Skip to main content

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

This was originally posted at Into the Wardrobe on May 23, 2009.

Story and haiku translations by Matthew Gollub
Illustrations by Kazuko G. Stone
Calligraphy by Keiko Smith



Cool melons --
turn to frogs!
If people should come near.


Cool Melons -- Turn to Frogs!: The Life and Poems of Issa (Lee and Low Books, 1998) is so beautiful that I got teary-eyed the first time I looked through it. This picture book tells the story of Kobayashi Yataro, the haiku master otherwise known as Issa. Issa was born in Kashiwabara, a small mountain village in Japan, in 1763. He liked observing birds and insects, and spent a lot of time playing alone in the woods. It seems natural then that he started writing haiku as a young boy. (Traditional haiku describe a single moment in nature.)

Issa's mother died when he was three and his father remarried when he was seven. Issa and his stepmother didn't get along at all, so when Issa was only fourteen, he was sent away from his home. He went to Edo, which is now known as Tokyo, to work and study under a master poet. Issa's poems were soon being published in books and eventually he took over the master poet's school.

When Issa was thirty, he stopped teaching, shaved his head, donned a priestly robe, picked up a pilgrim's staff, and started a journey in the tradition of haiku poets. For seven years, he traveled around Japan by foot and wrote haiku - and he found great joy in this lifestyle.

Asleep on the ocean --
a folding fan
shades me from the moon.


Finally, Issa returned to his village in time to nurse his father during his last days. And even though Issa still could not get along with his stepfamily, he promised his father that he would settle in the village and start a family of his own there. And there Issa continued to delight in nature, write haiku, and teach students until the day he died in 1827.

The new year's first dream --
I see my village
and wake to a chilly tear.


If you want to learn A LOT more about Issa and his life or about haiku in general, you MUST read Cool Melons -- Turn to Frogs!. Interspersed with Issa's life story are thirty-three of his lovely haiku. Each haiku is also written in Japanese in the outer page margins. Keiko Smith wrote the calligraphy using traditional materials: charcoal, paper, water, and brush. There's also a very helpful and very interesting author's note at the end with lots more information about Issa's work and about haiku in general.

This book has inspired me to have more contact with nature, to reflect more, and to try to write my own haiku. :)


Check out the blog of children's book writer Susan Taylor Brown for more posts on poetry today.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Ako'y Isang Mabuting Pilipino (I Am A Good Filipino) by Noel Cabangon and Jomike Tejido

This one is a real crowd pleaser: Ako'y Isang Mabuting Pilipino , Lampara Books ' 2012 picture book adaptation of Noel Cabangon 's song, with Cabangon's original Filipino lyrics, functional English translations by Becky Bravo , and illustrations by Jomike Tejido ! Cabangon's inspiring lyrics remind children of the ways they can be good Filipinos, such as doing their best in school and obeying their parents. There are plenty of reminders for adults too, such as following traffic rules and not selling their votes during elections. Tejido's illustrations are warm and wholesome, acrylic paintings on hand-woven mats that depict different ways to be good citizens.    You just can't go wrong with Ako'y Isang Mabuting Pilipino ! Children and adults will understand and appreciate the lyrics and paintings. The chords of the song are provided, so music lovers can play and sing along. There are notes and guide questions for educators. There is even

1st Philippine National Children's Book Awards

Yesterday was the announcement of the winners of the very first Philippine National Children's Book Awards (NCBA). The awards are for the very best children's and young adult books published in the Philippines (2008-2009). There are no categories and no rankings for the NCBA. And the NCBA does not only evaluate the text of the nominated books. Illustrations, book design, and even the materials used in printing and binding the books are evaluated when choosing the "best reads" for young people in the Philippines! I was a judge for the awards (yes, this is me revealing my sooper sekrit project!) and I am very proud to now share with you the six winners of the first NCBA. Below are the winners' covers and the judges' comments on the books. Araw sa Palengke ( Market Day ) Written by May Tobias-Papa Illustrated by Isabel Roxas Adarna, 2008 (In Filipino, with English translations) "Listen well," her mother tells her. "Hold on to me tightly, ha?

Author Interview: Mae Respicio

Happy Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month! How are you all celebrating? As part of my celebration, I'm sharing my chat with author Mae Respicio . Her middle grade novel The House That Lou Built (Wendy Lamb Books, 2018) is about Lou Bulosan-Nelson and her dream to build a tiny house (only 100 square feet!) all on her own and on land that she inherited from her father. This Filipino American coming-of-age story is the recipient of the Asian Pacific American Library Association (APALA) 2019 Honor Award in Children’s Literature . Keep reading to discover more about Mae and the book! Congratulations, Mae! What inspired you to write The House That Lou Built ? There were many things that inspired this book such as my love of building, my desire to write a strong girl at the center of a coming-of-age adventure, and wanting to write a book set in the Bay Area! Although above any of these things what kept me inspired throughout the (sometimes grueling!) writin