Friday, April 17, 2009

A spring manga-ish poetry mash up

Ivy in Bloom written by Vanita Oelschlager and illustrated by by Kristin Blackwood (Vanitabooks, 2009)

I happened upon this book at the ALA Midwinter conference and just got the published copy in the mail this week (after poring over the galleys earlier). It’s a poetry book published by a small press focused on books for kids ages 4-8. Vanita Books are authored and published by Vanita Oelschlager and all profits are donated to charitable organizations. An impressive venture!

But I was particularly struck by the concept for and execution of this particular title. Essentially, it’s a “mash up” of lines from famous works of fiction and poetry by classic writers. The lines are loosely woven together to express a young girl’s feelings about the coming of spring. Each line or phrase serves as a kind of caption for double-page spreads of winter-into-springtime scenes. What a clever idea! Use a line from Wordsworth here, Dickinson there, and Whitman and Milne, and voila, a picture book emerges. I wish I had thought of that! But kids (particularly older kids and teens) might find that a compelling notion for creating their own “mash ups” of classic lines, “double, double, toil and trouble… a poem lovely as a tree… quoth the raven, nevermore…”

Next, the art is an interesting counterpoint to these classic lines. Blackwood (the illustrator) notes the “mash up” of artistic techniques she employed. She begins with traditional linoleum block prints in black ink. Then those images are digitized and watercolor layers are added via computer. The overall effect is very graphic with a strong, nearly overpowering black line throughout the art. I liked that it made the book less “sweet” and more dramatic. I thought the art had a nearly “manga” look with its young girl protagonist with huge eyes and long flowing black hair. If this were a slide show or short film instead of a picture book, I would say this is ready-made for tweens and teens!

Finally, the icing on the cake, is a “bibliography” section of six pages with thumbnails of each previous picture accompanied by the full text of the poem from which the lines are derived—with the selected lines in green. A note about the poet is also included. LOVE THAT! It does reveal some rather idiosyncratic choices in mining the words and phrases for the picture book text, but that might lead to an interesting discussion with kids, too.

All in all, it’s a real departure for a poem picture book—weaving together an homage to classic poetry to celebrate the season of spring with art that is quirky and inviting. Check it out!

Obviously, there isn’t a single poem to highlight as an example, but this sample page is my favorite. (It feels very Robert Frost meets Mary Azarian!)

Oelschlager, Vanita. 2009. Ivy in Bloom. Ill. by Kristin Blackwood. Akron, OH: Vanitabooks.

Join the whole Poetry Friday crowd at my former student and current colleague’s amazing blog, Beck’s Book Reviews.


Posting (not poem) by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2009. All rights reserved.


susan said...

Thank you for providing so much detail about the book. It sounds wonderful. Will add it to our wish list.

Sylvia Vardell said...

Thanks for stopping by-- glad to help. And glad you keep poetry on your wish list!

laurasalas said...

This sounds intriguing...My library doesn't have it, AND they say they can't get it through ILL. I'm going to put in an acquisition suggestion. Hoping they'll buy it:>)

Sylvia Vardell said...

Yes, it's a teeny, tiny press, but it's a unique contribution to the poetry picnic, so I wanted to help get it noticed!

Anonymous said...

Hi I am the Sales Director for VanitaBooks.. you can get through Ingram or Baker & taylor. What is ILL?
Karen Strauss

Sylvia Vardell said...

ILL is Inter Library Loan-- a program for using your local library to borrow books from other libraries. It's wonderful!