Poetry Month is coming to a close, and with it I'll share five Zolotow picture book classics. Books like these are "out of style" in current publishing, which is a shame. I'd much rather read Flock of Birds over and over than books about crazy hair or farting dogs.
Flocks of Birds. Thomas Y. Crowell, 1965.
So much to love. It’s the simple story of a mother telling her daughter to think of a flock of birds to help her get to sleep. It starts far away and ends up with the birds flying over the sleeping girl’s house. Yet not just the sleeping girl—the reader’s house too. The language is beautiful, peaceful, dreamy. I found it sort of slow (but I’m naturally impatient), yet the end made me a little teary eyed. A line I loved, “The birds fly over the water, over the silvery sand,/over the city where people are hurrying/through the autumn wind on their/way to work.” Silvery sand, hurrying through the autumn wind ... it’s so lulling. Really, this is a lullaby in words, yet with a narrative arc.
Do You Know What I’ll Do? HarperCollins, 2000.
Beautiful lines like, “Do you know what I’ll do/when the wind blows?/I’ll put it in a bottle and let it loose/when the house is hot.” It’s very sweet, though I might have preferred a mother/child rather than older/younger siblings, just because siblings don’t often read to one another. Not that it has to mirror whomever is reading it to the child, but it just ... it was so tender and sweet I wished it did mirror.
If it Weren’t for You. HarperCollins, 1994.
Another sibling book but this one is perfect. A little girl reflects on all the things she wouldn’t have to share if she were an only child, and while the ending does turn this around (she’d also have to be all alone with the grown-ups), it does so in a funny, believable, and non-sentimental way.
If You Listen. Running Press, 1980, 2002.
I like how a number of Zolotow’s books are being republished with new illustrations. As she said in an essay, it shows that her message still speaks to children, which I think is true. I would have ended this book one page earlier with “One bird circled and circled overhead. She watched until he flew away.” The last stanza/page felt odd to me. Anyhow, beautiful poetic language.
The Moon Was the Best. Greenwillow, 1993.
Oh, the grief of the photo-illustrated book! 1993 is not that long ago, but fashion changes so quickly. The colors, levels of saturation, even the composition of the images is dated. But the text, yes? I’m all about the text. The moon unites mother and daughter while the mother remembers details from Paris. So so so so beautiful! Except for the pictures.