Category: poetry

Freedom in Congo Square by Carole Boston Weatherford

Freedom in Congo Square by Carole Boston Weatherford

Freedom in Congo Square by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie (InfoSoup)

A lovely mix of poetry and nonfiction, this picture book takes a serious look at slavery and the unique situation in New Orleans. In New Orleans, Congo Square was the one place where slaves were allowed to congregate once a week on Sundays. The book counts down to Sunday, each day filled with brutal work and the harrowing harshness of slavery. As Sunday approaches, one can feel spirits looking forward to it. When it finally arrived, slaves and free blacks congregated together, able to celebrate the songs and society of the African homes they were stolen from.

This book is carefully framed and placed in history with a combination of a foreward by historian Freddi Williams Evans and an Author’s Note placed at the end of the book. In both places, Congo Square is explained in detail. The real magic though happens with Weatherford’s poetry. It has a rhythm to it, a structure that is almost musical. The text is deceptively simple as it speaks to the depth of human heart even in the face of slavery and the importance of having a place to congregate like Congo Square.

Christie’s illustrations are incredible. They evoke primitive art with the lengthened and stylized people done in deep black. The pages are filled with bright colors that may seem merry, but then they are filled with slaves doing hard work. They also have twisted black trees in the outside scenes, the tortured branches speaking to witnessed horrors.

An important nonfiction picture book that has poetry that sings in mourning about slavery but also sings of the beauty of the strength of the human spirit too. Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Little Bee Books.

Review: One Today by Richard Blanco

One Today by Richard Blanco

One Today by Richard Blanco, illustrated by Dav Pilkey (InfoSoup)

This picture book version of the inaugural poem for President Obama’s second term is a beautiful example of how poetry can reach young and old alike. Blanco’s poem stretches across the country, speaking to the diversity of our country, the universal things that bind us together, and the aspirations that we all hold dear. Faith, earth, sky, moon and more form a foundation for us all to relate to. This poem uses imagery that children will understand but also makes it bigger and larger and asks readers to see our country as a whole. Beautiful.

Blanco’s language is simple. He writes of “pencil-yellow school buses” and “the day’s gorgeous din of honking cabs.” He ties our every day experiences to larger efforts, to living with a dream, hearing symphonies in the city sounds, giving thanks, feeling praise. Just like with all the best poetry, it begins simple and then reaches up and beyond to the vision that inspires.

Pilkey’s illustrations are lush and lovely. Filled with deep colors, they show diverse people walking the same city streets, feeling the same things, worshiping in their own ways, and being one united country despite our differences. Each page has a young girl and boy witnessing together, seeing how united we can be if we try.

A poem that calls us to be better than we are now by being united and seeing the small things in life that are meaningful to us all. Appropriate for ages 8-11.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Review: Amazing Places by Lee Bennett Ho

Amazing Places by Lee Bennett Hopkins

Amazing Places selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, illustrated by Chris Soentpiet and Christy Hale (InfoSoup)

This collection of fourteen poems celebrate various places throughout the United States. The poems celebrate moments spent in these places, from a visit to Chinatown in San Francisco to camping in the Denali National Forest. Each area has its own flavor, captured both in words and in the rich illustrations that accompany each poem. There is a dynamic mix of nature and man-made places that take the reader on a journey that will inspire future visits and exploration.

The poets included in this anthology are exceptional and include Nikki Grimes, John Bruchac, Janet S. Wong, Alma Flor Ada, J. Patrick Lewis, and Prince Redcloud. The diversity of these authors is exceptional and their voices weave together into a rich tapestry that remind all readers that this is what our nation is all about. The beauty of these different perspectives on these beloved parts of our nation adds yet another layer to the effectiveness of these poems. More information on each place is offered at the end of the book.

The illustrations are rich and filled with diversity too. Some images evoke nature and the movement of water and wind while others are filled with fine lines that create very realistic and detailed images. People of different races filled the pages, none of them placed in the more stereotypical settings but instead diversity is expanded as children explore museums and sites from different backgrounds than their own.

Chock full of diversity on a variety of levels, this book embraces the rich tapestry of America. Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Lee & Low Books Inc.

Counting Lions by Katie Cotton

Counting Lions by Katie Cotton

Counting Lions by Katie Cotton, illustrated by Stephen Walton (InfoSoup)

Counting one by one, this book tells the story of ten endangered and threatened animals. It begins with the lion on the cover, solitary and watching the savanna. Two gorillas are next, a mother and child, breathing the same breath together. The book moves on, each creature captured in captivating and brief verse that speaks to their way of life and the behaviors they exhibit. Each one is accompanied by a photo-realistic charcoal drawing that is haunting and incredibly detailed.

Cotton’s verse is profoundly lovely, managing to show each creature as an individual and give voice to their relevance and stature. The tigress and her cubs is a “warrior of the forest” while the macaws are “a colorful, fluttering explosion” and the giraffes are “peaceful patterned giants.” Each short verse will have readers seeing these animals in a new way, entranced by their beauty.

