Category: poetry

5 Best Poetry Books for Children in 2016

Here are my picks for the top poetry books of 2016. They are powerful reads that demonstrate the importance of words and their ability to stir and transcend.

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

Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Brya

28957208 Wet Cement: A Mix of Concrete Poems

Somos como las nubes / We Are Like the Clouds by Jorge Argueta, illustrated by Alfonso Ruano

Wet Cement: A Mix of Concrete Poems by Bob Raczka

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When Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All Seasons by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Julie Morstad

One Last Word by Nikki Grimes

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One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance by Nikki Grimes (InfoSoup)

Released January 3, 2017.

Master poet Grimes has created a book of poetry that celebrates the poets from the Harlem Renaissance who influenced her. Through her amazing skill, she pays homage to their original poems by creating her own from their words. Using a form called Golden Shovel, she takes lines from their poems and uses them as the final words in the lines of her poems. Both the Harlem Renaissance poetry and Grimes’ speak to the experience of African Americans and for Grimes, African American children and teens. These are poems about difficulties, about racism, about hate and about love.

As I read these poems, I realized over and over again how very skilled Grimes is. It is most stunning when you remember the form she is using, because her poetry flows and dances as if entirely unrestricted. Still, the bold words tie the two poems together and one remembers the strict form she is using and the grace with which she handles it. Grimes speaks directly to children and teens of color in this book, making sure they see themselves and their experiences on the page. That they see the racism, the bullying and the dangers around them. She also makes sure though that they see a strong community, voices to raise in protest and the familial love around them.

The book is beautifully designed with each page washed with yellows and sometimes lined in blue. It is illustrated by some of the top African-American children’s book illustrators working today. It is a stunning collection of art, filled with emotion, pain and endurance.

Masterful, skilled and very timely, this book of poetry elevates us all and sings to the skies that African-American children are valuable and vital in this world. Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from ARC received from Bloomsbury.

Freedom Over Me by Ashley Bryan

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Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan (InfoSoup)

Based on actual slave auction and plantation estate information, this is a picture book that truly captures the world of enslaved people in the United States. The household has lost its master, who ran the plantation with its eleven slaves. His wife is about to return to England and the slaves will be sold with the rest of the property. The book opens with a poem of the wife and then into the voices of the eleven slaves, each one filled with a refusal to be seen only as a price tag or property, each one celebrating their skills and their lives.

Bryan’s poetry sings on the page, defiant and strong. He writes of the losses of slavery, of families broken up and never seeing one another again, of brutality on the plantation and the auction block, of being taken from Africa and freedom, and of the hardships of life as a slave. Bryan also notes though for each person that there are things that make them far more than any category could put them in, more valuable than their skills, more vital than their age and sex. This is a powerful testament against the inhumanity of slavery done by putting a face to eleven slaves that are impossible to turn away from.

Bryan’s art focuses on the faces of the slaves. He does one portrait almost as a flyer for the auction with their face and price, name and age. Then the page turns and you see their dreams on the page, captured in the same thick paint but no longer framed with words of slavery and now bright with colors and action.

Powerful and unique, this picture book takes on slavery in the most passionate and personalized way possible. Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum.

Somos como las nubes / We Are Like the Clouds by Jorge Argueta

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Somos como las nubes / We Are Like the Clouds by Jorge Argueta, illustrated by Alfonso Ruano (InfoSoup)

This stunning book of poetry looks at the flood of children from Central America who are making their way to the United States. 100,000 of them have walked to our country, escaping to safety and what they hope is fresh opportunities. The book opens with a few poems that show the beauty of Central America and then swiftly moves to the problems and the gangs that are in control. Then begins the long march north, the trust placed in coyotes that lead them, the dangers they face, the rough conditions and the courage it takes to head towards the unknown. The book ends with poems of Los Angeles and hope.

Written by a Salvadoran poet, this book’s poetry soars and lifts even when speaking of dark and dangerous subjects. Throughout there is a focus on hope and the distant wonder of the United States. There are poems of the journey that are aching with loss. There are poems of strong parents who carry children and others of the children alone and fearful. It is a book that captures the range of immigrants coming to the United States, particularly children from Central America whose story is shared with such poignancy on these pages.

