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

APRIL IS NATIONAL POETRY MONTH
Share a Poem Today!

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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Earth Verse by Sally M. Walker For Earth Day and National Poetry Month

EARTH VERSE: HAIKU FROM THE GROUND UP
Written by Sally M. Walker
Illustrated by William Grill
(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 7-9)

 

A Junior Library Guild Selection

 

Earth Verse: Haiku from the Ground Up book cover

 

At the intersection of Earth Day and National Poetry Month is Earth Verse: Haiku From the Ground Up written by Sally M. Walker with illustrations by William Grill. Let these 32 pages of unique 17 syllable poems fill you with awe and respect for planet Earth. From her place in the solar system to her “molten magma stew,” from her “fossil family” to her “sky shenanigans,” Earth is at once a marvel and our home.

 

“a flat stone, skipping,
casts circles across the lake,
lassoing the fish.”

 

Earth Verse celebrates the planet in all its majesty and mayhem. In other words, not only are the oceans and rivers written about, so are storms and tsunamis. We read about fog, volcanoes, glaciers and icebergs. We travel underground to see stalactites and stalagmites because there’s so much more below the surface, both in the verse and on our planet. Grill’s colored pencil artwork conveys just enough of a reference point while leaving lots to our imaginations. Nine pages of STEAM-themed back matter round out the book and make this picture book appropriate and desirable for both Earth Day and National Poetry Month though it can truly be enjoyed year round, just like our precious planet.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

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Best Picture Books for National Poetry Month

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
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Lend a Hand by John Frank with illustrations by London Ladd

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

LEND-A-HAND-cvr.jpg

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.

lend-a-hand-int-spread.jpg

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.

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

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.

Firefly-July-cvr.jpg

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!).

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

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.

cover

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.

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GET LIT HOSTS ITS 2nd ANNUAL CLASSIC SLAM

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.

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World Rat Day and Other Poems

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.

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Friendship Poems for Kids

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.

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A Poet and A Slave

National Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month so throughout the month we’ll be reviewing different poetry books we think you will enjoy.

0763660914I chose this particular biography to kick off National Poetry Month because I was drawn to it by the title and then moved by this remarkable and intelligent woman’s story. A Voice of Her Own: The Story of Phillis Wheatley, Slave Poet (Candlewick, $14.99, hardcover, ages 8-12; also available in paperback) by Kathryn Lasky with illustrations by Paul Lee is certain to enlighten curious young readers.

 

“At first there was just blackness. Complete blackness.  Then the blackness dissolved into darkness …”

The year is 1761 when Phillis Wheatley’s story begins with these short yet powerful sentences. I felt compelled to read on about this young girl stolen from her family in Africa. I tried to imagine her fears and sorrow as she was thrown on board a slave ship bound for America and treated more like cargo than a human being. I could not imagine at seven years old being separated from my mother, my life and my country and then enduring a grueling ten-week journey across the sea only to find myself being purchased for a few dollars upon arrival. Phillis’s only good fortune, if it can be called fortune, was that her new owners, John and Susannah Wheatley, were kind Bostonians and the laws for slaves in New England were far more lax than in the South.

Phillis was a quick study and not only learned English but Latin and Greek as well. She taught herself from books Mrs. Wheatley gave her and copied Bible passages by the light of a candle. Her passion for poetry soon emerged and her first published poem was in 1767 in the Newport Mercury newspaper. How many of your children know about this extraordinary black woman who at fourteen years old was visiting the “finest families in Boston” alongside Mrs. Wheatley, to read her poems? I think her story should be shared in every classroom.

 

Phillis’s earliest poems were written prior to the Revolution, and one particular poem, a tribute to Reverend George Whitefield upon his death, made her famous both “in the colonies and in England.” This English preacher who found slavery sinful, had made a profound and lasting impression upon young Phillis who had found a new kind of freedom through her words. Mrs. Wheatley, who considered Phillis more like a daughter than a slave, was determined to have Phillis’s collection of poetry published but printers in Boston refused to publish “the work of a Negro.” The only choice Mrs. Wheatley had then was to send Phillis to England where the collection was published in 1773.

The book is broken down into nine vividly illustrated chapters, plus an epilogue, notes from the author and illustrator, selected sources, an index and author and illustrator biographies. It’s an inspirational read for anyone interested in learning how individuals can overcome some of life’s harshest obstacles. Phillis Wheatley was kidnapped as a diamond in the rough from Africa and grew to become a polished poet who could shine on even the dullest New England day. Her outstanding contribution to poetry has truly earned her a place in American history.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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Celebrate National Poetry Month With PBS KIDS’ Martha Speaks and Arthur

Parents, how old were you when you wrote your first poem? This week make sure to tune into PBS KIDS Martha Speaks and Arthur for some exciting episodes. Teaming up with the Poetry Foundation for a super special week of reading, writing, and poetry episodes April 2-6, 2012 (please check your local listings for exact times), PBS KIDS may even get you waxing poetic! 

