In the Woods by David Elliott, illustrated by Rob Dunlavey (9780763697839)
Enter the woods through this book of poetry for children. The picture book volume shares insight into the different animals living in the woods. First is the musky bear, emerging from his den in the early spring. The red fox also appears in the melting snow, hunting to feed her kits. A scarlet tanager flashes past announcing spring alongside the cowslips. Soon the grass greens, the opossum and her babies bumps along with skunks and their perfume too. Porcupine and fisher cat are also there, quiet and fierce. Hornets buzz in the air while millipedes munch on rotting leaves. Moose, beaver, turkey, raccoon, bobcat and more appear here, each with their own poem that eventually has winter returning with deer appearing ghostlike through the snow storm.
Elliott chains his poems together leading readers steadily through seasonal changes as each animal appears on the pages. The focus is not the seasons though but the animals themselves. Some get longer poems while others get a couple of lines that capture them beautifully. There is a sense that Elliott is getting to the essence of many of the creatures he is writing about here. Each poem is focused and very accessible for children.
Dunlavey’s illustrations in watercolor and mixed media are rendered digitally. Their organic feel works well with the subject matter. Each creature is shown in their habitat and turning the pages feels like rounding a new corner on a walk in the woods.
A poetic journey through the forest that is worth taking. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Candlewick.
Box: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Michele Wood (9780763691561)
Told in brief poems, this nonfiction picture book explores a daring escape to freedom in the face of loss and brutality. Born in 1815, Henry Brown was born into slavery in Richmond, Virginia. He worked from the time he was a small child, passed from one generation of his owners to the next. Despite a series of promises by various owners, Henry Brown’s family is sold away from him multiple times, even when he paid money to keep them near. Hearing of the Underground Railroad, he decides to make a dangerous escape to the North, mailing himself in a wooden box.
Weatherford builds box after box in her poetry where each six-lined poem represents the number of sides of Henry Brown’s box. Each of the poems also shows the structure of oppression and the trap that slavery sets for those caught within it. Still, at times her voice soars into hope, still within the limits she has created but unable to be bound.
Wood’s illustrations are incredibly powerful, a great match to the words. She has used a color palette representative of the time period, creating her art in mixed media. The images are deeply textured, moving through a variety of emotions as the book continues. The portraiture is intensely done, each character looking right at the reader as if pleading to be seen.
Two Coretta Scott King winners collaborate to create this powerful book about courage, resilience and freedom. Appropriate for ages 7-10.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Candlewick.
Green on Green by Dianne White, illustrated by Felicita Sala (9781481462785)
Explore the changing colors of seasons through this poetic picture book. The colors slide together, dynamically playing in the seasons in ways that surprise and delight. Yellow on green is lemonade and bees buzzing. Spring is new bird song, rain and breeze, yellow on green. Summer comes in on turquoise water with beaches and swimming. It is also peaches, sun and shade, blue on green. Fall is cinnamon and squirrels, brown on green. Corn, pumpkins and candles too. Winter is white with snow and gray skies, white on green. Green as spring returns.
There are so many season books, many that I really enjoy. This one though is very special. It takes colors and shows young readers how they pair and shift and change over the course of the seasons. Green stays constant, always there under snow or next to blue waters. The poetry here invites readers to explore things more deeply, to look beyond the first color they think of for a season. It reads aloud beautifully, the measures actually reading aloud better than they do silently on the page. It turns into a dance like the colors themselves.
Sala’s illustrations are lush and colorful, showing a family of color who experience the seasons together. Children will also notice the mother’s stomach growing rounder as the months pass and then a baby appearing. Throughout there is a strong feeling of family and community.
A lovely new way to see colors and seasons. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy provided by Beach Lane Books.
Whoo-Ku Haiku by Maria Gianferrari, illustrated by Jonathan Voss (9780399548420)
The story of a great horned owl family is told in dramatic fashion using only haiku poems in this picture book. A pair of great horned owls find a squirrel’s nest and claim it as their home. The mother bird lays three eggs in the nest, losing one when the crows attack her. Now there are two eggs left to guard and keep warm. Soon two owlets emerge from their eggs, eating the prey that Mama and Papa bring to them. The woods has lots of dangers like hunting hawks and foxes waiting for an owlet to fall. Mama is there to protect them though, until it is time for them to take wing and find a home of their own.
Through her series of haiku poems, Gianferrari creates moments that build on one another into a full story of the first months of egg laying and owlets growing up. Focusing on the strength and power of the most commons owls in North America, along with their exceptional parenting skills, the book also reveals the dangers they face despite their size.
Voss’ illustrations are a gorgeous match to the beauty of the poetry. Illustrated in sepia ink and watercolor, with digital color added, these illustrations captures the various moments with skill and drama. The quiet moments are just as powerful as the action ones, filled with dappled forest light and the incredible creatures.
A marvelous book of nature poetry for children. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by G. P. Putnam’s Sons.
