April is National Poetry month! Here are some suggestions for the young poets in your life.
Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph is an ambitious project by Roxane Orgill, who decided to commemorate an event in jazz history and wound up telling the story through poems by accident. In 1958, Art Kane orchestrated this historic photograph for Esquire magazine, which documented some of the legendary jazz musicians living in New York at the time. Using poetic forms allows Orgill to shift perspectives, so that she can tell the different thoughts and experiences of the photographic subjects — from Thelonious Monk to the kids on the street — and even fit in a few stories of those noticeably absent from the photograph. Francis Vallejo’s accompanying mixed-media drawings beautifully illustrate the imagery described in the poems. It is obvious that Jazz Day is an ode from a true devotee of the music, but it is also an engaging entry point for those unfamiliar with the genre who might like to explore more.
When Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All Seasons is a collection of poems by Julie Fogliano that starts with the spring equinox, March 20th, and documents different days through the rest of the year. Filled with sensual imagery, the poems capture brief personal, meditative moments that signify the changing of seasons and belie a close connection with nature. While reading, it is easy to conjure up the smell of lilacs, the taste of strawberries and the sound of the ocean. Acclaimed artist Julie Morstad’s accompanying illustrations are a perfect fit for depicting these lighthearted and intimate moments.
Younger readers who are still figuring out how poetry works will appreciate the picture book Daniel Finds a Poem by Micha Archer. Follow Daniel as he consults the birds, bugs, squirrels and other animals, asking them “What is poetry?” Readers will see how he incorporates their responses in a grand finale, when he unveils his poem at Poetry in the Park on Sunday. The book’s pages are vibrantly illustrated with cut paper drawings and paintings that rival those of Eric Carle and Lois Ehlert.
As Gabby tells it, she was named after the angel Gabriel. Yet, her mother cannot seem to understand her imaginary world. In Gabby’s words: “Mom names me for a/creature with wings, then wonders/ what makes my thoughts fly.” Nikki Grimes has created a very memorable young girl in Words with Wings. We come to know Gabby through a series of poems. Similar to author Karen Hesse in style, Grimes manages to tell a good story that is lyrical and a quick read to boot.
Gabby faces many issues that modern children can relate to: divorcing parents, moving to a new home, starting over at a new school and trying to make friends. Her inability to fit in is due to what her mother and teachers call “daydreaming.” However, her imagination allows Gabby to escape the sadder parts of her life. The book may be short at just over 80 pages, but the scope of what Grimes is able to communicate in so short a space is remarkable.
Additionally, students who are studying poetry will find that a variety of types of poems are used to tell Gabby’s story. From haikus to longer free verse stanzas, the book provides examples of poems that could stand alone for their expressive language and imagery, but put together, they tell a compelling tale.
Take a peek inside the mysterious and mischievous world of twins in three books for children with appeal for multiples and singletons alike. The nineteenth century counting rhyme “Over in the Meadow” inspired Ken Geist’s Who’s Who which puts the spotlight on twin animals. These six pairs of twins include calves, bunnies, monkeys, and fish and are featured in their natural habitats. Illustrator Henry Cole vividly depicts these landscapes in acrylic and colored pencil and moves from farmyard to jungle to bat cave. The memorable rhymes highlight the twins’ activities through the day and match the warm, detailed illustrations.
The Twins’ Blanket, written and illustrated by Hyewon Yum, shares the story of identical twin sisters who at age five are growing up and a little apart. The girls’ favorite blanket is no longer big enough for sharing, so Mom creates new blankets for each girl with pieces from the old. Yum does a fabulous job of differentiating between these twins, by giving each girl her own side of the book. It isn’t until the girls reach out to comfort each other that they cross over the center of the book. Yum, a twin herself, uses prints, colored pencil, watercolor, and other media in her bright illustrations, and makes great use of white space to complement the quiet, narrative text.
In Take Two: a Celebration of Twins, J. Patrick Lewis, the current Children's Poet Laureate teams with Jane Yolen to present more than forty poems about life as a twin. Sophie Blackall’s watercolor, pencil, and collage illustrations complement the varied poems which are divided into sections representing stages and milestones, and a final section features famous twins. Lewis is a twin himself and Yolen is the grandmother of twins, so the two are quite familiar with the world of doubles. Readers will also enjoy the “Twin Fact” feature found throughout, such as the Russian woman who was mother to sixteen sets of twins, seven sets of triplets, and four sets of quadruplets!
Singer/songwriter Natalie Merchant wanted to share child-friendly works of the oral tradition with her young daughter, delighting in the gift of words and speech that was featured in poems and stories. The result was a twenty-six song, two-CD set of poems that Merchant set to music. Released in 2010, it also included biographical sketches and a photograph of each poet. Now, paired with well-regarded illustrator Barbara McClintock, many of the poems from that endeavor come to life in the picture book Leave Your Sleep: A Collection of Classic Children’s Poetry.
