Tag: poetry

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.

Review: Changes by Charlotte Zolotow

Changes by Charlotte Zolotow

Changes: A Child’s First Poetry Collection by Charlotte Zolotow, illustrated by Tiphanie Beeke (InfoSoup)

Celebrate the changing of the seasons with this collection of poetry from master children’s poet, Charlotte Zolotow. The 28 poems move from the joy of the change from one season to the next and then start with a focus on spring. The poems speak of the joy of spring breezes, snow melting, rainfall, violets, and green grass. Summer poems shine with sun, seaside sand, lights at night, and the buzz of insects. Autumn comes next with the joy of fallen leaves, classrooms, firelight, and Halloween. The book finishes with winter and its snow and ice that dazzle in their own way.

The poems here create a whole, a deep look not only at the seasons but also in the power of connecting with nature throughout the year. Zolotow’s mastery shows in each one, her ability to look closely at a small thing, find the immense beauty in it, speak to that and then create a universal experience in words on the page. Everyone will respond to these poems, as they capture those moments in time where we can all connect with nature and with one another.

The illustrations frame each poem, and capture the natural hues of each season. Spring is filled with the brightness of the flowers and grass. Summer is yellow and bright with the sun. Autumn turns golden and orange while winter is blues and whites. There are just enough details to invite readers into the poems and allow the words to really be the focus of the book.

A gorgeous addition to children’s poetry collections, this is one to get into teacher’s hands so they can start using it immediately. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Beastly Verse by JooHee Yoon

Beastly Verse by Joohee Yoon

Beastly Verse by JooHee Yoon (InfoSoup)

Children are introduced to a collection of poetry from well-known poets as well as anonymous and lesser known ones in this picture book. Each poem focuses on an animal and the collection includes William Blake’s The Tiger among others. The animals are varied and make for page turning that is exciting and interesting, since you never know if the next animal will be a pig or a hummingbird. The poems are cleverly selected for child appeal and yet many of them aren’t specifically children’s poetry, allowing children to stretch a bit and learn more about poetry and their own reactions to it.

Yoon has selected primarily European and western poets in this book. I do long for more diverse poets and poetry to be included and yet one can’t fault the high quality of the selections here and the astute awareness of children and what they are interested in and drawn to. The result is a clever book that children will enjoy and learn from.

The illustrations here are the star and what will have children and adults alike picking up the volume. The colors are beyond bright, zinging on the page and creating worlds. There are jungle scenes that drip with deep greens and echo with lushness. There are domestic scenes that have a zany energy to them that is echoed in the poetry too. Yoon is skillful and playful in her art, creating a unique look and feel in this poetry book that is sure to appeal.

A dynamic look will get readers opening the book where they will discover plenty of poetry to love. Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion Books.

Review: Enormous Smallness by Matthew Burgess

Enormous Smallness by Matthew Burgess

Enormous Smallness: A Story of E.E. Cummings by Matthew Burgess, illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo (InfoSoup)

This picture book biography of the great poet E. E. Cummings is exceptional. Focusing on Cummings’ early years primarily, the book invites young readers to view their own world with wonder and to try to put it into words. As a young boy Cummings was already creating poetry, starting at age three. His mother wrote down his poems for him as he recited them aloud. His imagination extended to art as well, but his real love was words which he approached very playfully, often creating his own words or mashing ones together into new ones. The book emphasizes the hard work that Cummings put into his craft, including spending lots of quiet time observing the world around him for inspiration. After graduating from Harvard, Cummings headed to New York City where he found new inspiration all around him. He served in World War I and published his first books soon after the war ended. His poems were both loved and controversial as he toyed with form and words. Filled with Cummings’ poems as examples, this picture book is a joy to read.

Burgess does a great job with his prose which introduces the young Cummings and his early poems and then follows him as he grows older and his poems grow with him. I appreciate that the book was not attempted to be written using Cummings’ unique style. Rather it is a book that pays homage to the art, the inspiration and the man himself. Spending so much time on Cummings’ youth makes the book much more appealing to young readers who will find inspiration both in Cummings’ age when he began to write and in his poems simplicity.

The art by Di Giacomo is filled with textures and patterns. Words dance across the page, playful and light. They often break free of the lines of prose, merging to be part of the art itself. Words float up on breezes, lengthen with hot summer days, and zing with the style of New York City.

A fabulous biographical picture book, this book is a great introduction to E.E. Cummings and his work. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion Books.

Review: Sweep Up the Sun by Helen Frost

sweep up the sun

Sweep Up the Sun by Helen Frost and Rick Lieder (InfoSoup)

The pair who created Step Gently Out return with another gorgeous book connecting young readers to nature. This picture book focuses on birds and flight, using the metaphor to encourage young people to “fly” themselves and spread their own wings in life. The poem at the heart of the book is simple and lovely, creating a sense of wonder and opportunity. The photographs dynamically capture eleven species of birds in flight and in their natural habitats. There are wide-mouthed babies in the nest and incredible pictures of birds in full flight, like the one on the cover. This is a book that inspires both in words and images.

