Poetry often receives a bad rap, labelled complicated, frivolous, and definitely not kid-friendly, but any lover or even casual admirer of lyrics knows this to be untrue. The rewards of the kind of deep, contemplative thinking that poetry demands can’t be oversold. The following titles are a mix of updates on perennial favorites, as well as familiar and emerging voices.
New takes on classics
Kwame Alexander, Chris Colderley, and Marjory Wentworth have crafted a winning tribute to beloved poets and poems in Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets (Candlewick, Mar. 2017; Gr 3–7), accompanied by Ekua Holmes’s show-stopping artwork. Divided into sections, the author-poets explore traditional (free verse, haiku) and trademark styles (e.e. cumming’s use of ellipses), while expounding on the value of embracing a poetic tradition (“Sometimes our poems sound like they were written by our favorite poets, and that is okay.”). This collection is especially well suited for creative writing lessons. Poets celebrated include Naomi Shihab Nye, Nikki Giovanni, Billy Collins, Gwendolyn Brooks, William Carlos Williams, and others.
The pairing of the late Ed Galing’s meditation on a workhorse, and the affinity the speaker of the poem has for said horse, with Stead’s signature illustrations is masterful. Recalling a bygone era of horse-drawn deliveries, Tony (Roaring Brook, Feb. 2017; PreS–Gr 2) is a quiet, tender exploration of friendship and the unseen labor behind daily life: “it was early in the morning/around three a.m.,/but I was up, and would/go out and pat Tony with/my gentle arms, and/his head would bow down/and his eyes would glow.” The small trim size, in combination with the subject matter, makes this a poem to share one-on-one or with a small group.
Chris Raschka’s A Song About Myself: A Poem by John Keats (Candlewick, Mar. 2017; Gr 2 Up) is a rambunctious, illustrated take on a short ditty Keats wrote to his sister nearly two centuries ago. Raschka imagines a young red-hatted rascal tramping across the landscape to the north, as the poem goes, “And followéd his Nose/To the North/To the North,/And follow’d his nose/To the North.” Though Keats’s verse has been known to challenge many readers, Raschka smartly signals stanza breaks with large numbers, and sticks closely to the original text in his watercolor interpretation. After reading, kids may be inspired to write their own humorous, self-reflective poems.
Is there such a thing as too much Emily Dickinson? No, as editor Susan Snively and illustrator Christine Davenier prove in their addition to the “Poetry for Kids” series. Emily Dickinson (Quarto/MoonDance, Dec. 2016; Gr 3 Up) collects 35 of the poet’s most well-known works and groups them into seasons (e.g., “I’m Nobody! Who are you?” appears in “Summer”). In her introduction, Snively emphasizes Dickinson’s love of the sciences, particularly when related to nature. Davenier’s watercolor illustrations continue this theme, often depicting a serene landscape featuring birds, cats, and inquisitive-looking young girls. Overall, a fresh presentation of a titan of American poetry.
Helen Nieto Phillips’s bilingual picture book–length poem Where Love Begins: A Poem/Donde comienza el amor: Un poema (Lectura, Dec. 2016; PreS–Gr 2) is a sensitive tribute to home, family (specifically grandmothers), and tradition, based on the author’s childhood memories growing up in Bernalillo, NM. The poem revolves around the celebratory performance of Los Matachines during the feast of San Lorenzo. Each spread consists of a few stanzas and a full-page illustration by Susan Arena, rendered in acrylic on canvas. Arena’s artwork is saturated with color—one particular image beautifully recall’s Georgia O’Keeffe’s Sky Above Clouds IV. An author’s note and a bilingual glossary conclude the work. Consider for lessons on poetry and memoir.
Originally published in French (translated by Erin Woods), Gilles Tibo’s All the World a Poem (Pajama Pr., Nov. 2016; K–Gr 2) is dedicated to the universal joy poetry can produce, with much food for thought for budding bards. “Poetry lives in books,yes,/but also in the stars,/on the moon,/in tree-branch tangles./Anything the world can be/in nighttime hush or daytime glee/is poetry.” Manon Gauthier’s paper collage art is slightly surreal and often plays with perspective (towering sunflowers, the underneath of a blanket tent). Though not every verse hits the mark, this will likely resonate with kids prone to speaking in similes and metaphors.
finally, some silly fun
Brian P. Cleary’s Underneath My Bed: List Poems (Millbrook, Nov. 2016; Gr 2–5) is perfect for independent readers who love all things goofy. Cleary begins by defining what a list poem is, along with a few starting points (“What are a bunch of things your cat does?”), before launching into poems like “At Summer Camp” (“slugs and bugs and spiders creeping,/homesick bunkmate’s nightly weeping”). Richard Watson’s cartoon illustrations are just as humorous, and build on the poems. (Why might the absence of gloves be an issue in “The Glove Compartment of Our Van”? Take a peek at what the character is looking for in the accompanying image.).
Michelle Schaub’s Fresh-Picked Poetry: A Day at the Farmer’s Market (Charlesbridge, Mar. 2017; Gr 3–5) celebrates community and health- and eco-conscious eating. Schaub effortlessly balances the work and play of markets, “While you sleep,/snuggled tight,/farmers toil/by silver light./Harvest, sort,/wash, and load./Hop in trucks./Hit the road,” and elsewhere: “Spy the wonders/on display:/rainbow carrots,/herb bouquets,/heaps of berries, sample trays.” Amy Huntington’s watercolor artwork is light and humorous, tenderly capturing a full day at the market, from unloading to packing up. The inclusion of two mischievous dogs will delight readers, too. “Fresh-Picked,” indeed!
Marilyn Singer’s Feel the Beat: Dance Poems That Zing from Salsa to Swing (Dial, Mar. 2017; K–Gr 3) will get readers moving and grooving to a variety of tempos. Often narrated from the point of view of a child or a reluctant participant (“I don’t/know these moves/My feet/feel like hooves.”), Singer describes the various dances with zest and levity: “Chicken/tastes great./So does/fried fish./But the/two-step’s/my favorite/dish!” Kristi Valiant’s illustrations perfectly communicate the joy and energy of people dancing. A note about each of the dances featured and a CD accompany the work.
Jane Yolen’s Thunder Underground (Wordsong, Mar. 2017; K–Gr 3) follows an inquisitive girl and boy as they discover the many meanings of “underground.” Yolen effortlessly shifts between macro and micro, from tectonic plates and magma pools to tiny seeds growing (“This dot,/this spot,/this period at the end/of winter’s sentence”), while Josée Masse illustrates a fantastical world of endless exploration. Most important, the girl and boy are shown interacting with the different environments: touching, digging, pointing, inspecting, etc. Readers can enjoy the imagery (“Silver above,/black ribbon below,/twisting round roots,/the dark rivers go.”) and witness a bit of hands-on science investigation. An ending “Notes on the Poems: Both Scientific and Personal” expands on the inspiration behind the poems. A fabulous offering for poetry and STEM lessons.
For recent poetry books for older readers, see Della Farrell’s “Kick Off Poetry Month with These YA Titles.“
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