By Sarah Green
Featured art: Sweets by Abby Pennington
“What comes next?” she asked her mother.
I asked my stepdaughter Lizzie today what she likes best about the picture book Over and Over, by Charlotte Zolotow.
“The cover repeats inside,” she said. “And the phrases.” It’s true: the words over and over in this book about seasons and holidays return themselves in the book’s closing sentences, in which the little girl wishes “for it all to happen again”; “and of course, over and over, year after year, it did.” I’ve read this book so many times, both as a child and as a parent, that if I close my eyes, I think I can get the sequence right. Let’s see—snowfall, Valentine’s Day, Easter, summer vacation, Thanksgiving, birthday, Christmas. Did I get it? Let’s check: Oops, forgot Halloween, and Christmas comes after snow, and the child’s birthday is the last scene pictured. Maybe I still need this book to teach me how it really goes.
One of the repeating phrases in this book is the phrase “half-remembered”; the little girl “half-remembered something else.” The chocolate bunny or the jack o’lantern or the paper hearts will barely be dry on the book’s watercolor illustration before the little girl gets that feeling, that sense that something new is around the corner, something she has experienced before. “New” and “before”— aren’t those contradictory modes? Not in the world of Over and Over, where the pleasure of simultaneously predicting and wondering is the dominant feeling. The book seems to say that we can count on changing seasons and repeating traditions to ground us in familiarity and offer the allure of novelty, all at once.
As a poet and singer-songwriter, I can’t help but think of the structure of a song, or a poem that uses anaphora. In a song, the verses push us forward and the chorus brings us home—the bridge, perhaps, incorporates doubt or curiosity. Every time in the book that the little girl asks her mother what’s next, the reader experiences vicarious uncertainty. In that suspenseful moment hangs all of the grownup, unspoken (in this book, at least) complexity of what’s beyond our control. All that we can’t predict, or that doesn’t come back. When we turn the page and encounter the next milestone, the relief and joy mirror that of a young child upon seeing the face of the person play- ing “peekaboo” again. It’s still there. We’re still here. The bewildering and painful world is still making tulips and sandcastles and birthday balloons and roasted chestnuts.
Part of the function of anaphora in a poem is not only to echo but to highlight contrast. When we return to what’s repeated, we also notice what’s changed. I read this book to Lizzie when she was three, and again when I was living far away from her and she was six, and again when helicopters buzzed our Minneapolis neighborhood last spring after a policeman killed George Floyd. Over and over . . .
We didn’t read it this year. She’s nine now. Instead, we cut daffodils and watched the strawberry plant pop up. We patted sunflower seeds down in the dirt by the fence. We set out an ice cream cake for her brother and lit candles. The actions themselves are becoming our way of reciting the story, our bodies moving forward with hope and curiosity through the seven days the little girl was so proud to have memorized.
Sarah Green is the author of Earth Science (poems) and the editor of Welcome to the Neighborhood: An Anthology of American Coexistence. She is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize and fellowships from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and the Vermont Studio Center.
Instagram and Twitter: @sarahgreenmusic
Artist’s Instagram: @abbypennington.art