Cast Away: Poems for Our Time by Naomi Shihab Nye (9780062907691)
By the Young People’s Poet Laureate, this collection of poems shines a fierce light on the garbage and litter we create and toss away. The poems tie litter to larger environmental concerns as well as American politics in the time of anti-truth and fake news. Some poems question whether technology is helping us or not too. This is a collection that is thought provoking and insistent that we begin to pay attention to the large and small choices we are making each day and figure out how we too can make a difference and start picking up our own litter, both physical and figurative.
Nye has written a collection of poems with a strong political viewpoint that demands attention. Yet she never veers into lecturing readers, rather using the power of her words to make us all think differently about our privilege on this planet, how we abuse it, and how to restore balance to the world, our lives and our politics. The poems move from one to the next with a force of nature, almost like wandering your own garbage-strewn path and engaging with it. Sometimes you may lack the equipment, but the hope is that your own fingers start twitching to pick things up too.
A strong collection that is provocative and tenacious. Appropriate for ages 10-14.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Greenwillow Books.
The 2020 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award has been announced by the Penn State University Libraries and the Pennsylvania Center for the Book. The award is presented annually to “an American poet or anthologist for the most outstanding new book of poetry for children published in the previous calendar year.” Here are the winners:
How to Read a Book by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga
You Are Home: An Ode to the National Parks by Evan Turk
Dictionary for a Better World: Poems, Quotes and Anecdotes from A to Z by Irene Latham and Charles Waters, illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini (9781541578937)
The authors that created Can I Touch Your Hair, a collection of poems about race, return with a dictionary that selects powerful words to think about as we work on making our world better. The dictionary includes words like empathy, acceptance, compassion, humility, respect and tenacity. Nicely, no effort is made to include the entire alphabet, rather words were selected for their ability to make an impact. Along with each word, there is a poem written by one of the authors and then also a piece of prose that speaks to their own interaction with the concept and how it has impacted their life. Other elements include a quotation with each word and also a way for the reader to try it out in their own life.
The tone here is encouraging and positive without underplaying the incredible amount of work needed to be done to make progress on social issues. The focus is on individual responsibility for each of the concepts and taking personal action to make change happen. In their personal stories, the authors make it alright to make mistakes, take responsibility and continue to move forward. The combination of all of the elements for each concept is very powerful, offering a book that can either be read cover-to-cover or that one can dive into a single concept and explore.
The art by Amini uses a variety of media from photographs to cut paper to pressed leaves to paintings. Each turn of the page takes readers into a new concept visually as well, changing from dark colors to vivid green to cool blues and using different formats.
A unique dictionary that asks us all to do our part in changing our world. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Carolrhoda Books.
Climbing Shadows: Poems for Children by Shannon Bramer, illustrated by Cindy Derby
One of the most original and surprising books of poetry for children, this one is worth exploring.
How to Read a Book by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
An incredible work of poetry and art, this one should win awards.
I Remember: Poems and Pictures of Heritage compiled by Lee Bennett Hopkins
The poems and illustrations in this book are very impressive. As they play through the authors’ memories of their childhoods and the variety of emotions those memories evoke, the reader gets the pleasure of visiting each author’s experience.
Predator and Prey by Susannah Buhrman-Deever, illustrated by Bert Kitchen
A very successful mix of poetry and science, this one is sure to be preyed upon by hungry readers in classrooms and activities.
Rain by Anders Holmer
The haiku poems range from solemn to merry, some carrying serious weight and others lighter. They mirror the weather, some with lightning and dark clouds while others fill with pink petals and friendship.
Snowman – Cold = Puddle: Spring Equations by Laura Purdie Salas, illustrated by Micha Archer
A winning mix of poetry and science, this is a book that captures the wonder of spring.
Trees by Verlie Hutchens, illustrated by Jing Jing Tsong
A total of fourteen trees are highlighted here in free verse, each one embracing the unique nature of that tree with clarity and brevity.
I Remember: Poems and Pictures of Heritage compiled by Lee Bennett Hopkins (9781620143117)
This wonderful collection of poems and illustrations speak directly to the poets’ cultural heritage. Each poem looks deeply at family and identity, whether it is being asked where you come from or meeting a family member for the first time. Some of the poems show the fear of being African-American in America, the oversimplification of race when filling out forms, the way food can bring people together, and the joy of summer nights. The illustrations paired with each of the poems highlight the wide variety of cultures and heritages in the texts. The result is a rainbow of skin tones and colors, weaving together to create a book that reflects the vastness of our country.
The poems and illustrations in this book are very impressive. As they play through the authors’ memories of their childhoods and the variety of emotions those memories evoke, the reader gets the pleasure of visiting each author’s experience. Poetry always gives a more concentrated look, a deep feel for the author, and that is certainly the case here. The illustrations are wonderful, each self-contained and presented almost as a treasure to discover along this journey.
A great compilation of art and poetry that celebrates diversity and inclusion. Appropriate for ages 7-10.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Lee & Low Books.