Take a piece of prose.
Filter out all sawdusty, throat-clearing, bush-beating, throw-away words. That rich, full-bodied elixir remaining? That’s poetry.
Small but mighty.
Whether you’ve shied away from poetry in the past or cherish poetry like the scent of a spring peony, I invite you to check out these superb new books, plum full of the power of words.
First up, for the youngest among us…
The Owl and the Pussy-cat, by Edward Lear, illustrated by Charlotte Voake
poem first published in 1871; illustrations copyright 2014; first U.S. edition 2017 by Candlewick
Feast upon this classic, delectable verse accompanied by the gloriously swishy, Oz-ishly emerald, tropical illustrations by one of my favorite illustrators, Charlotte Voake.
What child can resist that beautiful pea-green boat, the moonlit guitar-strumming, a land sprouting up in Bong-trees, slices of quince and one mysterious runcible spoon?
Introduce children ages 15 months and up to the ticklish wonders of words, dancing rhythms, luscious colors with this thoroughly happy piece. It’ll nestle down in their minds and entertain them their whole life long.
Steppin’ Out: Jaunty Rhymes for Playful Times, written by Lin Oliver, illustrated by Tomie DePaola
published in 2017, Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers
This collection of small poems for small people radiates charm, simplicity, and childish innocence. Wide-eyed, we step outside our door to discover, greet, soak up the sparkling pleasures of life. What a lovely breath of fresh air!
The glory of the ordinary is here. Library visits and Sunday pancakes. A dipping, diving elevator and snippety barber shop. Friends. Grandparents. Ants. Rainy days. Lin Oliver captures the grandeur of the small in her light, playful rhymes.
Tomie dePaola needs no introduction. Eminently warm and friendly illustrations, with the marvelous diversity you’d expect from him; he makes each page sing. Perfect for preschoolers. I’ve reviewed an earlier volume by this team here.
Fresh-Picked Poetry: A Day at the Farmers’ Market, poems by Michelle Schaub, illustrated by Amy Huntington
published in 2017 by Charlesbridge
The sun’s just rising. Wooden crates of plump tomatoes and bundles of basil are loaded into the pick-up as this farm-fresh crew heads out.
All the bustle of an urban farmers’ market — stalls laden with colorful produce, tables groaning under mouthwatering bakery fare, earthy mushrooms, fiddling buskers, speckled eggs — calls to us from these short poems and sunny, lively watercolors.
While you’re enjoying the events narrated in the poetry, there are also a couple of dogs whose antics are revealed throughout the day — great fun for children to spy on. It’s an enticing, cheerful collection and a great way to get motivated to visit the farm-fresh markets popping up all over starting now. Ages 4 and up.
Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets, written by Kwame Alexander, Chris Colderley, and Marjory Wentworth, illustrated by Ekua Holmes
published in 2017 by Candlewick
Take a look at that cover and you’ll get a taste of the explosion of wonder, the celebration of life that’s bound up in the pages of this stunning new collection.
Award-winning author Kwame Alexander here introduces us to twenty of his favorite poets — a marvelously-diverse grouping as you would expect — by ingenuously riffing off of their famous styles, ideas, and ethos.
The innovative lowercase lackofpunctuation styling of e.e. cummings is adopted by Alexander in a blooming poem about shoes (but really companionship). A poem basking in the earthy loveliness of a Chilean forest echoes the subject matter of Pablo Neruda. An explosion of rainbow-sherbet color, a soaring joy, thunders from a poem expressing the indomitable spirit of Maya Angelou.
Twenty original poems; twenty homages to poets. Brilliant. But that’s not all, because the heartbreakingly-beautiful artwork of Ekua Holmes — Oh, I love her work!! — thrills, rejoices, commands every page. Excellent short bios of each poet take up six additional pages. A stunner for a wide age range — 6 through teens.
Emily Dickinson: Poetry for Kids, illustrated by Christine Davenier
published in 2016 by Quarto Publishing Group
One of the poets featured in Out of Wonder, Emily Dickinson is an American treasure, a homebody with an outsized knack for observation, a naturalist who reveled in the beauties of nature surrounding her Massachusetts home, a gingerbread-baker who treated neighborhood children but kept herself mostly to herself.
