Sunday, November 7, 2010

Review: Guyku

Raczka, Bob. Guyku: A Year of Haiku for Boys. Illus. Peter H. Reynolds. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2010. 48pp.

We've already reviewed a Young Adult book in haiku here at the journal, but Raczka and Reynolds's Guyku is our first children's book.  And that brings up some questions: do you use the same sorts of standards in reviewing a children's book that you do in a book for adults?  Let's take a look at the authorial intent (dangerous, right?), or, um, in this case the illustratorial intent.  As illustrator Reynolds explains, "My mission is also to help people defy stereotypes-- to think creatively and bravely.  The invitation for boys to swim in the 'poem pond' needs to be issued more often, and more loudly.  I want to shout, 'Come on in!  The water's fine!'"

And at that goal, this book hits spot-on.  Several quintessential experiences from boyhood are succinctly called back to mind in its pages:

In a rushing stream,
we turn rocks into a dam.
Hours flow by us.


Pounding fat cattails
on a park bench near the pond,
we make a snowstorm.

Does Raczka occasionally cheat?  Sure.  Filling in syllables is an easy way to make a haiku work, as in this example:

Skip, skip, skip, skip, plunk!
Five ripple rings in a row--
my best throw ever!

That one comes off as a little cheesy, but I'm willing to give him a pass because of the bucktoothed grin borne by the rock-skipper.  These would be nice haiku in general, but the illustrations just make them.  I'm a sucker for spot color anyway, and Reynolds picks a separate one for each of the seasons: green for spring, yellow for summer, sepia for fall, and cyan for winter.  The result is a classic children's-book look.

So yeah, it absolutely succeeds as a children's book.  But I also want to examine the real poetic value of some of these haiku.  Take for example these two:

Lying on the lawn
we study the blackboard sky
connecting the dots.


With the ember end
of my long marshmallow stick
I draw on the dark

Along with creating a book for children, Raczka and Reynolds have created a vehicle for adults to relive some of those precious moments of boyhood, regardless of how long it has been since we spent them by the pond or gazing at the stars.  Call me sentimental, but this book did some good for my heart.  I've read enough haiku about death and suffering... sometimes I just want to look up in the sky and think back to a time when I had fewer worries.

So I'd like to see this book show up in elementary school classrooms from time to time.  Boys need someone cheering them on, and I can think of some younger cousins who I will be re-gifting my review copy to.  But I'd also recommend it to any jaded adult who would do well to take a short vacation to age nine.  Don't worry, death and suffering will still be around after reading the book.

In essence: Guyku rocks!


No comments:

Post a Comment