Joyce Sidman's This Is Just To Say: Poems of Apology and Forgiveness
Illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski
Children's book review by Suzanne Edison.
Poems imagined by an adult but written as if by children
I remember to this day (the mark of G for guilty upon my hands) having stolen some candy from a store. I tried to convince my mother I had “just found it in my pocket” but she knew better and made me return the candy and apologize to the storekeeper. The agony of that day, when I was 8 or 9 years old remains. What would the storekeeper say to me now?
From Joyce Sidman, the Lee Bennett Hopkins award winner of 2006, comes another wonderful book of poems for children and adults on the agonies and hilarity of a variety of apologies. The title is from the William Carlos Williams poem of the same name.
Ms. Sidman wrote an apology to her mother for something she’d done as a child and received her mother’s kind response. Then, using the Williams poem as stimulus she let her most fertile and far-reaching imagination loose and produced this book.
Though all of the kids and respondents poems are completely fictional, they are all so true to life, with touches of remorse, whimsy and sometimes unrepentant nature for their actions, that we immediately relate to them. Poems to pets, to sisters and brothers, parents and teachers abound. Many of them write back!
To Manga, My Hamster
I wish I could set you free
like that day you escaped
and ran all over the house.
The poem goes on to recount the various traumas that having his hamster loose caused his mother and Manga (he bit her), and then asks Manga’s forgiveness for not being able to let him live freely with his “wild cousins”…”roam[ing] the jungles of Asia”. He apologizes for only providing Manga a “warm, cozy cage”.
This Is Just to Say: Poems of Apology and Forgiveness
In the second half of the book, Manga writes back to Ricky. He tells him,
I was so, so happy to be free!!!
But, later I was so, so glad
to be back
curled in the warm palm
of your hand.
The poems of response are often full of genuine forgiveness, loving explanations of the other’s experience of what happened, as well as a few surprises. Not everyone is willing to forgive.
One girl has written an apology to her sister for stabbing her hand with a lead pencil. I love this poem for its well-penned image of the black spot that persists on the sister’s palm and in the heart of the stabbing sister. One might think the stabbed sister a forgiving type, but here’s her brief reply:
Roses are red,
violets are blue,
I’m still really
pissed off at you.
The kids I read this to laughed and laughed and wanted to know if they could use “bad” words in their poems! This book gives kids permission to come up with resonant poems of their own.
In a recent workshop I taught, one mother/daughter pair wrote apologies to the ants in their house that they kill or “flick” away. The ants reply with gleeful retribution and humor. Ha-ha, now that you’ve crushed us to dust you will also breathe us in and carry us around on the bottoms of your shoes!
When you read This is Just to Say: Poems of Apology and Forgiveness, you might carry the poems around in your head or on your smile for days. I make no apologies for recommending this book.
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