This gorgeous volume of her poetry is part of a series from MoonDance Press and Quarto introducing a variety of poets to children. It’s arranged by seasons and includes almost 3 dozen of her small poems.
French artist Christine Davenier’s exquisite watercolors fill these almond-cream pages with gems of color, graceful line, fragments of fragile beauty, as well as exultant gladness. Beautiful layouts and typography add to the immense sensory delight. Several pages of explanatory notes aid in understanding the poems. Splendid for ages 8 and older.
One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance, poems by Nikki Grimes, artwork by Cozbi A. Cabrera, R. Gregory Christie, Pat Cummings, Jan Spivey Gilchrist, Ebony Glenn, Nikki Grimes, E.B. Lewis, Frank Morrison, Christopher Myers, Brian Pinkney, Sean Qualls, James Ransome, Javaka Steptoe, Shadra Strickland, Elizabeth Zunon
published in 2017 by Bloomsbury
This phenomenal volume is so powerful, I really just want to say nothing more but urge you to experience it for yourself.
An amalgamation of the ideas and energy flowing out of the Harlem Renaissance, the poetic mastery of Nikki Grimes, and the artistry of a roster of gifted African American illustrators — that’s what’s bound up in this small, thought-provoking book.
I had never heard of the Golden Shovel form of poetry. Even if I tried to explain it to you, the audacious difficulty of it and ingenuous nature of it will not really land on you until you experience it in poem after poem here. Suffice it to say, it is another of the elaborate structures of poetry which frame poets in, force them to chisel and plane and bevel their words to fit the form, all of which ramps up their potency, augments the ideas.
You can see by reading down the bolded words that the Golden Shovel form involves repurposing lines from others’ poems, using them as the framework for something new. Illustration by Frank Morrison.
Grimes employs that in her riffs off of a number of poems by Renaissance poets. The original poem stands alongside Grimes’ innovation. These are deep, rich pieces with themes relevant to real children living in this challenging world. They are accompanied by gorgeous artwork in a wide variety of styles.
Illustration by Shadra Strickland
Short bios of each of the Renaissance poets and each illustrator, background on the Harlem Renaissance, and an explanation of the poetic form round out the volume. Highly recommended for ages 10 to adult. Many children will want to try their hand at this poetry form, I’m sure.
Many more wonderful volumes of poetry are listed in my Titles index — it’s the last section entitled Poetry and Lyrics.
Read Full Post »
Posted in fiction, picture books, poetry, tagged book reviews, children's literature, diversity, dragons, friendship, pen pals, picture books, poetry on November 4, 2016|
4 Comments »
Dear Dragon, written by Josh Funk, illustrated by Rodolfo Montalvo
published in 2016 by Viking
It’s time for a poetry-writing unit in young George Slair’s classroom. Thanks to George’s oh-so-clever teacher, though, there’s nothing wearisome about that. She’s found pen pals for each of her charges. Their letters to one another will be written in rhyme. Awesome sauce.
George has been assigned a pen pal named Blaise. And presto-pronto, these two begin an enthusiastic correspondence telling about their adventures and outings, likes and dislikes, hobbies and pets and families. Before long they’re hitting it off like old friends! No wonder they can hardly wait to meet one another at the pen pal picnic.
But what on earth?! When these two kids meet up, they discover something crazy: Blaise is a dragon! George is a human boy! They never imagined it this way. Can dragons and humans be pals?!?! But of course.
This is a smart book on so many levels, sneaking in all sorts of good things under the radar. There’s the whole incentive to write letters, maybe even to a pen pal! The delights of poetry. A cunning how-to lesson on conversing with a new friend.
Then, courtesy of Rodolfo Montalvo’s brilliant illustrations, there’s a marvelous display of alternate perspectives, the way our life experience leads us to interpret another’s words. Absolutely fantastic.
And, wrapped in and under and around the whole story is the lovely idea that such very different people can be so very much alike. That these folks who seem so other-ish, can be our friends.
