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Poetry Reviews: Celebrate National Poetry Month!

 | Apr 18, 2012

Poet T. S. Eliot once proclaimed that “April is the cruelest month,” and with bizarre weather patterns occurring across the nation during this particular month, it might be reasonable to agree with him. However, poetry lovers have come to appreciate the month of April since it marks National Poetry Month, established in 1996. If at no other time, poetry gets the attention it deserves during that particular month of the year, and with any luck, any metrophobia (the fear of poetry) caused by over-analysis of poetic lines during language arts or English class will be dismissed by the pleasures of reading poems found in books such as the ones described below by members of the International Reading Association's Children’s Literature and Reading Special Interest Group.

GRADES K-3

Argueta, Jorge. (2012). Guacamole: una poema para cocinar/A cooking poem. Illus. by Margarita Sada. Toronto: Groundwood Books.

guacamole

Jorge Argueta, the Américas Award-winning author and poet, presents another wonderful bilingual cooking poem. His poetic recipe provides readers with delightful visual images as the avocados used to create guacamole are described as “green precious stones” (unpaginated) that are “so big and green and beautiful” (unpaginated). The lilting words beckon the senses as the colors, textures, smells, and tastes of the ingredients are described. Readers will want to try their hand at making guacamole and, of course, eating the “Yummy guacamole,/ so greeny green,/ as purse as love” (unpaginated). Sada’s whimsical, brightly colored illustrations capture the happy mood of the children making a tasty treat to share their family.

-Terrell A. Young, Brigham Young University

Beck, Andrea. (2009). Buttercup’s lovely day. Illus. by Andrea Beck. Victoria, BC: Orca.

Buttercup

Much more than a Holstein dairy cow, Buttercup spends her days and nights eating and considering the small wonders of the world around her. As she munches on grass and regards the other creatures in her green-filled outdoor world, she ruminates about its wonders in poetic form. As she and the rest of the herd move slowly through the fields of grass that stretch out before them, Buttercup notices the animal-shaped clouds and enjoys her "lazy, languorous, lingery long days" (unpaginated), finding just as much pleasure at nightfall with the evening "as it bursts into view,/ a star-blasted vast/ of deep dark blue" (unpaginated). She even delights in "making pies" (unpaginated), the inevitable result of all that grazing. The sentiments of wide-eyed Buttercup and the color-drenched illustrations that fill this book’s pages are gentle reminders about the simple pleasures all around, often right under our noses. It’s hard not to wonder what our fast-paced lives have caused us to ignore as Buttercup stares in wonder at a bee that has paused for a moment’s rest on her nose. 

-Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman


Davies, Nicola. (2012). Outside your window: a first book of nature. Illus. by Mark Hearld. Somerville, MA: Candlewick. 

outside your window

The 58 poems in this massive volume of children’s poetry look no further than right outside to pay homage to the seasonal wonders of nature. Organized by season, 14 poems celebrate spring, 18 extol the wonders of summer, 14 focus on fall, and 12 identify winter’s chilly pleasures. There are free verse poems here as well as rhyming lines, but most of all, the poems remind readers to pay attention to the intriguing natural world that lies within their grasp. The author has created wonderful sensory images within these pages with descriptions of dandelions as "a hundred fluffy parachutes" (p. 13), seashells as "needle sharp and mirror smooth" (p. 46), apples as "streaked with sunset colors" (p. 72), and starlings as "a fat, dark rope of birds" (p. 89). Although not every poem is memorable, many of them contain surprises and unique ways of viewing nature. Surprisingly, there are even poems celebrating blackberry picking, feathers, fungi, “the silken parachutes of baby spiderlings” (p. 66), and one describing fresh-baked bread. The appealing mixed media illustrations feature paper collages and wispy markings that appear to be crayon or chalk. The poetry and images ask readers to linger, leaving smiles on lips and thoughtfulness in hearts. 

-Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman


Elliott, David. (2012). In the sea. Illus. by Holly Meade. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.

In the SeaServing dual purposes since its poetic lines are fun to read aloud while also providing information about marine life, this collection of poems is essential for classroom libraries. The dedication to the Gulf of Mexico reminds readers of the interdependence of species, a lesson about which humans need to be reminded. The author of two other outdoor poetry collections, On the Farm (2008) and In the Wild (2010), somehow captures a child-like sense of awe and wonder in these 21 poems. In places, it's almost as though a child is regarding the denizens of the sea and pondering a seahorse that is "dainty as a wish" (unpaginated). In one poem, the poet describes a moray eel as "a dragon in its cave" (unpaginated) and in another, the massive blue whale as "all fluke and fin and fountain" (unpaginated). The poems are child-friendly since some of them contain puns that will make readers smile; for instance, the herring is described as being wise since she "lives in a school" (unpaginated).  While the poems have wide appeal, highlighting Elliott’s versatility and imaginative word play as he creates four one word poems that fit together, the woodblock prints and watercolor illustrations are particularly memorable, assisted by perspective. For example, a shark's toothy, wide-open mouth greets readers near the opening pages while only a portion of the immense blue whale may be seen on another page until it dives into the ocean's depths on the next page. The language and the images are meant for savoring.

-Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman

Florian, Douglas. (2012). UnBEElievables: honeybee poems and paintings.  New York: Beach Lane Books/Simon and Schuster.

UnBEElievables

Poetry and a touch of science meet in Douglas Florian’s latest animal poetry collection. Fourteen poems frolic in word play while portraying the busy life of bees. Anthropomorphic drawings of the queen, the drones, and the worker bees set against collage and gouache artwork reveal the bees’ work to readers. Although the poems themselves are fun to read, each double-page spread also contains interesting factual information about bees, especially noting the dwindling numbers of bees and honey production around the world.  The final poem directly addresses the growing concern about the declining bee population in “Where Are the Bees?”

-Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant

Hopkins, Lee Bennett. (2012). Nasty bugs: poems. Illus. by Will Terry. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers.

Nasty Bugs

The presence of stink bugs, lice, cockroaches, mosquitoes, water bugs, beetles, fire ants and more bugs with a proclivity for stinging, biting and itching make these sixteen poems about truly “nasty” bugs come alive in words and pictures. Each poem is written by a different poet – all familiar poets such as Douglas Florian, Kristine O’Connell George, Fran Haraway, Lee Bennett Hopkins, X.J. Kennedy, Alice Schertle, and Marilyn Singer. The poems range from free verse to rhyming couplets. The artwork, filled with vibrant colors and humorous pictures of critters we really don’t like to think about, adds to the fun of these poems. Actual facts and back matter about the different bugs are included in a 3-page appendix at the end of the book. This book is ideal for reading aloud, particularly during a study of insects. Teachers might like to check out the “Using Science in Poetry” activity. In addition, they may enjoy the interview with Hopkins featured this month on the Poetry for Children Blog by Sylvia Vardell.

-Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant

Jensen, Dana. (2012). A meal of the stars: poems up and down. Illus. by Tricia Tusa. New York:Harcourt/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

a meal of the stars

These list poems are formed from one word on each line. To read them, readers will either begin at the top and read downwards or start at the bottom and read upwards. All poems are about objects that move up and/or down. For example, there is a poem about a giraffe with a long neck, a length of string with a rising balloon, an elevator in an apartment building and a kite soaring above trees. The final page in this anthology shows a child doing a hand stand next to a poem that says, “from / the / top / of / my / head / to / the / tips / of / my / toes / no / one / is / standing / here / except / me” (unpaginated). Teachers could invite children to write their own list poems and experiment with writing them up and down. 

-Deanna Day, Washington State University Vancouver

Yolen, Jane. (2012). Bug off! Creepy, crawly poems. Photos by Jason Stemple. Honesdale, PA: Boyds Mills Press. 

bug off

These 13 poems about insects, ranging from a poem of address to a buzzing fly (“Oh, Fly”) in which the poet expresses relief that it has landed somewhere other than her food, and then warns it: "...do not go/ and multiply" (p. 6) to one (“Butterfly to a Flower”) that describes a butterfly as “a tutu-clad dancer” (p. 11) pay somewhat reluctant tribute to bugs. "Spider to the Poet" cleverly features a spider considering collaborating with a poet and posting their work "on the World Wide Web" (p. 21). In "Daddy Very Long Legs," the poet ponders in child-like fascination how the multi-limbed daddy longlegs knows which leg to move first. The poems are accompanied by brief notes about the insects featured in her lines, many of which are filled with sly observations about those creepy, crawly, but endlessly-fascinating creatures. The marvelous, up-close photographs allow readers to gaze in wonder at the amazing colors and features of these often-ignored bugs. This title belongs in a classroom collection containing A Mirror to Nature (2009), an earlier collaboration from this reliable creative team. 

-Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman


GRADES 4-8


Florian, Douglas. (2012). Poem runs: Baseball poems and paintings. New York: Harcourt/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 

Poem Runs

This baseball poetry collection arrives just in time for the 2012 season. Included are poems about the catcher, umpire, first baseman, pitcher, shortstop and more. One poem titled “Right Fielder” goes like this: “I can’t catch. / I can’t run. / I’m right in right field / ‘Neath the sun. / I can’t hit. / They say I’m lazy. / But I know how / To pick a daisy” (unpaginated). A baseball player lounges on an emerald field holding a bouquet of white daisies in one of the vibrant illustrations. All illustrations were created with gouache watercolor, oil pastels, colored pencils and pine tar on primed paper bags. The baseball players’ exaggerated poses with extended legs, flexed muscles and contorted bodies will make reading aloud these poems a home run. Batter up. lt’s time to play ball—or to write a poem about America’s game. 

