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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold, written by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Rick Allen. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Thomas Allen & Son. 2014.$21.99 ages 7 and up

"In Manitoba, Canada, scientists have discovered hibernaculums that host up to 20,000 garter snakes! While bromating, snakes neither eat nor drink. Their breathing and heart rate slow down and their blood thickens. They spend the winter in a communal mass ..."

Well, long term forecasts from various sources tell us that we are in the for four cold months of winter; others assure that it is going to warmer than usual on the prairies, or at least a bit warmer than is seasonal. Who do you believe? There are many who say that we should look to nature to help in predicting just exactly what might happen. I am of the mind that you just wait until it does happen, and then you make your adjustments one way or the other. All that is a preamble to letting you know that I finally have Joyce Sidman's Winter Bees in my eager-to-read hands.

I anticipate each of her books with the knowledge that there will be much to learn and to feel in the poetry that she creates for young readers. This s perfect way to help them understand how the animals they so love are able to survive without grocery stores and furnaces. We know they have warm coats, and there is food even if it is often hard to find.

There are twelve poems, and each is referenced in a sidebar that contains information important in helping readers understand much about the cold. The range is wide, in voice and poetic form. As we read the clean and clear text, we become fully aware of adaptations that the world of nature makes as winter descends and heaps its cold upon it. The double page spreads are consistent, making them as accessible as possible for a target audience. The poem is placed on the left hand page, facing the gathered scientific information on the right hand side.

As lovely and informative as the poetry is and as breathtaking as Ms. Sidman's ability to capture tiny moments and grand impressions of all things cold, Rick Allen's illustrations are a perfect match in every way...brilliant and impressive, they beg our full attention to every detail. The elegant movement and ever-changing perspectives provide an additional layer of interest for those sharing this stunning book of poetry. Always keep your eye on the gorgeous and playful fox from the front cover!

Mr. Allen explains his process in a copyright page note that faces the table of contents:

"The images for this book were made through the unlikely marriage of some very old and almost new art mediums. The individual elements of each picture (the animals, trees, snowflakes, etc.) were cut, inked, and printed from linoleum blocks (nearly two hundred of them), and then hand-colored, composed, and layered to create the illustrations for the poems. The somewhat surprising (and oddly pleasing) result was learning that the slow and backwards art of relief printmaking could bring modern technology down to its level, making everything even more complex and time-consuming."

I think it is wonderful that publishers make such artistic process available to readers; I wish it were part of every illustrated book that I read.

I will let Ms. Sidman have the last words:


Ambling through the hoary crystals,
thinking of how I love
this powdery place
between iron-hard ground
         and snow-crust ceiling ...
how it bakes in the winter sun
like a crumbly white cake
studded with delectables:
crunchy roots, savory seeds,
          and tender bark of trees ...
How it appeared softly one night,
just as the bitter wind had almost
           sucked the very life from my bones:
a blanket made of sky-feathers!
Thinking of all the long, lovely tunnels
that smell of food, or sleep, or sky ...
they way they twist and dive
in search of their own ends.
Thinking of - Eeek!
Stop thinking.

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