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

Lend a Hand by John Frank with illustrations by London Ladd

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LEND A HAND:
Poems about Giving
Written by John Frank
Illustrated by London Ladd
(Lee & Low Books; $17.95, Ages 4-10)

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During National Poetry Month I’ll be reviewing a bunch of my recent faves. Lend a Hand by John Frank with illustrations by London Ladd is one of them. With its 14 poems about kindness, caring and volunteering, this beautiful picture book is heartwarming and inspiring. I can’t think of a child, parent, teacher or caregiver who wouldn’t enjoy having Lend a Hand to return to again and again

The opening poem called Sandwich is touching and brings a smile to my face each time I read it. It’s about a a young girl who shares half her sandwich with “the new kid sitting alone with only the words of a book to feed her.” I hope that if my kids were in this situation they would be as thoughtful. I am also encouraged that other children reading or being read this poem will look at that new student sitting by themselves in their school cafeteria, perhaps without a lunch of their own, with a new paradigm in place.

There’s a short, but sweet poem called Puppy about the selfless act of raising a service dog who’ll be “someone’s eyes one day” that is moving in its simplicity. The one below, called Jammin’ really struck a chord with me because it highlights a coming together of generations that I feel is so important for youngsters to see. I can actually picture one of my son’s friends doing the exact thing this lad does, stopping by to jam with a much older, possibly lonely, fellow musician.

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Interior spread from Lend a Hand by John Frank with illustrations by London Ladd, Lew & Low Books, ©2014.

 

In Home Run, a klutzy kid in PE is given a few winning baseball pointers by a more experienced classmate who takes the time to help when another student might not necessarily care. Song, with its hopeful message about the music from a student choir reaching into the soul of a wheelchair bound nursing home resident, brings tears to my eyes. And No Charge, about passing a kindness forward after one’s been done to you should impress upon youngsters that some of the best rewards are not financial.

One of the most catchy poems is Bus Ride with a rhythm and beat matching the music the narrator is listening to through his earphones. This poem, a most ideal read-aloud, demonstrates how we can all be considerate by giving up a seat on a crowded bus to someone who needs it more than we do. But it’s really teaching empathy, helping children to realize that every situation is not always just about them. Rather than avert his eyes so he can continue to selfishly occupy a seat that a man with a cane could use, the narrator explains that he deliberately catches the older man’s eye and motions “toward the empty seat” once he’s gotten up. I wish I saw this type of behavior more often on public transportation which is why I felt this poem provided a great example for kids. Frank has put together a meaningful collection of poems populated by diverse individuals and covering timeless themes that will resonate with readers and be a jumping off point for countless conversations about giving. Our kids are never too young to begin learning the importance of empathy and how, in this big, busy world of ours, taking the time to stop and think about someone else can have a powerful, positive and lasting effect.

London Ladd’s acrylic and pastel illustrations are spirited and full of emotion. He explains in the end pages how he works “from photographs” and uses “ordinary people, not professional models, as references for the illustrations.” I loved finding that out because it makes the illustrations feel more real and every moment captured more tender.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Click here for a shareable infographic from Lend a Hand about how to make a difference.


Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems Selected by Paul B. Janeczko

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Celebrating National Poetry Month!
Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems Selected by Paul B. Janeczko and illustrated by Melissa Sweet, (Candlewick Press, $16.99, Ages 6-9), is reviewed by Dornel Cerro.

Janeczko, the 2011 CYBIL winner for Requiem: Poems of the Terezin Ghetto, has selected a collection of short poems about the seasons written by well-known children’s and adult poets. Included here are lesser known poems by Charlotte Zolotow and J. Patrick Lewis (children’s) and Emily Dickinson and Richard Wright (adult). Each wonderfully illustrates the point that poets are artists who paint with words and only needs a few carefully chosen words to convey powerful images.

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Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems selected by Paul B. Janeczko with illustrations by Melissa Sweet, Candlewick Press, 2014.

The mood of the poems is reflective and evocative. Some are resplendent with metaphors or similes such as “In the Field Forever” by Robert Wallace (p. 21):

Sun’s a roaring dandelion, hour by hour.
Sometimes the moon’s a scythe, sometimes a silver flower.
But the stars! all night long the stars are clover.
Over, and over, and over!

Illustrator Melissa Sweet received a Caldecott honor for River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams. Her full page, mixed media illustrations (water color, gouache, and collage) are uplifting and enhance the poem without overshadowing it. My students admired Sweet’s illustrations for the interesting details she added that are not necessarily a part of the poem, but are reasonable inclusions. In the illustration for “Water Lily” a frog’s eyes peer out of the pond, following a nearby fly (p. 10).

