Juan Takes His Turn – JabberWalking with Juan Felipe Herrera

Juan Takes His Turn – JabberWalking with Juan Felipe Herrera

 

He calls a poem a burble.

A writing pad is a paperbag, or a newspaper, periodico, or whatever you want it to be.

All that matters is that you hurry, hurry, hurry.

And write down whatever you see in the world.

What you hear,

what you taste,

What you love.

He says whatever you breathe, whatever word lifts its soft, wet

nose to the tendrils of your mind, it matters. Keep a penny notebook

like Walt Whitman who wrote as he walked America.

Like Juan Felipe Herrrera, 21st Poet Laureate of America
writes America.

I’m reading Juan Felipe Herrera’s book, JabberWalking, Candlewick, 2018, (ages 10 and up) and I have to stop every few pages and fall into a poem of my own imagination – it’s that kind of book. It’s half memoir: Juan Felipe gathering up his Chinese Pitbull Sharpei named Lotus along with memories of his Mama Lucha and his Papa Felipe who are “somewhere in my heart life” and us, you and me the reader (any age), to board a jet to D.C. with Juan Felipe to assume his poet laureateship of the country. The first Mexican-American, the first any Latino-American U.S. Poet Laureate.  The other half is a sort of creative spirit guide. We are racing and Juan Felipe reels us, the reader, into our own selves, as poets, creators of burbles!, washing any grinding homeworkness of writing out of us. He says…

….I think to free us, loosen us, take us some place where we’re a little lost.

He assures us, “The poem does not want to know where it is going or what it is saying.”

It could begin like this, he says:

“Scribble your burbles, your words of things – that you see and think and feel but it is really not thinking or even feeling. It is plain ole bonified, fuzzy, puffy blue-cheese, incandescent, brave  Jabber!”

Write in  any language! Maybe two. And from this generated jabber, circle words you like, you want to play with. And…

 

Between his cheering for our unharnessed imagination, Juan Felipe tells us stories, about his mother – “Let me tell you, I sang as loud as I could from every corner of that tiny apartment and outside in the alley. Now it’s your turn, Juan.”   And his father – “He put words on newspapers! He wanted to make sure he could stop time and space, write history in a split second, even though he never went to school like yours or mine.” (97)

He invites us to write our family stories and memories on newspapers, put our words on words.

I love Juan Felipe’s memoir-stories, entries in what he calls his Jabber Notebooks to give us ideas for our own. His last one begins:

Writing saved my life. What could a campesino boy raised on the way-outskirts of farm towns and cities of California do?  What could I do with so many incredible things – tadpoles, newborn colts, my Papa Felipe making miracles out of pieces of ancient wood, busted metal, scuffed leather, Mama always teaching me the alphabet from a broken book she bought for twenty-five cents at la segunda, the secondhand store—my dear traveling farm-working parents with long legs and strong hands. (127)

This is a spread from Calling the Doves, a memoir by Juan Felipe Herrrera, with illustrations by Elly Simmons, Children’s Book Press, an imprint of Lee & Low Books

Writing saves lives.  It could save yours.

Cover of Juan Felipe’s memoir, Upside Down Boy, about his family settling in a town so that he could go to school for the first time.

Wordless Picture Books about making your way in America and other creative pursuits

I’ve been reading stories without words. Turn the pages and you see beautiful picture puzzles for all ages of readers.  Here is a collection of stories I love, ones I’ve also brought to international students who are learning English. And we have fun composing the story in words from the perspective of many cultures.  The first one is a little bit longer than a picture book; in fact, it’s called a graphic book:  Here I Am by Patty Kim, with pictures by Sonia Sanchez. Here’s a taste of a boy’s journey in this strange new land.

Mirror by Jeannie Baker is by now a classic and is still wonderful. The book guides us to read two different pages side by side. Each set of pages depicts times of the day of a family, one in Morocco, the other in Ms. Baker’s home country of Australia.  I love how one culture becomes much more clear when we see how another culture shares much in common.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m including The Red Book by Barbara Lehman because this book could be from any culture,  any reader in the world.  It’s about the magic and wonder that comes from opening a book.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson,  illustrated by Sydney Smith. A winner of a book from Canada. Like The Red Book this is also about wonder and imagination.  Wonder in a red coat.

Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell.  I love this book.  It is simply a story about  kindness overcoming fear, which I include here for the obvious reason among stories of many cultures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now,  from one of my favorite illustrators, Raul Colon:

A boy alone in his room.
Pencils.
Sketchbook in hand.
What would it be like to go on safari?
Imagine.
Draw…… 

That’s what these books seem to have in common. They open their arms to our imagination.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And here’s an article with some creative activities one could do with these books and others with English language learners,  Wonderful World of Wordless Picture Books

 

 

A Different Pond and more 2017 Books about Refugees

Across the world, families are crossing borders in search of a resting place where their children can be safe and go to school. 2017 saw new books coming out to help children understand the lives of other children displaced by war and poverty.

A Different Pond by the poet Bao Phi, whose family migrated to the U.S. after the American war in Vietnam, and illustrated by Thi Bui is one. Bao Phi tells a story of a small Vietnamese-American boy’s ritual of fishing early in the morning with his father to catch food for supper before his father goes to work, one of his two jobs. The text and illustrations capture the boy’s love for his father, his growing skill in their ritual, his fear, and the tight web of their family as they learn to survive in the U.S. This story is a model for writers who seek to tell their own migration story. The author selects one ritual vital to the life of a migrant family and allows the emotion and the story to flow from it.

The Canadian magazine Quill and Squire profiles a number of books to help children understand the lives of other children seeking a safe place to call home in the article, Publishers and Authors Answer the Need for Books that Shed Light on the Refugee Experience.

One of my favorite books from the list is My Beautiful Birds, about a Syrian child’s survival, written and illustrated by Suzanne Del Rizzo. Del Rizzo’s polymer clay and acrylic illustrations help us imagine the black sky, the walking for days from a small child’s mind. “Day’s blur together in gritty haze. All I have left are questions. What will we do?  How long will we be here?”  The child has one thing in the camp that becomes home, birds he watches and feeds.  And he has his parents who love him.

A 2017  booklist produced by the New York Public Library is 16 Books about Refugees for Kids & Adults.  I’m honored that two of my books are on it. This list begins with this epigraph:

you have to understand/ that no one puts their child on a boat/ unless the water is safer than the land – from “Home” by Warsan Shire