It’s all packed in without losing a morsel of friendly warmth or being encumbered by an atom of moralizing. Enjoy this with kids ages 4 and up, taking your time over the illustrations. And while you’re at it — just give the names of the two main characters a ponder. Some excellent punning and allusion going on there!
Read Full Post »
My last offering for poetry month is this new gem created by two favorites of mine, poet Julie Fogliano and artist Julie Morstad.
When Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All Seasons
published in 2016; a Neal Porter Book from Roaring Brook Press
Grouped by season, Julia Fogliano’s poems are colorful fragments of observation, almost exclusively about the outdoor world inhabited by children. Joyous, free, simple play in meadows and on beaches, alone or with friends. That makes this collection a prime Orange Marmalade choice !
There are poems about daffodils “shivering and huddled close” in the chill of early spring…
…about the lovely coolness of a swim on “a day that drips hot and thick like honey.”
…about snowstorms and carving jack-o-lanterns and starlight and beach picnics.
In other words, poems about familiar places and events graced by the unique perspective of a poet. All of them are titled by just a date making it especially nice to dip into over the course of a year, or to spot the poem closest to your birthday.
One of the things I like about Fogliano’s poetry, seen in this volume as well as in two other books I’ve reviewed — And Then It’s Spring and If You Want to See a Whale — is the almost ephemeral quality to her words; so light, they’re like a snowflake on your tongue.
For example, the poem “february 15” reads except for a squirrel/quick quick/and then gone/all is still/in the woods/in the winter.
I feel myself hush when I read them, on the alert to glimpse the shimmer of idea in her spare words. Of course, many children’s poems are silly and rhythmic and boisterous, and I love those, too. But there is a lusciousness to these quieter pieces. We all know today’s children are in great need of quietness, space, and a pace for thoughtful wondering. These poems accommodate that.
No one could better illustrate these, I think, than Julie Morstad, whose work I adore. Every page is squoze full of her signature charm. I do love that on many of these pages, she draws a child alone.
Lying in a flowery patch, face towards the sky, one little girl examines a flowerhead, her basket of berries and a book by her side. Lost in lovely thought. One child atop a summer hill. One curled up by the fire on a winter night. Can we be brave enough to let our children play by themselves this way? Morstad’s vision of aloneness is a content, creative, enriching solitude. It makes me glad.
I will say that the majority of Morstad’s figures are little girls. Thus, I think there is more of a girl-feel to the book on the whole.
It is an imaginative beauty, for ages 4 and up.
Read Full Post »
It’s Earth Day tomorrow, and Poetry Month all April long, so this slim volume of poems by Wendell Berry, one of our most eloquent spokesmen for the respectful care of the Earth, seemed like the perfect collection to share with you today.
Terrapin And Other Poems, by Wendell Berry, illustrated by Tom Pohrt
published in 2014 by Counterpoint Press
As my blog title indicates, these poems are not only for children. In fact, I have no idea that Berry intended them for children per se. According to the book jacket, it was artist Tom Pohrt who set about collecting pieces by Berry that he deemed especially accessible to children and creating initial sketches to accompany them. In time, he and Berry collaborated in order to deepen Pohrt’s knowledge of the flora and fauna for his watercolor illustrations.
All that to say — this is a volume for all ages. The briefest poems in the book are only a couple of lines long, while others extend quite beyond that. Some of these gems will spark an interest in even very young children — a reflection on a rabbit caught in the rain; a musing about the first person ever to whistle.
The poem which gives its name to the collection, The Terrapin, is a delightful piece for children with its commentary on a fellow who is always at home and who “pokes along” with “no map and no suitcase” because he can never really get lost! No matter where he wanders, he is “always home.”
Other pieces incorporate expressions and crafting that obviously require more heft than a 2-year-old can muster. Some will be best appreciated by middle-graders and older, making it a nice volume to grow into.
Berry’s habits of observing and keenly appreciating the natural world mark these poems. They are written by one who listens intently and snuffs in the odor of forests and feels the companionship of unelectrified, velvet nights. There’s a down-to-earth sense about them, a muck-on-the-boots, frost-nipped-face feel, rather than anything artificially romantic.
