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Kids Book Review: Best Poetry Picture Books for National Poetry Month

APRIL IS NATIONAL POETRY MONTH
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It may be the last day of April, but I hope that won’t stop anyone from bringing poetry into the lives of children. Here’s a roundup of some recommended reads not just for National Poetry Month, but for every day of the year. Let the joy of a wonderful poem inspire kids. I know many people, myself included, who still can recall poems from their childhood. What a testament to the power of a great poem!

 

Home Run, Touchdown, Basket, Goal! book cover artHOME RUN, TOUCHDOWN, BASKET, GOAL!
Sports Poems for Little Athletes
Written and illustrated by Leo Landry
(Godwin Books/Henry Holt BYR,; $17.99, Ages 3-6)

I chose Home Run, Touchdown, Basket, Goal! because the title was just so good, plus the idea of poetry for young athletes also seemed like a clever concept. The twelve poems, all rhyming, range from baseball to tennis and include others about biking, gymnastics, karate, ice skating, soccer and swimming and feel appropriate for the recommended age group. There are some super, energetic lines that kids will relate to, in this example, about football: Go long! I shout. You get the hint. You’re headed for the end zone—sprint! The sports selected are as diverse as the children participating. Every illustration shows both girls and boys, children of color and I even spotted one bald child although no child with a visible disability was depicted. Landry uses a pale palate of watercolors in simple spreads that each bleed off the page and convey movement and emotion. My favorite illustration is of three girls, mouths wide open, as you’d imagine, arms linked in friendship and for fun, cannonballing into a pool. Score!

book cover art from Clackety Track: Poems About TrainsCLACKETY TRACK:
Poems About Trains

Written by Skila Brown
Illustrated by Jamey Christoph
(Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 5-8)

I remember when my children were into all things ‘train.’ That meant playing with toy trains, reading train stories and traveling on trains too. Clackety Track is an ideal pick
for youngsters already loco for locomotives or eager to learn more about them. A variety of Brown’s poems, rhyming and not, cleverly cover interesting types of this transportation mode. “Steam Engine” for example, pays homage to the powerful granddaddy: Biggest beast you’ve ever seen. Gobbling up a coal cuisine. One hundred tons of steel machine. Belching out a steam smoke screen. Other poems tell of snow plows, zoo trains, underground trains, sleeper trains and more. Handy train facts at the end add to the book’s appeal and I like how they’re presented in the body of train. Christoph’s engaging, retro-style illustrations bring a cool look to the book. I especially liked the Swiss electric train spread because it reminded me of the ones I used to travel on when I lived in Europe. Kids are going to want to study every detail included in the artwork just like my children used to and then compare them to the real deal when they next travel by rail.

The Proper Way to Meet a Hedgehog book cover illustrationTHE PROPER WAY TO MEET A HEDGEHOG:
And Other How-To Poems
Selected by Paul B. Janeczko
Illustrated by Richard Jones
(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 6-9)

New and old poems by powerhouse poets from Kwame Alexander to Allan Wolf, all selected by the late Paul B. Janeczko, fill this fabulous collection that will inspire young readers. Have your child or student write their own How To poem and see where it takes them. You may laugh, cry and be surprised just like the emotions the poems in this anthology evoke. Kids’ imaginations will be fed by this feast of words and subjects. This 48-page picture book opens with “How to Build a Poem” by Charles Ghinga, Let’s build a poem made of rhyme with words like ladders we can climb, … Then 32 more follow including the humorous “Rules” by Karla Kuskin, “How to Bird-Watch,” a Tanka by Margarita Engle, “On the Fourth of July” by Marilyn Singer and proof how so few words can say so much, the book ends with April Halprin Wayland’s “How to Pay Attention.” Close this book. Look.

I absolutely adored the artwork by Richard Jones, too, and find it hard to pick a favorite because like the myriad poems, there are just too many great illustrations to note. But I’ll try: the expansive shades of orange image with a solo astronaut suited up in white that accompanies Irene Latham’s “Walking on Mars” is one I keep revisiting; the tail end of a dog in the scene of two friends making snow angels complements “How to Make a Snow Angel” by Ralph Fletcher; and Pat Mora’s “How to Say a Little Prayer” features a girl and her cat asleep on her bed that could be in a forest or her bedroom and reflect’s the poet’s lines, Think about a sight you like—yellow flowers, your mom’s face, a favorite tree, a hawk in flight—breathing slowly in and out. Pick your faves to read-aloud before bedtime or devour The Proper Way to Meet a Hedgehog in its entirety. A Junior Library Guild Selection

Superlative Birds book cover artSUPERLATIVE BIRDS
Written Leslie Bulion
Illustrated by Robert Meganck
(Peachtree Publishing; $15.95, Ages 8-12)