The illustrations are simply phenomenal. They are charcoal but with such detail that you can see the individual hairs in the lion’s mane, the each feather on the penguins, and every wrinkle of the elephants’ skin. Beautiful and powerful, these illustrations are a striking way to introduce these creatures.

A stunningly gorgeous book, the verse and illustrations marry to create a story of the threatened creatures of our world. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

 

Review: Flutter & Hum by Julie Paschkis

Flutter and Hum by Julie Paschkis

Flutter & Hum: Animal Poems by Julie Paschkis (InfoSoup)

In short poems in both Spanish and English, animals are explored in the way that they move and live in their habitats. The book begins with a slithering snake poem that hisses on the page. Other poems include black crows hopping and cawing, the slow movement of a black cow in a golden field, fleeting glimpses of a deer, and the shine of an owl at night. Still other poems focus on domestic pets like dogs and cats who fill the page with their personalities captured in verse on the page.

I was surprised to read in the Author’s Note at the end of the book that Paschkis is not a native Spanish speaker nor a poet. It was Spanish that allowed her to find her poetic voice, which is just as special as her art. She effectively uses her verse in both languages to convey the essence of the animal, celebrating what makes them unique. The poems are stand alone and strong, easily adapted to the classroom for specific units and subjects.

As always, Paschkis’ illustrations are gorgeous. They have a folkart flair about them and have words in both Spanish and English woven into them that let the words become part of the art in a very concrete way. It also gives these bilingual poems a new way to convey the dance of the two languages next to one another.

A dazzling collection of poems, it is welcome both for its bilingual elements and the alluring combination of words and art. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt and Co.

Review: Swan by Laurel Snyder

Swan by Laurel Snyder

Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Julie Morstad

This is a poetic and radiant look at the life of Anna Pavlova, prima ballerina. It begins with her childhood where she grew up poor, the daughter of a laundress in Russia. Then her mother takes her to the ballet one night and Anna’s life is transformed by a desire to dance. She auditioned twice for the Imperial Ballet School, turned down the first time because she was too young. At age 10, she was admitted and studied dance. Her body was considered all wrong for ballet, since she was so thin and not athletically built. She became the most famous ballerina of all time, helped by her tireless work to bring dance and music to those who had never experienced it. The book goes all the way through to her death, where she still longed to perform and dance until the very end.

Snyder’s poetry is just as delicate and strong as Pavlova herself. Through the words you can feel the tremble of desire, the longing for a different life and then the drive to learn and perform. As Pavlova’s story continues, Snyder captures the way that she created a home for herself when Russia changed and the importance of her performing around the world. Her performance as the swan is particularly beautifully captured in words, allowing her grace and particular style to be understood by young readers.

Morstad’s illustrations help with this as well. They highlight her beauty and grace, allow her to shine on the page and dance across it. Her pale beauty and black hair captivate on the page. Other pages show how hard she worked both in learning to dance and then again in a repeating format how hard she worked as a prima ballerina as well.

Beautifully written and illustrated, this picture book in poetry offers a glimpse at the wonder that was Anna Pavlova. Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.

Review: Enchanted Air by Margarita Engle

Enchanted Air by Margarita Engle

Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings by Margarita Engle (InfoSoup)

Released August 4, 2015.

In this verse memoir, Engle tells the story of her childhood during the Cold War. With half of her family coming from Cuba and a grandmother who still lived there, Engle had a strong connection to Cuba. It was there that as a child she found herself, connected to the island culture and lifestyle, ran wild in nature, and discovered a quieter life. It contrasted with her life in Los Angeles, filled with bustle and crowded with people. Through both of these distinct worlds, she has a constant, her love of books and words. As the Bay of Pigs escalates, Engle fears for her island family and has to deal with the increased hatred of Cuba and Cubans in America. Cut off from family with the Cuban embargo, Engle can do little to help and again turns to her words to express herself.

Engle is one of the best verse novelists working today. While all of her previous books are splendid, this one is personal in a new way, one that offers up her heart. She shows her love of Cuba so vividly and so profoundly that her connection there runs through the entire novel. At the same time, she also shares the loneliness of a girl who likes books and words and who struggles to make friends at times. Add to that the political turmoil that has continued for decades and you have a book that could have been a tragedy but instead rises beyond that and straight into hope.

As always, Engle’s verse is exceptional. She captures emotions with a clarity in her verse that makes it immensely compelling to read. There are poems that show a pig being slaughtered on the farm in Cuba that makes it sound both brutal and delicious, the perfect mix of tempting and revolting. There are poems that capture the night sounds of Cuba and the longing for a horse of her own. They show the beauty of milking cows, the strength of a hard-working hand, the joy of connecting with a horse as you ride it. It all melts together into a picture of Cuba that is both personal and universal.

Give this to children who loved Brown Girl Dreaming for another verse memoir that is sure to inspire young readers to see the world in a more diverse and brilliant way. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers and Edelweiss.