SLJ's Poetry Section Debuts with 13 Buzzworthy Collections

Our first-ever quarterly poetry section features the stellar lyrics of Nikki Giovanni, Naomi Shihab Nye, and others.

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

Harrison, David L. A Place To Start a Family: Poems About Creatures That Build. illus. by Giles Laroche. 32p. Charlesbridge. Jan. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781580897488.

K-Gr 4 –Narrative poems describe how 13 creatures construct homes for their families, building intricate and oftentimes beautiful creations from materials such as thread, glue, and paper. An introduction in prose explains how animals, including people, build before the book delves into verse. Each subsequent section includes three poems about living things who build in that particular environment: builders underground, on land, in water, and in the air. A bonus poem about a different kind of builder, sun coral, completes the collection. The use of alliteration, rhyme, and onomatopoeia adds an inquisitive nature to the poems as it presents information regarding each animal’s habitat. The 3-D cut-paper collage illustrations exquisitely render insight into the architecture and daily life of each being. In “European Paper Wasp,” the microscopic world of this minute insect is vibrantly realized. Eggs glow golden within their cells and “Winged warriors/warn with spear” in brilliant yellows and blacks. Harrison details how their nest is formed with paper and Laroche’s stunning technique of layering hand-painted papers renders this image to startling effect. As with their previous work on Now You See Them, Now You Don’t: Poems About Creatures That Hide, this is an exceptional example of collaboration. Some other animals included in this collection are star-nosed mole, king cobra, and beaver. Notes at the end provide Latin names of all creatures, further information, and titles to learn more. VERDICT This is a great selection for science and ­poetry enthusiasts.–Rachel Zuffa, Racine Public Library, WI

Hopkins, Lee Bennett. School People. illus. by Ellen Shi. 32p. Boyds Mills/Wordsong. Feb. 2018. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781629797038.

Gr 3-5 –Hopkins’s newest poetry collection is a slim picture book that highlights a baker’s dozen of the people who work within and around an elementary school: bus driver, lunch lady, coach, librarian, nurse, art teacher, and others. The verse of several well-known poets—Alma Flor Ada, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, J. Patrick Lewis, and Hopkins himself—interweave beautifully with that of many less familiar voices, resulting in a collection that is fun to read and to listen to. There’s the crossing guard who “guides us/like hatchlings/safely/to the other side”; the custodian who’s “caring, helpful, smart, and kind.”; the principal who can “teach a bully how to be humble.” The digital artwork is bright and eye-catching; the cartoon people animated and upbeat. Most illustrations have painted backgrounds and detail; some faces and clothing look like they’ve been clipped from colored paper, then detailed with paint or colored pencil. The depicted children range in grade level from kindergarten to about sixth grade; however, most of the poems’ vocabulary is geared toward older elementary school students. VERDICT Used to kick off a writing assignment or to brighten up a gloomy day, these entertaining poems will hit the spot.–Susan Scheps, formerly at Shaker Public Library, OH

redstarJudge, Lita. Mary’s Monster: Love, Madness, and How Mary Shelley Created ­Frankenstein. illus. by Lita Judge. 320p. bibliog. notes. Roaring Brook. Jan. 2018. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781626725003.

Gr 7 Up –Judge details the life of the great Mary Shelley through poetry in this atmospheric and illustrated volume. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a classic masterpiece of horror and science fiction, and Judge treats it as such, hyping up the events that would lead to it’s creation—from her tumultuous relationship with Percy Bysshe Shelley to trials and tribulations of being a disowned woman in the 1800s. Readers will be enthralled by the dark and exacting verse, beautifully accompanied by haunting black-and-white watercolor spreads. In the poem “I Am Seventeen”: “Already/I am daughter to a ghost/and mother to bones.” This work does not skimp on the details, however sordid they may be. The pain, fervor, and tragic events that drove Shelley’s inspiration for Frankenstein will sit with readers well after the volume is finished. It also discusses the issue of women’s rights at the time (or lack thereof) in a somberly poignant way that mirrors many of Shelley’s own experiences. VERDICT A must-purchase for any middle and high school or public library YA collections, particularly where Gothic horror is in demand.–Molly Dettmann, Moore Public Library, OK

Latham, Irene & Charles Waters. Can I Touch Your Hair?: Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship. illus. by Sean Qualls & Selina Alko. 320p. Carolrhoda. Jan. 2018. lib. ed. $17.99. ISBN 9781512404425.

