By Kara Pleasants
My maternal grandmother is an artist and a poet. From her, I learned the power of using my voice to shape words on lines. My earliest poetry is filled with imagery of life at that moment, and it’s fitting that imagery is the focus here: Color Days, a celebration of the beauty that surround us, inspired by a beloved book of poetry.
Hailstones and Halibut Bones is written by Mary O’Neill and illustrated by John Wallner. Not long after my first daughter was born, I received the book in the mail, inscribed in my grandmother’s flowing cursive: “Kara & Nora—a book to share—an all-time favorite. A book to read out-loud. Love, Grandma Sharon”.
The poems center on 12 colors, the titles a question: What is… purple, gold, black, brown, blue, gray, white, orange, red, pink, green, yellow? O’Neill infuses each with rich imagery—complex and nuanced. Like people. We are, like nature and feelings, unpredictable and beautiful and imperfect.
This book inspired Color Days. One day, Grandma Sharon, living in Arizona, shared on Facebook that she and her great-grandchildren had a “color day”. They collected items from around the house, did a colorful craft, and posted smiling pictures of themselves enjoying the family time. I LOVED IT (serious social media envy). So, when my cousin moved from Arizona to Lancaster, PA (just north of my home in Darlington, MD), I knew we had to start doing Color Days of our own.
They collected items from around the house, did a colorful craft, and posted smiling pictures of themselves enjoying the family time.
Color Days became a monthly play-date. I read the book cover to cover and noted places where O’Neill referenced nature or seasons. Then, I chose which month would fit the mid-Atlantic’s world of flowers, heat, and cold.
- January: blue (“And on winter mornings / Dawns are blue”)
- February: purple (sunsets flush purple in Maryland’s Februarys)
- March: gold (like gold at the end of a rainbow!)
- April: green (when leaves burst to life)
- May: white (when wild roses bloom)
- June: pink (peonies and azaleas)
- July: red (firecrackers and heat!)
- August: yellow (the color of fields)
- September: brown (start of the cinnamon-y fall season)
- October: black (longer nights and Halloween spirit)
- November: orange (oak trees in autumn)
- December: rainbow! (a celebration of ALL color as it disappears)
I invited friends to come over on every third Saturday, sharing the color of the day in advance so that they could wear and bring a snack in the color. Different friends and family members could attend at different times. If they missed a Color Day, they could come the next month.
We kept the agenda flexible, too: friends arrived (some on time, some late), and when everyone was assembled, we gathered on the couch and read the poem of the day aloud. Often, the children volunteered to take turns reading. Afterwards, we tromped into the kitchen and ate the snacks—fruit, veggies, crackers, juice, and always cupcakes with icing and sprinkles in the color of the day. Food comes in every color of the rainbow, and eating it together is as healing as friendship.
Sometimes, I had enough energy to do a craft or a hunt for the color. I usually hung balloons as a decoration, and picked up colorful napkins and paper plates. But mostly (and best of all), the children played, and the mothers talked. In our busy world, when many of us struggle to balance our lives, Color Days was an excuse to get together and have fun.
In our busy world, when many of us struggle to balance our lives, Color Days was an excuse to get together and have fun.
My daughter Nora wrote that her favorite color day was rainbow day. My mom celebrates color day at her place of work: an assisted living home. When my daughter could still visit the home, she loved to help prepare the table. COVID-19 has stopped our playdates temporarily, but my mom is still going strong with a Color Day each month.
Color Days taught the children that they could write poetry, too. Once, I lost the book (momentarily), and the children declared that they would write a poem about the color themselves. And they did—listing, like O’Neill does, the beautiful and the hard and the eclectic collection of feelings and things that make for a colorful world.