Sequoia by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Wendell Minor
This is a poem about Sequoia, a giant and ancient tree and how he lives through the year. As the seasons change, Sequoia opens his arms and gathers different things to him. He gathers owls to him in the springtime when he is cloaked in green. When fires come in the heat of summer, he gathers flames to him. As the birds fly away in the autumn, he gathers one last crow. In the winter, he gathers snow. He also listens quietly and deeply to the nature around him and shares stories that he has gathered over time with the smaller cedars. This picture book is a celebration of ancient trees and this one sequoia in particular.
Johnston uses repetition very skillfully in his poem. It is enough of a structure to allow children to have something to lean on when reading, but the poem is also free too. It’s a strong mix of structure and freedom that is perfect for a tree poem. As the seasons change, children will see nature change as well. There is a joy to this work, a dedication to preservation of trees like this, and a thrill in the wildness of nature. Johnston uses gorgeous imagery throughout that further ties the wild to this tree and how he feels.
Minor’s illustrations are exceptional. They carry the beauty of the verse to new heights as readers get to see the glory of this single sequoia standing so tall above everything else. Yet Minor also makes sure that Sequoia is part of the nature around him. The light is beautiful in these images streaming through the trees in beams, bright dawn on other pages, and the softness of twilight at others.
A wild and beautiful poetic celebration of a tree, this book is less about the facts of sequoia trees and more about the experience of one. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.
Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty by Christine Heppermann
Released September 23, 2014.
Filled with the stark, violent and frightening truths behind the fairy tales you loved as a child, this book of 50 poems is designed for teens ready to see beyond the beauty of a princess dress. The poems bring the fairy tales into the modern day, introducing us to the dirty side of the entire princess and beauty myth. Here are girls who are trapped in the stories society has sold them, girls who cannot eat, girls with no hope, girls who do as they are told, until they don’t. You will find all of the princesses on the pages here, by they are not who you think they are. There are poems told in their voices and others that are based on rhymes. They are all caustic, brave and vary from tragic to hilarious. I dare you to try to put this one down.
Brilliant. I read the first poem in this book and knew that I had found something entirely unique and amazing. Heppermann skewers the princess trope, firmly demanding that girls realize what is happening to them. That they recognize that it is built on them not for them, that they are all beautiful no matter what the ads say, and that if you listen too much your life becomes a mockery or a tragedy. This is satire at its very best, paying tribute to the fairy tales but savagely tearing them apart to form a new garment and march onward.
Get this one for your teen collections, hand it directly to girls who don’t like poetry because this will change their minds forever. This book will speak to every girl, because we have all been sold the same stories. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from e-galley received from Greenwillow Books and Edelweiss.
Under the Freedom Tree by Susan VanHecke, illustrated by London Ladd
Told in free verse, this picture book is the story of how the first contraband camp formed during the Civil War. It all started with three runaway slaves who escaped across a river to a Union-held fort. Though the Confederate Army tried to demand their return, the general at the fort declared them “contraband of war” and offered them protection and a place to live. The three were quickly joined by a flood of people crossing the line into Union territory and they began to build a home for themselves near the fort. The freedom tree is the Emancipation Oak which stood witness to the events that unfolded, including the Emancipation Proclamation, which set all of the residents of the camp free.
VanHecke’s verse is loose and beautiful. She captures the danger the slaves faced in crossing the Confederate line, the risks they took asking for shelter, and the clever solution found by the general. She offers an author’s note in prose to give more historical context to the camp and the Emancipation Oak.
Ladd’s illustrations are lush and detailed. His paintings capture the hope of emancipation, the darkness of escape by water and night, and the beauty of the oak. The illustrations clearly honor the first three men who escaped to the fort, showing them as they wait for the judgment of whether they must return to slavery or not.
A little-known part of the history of the Civil War, this book in verse pays homage to the courage of the men who created the contraband camp. Appropriate for ages 6-10.
Reviewed from copy received from Charlesbridge.
Hi, Koo!: A Year of Seasons by Jon J. Muth
Join Koo, a panda, on an exploration of the seasons through haiku poems. The book begins with fall and haikus about fall leaves, wind, and rain. Winter comes next with poetry about snow and ice. Spring is bridged into with a glimpse of crocuses and then grass, insects, and birds. Summer arrives with fireflies, flowers and water. In 26 poems, this is a lovely celebration of the small things that make each season special.
Muth has created haikus that are beautifully written. They capture small moments in time and also point to the larger importance of these moments. They continue Muth’s Buddhist focus in his picture books, offering children a way to see these times of mindfulness as important and worthy of exploration.
Muth’s watercolor illustrations have a wonderful spirit to them. The palette changes colors as the seasons change with spring bouncing in green especially after the white cold of winter. He captures the seasons so well that your attitude changes with each season as well.
A stellar collection of haiku, this book will invite young readers to see nature and seasons in a fresh new way. Appropriate for ages 5-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Scholastic.
Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems selected by Paul B. Janeczko, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
There are just over thirty poems in this collection and as promised in the title, all of them are very short. These short poems though each have power and perfection in just a few words, offering insight into the way that language can be edited and played with to make it speak much more than the few words on the page. Readers will find poems that are well-known mixed with others that are delightful new surprises. Through it all, there is a feeling of joy that comes from the page and from the words as well as a pleasure of traveling the seasons through poetry.
Thanks to the brevity of all of these poems, this is a very child-friendly book to introduce children to poetry. Their condensed format also gives them a lot of power and bang per word, which makes them easy to discuss with children. Readers will also want to try their hands at creating short poems and are sure to quickly realize that while they read easily, they are very difficult to create. That makes this book all the more impressive with its high level of quality of poem and a perfect level of accessibility for youth.
