Tag Archives: poetry

Perfect Pairing – Features the Poetry of Emily Dickinson

I’d planned to feature two new picture book biographies about Emily Dickinson today, before the pandemic upended the normalcy of most of our lives. Thankfully, I picked up one of these before our local library closed, and I have a copy of the other one.

May you find plenty of poetry on your bookshelves or via internet sources to bolster your spirits during this time of crisis! Stay healthy, stay home, and read!

Emily Writes: Emily Dickinson and Her Poetic Beginnings

Author: Jane Yolen

Illustrator: Christine Davenier

Publisher/Date: Christy Ottaviano Books (Henry Holt and Company/2020)

Ages: 6-8

Themes: Emily Dickinson, poetry, nature, writing

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Jane Yolen’s Emily Writes is an imagined and evocative picture book account of Emily Dickinson’s childhood poetic beginnings, featuring illustrations by Christine Davenier.

As a young girl, Emily Dickinson loved to scribble curlicues and circles, imagine new rhymes, and connect with the natural world around her. The sounds, sights, and smells of home swirled through her mind, and Emily began to explore writing and rhyming her thoughts and impressions. She thinks about the real and the unreal. Perhaps poems are the in-between.

This thoughtful spotlight on Emily’s early experimentations with poetry offers a unique window into one of the world’s most famous and influential poets.

Read a review at Kirkus Reviews.

 

 

On Wings of Words: The Extraordinary Life of Emily Dickinson

Author: Jennifer Berne

Illustrator: Becca Stadtlander

Publisher/date: Chronicle Books/2020

Ages: 5-8

Themes: Emily Dickinson, biography, poetry, nature, writing

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

An inspiring and kid-accessible biography of one of the world’s most famous poets.

Emily Dickinson, who famously wrote “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul,” is brought to life in this moving story. In a small New England town lives Emily Dickinson, a girl in love with small things—a flower petal, a bird, a ray of light, a word. In those small things, her brilliant imagination can see the wide world—and in her words, she takes wing. From celebrated children’s author Jennifer Berne comes a lyrical and lovely account of the life of Emily Dickinson: her courage, her faith, and her gift to the world. With Dickinson’s own inimitable poetry woven throughout, this lyrical biography is not just a tale of prodigious talent, but also of the power we have to transform ourselves and to reach one another when we speak from the soul.

Read a starred review at Shelf Awareness for Readers and read an interview with Berne at Kidlit411 (which is how I received a copy of this book. Thank you!).

I paired these books because they explore the life and writings of Emily Dickinson. In Emily Writes, Yolen explores Emily’s early childhood and envisions Emily creating scribbled poetry before she could form letters or words. On Wings of Words is a cradle-to-grave biography with Emily’s poetry woven into the narrative. Read together, these new picture books provide greater appreciation and understanding of the genius that is Emily Dickinson. Author’s Notes and other back matter in each book provide greater context about the life and writings of this iconic poet.

Looking for similar reads? See My Uncle Emily, by Jane Yolen.

 

 

PPBF – Dare

I found today’s Perfect Picture Book in London, but it’s also available in the US. After reading it, I wanted to get up and DO something, take positive action. I hope others feel that way, too!

Title: Dare

Written By: Lorna Gutierrez

Illustrated By: Polly Noakes

Publisher/Date: Tiny Owl Publishing/2019

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: social activism, self-esteem, rhyming, poetry, multicultural

Opening:

Dare to dream. Dare to aspire.

Dare to trust… Dare to inspire!

Brief Synopsis: Short rhyming text encourages and inspires children to be true to themselves, to be the best they can be, and to help others and speak out for a better world.

Links to Resources:

  • Try something new: an activity, a food, an outfit, or even visit a new place;
  • Watch the book trailer;
  • Check out the suggested activities in this Teacher Resource.

Why I Like this Book:

In just 93 words divided into short, active, rhyming phrases, Dare encourages all children to be true to themselves, to support causes important to them, and to take action to make the world better. Dare features both small actions, like reading, reaching out a hand to someone who appears to be a newcomer, and stopping to smell a flower, and big actions, like participating in a protest march.

