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Uplifting Picture Books That Don't Preach
Green as a Bean
Green as a Bean
by Karla Kuskin, illustrated by Melissa Iwai
Laura Geringer/HarperCollins,(January 2007)
If you could be green
would you be a lawn
or a lean green bean
and the stalk it's on?
Would you be a leaf
on a leafy tree?
Tell me, lean green one,
what would you be?
--Green as a Bean by Karla Kuskin, illustrated by Melissa Iwai, p. 1-2.
In this poem of a book, the reader is encouraged to wonder what if you could be ____? This is a fun game to play, most especially when the suggestions are imaginative, playful, and poetic. Children have great imaginations, and Kuskin has captured that in Green as a Bean.
Kuskin's text is fanciful and creative; it encourages you to stretch your imagination, imagining yourself as many different ways you probably haven't thought of. Kuskin's suggestions cycle through different qualities throughout the book--a color, a texture, a volume of sound, a size. This helps to keep the concept interesting and fresh, and to move quickly; the reader will want to see what new idea is being suggested. Kuskin gives specific examples for each, many of which are lovely, playful, and evocative. A few didn't quite work for me (such as an acrobat's tights with a hole in the knee--that does not have the same flight of fancy or tone as the rest of the examples), but most of the examples work beautifully.
I love Kuskin's thoughtful suggestions, things I'd never have thought of--like imagining yourself green as a lawn, a green bean or a leaf, or soft as the snow or a breeze. Kuskin gives different suggestions for each idea, which encourages the reader to not only imagine each one, but to think of their own. The suggestions encourage creative thinking and play, imagining yourself as different than you are, and dreaming, and also suggest that you can change--you don't have to stay static.
Kuskin's specific examples also suggest emotions--such as excited or angry for loud (loud as thunder at night), or serene or sleepy for soft (as a breeze or pillow), or calm or thoughtful (blue as the sky or passing clouds), or happy and excited or hopeful (bright as the sun, or the stars at night). There is much to be gleaned from the text, and great discussions could spring from this.
The text is in rhyming verse, and it flows seamlessly for most of the book, although there are a few places where the rhythm doesn't quite work, at least to my ear. Kuskin's poetry is both playful and deep, and this combination makes the book inspiring. It's beautifully written.
Iwai's gentle illustrations perfectly fit the tone of the book, and are comforting. Her illustrations feature one child in particular, which could be a girl or a boy, with a broad smile and glasses. The child is often easy to spot because of her glasses. Other children of various ethnicities also appear, all with smiling faces. Iwai's illustrations move between magical illustrations with a touch of surreal (such as the child as a green bean inside the green pod, or her face a giant building block) and between more realistic yet still magical illustrations, such as the child watching a car, sitting on the back of a dragon, or looking up at the night stars and fireflies. This movement works beautifully, and allows the reader to both imagine themselves right within the poem, and gain some distance.
Iwai is very tuned into the text; for the text about being soft, the illustrations look light and airy and gentle, and for the text about being loud, the illustrations have strong movement and energy. Bright yet soft colors are used throughout, with the colors bleeding right to the edges of every page, creating a rich visual experience. One color often dominates a particular illustration or spread, with various hues of the color repeated throughout the illustration. The texture of the paper often shows through in the illustrations, which is pleasing. Texture is also created through the layers of highlight and some visible brush strokes. All of the illustrations span full spreads, and though I would have liked a bit more visual variation, it feels like there is more, through some visual divisions between concepts. Iwai's illustrations are inspiring.
This is a feel-good book that encourages dreaming and imagination. Recommended!
-Added January 1, 2008
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