Leslie Bulion’s Superlative Birds succeeds by having that re-readability factor because of its poems, its subject matter, its facts and its artwork. While it’s not a grammar book, the superlative refers to the trait or characteristic that a certain bird has demonstrating “the highest or a very high degree of a quality (e.g. bravest, most fiercely ). Headings give a clue. For example the “Most Numerous” would have to be the queleas bird whose adult population is an estimated 1.5 billion! The bird with the widest wingspan is the albatross and the jacana, with its long, long toes can actually walk on a lily pad and not sink! And which bird has the keenest sense of smell? Why it’s the turkey vulture. A charming chickadee leads readers on the journey with informative speech bubbles and science notes for each bird helps us get the inside scoop on what makes the bird tick, or sing or scavenge. The gorgeous illustrations introduce us to the bird and there’s always something extra like an action or a funny expression to note in each image whether that be a mouse in a rowboat, a fleeing lizard or frightened rodent. Kids will LOL at the skunk covering his nose from the repulsive stink of the hoatzin, the smelliest bird. I noticed as I read that Bulion incorporated many different forms of poetry into the book and in the poetry notes in the back matter she describes what form of poem she used. There’s also a glossary, resource info and acknowledgements. And if you’re like me, you’ll check out the end papers because the ones in the beginning of the book are slightly different in one particular way than the ones at the end. If you’re keen on finding a new way to foster a love of birds and poetry coupled with crisp art and tons of detail, this may be the best book out there. Starred Reviews – Booklist, Kirkus, The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books.

book cvr art from The Day The Universe Exploded My HeadTHE DAY THE UNIVERSE EXPLODED MY HEAD
Poems to Take You Into Space and Back Again
Written by Allan Wolf
Illustrated by Anna Raff
(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 8-12)

As I read the first poem in The Day The Universe Exploded My Head, a humorous and enlightening picture book, ideal for middle graders, I thought of the Rolling Stones’ classic “Sympathy for the Devil” and the line Please allow me to introduce myself because that’s exactly what the character of Sun does in the first poem called “The Sun: A Solar Sunnet, er, Sonnet.” In this 14 line poem Sun introduces itself to readers in a more serious tone than its title and illustration, yet manages to convey the “gravity” of its existence. Wolf’s 29 poems always educate but entertain too so they are sure to grab and hold the attention of even the most reluctant of tween readers. Raff’s whimsical artwork that accompanies each poem gets it right by often anthropomorphizing planets, moons and stars who rock accoutrements and accessories from sunglasses and skirts to bow ties and baseball caps. It also includes cartoon-like images of astronauts, children and even Galileo.

Kids will learn while getting a kick out of poems that range from concrete “Black Hole”; sonnet, “Mars”; and rap, “Going The Distance” and many more that guarantee enthusiastic read-aloud participation. Wolf’s poems cover the universe and space exploration and share facts in such a fun and rewarding way. I think if I had to memorize facts about space, using poetry would be an excellent way. “Jupiter”: I’m Jupiter the giant. The solar system’s mayor: I’m gas and wind and clouds wedged into thick lasagna layers. Other poems pay tribute to “The Children of Astronomy,” those who died throughout the history of spaceflight, the moon, and eclipses. Four pages of back matter round out this explosively enjoyable book that’s truly out of this world.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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Iron Rails, Iron Men, and the Race to Link the Nation: The Story of the Transcontinental Railroad

IRON RAILS, IRON MEN, AND THE RACE TO LINK THE NATION
The Story of the Transcontinental Railroad
Written by Martin W. Sandler
(Candlewick Press; $22.99, Ages 10 and up)

 

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Prepare to not want to put down this fascinating nonfiction book called Iron Rails, Iron Men, and the Race to Link the Nation by Emmy Award and Pulitzer prize winning historian, Martin W. Sandler.

In the early nineteenth century it took six months to travel coast to coast by horse and wagon. Rugged terrain and violent weather made the journey difficult and dangerous. The alternative, sailing around Cape Horn, took at least six months and was equally dangerous.

Dreams of a transcontinental railroad had great promise: quicker travel time, new communities, and improved opportunities for trade and commerce. It took years to advocate and raise money for this massive project. When President Lincoln signed the Pacific Railroad Act of 1862, two companies, the Central Pacific, laying tracks eastward, and the Union Pacific, laying tracks westwards, raced to complete the job.

The work required staggering feats of engineering, which award-winning historian MartinW. Sandler effectively demonstrates using period photos and weaving mind-blowing facts into the narrative. Workers had to blast through mountains to build tunnels and erected some of the highest bridges known. Supplies had to be hauled over mountains on horseback or cart to the workers. Conditions were grueling: prairie fires, cattle stampedes, severe weather, and Native American attacks. Each job had its physical challenges: imagine graders who hauled tons of dirt away or track layers who lifted and placed rails that weighed 500 to 700 pounds!

Sandler critically examines more controversial issues such as corruption, discrimination against the highly efficient Chinese workers, and the severe impact on the life and culture of the Plains Indians.

When the two rails finally met, tens of thousands of workers had laid over 18,000 miles of track and joined the two coasts of a rugged continent. Travel time, coast to coast, was reduced to one week.

