Classic haiku poems in beautiful dreamscapes

MY FIRST BOOK OF HAIKU POEMS

Translated by Esperanza Ramirez-Christensen, illustrated by Tracy Gallup (North Clarendon, Vt.: Tuttle Publishing, 2019, 48 pp., $16.99, hardcover)

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“My First Book of Haiku Poems” introduces children to classic haiku written by Japanese haiku masters such as Basho, Issa and Shiki. Each poem, lyrically translated by Esperanza Ramirez-Christensen, a professor and scholar of classical Japanese literature, is paired with original artwork from artist, author and illustrator Tracy Gallup.

The poems are printed in the original Japanese and romaji (Japanese written in English letters) along with the English translation. Below the poem and translation is a paragraph with useful commentary and wonderings making it easy for families and teachers to talk about the poem and the accompanying illustration with young readers.

Gallup’s illustrations are stunning dreamscapes that stimulate a child’s imagination and focus on a child’s connection to nature, which complements the haiku so well. One poem is written by Shiki:

Michizure wa
Kochõ wo tanomu
Tabiji kana

On a journey, I’d have
as my companion on the road,
a butterfly.

In the original painting, we see a mother and baby at the beginning of their journey together, with the child in the mother’s womb and a butterfly resting gently on the mother’s hand.

At the end of the book, young poets can try their hand at creating their own haiku. On a page entitled “A Haiku by You,” there is a dreamscape with a girl standing at an open door, looking at a bird flying in the sky along with some questions and ideas. As an elementary school teacher, I appreciate how this extra step was included to make the book interactive. It can springboard into a whole activity on writing haiku or short essays using the book’s other illustrations.

If you want to introduce your children or students to haiku, I’d recommend “My First Book of Haiku Poems.” As Ramirez-Christensen writes in her notes from the translator, haiku and the illustrations together help one see “the universal patterns of relation between human beings and their natural environment.” She and Gallup share and thoughtfully celebrate “the truth” of that natural connection with children.

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