Monday, July 01, 2013

What's Buzzin', Cousin? Dozens of Cousins by Shulla Crum

As kinfolks gather once again,
we spill out of cars, snatch up greetings, stuff ourselves

on hellos and howdys

our arms around their squishy middles.

Nothing can kick up  a commotion quite like  a crowd of rowdy, reunited cousins!

Like parts of a jigsaw puzzle suddenly coming together for down-home hijinxs,  these cousins rush to each other and are off on adventures while the grown-ups catch up on the family news. "Hungry for hugs," the kids are waylaid by tickling, teasing uncles, and engulfed by adoring aunts who threaten to leave lipstick prints all over their freckled faces.

The cousins race barefoot through the homeplace, a old house with its welcoming wide porch, many turrets and gables, and weirdly shaped windows, their bare feet slapping across the cool kitchen floor.  It's through the back screen door and through the woods to the creek.
Rushing down to the secret grottoes of the creek,
... catching frogs and crawdads
on double-dog dares crossing balancing logs.

They get the neighbors into a grumpy swivet with their trespassing, and mockingly moon their older cousins, who dunk the little whippersnappers under the pump and make them marginally presentable for the big feast. It's worth the wetting, though, when they approach hungrily, "gazing at the hallowed tabletop" spread with everyone's specialties.

And when the ice-cold watermelon is cut and slices passed around, it doesn't take long before there's a seed-spitting contest in full swing. As dusk draws close, the cousins creep around, stealthily spying on the grownups and dodging their baths.

We grab at fireflies,
We fling ourselves, whirling
beyond the crackling firelight
that spirals up to the stars.

Soon, sleepily stuffed full of the grown folks' laughter and oft-told stories, the cousins are carried off dozing, piled like puppies together on their pallets on the floor inside, to dream through the night of family reunions to come.

Shulla Crum's Dozens of Cousins (Houghton Mifflin Clarion, 2013) captures the rapture of reunited relatives who romp through the day, free to be a bit wild in the joy of being together and the exuberance of childhood. Add to Crum's poetic prose the art of noted illustrator David Catrow's exaggerated comic figures who run rampant across the pages, left to right, until twilight brings them to rest by the bonfire to listen to the tales of their parents' times at the reunion. A nostalgic and universal story of childhood remembered, this story will make little ones long for such cousins and older folks misty at the recall of carefree times themselves.

Read this one along with Cynthia Rylant's and Stephen Gammell's like-themed Caldecott Award book, The Relatives Came for more family-time fun.

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