4.21.2013

A Stick is an Excellent Thing: Poems Celebrating Outdoor Play by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by LeUyen Pham


EARTH DAY is tomorrow!


Marilyn Singer, of Tallulah's Tutu fame with illustrations by the superb Alexandra Boiger, brings us this fantastic books of poems with the best title EVER, A Stick Is an Excellent Thing: Poems Celebrating Outdoor Play, just in time for National Poetry Month. Better yet, the very busy LeUyen Pham's (The Best Birthday Party Ever by Jennifer Laurie Huget is my favorite of hers) illustrations are perfectly matched to the text. Pham's style is boisterous, jubilant and full of energy and with a color palette that harkens back to the days before electronic devices of all manner sapped our kids of motivation to do anything besides sit in front of a glowing screen.


I have no doubt that girls do this too, but as the mother of two boys, I can tell you that there were many years where we could not make the walk home from school without a stick or two in hand. In fact, one day my oldest son decided that he was going to line the four blocks from school to our house with sticks and any other naturally occurring object that came his way. That was one very long walk. Finding a book of poetry like A Stick Is an Excellent Thing: Poems Celebrating Outdoor Play that commemorates and revels in these times is a fantastic treat, for parents and kids.

Singer's book is made up of eighteen poems that celebrate games that kids play, with other kids or alone in their imaginations. Her shorter poems, like the titular, "A Stick Is an Excellent Thing," feel almost like songs that you would sing while playing one of the outdoor games she writes about. As Betsy Bird says so well in her review, "Where Singer creates the framework, Pham creates the world. Her kids exist in that bubble where adults are on the periphery, present when you need them, invisible when you don't. Through her art you not only get a sense of the game, you find it impossible not to want to jump in and join.



While I think the images and poems I included here speak for themselves and the title and dust jacket alone should be enough to make you run out (or run to your computer/phone, although you are already there if you are reading this...) and buy this book for all the kids in your life, I would like to touch on one aspect of the book that I wish weren't notable - the diversity of not only the cast of kids in this book. While ethnic diversity is slowly creeping toward becoming the norm in picture books, especially in books with a large cast of characters, (besides Pham, Dan Santat, Adam Rex, Sophie Blackall, Barbara Lehman, G Brain Karas (Neville by Norton Juster) and John Rocco (Blackout) are all illustrators who come immediately to mind when I think of character diversity in picture books) I think it still deserves being noted. And, as Betsy Bird notes of the charcters, "by reading the book over and over again you recognize them from one scene to another." Bird also points out that Pham also brings diversity to stereotypical gender roles and has girls skateboarding and boys playing jump rope. Yet another reason to buy A Stick Is an Excellent Thing: Poems Celebrating Outdoor Play and share it with stick lovers of all ages!



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