Review of the Day: Thunderboom! Poems For Everyone
Thunderboom! Poems For Everyone by Charlotte Pomerantz. Illustrations by Rob Shepperson. Front Street. $12.50
Okay, see, now I’m mad. As I write this review we’re in the thick of November with December only a couple days away. I was, until this time, under the distinct impression that I had seen almost all the best books of the year pass under my nose in one form or another. And I was perfectly content to write 2006 off and start munching on some tasty 2007 titles when into my lap fell Charlotte Pomerantz’s, “Thunderboom!”. A book, mind you, that has been out and about since March of this year. That means that for a good eight months, at least, nobody told me about how splendid this book was. Nobody has properly sung its praises. Nobody has showered it with awards and kisses or quoted lengthy passages from it to kill time. Nobody has loved “Thunderboom!” properly and I want some answers, people. What is up with this? The only logical conclusion I can reach is that, like me, the rest of the world has somehow missed the advent “Thunderboom!” and is sitting around waiting for a wake-up call. Well, wakesy wakesy, world. We’ve got a magnificent picture book of poems on our hands and it’s time to sit up and take some notice.
Broken into forty-one short poems, this collection touches on an unexpected variety of subject matter. Some poems are as short as four lines, while others fill page after page with their stories. With gentle rhymes and a particularly kooky point of view, Ms. Pomerantz lets the creative juices flow. You might find a tribute to Margaret Wise Brown or ten foreign language translations of the word “Thunder”. You might see a Passover poem and then turn the page to see the Three Wise Men reimagined as Three Queens of the Orient (diapers in tow). There are love stories, near escapes, weddings, fights, silliness, and the occasional hymn of praise. Spotted with lovely watercolor images, this is one of those books you simply can’t read just once.
I don’t know enough about poetry to know what constitutes a work of great genius. All I can really work with is my own set of instincts and preferences. That said, I like every single poem in this book, and I consider some of them to be brilliant. The problem with so many books of poetry for kids out there is that they just don’t know how to balance poems that kids would want to read with the really well-written poems that kids could love if they were only able to discover them. The joy of “Thunderboom!” is that these poems are enjoyable in lots of different ways. Children will enjoy hearing someone read to them (or read for themselves) the poem “Drowsy Bees” which contains such tongue-twisting lines as, “You’d call them humble bumble shees / Or humble drowsy bumble shees.” Some poems have a story, as with the back and forth debate between a Growly Bear and the girl who refuses to hand over to him her yummy pear. I expected to find amusing poems. What I did not expect, however, was to find that some of the verses in this book carry a certain amount of emotional weight. The poem, “The Moonstruck Witch” is a love story about an ugly old crone and the heavenly body that loves her as she is. It's simple, but it hits a chord somewhere deep in your sternum. It’s wonderful. Just a lovely little joy. “Song of the River Lady” was another beautiful piece, though it is unfortunately just a little too long to reproduce here for you. I’m afraid you’ll simply have to find the book to appreciate it.
Any parent that has ever opened a Sunday selection of the New York Times Book Review will find illustrator Rob Shepperson mighty familiar. His pen and inks are hot property when it comes to other places like The Wall Street Journal or The Washington Post. It shouldn’t strike anyone as too surprising then that Mr. Shepperson’s transition into kidlit is seamless through and through. Pomerantz’s poems are sometimes so silly and so peculiar that only an illustrator with a clear vision of his own would pair with her work. As it stands, Shepperson apparently is o’erflowing with the stuff. Take, for example, the adorable, “For Humpy My Dumpy”. In the poem a woman bemusedly talks about her husband, Humpy, who is the “egg of my life” and for whom she cares deeply (even though he has a penchant for perching on high walls). I suppose an illustrator who wasn’t paying attention and who read the poem at a glance might think that it was Humpty Dumpty Ms. Pomerantz was referring to. They might scribble in the standard bow-tied egg on a perch shot we’re all so familiar with. Shepperson instead has clearly examined the poem and thought it through. His Humpy is a man who has been lovingly bandaged up by his wife who is seen sitting below him with her first-aid kit close at hand. It actually took me seven or eight glances at the picture to notice that there is also a large strategically aligned trampoline below Mr. Humpy. That’s how Shepperson gets you. At first you give each picture a tiny glimpse, but those people who go back and look at the images closely will find details and peculiarities hidden through and through. What, for example, are we to make of the picture of young Isabelle riding a carousel made entirely out of different kinds of men rather than horses? I dunno, but methinks the child psychologists may have a field day with this one.
Oh, naughty me. I haven’t even talked about what the art in this book looks like, have I? Well, it seems to me that Shepperson is at his best when he’s drawing small images. That might not work in a picture book format, but for a book of poetry the style is perfect. Each poem has a delicately colored and shaded series of tiny watercolored images. The size and plentitude of these pics depends on the length of the poem. In some cases, Shepperson’s art gives a child-friendly air to poems that might not read well without a fun or pretty picture. While I'm thinking of it, I would also like to commend someone (The author? The editor? The illustrator?) for making the poem “Here They Come” the first in the book. Not only is it a great read that will convince any casual parent that this book is well worth purchasing, but the image opposite the poem is full-page, fun, and a great opening to the book. Bravo, one and all.
There are silly poems, and funny poems, and touching poems, and truly beautiful poems. There are poems in different styles and poems that scan with pitch-perfect perfection. I will now write here my favorite poem. This is not, I would like to point out, a poem that gives you a fair feeling for the book. After all, this one is going to fly right over the heads of the little ones. Still, any writer that knows enough to include a piece of writing that will appeal to adults as well as kids is a writer worth knowing. Here, for your literary amusement, is the limerick, “Bloomsday”:
“A lady called Molly – yes! – Bloom
Kept Leopold plants in her room.
When friends cried, 'Enough!'
She replied in the buff,
'Let a thousand Leopolds Bloom.' ”
So so awesome. As I mentioned before, I’m not a poetry person, and I rarely find a book of verse that makes me want to hug each and every page. I tell you right here and now, however, that this is a jewel. An undiscovered dream of a book. Once I finish writing this review I am putting it safely on my bookshelf, and Lord help the man, woman, or child that tries to take it away from me. Need a book of poems to give to a young ‘un you know? Hand over this one. Just don’t read it beforehand, or may not find yourself particularly inclined to part with it so soon.