Best Picture Books for National Poetry Month

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NATIONAL POETRY MONTH
PICTURE BOOKS ROUNDUP

Every April during National Poetry Month, we like to share some poetry books we hope children will enjoy reading, ones that perhaps will pave the path towards a greater appreciation of poetry. The books don’t have to be in rhyme although our littlest readers do love the sound of cats and bats and rats who wear hats. If you’re interested in exposing youngsters to all different kinds of poetry, consider the following picture books and also ask your librarian for suggestions or head to your local independent bookstore today.

National Poetry Month Picture Books My ChinatownMy Chinatown: One Year in Poems
Written and illustrated by Kam Mak
(HarperCollins; $6.99, Ages 4-8)
Reading My Chinatown allows to us experience a young boy’s adjustment to New York’s Chinatown after moving there from Hong Kong. This realistically illustrated (at first I thought photographs filled the book) story is divided into seasons beginning in winter and ending again in winter, a full, activity-filled year later. We see the boy not enjoying his new country’s New Year celebration. Instead, he spends time reflecting on his grandmother’s pickeled kumquats back in Hong Kong. All the while the narrator wonders, “But how can it ever be a good year thousands of miles away from home?” His feelings of detachment are strong. Always thinking of his former home, the young boy resists learning English, wanting to cling to his comfortable past rather than risk moving forward. Being given a board game like the one he had at home marks a turning point in the story. From the calming rhythm of his mother’s sewing machine, to a dragon boat race in Queens, from the familiar sound of mah-jongg tiles “slapping the table”, to making new friends, as the seasons pass, the narrator is starting to feel at home. And, at last, taking part in the following New Year’s festivities, it’s clear that he finally feels that Chinatown is where he belongs.

National Poetry Month Picture Books A Great Big CuddleA Great Big Cuddle: Poems for the Very Young
Written by Michael Rosen
Illustrated by Chris Riddell
(Candlewick Press; $19.99, Ages 3-7)
It’s never too early to read poetry to children. And Rosen, a former UK Children’s Laureate sure knows it! In this accessible and varied collection of over 30 poems, there’s something for everyone including silliness and seriousness, sounds and interactive play. Young children are going to find themselves asking for these fun, often humorous poems to be read over and over again. Without even realizing it, kids’ll learn animal sounds, emotions, counting and some clever puns – read I Went to see what I mean – while appreciating the punchy rhymes, fast pace and kid-oriented topics. Current UK Children’s Laureate, Riddell, has provided artwork that feels more like the prolific illustrator Shirley Hughes than the Riddell illustrations we’ve seen accompany other  children’s books. His range and talent are showcased in this collection that begs to be on little ones’ bookshelves.

National Poetry Month Picture Books In the Land of WordsIn The Land of Words: New and Selected Poems
Written by Eloise Greenfield
Illustrated by Jan Spivey Gilchrist
(Amistad; $6.99, Ages 4-8)

Visit “The Land of  Words” with NCTE Excellence in Poetry for Children Award Winner, Eloise Greenfield. She’ll take you and your children through pages of inspiring poems as her lyrical language rains down on you and waters the soul. With over 20 wonderful poems in the collection, In The Land of Words felt like a mentor’s embrace, a call to action to create and an urging to just soak up every moment.Greenfield was spot on, if you can say that about a poem, in both rhythm and description of the patience involved when fishing in To Catch a Fish. I particularly enjoyed Making Friends about how something as simple as making a silly face can be the start of a friendship. Flowers is a touching tribute to stepparents. This one shares the pride and love a stepfather feels at his stepdaughter’s solo performance. Books, Story, and Poet/Poem will speak to readers and writers everywhere. This line, from books, especially resonated for me, “New faces and new voices, I listen and I see, and people I have never met mean everything to me.” If you love words, don’t miss this collection complemented by Gilchrist’s multi-media artwork that includes felt, embroidery and what looks like markers, making this book all the more satisfying. Overall I found myself quite enchanted by the cleverness from start to finish.

 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

In a Village by the Sea by Muon Van

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In a Village by the Sea
Written by Muon Van
Illustrated by April Chu
(Creston Books; $16.95, Ages 4-8)

Starred Reviews – Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly
Junior Library Guild
selection

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Inspired by the author’s own life as the daughter of a fishing family in Vietnam, In a Village by the Sea is the story of yearning for the safety and security of home. Told in a circular fashion, Van uses few but poignant words to guide us from the open ocean, to a home atop a hill, and back to the ocean once more. Chu’s beautiful illustrations elicit powerful, conflicting emotions.  

