Cool Melons— Turn to Frogs! The Life and Poems of Issa

By Horn Book Guide

This introduction to an eighteenth-century Japanese writer of haiku is as restrained, graceful, and concise as the art form it honors. Briefly presented, Issa’s life is as spellbinding as a fairy tale: his mother died when he was only three, his jealous stepmother mistreated him, and when Issa was fourteen, his father reluctantly abandoned him. The boy survived and grew up to become a master poet, writing over 20,000 haiku in his lifetime. Interspersed throughout the biographical account are thirty-three of Issa’s haiku, carefully chosen to reflect the poet’s experiences at each stage of his life (“O wild goose, / how young were you / when you set out alone?”). Delicately mirroring the mood and subject of each poem, Kazuko Stone’s illustrations are haiku for the eyes—-expressive and only seemingly simple. Along the outer margins, transcriptions of the haiku in Japanese calligraphy add both visual appeal and a feeling for the graceful brushstrokes with which Issa wrote. Containing memorable details (“One night, during a party his students gave him, Issa composed a hundred haiku”), the text and informative author’s note succinctly convey the many moods haiku can evoke, the close observation of nature required by traditional haiku, and the spiritual sustenance that can be drawn from the act of writing—or reading—poetry. Readers may find it difficult to resist the book’s directive to write their own haiku, “to listen and observe, and to capture one meaningful moment in time.