The publisher recommends this for ages 6-9, but I read it to older students to demonstrate poetry techniques such as metaphors, word choice, etc. My 4th/5th grade class found the word choice so vivid that the readings evoked personal memories or made them feel like they were in the poem.

This breath-taking collection has deservedly received starred reviews Horn Book, Kirkus, Booklist, and School Library Journal and is highly recommended for all libraries (public, school, and home!).


Poem-Mobiles: Crazy Car Poems by J. Patrick Lewis and Douglas Florian

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Poem-Mobiles: Crazy Car Poems by J. Patrick Lewis and Douglas Florian is reviewed today by the newest member of the GRWR team, Dornel Cerro.

Poem-Mobiles: Crazy Car Poems by J. Patrick Lewis and Douglas Florian and iIlustrated by Jeremy Holmes (Schwartz & Wade Books, 2014. $17.99, Ages 4-8) is a collaboration by two accomplished and prolific children’s poets whose imagination, word crafting skills, and humor know no bounds. Lewis, author of over eighty children’s books and winner of the National Council of Teachers of English 2011 Poetry award, was the U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate from 2011-2013. Florian, who has written and illustrated over fifty children’s books, won Parent Magazine Best Book of the Year award in 2003 for Bow Wow Meow Meow: It’s Rhyming Cats and Dogs.

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Poem-Mobiles: Crazy Car Poems by J. Patrick Lewis and Douglas Florian with illustrations by Jeremy Holmes, Schwartz & Wade, 2014.

The two poets have combined their prodigious writing talents to create a collection of poems about cars. Oh, I’m not talking about the boring kind we adults drive, but really wild, weird, and wacky cars. You know, the ones children would like to drive. Like “Balloon Car” (p. 20):  “My daddy drives a car that floats/an inch above the street a hundred colorful balloons/tied to a bucket seat.” Along with some luscious vocabulary (fiery, sudsy, plop, fragrant), the poets use a variety of signature techniques such as rhyme, alliteration, and word plays that tickle a child’s fancy and delight the ear:   …”I’m a battery-powered/ automobeeeeeeeeeel!” (“Electric Eel”, p. 11).  “…The cars behind our school/ Are big Tyrannosaurus wrecks …” (“Jurassic Park(ing”), p. 12).

Holmes’s digitally colored, pencil and watercolor illustrations are set against a pale background dotted with inventive, mechanical looking elements that enliven the words and increase the zaniness of the poems. Children will want to pour over the illustrations to discover all the neat objects Holmes has inserted into his illustrations.  The collection received great reviews from Booklist, Kirkus, and School Library Journal. I read this collection to my K-1 classes who laughed out loud with delight (their favorite poem was “The Banana Split Car,” of course) and found both the poems and the illustrations humorous and imaginative. Adults will enjoy sharing this with their young children (ages 4-8) and, with the intriguing selection of vocabulary and word plays, creativity, teachers will find that any poem in this collection would make a wonderful creative writing or arts and craft project.

dcParisMeet our newest reviewer, Dornel: Dornel Cerro has been a children’s librarian for 17 years and has spent the last 10 years as librarian at Sequoyah School in Pasadena.


GET LIT HOSTS ITS 2nd ANNUAL CLASSIC SLAM

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L.A. Citywide Teen Poetry Competition

WATCH AND HEAR WORDS IGNITE

Alhambra High and other teams entering quarterfinals for the Classic Slam   Photo ⓒ Thomas Chen

Alhambra High and other teams entering quarterfinals for the Classic Slam
Photo ⓒ Thomas Chen

 

 

 

Calling all budding poets, poetry fans and supporters. Join students from over 22 L.A. County high schools this Saturday, April 27, 2013, as they face off to “SLAM” the most prolific poems. Prepare to be wowed!!  And get this – it’s a free event, but you must reserve your tickets in advance at: http://getlitclassicslam.org/tickets.php

Diane Luby Lane, Get Lit founder at Wiltern Theater Classic Slam  Photo ⓒ Thomas Chen

Diane Luby Lane, Get Lit founder at Wiltern Theater Classic Slam
Photo ⓒ Thomas Chen

WHAT: Get Lit, a leading non-profit presenter of literary performance, education, and teen poetry programs, is hosting the 2nd Annual CLASSIC SLAM, a citywide teen poetry competition where high school students from more than 22 different L.A. County high school and regions face off in teams to “slam” classic poems by poets like Neruda, Lorca, Hughes, Dickinson, Edgar Allan Poe, Angelou and more in combination with their own spoken word responses.

