BOOK REVIEW: Cool Melons – Turn to Frogs!

Gollub, Matthew.  Illustrated by Kazuko G. Stone. Calligraphy by Keiko Smith. Cool Melons-Turn to Frogs!: The Life and Poems of Issa. New York: Lee & Low, 1998.

This is a beautiful book, even for children who aren’t fond of poetry. Matthew Gollub tells the story of the haiku master Issa, interweaving translations of 33 haiku. The narrative creates a framework for understanding, especially the plaintive poems written when Issa keenly felt the loss of his mother.

“Motherless sparrow,/ come play/ with me.”

Kazuko G. Stone’s lovely illustrations complement the haiku but also can stand on their own. I found myself turning back to three illustrations in particular: a kitten playing in bright red autumn leaves, three children catching snowflakes in their mouths, and a beautifully detailed dragonfly.

Stone’s artwork helps interpret the haiku. For example, the titular poem didn’t make much sense to me when I read it years ago, but the illustration of small green melons trembling in a water basin as a sandal-clad foot steps into view makes it clear: If the melons transform, they can escape the fate of being eaten!

In addition to the child-friendly main narrative, Gollub includes an author’s note section on the selection of the poems, details about particular poems, and explanation of haiku in general.

Overall, this is a wonderful book for storytime. I imagine children will revisit it as they become readers and even later.