Tag Archives: poetry

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!

Perfect Pairing is Hands On

There are so many ways to think about what we do and how we do things. Today’s perfectly paired Picture Books look at one important tool that we all share: our hands!

whose_hands_final_cover_lo-res

Whose Hands Are These? A Community Helper Guessing Book

Author: Miranda Paul

Illustrator: Luciana Navarra Powell

Publisher/Date: Lerner Publishing Group/2016

Ages: 4-9

Themes: hands; rhyming; concept book; helping occupations; non-fiction

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

If your hands can mix and mash, what job might you have? What if your hands reach, wrench, yank, and crank? The hands in this book–and the people attached to them–do all sorts of helpful work. And together, these helpers make their community a safe and fun place to live. As you read, keep an eye out for community members who make repeat appearances! Can you guess all the jobs based on the actions of these busy hands?

Read a review at The Grog.

 

34688870

With My Hands: Poems About Making Things

Author: Amy Ludwig VanDerwater

Illustrators: Lou Fancher & Steve Johnson 

Publisher/Date: Clarion Books/2018

Ages: 4-7

Themes: hands; poetry; art; creativity

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

For young makers and artists, brief, lively poems illustrated by a NYT bestselling duo celebrate the pleasures of working with your hands.
Building, baking, folding, drawing, shaping . . . making something with your own hands is a special, personal experience. Taking an idea from your imagination and turning it into something real is satisfying and makes the maker proud.
With My Hands is an inspiring invitation to tap into creativity and enjoy the hands-on energy that comes from making things.

Read a review at Enjoy and Embrace Learning.

I paired these books because…Who knows the answer? Hands up! Yep, the hands have it! Looking at their hands, Paul explores community helpers in a question-and-answer format that will engage young readers. VanDerwater encourages creativity in With My Hands, a collection of 26 poems that celebrate the joy of being a maker and making such things as a birdhouse or boat. How will you use your hands to help others and be a creator?