I think the rhyming text will appeal to young children. I also think the illustrations will encourage activity. I especially like that these bright illustrations feature details that stretch the text: the girl on the cover is wearing a hearing aid; several children carry protest signs; a child in a tutu appears to be male; skin colors and hair types span a wide spectrum.

Dare is a positive, hopeful book, that, I think, will be a great addition to home and school libraries, whether you’re looking to encourage positive self-images and the pursuit of dreams or to spur social activism.

A Note about Craft:

Gutierrez uses short, rhyming phrases to encourage action. Verbs dominate the text: dare, dream, aspire, inspire, see, speak, sing, dance, lend a hand, and more.

Gutierrez also leaves a lot of room for the illustrator. I especially appreciated the phrase, “Dare to do what hasn’t been done,” accompanied by an illustration of several children in a cardboard “boat” exploring the world. And nowhere does the text state “save the environment”, but the illustrations add that layer to the book.

Learn more about the author and illustrator of Dare.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

PPBF – The Arabic Quilt: An Immigrant Story

Happy Valentine’s Day! Some folks associate this day with romantic love. Others fondly remember the treats and Valentine’s Day cards shared among classmates. I think of it as a day to celebrate love and acceptance in all of its manifestations, including that among family members and that among friends, new and old. In the spirit of the day, I’d like to share a new Perfect Picture Book that showcases the love among family members and the friendship that can blossom in a new land.

Title: The Arabic Quilt: An Immigrant Story

Written By: Aya Khalil

Illustrated By: Anait Semirdzhyan

Publisher/Date: Tilbury House Publishers/February 2020

Suitable for Ages: 6-8

Themes/Topics: immigrants, family, treasured objects, feeling welcome, acceptance, cultural heritage, quilts, poetry

Opening:

“Kanzi, habibti, you’re going to be late to the first day of school,” Mama calls. “I’m coming, Mama.” Kanzi stuffs her notebook into her backpack and quickly but carefully folds her quilt—the special one Teita made in Egypt.

Brief Synopsis: A young immigrant struggles to adapt to a new school in America, but finds comfort in , and a way to fit in, by showing her classmates the precious quilt her grandmother had made her.

Links to Resources:

  • Try making paper quilts;
  • Kanzi’s family moved from Egypt to the United States. Learn more about this North African country;
  • Does your family speak a language other than English at home? Share some words in that language with friends and classmates;
  • Do you have an object from a relative or friend that is special to you? Draw a picture of it or write a poem about it.

Why I Like this Book:

I believe that fitting in is so important when children start a new school, whether in a new neighborhood, town, or even country. And when language used or customs followed at home seem different from those of the other children, I think it’s even more difficult for the new child.

That’s the situation Kanzi finds herself in as The Arabic Quilt begins. Thankfully, Kanzi has some things that help console her when she’s feeling down: the soft quilt that her beloved grandmother made her and a love of poetry. When an astute teacher picks up on these things, she helps Kanzi, and Kanzi’s classmates, realize that having different customs and speaking a language other than English at home are positive circumstances that enrich us all.

Maybe this heart-warming story of love and acceptance resonates so much with me because my mother made afghans for each of my children or maybe it’s because we lived abroad during two periods when my children were young. But I think it also will resonate with anyone who’s ever felt different for whatever reason and with anyone who’s struggled to find a way to fit in, while keeping true to her or his family, religious beliefs, and/or cultural heritage.

Beautiful illustrations, including of the beloved quilt, and a glossary of Arabic words complete this heart-warming and timely new picture book.

A Note about Craft:

Per Tilbury House’s website, Khalil based The Arabic Quilt on events from her own childhood. Doing so renders this story more believable and enables the strong connection between a grandmother and granddaughter separated by oceans to shine through.

To console herself after a difficult day at school, Kanzi writes a poem about her beloved quilt. I love how she turns to writing when she’s feeling sad, and I especially love how this adds another layer to this immigration story: that by journaling or writing poetry, a child may feel better about whatever situation she or he encounters.

