April is National Poetry Month. What better way to celebrate it than to share a poetry book with your favorite little one? I’ve provided two titles that are fun and beautiful ways to introduce or appreciate this wonderful written art form with your son or daughter, niece or nephew, granddaughter or grandson. And for adult readers, I’ve included The Postmistress, a fabulous book for some heated discussion with your book-loving friends.
The Cuckoo’s Haiku
By Michael J. Rosen
Illustrated by Stan Fellows
Candlewick Press, $17.99
Once again, Candlewick has published a quality title that is both lovely to look at and delightful to read. Combination bird identification guide and poetry book, The Cuckoo’s Haiku is filled with the blissfully beautiful watercolor illustrations of Stan Fellows. This book is arranged by seasons and has something to appeal to all ages — from small cursive notes on each page to the helpful appendix describing each bird. The youngest readers will delight over the tiny details that can help them identify birds such as the American Goldfinch’s call of “Potato chip-potato chip.” Slightly older children will enjoy Rosen’s delightful haiku that captures the spirit of each bird. And bird lovers of all ages will appreciate the old-fashioned feel of this simply gorgeous book.
By Shel Silverstein
No child’s book collection could be complete without at least one Shel Silverstein title. Though you are most certainly familiar with Where the Sidewalk Ends, you may have missed Silverstein’s last work (published posthumously in 2005) Runny Babbit. Filled with Silverstein’s trademark wit, fun and wordplay, Runny Babbit is a “billy sook” about some animals from a place where “They do things and they say things/In a different sort of way.” Both my 10-year-old and my 12-year-old collapse in giggles as they attempt to “bead a rook/That’s billy as can se.” We love it at our house and think that you till woo.
By Sarah Blake
Penguin Group, $25.95
There are times when I read a book and the first thought I have is, “this would make a good book club book.” The Postmistress fits into this category. It is one of those stories that will lend itself to a spirited debate with your book loving friends. The complex motivations, varied characters and subject matter of Sarah Blake’s latest novel should make for some great “book talk” at your next book club event.
The Postmistress is a compelling novel about three women and how, as author Sarah Blake puts it, they “bear the news” of a world at war. The lives of these very different women intersect in 1940 in the fictional Cape Cod town of Franklin, MA. A summer vacation spot on the shore of the Atlantic ocean, Franklin seems far removed from war-torn Europe and the streets of London where the intrepid “Murrow girl” Frankie Bard is reporting the violence and devastation of the London Blitz. Iris James, postmistress of Franklin, and Emma Fitch, young wife of the town doctor, experience the war only through radio broadcasts like those of Miss Bard.
Iris listens to Frankie’s reports and finds the chaos of war impossible to imagine. Forty years old, precise in her movements, thoughts, words and actions, Iris feels a grave responsibility to oversee and manage the lives of many of the people around her — much like she oversees and manages the mail. As the town “keeper of secrets,” Iris finds that she is torn between her duty, her feelings and her conscience. Ultimately, she comes to believe that she has the ability to protect Emma Fitch from the news that she cannot bear to hear.
Emma’s young husband, Will Fitch, is moved by the broadcasts of Frankie Bard. When he is overcome with guilt over the death of a patient, Will looks for redemption by joining the war effort in Europe. Will travels to London and offers his services as a physician, hoping that he can somehow make sense of all that has happened in his life. Initially, Will promises to return within six months, but when his letters stop coming, Emma is forced to realize that he may never come home. She listens to Frankie’s radio broadcasts with the illogical hope that somehow she may hear some news of her husband. She never imagines that Frankie and her husband would actually have met — let alone the fact that they shared intense experiences in the bomb shelters and streets of London.
Frankie eventually appears in Franklin, ostensibly for a respite from the strain and turmoil of war reporting. A wealthy New Yorker, Frankie had traveled to Europe to further her career as an investigative journalist. What she hadn’t counted on was the impact that the horror of the war would have on her. After the traumatic death of her roommate during a German bombing raid, Frankie turns her attention to the plight of the Jews. She initially intends to travel with the Jewish refugees, gather their stories and report on them — forcing Americans to open their eyes to Hitler’s atrocities. She soon realizes, however, that her narrative is superfluous and decides that she simply wants the world to know that “once they were here, and I saw them.” She decides to let the recordings of their voices be their monument. The descriptions of her experiences on a train with the Jews fleeing the German pogrom are without a doubt the most moving and poignant in the novel.
When Frankie is forced to return to the United States, she intends to travel to Cape Cod and deliver the missive from Will that she obtained in London. But when Frankie meets the seemingly fragile Emma and the protective Iris, she realizes that her decision is far from simple. She and Iris (both of whom view themselves as gatekeepers of information) find it difficult to decide when and how much of what they know they should share.
Though many of the coincidences of the novel and the obvious anachronisms may put a strain on the credulity of the reader, The Postmistress will certainly provide the opportunity for rich and meaningful debate. The role of the news, and the nature of truth and justice are just a few of the topics this novel covers and will give your book group material for hours of discussion.