Sunday, October 9, 2011

Let All Creation Sing (Part 1)--a review of RED SINGS FROM TREETOPS: a year in colors by Joyce Sidman

If colors could speak about the seasons, what would they say?  Experience a year with Red, Blue, Purple, Green, Yellow, White, Blue, and other colors as they wake up to Spring and loll about in the lazy warmth of Summer.  Enjoy the change of seasons from Fall to Winter, when colors turn dark and settle down.  Poet Joyce Sidman and illustrator Pamela Zagarenski guide us merrily through a colorful world in

Red Sings from Treetops: a Year in Colors

In poetry about the seasons, it is usually the seasons who are personified, giving life to the rest of the poem.  In Sidman's free verse narrative, it is the Colors who bring the seasons to life.  Sidman personifies the colors, creating old, familiar friends, as we laugh with mischevious Yellow stealthily slipping "goldfinches/their spring jackets."  We enjoy a long, tall drink of lemonade with refreshing White, clinking in summer drinks.  In the fall, we sigh with Green as he waits for Brown to take over.  And in the winter, "Pink prickles:/warm fingers/against cold cheeks."  While this poem is one long narrative divided into four "stanzas," one for each season, the stanzas themselves each stand alone as a separate small unit of poetry, so adept is Sidman at chosing words which appeal to our senses.  Her treatment of White in spring brings the sights and sounds of a spring shower to life:  "snapped twigs and bouncing hail,/blink of lightening/and rattling BOOM!"  Overall, the reader matures with the colors over the course of a year, always looking forward to the next spring when Red once again sings from treetops, "and/each note drops/like a cherry/into/my/ear." 

Zagarenski chooses collages of mixed media paintings on wood and computer illustrations to portray this color-rich text.  She stays away from a primary color palette, which would have been garish and cartoon-like for this much color, opting for a rich but muted play of light.  For a child, she creates a clear and full image of a day in the life of a color.  Her use of pattern in the collages gives the illustrations a fullness without fuss, so that each illustration still focuses on its central story.  Against a background of a spring blue sky, the crowned man and a small white dog, run through a field, holding tight to their kites.  Gray is given nice treatment in summer, as the viewer looks through a screen porch window at moths darting toward a source of light or being snapped up by a small gray frog.  Her use of subtle layers gives depth and dimension which allows her to play lightly in the forefront of the work, especially evident in the movement of birds and other airy elements--insects, leaves, stars and snow--throughout the book.  Finally, the visual motif of Red is there for us, in nearly every panel expanding the theme, singing from treetops, "cheer-cheer-cheer."

Awards, Best Lists and Reviews
  • ALA, ALSG Caldecott Medal Honor Book, 2010
  • Claudia Lewis Poetry Award, 2010
  • Cybils Poetry Award, 2010
  • Bulletin Blue Ribbon, Center for Children's Books, 2009
  • Horn Book Fanfare, 2009
  • Booklist Editor's Choice, 2009
  • ALA Notable Children's Books, 2010

"The words and pictures depend upon one another and blend well to conjure up quirky, magical imagery.  Children will find many small stories waiting to be told within the detailed paintings and enjoy looking at them over and over.  This poetic tribute to the seasons will brighten dull days."--Julie Roach, School Library Journal

"As the title implies, the colors that surprise on every page do sing."--Ilene Cooper, Booklist

"A poet known for multilayered explorations of nature rejoices here in the way colors, and how we perceive them, change with the seasons. ... Zagarenski's richly patterned spreads capture the poet's delight in the natural world, extending the imagery with fantastical details."--J.R.L., Horn Book

Lesson Extensions
It is clear from Sidman's homepage that she is an educator at heart.  She offers a page for Teachers and Librarians full of lesson plans about how to teach poetry in general and teaching ideas which specifically relate to particular books.  In a Poetry Kit developed by Houghton Mifflin, there is a very clear graphic organizer which walks students through the steps of creating a "Synesthesia Poem," a poem that contains a mixing of the senses.  There is a Readers Guide for Red Sings from Treetops which contains suggestions for reading aloud and writing activities.  One idea that would work particularly well in a classroom is a collaborative "List Poem" about color:
1.  After reading the entire book to students, focus on one color--say, white.  Have students brainstorm things that are white, and write them on the board.
2.  As a class, write a list poem, beginning each sentence with "White is..."  Encourage them to be as specific and descriptive as possible--not just "White is a cloud," but "White is a cloud, high in the sky on a bright summer day."
3.  Have each student choose a color and write an individual list poem about his or her color.
These activities and lessons are ready to take into the classroom today!

Vital Stats
Sidman, Joyce. 2009.  Red Sings from Treetops: a Year in Colors.  Ill. by Pamela Zagarenski.  New York: Houghton. ISBN 978-0-547-01494-4

Cooper, Ilene.  Review of Red Sings from Treetops: a Year in Colors, by Joyce Sidman.  Booklist (May 1, 2009): 81

Review of Red Sings from Treetops, by Joyce Sidman.  Horn Book 85(2): 187-188.

Roach, Julie.  Review of Red Sings from Treetops, by Joyce Sidman. School Library Journal 55(4): 126-127.

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