Every month, we shine the light on a book from our collection – one which is new to the library, which has been particularly enjoyed by a borrower, recommended by a volunteer, or which seems salient to the month’s events or happenings. To see the archive of past books of the month from this year, click here.
The current book of the month is…
May: Let’s Celebrate! Festival Poems from around the World
As festival season begins to ramp up in the UK, it seems like a great time to delve into the brilliantly ebullient, ‘Let’s Celebrate! Festival Poems from around the World’, an anthology edited by Debjani Chatterjee and Brian D’Arcy. This is a collection for children – a lovely introduction for younger folk to these culturally significant events and to poetry – but it’s hard not to be swept up in its joyous pages, even as an adult.
With this book we find a bright overview of some of the world’s most widely-celebrated festivals – events such as Carnivals, Eid-ul-Fitr, Purim, and Diwali. It moves through these events chronologically, beginning with Chinese New Year and leading us up to Kwanzaa, which runs in the USA from 26th December to 1st January. Helpfully, the book also provides short descriptions of each festival at the end, which lends nice context for the poems themselves.
In these pages, there’s much rhyme and verse, bringing a lovely rhythmic and musical feel to the anthology, both of which feel wholly appropriate to the subject matter and the intended readership. In Vietnam we see ‘drums and cymbals and dancing feet / star-shaped lanterns lighting the street’ at Trung Thu (The Moon Festival), and we hear prayers ‘for each new morning with its light, / for rest and shelter of the night’ – a nod to Thanksgiving in the USA. We also encounter a lovely range of forms; poems with repeating choruses, an acrostic, and haiku poems which bring to life the springtime Cherry Blossom Festival held every year in Japan.
This is an anthology which genuinely roams widely. We find the ‘cool castles and taverns’ of the many ice festivals celebrated in Canada, Alaska, Russia, and China, among other places. We are also told of ‘sparkling powders’ and ‘happy splashes’ of colour thrown at the Hindu festival, Holi, and how the ‘golden face of Buddha glows’ at the Buddha Purnima, another festival celebrating the moon.
Moreover, there’s a wide range of writers here too, including Chatterjee and D’Arcy themselves. Poems by well-known writers are included, such as Christina Rossetti’s instruction on how to make and toss pancakes and Pablo Neruda revelling in the tomato fights of La Tomatina. We also find work by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, which lets the ‘Christmas Bells’ sing out, and Valerie Bloom, who brings us vibrant scenes from Carnival. Anonymous authors also appear, however, which gives a lovely sense of inclusivity.
It might have been nice to have seen a little more from countries in the Southern Hemisphere as the selections are slightly weighted to Northern Hemisphere festivals, particularly those of the USA and the UK, but the variety of events already presented is tremendous, and, as an introduction to world festivals and to poetry itself, this is a wonderful place to start. In addition to its entertaining and inspiring words, what makes this anthology really shine is its artwork – each page beautifully illustrated by Shirin Adl, with colourful, imaginative paintings and photo textures intermixed. These images sparkle and seen together alongside the poems’ musical language this book truly does feel like a celebration!