Simply Haiku: A Quarterly Journal of Japanese Short Form Poetry
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Autumn 2008, vol 6 no 3

Cool Melons—Turn to Frogs! The Life and Poems of Issa
illustrations by Kazuko G. Stone, calligraphy by Keiko Smith
A Review by Johnye Strickland


A few days after the birth of my first great-grandchild, this book was brought to my attention by Amazon as something I might also be interested in when I ordered a new translation of Bashō. And since Issa was the first of the great masters I had felt drawn to, I thought it would be an appropriate gift for the newest addition to my haiku family. (Her grandmother, uncle, and father are all trying to learn to write haiku, and finding it as daunting as I did.)

It is a beautiful book, with colorful illustrations of children and friendly-looking animals interacting both indoors and out, in seasonal settings. Calligraphy graces the outside border of each page, with what I assume is probably the poem in Japanese. In addition, as part of the Author's Note at the end of the book, four of the poems are reprinted along with the rōmaji versions, a brief lesson on the sounds of the Japanese words, and notes on the cultural contexts.

Children as young as three will enjoy the pictures, and no doubt will soon be able to quote the haiku for each page. And those six to ten should be able to compose their own haiku in time, and make their own illustrations. It looks like a great way to be exposed to haiku, as well as a fun way to learn about a different culture.

Matthew Gollub includes several of Issa's best known poems, such as:

Climb Mount Fuji,
    Snail, but slowly,

My favorite is this one, with the picture of a little boy holding out his cupped hand:

Motherless sparrow, / come play / with me.
Ware-to-kite   asobe-ya-oya-no   nai-suzume

According to the author, Issa wrote this haiku when he was six years old. Isn't this the kind of thing that should inspire any child to look for haiku moments?


Cool Melons—Turn to Frogs! The Life and Poems of Issa
Story and Translations by Matthew Gollub
Watercolor Illustrations by Kazuko G. Stone
Calligraphy by Keiko Smith
Lee and Low Books Inc. 1998
95 Madison Avenue
New York, New York 10016
ISBN I-880000-71-7 ($17.95 US; hard cover)
ISBN I-58430-241-0 ($8.95 US; paperback)