Thursday, April 17, 2014

Science Poetry Pairings - Seasons

Every year from Kindergarten through second grade, my son came home with a picture he'd drawn of an apple tree seen through all four seasons. While I love the book that these were modeled on, I often found myself wishing that this activity was done at the end of the year as a culmination of months of studying the same schoolyard tree through the seasons. This isn't hard to do and teaches kids much about the skill of observation and keeping a nature journal. It's also a much better way to document the changing of the seasons. It may take longer to teach this way, but the benefits of long-term study are undeniable and vastly more interesting.

Today's book pairing offers an unusual, non-traditional and very clever look at our four seasons.

Poetry Book
Pumpkin Butterfly: Poems From the Other Side of Nature, written by Heidi Mordhorst and illustrated by Jenny Reynish, is a collection of 23 poems that begins with fall and cycles through the year's seasons, inviting readers to think about the signs of these seasons in new and extraordinary ways. Readers will be struck by the terribly clever metaphors as they find new ways to see and think about the world around them. Here's one of the poems that I particularly love.
Botanical Jazz

Quiet down, flower—
not so loud!

All this stretching your neck
and spreading your arms
bellowing your brassy yellow sass—

you’re breaking our eyedrums
trumpeting all that color and sun
blowing that blazing yellow jazz. . . .

Belt it out, flower—
we’ll join in!
As someone who uses poetry to teach science, I especially appreciate Mordhorst's gift for observation and her use of metaphor to help us see the everyday in new ways. Here's a terrific example of this.

It's only because of
the low December sun bearing
down along the street
that I notice
half a dozen fires without flame
smoldering among the roots of

a monumental oak where
leaves and fat acorns have pooled.
Their whispering columns of smoke
climb the trunk,
turning it into a risky thing:
a chimney made of wood.

I follow the white morning beams,
mingle my clouded breath with
the twisting wisps of smoke, and
warm my hands
over the burning of those
acorn coals, of that timber chimney.
Poems © Heidi Mordhorst. All rights reserved.

While these are ostensibly nature poems, they so keenly reflect the markers of each season that together they make this a perfect book for sharing during a study of the seasons.

Nonfiction Picture Book
Our Seasons, written by Grace Lin and Ranida McKneally and illustrated by Grace Lin, is a beautiful combination of science and poetry that explores questions children often have about these seasons. Beginning with fall, each season is explored in three double-page spreads that include a haiku, related question, and the answer to that question.

Before the exploration of seasons begins, the book opens with this haiku and question-answer selection.
When the earth is cold
We long for the butterflies,
Yet in warmth we want snow.
Why do we have seasons? 
Did you know that the earth is titled as it revolves around the sun? If you drew an imaginary line through the earth's poles, this line (the axis) would be tilted at an angle, not straight up and down. The tilt of the axis never changes, so part of the year you are facing the sun more directly and part of the year you are not. Which season you experience depends on where you live and on the time of year.
Questions explored through the seasons include:
  • What makes the wind?
  • Why do leaves change color?
  • Why do I see my breath?
  • What is snow?
  • Why is there frost on the window?
  • Why do my cheeks turn red in the cold?
  • What makes a thunderstorm?
  • Why do bees like flowers?
  • Why do I sneeze?
  • Why is the air sticky?
  • Why do fireflies glow?
  • Why do I tan?
Text © Grace Lin and Ranida McKneally. All rights reserved.

The answers to each of these questions are written in a clear, understandable, and engaging manner. The book wraps up with the answer to the question, "Does everyone have four seasons?" Back matter includes a glossary of terms.

Perfect Together
While not a typical look at the seasons, Mordhorst's poetry will encourage students to look for signs of the seasons and imagine them in different ways. Pair this with Lin and McKneally's book to provide answers to often asked questions about the seasons and common events that occur in each.

For additional resources, consider these sites.
Finally, if you decide you want to try a year-long tree study, consider using this amazing book.

Sky Tree: Seeing Science Through Art, written by Thomas Locker and Candace Christiansen and illustrated by Thomas Locker, is a detailed look at one tree through a single year. The gorgeous oil paintings and lyrical text invite readers to look closely at the world around them. The author's note that opens the book reads:
I have spent most of my life learning to paint trees agains the ever changing sky. After all these years I still cannot look at a tree without being filled with a sense of wonder. 
Since I began collaborating with Candace Christiansen, who is a science teacher, I have become increasingly aware of the scientific approach to the natural world. I was amazed to discover that the more scientific facts I learned, the deeper my sense of wonder became. This realization led to the creation of Sky Tree
Sky Tree invites adults and children to experience the life of a tree and its relationship to the sky in several different ways. Through storytelling, art appreciation, and scientific exploration, Sky Tree attempts to reach both the heart and mind.
Back matter includes a section in which questions asked in the text are answered, linking science and art. 


  1. I continue to just REALLY enjoy this series -- I've been keeping a list of good books for the nephews, books which don't anthropomorphize animals, books which don't go into origins of the species too much (I don't know how my sister is going to deal with that, and I'm not going to touch it), and books which both give them facts and are beautiful... you're hitting all the high notes. LOVE that Heidi Mordhorst. It's a little old for the six year old, but that one will stay on the list...

  2. I am enjoying this whole series and find many new books I hadn't seen before. Thanks for doing this.

  3. Pumpkin Butterfly is one of my favorites! Go Heidi! And yes, this series is great. :)

  4. Well! Hello Tricia, and thanks for the surprise! I came here to find a nice post for my National Poetry Month Travel Journal, something sciency to go with Robyn's feature on the PFA for Science, and lo, here is Pumpkin Butterfly! As I have taken on leadership responsibilities at my school for Green certification, I have come to see my work in a new light, and I'm so glad this work seems to offer a strong observation of the seasons!