CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 16 . . . . December 22, 2017
Once in a Blue Moon is intended to be a book of short poems for young readers. Daniel, a former schoolteacher, is a Métis writer, author, and illustrator who has created short, four line poems (one per page) and paired them with her "colourful, naïve images" to captivate children. She shares simple pleasures with her readers, like watching the northern lights, as well as extraordinary experiences like having a giant whale pop up next to you in the water while you are fishing. Daniel places her poetry on the left hand page on a plain white background while the simple, straightforward illustrations on the following page complement and depict the writing perfectly.
This book of poems offers a wonderful opportunity to introduce idioms to any age group since the title, itself, and the first line of every single page, is an idiom. In addition to teaching the concept of idiom, Once in a Blue Moon will also allow learners to analyze and critique Daniel's interpretation of what 'once in a blue moon' means and if her examples seem to be accurate representations of the phrase. This book would also easily allow for classroom teachers to have students create their own mini poems and artwork that fit in perfectly as an extension of Daniel's work. Another positive aspect of this book is that the majority of ideas Daniel shares with readers are likely to be unfamiliar to children in an urban setting (such as the whale popping up near a fishing boat, or seeing an eagle or owl or moose while spending time outside). This opens up the possibility of discussion about different places people live, where one might see these animals, etc. Interspersed with this unfamiliarity are also a few things that students will be able to connect with, like ladybugs and rainbows, which will lead to some excitement for readers when they realize they've also experienced these things!
That Once in a Blue Moon does not conform to traditional notions of poetry will make extension activities of poetry easier to do since students often find the rhythm and rhyme aspects of poems challenging and intimidating. However, because one 'expects' the flow and rhyming upon hearing the word 'poetry', some readers may be disappointed by the lack of these characteristics. Daniel's poems all contain the same elements: 4 lines long, first line being "once in a blue moon", the second line being something the poet is 'doing', and the third and fourth lines explain what she saw or experienced. Besides these similarities, the poems do not have anything conventionally poetic about them. There are no rhymes, no syllable similarities, and no cadence to the reading. I, personally, found this made the book difficult to read, but that is only because I enjoy traditional poetry. However, since each of the poems follows a similar structure, and Daniel's illustrations so accurately represent what's in the poem, it might be a great activity to share a few pages of poems with students and then simply show the rest of the pictures and ask them to see if they can figure out the accompanying poem!
Dawn Opheim is an avid reader with a Masters degree in Teacher Librarianship, and she works at two elementary school libraries in Saskatoon, SK.