November 21, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

4 Poetry Titles to Share with Tweens

An interesting shift begins to happen in poetry when it reaches middle graders. A sophistication in line, meter, metaphor, and subject emerges. There’s also a deepening of themes, and a tendency to be a bit surreal, often exhibiting playfulness through wordplay, rhythm, image, etc. The following selections are richly rewarding reads that could also easily double as mentor texts on crafting poetry.

NF-MHS-Engle-Bravo!Don’t be fooled by the picture book–esque format of Margarita Engle’s Bravo!: Poems About Amazing Hispanics (Holt, Mar. 2017; Gr 4–7), these poems, accompanied by Rafael López’s stunning portraits, are perfect for tweens interested in the intersection of poetry and biography.

Engle’s verse is, as always, on point as she explores the life and legacy of a number of Latinx individuals in the first person, from Pura Belpré to Jose Martí. López’s artwork—created with acrylic on wood, pen and ink, watercolor, construction paper, and Adobe Photoshop—captures the essence of each figure, sometimes directly referencing their life’s work (Roberto Clemente is in his baseball uniform) and other times providing thematic hints (Aída de Acosta, the first woman pilot, is surrounded by clouds). The format allows readers to linger and reflect on each spread, strengthening visual literacy and reinforcing the belief that poetry is art—and it is meant to be savored.

Also check out SLJ‘s starred review of Bravo!: Poems About Amazing Hispanics.

NF-Lea_NightGaurdThough challenging, Synne Lea’s Night Guard (Eerdmans, Apr. 2016; Gr 4–7) is a highly rewarding, surreal exploration of trust, family, and dreams. Translated from Norwegian by John Irons and illustrated by Stian Hole, these untitled poems, narrated by an acutely observant child, dip in and out of reality, occasionally even landing in the realm of nightmares: “under my bed/lives an old lady./Every evening she asks/for a bit/of my life.” Hole’s illustrations are mesmerizing and will likely prompt further questions: a house floats in water, clouds of bees. The narrator’s meditations on nature is truly where the work shines and will provide much food for thought for avid poetry readers (the season of spring “lets birds/out of the winter”). While it may take a bit of hand-selling on the part of librarians, this is a gem for budding surrealists.

NF-ELEM-Grime-One Last WordNikki Grimes employs the Golden Shovel to great effect in her latest collection, One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance (Bloomsbury, Jan. 2017; Gr 6 Up). Grimes borrows words from selected lines or stanzas from poems by Jean Toomer, Clara Ann Thompson, Langston Hughes, and more, and those selections become the last words of each line in a new poem. The poems magnificently convey the innovation and spirit of the Harlem Renaissance, while providing a contemporary angle. Grimes smartly eases readers into the work (“Can I really find/fuel for the future/in the past?”) and ends with a powerful summation (“I feel full of something/strange and delicious:/hope./Teacher was right./The past is a ladder/that can help you/keep climbing.”). Illustrations from a number of artists, including R. Gregory Christie, Ebony Glenn, and Javaka Steptoe, are an added bonus. Must-have is an understatement, this collection of poetry contains many ties to curricula—and is a joy to read, too.

Check out SLJ‘s starred review of One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance as well as SLJ‘s recent interview with Grimes.

NF-Spotlight-Argueta-Somoas como las nubes-We Are like the CloudsJorge Argueta’s Somos Como las Nubes/We Are Like the Clouds (Groundwood, Oct. 2016; Gr 3–7) is a bilingual account of the journey thousands of Mexican and Central American children and their families embark on to escape poverty and violence. Narrated from a child’s perspective, the poems deftly capture the range of emotions and motivations that prompt young people to be “like the clouds, like dreams” as they decide whether to stay or go, to cross borders. “We Sing” is a particularly powerful selection: “Since we left home/we haven’t stopped singing./My father says/if we keep singing,/we’ll scare away all the tiredness/and the fear/and become a song.” Alfonso Ruano’s illustrations (acrylic on canvas) adeptly encapsulate the tone of the poems. A fine example of Rudine Sims Bishop’s term “mirrors and windows,” for its ability to prompt readers to reflect on a familiar or unfamiliar experience.

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Della Farrell About Della Farrell

Della Farrell is an Assistant Editor at School Library Journal and Editor of Series Made Simple

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