When Green Becomes Tomatoes
I was pleasantly surprised to see WHEN GREEN BECOMES TOMATOES tied with WOLF HOLLOW atop our recent Top Five tally. We liked Fogliano’s previous books, AND THEN IT’S SPRING and IF YOU WANT TO SEE A WHALE, but being picture books, they were somewhat of a hard sell.
This longer work, a poetry collection, should be easier to build consensus around. I’ve long thought there was some truth to the adage that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, at least when it comes to evaluating collections of poems or stories. Some things in a collection everyone can agree are strong, others draw a mixed response, and then too, yet others elicit no strong responses from anybody (anybody in the room, at least). Uniform strength of a collection is a factor, but only one. This book, however, with its untitled poems under a series of dates throughout the year feels as much like a journal as it does a collection, and thus I feel less inclination to judge the parts of the whole, but rather as a single entity. Actually, the division of the year into four seasons encourages us to compare poems within each season and against the entire year.
Fogliano’s style is recognizably distinct. She uses free verse that eschews capitalization and punctuation, relying wholly on line breaks, occasional parenthetical insertions, and a healthy dose of repetition to create a pleasing rhythm and cadence. She also employs strong imagery, rhyme, and a whimsical, philosophical touch that perfectly captures our human curiosity about the world around us. Fogliano’s poetry speaks to young and old alike.
There are so many good poems in this collection. I’ll cite one of my favorites below, and will invite you to do likewise in the comments–in addition to the usual discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of the book.
a star is someone else’s sun
more flicker blow than blinding
a speck of light too far for bright
and too small to make a morning
This poem is a master class in consonance (the repetition of consents; alliteration is when that repetition comes at the beginning of the word) and assonance (the repetition of vowel sounds).
Let’s look at consonance first.
S: september, star, someone, else’s, sun, speck, small.
R: star, more, flicker, far, for, bright, morning.
F: flicker, far, for
B: blow, blinding, bright
L: else’s, flicker, blow, blinding, light, small
T: 10, star, light, too, bright, too, to
M: someone, more, small, make, morning
N: someone, sun, than, blinding, and, morning
K: flicker, speck, make
G: blinding, morning
Z: is, else’s
The only consonant sounds unaccounted for are the “p” in speck and the “d” in and. Everything else is a combination of the consonant sounds listed above, and I would say that there are only a half dozen that are really dominant throughout (S, R, L, T, M, and N).
Now on to assonance. The best way to get a sense for this is to read aloud only the vowel sounds as they are pronounced in the word in which they appear.
In the first line you have four schwa sounds: a, both vowel sounds in “someone,” the second one in “else’s,” and sun. There is a short i sound in “is,” a short e sound at the beginning of “else’s,” and the short o sound in “star” (which is an r-controlled vowel). The repetition of the schwa sound is pleasing to the ear, but the contrast of the other vowel sounds (which are often spelled in alternate ways) also make for good prosody. I can break down the vowels in the entire poem, but it’s probably overkill. We can continue the conversation in the comments if there is interesting in doing so.
There are some instances of rhyme in this poem, but it’s really the repetition and slight variation of consonant and vowel sounds that make this such fun to read aloud. Nitpick: I think the poem reads aloud better if the “and” in the final line is dropped.
For all it’s rich language, the content of the poem is striking too. It’s a poem about perspective. Taking a familiar object such as a star in the summertime sky, and allowing the reader to see it in a different light. Does it resonate with you beyond that simple fact? What does this poem contribute to the Summer section? What does it contribute to the book as a whole? These are additional questions to ponder.
Most distinguished contribution to American literature for children? I think you can build a very strong case off this single poem, and I think there are at least a dozen more, possibly two, that are just as rich. What do you think?
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About Jonathan Hunt
Jonathan Hunt is the Coordinator of Library Media Services at the San Diego County Office of Education. He served on the 2006 Newbery committee, and has also judged the Caldecott Medal, the Printz Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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