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Book Reviews: The Power of Poetry

by Karen Hildebrand
 | Apr 06, 2015

Spring is in the air and it’s National Poetry Month again. The Children’s Literature and Reading SIG features here new poetry books that start with the very youngest listener/learners to serious novels in verse for older readers. A noticeable feature of these books is the many different forms poetry can take including tanka, haiku, clerihew, and novels in verse. A special feature is the newest addition in the Sylvia Vardel and Janet Wong collection of wonderful anthologies for teachers and classrooms.

All Ages

Vardell, Sylvia, and Janet Wong. (2015). The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations.  Princeton, NJ: Pomelo Books.

This is the fourth collection in the popular and classroom-friendly anthologies recently created by the poetry team Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong. This latest anthology comes in two editions, one for students and “Teacher/Librarian” edition. The Teacher/Librarian edition contains a plethora of ideas and activities called “Take 5!” for teachers to use which are directly keyed into the student edition. The pair of books is ideal for the first-year to the veteran teacher because it is loaded with resources and ideas to make poetry enjoyable and inviting with the added bonus of poems in Spanish. In addition, the anthology suggests picture books to use with the poems and poetry themes included.  Opening with calendar offerings for everything from National Soup Day in January to National Flashlight Day in December, teachers will find their favorite poets and may discover a few new poets among the 115 poets included in the verses. This anthology is currently being featured on the Poetry for Children blog where additional ideas for teachers and the use of poetry can be found.

Ages 48

Burgess, Matthew. (2015). Enormous Smallness, the Story of E.E. Cummings. New York: Enchanted Lion Books.

Illustrated with unusual multi-media illustrations, this fascinating picture book tells of the life of poet E.E. (Edward Estlin) Cummings, his childhood in New England and later life in Greenwich Village. Playing with words from the time he was a small child his parents always encouraged his outside-the-box poetry that broke the rules and forms of conventional poetry. Several poems are shared and this is the book that could lead young readers to explore the poetic world of e.e. cummings.

Coat, Janik. (2015). Rhymoceros. New York: Abrams Press.
This new board book for beginning readers is the companion to the 2012  Hippopposites from the author Janik Coat. A blue rhinoceros tromps through each page book sharing 16 pairs of rhyming words. Using bright white backgrounds, bold colors, goldfoil applications and textured formats, this initial look at rhyming words is inviting and playful for young children.

Engle, Margarita. (2015). Orangutanka: A Story in Poems. Illus. by Renee Kurilla. New York: Henry Holt/Macmillan.

Award-winning poet Margarita Engle brings a new format to poetry for young readers. Tanka is a Japanese form of poetry, also known as waka or uta, and is similar to haiku but has two additional lines and 31 syllables.  Readers will travel to an animal preserve in Borneo to observe through vivid illustrations and lively wordplay the playful antics of an orangutan family. At the end, Engle has provided information on the tanka form of poetry, facts about orangutans and an invitation to children to write some of their own poems. Teachers might like to try some tanka poetry with their students and can get a few resources and ideas at the Poetry4Kids website.

Hopkins, Lee Bennett. (2015). Lullaby and Kisses Sweet: Poems to Love With Your Baby (board book). New York: Abrams Appleseed.
Whether reading to a small child on your lap or wrapping it up as a baby gift, this board book collection of over 100 poems is the first that noted anthologist Lee Bennett Hopkins has compiled for very young children. Celebrated poets like Jane Yolen, J. Patrick Lewis, Marilyn Singer and more award-winning poets have contributed original poems and as well as favorite older verses. Five themes are organized within this volume including Family, Food, Firsts, Playtime, and Bedtime. This cuddly book will make a wonderful introduction to poetry for young children.

McNamara, Margaret. (2015). A Poem in Your Pocket. Illus. G. Brian Karas. New York: Schwartz and Wade.
Returning from her How Many Seeds in a Pumpkin? and The Apple Orchard Riddle, author Margaret McNamara has written a picture book about the approach of Poetry Month where Mr. Tiffin has asked his students to write a poem in preparation for the classroom visit of a noted poet. Elinor commiserates over writing the perfect poem. Slipping in a variety of formats of poetry, this is an appropriate read aloud for National Poetry Month to foster the enjoyment of poetry.

Ruddell, Deborah. (2015). The Popcorn Astronauts: And Other Biteable Rhymes. Illus. by Joan Rankin. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Organized by season but maintaining a food theme throughout, these bite-sized poems are perfect for reading aloud. The poems range from The Strawberry Queen, The Smoothie Supreme, Only Guacamole, to The Picky Ogre and Welcome to Watermelon Lake to mention a few. Watercolor illustrations set the mood for each poem as the seasons come and go.

Zolotow, Charlotte. (2015). Changes: A Child’s First Poetry Collection. Illus. by Tiphanie Beeke. New York: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky.

Acclaimed children’s author Charlotte Zolotow would have been 100 years old this year, but she passed in 2013. This collection of seasonal poetry is a tribute to Zolotow and her exemplary work in children’s literature. This volume includes 28 of her poems originally published from 1960 through 1980 but have all new illustrations that realize the simple but beautiful spirit of nature, the seasons and words. This is a special collection of poetry for young children and family reading.

Ages 911

Hammill, Elizabeth (ed). (2015). Over the Hills and Far Away: A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes. Illus. by more than 70 celebrated artists. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.