Sweet’s illustrations frame the poems into one cohesive unit. They celebrate the small things, like these poems and their themes, looking at leaves, butterflies, fog and lots of other bits of nature. Her work is playful and yet not too light, bringing depth into each image.
A beautiful collection of short poems, this belongs in every library and would make a perfect way to start every day with a poem. Appropriate for ages 4-8.
Reviewed from library copy.
Goodnight Songs by Margaret Wise Brown
A new collection of previously unpublished poems from the master Margaret Wise Brown are illustrated here by twelve different illustrators. According to the introduction by Amy Gary, the editor of the Margaret Wise Brown Estate, these poems were part of a trunk of unpublished manuscripts that Margaret’s sister had in her barn. They reflect the interest that Margaret developed towards the end of her life in creating music for children. The book is accompanied by a music CD that brings the poems into song. This book is just as enjoyable as a song book or a poetry book, make sure to try it out both ways!
Brown’s poems are simple and lovely. Some of them read like nursery rhymes with plenty of repetition of phrase and style. Others are a bit looser but still musical even as words. She created small worlds in each song, offering lovely gems of moments in each one. I have a handful of top favorites from the book: “The Mouse’s Prayer” which is a beautiful wintry poem, “Wooden Town” that evokes a childhood joy of creating a little world of blocks, and “The Secret Song” which is a question and answer poem that is quiet and lonely.
The twelve illustrators make up some of the top illustrators in today’s picture books. There is a great pleasure in turning the page and seeing an entirely different feel with the next poem. Some are bright and sunny, others deep colored like the night, and still others filled with snow. The styles reflect each of the illustrators and as a whole the book works extremely well, giving each poem a distinct note of its own on the page.
A top pick for children’s poetry, these songs are a dazzling collection from a very talented writer. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from library copy.
May the Stars Drip Down by Jeremy Chatelain, illustrated by Nikki McClure
Quiet and lovely, this is a picture book version of the lullaby by indie rock band Cub Country. That song is haunting and beautiful with its slow pace. This book is much the same. The lyrics to the song read as a poem on the page, one that takes a child on a journey of dreams before returning back home again. It is a book designed for reading at bedtime in the same soothing pace as the song.
McClure’s cut paper art adds to the beauty of the book. Done entirely in blues and whites, the book invites children to twilight and darkness. Throughout the book the night is celebrated in its beauty, from the moon on the sea to the the owl winging past. There is a sense both in the poem and the art that you are seeing into the secrets of the evening.
A gorgeous new version of a song, this book is ideal for bedtime reading and dreaming. Appropriate for ages 2-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Abrams Books.
Little Poems for Tiny Ears by Lin Oliver, illustrated by Tomie dePaola
Celebrate the wonder of babyhood and toddlerhood with this collection of poems ideal for the youngest listeners. These poems document the small moments of a child’s early years, seeing these little things as exactly what they are: the foundation of the future. So each moment is given a gravity by the poems but they are also entirely playful and fun. There are poems about body parts like noses and tongues, poems about peekaboo and high chairs, poems about naps, others about baths. Each is short, clever and just right for sharing aloud.
DePaola has illustrated the poems with his signature style, depicting children of all colors and nationalities. His illustrations embrace the gentleness of the entire book with their soft and bright colors and clear demonstrations of love.
Get this on the shelves right next to Mother Goose, because what you have here is a new classic set of poetry for the little ones. Appropriate for ages 1-3.
Reviewed from library copy.
How I Discovered Poetry by Marilyn Nelson
A celebrated poet and author of books for children and teens, Nelson tells the story of growing up in the Civil Rights era and her connection to poetry. In fifty poems, several of which have been previously published, Nelson reveals her growing up from age 4 through 14 during the 1950s and 1960s. The poems show her progression from child to a self-aware teen who is directly impacted by the changes in civil rights. Nelson also touches on the Cold War and feminism along with race in these poems. Each poem here is a gem, carefully crafted and firmly placed in its setting in the book. Beautiful.
In her author’s note, Nelson mentions that she prefers not to see the character in the book as herself but rather as “The Speaker.” The first person perspective though will leave readers assuming that this is Nelson’s personal story and journey and it’s difficult to change that perception after reading the entire book. Perhaps even more than the historical period it is The Speaker’s love of poetry and writing that makes the connection to Nelson as that person ring so true. It is that love of poetry and words that makes each poem so beautiful, but also makes the narrator come alive.
Beautiful and worth rereading and revisiting, this collection of poems that forms a story is deep and worth submerging yourself in. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books.
Poem-Mobiles: Crazy Car Poems by J. Patrick Lewis and Douglas Florian, illustrated by Jeremy Holmes
This collaboration between two masters of children’s poetry will transport you to new and different places. Filled with cars that are amazing and wild, the humor-filled poems will delight. Visit the times of the dinosaurs, underwater driving, cars made of paper or shoes. Even cars made from bathtubs and bugs. The poetry flows fast and furious, a perfect pace for young car enthusiasts who may be surprised at how much they enjoy poems.
Lewis and Florian write with a single hand here, the poems flowing naturally from one to the other, the styles of each forming one cohesive whole. They use humor to great effect both in the titles of the poems and throughout, delighting with puns and word play. The poems are also very brief, perfect for young readers to enjoy or even memorize.
The art by Holmes plays up the humor in the poems. His busy active style has lots of motion and zany combinations. The dinosaur car looks like it could reach right off the page and grab you, the ocean page will have you floating along merrily, and the blueprint style of the contents page sets the tone early.
Perfect poems to share aloud with a class, this one may get lost in poetry collections but marketed correctly should zoom off of library shelves. Beep beep!
Reviewed from copy received from Random House Children’s Books.