Roosevelt Team, Classic Slam  Photo ⓒ Thomas Chen

Roosevelt Team, Classic Slam
Photo ⓒ Thomas Chen

CLASSIC SLAM is held every April during National Poetry Month, judged by some of the top artists and leaders in the community. This year’s judges include author and lecturer Marianne Williamson, American civil-rights attorney Lisa Bloom, actor, director and producer LeVar Burton, American poet and writer Jimmy Santiago Baca, television and film director Seith Mann and poet, musician and artist Jerry Quickley. Rapper and poet George Watsky and poet, playwright and screenwriter Chinaka Hodge will host the event.

Scholarships and a trophy will be awarded to the winning team and teacher.

Photo credit for all images © Thomas Chen.

WHEN: Saturday, April 27th at the Orpheum Theater, 7:30 to 10:00 p.m.

Deanna Torres, Triumph Team poet Photo ⓒ Thomas Chen

Deanna Torres, Triumph Team poet
Photo ⓒ Thomas Chen

WHERE:

Orpheum Theater

842 Broadway

Los Angeles, CA 90014

About Get Lit – Words Ignite

Founded in 2005 in Los Angeles, Get Lit is a leading non-profit presenter of literary performance, education, and teen poetry programs. Get Lit uses the memorization and recitation of classic poetry as a launch pad for teen-created spoken word responses, fusing the two forms of expression into compelling performances, conducted by teens in school, after school, and through the organization’s own select group of Get Lit Players. These poet ambassadors from throughout Los Angeles perform both classic and spoken word poetry, inspiring fellow teens to read, write, participate in the arts, and be leaders in their community. Get Lit has reached over 15,000 at-risk teens in more than 45 high schools, turning students into motivated scholars inspired to stay in school and thrive. To learn more please visit http://getlit.org and http://getlitclassicslam.org.


World Rat Day and Other Poems

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World Rat Day: Poems about Real Holidays You’ve Never Heard  Of written by J. Patrick Lewis and illustrated by Anna Raff, (Candlewick Press; $15.99; ages 4 and up) is reviewed by Rita Zobayan.

0763654027Any concept that poetry is high culture and addresses only the topics of love and death flies out the window with World Rat Day: Poems about Real Holidays You’ve Never Heard Of. Featuring over 20 poems celebrating holidays as unusual as Happy Mew Year for Cats Day (January 2), Bat Appreciation Day (mark your calendars for April 17!) or International Cephalopod Awareness Day (October 8), this compilation is silly fun wrapped in verse.

If you’re in the mood to appreciate dragons—and let’s be honest, who isn’t?!—then don’t wait until January 16 to do so. Read along as we get an inside look at dragon dining etiquette with “Eight Table Manners for Dragons.”

At every meal, bow your head, fold your wings, and say, ‘Graze.’/Wait till someone screams, ‘Let’s heat!’/Don’t talk with people in your mouth./Never blow on your soup. That only makes it hotter./Don’t smoke./Never remove a hare from your food./Play with your food, but don’t let it run around screaming./Chew your food. Once.

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Each poem has accompanying illustrations that portray the whimsy of the verses. The characters’ expressions are hilarious and the ink wash style presents the scenes perfectly. World Rat Day: Poems about Real Holidays You’ve Never Heard Of is a great way to start a youngster’s introduction into the world of poetry.


Friendship Poems for Kids

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We Go Together!: A Curious Selection of Affectionate Verse by Calef Brown (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $9.99; ages 6 and up) is reviewed today by word lover Rita Zobayan.

Calef Brown mixes pithy diction with fantastical imagery in We Go Together!: A Curious Selection of Affectionate Verse. This 18 poem collection celebrates the quirks and intimacies of friendship, whether it is between boys, girls, animals, or even aliens! Fun words—scallywags, mirth makers, chorkle, concoct—are sprinkled throughout, making each poem a new adventure in language. Some poems use simple rhyme schemes that are easy for young readers to follow and read aloud.

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Throughout the poems there is a kindness and hopefulness for the type of friendships we want for our children. “Because of You” captures the sentiment precisely:

I was once/a half-emptyer./Now I’m a half-fuller./Because of you—the together-puller./So if I should smile/and say something sunny,/don’t look at me funny/or act surprised./Because of you,/I’m optimized.

Simple and sweet. The sweetness of the poems is matched by the artistry of the illustrations. In Calef’s world, green aliens take tea, a dog in a hat rings doorbells, a kiwi floats high above the cityscape, and panda faces appear in the rain. Slightly odd and intriguing, the illustrations will draw in the reader and bring the words to life.

Perfect as a gift for a good friend, We Go Together!: A Curious Selection of Affectionate Verse is a pint-sized package (the books measures just about 6” on each side) that packs a lot of love.