Climbing Shadows: Poems for Children by Shannon Bramer, illustrated by Cindy Derby (9781773060958)
Poetry books for children can be some of the worst books on the market. There are some poets who do it extraordinarily well without being saccharine or sing-songy, and now there is a new name to add to that list. Open this book of poetry and you are suddenly in an unknown land. There are no rhymes, the words are evocative, and the thoughts and ideas fresh and amazing. My immediate response to reading the first poem was, “Is this for children?” I read it again. Yes, yes they certainly are. But they are poems that are complicated and deep, but well worth swimming in.
Bramer takes widely varied ideas like drawing pictures, spiders, skeletons, octopi, polka dots, birthday parties and owls and turns them into poems. The poems look beyond the obvious and turn into something far more than that original theme. The birthday poem is about storms and friendship. The one about an octopus is also about climbing trees. The poem about drawing is about roads, stars and lines. Each of them is a journey of discovery, one that makes sense by the end but is gorgeously surprising along the way.
The illustrations by Derby add so much to this book. They too are not what one might expect for a book of poetry for young children. The first poem is accompanied by a dark image of a glowing fox climbing the tree line drawn by a child. Her watercolor images range from gentle and achingly lovely to others that are dramatic and haunting.
One of the most original and surprising books of poetry for children, this one is worth exploring. Appropriate for ages 8-12.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Groundwood Books.
Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson (9780698195264)
On the 20th anniversary year of her ground-breaking teen novel Speak, Anderson has written a searing book of poetry that chronicles her own journey to having a voice and speaking out. Thanks to the subject matter of Speak, Anderson is trusted by many of the teens she speaks before to hear their own stories of abuse and rape. Surely over the decades, something has changed. Has it? In this nonfiction work of verse, Anderson opens up about her own childhood and parents, her own experience with sexual assault and rape, the sexual harassment of college campuses from students and professors alike, and so much more. Her book is a call to action, to rage alongside her, and to not be silent.
Anderson’s poetry slams into you like a freight train. She does have some poems that are subtle and more introspective, but the ones that rush and insist are the best here. Her anger fuels this entire book, her call to be better, to raise sons who do right, to speak and shout and yell. She is so honest on these pages, allowing the teens and others who have spoken to her to have space in the book too. In a book that could have felt like too much pain, it is instead action oriented and forceful.
Anderson’s verse is incredibly skilled. She tells poignant stories, both her own and other people’s. She shares insights, yells at those she evaded once, demands changes and shows how very vital one angry voice can be for change. This is a book that every woman should read, teens and adults. It’s one to return to for fuel to fight on when you are spent.
Brilliant, courageous and heart breaking, this book is one that belongs in every library. Appropriate for ages 14-adult.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Penguin Young Readers.
Snowman – Cold = Puddle: Spring Equations by Laura Purdie Salas, illustrated by Micha Archer (9781580897983)
As winter turns to spring, changes happen all around. Refreshingly, this book looks at those changes through a mix of poetry and science. In the first pages, the differences between poetry and science are pointed out in a way that makes perfect sense. Subjects like hibernation, streams, wildlife, maple syrup, flowers, wind, bees, and clouds are all explored. The poetry is entirely in equation form like the title, swiftly capturing the essence of something rather like a haiku but in an even briefer format. Readers are encouraged to see poetry and science all around them.
Salas plays with the poetic form here, creating a mathematical poetry style that is entirely joyous to read. Because of the brevity of the form, the narrative is particularly necessary for some of the poems to make sense for readers. The narrative is also brief and focused, explaining the science behind what we see in nature.
The illustrations by Archer are done in oils and collage. They are filled with deep colors of spring sky, blooming flowers, pond water and other parts of nature. Layered and filled with textures too, the illustrations are rich and saturated.
A winning mix of poetry and science, this is a book that captures the wonder of spring. Appropriate for ages 4-8.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Charlesbridge.
This Promise of Change: One Girl’s Story in the Fight for School Equality by Jo Ann Allen Boyce and Debbie Levy (9781681198521)
This nonfiction novel in verse tells the story of Jo Ann Allen, one of the twelve African-American students who were among the first in the nation to integrate a segregated high school in the South. The small town of Clinton, Tennessee became one of the first communities to attempt desegregation after the Supreme Court ruling made segregation illegal. A year before the Little Rock 9, this lesser-known group of brave students at first attended their new school without incident but then outside agitators, the KKK and other white supremacists got involved. As the issue grew, simply attending school became too dangerous for the African-American students. When they were escorted by a local white pastor to school, he ended up beaten and almost killed. Jo Ann became a spokesperson for the group of students and for integrating schools in general. Her story is one of resilience and tolerance.
Levy very successfully uses various forms of poetic verse to tell Jo Ann’s story in this book. In her author’s note, she speaks about why verse was the logical choice as it captured the musicality of Jo Ann’s speech. Her skill is evident on the page, capturing both the quiet parts of Jo Ann’s life and the dramatic moments of desegregation including acts of hatred against the students. Jo Ann’s story is told in a way that allows young readers to understand this moment in United States history in a more complete way. The images at the end of the book and additional details shared there add to this as well.
