An edited version of this review was first published on 3rd February, 2008 in The Star
COME ON, RAIN!
By Karen Hesse
Illustrated by Jon Muth
Publisher: Scholastic Press, 40 pages
You can imagine this story being performed at a spoken-word gig. Karen Hesse’s words dance like sunspots on your skin, trickle like cold water down the back on your neck, ripple across your consciousness – rumbling like thunder, sizzling like an egg frying in a pan full of butter. When the rain comes, you want to drink it all in. Jon Muth’s watercolours shimmer with heat and then dissolve in silvery wet streaks as the heavens open and the rain finally comes …
I walked in the rain today. I had an umbrella but it was dinky and it was really pouring down so my jeans were drenched from the knees down. Then I tried to get into my car and got even wetter when the umbrella had a brief but vicious altercation with the car door.
I drove home thinking of Karen Hesse’s Come On, Rain! (Scholastic Press, 32 pages, ISBN: 978-0590331258), but it was not the downpour that brought the book to mind. I’d remembered it in the scorching heat a few hours earlier, when my steering wheel was almost too hot to hold and a 10-minute walk to the corner shop had turned my face a shade of ripe beetroot and given me a sticky neck.
It seems to me that it always gets especially hot as the lunar new year approaches. The days sizzle “like a hot potato” (as Tessie, the girl in Hesse’s picture book, says), the air trembles, bathed in the glare of too-bright sun.
Tessie observes cats panting in the heat, but I think Malaysian cats are too savvy to do anything but rest, belly-up under cars, in the shade of trees and bushes, and under coffee shop tables.
Hesse’s little girl longs to put on a bathing suit, but her mum, dejectedly observing her parched flowerbed, pictures her offspring burnt to a crisp.
Illustrator Jon Muth colours the day a pale yellow, a hazy wash of light covering everything, blurring lines and smudging shapes. Only Tessie’s white dress is a clear, crisp silhouette, while the diaphanous kitchen curtains, swelling hopefully in a tiny bit of breeze, frames a rectangle of hot white light with the promise of cooler things to come.
Otherwise, the heat weighs the day down, crowds out fresh air and sucks up smiles and sense.
But, “Come on, rain!” whispers Tessie even while the sweat trickles down her arms and neck. “Come on, rain!” It becomes her mantra, a spell to be chanted, words of encouragement as, in the distance, cumulonimbus clouds gather.
By the time the thick, dark, water-filled clouds come rolling in, Tessie’s in her bathing suit. By the time the sky swells and heaves and bursts, spewing fat drops of rain, she and her friends are poised to dance.
Hesse’s words make the rain sloshily, splashily real, just as they give us a clear sense of the day simmering under the relentless sunshine.
Tess, her friends and their mamas “twirl” and “tromp” through puddles, “romping and reeling in the moisty green air” and “under trinkets of silver rain”.
You can almost smell the hot tar road steaming as the rain washes the dust and drowsiness away and the day springs “back to life”, as good as new: Muth’s final two-page spread is tinted blue like freshly-laundered whites, and the road shines like a milkily-moonlit lake.
When was the last time you danced in the rain? We used to when I was little.
Not in thunderstorms (duhh!) but when hujan panas gave a little slippery respite from a sweltering day, when even the grass felt warm under bare feet.
My dad used to give the cemented part of our backyard a good sweep with the sapu lidi whenever it rained.
I can’t remember being told off for playing in a downpour (again, so long as there wasn’t thunder and lightning), but I admit I haven’t introduced my own children to the joys of splashing in rain puddles and trying to catch raindrops on their tongue.
I think I’d forgotten, but reading Come On, Rain! brought back memories and gave me ideas, just as I hope it’ll give the present generation of kids ideas: Come on, kids, the next time the heavens burst after a day of scorching heat, put on your bathing suits and go make a necklace of raindrops.