Category: poetry

Bravo! by Margarita Engle

Bravo by Margarita Engle

Bravo!: Poems about Amazing Hispanics by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael Lopez (9780805098761, Amazon)

Latino heroes and heroines are depicted in poetry in this nonfiction picture book. From countries around the world and a variety of backgrounds, these people are inspirational and influential. The poems celebrate their accomplishments with clarity and focus, offering a glimpse into their lives. Engle’s poetry is readable and interesting, inviting you to turn the page to discover yet another amazing person. Some of them readers will be familiar with and others will be new. Readers can find more information on each of the people at the end of the book.

Lopez’s illustrations are done in “a combination of acrylic on wood, pen and ink, watercolor, construction paper, and Adobe Photoshop.” The results are rich illustrations with a clever feel of being vintage in their textures. Each illustration speaks to the person themselves, clearly tying them to their passion and cause.

An important book for public libraries, this is a celebration of Latino impact on the world as a whole. Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt & Co.

Wake Up! by Helen Frost

Wake Up by Helen Frost

Wake Up! by Helen Frost, photographs by Rick Lieder (9780763681494, Amazon)

This is the fourth collaboration of poet Helen Frost and photographer Rick Lieder. Once again, there is a focus on nature and its wonder. In this book, spring is the subject with new eggs, newly hatched animals, and babies galore. Frost’s poetry is simple and skillful, filled with rhymes and rhythm that carry the book forward inviting investigation. Lieder’s photography is wonderful, capturing that same love of the wild.

Frost’s poetry is particularly deft. She invites readers to explore the outside world, look up into the sky and the trees. She looks below the water and at seeds on the breeze. The photography follows these invitations, capturing eggs, tadpoles and baby deer in their natural habitat. The book ends with more in-depth information on the animals featured in the images.

Another delightful success by this pair, this picture book deserves a place in every library to help celebrate spring. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from library copy.

Stone Mirrors by Jeannine Atkins

Stone Mirrors by Jeannine Atkins

Stone Mirrors: The Sculpture and Silence of Edmonia Lewis by Jeannine Atkins (9781481459051)

Edmonia Lewis was the first professional African-American sculptor. She lived and worked in the period right after the Civil War. This verse novel takes the little information known about Edmonia and fills in the gaps with what may have happened. Edmonia attended Oberlin College, one of the first colleges to accept women and people of color. Half Objibwe and half African-American, Edmonia struggles to find her place at Oberlin. When she is accused by other students of poisoning and theft she is forced to leave college despite being acquitted of all charges. The book follows Edmonia as she moves to Boston and eventually Italy, becoming a successful sculptor.

This is an exceptional verse novel. Each poem reads like a stand-alone poem and yet also fits into Edmonia’s complete story. Atkins uses rich and detailed language to convey the historical times right after the Civil War to the reader. She also works to share the real soul of Edmonia herself on the page, a girl who has given up the freedom of life with the Ojibwe to study art at a prestigious college only to have it all fall apart again and again. It is a lesson in resilience and the power of art that Edmonia continues to strive to become the artist she truly is despite all of the odds.

This book reads like a series of stunning pieces of art, strung together into a larger display. The use of language is so beautifully done, carefully crafted with skill and depth. Atkins uses the few details of Edmonia’s life to craft a real person of flesh, bone and dreams on the page. Throughout the book, care is taken that no one forget the historical times the book takes place during and their impact on Edmonia as a person of color.

Timely and simply amazing, this verse novel is uplifting and deeply moving. Appropriate for ages 13-16.

Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

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

one-last-word-by-nikki-grimes

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

freedom-over-me-by-ashley-bryan

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

we-are-like-the-clouds-by-jorge-argueta

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.