Gr 4-7 –The conceit of a poetry project is this basis for this underdeveloped effort at unpacking racism in a school setting. The poems are presented from two perspectives: Irene’s, a white girl, and Charles’s, a black boy. (“Mrs. Vandenberg/holds up her hand./Write about anything!/It’s not black and white//But it is./Charles is black,/and I’m white.”) They take turns responding to everyday occurrences at home, at school, and in public. Charles’s poems occasionally introduce important questions (“why do people who/want to look like me hate me so much?”), while Irene’s are myopic and fail to challenge bias. In particular, a running thread involving Irene and a classmate, Shonda, is rife with unexamined stereotypes. Shonda is first introduced in “The Playground” as one of the freeze-dancing black girls who won’t let Irene join in (“You’ve got/the whole rest of the playground,/she says. Can’t we/at least have this corner?”). Later, when Irene learns that Shonda’s family tree is “draped/in chains,” she writes her a note apologizing for slavery. Disturbingly, their eventual friendship is compared to The Black Stallion: “I smile/the same way Alec does/when the stallion/nuzzles him/for the very first time.” The writing is didactic, with stale imagery (white and black piano keys “singing together”). Qualls and Alko’s artwork, done in acrylic paint, colored pencil, and collage, provides literal interpretations of the poems and lacks a certain spark, likely owing to Charles and Irene’s almost permanently solemn facial expressions. VERDICT However earnest, this is a clumsy attempt at tackling interpersonal and systemic racism for middle grade readers.–Della Farrell, School Library Journal

redstarNye, Naomi Shihab. Voices in the Air: Poems for Listeners. 208p. index. notes. HarperCollins/Greenwillow. Feb. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062691842.

Gr 5 Up –Nye invokes the voices and spirits of countless inspirational figures past and present in her latest poetry collection. From Bruce Springsteen and Langston Hughes to Yehuda Amichai and Vera B. Williams to her own grandfather and a barber in Honolulu, Nye has utilized poetry as an equalizer and shows, without saying, that raised, wise, creative voices are powerful and vital. Nye frames the collection ever so clearly, first with the title, second with the subtitle, and third with her masterly written introduction. Her intentionality is palpable but never contrived. In a time when many young people feel the need to never slow down, Nye reminds readers that the pause and quiet attention required to read a poem can serve as a kind of meditation in itself. At the end, she provides brief biographical information for each person referenced; each serving not only as an explanatory note, but a teaser for those looking to dive deeper into their lives and work. Nye has given poetry readers a brilliantly constructed, thoughtful, and inspiring collection that can be entered and utilized from countless different angles. Or, one can simply savor each poem (for they stand on their own) and practice the habit of slowing down and contemplating the poem’s voice. VERDICT A vital addition to poetry collections.–Jill Heritage Maza, Montclair Kimberley Academy, NJ

redstarPinkney, Andrea Davis. Martin Rising: Requiem for a King. illus. by Brian Pinkney. 128p. bibliog. chron. notes. photos. Scholastic. Jan. 2018. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780545702539.

Gr 4 Up –A powerful celebration of Martin Luther King Jr., set against the last few months of his life and written in verse. Divided into three sections, (“Daylight,” “Darkness,” and “Dawn”), Andrea Davis Pinkney’s poems focus on the winter and spring of 1968, from King’s birthday on January 15 through the horror of his assassination on April 4 and end with a tribute to his legacy of hope on Easter Sunday, April 14. The poems begin broadly, painting a portrait of spring emerging in Memphis as garbage collectors fight against discriminatory wage policies, ultimately bringing King to that city to organize and uplift the movement. But as the last moments of King’s life tick away, the narrative zooms in, detailing the emotional beats of his final public speeches, the feverish exhaustion of long days and nights away from home, and the relief of stolen moments of leisure with his closest friends. Throughout, the crowds filling churches seeking inspiration and bravely marching in the face of violence are as much a part of the story as King himself. Brian Pinkney’s watercolor, gouache, and India ink illustrations convey warm moments of victory and joy, as well as the darkness and chaos of loss, through swirls of color. Impressionistic brush-stroke portraits of King alternate with spreads full of faces listening, marching, and mourning. Back matter includes author and artist reflections, a time line, and additional historical information with photographs. VERDICT Beautifully illustrated and begging to be read aloud, this poetry collection is an exceptional classroom tool for civil rights lessons and offers much for individual readers to linger over.–Chelsea Couillard-Smith, Hennepin County Library, MN

redstarSayre, April Pulley. Thank You, Earth: A Love Letter to Our Planet. illus. by April Pulley Sayre. 40p. websites. HarperCollins/Greenwillow. Feb. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062697349.