A snake swells with the body of a mouse. Trees are planted in the hopes they “may live when I/ no longer rise in the mornings/ to be pleased by the green of them/ shining…” A calf is birthed, and a squirrel met whose ragged tail testifies to a time when “he should have hurried more than he did.” Glimpses and gazings at the real, natural world.
We have Tom Pohrt to thank for this collection, and what is more, for his elegant, captivating watercolor paintings that fill each page with such grace and beauty. It is a felicitous partnership.
Everything about this book works together to slow us down and draw our minds and aesthetic tastebuds to the detail and expanse, stillness and music, temporal and eternal, ever on display in Nature.
Read Full Post »
Last week I featured those amazingly-original Reverso Poems.
This week’s poet, Bob Raczka, is also an Olympic-level word-gymnast. His format: concrete poems. Raczka has published other volumes of these ingenuous pieces. This is his most recent:
Wet Cement: A Mix of Concrete Poems, created by Bob Raczka
published in 2016 by Roaring Brook Press
A concrete poem is one where, rather than just standing in straight lines down the page, the words themselves are twisted and spiraled and bent into shapes and patterns which augment the meaning of the text.
Think of it as a marching band in a half-time performance, with the players (the words) parading around the pages into clever formations that echo the lyrics. Something like that anyway.
A few images will do a much better job of conveying the genius behind these creations:
Do you see the airplane shape on the left, shooshing off? Underneath, forming the shape of a shallow, Kitty Hawk dune, words rise and fall describing the Wright brothers’ first flight.
And here’s another delight:
The cleverness just puts a smile on my face.
Raczka’s poems in this volume cover everything from icicles to xylophones, fireflies to pop flies. They will tickle the fancy and imagination of elementary school children and up. I found them irresistible! Give them a try, and then search for past volumes of his playful work.
Read Full Post »
April is National Poetry Month and this year I’m posting one book of marvelous poems each week.
Except today, I have two. Two companion volumes of a very tricksy, utterly-delightful form of poetry called Reverso Poems, created by the word-magician, Marilyn Singer.
Follow Follow: A Book of Reverso Poems, was published in 2013.
Echo Echo: Reverso Poems about Greek Myths, was published in 2016
Both are gorgeously illustrated by Josée Masse and published by Dial Books for Young Readers.
So, what’s a reverso poem, you ask?
It’s a poem that conveys one meaning if you read the lines top to bottom, and a twist on that meaning when you read from bottom to top.
I am telling you, the patience required to invent just one of these pairs has got to be staggering.
Singer is, astonishingly, the inventor of this format. Her first volume of reversos, Mirror Mirror, I reviewed here. Her second volume, Follow Follow, likewise takes as its theme fairy tale characters. I will give you one example, so you can be as bewitched by this sleight of hand, word-spinning as I am:
Behold his glorious majesty:
Who dares say he drained the treasury
This emperor has
sublime taste in finery!
Only a fool could fail to see.
Now, with just some punctuation changes, we read the lines in a reversed order:
Only a fool could fail to see.
Sublime taste in finery?
This emperor has —
Who dares say he drained the treasury?
Behold his glorious majesty!
Isn’t that amazing?!?!
Grab hold of all three volumes if you can, and enjoy the remarkable cleverness in pages and pages of these pairs, all illustrated in vibrant color and clever compositions by Masse. Singer’s third volume, Echo Echo, covers myths from Pandora to King Midas. Medusa and her snaky locks are here. Theseus and the Minotaur. I can’t think of a more engaging way to accompany an introduction to Greek Mythology.
Each of the poems in Echo Echo includes a tiny synopsis of its original myth so you can understand the poem’s references if you’re unfamiliar with the story. Short summaries of the tales referenced in Follow Follow are located at the end of the book.
Go ahead and dive into all three volumes, accessible to such a wide age-range. Young elementary children will enjoy them for sure, but readers in their teens and adults will also find them exceedingly clever and may be inspired to give their own set of reversos a try.
Read Full Post »