Visit Khalil’s website to learn more about this debut picture book author. See more of Semirdzhyan’s art on her website.

I read an electronic version of this picture book, downloaded via Edelweiss, a resource for book reviewers. This book is scheduled to publish next week.

This Perfect Picture Book entry will be added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

Perfect Pairing – is Feeling Thankful

Whether you’re preparing to celebrate Thanksgiving in the United States, gathering in the harvest, or thinking about the calendar year drawing to a close, late November is a wonderful time to stop, reflect and give gratitude for blessings, big and small.

Thanku: Poems of Gratitude 

Authors: various

Editor: Miranda Paul

Illustrator: Marlena Myles

Publisher/Date: Millbrook Press, an imprint of Lerner Publishing Group/2019

Ages: 6-10

Themes: poetry, gratitude, #WNDB

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

This poetry anthology, edited by Miranda Paul, explores a wide range of ways to be grateful (from gratitude for a puppy to gratitude for family to gratitude for the sky) with poems by a diverse group of contributors, including Joseph Bruchac, Margarita Engle, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Naomi Shihab Nye, Charles Waters, and Jane Yolen.

Read a review at Kirkus Reviews and see an interview with debut illustrator Myles at Kidlit 411.

 

We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga

Author: Traci Sorell

Illustrator: Frané Lessac

Publisher/date: Charlesbridge/2018

Ages: 4-8

Themes: gratitude, seasons, nature, Cherokee, #OwnVoices

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

A look at modern Native American life as told by a citizen of the Cherokee Nation

The word otsaliheliga (oh-jah-LEE-hay-lee-gah) is used by members of the Cherokee Nation to express gratitude. Beginning in the fall with the new year and ending in summer, follow a full Cherokee year of celebrations and experiences.

Appended with a glossary and the complete Cherokee syllabary, originally created by Sequoyah.

Read a review at Miss Marple’s Musings.

I paired these books because both express feelings of gratitude in this season of giving thanks. And if you want to delve more into the subject matter of either of these books, Paul includes a glossary of the various poetry forms used in Thanku, and Sorell includes backmatter about Cherokee culture and its language in We Are Grateful.

Looking for similar reads? See Thank You, Omu!

PPBF – Caribbean Canvas

I found today’s Perfect Picture Book in my local library, and I was excited to see that it’s illustrated by a favorite artist who has long painted this beautiful part of the world.

Title: Caribbean Canvas

Written  & Illustrated By: Frané Lessac

Publisher/Date: J.B. Lippincott, a division of Macmillan Publishers/1987

Suitable for Ages: all

Themes/Topics: poetry, Caribbean islands, multicultural

Opening:

The Song of the Banana Man

Up in de hills, where the streams are cool,/ Where mullet an’ janga swim in de pool,/ I have ten acres of mountain side,/ An’ a dainty-foot donkey dat I ride,/ Four Gros Michel, an’ four Lacatan,/ Some coconut trees, and some hills of yam,/ An’ I pasture on dat very same lan’/ Five she-goats an’ a big black ram. (Evan Jones)

Brief Synopsis: A series of poems and proverbs featuring Caribbean stories and culture and accompanied by paintings by Lessac.

Links to Resources:

  • Draw a picture of a place you enjoy living or visiting;
  • Learn more about the many varied islands of the Caribbean region.

Why I Like this Book:

In this classic collection of 19 poems written by various Caribbean-based poets and a few proverbs paired with her colorfully-detailed, folk-art paintings, Lessac introduces several Caribbean islands to young readers. I love how the various cultures are shared through the words and pictures, depicting a multicultural world of villages, farms and market squares, and the sea.

In Una Marson’s poem, Kinky Hair Blues, the poet shares that she “don’t envy gals/What got dose locks so fair” and instead prefers her own “kinky hair”.  I love the empowering self-acceptance! Similar to the story of the Big Bad Wolf, a West Indian proverb notes that you don’t need to worry about a hurricane if you’ve prepared and live in a cement house. And a few poets discuss their hesitation to leave small islands via emigration or death.

