Janeczko, Paul B. comp. Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems. Illustrated by Melissa Sweet. Massachusetts, Candlewick Press. 2014. ISBN 97807663648428
Firefly July is a collection of short poems (as the full title states) that works better when not read all at once. Similar to eating two dozen pieces of candy one after the other, reading the whole collection in one sitting leaves the reader feeling like whatever it was they loved about the first few they read, was gone by the eighth. However, there is enough variety that even if a child read the whole collection in one sitting, they would likely be able to pick out a favorite.
That being said, these short poems would be a great way to start a class because of their length. They don’t appeal to a specific age group, so while the brightly colored images may imply this collection is meant for a younger audience, the actual poems don’t have this boundary.
The collection is organized by season, which Sweet depicts with several different techniques including watercolor. In fact, the winter section looks remarkably similar to Douglas Florian’s Winter Eyes. In fact, it is the pictures that allow this book to reach a younger audience than the poems alone. If this collection was simply made of black text on white pages, I would recommend it for middle school kids or older. Because of the images, some that literally depict the poem, others that hint at an interpretation, but still leave it ambiguous, this collection would work well with younger children as well.
The poems themselves vary in style and voice. Perhaps the nicest thing about these poems is not their brevity (though some children could make that argument) but the amount of substance crammed into two to five lines. It serves as a reminder to the reader that the number of words doesn’t necessarily directly correspond to how much is actually being said.
In the Field Forever by Robert Wallace
Sun’s a roaring dandelion, hour by hour.
Sometimes the moon’s a scythe, sometimes a silver flower.
But the stars! all night long the stars are clover.
Over, and over, and over!
This poem is in the summer section. While it practically screams at adults to ask the dreaded question of “What does the author mean?” perhaps a better question to begin discussion would be “How do you see the summer sky?” After all, it is in the summer section and talking about the sun, moon, and stars, so it does involve the sky. Instead of looking only at the poem’s interpretation of the sky, this poem could easily act as a quiet guide to writing poetry. It’s short. It has a subject. It happens to rhyme.
Something unique about this collection of seasonal poetry is that many of the poems are quietly about the season they are in. For example, there are fog poems in both the fall and the winter sections. Why? Well, fog can occur in both seasons, so one can guess that the poems are applicable for both seasons. The moon occurs in different incarnations throughout the book as well.
Kirkus- “The winter poems are snowy, but they are also laced with fog; nature scenes alternate with depictions of a subway, a rusting truck, harbor boats and more. Sweet’s effervescent mixed-media collages include signature elements like graph paper and saturated pinks; the large format engenders some expansive compositions, such as one showing the curve of the Earth near an enormous, smiling full moon.”
Kirkus Reviews. 2014. (Vol. 82, No. 3)