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.
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.
Watch Us Rise by Renee Watson and Ellen Hagan (9781547600083)
Even though they attend a high school focused on social justice, best friends Chelsea and Jasmine are sick and tired of the way that women are treated there. The two decide to start a Women’s Rights Club that focuses on girls, race, and speaking out. They convince a teacher to be their advisor and are given a school club blog to post to. They post all sorts of things online. Chelsea is a poet who loves to perform in front of audiences. Jasmine writes essays and short pieces on intersectionality and being a black girl of size. Their club starts getting attention both in and outside of their school. But the principal has some issues with their approach and the response of other students to their message. When the club is shut down, the two friends continue to raise their voices together.
Watson and Hagan have created an incredible feminist book for teens. They have incorporated the names and stories of feminists whose writing is worth checking out too, so young people inspired by this book can look further and learn more. The writing is exceptional, particularly the poetry and essays attributed to the two main characters. They cry out for justice on so many fronts that it is entirely inspiring to read.
The authors created two inspiring young women. There is Jasmine, who is grappling with being a large black girl and the constant microaggressions she faces for both her race and size. Her father is dying of cancer while she may be falling for her best male friend. Chelsea is a white girl who stands up for others, calls out for justice, but also makes big mistakes along the way. She is struggling with being a feminist but also being attracted to a boy who is paying attention to her while dating another girl officially. The two grapple with the ideals they hold dear and not being able to attain them, allowing readers to see two human teens doing their best.
Powerful and engaging, this feminist read is written with strength and conviction. Appropriate for ages 12-18.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Bloomsbury.
How Do I Love Thee? by Jennifer Adams, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal (9780062394446)
Based on the famous poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, this picture book takes the iconic first lines of that poem and creates something new. “How do I love thee, let me count the ways…” The book shows three friends experiencing each of the ways that love can feel. It can be deep as the ocean, soft like sunlight. It can be quiet or loud, daylight or night time. It can happen in all of the seasons or any time of day.
The text here has a rich echo of the poem it is inspired by, “Sonnet 43.” That poem is also shared at the end of the book, so young readers can hear the original in all of its beauty. This look at love is rich and varied, showing that love can be between friends or family and doesn’t have to be romantic. The illustrations are filled with whimsy, moving from bright light to deep night. The friends in them play together merrily, connect quietly and simply enjoy time with one another.
A lovely book of love. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from library copy.
Sometimes Rain by Meg Fleming, illustrated by Diana Sudyka (9781481459181)
Told in rhyming couplets, this picture book explores the wonders of each of the four seasons in turn. The book begins at the end of fall with a rained-upon picnic that is met with smiles. The weather then turns colder and soon there is snow enough for sledding. Snow eventually melts into mud that then turns into sunny hillsides of flowers. Summer is filled with visits to the beach and exploring nature. Autumn brings apples and piles of crunchy leaves to play in. The book ends as winter returns once more and everyone is snug and warm at home.
Fleming’s verse is so controlled and concise. She writes in just a few words an entire feeling or moment in time. The fact that she can do this and still create rhyming couplets that don’t feel stilted at all is near magic. Children may not realize they are reading poetry, but the adults sharing the book with them with marvel at the skill and the delight of such a well written book in verse. The illustrations are done in watercolors that are evocative and completely capture each season. The characters are always happy and enjoying that time of year even with rain, wind, or snow.
A charming picture book written and illustrated for pure joy. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Imagine by Juan Felipe Herrera, illustrated by Lauren Castillo (9780763690526)
Poet Laureate of the United States, Herrera here writes a poem that is filled with wonder and possibilities. He invites young readers into his own childhood, filled with tadpoles in creeks, sleeping outside, and feeding chickens. Though his childhood also had goodbyes to people when he moved away and fetching water through the forest. Herrera shares moving to the United States and learning English. Filling pages with words and ink, creating poems and songs. The book ends with him speaking on the steps of the Library of Congress and then asks readers to imagine what they could do.
Herrera’s poem is exquisitely crafted for young readers. He takes them on a full journey of his childhood, showing them the beautiful side, the hard work and the difficulties of learning a new language and moving to a new country. It is a powerful work just right for small children about immigration and the impact the immigrant voices have on our country in so many ways.
Castillo’s art is filled with a sense of memory and longing. She lights her pages with bright sunlight and then haunting moonlight appears. There is a sense of being a witness to Herrera’s life in her work, of watching things happen right at his shoulder. It’s a beautiful way to view someone’s life.
Rich, memorable and timely, this picture book is something special. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Patchwork Bike by Maxine Beneba Clarke, illustrated by Van Thanh Rudd (9781536200317)
An award-winning poet and spoken-word artist, Clarke has created a picture book that shimmers and sings. It tells the story of a little girl whose brothers have created a bicycle out of scraps. Their family lives on the outskirts of the no-go desert and there is little all around them. The best thing though, is their bike. Built out of tin cans, buckets, bark and wood. It is enough to carry all of them back and forth, ignoring their fed-up mother as they whisk past.
The words in this picture book are meant to be shared aloud, coming alive as they are spoken. The rhythms emerge and the various invented and evocative words shine, such as “winketty wonk” and “shicketty shake.” Even the words she uses to describe the setting around them become tangible with the “stretching-out sky” above it all.
The illustrations are somehow equal to the glorious poetry. Done in acrylic on recycled cardboard, they have ghosts of tape and printed words still on them. The smooth texture of the cardboard is used next to ripped areas that show the corrugation and offer new textures to the images. This use of recycled material to tell the story of a scrap bike, sets just the right tone. And on that cardboard is a story of celebration and childhood.
One of the best picture books of the year! Appropriate for ages 3-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Dear Substitute by Liz Garton Scanlon and Audrey Vernick, illustrated by Chris Raschka (9781484750223)
When Mrs.Giordano has to stay home sick, a substitute comes to run the classroom. Unfortunately though, all of her changes are really disruptive for the very young students in the class. So one of the students writes a series of poems to Miss Pelly, the substitute. Miss Pelly doesn’t know how to pronounce their names, doesn’t collect the homework that is due. The class doesn’t visit the library on their scheduled day, the turtle tank isn’t cleaned, and turns at being line leader are disrupted. Miss Pelly even laughs too often, but she does share a great book of poems with the class and it might just be alright if Mrs. Giordano takes another day off to get well.
The authors capture the confusion at having routines disrupted by a substitute teacher. Through the vehicle of short poems, this picture book is approachable and gives voice to a child’s frustration at things being changed and grappling with being flexible and understanding. The illustrations have a childlike whimsy to them, with noble turtles, red-glasses wearing crocodiles, and a substitute who looks kind even when the child is unsure.
A winner for classrooms preparing for substitutes or other big changes. Appropriate for ages 5-8. (Reviewed from ARC provided by Disney Hyperion.)
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.)