Friday, November 9, 2012

30 Days of Picture Books - Red Sings from Treetops by Joyce Sidman

It's Day 9 of Picture Book Month. Today we're thinking about the senses. Picture books are an incredible way to teach kids about the different ways we interact with various stimuli in our environment. Seems a bit strange, though, right? How in the world can we exercise the five senses through picture books? 

It's true that unless you have a touch-and-feel, scratch-and-sniff book you're not going to have those senses engaged while you're reading. But, I would argue, using picture books as a vehicle for experiences with elements in the real world is a powerful means to not only emphasize senses like smell and touch, but also to find ways to yet again connect literacy with life. You can do this through a series of planned activities (like all those awe-inspiring Pinterest moms do), or very simply through thinking and talking about the books you read. Choose books that emphasize certain characteristics, then as you're out running errands or playing on the playground, look for elements that were represented in your storytime choice.

Today's choice is an amazing one for connecting all five senses via the written word. Joyce Sidman's Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors might seem like it's all about visual stimuli, but one read-through will show you how Sidman engages all our senses through her beautiful poetry. Like this snippet, from the section about fall: "Red splashes fall trees, seeps into every vein of every five-fingered leaf. / Red swells on branches bent low. / Red: crisp, juicy, crunch!" Reading this, we can not only see the scene Sidman describes, but we can feel it, hear it, taste it. And if you want to bring this alive with your little one, follow up this reading by a trip to the apple orchard. As you pluck a juicy piece of fruit off the tree, remind your kiddo that red tastes "crisp, juicy, crunch!". Then you can talk about how red sounds, how it smells, how it feels. Suddenly colors are more than just colors, they are phenomena that engage all the senses.

I'd be remiss if I didn't talk about Pamela Zagarenski's whimsical illustrations that accompany Sidman's poems. Each segment of the book features a season, and Zagarenski adapts her mixed-media paintings to bring the color described to vivid life. She conjures up a summer breeze on the dock for yellow ("Yellow melts everything it touches. . . smells like butter, tastes like salt."). She gives us winter green in frosty evergreens ("Green darkens, shrinks, stiffens into needles."). And in spring, as colors burst forth everywhere, she shows us white highlights ("White can be quiet, too: delicate petals filled with light smell white."). Simply gorgeous imagery, words and pictures alike.

If you want reading to be the more than just a bedtime ritual, help your little one make connections with what you read and what they hear, smell, taste and touch. When we do this, we're building readers whose imagination takes them far beyond the printed words on the page, into pictures of their own devising. And who knows where that influence will stop?

Red Sings from Treetops by Joyce Sidman, published by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children

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