Five Poets to Celebrate | Black History Month

Nature, childhood, family, community, and dreamers are just some of the subjects honored in these titles to share all year long.

Nature, childhood, family, community, and dreamers are just some of the subjects honored in these titles to add to your collection—and share all year long.

BROWNE, Mahogany L. Black Girl Magic: A Poem. illus. by Jess X. Snow. 40p. Roaring Brook. Jan. 2018. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781250173720.
Gr 6 Up–In this book-length poem, Browne, the cofounder of Brooklyn Slam, chronicles the many injustices, limitations, and stereotypes that Black girls face, leading up to a resounding celebration of Black girlhood and a rejection of all that is harmful. Browne’s verse radiates energy and urgency, achieved through patiently building up momentum and then cutting it with voltalike segments: “You ain’t ‘posed to dream at all/You ain’t ‘posed to do/Nothing but carry babies/And carry/Weaves/Felons/Families/Confusion/Silence./And carry a nation—/But never an opinion.” The rhythm and use of enjambment lends the work a spoken word–like cadence, making this an imminently readable poem. The ending chorus of “You Black girl shine!/You Black girl bloom!...” will stick with readers long after they have closed the book. Snow and Key’s striking illustrations keep to a limited color palette of white, black, red, and gold, a choice that is elegant and effective, conveying a raw honesty. Nearly every spread could be framed. While the picture book format may signal younger readers, its often intimate content is more appropriate for tweens and teens. VERDICT Browne celebrates a Black girlhood that is free, unforgettable, and luminous. Middle and high school poetry collections will want to consider.–Melissa Williams, Berwick Academy, ME

GIOVANNI, Nikki. I Am Loved. illus. by Ashley Bryan. 32p. S. & S./Atheneum. Jan. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781534404922.
PreS-Gr 4–This dynamic collection of verse thrums with musical language, exploring the interconnectedness between individuals and generations, humanity and nature. Pulsing through each brief poem is a leitmotif of love, and Bryan’s warm illustrations underscore the book’s comforting refrain. While a few poems are bittersweet, dealing with aging and loss, serene and contented elements emerge amid the wistfulness. Non-religious spirituality pervades Giovanni’s language with a reverence for nature, and for life itself, in simple words that will resonate with young and old. “No Heaven” questions “How can there be/No heaven/When rain falls/gently on the grass/When sunshine scampers/across my toes.” “Kidnap Poem” is especially metaphor-rich and overall lush, and the final poem, “Do the Rosa Parks” is perfect for reading to groups of young children, as it invites recitation and movement. Bryan’s bold illustrations reflect the energy of the verses, splashing rainbows of rich color across every page. The paintings highlight a particularly poignant line or illuminate wording that some young readers might find complex, thereby aiding their meaning-making process. Children will especially enjoy the mirror included beside the poem “I Am a Mirror,” a luminous verse that speaks of resilience. VERDICT A recommended addition to all picture book poetry collections, one that encourages children to embrace their personal histories and to love and be loved. A vibrant burst of positivity for readers of any age.–Melissa Williams, Berwick Academy, ME

MEDINA, Tony. Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Boy. illus. by various. 40p. Penny Candy Bks. Feb. 2018. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9780998799940.
Gr 2-5 –Medina combines the tanka form with the illustrious talents of 13 artists to produce a resplendent collection of poetry dedicated to black and brown children. Drawing inspiration from the historically black neighborhood of Anacostia in Washington, DC, which is becoming more and more gentrified; Wallace Stevens’s “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”; and Raymond R. Patterson’s Twenty-Six Ways of Looking at a Black Man, Medina nimbly crafts a meditation on black boyhood that emphasizes beauty and intergenerational love among family and neighbors (“Mama’s little butterfly/Daddy’s dimple grin so wide.”). In addition to holding a mirror up to readers’ multitudinous selves, the poet also offers them flashes of Anacostia and their own neighborhoods—a chance to join in the making, remembering, and sharing of legacies. The artwork is just as dazzling, from Floyd Cooper’s snapshot of a family in motion to Tiffany McKnight’s electric patterns to Ekua Holmes’s signature collage. The volume concludes with more information about the poet, the illustrators, and the poems. VERDICT This shining title deserves a spot in all poetry collections.–Della Farrell, School Library Journal

REYNOLDS, Jason. For Every One. 112p. S. & S./Atheneum. Apr. 2018. Tr $14.99. ISBN 9781481486248.
Gr 7 Up–Reynolds dedicates this lyrical masterpiece “to the dreamers, to the courageous, and everyone who wants to be,” though in his author’s note he admits the book-length poem began as a letter to himself “to keep from quitting.” He writes “from a place of raw honesty/and love/but not at all/a place of expertise on/how to make your/dreams come true.” This same humility and vulnerability permeates the entire work. Reynolds intersperses his own internal battles and unattained hopes as he validates the compulsion to achieve big goals, but that the slog toward them (rather than “making it”) may be all there is (and maybe that’s enough). The book’s unconventionality, tone, spirit, and design will remind Reynolds’ most dedicated fans of his first book, My Name Is Jason. Mine, Too: Our Story. Our Way. The notion that even a successful author can doubt themselves will be revelatory to teens. Those seeking a neatly packaged graduation gift book littered with platitudes would be wise to look elsewhere; this latest from Reynolds will challenge readers and undoubtedly inspire, comfort, and validate anyone aspiring to make or do, especially those who have a long road ahead of them. VERDICT A powerful and affirming book-length poem for teens.–Jill Heritage Maza, Montclair Kimberley Academy, NJ

WRIGHT, Richard & Nina Crews. Seeing into Tomorrow. illus. by Nina Crews. 32p. further reading. photos. Millbrook. Feb. 2018. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781512418651.
K-Gr 3–This book collects 12 of Wright’s outstanding haiku, written 50 years ago and still available in the anthology, Haiku: The Last Poems of an American Icon. The poems offer a view of the world through the lens of his experience, but the appreciation of nature and the emotions felt in such moments have a universal appeal. Crews uses photo collage to illustrate each scene. She explains, “I photographed African American boys for this book, because I wanted the reader to imagine the world through a young brown boy’s eyes.” Crews shows familiar scenes of boys playing on a shady porch, walking a dog, or writing in snow with a mittened finger. Her chosen medium emphasizes how haiku creates snapshots of single instances or feelings. The final poem ends with the phrase “seeing into tomorrow,” which inspired the book’s title. On the page, readers will see a young boy gazing up into a brilliant blue sky as if he can glimpse the future. An archival photo of Wright reading to his young daughter accompanies the introduction, and a brief biography of Wright along with a list for further reading is included in the back matter. VERDICT A must for all children’s collections. These verses are an introduction to haiku as well as an entry point into Wright’s work; they can be read aloud to younger children or enjoyed independently by older readers.–Suzanne Costner, Fairview Elementary School, Maryville, TN

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