This Is Just to Say: Poems of Apology and Forgiveness by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski

ThisIsJustToSay_byJoyceSidmanBibliographic Info:
Sidman, Joyce. 2007. This Is Just to Say: Poems of Apology and Forgiveness. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 978061861600.

Review:
This Is Just to Say: Poems of Apology and Forgiveness is a slim volume with lots of heart. In just 47 pages, characters come to life within the space of just a few dozen lines of poetry or less per page. The premise of Sidman’s book is clever and believable. Sixth grade teacher Mrs. Merz asks her students to write poems of apology to individuals they have hurt in some way. The students decide to share the poems with the people they are written about, and most of those people respond with their own poems. What results is a diverse collection of poems that range from funny to sheepish, sorrowful to honest.

The whimsical, collage-style art lends a light-hearted feel to even the most serious poems in the book. Artist Pamela Zagarenski supplies a fresh illustration for each poem. For the poem “It Was Quiet” in which Tenzin mourns the loss of Einstein, his beloved dog, Zagarenski sketches an angelic dog using notebook paper, pen, and watercolor, which is then pasted to the top of the page. At the bottom of the page is a weeping Tenzin, and between him and Einstein is a bird with an envelope in its beak. This is a clever addition to the illustration, as birds are seen as angelic messengers in many cultures. A green page dotted with four-leaf clovers serves as the background for the poem “Lucky Nose.”

Sidman’s poems cover a range of forms. “Spelling Bomb” is, according to an author’s note at the bottom of the page, a pantoum. “The second and fourth lines of each stanza are repeated as the first and third lines in the next stanza”. There is even a haiku and a poem in two voices. Many of the book’s poems overflow with wonderful imagery. The last poem in the book is titled “Ode to Slow-Hand” and both describes the class pet and begs forgiveness with a repetitive “los perdonamos” that occurs between couplets. The class pet, a lizard, is beautifully described with the couplet, “his belly: soft as an old balloon / his tongue: lightning’s flicker”. In “Next Time,”  Jewel yearns for her father to return home and describes herself as, “a slow, sad tornado”. Although there are several very serious and sad poems in this book, there are plenty of funny poems, too, such as “I Got Carried Away” and “Dodge Ball Crazy” in which Kyle and Reuben respectively write to each other about participating a bit too enthusiastically in a game of dodge ball.

There is one flaw that I found with this book. The first section consists of the apology poems and the second section consists of the response poems. Each apology and response should be read together for a greater impact, but some of this impact was taken away in flipping through the pages to find the poems that go together. Young readers, however, may enjoy the hunt for the pairs of poems. Not every response poem is a direct apology, but readers will be pleasantly surprised by most. “Children will find much to identify with in the situations presented in the apology poems, and they’ll appreciate the resolutions given in the responses” (Enos 2007).

Teachers, librarians, or even those who host a creative writing club would do well to use the premise of the book as an activity; ask your students or young patrons to write an apologetic poem of their own. If they feel comfortable, ask them to share the poem with the person to whom the poem was written. For a bit of mystery, keep the authors of each poem anonymous and post them on a wall or bulletin board for others to read. Perhaps this will inspire responses from other students or patrons. This activity would be a great way to celebrate National Poetry Month in April.

References:
Enos, Randall. May 2007. Booklist. http://ezproxy.twu.edu:2125/DetailedView.aspx?hreciid=|16843802|13459918&mc=USA#. Accessed October 1, 2013.

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