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Great Poetry Books for Children

 We Say Good-bye to National Poetry Month

We kicked off National Poetry Month with a terrific poetry book and we’ll end the month the same way!

Changescvr.jpgLet’s look at CHANGES: A Child’s First Poetry Collection by Charlotte Zolotow with illustrations by Tiphanie Beeke and an introduction by Zolotow’s daughter, writer Crescent Dragonwagon (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky; $16.99, Ages 3 and up). The late, great, award-winning author and poet, Charlotte Zolotow, wrote many of the poems I learned as a child. Perhaps you recall some of them, too.

Now with this collection of her seasonal poetry gathered together for the first time, you can share the 28 poems and watch youngsters experience the same joy you did upon hearing them years ago. The selection of poems begins with spring and finishes in winter. The book closes with a touching poem called So Will I that might even bring a tear to your eye as it did to mine. In this poem a young narrator recounts hearing his grandfather’s beautiful memories of nature from his youthful days. This poem, like the others, as Dragonwagon so aptly points out,  is “deceptively simple, transparent and refreshing as a glass of clean, clear, cold spring-water.” Drink up!

The opening poem, Change, with its subtle message, is one of my favorites. Here’s how it begins:

This summer
still hangs
heavy and sweet
with sunlight
as it did last year.

 

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Interior artwork from Changes: A Child’s First Poetry Collection by Charlotte Zolotow with illustrations by Tiphanie Beeke and an introduction by Crescent Dragonwagon, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky ©2015.

In addition to Zolotow’s cyclical poems with evocative titles such as The Spring Wind, Crocus, By the Sea, Beetle, The Leaves and The First Snow, another treat of Changes: A Child’s First Poetry Collection is that it’s full of gorgeous illustrations. Beeke’s watercolor artwork is vibrant and cheerful, composed with a light touch and full heart. With each turn of the page, there’s something pleasing to look at whether it’s a small insect on a book in The Fly or a snowy woods teeming with life in Here.

In this centenary of Zolotow’s birth, it’s wonderful that we can celebrate her contribution to children’s literature, and recognize the brilliance of her poetry which continues to resonate today as strongly as it did when first written.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

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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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