K-Gr 4 –Photographs of the natural world accompany a poem that gives thanks to the earth. The author/photographer of Raindrops Roll, Best in Snow, and Full of Fall has penned a lyrical thank you note to Earth illustrated with her signature photography. Close-ups featuring alluring shapes, patterns, and textures; seascapes and mountains; animals in action; and striking skies are varied and beautifully reproduced and arranged, with the text of the poem set directly on the pictures in large, legible print. “Dear earth,” she begins. “Thank you for water and those that float,/for slippery seaweed/and stone. Thank you for mountains and minerals,/that strengthen bills/and bone.” The carefully crafted verse, with its rhymes and repeated sounds, should be a pleasure to read aloud—Sayre’s skillful use of enjambment is notable, too. A long author’s note suggests ways that young people can say thank-you to the earth themselves that go beyond the usual. A list of selected resources and organizations and a welcome explanation (subject and location) of every photograph complete this attractive package. VERDICT A splendid marriage of poetry and photography, consider for all nature-related collections.–­Kathleen Isaacs, ­Children’s ­Literature Specialist, Pasadena, MD

VanDerwater, Amy Ludwig. With My Hands: Poems About Making Things. illus. by Lou Fancher & Steve Johnson. 32p. HMH. Mar. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780544313408.

PreS-Gr 2 –This is art about art. Mostly rhyming poems present creations meant to inspire readers to make something. “I see spaceships every day/rocketing inside my mind./I would rather build those ships/than make the one this box assigned.” From birdhouses to shadow puppets, the variety of projects included are delightful. The accompanying illustrations reflect the subject and medium of the poem. “Maker” is matched with photo cut-outs and thumbprint art. “Painting,” “Collage,” “Drawing,” and “Leaf pictures,” feature exact examples. The poems “Boat,” “Piñata,” and “Origami,” are enhanced with a variety of art styles including watercolor and pencil sketches. The illustrations are inclusive and present a subtle challenge to gender norms with boys doing both the knitting and the glitter art. VERDICT An effective medley of concept, poetry, and artwork. Hand this title directly to elementary school art teachers.–Elaine Fultz, Madison Jr. Sr. High School, Middletown, OH

Winters, Kay. Did You Hear What I Heard?: Poems About School. illus. by Patrice Barton. 40p. Dial. Feb. 2018. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780399538988.

PreS-Gr 3 –This insubstantial collection of 35 poems covers a wide variety of typical school-related topics, including tests, school subjects, friends, holidays, school buses, teachers, snow days, and various milestones throughout the school year. While a handful of poems offer memorable use of figurative language, notably “The Colors of Words” and “Recess,” the collection as a whole is largely uninspired. Despite being intended for “those in the youngest grades,” the poems lack strong, consistent use of rhythm or rhyme and fail to create fresh, exciting, or striking imagery. Created digitally, Barton’s warm and animated illustrations are more noteworthy than the text and cheerfully bring a racially diverse population of students to life. VERDICT Serviceable for collections in need of school-themed poems or poetry for very young students; otherwise, readers are likely better served elsewhere.–Lauren Strohecker, McKinley Elementary School, Elkins Park, PA

Winters, Kay. Voices from the Underground Railroad. illus. by Larry Day. 40p. bibliog. further reading. Dial. Jan. 2018. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780803740921.

Gr 4-6 –Large illustrations accompany narrative poems told from a variety of viewpoints that revolve around the escape of Mattie and Jeb, two young enslaved siblings, from a master who wants to sell them to pay off gambling debts. Both Mattie and Jeb tend to speak and think in fragments with little to distinguish them from each other (“I work hard but get no pay./The master collects it.”; “Never a kind word./Always afraid./I want to be free!/We gotta go.”). In addition to the perspective of the conductor, stationmaster, and operative, Winters also provides the point of view of slave owner Clarinda and Angus and Rufus, two slave catchers. Their scenes are littered with disturbing language such as “Blast their black hides” and “Dumb darkies.” The illustrations are done well but the didactic text struggles to balance a history lesson with emotional storytelling. Winters attempts to ramp up tension with lines such as “The hunt’s begun!” but the overall feeling is one of exploitation. Mattie and Jeb do successfully make it up North where “Black people and white people are out and about/No one looks afraid!” VERDICT This book misses its mark.–Elizabeth Nicolai, ­Anchorage Public Library, AK

redstarWright, 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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