Although the vernacular poetry is at times difficult to read aloud (see the opening, above), I appreciate that it includes the rhythms and vocabulary of island speakers. I also was pleased to discover a celebration of the multicultural aspects of this region, published over 30 years ago.

A Note about Craft:

More anthology than picture book per se, Lessac’s exploration of the Caribbean islands truly is a “canvas” of this varied region. By pairing her own vibrant paintings with the words of native poets, I think she offers a celebration for those who call or called the Caribbean islands “home” and an introduction for those not familiar with the region.

Visit Lessac’s website to view more of her artwork and books.

This Perfect Picture Book entry will be added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

Perfect Pairing – of Female Poets

I can’t think of a better way to start off a celebration of Women’s History Month than with two picture books that celebrate two American female poets.

My Uncle Emily 

Author: Jane Yolen

Illustrator: Nancy Carpenter

Publisher/Date: Philomel Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group/2009

Ages: 6-8

Themes: poetry; Emily Dickinson

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

This six-year-old has an uncle like no other! His uncle wears long white dresses and never smokes cigars. Gilbert’s uncle is none other than Emily Dickinson . . . Uncle Emily he calls her. And how he loves her. He knows that she writes poems about everything, even dead bees. But it’s a poem about truth that, after a fracas in school, he remembers best. “Tell all the Truth,” the poem begins. And, in finally admitting what went on that day, he learns something firsthand about her poetry, something about her, and a good deal about the importance of telling the truth, no matter how difficult it might be.

Read a review at Publisher’s Weekly.

 A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks

Author: Alice Faye Duncan

Illustrator: Xia Gordon

Publisher/Date: Sterling Children’s Books/2019

Ages: 5-8

Themes: poetry; Gwendolyn Brooks; biography; Pulitzer Prize; African-American

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

SING a song for Gwendolyn Brooks.
Sing it loud—a Chicago blues.
With a voice both wise and witty, Gwendolyn Brooks crafted poems that captured the urban Black experience and the role of women in society. She grew up on the South Side of Chicago, reading and writing constantly from a young age, her talent lovingly nurtured by her parents. Brooks ultimately published 20 books of poetry, two autobiographies, and one novel. Alice Faye Duncan has created her own song to celebrate Gwendolyn’s life and work, illuminating the tireless struggle of revision and the sweet reward of success.

Read a review at Chapter 16 by Julie Danielson from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, where she features illustrations from the book.

I paired these books because they explore the lives and poetry of two important women from two different eras of American history, but in quite different ways. In My Uncle Emily, Yolen sets up a fictionalized interaction between poet Emily Dickinson and a favorite nephew that centers on Dickinson’s poem, “Tell All the Truth”. Despite the fictional treatment, however, Yolen reveals the truth in Dickinson’s poetry and sheds light on the importance of family to Dickinson. In A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks, Duncan recounts the life of Brooks, starting in childhood, with lyrical text that weaves Brooks’ poetry into the narrative. Poetry is front and center in both picture books, not surprisingly, given the centrality of poetry in the subjects’ lives and in the lives of these gifted authors.

 

 

Perfect Pairing – Peace

For the first Perfect Pairing of the new year, I couldn’t think of a better topic than Peace: May you find it in your own life and may we work together to promote it in our world in 2019. Happy New Year!

Peace and Me: Inspired by the Lives of Nobel Peace Prize Laureates

Author & Illustrator: Ali Winter

Illustrator: Mickaël El Fathi

Publisher/Date: Lantana Publishing/2018

Ages: 7-11

Themes: peace; peace builders; non-fiction; Nobel Peace Prize

Short Synopsis (from publisher’s website):

What does peace mean to you? This illustrated collection of inspirational ideas about peace is based on the lives of Nobel Peace Prize Laureates of the 20th and 21st centuries, among them Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa and Malala Yousafzai. A must for anyone interested in exploring this essential issue of our times, this child-friendly exploration of what peace means to you and me is a book for every bookshelf.

Amnesty International endorses this book because it shows how standing up for other people makes the world a better, more peaceful place.

