How to Color with Poetry: Colors! ¡Colores!, Luján and Grobler (illust.)

Colors! ¡Colores!, by Jorge Luján with pictures by Piet Grobler. Groundwood books, 2008.41wqqtzvonl-_sy376_bo1204203200_

Dr. V’s take:

This book. I love this book. Everything about it is ridiculously beautiful, from the pictures to the verses.

About the verses. I like the idea of poetry in theory, and I like the idea of my kids liking it. Sitting at the foot of my child’s tidy bed surrounded by his child-appropriate decor reading him a poem so that he might dream literary dreams as he drifts to sleep sounds like the sort of thing beautiful, cultured people do.

But it’s also very boring.

And I feel like if I think it’s boring, it’s got to be excruciating for someone who hasn’t been trained up the wazoo about reading as I have—-and certainly for someone who doesn’t really like or “get” poetry at all.

The problem isn’t poetry, exactly. It’s how poetry is often packaged for children. Lots of kids’ books rhyme, which can be fun or super annoying, depending on the book, but there are far fewer books that are true volumes of poetry for kids. Yes, Shel Silverstein was brilliant—-I’m sure we all pretty much agree—-but if you take a look at your children’s library’s poetry offerings, probably entirely contained by one shelf of the “nonfiction” section, it….doesn’t sound fun.

Weirdly, books of poetry for children are often books of epic poetry—-the whole thing will be one long poem describing an adventure or mythical beast of some kind, with painstakingly detailed illustrations, and….after 5 pages my voice is hoarse and my kid doesn’t care. Or, they’re the work of people trying to adapt adult poetry for kids: Poetry for Young People: Robert Frost or whatever. This, my friends, is literary broccoli. It’s something you’re supposed to feed your kids because it’s good for them; if you read them an illustrated Wordsworth collection at age 4 they will for sure get into your state’s flagship university and become a really nice, well-read dentist.

Colors! ¡Colores! isn’t like that. Sure, it incorporates a bunch of good-for-devel0pment stuff: it’s poetry, it’s bilingual, and it’s about the color wheel.

But Luján’s book is so much more than rote information transfer: it itemizes the colors, yes, but it invites readers not only to memorize what the colors look like, but to consider how they  feel in context, and all the different ways they can surround us. Luján’s brief but evocative verses, lovely to the ear and a pleasure to read aloud in both English and Spanish, combined with Grobler’s illustrations that directly translate the 10-ish-word poems into gorgeously detailed two-page visualizations, take readers beyond “what are the colors”: Colors! ¡Colores! is “why are the colors” and “how are the colors.”

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I don’t know if it will make your kid a well-read dentist. But “yellow” really does “roll through the sky like a warm gold coin / rueda por el cielo como una moneda de oro tibio,” doesn’t it? And Colors! ¡Colores! is the loveliest book of poetry I have encountered for very young children so far ❤


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