Frost is a gifted poet who has written novels in verse for older readers as well as picture books for younger readers. Her words here create a positive feeling of strength for the reader, showing them what is possible. At the same time, her poem is also beautifully written, creating imagery that is tangible and that will make sense for children. One of my favorites is that wings are “stitching earth to sky with invisible thread.”

Lieder’s photographs are simply stunning. He has captured birds in poses that are dramatic and amazing, leaving plenty of dappled light and green on the page for the poetry to shine next to his images. I found myself leaning into the book to look even more closely at the structure of wing and feather on the page.

I hope there will be more collaboration between these two since their first two books are so noteworthy. This vibrant picture book will be at home equally in units on birds and poetry. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: A Poem in Your Pocket by Margaret McNamara

poem in your pocket

A Poem in Your Pocket by Margaret McNamara, illustrated by G. Brian Karas

The third in the Mr. Tiffin’s Classroom series, this book focuses on Elinor, a girl who just wants everything to be perfect.  Unfortunately though, poetry and perfection really don’t work together no matter whether you are talking haikus, concrete poems or rhyming stanzas.  A poet is going to be visiting their school and Elinor desperately wants to impress her with her poetry.  But as the time goes by, the pressure builds and Elinor becomes less and less able to write poetry.  When she finally does start writing, she’s not happy with any of the poems she has written.  Can the kind teacher Mr. Tiffin find a way to let Elinor know that it’s OK to make mistakes?  Maybe this is a job for a poet!

This is a wonderful addition to an already strong series.  McNamara “perfectly” captures the trap of perfectionism for students and the pressure that it builds in a person.  Tying it to poetry was inspired, something that doesn’t work with tension or pressure but instead relies on inspiration and creativity.  Elementary students will see themselves in both Elinor and her classmates who are more relaxed about the entire thing.  Watch for the poem that ties to How Many Seeds in a Pumpkin? for fans of the series. 

Karas’ illustrations continue in his signature style that is playful and friendly.  His drawings add to the accessibility of the entire book and the series as a whole. 

A winning addition to a popular series, this third book will delight during poetry units and may inspire a more relaxed approach to writing too.  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Schwartz & Wade and Edelweiss.

Four Merry Christmas Books

It’s a great year for Christmas books, and I have four top choices for your holiday reading pleasure:

first christmas

The First Christmas by Jan Pienkowski

With text from the King James version of the Bible, this picture book tells the nativity story with stateliness and words that will be familiar to many.  The great joy of the book is the silhouette illustrations by Pienkowski who has created images that glow on the page.  She combines her black silhouettes with colors that shift and seem to be lit from behind.  Her detailed cut paper art is awe-inspiring and adds just the right touch of wonder to the story of the birth of Jesus.  Recommended for all ages. 

Reviewed from e-galley received from Knopf Books for Young Readers and Edelweiss.


Manger selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, illustrated by Helen Cann

On Christmas Eve at midnight the animals are given the gift of being able to speak.  The poems in this book tell what each of the animals would say during the nativity about what they witnessed and how they contributed.  Hopkins has compiled a collections of poems from a dozen poets.  The collection ranges in styles and lengths but is also cohesive and the differences in the poems creates a variety that adds freshness. 

Cann’s illustrations are lovely with rich colors and fine details.  They show the animals clearly and also the wonder of the nativity on each page whether they are fish, fowl or mammal.  The poems range from very serious approaches to ones that are gently humorous but they are all done with great respect and honor the reason Christmas exists.  Appropriate for ages 5-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Eerdmans.

santa clauses

Santa Clauses: Short Poems from the North Pole by Bob Raczka, illustrated by Chuck Groenink

Santa tells his own story of Christmas in these 25 short haiku poems that offer a glimpse into what goes into making Christmas happen.  From the joy of snow to the seasonal chores like fixing Christmas lights, readers will see their own holiday preparations in Santa’s world too.  But there are also things that are just in Santa’s world like the many letters from children, hard-working elves, reading stories to the reindeer and finally flying off to deliver presents. 

These poems are cleverly done, often showing the beauty of the winter season just as much as they are celebrating the Christmas holiday.  The mix of natural beauty with Christmas makes the book rich and a holiday treat to share.  The illustrations too show the wonder of nature on the page alongside the bustle of the holiday season.  It is the quiet snowy scenes and the small special moments that make the strongest impressions both in poem and art.  Appropriate for ages 4-8.

Reviewed from library copy.

12 days of christmas

The Twelve Days of Christmas illustrated by LeUyen Pham

The traditional holiday carol is told in a warm new rendition with illustrations that are traditional but also very funny.  The carol is unaltered in this picture book that shows what happens as the various gifts arrive.  Though in the first pages it seems to be a book that will stack and pile the huge number of gifts on each page, this book is more subtle about things and therefore more successful.  Instead it is a delightful mix of diversity, different cultures and the joy of the season.  It turns out this is a modern and fresh take on the carol sure to spread joy.  Appropriate for ages 4-9.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Doubleday Books for Young Readers and Edelweiss.