Sing in the Spring!
Sing in the Spring!
There’s a secret hush of magic
when winter lingers on,
when our garden patch is still a quilt of white.
For all the while,
Underneath the frozen earth,
Prepare for birth. Sometimes when the nights are long
Curled up Mama sings a hum-along song:
baby fiddleheads sleep Bring in, ring in, sing in the spring
Like so many questions buried deep. Sparkly light on everything!
Note: Because Sing in the Spring! is unpaginated, no page numbers will be provided for the quotations cited in the review.
This year, spring arrived on March 20th, when “days of longer light begin”. Nearly a month later, as I write this review, a storm has surprised southern Manitoba with wind, snow, and power outages. However, as long as “we’re inside all toasty warm”, who cares? Sheree Fitch’s Sing in the Spring! is perfect reading for a stormy day, a hopeful reminder that out of the “quilt of white”, harbingers of spring – daffodils, fiddleheads, and all sorts of sprouts – will poke their shoots up, like “those asparagus tips/hiding shy/pushing up, always up/towards the sky”.
But, as I read and re-read the book, curled up in a comfy flannel quilt, I wondered, “If I were an elementary years teacher, how would I use this book, both as a classroom resource, as well as a library acquisition?” I’m a former high school teacher, and I needed assistance in crafting a review of the book. A now-retired teacher of Grade 4 students, Jean Weselowski, offered initial responses which helped me to formulate the reading prompts responded to by co-reviewers, Mika Shawarsky and her six-year-old daughter, Melania (Melya). Their responses are rich and multi-layered, and I am grateful for the observations and insights they have offered. Jean’s initial comment is that the book is “sensory” in every ‘sense of the word’.” As a Grade 1 teacher, Mika commented that ‘this book is full of wonderful phrases that help the reader make a picture in their mind. . . . When teaching writing in grade one, we talk about using juicy words, or million-dollar words to make the story more interesting.” This book has many examples of million-dollar words, my favourite being ‘mudliscious’. Placement of text on the page also creates mental pictures: a “sharp as saber-toothed/tiger teeth/icicle” is presented as an icicle-shaped line of dripping words, and spring rains seep into the ground:
conveying the slow movement of the water.
I like music but have no formal training in it. However, even I can hear the sound of April showers filling rain barrels:
As singers, both Jean and Mika noticed the musicality of Fitch’s verse. It can be storming outside, but the familiar sounds of “purring kittens/needles clicking/. . . firewood crackling –" offer security inside the “toasty warm” of home. I know that when I’ve sat by a warm winter fire, it’s easy to become drowsy, and those stretched-out vowels make you hear someone “yaaaaaaaaaawning long . . .” The spring break-up of the river “cracks and groans/like a giant’s belly rumbles/like a thunder god who grumbles “Fee-fi-fo-fum!” There’s word play, too. Lurking under the earth are lettuce seeds, “No lettuce yet, but let us, let us, let us out!”
All of us were wowed by the Deb Plestid’s fabric artistry. Mika is also an accomplished sewist, and she noted that “the lines of quilting draw the reader’s eyes across the page and invite them to discover the many intricate details hidden with the picture. We especially enjoyed the cat’s muddy footprints on the hanging laundry and the many patterns of the chickens which are collages of bright batik and print fabrics. Melya had many favourites amongst the illustrations, including the spring rain pictures, where “the plants are growing and that it is raining. I like the cute bird on the barrel and the colours of the flowers, . . . the big beetle in the mud and I like the rainbow worm. My hand likes to trace the sewing lines on the pages.” Not many little girls like worms, but Melya loved those bright pink earthworms because they remind her of “spring and planting vegetables and flowers.” One of my favourite visuals is an indoor winter scene in which strands of unraveled yarn (the cat did it!) wind their way across the floor of a cozy living room; plump cushions lie scattered on the floor, and pairs of mittens hang on strings stretched across a window while fat plops of whiteness fall from the stormy blue sky outside. Melya said that the winter scene reminded her “of when Santa comes”. As a quilter, I awed by the variety of techniques which Plestid employed to give depth, definition, and detail to her illustrations. Careful selection of fabric colour and pattern, appliqué of shapes, thread embellishment, quilted lines and swirls, and photo transfer all work together to create visual delight on each and every two-page spread. The bottom or side of each page is bordered by an intricately-stitched band of white fabric, the receding snow of spring. On the final pages of the book, the refrain of:
Hum, hum, keep humming on
Hum, hum, hum-along song:
Bring in, ring sing, sing in the spring
Sparkly light on everything!
changes to a jubilant shout of
Sing in the Spring! is a great read-aloud, but it also has content-area connections. Mika stated that ‘this book fits in perfectly with the Grade 1 Science cluster (Manitoba): Daily and Seasonal Changes. This book would lead to a great discussion with students about the changes that occur from winter to spring. I especially appreciate that the book covers so many aspects of the changing seasons, plant growth, insect and animal changes, human activities, and more. Having taught Grade 4, Jean saw potential for “indoor planting projects with various bulbs or seeds” and grade-appropriate science concepts such as “animal tracks and the life cycle of the frog, egg incubation into chicks, different varieties of colourful hens, butterflies and their life cycle.” Here in Winnipeg, there’s a Butterfly House at the Assiniboine Park Zoo, and the book offers content preparation for a field trip to that facility. I would never have thought of this, but Jean also suggested that the book offers ideas for drama activities: “Children can pretend to be a seed pushing its way through the earth, or a frog or butterfly.”
We all loved the book, and no one hesitates to give it anything less than 5 stars. School libraries and classrooms will both be enriched by having more than one copy available. Although the publisher states that the intended audience is ages 3-7, Mika suggested that students up to age 10-12 would likely enjoy the story and illustrations as well. Anyone who responds to the beauty of fibre art will also enjoy Sing in the Spring!. There’s plenty to sing about as the snow melts away, the sun shines brightly, and there’s bright light on EVERYTHING!
Joanne Peters, a retired teacher-librarian, lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Treaty 1 Territory and Homeland of the Métis People
Mika Shawarsky is a grade 1 teacher at Joseph Teres School in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Melya Shawarsky is a kindergarten student at R. F. Morrison School in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Jean Weselowski is a retired teacher in Winnipeg, Manitoba.