-Deanna Day, Washington State University Vancouver


Harrison, David L. (2012). Cowboys. Illus. by Dan Burr. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong. 

cowboys Certain to appeal to middle grade boys and girls who dream of riding the range and herding cattle across the country, this collection pays tribute to the hard-working folks responsible for moving enormous herds of cattle from one place to another, usually from Texas to Kansas where they would be sold. The poet describes the loneliness and dangers of life on the trail in 22 poems, putting the lie to romantic versions of a cowboy's life. These poems don’t focus on the glorious western sunsets or the beauty of the rolling plains; instead, they highlight practical matters. For instance, since baths were a luxury on the trail, things got to smelling pretty ripe as "The Bunkhouse" describes humorously. The immediate peril of a possible death from thousands of large animals racing across the plains is captured perfectly in "Stampede!" “Prairie News,” a poem for two verses, depicts two cowpokes pondering what dead animal—possibly a human--may have drawn so many buzzards. The poem "Cookie" describes the monotony of trail meals, the same day after day out of necessity. At the trail’s end, even "The Lesson" illustrates how quickly a cowpoke may lose his hard-earned wages in a card game. The digital artwork, based on the illustrator’s Idaho neighbors as models, is filled with faces that show different emotions ranging from delight in the solitary life to anxiety about the future. An afterword describes how brief was the era of these cattle drives.

-Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman

Heard, Georgia. (2012). The Arrow Finds Its Mark: a book of found poems. Illus. by Antoine Guillope. New York: Roaring Brook Press/ Macmillan.

Arrow

On its website (Poetry.org), the Academy of American Poets defines “found poetry” as: “Found poems take existing texts and refashion them, reorder them, and present them as poems. The literary equivalent of a collage, found poetry is often made from newspaper articles, street signs, graffiti, speeches, letters, or even other poems.” Editor Georgia Heard invited a smorgasbord of children’s poets to contribute a found poem for this collection, and the poets responded with a variety of different poems. Children’s Poet Laureate J. Patrick Lewis relied on a basketball encyclopedia to come up with “Nicknames in the NBA” while Bob Raczka created a found poem from the drop-down menus from his computer. Juanita Havill, Lee Bennett Hopkins, George Ella Lyon, Naomi Shihab Nye, Joyce Sidman, and Jane Yolen are among the other poetic contributors. Black and white drawings accompany the poems, attesting to the fact that readers may find poetry in a myriad of places. In her comments, Heard encourages students to observe printed formats all around them to create their own found poetry, finding those frameworks to make poetry from within their worlds. Click here for a planning template for students to create their own found poems.

-Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant

Katz, Susan. (2012). The president’s stuck in the bathtub: Poems about the presidents. Illus. by Robert Neubecker. New York: Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

president's stuck

Every president, beginning with George Washington to Barack Obama, is represented in a poem in this delightful collection sure to find its way on history lovers’ shelves. Readers will learn fun trivial facts such as the size of James Madison, the confrontation between James Monroe and the Secretary of Treasury and the President who gave the longest inaugural address—William Harrison. One amusing poem about John Quincey Adams describes his enjoyment of skinny-dipping in the Potomac: “John Quincy didn’t care. / Nakedness suited him fine. / Whether rockbound / or swimming against the tide, / this president / had nothing to hide” (p. 12).  Some readers will be able to relate to Andrew Jackson who had a difficult time spelling words while others will be excited to read about the many presidents who were readers: James A. Garfield, Harry S. Truman, Theodore Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and Jimmy Carter. Additional historical information is included at the bottom of each poem. At the back of the book there are presidential notes and quotes. 

-Deanna Day, Washington State University Vancouver

Kinerk, Robert. (2011). Oh, how Sylvester can pester!: and other poems more or less about manners. Illus. by Drazen Kozjan.  New York: Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster.

sylvester

Robert Kinerk offers children 20 humorous poems that remind them why manners matter.   Sometimes he even provides suggestions for what to do with people who neglect their manners. For instance, many of us might relate to these annoyances: “Talkers in movies! We ought to collect them/ and seat them in seats that pop up and eject them” (p. 4).  Then there is the inconsiderable and immodest Egbert who “…dropped his underwear/ here and there—he didn’t care. / The same with pants and shirt and shoes./ The things he dropped he’d tend to lose,/ and ‘cause his wardrobe was quite small, / soon he had no clothes at all./ Now, when he’s seen, there comes this hush./ I can’t say why or else I’ll blush” (p. 20-21). Drazen Kozjan’s digitally rendered illustrations will make the characters (and their manners) unforgettable, possibly providing a gentle nudge toward being a little more considerate to others.