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Interior artwork from In a Village by the Sea by Muon Van with illustrations by April Chu, Creston Books ©2015.

We see fishermen casting their nets amidst choppy waves.  Dark storm clouds gather in the distance; solemn expressions foreshadow the dangers to come.  Details like these are lush in each spread.  In a Village by the Sea is the  kind of book a child would spread out on the floor slowly studying and absorbing each image, like the gentle mist above the mountains where a family dog guides our eyes to a home, the home belonging to one of the fishermen.

Colors here are warm. Reds, yellows, and oranges from the lanterns hanging on the front porch and in the fire roaring beneath the “steaming noodle soup,” as well as the tender eyes of the faithful dog remind us of the things home symbolize. Though the contemplative stare of the central character of the home (the fisherman’s wife) jars our sense of security. Juxtaposed to her serene surroundings, the wife’s gaze is heavy with worry as she awaits the return of her husband.

A particularly breathtaking spread is on pages 16-17 in which we get an aerial view of an orderly and organized home where there’s a place for everything and everything has a place for itself. Every detail is intriguing: the sandals neatly placed right outside the door, prepped vegetables in baskets ready for cooking, a sleepy baby in a bassinet. Even the cricket that lives in the home is appropriately placed-in a “dusty hole” underneath a mat.

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Interior artwork from In a Village by the Sea by Muon Van with illustrations by April Chu, Creston Books ©2015.

Through this extraordinary cricket, we are privy to another layer of Chu’s artistic skills (fully revealed on the last page of the story). “Humming and painting,” the cricket, we come to find out, is the master creator of this story. He is drawing the scene of a “sudden storm,/ roaring and flashing” where the fisherman’s “white boat,” helplessly “crash[es] and roll[s].” As one of the cricket’s hands draws the stormy gray clouds, you can see the pressure point of his brush. It’s as if the story itself is happening in the moment we are reading it, as if we’re experiencing the moment of creation itself. Chu reminds us that, like the fisherman’s dangerous journey, reading involves risk. We readers, too, are at the mercy of fate, unaware of what’s to come next.

Open skies, calm waters, and cheerful yellows at the final pages tell us the end is hopeful.  The fisherman will arrive safely back to his home.  In fact, the cricket’s final creation on the last page ensures it’s just so.

Readers of all ages will undoubtedly connect with In a Village by the Sea. In a world of certain uncertainty, the reassurance of family and love bring all of us home.

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

 


Edmund Unravels by Andrew Kolb

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EDMUND UNRAVELS
Written and illustrated by Andrew Kolb
(Nancy Paulsen Books, $16.99, Ages 4-7)

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Edmund Loom, a bright turquoise blue ball of yarn, is filled with bouncy energy and springtime exuberance. From his earliest days when he plip-plopped down the front stairs, he has yearned to explore. His supportive parents, a lovely teal green mother with knitting-needled hair bun and a sturdy blue dad with spectacles, have always patiently reeled him in and rolled him back up.

Edmund tries to “keep it together” by following a steady although boring routine, though grumpily cuddling up with an adorable llama at bedtime. But even little balls of yarn grow up, apparently, and the bigger he gets, the farther away he can roll when unable to resist the “tug of discovery.” One day he unravels into his biggest adventure, satisfying his wanderlust through the city, mountains and desert. Edmund meets new friends, tries new foods, and soars high with excitement until he ultimately feels the gentle pull of homesickness and loneliness that reel him in.

Kolb’s illustrations are colorful, crisp and playful. Edmund comes to life through simple though expressive round black eyes, eyebrows and mouth. A jaunty baseball cap and swirly strand of wooly hair counterbalance his long, ever trailing tail of yarn. The world that Kolb depicts in Edmund’s travels is imaginative and bright, introducing playful kittens, prickly pincushions, and rolls of adhesive tape. The details are fun to pore over, and young readers will get a kick out of the book’s cartoony appeal.

A special shout-out to the EDMUND UNRAVELS book designer for including clever scrawls of long, unwinding yarn on the end pages and a cheerful close-up of Edmund’s smiling mug that dominates the back cover. These give clear indications that this book is a visual delight from start to finish. Also of note is the adorable book trailer which captures Edmund’s upbeat personality and his omnipresent forward-rolling qualities to the tune of a charming wind chime soundtrack.

EDMUND UNRAVELS is filled with sweet whimsy and an endearing message that you will always remember who loves you and where you came from, no matter how far from home you may roll.

– Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

 

Where Obtained:  I reviewed a copy of EDMUND UNRAVELS from my library and received no compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.