After watching his grandfather compose a haiku with brush and ink, Kiyoshi asks, “Where do poems come from?”
Wise and gentle poet Eto answers by taking Kiyoshi on a meditative walk around their city to demonstrate how sensory perception, mindfulness, imagination, and emotional reflection all play a role in inspiring new poems.
As they stroll along familiar streets, they take note of seemingly ordinary occurrences — a cat perched atop a pile of oranges at the grocers, a flock of pigeons swooping down from a rooftop, a lone teddy bear left behind next to an abandoned building.
For each observation, Eto writes a new poem, to which Kiyoshi responds with new insight. About the oranges, Eto writes:
Hill of orange suns.
Cat leaps. Oranges tumble.
The cat licks his paw.
Kiyoshi puzzles awhile, and then asks, “Does this mean poems come from seeing things?”
They next hear the flutter of wings, which makes them look up.
The sky calls to us —
Pigeons, the whir of feathers.
Our arms could be wings.
Kiyoshi realizes “you find poems by listening.”
When they peek through a wall surrounding an old house, they see a stuffed bear on the ground. Eto describes this scenario:
His boy moved away.
Lying by the empty house,
A lonely bear waits.
Now Kiyoshi sees how imagination can factor into writing a poem.
As the day winds down and shadows lengthen, Eto and Kiyoshi reach the river. Kiyoshi feeds the ducks while Eto rests on a park bench. As others leave the park, Kiyoshi tells his grandfather he feels a little lonely, remarking, “Our feelings also make poems.”
With the city lights flickering across the river, Eto asks Kiyoshi if he now understands where poems come from. Kiyoshi spreads his arms wide, joyously responding that poems happen when the outer world joins with the world within.
Kiyoshi then writes a poem of his own that makes his grandfather smile:
In the cool spring night
The wind’s dance makes me shiver.
Your voice keeps me warm.
Hand in hand, the two begin their long walk home, an old poet alongside a new one — both able to appreciate that “in everything there was a poem: the faces of the people, the sound of the river, the moon breaking from the clouds.”
This beautifully told, understated story is a wonderful primer for budding poets, and an engaging, calming read aloud for picture book lovers of all ages.
Through a lyrical interweaving of spare prose and appealing haiku, Karlins touts the importance of close and careful observation, as well as quieting the mind in order to be receptive to the wonders of our surroundings. For those who may be intimidated by poetry, he offers reassurance that everyday experiences can provide rich fodder for poems.
The touching relationship between Kiyoshi and his grandfather makes for a heartwarming narrative, where each small moment they share translates into a new, revelatory poem.
The metaphor of walking and traveling in order to achieve understanding evokes the great haiku master Bashō, who traveled around Japan seeking inspiration. I also like the presence of the river in this story, as it may symbolize a continual flow of thoughts, impressions, and emotions, as part of the poet’s ongoing creative journey.
Nicole Wong’s captivating illustrations, rendered in warm earth tones with pink and orange highlights, depict Kiyoshi and Eto’s neighborhood as an inviting environment where people walk their dogs, roller skate, fly kites and picnic. Captivating, carefully placed details draw the reader further into each scene.
Her use of scale and perspective is especially effective as it underscores how considering various vantage points enhances meaningful observation. So we walk with the characters at street level, then view them from above as the pigeons flutter down, then we’re looking up at them curbside as though we could be one of those pigeons on the pavement. It’s all about different ways of seeing.
The opening spread showing Kiyoshi watching Eto with his brush establishes their close bond; a similar close-up near the end of the story constitutes a full circle moment when Kiyoshi is the one writing a poem.
Wong balances interesting architectural details of shops and apartment buildings with strategically placed bits of flora — a wildflower growing out of a crack in the sidewalk that interests a pigeon in the next spread, the lovely cherry blossom trees bordering the park.
I also like how she uses light in her pictures — whether sunlight filtered through clouds, the beautiful reflections in the water as the moon appears, or city lights appearing at dusk. The sense of time passing, in an unhurried way, is conducive to peaceful introspection as the story progresses from a place of curiosity to newfound understanding.
My favorite spread is the one of Kiyoshi and Eto sitting on a bench intently talking, the illuminated city in the distance, a boat floating by — dreaminess in blue water and sky!
Grandfather Eto is the living embodiment of his teachings, and young readers will be eager to practice what they’ve learned by walking alongside him and Kiyoshi in these enchanting pages.
written by Mark Karlins
illustrated by Nicole Wong
published by Lee & Low Books, Inc. (March 2021)
Picture Book for ages 5+, 32 pp.
*Includes Author’s Note explaining haiku
**Starred Review from Kirkus**
***A Junior Library Guild Selection
♥️ Enjoy Mark Karlins’s Guest Post at Poetry for Children
♥️ More interesting backstory about the book at Uma Krishnaswami’s blog, Writing with a Broken Tusk:
♥️ Check out this interview with Mark at Caroline Starr Rose’s blog.
♥️ At the Lee & Low Blog, Mark suggests ways to extend enjoyment of the book in the classroom by writing renga.
♥️ Another guest post at Nerdy Book Club: “The Joining of the Inner and Outer Worlds.”
♥️ You can find a Teacher’s Guide here.
🍓 SUNDAY FUNDAY IN KOREATOWN GIVEAWAY WINNER! 📗
Thanks to all who entered the giveaway for a copy of Aram Kim’s latest picture book, Sunday Funday in Koreatown! We are happy to announce that the lucky winner is:
🌺 LINDA BAIE! 🍒
🎉 CONGRATULATIONS, LINDA! 🎉
👏 👏 👏 👏 👏
We know you’ll enjoy the book, and you may even be tempted to make your own kimbap :).
For those who may have missed my fun and in-depth interview with Aram, click here.
The lovely and talented Tabatha Yeatts is hosting the Roundup at The Opposite of Indifference. Stroll on over to check out the full menu of poetic goodness being shared around the blogosphere this week. Susan Bruck has the National Poetry Month Kidlitosphere Roundup at Soul Blossom Living.
*Interior spreads text copyright © 2021 Mark Karlins, illustrations © 2021 Nicole Wong, published by Lee & Low Books. All rights reserved.
**Copyright © 2021 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.