-Terrell A. Young, Brigham Young University


Levine, Gail Carson. (2012). Forgive me, I meant to do it: false apology poems. Illus. by Matthew Cordell. New York: Harper.

Forgive meWith a touch of sarcasm and a heavy dose of meanness, Gail Carson Levine has borrowed the idea of William Carlos Williams’ famous poem “This is Just to Say” to create the pattern for the poems in this book.  In fact, every poem is entitled “This is Just to Say.” She has also borrowed from Mother Goose rhymes and fairy tales to create these unapologetic rhymes. For example: “You fell/ and cracked/ your skull/ on the hill/ Where/ I had carefully/ placed/ a banana peel/  Forgive me/ Jill/ is now/ my girlfriend”(p.14). In addition, Levine has placed the introduction and explanation of the original poem twenty pages into the book – much to the chagrin of her editor! The line art drawings are hilarious and add to the fun of these poems. This unusual take on poetry is fun to read and consider as possible poetic inspiration, especially since the author provides instructions to encourage kids to write their own apology (not!) poems. Her website gives very specific instructions for writing false apology poems. 

-Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant

Lewis, J. Patrick. (2012). Edgar Allan Poe’s Pie: Math puzzlers in classic poems. Illus. by Michael Slack. New York: Harcourt/ Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 

Edgar Allen Poe's Pie

Children’s Poet Laureate J. Patrick Lewis was inspired by the works of such classic poets as Emily Dickinson, Langston Hughes, Shel Silverstein, and Walt Whitman to create and imagine new poems with a mathematical slant. For example, Robert Frost’s poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” inspired the poem “Robert Frost’s Boxer Shorts.” The poem begins: “Whose underwear?! I wish I knew / Who left these for me, all brand-new-- / Five dollars, ninety cents a pair. / They’re not my size. I’m forty-two” (p. 21). Each poem contains a math puzzle, asking readers to solve the problem. Answers are included at the bottom of the page. Teachers could display the classic poem alongside Lewis’ new poem so that students can compare and contrast them. A new poem could be shared each day during math. The book concludes with a brief biography of each poet whose verses prompted Lewis’ own.

-Deanna Day, Washington State University Vancouver

Lewis, J. Patrick, & Yolen, Jane. (2012). Take two!: a celebration of twins. Illus. by Sophie Blackall.Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.

Take Two

Two talented and prolific poets provide readers with 44 delightful poems about twins divided into four cleverly titled sections: “Twins in the Waiting Womb,” “Twinfants,” “How to Be One,” and “Famous Twins.” The twin facts located on every two-page spread are an added bonus. For instance, on the copyright page, the fact explains the source of the word twin: “Twin comes from the German word twine, which means “two together.” A sample of the poets’ talented collaboration is “Sixteen Sets of Twins.” “You know the old woman/ Who lived in a shoe?/ She had so many children/ She didn’t know what to do./ How could the woman/ Who resided in Shuya, /Have so many children? You don’t know, do ya?” (p. 63).  Sophie Blackall’s joyful watercolor, pencil, and painted paper collage are the perfect complement to these clever poems that are sure to appeal to young readers. 

-Terrell A. Young, Brigham Young University


McLaughlin, Timothy P. (2012). Walking on earth and touching the sky: Poetry and prose by Lakota youth at Red Cloud Indian School. New York: Abrams.Walking on Earth and Touching the Sky

Attractively designed and filled with words torn from the heart, this collection contains more than 100 poems created by young Lakota writers. Bursting with vibrant original paintings and honest emotion, the collection reveals deep connections to the students' past and sometimes uncertainty about their present and future. Written by students ranging from fifth to eighth grade, the poems and prose are usually brief but poignant and are displayed with generous white space that allows readers to think about the poems. The writing was collected by their former teacher at Red Cloud Indian School on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. While some poems describe experiences typical of young poets, others seem almost world-weary, filled with sentiments that belie their youth. The collection is organized according to themes that allowed the young writers to explore what mattered most to them: the Natural World, Misery, Native Thoughts, Silence, Spirit, Family, Youth and Dreams, and Language. A brief commentary introduces each section, focusing on the students' voices and not the teacher’s. Drawing on their rich cultural heritage, the poets express the pain of loss leavened with moments of joy, clearly having their say. Essential for classroom libraries, this book provides a perfect example of the power of young writing. There is an index of the authors and the poems, leaving readers curious to know more about these emerging writers. 

-Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman




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