February 23, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Poems to Launch the Imagination

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Whether inspecting fireflies or taking flights of fancy, the offerings in these poetry books will spark young readers’ imaginations and inspire contemplation.

Firefly JulyPaul B. Janeczko’s selection of poems embodies the characteristics intrinsic to each season in Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems (Candlewick, March 2014; K-Gr 4). Melissa Sweet’s mixed-media illustrations indicate the time of year by the changing quality of light. Sweet frames J. Patrick Lewis’s “Firefly July,” as a jar-shaped nighttime scene (in which “dimes of light” are “cupped, and capped, and kept”) within a larger sun-drenched beach scene featuring “Sandpipers” by April Halprin Wayland.

A lyrical echo sounds between Jim Harrison and Ted Kooser’s kickoff poem for fall (“What is it the wind has lost/that she keeps looking for/under each leaf?”) and their poem that concludes the book (“A welcome mat of moonlight/on the floor. Wipe your feet/before getting into bed”). For Robert Frost’s “Dust of Snow,” the illustrator ponders whether it is the parent and child sledding or a family of squirrels who receive a crow’s “dust of snow/From a hemlock tree.” One of the most glorious couplings of poems and art occurs with “Winter Twilight” by Anne Porter, who describes the moon and the round squirrels’ nest as “equal planets”; here Sweet’s image unites the treetop home with a nighttime skyline, described in Herbert Read’s “Night.”

Hi, KooPair Firefly July with Jon J Muth’s Hi, Koo!: A Year of Seasons (Scholastic, March 2014; K-Gr 4) to get students thinking about different ways to examine similar themes. Koo (Stillwater’s nephew from Zen Ties) uses haiku to express a series of signature moments in each season. Two friends knocking at Koo’s door on the left usher the panda cub into winter on the right (“snowfall/Gathers my footprints/I do a powdery stomp.” The alphabet supplies a second subtler trail through the selections. “King!/my crown a gift/from a snowy branch” portrays a cardinal above a snow-crowned Koo sporting a candy cane-striped scarf, and calls to mind the crow in Sweet’s picture for “Dust of Snow.”

Muth emphasizes spring’s sense of possibility as the panda stretches out on a green knoll: “New leaves/new grass new sky/spring!” Muth’s first summer poem (“Tiny lights/garden full of blinking stars/fireflies”) resonates with Lewis’s poem “Firefly July.” The books’ pairing underscores the myriad unique ways there are to capture a universal moment.

car poemsPoem-Mobiles: Crazy Car Poems by J. Patrick Lewis and Douglas Florian, illustrated by Jeremy Holmes (Random, 2014; K-Gr 4) presents 20-plus poems about fantasy modes of transport rooted in reality and wordplay. (The copyright page notes which poems are penned by whom.)

From the introduction the collection introduces the comical possibilities of homonyms: “So auto ought to mean, you see,/Auto automatically.” There’s a “giant bookmobile of tomorrow” (“a very moving van”), which carries books to a driver in a “mini-mini-car.” Artist Jeremy Holmes’s depiction of a prehistoric parking lot invites readers to consider the ecology (“You thought the dinosaurs were dead?!/The cars behind our school/Are big Tyrannosaurus wrecks/That run on fossil fuel”); the hoods lift to become T-rex jaws; spark plugs serve as scales, and chopper wheels replace hind legs. Some cars are edible (the egg car, hot dog car, and banana split car, which has “bananappeal”); one is pulled by a cow (a “li-mooo-sine”–“When oil and gasoline/Are just a distant memory”), and a duck chauffeurs “Bathtub Car.” Holmes alters the palette and perspective from page to page, creating variety along with the humor, and reprises many of his clever visual concoctions on the final spread.

poem depotDouglas Florian’s shifts gears for Poem Depot: Aisles of Smiles (Dial, 2014; Gr 2-5), which unites his thick black line drawings with an array of funny verse. “A Bicycle Built for Forty-Eight” depicts the front of the bicycle entering the page at the top, and exiting from the bottom: “A bicycle built for forty-eight:/The first person’s early./The last person’s late.”

A child contorted into a pretzel, with his torso emerging from between his legs illustrates “Train to Nowhere”: “We’re taking a train to nowhere./We’re boarding at never o’clock” and they’re “going nowhere fast.” Poems such as these launch readers off to create their own verses inspired by everyday objects and phrases. “Lazy” may well spark poems and drawings inspired by states of mind; Florian draws a child who never got up as he would be viewed from the foot of his bed.

Some poems are send-ups of nursery rhymes (Old Mother Hubbard’s bare cupboard sends her to her phone to order Chinese; a child elects to pass on the “pease porridge in the pot,/Nine days old”). Other poems and images offer insight into seeming paradoxes, such as how, despite the long days of June, “How quick the month just speeds along,” while the month of December, which “has the shortest days… stays and stays.”

words with wingsFor Words with Wings by Nikki Grimes (WordSong, 2013; Gr 3-7), the framework of a novel in verse serves as the perfect platform for budding poet Gabby to recall the good times with her parents, when her father still lived with them. Gabby and Daddy are “both dreamers,” and she often finds that “words have wings/that wake my daydreams/…/tickle my imagination,/and carry my thoughts away.”

When Gabby and her mother move, and the girl must start at a new school, she worries she won’t find a friend. But classmate David draws his daydreams, just as Gabby puts words to hers. Kind teacher Mr. Spicer not only encourages Gabby’s imaginative flights but also pauses daily so the entire class may dream. For Gaby, fireflies are her “summer night-light” and the word “canyon” places her “at/horizon’s rim, leaning over/a deep bowl of echoes.” Grimes uses poetry to portray a poet in the making, and this handful of poetry books will encourage others just like her.

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