In the Wild Light by Jeff Zentner

Cover image for In the Wild Light.

In the Wild Light by Jeff Zentner (9781524720247)

Cash doesn’t have much in his small Appalachian town, but what he does have, he loves. He loves spending time with his Papaw on the porch even as Papaw struggles to breathe due to his emphysema. He loves time out on the water in his canoe, which is how he helped his best friend, Delaney, make a scientific discovery of a lifetime. Delaney uses that discovery to secure them both full scholarships to an elite prep school in Connecticut. Cash agrees to go with her, knowing that he will struggle to keep up and will feel entirely out of place among the rich students. Cash doesn’t count on the power of words and poetry to keep him afloat as well as new friends. But even they may not be enough when Papaw takes a turn for the worse.

Zentner is an award-winning author and his writing here is truly exceptional. In Cash, he gives us a natural poet who looks at the world through metaphors and connects readers directly to the beauty of Appalachia. Both settings, Appalachia and Connecticut, are captured with such astute clarity and powerful wording that readers feel as if they are there seeing the light, the trees, the weather, and feeling it all in their chests. There is also a direct emotionality to the writing that reveals Cash’s struggles, his self doubts, his loves and allows readers to see his path forward long before Cash allows himself to.

The characters push back against every stereotype. Cash is a deep thinker, connected viscerally to the place where he came from, and a deep feeler who connects directly to those he cares for. It is easy to see why Delaney wants him with her. Delaney herself is a scientific genius, full of sarcastic wit and a directness in her speech that offers just the right amount of offset to Cash’s rich language. The two best friends that they meet offer diversity to the story and also a clarity that prep schools can be full of interesting people worth loving too.

Brilliantly written, full of great characters and insisting that poetry changes lives. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Crown Books for Young Readers.

Kiyoshi’s Walk by Mark Karlins

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Kiyoshi’s Walk by Mark Karlins, illustrated by Nicole Wong (9781620149584)

Kiyoshi’s grandfather Eto is a poet who writes poetry with brush and ink. Kiyoshi wishes that he could write poems too. When he asks his grandfather where poems come from, the two set off on a walk in their neighborhood. At the corner store, they see a cat on a pile of oranges. Eto stopped and wrote a poem about what happened when the oranges toppled, inspired by what they saw. The two hear pigeons flying above them, inspiring the next poem from what they heard. After seeing an abandoned teddy bear, Eto writes a poem about how it got there and how it feels, all from his imagination. The two reach the river together where Eto writes one last poem of the day, capturing his feelings. Now it is Kiyoshi’s turn to figure out that poems come from our surroundings and how that touches what is in our hearts. He’s ready to write his first poem.

Karlins has created a touching story of the connection between grandson and grandfather. The story is gentle and focused on finding poems throughout their day together. The book clearly shows how heart and imagination meet inspiring moments in life to create art, whether it is poetry, prose, music or art. Throughout the book, Eto treats Kiyoshi as an equal, gently showing him how he works and allowing Kiyoshi to also discover on his own.

The luminous art was done digitally. It evokes the warmth of colored pencil on the page. The fine details work well in showing the vibrant and changing urban setting they live in. The color palette changes as they walk, ending with the setting sun reflected in deep colors in the river.

Full of inspiration, poetry and connection. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Lee & Low Books.

The One Thing You’d Save by Linda Sue Park

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The One Thing You’d Save by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by Robert Sae-Heng (9781328515131)

A teacher asks her class to think about what they would save in an emergency. You’re allowed to save one thing, knowing that your family and pets are already safe. What would you save, no matter how big it is. Some of the students very quickly decide what they will save while others find the choices almost impossible. Others pick items that were made by grandparents who have passed away. Some have collections they’d want to rescue. Some are very practical, taking their glasses so that they can see or their wallet so they have money to survive. The class has conversations about what they chose and why, giving everyone lots to think about.

Told in verse, this book is written in the dialogue that happens in the classroom. Park captures this dialogue flawlessly, the voices distinct and clear both in their indecision and their decisiveness. Each person reveals a piece of themselves as they reveal why they chose a certain object. The result is a group of students who understand one another a lot better than when they began.

Park writes with such ease on the page that it is amazing to find out in her Author’s Note that she has used a sijo poetic structure throughout the book that limits the number of syllables per line. Within those parameters, she wrote dialogue that never seems limited or stilted as well as offering space for interjections and conversation.

Immensely clever and thought provoking, this book will be embraced by both teachers and students. Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Clarion Books.

Legacy: Women Poets of the Harlem Renaissance by Nikki Grimes

Cover image for Legacy

Legacy: Women Poets of the Harlem Renaissance by Nikki Grimes (9781681199443)

In this companion book to One Last Word, Grimes explores the legacy of Black women writers from the Harlem Renaissance. Grimes has selected poems from these little-known female poets that speak to themes of heritage, nature and activism. Each of the poems in this collection is accompanied by a poem from Grimes that uses the “Golden Shovel” technique of taking a line from the Harlem Renaissance poem and using that line as the last words in each line of Grimes’ poems. In addition, each pair of poems is also matched with a work of art from female Black illustrators, creating an exciting and energizing grouping with every turn of the page.

Once again Grimes amazes with a poetry collection. Grimes has an astute eye for selecting poems for her collections that young readers will enjoy, understand and connect with. When she then creates her magic of using those poems as inspiration for her own, she demonstrates such poetic skill in both the poem construction but also in managing to pay tribute to what the poem is about and translate that into modern day poems for young readers.