Read my review from last October.

 

Peaceful Pieces: Poems and Quilts About Peace

Author & Illustrator: Anna Grossnickle Hines

Publisher/Date: Henry Holt and Company/2011

Ages:  4-8

Themes: peace; peace builders; quilts; poetry; non-fiction

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

In this evocative collection of poems illustrated by beautiful handmade quilts, Anna Grossnickle Hines explores peace in all its various and sometimes surprising forms: from peace at home to peace on a worldwide scale to peace within oneself.  Pondering the meaning of peace and its fleeting nature, this book compels each of us to discover and act upon peace ourselves.

Read a review and see a Readers’ Guide at Poetry for Children.

I paired these books because both feature peace builders and invite readers to contemplate how they build peace in their own communities. Arranged chronologically, Peace and Me introduces children to 12 Nobel Peace Prize winners. Linked together with taglines that explore what “peace is” in the context of each winner, the one-page biographies highlight the impact the winners had on the world leading to their awards. In Peaceful Pieces, Grossnickle Hines explores peace via a series of poems about the meaning of peace and about the work of peace builders. How will you find peace in your life and promote peace in your community?

Looking for similar reads?

See, People of Peace: 40 Inspiring Icons  (Sandrine Mirza, 2018).

PPBF – Imagine

As a new year dawns, imagine the possibilities that await!

Title: Imagine

Written By: Juan Felipe Herrera

Illustrated By: Lauren Castillo

Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press/2018

Suitable for Ages: 5-9

Themes/Topics: migrant; dreams; poetry

Opening:

If I picked chamomile flowers/ as a child/ in the windy fields and whispered/ to their fuzzy faces,/ imagine

Brief Synopsis: A young boy invites readers to imagine what they could do, as they learn about the varied experiences of his life.

Links to Resources:

  • Try writing a poem like Herrera has, by starting a sentence, “If I”, and ending with “imagine”;
  • Have you ever slept outside under the stars? Draw a picture of what you saw or heard;
  • Have you ever spoken or sang in front of a large audience? Describe how you felt;
  • Herrera’s family were migrant farm workers, who moved from place to place to find work. Have you ever moved? How did you feel?

Why I Like this Book:

Imagine is a quiet, poetic picture book that gently encourages children to imagine what they can do, what they can become. Sharing scenes from his childhood in a migrant farming family, former US Poet Laureate Herrera ends most scenes with the term “imagine”, inviting children to think about childhood experiences that probably differ from their own and to empathize with the child narrator. He also addresses readers directly at a few points in the poem and asks them to “imagine what you could do…”

Imagine’s peaceful, contemplative text will soothe listeners at bedtime and could also be a powerful classroom tool to help build empathy for others. In a classroom setting, I can envision teachers questioning students in particular about Herrera’s entry to a new, English-speaking school, even though he didn’t know “how to read or speak in English”, and contrasting that with a scene “in front of my familia and many more”, as he read as an adult from his poetry book on the “high steps” of the Library of Congress as Poet Laureate.

Castillo’s earth-toned, pen and monoprint illustrations further the dreamy, contemplative feel of the text, providing further encouragement to listeners to imagine the young poet’s life and their own possibilities.

A Note about Craft:

At its core, Imagine is a memoir targeted to young readers/listeners. By using poetic language, by relating the story using first-person point-of-view, and by addressing the reader/listener directly, Herrera stretches it much further, rendering his life story a gentle lesson for readers of all ages, reminding us that we, too, can dream and achieve our goals.

It’s always a fine line between adding descriptive adjectives in a picture book, that risk not leaving room for the illustrations to tell part of the story, and leaving them out. Herrera, though, chooses carefully, entering “my classroom’s wooden door” –  which could be any size, shape or color, and climbing “high steps” to the Library of Congress – how high and what color and material are left to the illustrator to show. I especially liked the image of “gooey and sticky ink pens” that the young poet used to grab “a handful/ of words” and sprinkle “them over a paragraph/ so I could write/ a magnificent story,/ imagine”.

