Friday, April 25, 2008

Book Review: Tap Dancing on the Roof: sijo (poems), by Linda Sue Park

Tap Dancing on the Roof: sijo (poems) is one of Linda Sue Park's latest books, published in 2007.  The title comes from a line in the second poem within. This book was chosen as a 2008 Notable Children's Book in the Language Arts, in the Poetry and Drama category.

Small in size, but mighty in content, this thin, square volume of 48 pages is just right for toting along on an outing, and for resting on a lap for reading.  Smooth, glossy pages have a substantial feel to them, which makes reading it a wonderful experience for many senses at once.

The book begins with an introduction that gives the reader a brief cultural background as well as the accepted formats for writing sijo - a traditional Korean poetry form.  It is a helpful addition that gives the reader a framework of understanding, and prepares them for the treat that awaits.

Istvan Banyai's illustrations are a perfect complement to Ms Park's poems.  He adds to her words, giving the reader even more to imagine, rather than simply showing what's written. The drawings are simple, and use a limited palette.  The effect is quite striking, and causes the reader to linger a bit over the pages, to take everything in.  Children are depicted in both fantasy as well as realistic situations, all to impressive effect.

The sijo topics are exclusively kid-centric, and run the gamut from the little things kids notice and wonder about - like where all the unbroken sand dollar are kept, to rituals endured, but not particularly enjoyed - like brushing one's teeth.  Her poems turn mundane tasks such as laundry folding into imagined dramas involving reunited socks, and expound (in a simple, yet profound way) on life lessons to be learned from the likes of the lowly weed.  She even throws word play and vocabulary into the mix - including the little definition of a big, long, but fun-to-say word that kids would love to stump an adult with!

Perhaps most unique is the Author's Note at the end.  It is the perfect accompaniment to her poetry, giving the reader a further sense of the Asian culture in which sijo is rooted, as well as a bibliography for both kids and adults who are interested in learning more about this wonderful literary form.  The final inclusion of this section is very impressive - a tutorial which encourages the reader to try his or her hand at writing sijo.  She simply but effectively explains the process step-by-step, pointing out possible roadblocks, and inserting some help to get the inspiration flowing.

For Teachers and Librarians:
As a poetry form most kids may not be aware of, this book provides you with a fresh angle at which to approach poetry. With it's simple structure and with no rhyming required, kids will find it fun to create sijo themselves.  In the process, you can sneak in some work on syllables, rhythm, poetic forms, and Korean culture and history.  They won't even realize they're actually doing school work!

For Parents, Grandparents and Caregivers:
Reading these sijo will be as fun for you as it is for them. Poetry in general lends itself well to situations where you don't have a lot of time, but you want as much quality as you can pack in, and this book is no exception.  It may even encourage your little darlings to write a few sijo of their own, and you can encourage them to add pictures for even more fun.  You may even want to try your own hand at writing a few...

For the Kids:
This book is easy to read, and is not too long, and not too short.  Some of the pictures are funny, and all of them tell you even more about what's happening in each poem.  Can you figure out what the illustrator is showing you?  Plus, if you like what you've read, the author even has a part at the end where she tells you exactly how to write your own sijo. Kids have lots of ideas swimming around in their brains. Wouldn't you like to learn a new way to show other people just how smart you really are?  

For Everyone Else:
This book is a great introduction to sijo.  It also gives you a window into how kids think, which comes in useful more often than not.  The author notes that sijo has some similarity to haiku, in that the syllables are important, and the content, but not the rhyme.  It's a great way to have a simple creative outlet, and the tutorial at the end is easy to follow.  Learning new things keeps the brain active.  And an active brain keeps you young!

Wrapping up:
Tap Dancing on the Roof - sijo (poems) appeals to readers both big and small.  The whole experience of reading this book is at times funny, at times introspective, and always enjoyable. 

Title: Tap Dancing on the Roof: sijo (poems)
Author: Linda Sue Park
Illustrator: Istvan Banyai
Pages: 48
Reading level: ages 4-8
Publisher and date: Clarion Books, 2007
Edition: 1st
Language: English
Published in: United States
Price: $16.00
ISBN-10: 0618234837
ISBN-13: 978-0618234837

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