PBS KIDS will feature former United States Poet Laureate Billy Collins and Inaugural Children’s Poet Laureate Jack Prelutsky. It just doesn’t get much better than that! Do you have a budding Shel Silverstein, Kenn Nesbitt, or Theodore Geisel at home? Have your youngsters create and publish their own poetry online with an all-new game, Martha’s Rhyme Time at pbskids.org/martha and Fern’s Poetry Club at pbskids.org/arthur.


Martha Speaks and Arthur share a focus on literacy and actively encourage creativity and love of words,” says Carol Greenwald, Senior Executive Producer at WGBH. “Through this partnership with the Poetry Foundation, we hope to encourage and inspire the next generation of poetry readers and writers.”


“Children who are exposed to the joys of poetry at a young age are most likely to become lifelong readers of poetry as adults,” adds Stephanie Hlywak, Media Director of the Poetry Foundation. “How better to create a new generation of poetry lovers than to enlist the help of Martha, Arthur, Billy Collins, and Jack Prelutsky?”

Airing Monday, April 2, 2012, PBS KIDS will premiere the brand-new Martha Speaks episode “Billy Collins Speaks” (check local listings). In this episode, Billy Collins writes great poems about dogs, and Martha thinks she knows why. Obviously, the former poet laureate must be a canine himself! When Martha meets Billy Collins, she’s in for a few surprises…as is he. Tune in to learn words likepoem, poet, prose, imposter, and metaphor.

Then in the classic Arthur episode “I’m a Poet,” Arthur and his friends are challenged to write a poem for a contest—to be judged by inaugural Children’s Poet Laureate Jack Prelutsky. Though intimidated at first, everyone comes up with a poem that reflects his or her own unique approach.

Two new Martha Speaks episodes highlighting parts of speech and featuring a visit from the Bookbots air on PBS KIDS Tuesday and Wednesday, April 3-4, 2012 (check local listings). Additionally, past episodes of Arthur celebrating creative writing will air on PBS KIDS Tuesday-Friday, April 3-6, 2012 (check local listings).

New games highlight poetry and creative writing online at pbskids.org!


Kids are invited to read, write, and share poetry online with Martha’s Rhyme Time at pbskids.org/martha and Fern’s Poetry Club at pbskids.org/arthur.

Martha’s Rhyme Time


In Martha’s Rhyme Time, kids can create rhyming couplets for Martha to perform. Building each from six different sets of words, there are—mathematically speaking—a bazillion combinations to create. Kids also can customize the performance stage and create a printed version to color and stick on the fridge. And, of course, with Martha being Martha, she’ll introduce and explain many new vocabulary words along the way!

Fern’s Poetry Club


Fern’s Poetry Club is a long-running, popular poetry feature on the Arthur website that encourages children to write and share their poems online. Fern’s Poetry Club contains information to help kids understand what poetry is, a description of different types of poems, and tips for kids on how to write their own poems—plus an archive of poems submitted to the site over the past 10 years. To celebrate National Poetry Month, new features will be added, including poetry-related video clips from Arthur. Kids will now see Fern, Arthur, and all their friends enjoying this wonderful form of expression!

About the Poetry Foundation


The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine, is an independent literary organization committed to a vigorous presence for poetry in our culture. It exists to discover and celebrate the best poetry and to place it before the largest possible audience. The Poetry Foundation seeks to be a leader in shaping a receptive climate for poetry by developing new audiences, creating new avenues for delivery, and encouraging new kinds of poetry through innovative partnerships, prizes, and programs. For more information, please visit www.poetryfoundation.org.

About PBS KIDS


PBS KIDS, the number one educational media brand for kids, offers all children the opportunity to explore new ideas and new worlds through television, online and community-based programs. Follow PBS KIDS on Twitter and Facebook.

 

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Poems for April

frontcoverApril happens to be National Poetry Month and there are so many terrific poetry books available. However, not all kids love poetry. Maybe they’ve just been exposed to the wrong poems. Whether you seek humorous poems or those more serious, this selection offers something for everyone. A great starting point is A to Z Poetry For Kids written by SoCal college grad Kellan G. Peterson available at www.atozpoetryforkids.com. This helpful book introduces 26 different types of poems including many I had no idea existed!

9780446563826_154x233Recent poetry books of note are: 100 Great Poems for Girls edited by Celia Johnson, 100 Great Poems for Boys edited by Leslie Pockell, Poem in Your Pocket For Young Poets: 100 Poems to Rip Out & Read selected by Bruno Navasky, Poetry Speaks Who I Am: Poems of Discovery, Inspiration, Independence, and Everything Else in Your Amazing Future edited by Elise Paschen, and The Tree That Time Built: A Celebration of Nature, Science, and Imagination edited by Mary Ann Hoberman and Linda Winston.