Transforming a musical package to a picture book isn’t altogether unknown, but a book of poems is less common. Covering many famous poets, such as Robert Louis Stevenson, e.e. cummings, and Ogden Nash, the collection varies in tone and level. From Jack Prelutsky’s breezy and fun “Bleezer’s Ice Cream” to Laurence Alma-Tadema’s poignant “If No One Ever Marries Me”, the works focus on language and the way a few choice words coming together can create a memorable portrait. Take “Equestrienne”, by Rachel Field; McClintock’s exquisite illustrations of a rider and her milk-white horse perfectly capture the tone of the poem. Listen to Merchant’s interpretation on the accompanying CD, and the whole package comes together beautifully. The music styles range from Klezmer to jazz to string arrangements.
McClintock’s illustrations of “I Saw A Ship A-Sailing” epitomize her style, with a duck captain and mice sailors simultaneously working an old vessel but also juggling, playing with puppets, and riding a hobby horse. The whole package will bring a smile to both children and adults reading and listening along.
Children’s Poet Laureate J. Patrick Lewis honors seventeen civil rights heroes in the beautifully illustrated collection, When Thunder Comes: Poems for Civil Rights Leaders. While Lewis’ poems celebrate well-known leaders such as Coretta Scott King and Mohandas Gandhi, he also uses this as an opportunity to present lesser known heroes to today’s children. These include Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese pro-democracy activist. and Dennis James Banks, Co-founder of the American Indian Movement and Anishinabe political activist. The verses bring to life the spirit of these men and women who impacted the world at large and each is accompanied by a beautiful artwork from four of today’s most celebrated illustrators.
Activism is at the heart of Crow, by adult author Barbara Wright, her first novel for children. It’s the summer of 1898, and Moses Thomas of Wilmington, North Carolina is looking forward to a fabulous summer vacation. But things don’t go as planned when his best friend finds a new pal, his father and grandmother intensify their squabbling, and his mother works long days as a maid for a rich white family. He also grows increasingly aware of the escalating tension between the African American and white communities. Moses’ dad is an alderman in town and works for the African American newspaper. The African American middle class in Wilmington is growing, but not everyone is pleased with the power wielded by this population, and a White Declaration of Independence is issued. Leading African American figures, including Moses’ father, are told to leave town. The resulting riots bring devastation to the community and directly impact Moses’ family and future. Told from the realistic point of view of a courageous young boy, this story combines historic details of the disenfranchisement of the African American community in one town with a moving coming of age story.
Presidential politics are in full swing as Election Day approaches and two new books for kids offer a lighter look at the men who have been elected to this highest office. Julia Moberg researched the non-human First Family members in Presidential Pets: The Weird, Wacky, Little, Big, Scary, Strange Animals That Have Lived in the White House. While many had the usual cats and dogs, the White House also became home to goats, mice, bears, zebras, hyenas, and many more. Calvin Coolidge owned a raccoon named Rebecca who dined on shrimp, while Andrew Jackson’s parrot was known to use less than savory language. Each entry opens with a humorous rhyming poem that describes an event with the pet. Sidebars, such as "Presidential Stats" and "Tell Me More", offer basic information and share trivia about the president and his animal. This unique blend of humor, trivia, vibrant graphics, and children’s love of animals brings to life the presidents and the history of each man’s time in office.
Susan Katz uses humor in The President’s Stuck in the Bathtub: Poems about the Presidents and focuses on some of the lesser known anecdotes about our presidents. The forty-three poems are diverse in format and include concrete, free verse, and rhyming. Each poem is accompanied by a footnote outlining more specifics, and Robert Neubecker’s digital caricature illustrations are full of interesting details which highlight the stories. While trivial in nature, these funny facts are just right to pique young readers' interests. Further information is provided in the appended list of presidents which includes nicknames, a major accomplishment, and a famous quote. From William Taft’s extrication from a bathtub to John Quincy Adams skinny dipping in the Potomac, all of these stories serve to highlight the human nature of each of our presidents, and makes them more relatable to readers of all ages.
Backyard beekeeping continues to rise in popularity and two recent children’s titles spotlight these buzzy critters and their importance to our world. In UnBEElievables by Douglas Florian, this award-winning poet of the natural world offers 14 lively poems. The subjects of his verses range from bee anatomy, to the different types of bees, to the collapse of bee colonies in recent years. He uses his trademark wordplay and puns, but also manages to sneak some information into the poems as well. A paragraph offering further explanation follows each verse and the illustrations bring the words to life. Working in gouache, colored pencils, and collage on paper bags, Florian captures the essence of the world of bees. This is a fun and visually appealing book that comes complete with a BEEbliography.
In her children’s debut, Lela Nargi shares the story of Fred from Brooklyn in The Honeybee Man. Every morning, Fred climbs to his rooftop and greets his beloved bees, “Good morning, my bees, my darlings!" His honeybees travel across Brooklyn searching for flowers all day and return with nectar to store in their wax rooms. At the right time, Fred makes honey which the entire neighborhood enjoys. This beautifully written story accompanied by Kyrsten Brooker's collage-style illustrations offers an inside look at the life of a sweet beekeeper and the honey-making process. An afterword of "amazing facts" explains more about apiarists, bees' life cycles, and more. Even the endpapers provide a learning opportunity with labeled diagrams of bees and beekeeping materials. This is an unusual glimpse of beekeeping in an urban setting inspired by two neighbors in Nargi’s New York community.