One of the surprising pleasures of becoming a papa to twins almost 5 years ago was discovering the menagerie of kidLit on writers, artists, dancers, and musicians. Who knew?
Some of my favorites include Jen Bryant & Melissa Sweet’s A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams, Jan Greenberg, Sandra Jordan and Robert Andrew Parker’s Action Jackson (Pollock, that is), Maira Kalman’s Rroar: Calder’s Circus, and Chris Raschka’s Charlie Parker Played Be Bop (“Alphabet alphabet, alphabet, alph, / Chickadee, chickadee, chickadee, chick, / Overshoes, overshoes, overshoes, o, / Reeti-footi, reeti-footi, reeti-footi, ree.”).
Raschka’s scat is downright Steinian, eh?
Which leads us to my favorite tot-tome, Jonah Winter and Calef Brown’s Gertrude is Gertrude is Gertrude is Gertrude (Atheneum). As you may know, Winter is an outstanding poet (Maine, Slope Editions) so it’s no surprise that his text captures Stein’s glorious artifice, her gewgaw patois: “Pablo Picasso looks so angry but no. / Pablo Picasso is Pablo / Picasso. He just invented Modern art / which is not the same thing as being angry / but then again maybe it is.”).
I can’t do justice here to the Brown’s futurist/cubist use of fonts exuberant colors—he’s created a static film. It’s as fun to watch as it is to read.
When I teach Stein to my students at Emerson College, I always begin with this book. Even graduate students are frightened of Queen Gertrude! I hope it teaches them it’s okay to laugh at “… the feeling of words doing / as they want to do and as they have to do” (Gertrude Stein).
Winter & Brown treat Stein & Toklas’s relationship with honesty, love, and insouciant weirdness. Also, their dog Basket makes an appearance!
They do leave out Stein’s support of Hitler for the Nobel Peace Prize, in 1934. As you may imagine, Raschka’s book comes sans heroin and Action Jackson is quite sober (although they do show the painter at a party with Lee K sipping something deliciously amber).
Why not the sex, drugs and Iggy Pop, and deplorable ethics? How else will kids learn about these things if not in a chewable board book?
There are kid books that illustrate a single poem, but none that I particularly enjoy. Most are too slavish to a banal interpretation of the poem—there’s a road, it diverges, and a rebellious set of boots takes the greener fork.
What contemporary poems should kids read?
I’ll use the rest of my time here BAPlandia to nominate 6.
Monday: “Hot Ass Poem” by Jennifer L. Knox
Tuesday: “Spring” by Mairéad Byrne
Wednesday: “Where Do Babies Come From” by James Tate
Thursday: “Transylvania, 1919” by Sabrina Orah Mark
Friday: “Sleeping with the Dictionary” by Harryette Mullen
Saturday: “The Boat” by Richard Brautigan
Peter J. Shippy is the author of 3 books, the most recent is How to Build the Ghost in Your Attic (Rose Metal Press). He teaches at Emerson College, in Boston. For poems and updates: www.peterjayshippy.com.