The author has made dramatic use of archival photographs to enhance the engaging and informative text, all accompanied by easy to follow maps. A fascinating final chapter discusses what happened to the main personalities. Educators and parents should check out the publisher’s great teacher’s guide and audio excerpt. Highly recommended for teachers and librarians serving grades 5 and up and a great resource for 19th century United States history and train enthusiasts.

– Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

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All Aboard! California, All Aboard! New York & All Aboard! Paris by Kevin & Haily Meyers

ALL ABOARD! CALIFORNIA: A LANDSCAPE PRIMER,
ALL ABOARD! NEW YORK: A CITY PRIMER,
ALL ABOARD! PARIS: A FRENCH PRIMER
Written by Kevin & Haily Meyers
Illustrated by Haily Meyers
(Gibbs Smith; $9.99 each, Ages 0-3)

 

AllAboardCaliforniacvr

From the folks that gave us the irresistible BabyLit® Books comes a new series that promises to be another hit. It’s never too early to share the delights of our world with little ones whether that be via personal stories, songs, photos, books, TV, film or travel.

This attractively designed board book primer series introduces youngsters to the varied landscape of California, the stimulating sights of New York City, and the romance and allure of Paris and the French language. Each book consists of 22 matte finished pages filled with bold graphics in an array of colors that I might not ordinarily combine, but work wonderfully together. I want tote bags or tees of all the artwork, it’s just that visually rewarding!

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Interior spread from All Aboard! California written by Kevin & Haily Meyers with artwork by Haily Meyers, Gibbs Smith ©2015.

In All Aboard! California, we tour the Golden State on board a train heading from south to north, making stops in the Mojave desert, and along the coastal beaches that have beckoned sun bathers and surfers for decades. After that the train heads into the Hollywood Hills, past Orange Groves and then makes tracks through the farmlands of the Central Coast. Parents will enjoy pointing out to kids how the train fills up with surf boards, oranges and cows while cruising toward its ultimate destination, the magnificent Redwood Forest. But not before first visiting the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Nappa’s vineyards and one other popular tourist attraction, San Francisco. The book ends with a helpful map and the official California State Flag.

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Interior spread from All Aboard! California written by Kevin & Haily Meyers with artwork by Haily Meyers, Gibbs Smith ©2015.

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Interior spread from All Aboard! New York written by Kevin & Haily Meyers with artwork by Haily Meyers, Gibbs Smith ©2015.

AllAboardNewYorkcvrNext, with All Aboard! New York, we’re visiting the Big Apple and traveling through the Lincoln Tunnel from New Jersey into Manhattan, something I’ve done countless times (and even once got stuck in the tunnel when my car conked out!). We wind our way around Central Park and head over to take in the sights of Times Square (NOTE: Make sure to check out all the billboards as there’s lots of fun things to discover), but not before getting seated front row center at a Broadway show. What’s a trip to New York without skyscraper spotting including the one and only Empire State Building, a not-to-be-missed landmark of the Manhattan skyline? This trip also includes a ride to lower Manhattan to see the new Freedom Tower at One World Trade Center and the National September 11 Memorial as well as a glimpse of the NYSE on Wall Street. Two of my personal faves are featured in All Aboard! New York and those are the Staten Island Ferry for a breathtaking view of the Statue of Liberty and the Brooklyn Bridge spanning New York’s East River. Before leaving the city, you can even help your child count how many taxis appear in book. Remember also to show them the map at the book’s end with train cars running along the bottom of the two-page spread decorated with delicious foods found throughout the boroughs such as cheesecake, pretzels and bagels.

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Interior spread from All Aboard! New York written by Kevin & Haily Meyers with artwork by Haily Meyers, Gibbs Smith ©2015.

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Interior spread from All Aboard! Paris written by Kevin & Haily Meyers with artwork by Haily Meyers, Gibbs Smith ©2015.

AllAboardPariscvrLast but not least is the City of Love as featured in All Aboard! Paris. I’m thrilled there’s such an adorable board book to not only nurture a love of the French language but of the capital city itself. It’s Bienvenue! Welcome! all around as we chug our way past the Canal de L’Ourcq and see the famous Monument at Place de la Bastille. Is that rain beginning to fall? Mais oui! It’s time to get out a Parapluie or Umbrella. The train passes close by a lovely Garden (Luxembourg perhaps) where children sail boats and lovely flowers are in abundance. Also included are Notre Dame (Cathedral), the Seine River, Sacré-Cœur atop the hill of Montmartre and the Louvre Museum. Grab a baguette and cruise on over to see the Arc de Triomphe, the Élysée Palace (or it could be Versailles – your call parents!), and 19th century iron structure we know as the Eiffel Tower. Words covered range from boy and girl to bridge and rain, and lots more, bien sûr!

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Interior spread from All Aboard! Paris written by Kevin & Haily Meyers with artwork by Haily Meyers, Gibbs Smith ©2015.

 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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