Reading this collection is like finding one treasure after another. New poets are discovered. The art is beautiful, clearly inspired by the pair of poems that it is matched with. This collections serves to show Black poets and artists speaking in their own rich voices, offering a look at the women who paved the way for today.

Another astounding collection from Grimes that belongs in every library serving children. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Bloomsbury.

Everything Comes Next by Naomi Shihab Nye

Cover image for Everything Comes Next

Everything Comes Next by Naomi Shihab Nye (9780063013452)

The current Young People’s Poet Laureate has compiled a collection of over 100 of her poems. It is a mixture of both previous published poems and new ones that have not been published before. Though some date back to the beginning of her stellar career and others are newer, there is a strong consistency across the collection with their eye towards hope combined with a strong sense of truth and honesty. Nye also has a way of focusing on the small and mundane in our lives and bringing out the wonder, including flour sifters, toddler comments, and cat food.

I bookmarked far too many of the poems, looking forward to returning to them again. While I had my distinct favorites (and lots of them) there were no poems in this collection that disappointed. The entire collection work both as a whole and as its separate parts. It provides a great introduction to Nye’s poetry.

Perhaps Nye’s greatest quality is her refusal to speak down to children or to simplify her poetry for them. She asks them to stretch to understand them, but not in confusing ways or using esoteric language. The concepts are fascinating, the poems leading the reader but not in a straight line, her poems more of a journey.

A gorgeous collection of poetry from one of the best. Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Greenwillow Books.

Cast Away: Poems for Our Time by Naomi Shihab Nye 

Cast Away Poems for Our Time by Naomi Shihab Nye 

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.

Review: 16 Words: William Carlos Williams and “the Red Wheelbarrow” by Lisa Jean Rogers

16 Words William Carlos Williams and the Red Wheelbarrow by Lisa Jean Rogers

16 Words: William Carlos Williams and “the Red Wheelbarrow” by Lisa Jean Rogers, illustrated by Chuck Groenink (9781524720179)

This nonfiction picture book explores the inspiration behind Williams’ most famous poem as well as the life of the poet who wrote it. The book begins with Williams on his doctor’s rounds, noticing the red wheelbarrow that belonged to Mr. Thaddeus Marshall, who works harvesting and selling vegetables in Rutherford, New Jersey. Williams uses his spare time at work writing poems and noticing small things around him. He types between office visits and takes notes as he walks through the town. Then one glimpse out of a window on a rainy day created a moment that inspired one of the greatest poems.

Rogers writes a biography focused on Williams himself and on the inspiring white chickens and red wheelbarrow. She takes time to not only capture that iconic image once but several times on the page, showing how inspiration lingers and returns. She also makes sure to linger on how Williams works writing into his role as the town doctor and how he notices small things that inspire him.

The illustrations are done digitally and feel very organically with pencil and brush lines on each page. The colors are pastel and gentle, encouraging readers to look more closely and linger just as Williams himself was doing.

A nonfiction picture book about writing, poetry and life. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Schwartz & Wade.

Review: Ordinary Hazards by Nikki Grimes

Ordinary Hazards by Nikki Grimes

Ordinary Hazards by Nikki Grimes (9781629798813)

Grimes writes a searing verse memoir of her years growing up with a mother suffering from alcoholism and schizophrenia. Removed from her mother at a young age and separated from her older sister, Grimes found a loving foster family where she discovered the power of writing her feelings and experiences out on paper. She visited her mother occasionally during that time and they were eventually reunited when her mother got sober and remarried. But it wasn’t that simple or easy. Grimes was trapped in a home filled with a cycle of addiction, mental illness and sexual abuse from her stepfather. Told with a strong sense of hope and resilience, this book is a brave look back into a traumatic childhood.

Grimes has created a book that carries readers back into her previous experiences, showing how she survived, how writing helped, and how she found hope and strength in people other than her mother. Grimes has recreated some of her childhood and teen  journals which were destroyed. In these small glimpses told in the voice of her youth she shows her confusion and strength vividly.

Throughout the book, Grimes mentions that she doesn’t have clear memories of much of her youth due to the trauma that was inflicted upon her. Her willingness to explore such painful subjects even though her memories are incomplete or entirely gone is a concrete example of her resilient spirit and hope.

A powerful and poetic look at trauma and the building of a new life. Appropriate for ages 16-adult.

Reviewed from ARC provided by WordSong.

Review: How to Read a Book by Kwame Alexander

How to Read a Book by Kwame Alexander

How to Read a Book by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Melissa Sweet (9780062307811)

What a treat to have a picture book from a Newbery Medalist and a Caldecott Honoree! This is a picture book about how to read a book told through poetry and imagery. The book begins with finding the right place to read, like under a tree or on a stoop. The book should be peeled open like a bright orange clementine. The scent will be of morning air and butterfly kisses. Read it page by page, plump orange section by section. Inside you will find new friends, places to wander, drops of magic created by the words. No need to rush, just let it create new dreams and hopes that you may never reach.

Alexander doesn’t shy away from writing a real poem for young readers. It’s one that will stretch them, using a lot more imagery than they may be used to. He plays with colors, turning moons purple and zinging orange throughout. He also speaks to what books can do to us and for us in our lives without getting narrative or preachy about it. Instead his own book embodies this, taking us on a new journey of exploration.

Sweet’s illustrations are incredible. She works Alexander’s words into her art, forming them out of zinging bright neon colors, or quiet steady blues. She creates smaller pages at times, pages that are special and make you slow down and really feel the words and the illustrations.

An incredible work of poetry and art, this one should win awards. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from library copy.