Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The Boy Who Didn't Believe in Spring

by Lucille Clifton, pictures by Brinton Turkle. E.P. Dutton, 1973.

I first discovered this book when Buster was in kindergarten. Two boys about six years old decide to go exploring down their city street to look for evidence of spring. The boys names are King Shabazz and his friend Tony Polito. What wonderful names! The story includes characters of a variety of ethnicities without calling attention to being "multicultural" for any teaching purpose.

They walk down a busy city street full of purposeful people going about daily life. I like how the city is depicted as busy and full of interesting people, tantalizing smells like fresh baked buns and BBQ. It's not a dangerous place, but it's exciting because the boys venture farther from home than they ever have when they cross a big street. They are each determined to show their friend their courage and persistence in looking for signs of spring even though they have insisted that it is all a myth told by grown ups.

King Shabazz's mama has been talking about crops and the teachers have been talking about blue birds. I can just here the boys talking on the stoop:

"King Shabazz decided he had just had enough. He put his jacket on and his shades and went by for Tony Polito.

"Look here, man," King said when they got out to the bottom step,"I'm goin to get me some of this Spring."
"What you mean, man?" Tony asked him.
"Everybody talkin bout Spring comin, and Spring just round the corner. I'm goin to go round there and see what do I see."

As their adventure unfolds, they come to a vacant lot that is empty except for an abandoned car. For these boys it is beautiful and exciting. The hear a whispery sound coming from it and creep up to peek inside. They take courage from each other, although each secretly hopes the other will want to go home instead. Together they tiptoe across the lot.

"When they were halfway to the car, Tony tripped and almost fell. He looked down and saw a patch of little yellow pointy flowers, growing in the middle of short spiky green leaves.

"Man, I think you tripped on these crops!" King laughed.
"They're comin up," Tony shouted. "Man, the corps are comin up!"

Even twenty years after first reading this I crack up every time. The boys are so earnest and full of wonder under their careful bravado. When I first read this story to Buster we were living in the city and found spring just the way these boys do - growing in vacant lots and sidewalk cracks. The joy of sudden color and vibrant new green life is the same wherever you find it, but somehow more startling and precious in an empty lot beside rushing traffic.

When the boys get to the car they find a bird's nest full of sky blue eggs. They whisper in reverent awe over the miracle. Then Tony's older brother shows up looking for him and threatening his mother's punishment for going off on their own. Buster was a bit put off by that bit, as he is young enough to take it literally. I had to explain that "Mom is going to kill you!" was more of a threat than a real prediction. We have read this book together several nights in a row and he is fascinated with the boys and their point of view. The illustrations of city life and the boy's wide eyed faces are touching and engaging. Clifton and Turkle have collaborated in a beautiful synchronicity in this little book. It's a treasure.


NYC Teacher said...

Sounds wonderful. I'm going to look for the book this weekend. THANKS!

Robert M said...

I find the lack of proper English in this book unnerving considering its use in school as a teaching tool.

Cloudscome said...

Robert, I consider it poetry rather than a grammar textbook. I think kids can navigate a range of styles of English and have no trouble selecting the appropriate level of formality depending on the context, meaning and intent of the communication.