Learn more about Herrera’s life and works at poets.org. See more of Castillo’s artwork on her website.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

Perfect Pairing of Poetry Picture Books

I’ve been serving as a Round 1 panelist for the Cybils Awards poetry section these past few months, reading almost 50 picture book, middle grade and young adult books of poetry and novels in verse. I had known about the first book I feature below, but hadn’t had the pleasure of reading it until it was nominated to that list. I’m so glad I’ve now read it! Not only was the publication of this collection a gift from a daughter to her late mother, but the haiku themselves are a gift to kids young and old. I hope you read and enjoy both of these picture books – I certainly did.

H is for Haiku: A Treasury of Haiku from A to Z

Author: Sydell Rosenberg

Illustrator: Sawson Chalabi

Publisher/Date: Penny Candy Press/2018

Ages: 5-11

Themes: haiku; poetry; nature

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

In H Is For Haiku: A Treasury of Haiku from A to Z, the late poet Sydell Rosenberg, a charter member of the Haiku Society of America and a New York City public school teacher, and illustrator Sawsan Chalabi offer an A-Z compendium of haiku that brings out the fun and poetry in everyday moments.

Read a review and interview with Rosenberg’s daughter, Amy Losak, at Picture Books Help Kids Soar.

 

Poems in the Attic

Author: Nikki Grimes

Illustrator: Elizabeth Zunon

Publisher/Date: Lee & Low Books/2015

Ages: 7-8

Themes: poetry; family history; intergenerational

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

During a visit to her grandma’s house, a young girl discovers a box of poems in the attic, poems written by her mother when she was growing up. Her mother’s family often moved around the United States and the world because her father was in the Air Force. Over the years, her mother used poetry to record her experiences in the many places the family lived. Reading the poems and sharing those experiences through her mother’s eyes, the young girl feels closer to her mother than ever before. To let her mother know this, she creates a gift: a book with her own poems and copies of her mother’s. And when she returns her mother’s poems to the box in the attic, she leaves her own poems too, for someone else to find, someday. Using free verse for the young girl’s poems and tanka for her mother’s, master poet Nikki Grimes creates a tender intergenerational story that speaks to every child’s need to hold onto special memories of home, no matter where that place might be.”

Read a review and an interview with Nikki Grimes about this book in the Horn Book.

I paired these books because they are both poetry collections, perfect for reading together, and because they offer differing perspectives on an intergenerational theme: In H is for Haiku, Rosenberg wrote the poems for children, but they were collected and published by her daughter, Amy Losak – an act of filial love and a gift to readers. In Poems in the Attic, a grandchild exploring her grandmother’s attic finds letters written by her mother as a girl and through them learns more about her mother. It also involves a gift, in this case, the original poems and the daughter’s responses, compiled into a book.

Looking for similar reads?

See Nikki Grimes’ A Pocketful of Poems (2001), which pairs haiku and free verse poems; Seeing Into Tomorrow, Nina Crews (2018), the haikus of Richard Wright with photographs by Crews; Earth Verse: Haiku from the Ground Up, Sally M. Walker (2018).

PPBF – Traveling the Blue Road: Poems of the Sea

Those of you who read my Perfect Pairing post this past Tuesday may notice a theme this week: the color blue. And those of you who regularly read my Perfect Picture Book reviews no doubt will be thinking that there must be a refugee or migrant, or a few, among the poems in this anthology.

Title: Traveling the Blue Road: Poems of the Sea

Collected By: Lee Bennett Hopkins

Illustrated By: Bob Hansman & Jovan Hansman

Publisher/Date: Seagrass Press, an imprint of Quarto Publishing Group USA Inc./2017

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes/Topics: poetry; sea travel; history; non-fiction; migration; slavery

Opening (from the Introduction by Hopkins:

Standing on a balcony during a recent Caribbean cruise, I gazed across endless miles of water. The sea – awesome, breathtaking, frightening, filled with wonder – has always beckoned dreamers from shore to shore who have, as Rebecca Kai Dotlich phrases it in her poem “Sea,” “traveled away from,/traveled toward…” The sea has also carried less willing travelers across its wide expanses, both those compelled by hard circumstances to brave its blue distances and those captured into bondage to make bleak, terrifying crossings.

