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.)
For Every One by Jason Reynolds (9781481486248)
This book is a single poem, one that is a clarion call for young creatives to continue their work. Originally performed at the unveiling of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and then again as a tribute to Walter Dean Myers, this poem is striking and powerful. There is no claim here that Reynolds has the answer to make money at your dream, to be successful at your dream, but there is a demand that you continue to dream and create as a young person. That it is important for you and for the world.
Reynolds shares personal set backs as a young adult, showing how hard it can be to stay on course when your work is not being noticed. Still, he continued and he asks that everyone continue to speak, to share, to be out there and demand to be heard and seen. It is a book about perseverance and resilience, a poem about life, hard knocks and getting up and continuing onward.
This one belongs in every library and every creative writing and art room. It is inspiring and beautiful. Appropriate for ages 13-18.
Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum.
Jabberwalking by Juan Felipe Herrera (9781536201406)
From the first Mexican-American Poet Laureate of the United States comes this call to become a person who can write and walk at the same time. It’s a book that demands that you record your thoughts, messy and wild and raw. That you use documents to find words, that you draw ideas while on airplanes, that you walk a lot, think a lot, write a lot. That you embrace the voice that is inside you and create. Whatever that creation looks like in all of its “fuzzy, puffy, blue-cheesy, incandescent, brave Jabber!”
Looking for a straight-forward and rule based book on being a writer or creative person? This is not the book you are looking for! Instead this is a book that shows raw creativity, using inspiration from Lewis Carroll and the Jabberwocky, this is a book filled with emotion, encouragement, and acceptance about the way that our human brains work best when creating. It invites readers into a playful world where words are toys, content is loose, and ideas flow freely.
The writing here could initially be seen as too loose and raw. But as you read more and more of the book there is a gorgeous continuum of content throughout the chapters. Soon blue-cheesy starts to make sense and jabberwalking is all you want to do for awhile to see what comes out of your brain too.
Inspiring and incredibly joyous, this book about writing is entirely unexpected. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Candlewick Press.
The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (9780062662804)
Released March 6, 2018.
Xiomara feels completely unheard and smothered by her mother’s high expectations, particularly those around church and confirmation. She knows how to use her fists to settle arguments, often coming to the defense of her twin brother. She ignores the lewd glances of the men around her who react to her curves far too often. Xiomara’s mother refuses to allow her to date, so when she catches her daughter kissing someone, there are real consequences. Still, Xiomara continues to find her voice. She asks questions at confirmation and eventually joins the school’s poetry club. Xiomara’s passion for words, slam poetry and speaking out won’t stay hidden from her mother for much longer.
Written by a famed slam poet, this book is ferociously written, taking life and putting it on the page with an honesty that almost hurts. The entire verse novel is beautifully written and each poem is a study in how to capture a moment in time with clarity. There are some poems that shine, the anger burning so brightly that they can’t be ignored. They beg to be read aloud into a microphone.
Xiomara’s character is complex and amazing. She is a girl just finding her voice, emerging from the huge shadow her mother has cast and finding her own way forward. She is a mix of sensuality, verse and anger that is completely intoxicating.
One of the best verse novels I have ever read, this one deserves a standing ovation. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Edelweiss and HarperTeen.
#NotYourPrincess edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale (9781554519576)
This is one powerful book about the experience and strength of Native women. The book is a collection of art, stories, poems and interviews of and by Indigenous women. The pieces in the book explore the intersectionality of being both Indigenous and female, demonstrating with a searing cry the damage done by abuse and stereotypes. There is power in the book, strong voices that insist on being heard and no longer being invisible in our modern world.
This book fights back against the harmful boxes that our society puts Native women in, labeling them with stereotypes of drunkenness or princess. This book shows instead the wide range of Native voices with art and words that shout on the page. Both the art and textual pieces are impressive separately, but put together into a whole, the book becomes more than its pieces. The result is a brilliant collection, building piece by piece. It is not an easy read, but one that is honest and raw.
Beautiful, angry and insistent, this collection of the voices of Native women belongs on the shelves of every library serving teens. Appropriate for ages 13-17.
Reviewed from library copy.
Things to Do by Elaine Magliaro, illustrated by Catia Chien (9781452111247, Amazon)
Follow the path of a day in this poetic picture book. Little things in life are captured on the page along with weather and seasons. The book begins with dawn and the things that dawn does, then moves to the outdoors with birds and acorns. Sun, sky and eventually moon appear and do their things as well. Rain arrives, boots come out. There are spiders, snails and crickets that appear too. Each given a poem about what they do and the small beauties they create in our world.
Magliaro’s poetry is exceptional. On the very first page, readers are drawn into viewing the world through her lens that looks at small things, captures them and then moves on to the next. Each poem is separate but linked, creating an entire universe of things to do and things to see. The poetry is sometimes rhymed, sometimes not, often ending in a rhyming couplet. It is the rhythm that ties it together, moving forward, lingering and then onward.
Chien’s illustrations are soft and ethereal. She creates dawn light then bright sun and finally a huge moon that fills the pages. Each time of day is unique and special, given space on the page to shine. There is a rough softness to the images, landscapes that blur rain that shimmers.
A top-notch poetic read for children, this book celebrates small moments made large. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.