The art by Ruano is startling and beautiful. He has surreal moments in the art that capture a little touch of playfulness at first. That moves quickly to sense of isolation at times, of being alone in a stark landscape. Towards the end, there is one painting of a child afloat in the air on a blue, cloud-like sleeping bag who is finally heading home with his parents. It is a picture of such tenderness and captures the youth and dreams of these children.

An important book that shows the plight of Central American children as they walk to the United States, this is a challenging book of poetry that demands attention. Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

Wonderfall by Michael Hall

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Wonderfall by Michael Hall (InfoSoup)

In a series of poems, this picture book celebrates the changing seasons through the experience of a tree. First in the greenness of summer, the acorns start to fall from the oak tree. The yellow school bus arrives and the tree’s leaves start to change. Harvest time arrives, parades march past, and Halloween comes.The leaves start to fall, Thanksgiving comes and children play in the piles of leaves. Wind arrives, taking most of the leaves off the tree and its time to rake. No leaves left, the tree stands bare until snow comes with the new winter season.

Hall celebrates the autumn season with this picture book that encompasses the very beginning signs of autumn all the way through to full winter. The focus on a single tree as the one experiencing the changes works well, particularly with the vivid changes that the tree goes through itself. It is also interesting to see trees as witnessing what humans do just as they watch the activities of the squirrels on the ground and in their branches. The book ends with information on animals seen in the book and how they prepare for winter.

The illustrations are signature Hall with bold shapes done in collage. The leaves are oversized and glorious, full of bold colors and the size of branches. They enliven the page no matter their color, making the winter pages when they are gone all the more cold and barren.

Simple and poetic, this is a great new pick for fall story times and units. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Greenwillow Books.

Guess Who, Haiku by Deanna Caswell

Guess Who Haiku by Deanna Caswell

Guess Who, Haiku by Deanna Caswell, illustrated by Bob Shea (InfoSoup)

Haiku poetry is turned into a guessing game in this delightful picture book. One animal after another is described in haiku format and then the reader is asked to guess what animal it is. The answer is revealed with a turn of the page. This simple idea is engaging for youngsters learning about poetry and also works as a more basic picture book for younger listeners. It is that ease of use that makes this book so engaging for various age levels.

Caswell’s haiku are exceptional in the way they offer clues that children can understand and yet conform to the strict haiku format rules. They also read as haiku and real poems, each one working as a stand-alone haiku as well as a clue in the game of the book. This takes real skill, particularly since it looks so very effortless on the page.

Shea’s illustrations are loud, dynamic and funny. From the almost round bumblebee and the grinning flower to the googly-eyed frog , they are simple and also capture the essence of the animal they are depicting. They are filled with energy and life, making the book all the more fun.

This is the ideal book to introduce children to haiku since it makes the experience completely engaging and game-like. Appropriate for ages 3-7.

Reviewed from copy received from Abrams.

 

 

Wet Cement by Bob Raczka

Wet Cement by Bob Raczka

Wet Cement: A Mix of Concrete Poems by Bob Raczka (InfoSoup)

This is a second book of playful and wonderful poems that follows Lemonade: And Other Poems Squeezed from a Single Word. It offers poems that demonstrate over and over again the delight and fun of concrete poetry. Some poems twist and turn, others light up the sky, others read in a different and surprising order, almost forming a puzzle before the reader realizes how to read it. There are poems that zigzag, others that arc, and still others that hang from the top of the page. This is a radiant book of poetry should to create smiles.

Raczka makes concrete poetry look effortless in this book, yet his are so well done that you know they took serious craft to create. I particularly enjoyed the icicle poem, since I haven’t seen one like that. Even more importantly, the words themselves are masterfully done, each poem reading as a true poem and not losing its zing because of the limits of the form.

Brilliant and great fun, this book makes poetry approachable for young children. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brooks Press.