Brief Synopsis: A collection of 14 poems, penned by 14 different poets, about sea journeys from the 15th through the 21st century, including those undertaken by choice and those undertaken under duress.

Links to Resources:

  • Back matter includes Notes about each journey and information About the Poets;
  • Have you ever visited an ocean or sea or taken a sea journey? Describe the water or the journey;
  • Write a poem about the sea, a journey or a sea journey.

Why I Like this Book:

In Traveling the Blue Road, Hopkins encourages readers to think of the sea not just as a wide expanse, but also as a road, a route from here to there, along which travelers have journeyed for millennia. Arranged chronologically from the journey of Columbus and his crew in the late 15th century to the present-day journeys of refugees and the lives of itinerant fishermen on houseboats in the Philippines, these poems encourage readers to reflect on both the promise and perils of sea journeys, to gain greater insight into the bravery and fears of the travelers, and to empathize with the willing, and most especially the unwilling, voyagers.

In Voyage, a poem about Columbus’ journey, for instance, Paul B. Janeczko notes “[f]ear growing like a thunderhead”, “flea bites as common as rain”, and the weary sailors’ offering of “a prayer of thanks” when land draws near. In With Fearless Faith and Everything to Lose, Allan Wolf recounts the journey of the Pilgrims, “hopeful souls” who “huddle in the hold” of a ship that is a mere “fragile fleck” as “heathen winds harass and scold”.

Utilizing first-person point-of-view, Marilyn Nelson helps readers feel the fear of enslaved Africans in Kidnapped by Aliens about the 18th century middle passage of slaves. From the notion of the slave traders as “aliens” to the idea of lying “curled around terror, facing the blue unknown”, Nelson creates images that long will linger.

In a pair of poems about the voyages of MS St. Louis in 1939, Jane Yolen captures the hope of the “[b]lue road” in Blue the Color of Hope: On the Ship St. Louis. She then recounts the dashing of hope in Return to the Reich: On the Ship St. Louis, as first Cuba, then the US deny entry to the Jewish passengers, and “[w]e were sent back home/To a place where murderers waited.” And in Mediterranean Blue about 21st century migrants, Naomi Shihab Nye reminds readers, “[t]hey are the bravest people on earth right now,/don’t dare look down on them.”

Evoking, as they do, so many thought-provoking images, the poems in Traveling the Blue Road are targeted to the older end of the picture book range, and, I believe, are a wonderful resource for classrooms and homes, to be read as a set, or individually.

Beginning with archival images, and utilizing a predominantly blue and gray palette, the Hansmans’ pastel, charcoal, pencil, crayon, marker and cut paper illustrations evoke the past and are often, themselves, poetic and abstract, furthering the emotional impact of the poems they accompany.

A Note about Craft:

I read Traveling the Blue Road a few weeks ago because it’s a nominee for a Cybils Award, in the poetry category, for which I’m serving as a first-round panelist. The haunting poems have stayed with me, and I chose to review it here because, I believe, the historical perspective the collection offers will help children, and adults, understand better the hopes and fears of today’s desperate sea travelers – the refugees and migrants. I also believe that with its ability to evoke images and convey emotions, poetry is a wonderful medium to tackle tough subjects, such as those raised here. I invite writers to consider whether a difficult story you’re writing may work better as a rhymed or free verse poem, a series of poems, or a novel in verse.

Visit Hopkins’ website to learn more about this prolific and award-winning author, poet and children’s poetry anthologist.

Per the book jacket, St. Louis-based father-son artists Bob Hansman and Jovan Hansman first met at City Faces, a program whose “mission is to create and provide a safe haven and strong peer-based environment for all children living in Clinton-Peabody public housing”. Bob taught art classes at City Faces, and later adopted Jovan, an active participant as a young teen, who now runs the program.

An imprint of Quarto Publishing Group USA Inc., Seagrass Press “aims to nurture young readers as they grow by offering a range of informative and entertaining titles.”

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!