9780810991422_s3For the younger set there’s Everybody Was A Baby Once and Other Poems by Alan Ahlberg and Bruce Ingman, Truckery Rhymes (Part of Jon Scieszka’s Trucktown), Arnold Lobel’s Odd Owls & Stout Pigs: A Book of Nonsense with color by Adrianne Lobel, Maybe I’ll Sleep in the Bathtub Tonight and Other Funny Bedtime Poems by Debbie Levy with illustrations by Stephanie Buscema,
Countdown to Summer: a Poem for Every Day of the School Year, by J. Patrick Lewis and illustrated by Ethan Long, and Tighty Whitey Spider by Kenn Nesbitt.

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April is National Poetry Month

In Praise of Poetry

“A word is dead when it is said, some say. I say it just begins to live that day.” – Emily Dickinson

As we celebrate both the spoken and written word, here are some new and noteworthy books I’d like to share with you. Then, take a minute and visit the Web site of Poetry Speaks to learn more about what is happening in the colorful, creative world of poetry.

For ages 2 and up:
0763646822medEverybody Was A Baby Once and Other Poems by Alan Ahlberg and Bruce Ingman (Candlewick Press, $15.99). Filled with witty, funny poems kids will enjoy hearing and parents will love reading, like Small Hairy Mouse, Monster Munch and more!

For ages 3-8:
9781416941354Truckery Rhymes (Part of Jon Scieszka’s Trucktown) with illustrations by the Design Garage: David Shannon, Loren Long and David Gordon (Simon & Schuster, $17.99). For me a favorite here is The Wheels on The Truck and Wrecker Rosie Sat on a Wall. Truckfulls of silliness in store.

For ages 4-7:
9780061800542Arnold Lobels Odd Owls & Stout Pigs: A Book of Nonsense with color by Adrianne Lobel (HarperCollins Children’s Books, $15.99). Who doesn’t love Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad stories? Now there’s more to love with this collection including some extremely clever limericks with lines you’ll be repeating over and over.

51cdhb6jb5l_sl500_aa300_Maybe I’ll Sleep in the Bathtub Tonight and Other Funny Bedtime Poems by Debbie Levy with illustrations by Stephanie Buscema (Sterling Publishing Co., $14.95). Funny poems about sleepovers, closets, pillows and night clothes fill this book and get kids giggling and grinning before bed, getting imaginations in gear and guaranteeing lots of good dreams!

For ages 9-12:
9781402225178-mThe Tree That Time Built: A Celebration of Nature, Science, and Imagination edited by Mary Ann Hoberman and Linda Winston (Soucebooks/Jabberwocky, $19.99 includes 1 Audio CD). Here’s a collection you and your child will want to revisit again and again because it’s absolutely packed with poems and info about our world. I particularly like that there’s a helpful glossary, bibliography and an About The Poets section, too. Hearing poets read their own works on the CD is simply the icing on the cake.

For ages 12-14:
9781402210747-mPoetry Speaks Who I Am: Poems of Discovery, Inspiration, Independence, and Everything Else in Your Amazing Future edited by Elise Paschen; series editor Dominique Raccah (Soucebooks/Jabberwocky, $19.99 includes 1 Audio CD).   Teens will be inspired to write their own poetry at the end of this book after reading Shakespeare, Rosetti, Nash and more than 100 moving and meaningful poems by contemporary and classic poets. Read and Hear: Billy Collins,  Marilyn Nelson, Sonia Sanchez, Richard Wilbur and more.  The zeitgeist of teen-dom is so perfectly captured and conveyed in this anthology and really does speak to middle-graders  in an exciting array of  voices.

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It’s National Poetry Month – Does Your Hippo Have The Hiccups?

Or Does Your Doggie Like To Disco?

9781402218095Pick up a copy of My Hippo Has The Hiccups from Sourcebooks’ cool kids imprint Jabberwocky to find out. I guarantee you’ll have tons of fun reading aloud with your children and then laughing yourself silly with the fantastic collection of poems from poet and sought-after school performer, Kenn Nesbitt. Then, when you’re done and yearning for more, why not keep the poetry pulse pumping by visiting Kenn’s website, www.poetry4kids.com?

Not since Shel Silverstein and his belly-laugh inducing poetry have I dog-eared so many pages in a children’s poetry book. Wild and wacky, inventive and inspiring, the 109 poems in this book are certain to entertain. And if they don’t get your kids eager to write their own poetry, I don’t know what will! It was utterly impossible to pick a favorite because I adored them all, but let me contradict myself and select the beginning of one here:

I Often Contradict Myself

I often contradict myself.
Oh no, I never do.
I argue with me day and night.
That simply isn’t true.

With titles in Nesbitt’s vast collection ranging from I Cloned Myself on Friday Night to Don’t Ever Bite Your Sister, I thought I’d give you a taste of what’s in store when you bring this book home (and the best part is there’s even an audio CD included for your portable poetry pleasure). Whet your poetry appetite and listen to Kenn Nesbitt read the following poems by clicking on each title below:

Something I Need to Remember
Dexter McDwyer
Don’t Ever Bite Your Sister

Want a chance to see your poem in print? Go right now (contest ends April 30), please don’t delay, tell the world, you’ve got something to say and visit TIME for Kids in conjunction with www.poetry4kids.com and enter their contest. The best funny poem gets published on the TFK website!

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