Book Review: Three Haiku books for children

Confession: When I get stuck while writing – such as 400 words into a scene that I realize doesn’t move the plot – I have a couple pick-me-ups. One is to pick up a dry academic book and read until my brain screams for creative release.* The other is to read a children’s book.

While perusing my library’s catalogue, I came across a title I hadn’t seen since I was little: Flower Moon SnowA Book of Haiku by Kazue Mizumura. I requested a couple contemporary haiku books, too, which made an interesting contrast.

Mizumura, Kazue. Flower, Moon, Snow: A Book of Haiku. New York: Crowell, 1977. Print.

This beautiful little book is just as wonderful as when I picked it up in my little hands in grade school. It’s a small book (5X7 inches) and illustrated throughout with woodcuts by Mizumura. The colour scheme was popular in the ’70s:  black, grey, dark brown, and light brown.

Thirty poems are arranged in sections: flower, moon, and snow. In the brief introduction, Mizumura explains the book title is “a translation of a Japanese phrase that is used to suggest the beauty of nature.”

The haiku are extremely kid-friendly. They remind me of  thoughts I’d have walking home after school  and noticing the subtle changes in the seasons. Here are three of my very favorite:

“Why are all of these flowers/ in bloom? Don’t they know/ this house is for sale?”

“O moon, who looks in/ your shining mirror up there,/ so far and so high?”

“Please bird, don’t go yet./ You are the finishing touch/ to the snowy branch.”

Lewis, J. Patrick. Black Swan/White Crow. New York: Atheneum for Young Readers, 1995. Print.

In contrast, Black Swan White Crow is big and bright,  illustrated by Chris Manson’s vibrant woodcuts. Bright yellow skies, green leaves, green-gray plants bent beneath snow – all the pictures evoke wonderful stories. Unfortunately, the 13 poems don’t have quite the same dreamy quality.  Of them, I liked these two best:

“Frantic sandpiper -/ high tides erasing/ her footnotes.”

“Skeleton elms/ clicking above two deer/ at the saltlick…a crowd.”

But most just clunk, like one of the titular poems: “O little white crow,/ have you seen my brother,/ the black sheep?”

Mora, Pat. ¡Yum! ¡Mmm! ¡Qué Rico! America’s Sproutings. New York: Lee & Low, 2007. Print.

This was a haiku disappointment – and yet a good book in other ways. Based on the title and on the publisher’s other offerings, I thought it would be bilingual; but it contained only a few Spanish words. (Note: I recently found out there’s a separate Spanish version of the book; perhaps it has sprinkles of English?)

Fourteen foods native to the Americas are featured. Each comes with a haiku, an illustration, and a paragraph about its origin and how different cultures prepare it. The haiku weren’t especially memorable. Here’s the one for pumpkin:

“Under round luna,/ scattered tumblings down the rows,/ autumn’s orange face.”

But the illustrations by Rafael López were delightful – colorful and full of action. I especially liked the cheerful dancing fruit.  If I were teaching an elementary class in Spanish, I could use the haiku and illustration to show how blueberries, potatoes, tomatoes, and other vegetables have spread around the world.  In addition, the accompanying prose contained many interesting details suitable for older children. I especially appreciated the way Mora addressed pre-Columbian culture and the effects of colonialism. 


*My favorite dry book is on the use of rhetoric in La Celestina.