Perhaps most surprising is the fact that these moments have been lost to history and this group of twelve students is not as well-known as the Little Rock 9. At the same time, that is what makes this book all the more compelling to read as their story is more nuanced since the mayor and governor did not defy the Supreme Court’s ruling.
Beautifully written, this heartbreaking and dramatic story of courage in the face of hatred belongs in every library. Appropriate for ages 12-15.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Bloomsbury Children’s Books.
Rain by Anders Holmer (9780802855077)
Haiku tells the story of different types of rain in this poetry picture book. The haiku are all about nature, some about rain directly and others about other things like falling newspapers or cascading petals. The poems form a series of vignettes that show different parts of the world and various environments from the arctic to the Himalayas to the desert. They are bound together with the rhythms of the poems and the journey together to explore rain and our world.
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. The illustrations themselves are large and have the feel of traditional tales mixed with a modern edge. They show different parts of the world and take readers on a fascinating journey as rain descends on each page and yet each type of rain is different from the others.
A skilled book of haiku that explores our wide world and the nature we find there. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
I didn’t manage to read a lot of poetry in 2018, unfortunately. The ones on my list of the Best of 2018 though are worth treasuring:
Can I Touch Your Hair?: Poems of Race, Mistakes and Friendship by Irene Latham and Charles Waters, illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko (9781512404425)
In this book, there is a feeling of safety to explore difficult subjects that the poetry itself creates. – My Review
For Every One by Jason Reynolds (9781481486248)
It is a book about perseverance and resilience, a poem about life, hard knocks and getting up and continuing onward. – My Review
The Horse’s Haiku by Michael J. Rosen, illustrated by Stan Fellows (9780763689162)
A stellar book of focused haiku. – My Review
Imagine by Juan Felipe Herrera, illustrated by Lauren Castillo (9780763690526)
Rich, memorable and timely, this picture book is something special. – My Review
Seeing into Tomorrow by Richard Wright, illustrated by Nina Crews (9781512498622)
A dynamic look at one of the top African-American poets of the 21st century, this book of poetry is a celebration. – My Review
We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices edited by Wade Hudson (9780525580423)
An incredible collection of diverse authors and illustrations come together in this collection to offer poems, short essays, and encouragement to young readers struggling to find their place in today’s troubled and divisive world. The pieces encourage children to be activists in this dark world, to shine their light where they can, and also to be careful and aware of dangers along the way. Each piece of writing is accompanied by a work of art that also inspires young readers to step forward and make the world better.
Authors like Jacqueline Woodson, Kwame Alexander, Sharon Draper, Rita Williams-Garcia, and Ellen Oh are part of this collection. They speak personally about challenges and what it means to step forward. Their writing is paired with art by artists like Ekua Holmes, James Ransome, Floyd Cooper, and Javaka Steptoe. The poems are wrenching and honest, revealing the world that people of color live in every day, the challenges they face and the ways they find a way to make change despite the obstacles. There are poems that are poignant, other pieces that are angry, none that are ready to give up.
A call to action for young people, this book is an anthology that belongs in every library in our country. Appropriate for ages 6-10.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Crown Books for Young Readers.
A Bunch of Punctuation selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, illustrated by Serge Bloch (9781590789940)
This poetry anthology celebrates the various forms of punctuation. It begins with a poem that looks at the range of different punctuation and then moves on to poems about specific types of punctuation. The exclamation point is a superhero in a poem with lots of sounds and naturally, exclamations. The dash gives one a bit of pause. The hyphen creates new combinations. The period is a traffic officer demanding a full stop. The popular apostrophe works hard to show possession and create contractions. One after another, these forms of punctuation are given their own voice and uses it to explain what they do with humor.
Anytime you pick up an anthology by Hopkins, you know you are in for a treat. He has a knack for creating poetry books for children that have child-friendly poetry but also have an arc that gets pages turning. Here the punctuation poems follow one after another in a way that displays their full range and results in a journey rather than a simple series of poetry.
The illustrations by Bloch use punctuation to create bodies for the various characters. He also uses words to create them too. They have the loose feel of doodles, which creates a look at that adds to the friendliness of the book.
Another winner of an anthology from Hopkins. This one will be useful in the classroom and will be enjoyed as a full anthology by readers. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Horse’s Haiku by Michael J. Rosen, illustrated by Stan Fellows (9780763689162)
This book of haiku poetry focuses solely on horses and their daily lives. Starting with their time in the field as young foals, the poems include dust baths, rainwater pools, and dappled shade. Moving into the barn, readers get to see humans interacting with horses, feeding them apples, and going on a ride together. The next chapter of poems has an even greater focus on riding, galloping and jumping.
The poems capture the beauty and grace of horses, the unique relationships they have with the people who care for them, and the joy of running fast. Each haiku is a separate moment in time, showing the importance of slowing down, of seeing each moment as unique and in sharing them to create a universal joy of horses.
The illustrations are done in watercolor that dapples the page, creating sunlight and shadow, hoofprints and breezes in the grass. They have a wonderful sense of freedom about them that mirrors the celebratory tone of the haiku, inviting readers to feel movement on the page.
A stellar book of focused haiku. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from library copy.)