“. . . .unleashes the power of poetry. Kiyoshi discovers how to use his senses, his power of observation, and his imagination. Sensory language models the vitality and precision of creative writing. The artwork is soft, warm and captivating. See, hear, touch, taste, smell. . . and imagine poetry all around you.”
—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
Please tell us about your book.
Kiyoshi’s Walk is a story about the relationship of a grandparent and grandchild, and it’s also a story of a young child learning to experience the world with sensitivity and, from that sensitivity, to write poetry.
This multicultural tale begins with Kiyoshi’s question, “Where do poems come from?” and Grandfather Eto’s answer, “Let’s take a walk.” On their walk, Grandfather Eto writes several haiku, all of them based on commonplace sights and sounds—a pile of oranges at a fruit stand, the leap of a cat, the fluttering of pigeons’ wings. As Kiyoshi discovers that poems come from the way the world outside of us meets the world within each of us, he also finds the inspiration to write a haiku of his own. For those who see with the eyes of a poet, everything is poetry.
Grandfather and grandson. Are you, by any chance, a grandfather yourself?
I wrote Kiyoshi’s Walk before my grandson, Jesadha, was born. But now, yes, I am a grandfather, and the relationship with Jesadha is one of the most important in my life. I learn something from him every time I see him, and he keeps me laughing. He’s only two now and I’m looking forward to being able to share Kiyoshi’s Walk with him when he’s a few years older. I can see already how my little Jesadha has the heart of a poet. Maybe all children do, and, sadly as we age, we lose some of that poetry. Yesterday while we were driving in the car, we were listening to some classical music on the radio. At one point Jesadha piped up and declared that what we were listening to, some Strauss, was “a good song.”
I have a feeling you could talk about Jesadha for a long time.
Yes. I have to watch myself. I could go on all afternoon about him. But it’s true, I also find children in general fascinating. That must be why I’ve been writing picture books for so many years. My writing of them first began in response to my own son and daughter.
Do either of them write poetry?
They did, throughout their childhoods and beyond. One of the things I try to express in Kiyoshi’s Walk is the importance of creativity in children’s lives—more specifically, in this book, the importance of writing poetry. I also show, through the grandfather, that creativity can be an important part of an adult’s life, and that adults can model that for their children. Writing, drawing, dancing, music, having a mind that is playful—all of that seems central to me.
Do you also draw, play music, or dance?
My drawing is pretty much at the scribble scrabble stage, only slightly better than Jesadha’s, but I do enjoy wielding a crayon. For music, I sing off-key. I love to dance and, although I’m not particularly good at it, do so with great gusto.
I wonder, who do you think is the audience for Kiyoshi’s Walk?
Lee & Low are marketing it for grades 1-3. I like to think of it, and I imagine they do too, as having a wide appeal, certainly also for children younger than first graders.
First of all, of course, the book is for children.
I also see it as a book that will work well in the classroom. It can serve as an excellent introduction to poetry writing, especially the writing of haiku. The book connects immediate experiences with writing, and this bridge can make writing (both poetry and prose) easier for children to appreciate. Even teachers can find a boost here. The book also comes with a Reader’s Guide to help supplement a teacher’s own knowledge of poetry writing.
It’s a book for parents to share with their children by reading it and also by extending the story about writing poetry into poetry activities of their own. With my own children, I found that writing poetry together is a wonderful way to deepen our relationship. It’s also a different way of relating to each other than usual. And, finally, writing poetry helps to deepen a child’s relationship with language, particularly in terms of its flexibility.
Just one or two last questions. Were you happy with the illustrations?
Nicole Wong did the illustrations for Kiyoshi’s Walk. I love them. I truly do. Her illustrations are done with great delicacy and care. They’re wonderful and quite magical. I love seeing how she took my words and created from them her own visual narrative.
You sound happy about the results of Kiyoshi’s Walk.
Seeing your book get published is an interesting experience. What began as a few ideas floating around in my head and then became writing and rewriting in my study is now a physical object, a book. And, of course, I love books. Working with my editor at Lee & Low, seeing Nicole’s illustrations, holding the book, a physical object, in my hands—yes, it’s all been very satisfying.
I dedicated the book to two people who see with the eyes of poets—Jesadha, of course, and to my wife Mary Lee, who was, and always has been, my first editor. And just because.