Friday, October 5, 2018

Review: BOOKJOY, WORDJOY by Pat Mora

Bookjoy, Wordjoy
Pat Mora, illustrated by Raúl Colón
Lee & Low Books
Hardcover, (978-1-6201-4286-8), 32 pgs., $18.95
August 7, 2018

“Books and Me”
 We belong
books and me,
like toast and jelly
o queso y tortillas.
Delicious! ¡Delicioso!
Like flowers and bees,
birds and trees,
books and me.

Bookjoy, Wordjoy is the newest collection of poetry for children from Pat Mora, recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Texas Institute of Letters and a Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Texas at El Paso, among many distinctions. Especially in Texas, y’all may know her best as the founder of Children’s Day, Book Day (in Spanish, El día de los niños, El día de los libros), which celebrated its twenty-second anniversary this year.

Raúl Colón’s whimsical, joyful illustrations are inspired by Mora’s poems and Mexican painter Rufino Tamayo. The colors are rich but muted, reminding me of a child’s colored map pencils. One of my favorites in this book is a boy attempting to capture words with a butterfly net as they cavort through the air:

words that move, like wiggle
that have a brown scent, cinnamon
that sweetly stretch, car-a-mel
hard words, brick
soft words, lullaby

Mora describes “bookjoy” as the fun of reading and “wordjoy” as the fun of writing — listening to words, combining them and playing with them.

Mora excels at experimenting with words — sometimes in an easy mix of Spanish and English, the musical language of the borderlands, she calls “braiding” — words that can fill your senses, an onomatopoeia of touch, taste, smell, and sight that will stir little ones (and me) out of doors, into the night where fireflies may be

held by sprites
who tumble, ride
the evening breeze

or a place like “Antelope Canyon” where she writes of the changing seasons and antelope that “lick spring stars at sunset.”

In Bookjoy, Wordjoy, books are a feast and libraries are the laden tables. In “Library Magic,” Mora’s Tomás praises the library as “a treasure house that’s free” and exhorts readers to explore. In “¡Bravo! Hip-hop Book Day!” she writes that “Savoring a book buffet, / I become a book gourmet.”

Mora is inspiring and encouraging. “No one sees a tree just the way you see it or hears the wind just the way you hear it,” Mora writes in a welcome to the book. “So no one can write exactly what you can write.” In “Who’s Inside?” the poet prompts children to “draw, / your inside self, write / your inside poem.”

Bookjoy, Wordjoy may be the first creative writing handbook for children.

Originally published in Lone Star Literary Life.

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