dictionary on word hunting expeditions.
What did you learn about writing poetry as a result of working simultaneously in both languages during the revision process?
Poetry is about sound and meaning. I think it helps to approach it slowly, and working in both languages definitely slowed me down.
I smiled when I read your words, “I am not a poet,” because to me you’ve always been a brilliant visual poet, who seamlessly incorporates alliterative and rhyming words in your illustrations. What’s your favorite illustration in this book? Could you tell us a little about how you created it?
Thank you! My favorite illustration in the book is the Moth /La Polilla. I kept painting the blues darker and darker and I felt like I was being pulled into that color. For every poem I made lists of related words for the paintings. I had a pantry full of words. But I only used a few of those words in this painting, because I thought the empty spaces made it feel more like night and made the words that I did choose more important.
I love the placement of the giant strawberry that accompanies your poem “Fly/La Mosca” — how the book’s gutter naturally halves the fruit into English and Spanish sides. For the art, did you choose the Spanish or English words first? Any special criteria for word choice?
For each painting I made lists of words in both English and Spanish. The words that illustrate the poems are not translated word for word from side to side – they are just words that I like in both languages. I picked the words for their sound and meaning. I wanted the words in both languages to amplify or riff on the meaning of the poems. I did not know before starting the painting which words I would end up using in the painting or how many. Each word I chose determined the words around it.
What was the best part of working on this project? Does this mean you’ll be creating more poetry books?
I loved playing with language and images together. I have been working on new poems – I don’t know if they will turn into a book or not.
Is there anything else you’d like us to know about the book?
The poems are arranged from morning to night (roughly) so the colors start out soft in the morning, are bright in the middle of the day and end up in the dark night.
What are you working on now?
I am working on the paintings for a book called Magic Spell (which I also wrote). It is about a magician who is a great speller. His name Aziz and he has an assistant Zaza. They need to learn to work together. It will be published by Simon & Schuster and I hope that it will be spellbinding.
FLUTTER & HUM/ALETEO Y ZUMBIDO: Animal Poems/Poemas de Animales
written and illustrated by Julie Paschkis
published by Henry Holt BYR, August 2015
Bilingual Poetry Picture Book for ages 4-8, 32 pp.
**Starred Reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and The Bulletin**
♥ Don’t miss Julie’s wonderful Flutter and Hum post at Books Around the Table
♥ Check out Julie Danielson’s review at Kirkus
📗 SPECIAL BOOK GIVEAWAY 📘
For a chance to win a brand new copy of Flutter and Hum, please leave a comment at this post mentioning your favorite animal no later than midnight (EDT) Wednesday, October 7, 2015. You may also enter by sending an email with ‘JULIE’ in the subject line to: readermail (at) jamakimrattigan (dot) com. Giveaway open to residents of the U.S. and Canada only, please. Winner will be announced next Friday. Good Luck!
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THE JUMPING OFF LIBRARY SHELVES GIVEAWAY WINNER
BRIDGET R. WILSON!!
Please send me your snail mail address so we can get the book out to you lickety split!
Thanks, everyone, for all the great comments. Loved hearing about all your childhood libraries!!
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Heidi Mordhorst is hosting today’s Roundup at My Juicy Little Universe. Flutter by and check out the full menu of poetic goodness being served up in the blogosphere this week.
*Interior spreads from Flutter and Hum posted by permission of the publisher, text and illustrations copyright © 2015 Julie Paschkis, published by Henry Holt. All rights reserved.
*Copyright © 2015 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.