Importing verses from all over the world and from a wide variety of cultures enhanced by beautifully illustrated pages by over 70 celebrated artists, this handsome anthology provides a diverse collection of poems that is a visual and literary delight. Some poems have a folkloric tone while others are playful, fun and childlike. The title is especially appropriate as the verses present a global look at poetry. Use this collection in the classroom or as a family-sharing read aloud.

Janeczko, Paul B. (2015). The Death of the Hat: A Brief History of Poetry in 50 Objects. Illus. by Chris Raschka. New York: Candlewick Press.

This collection marks the 50th book by Paul Janeczko. He teams up once again with artist Chris Raschka whose characteristic watercolor and ink illustrations bring vitality to every page. Janeczko has compiled a chronological look at poetry beginning with the Early Middle Ages (400–1000) and chronicling objects that have inspired poetry through modern times. From the “Midnight Frost” of Basho during the early Renaissance to the “Snow-Flacks” of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in the late 1800’s to “The Death of the Hat” from former Poet Laureate (2001-2003) Billy Collins just a few years ago, this historical approach to poetry and poets through the ages is a wonderful addition to poetry collections.

Lewis, J. Patrick and Kenn Nesbitt. (2015). Bigfoot is Missing. Illus. by MinaLima Designs. San Francisco: Chronicle Books. 

"Crytpozoology is the study of hidden animals, or those whose real existence has not yet been proven." The opening line of this new book from Children's Poet Laureates J. Patrick Lewis and Kenn Nesbitt is sure to get kids involved in the mystery and poetry within these pages. And if that isn't enough, the bold illustrations capture hints of these mysterious cryptids lurking in the pictures. From end paper to end paper, scary fun with monsters and poetry will be a huge success with middle readers. Who isn't intrigued by the Loch Ness Monster, the Beast of Bodmin Moor, Bigfoot, Dingonek, Chupacabra, the Mongolian Death Worm, Mothman, and more?

Raczka, Bob. (2015). Presidential Misadventures: Poems That Poke Fun at the Man in Charge.  New York: Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan.

The publisher says this “collection of presidential poems is historical and hysterical.” The poems are written in the clerihew form of poetry that was invented to make fun of people, so be ready for the humorous but slightly irreverent jibes at the presidents. Raczka explains the clerihew form at the beginning of the book so readers are ready for what is to come. An appendix at the end of the book adds a few more historical facts to the poetry and the presidents. A quick sample of one of the poems tells about the time Thomas Jefferson “went to town to buy bananas/and came home with Louisiana.” A bit of sarcasm, a bit of factual information, a bit of droll humor but a fun read for all.

Rosen, Michael J. (2015). The Maine Coon’s Haiku: And Other Poems for Cat Lovers. Illus. by Lee White. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.

Indoor cats, outside cats, exotic cats, or the cat next door—Michael Rosen presents 20 different breeds of cat through haiku. Catching the spirit of feline affection and attitude as well as habitats, artist Lee White uses digital illustration to provide backdrops for each cat. Rosen’s other collections of pet and animal books have been popular with young readers and this adds another volume to the shelf of favorite animal poetry. Four pages at the end of the book are devoted to additional facts about each of the cat breeds depicted in the poetry.

Ages 1214

Bulion, Leslie. (2015). Random Body Parts: Gross Anatomy Riddles in Verse.
Illus. by Mike Lowery. Atlanta, GA: Peachtree.

“Riddle Me This: Of course you have a body/But do you have a clue/Where all the body parts you’ve got are found/ And what they do?” This opening verse sets the tone for this humorous book of poetry where each poem is a body part riddle paired with explanatory text boxes giving a scientific explanation of that body part. A cleverly contrived collection of poems tied to real information gives this “Random Body Parts” group of poems a unique place on poetry shelves. Teachers will enjoy some of the backstory and interview with the author at the Poetry for Children blog.

Sonnichsen, A.L. (2015). Red Butterfly. Illus. by Amy June Bates. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Debut author A.L. Sonnichsen brings to middle readers a powerful novel in verse in China with one-child-only policy. When infant Kara is left in a basket and found by an American woman living and hiding in China (her visa expired), she raises Kara as best as her poor and secret existence allows. When their secret is discovered, Kara is sent to live in an orphanage. She is placed with special needs children because she was born with deformed hand. Kara is eventually adopted by a couple from Florida and begins a journey not only in miles but in learning to trust. Pair this with Inside Out and Back Again (Thanhha Lai, 2011) or Red Thread Sisters (Carol Peacock, 2012) to look at immigrant/adoption experiences.

Ages 15+

Lauer, Brett Fletcher and Lynn Melnick. (2015). Please Excuse This Poem: 100 New Poets for the Next Generation. New York: Viking Juvenile/Penguin Group.

A cutting edge look at poetry from contemporary young poets from a cross-section of American lifestyles and points of view, this poetry has appeared anywhere, from Twitter to The New Yorker. All forms of poetry are part of this collection and told in voices with opinions and experiences not often discussed in poetry for young people. AIDS, sex, war, anti-war, drugs, racism, suicide, love, heartbreak and so many more topics covered in these 100 poems that express the feelings of young people today. Provocative and heartfelt, this collection is sure to spawn discussion and perhaps lead budding poets to express their ideas in a new way.

Karen Hildebrand is retired library media specialist and library director for Delaware City Schools in Delaware, Ohio. She is currently an adjunct professor at Ashland University in Ohio, a reading consultant, and a Holocaust Fellow at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. She also chairs the Education Curriculum Committee for the Delaware County Historical Society.

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