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Poetry: A Celebration

by Susie Wilde 

*This article originally appeared in the March 2014 issue of Kids & Books.*

If ever a genre celebrated words and life, it's poetry. Every year a plentitude of books appear that praise, honor and rejoice in objects and feelings. Below find new poetry books for all ages.

Starting Young (ages 0-4)

Even before birth, humans are receptive to the rhythms of their mothers' heartbeats. Soon after, it's time for a volume of Mother Goose to savor, like David McPhail's My Mother Goose: a Collection of Favorite Rhymes, Songs, and Concepts (2013). As McPhail states in the book's introduction, his mother put him on her lap, recited poems "in her sing-songy voice" and he did the same for his children. From these rhymes McPhail "learned about play and about work; about joy and sorrow; about manners, ethics and dreams . . . vocabulary, counting, the alphabet, colors and shapes."  His collection spans 90 pages, familiar and less known, and a range of moods from playful to tender.  All are animated by his portrayals of dynamic animals and children.

Two new volumes by celebrated children's book artists are written specifically for the very young. Lin Oliver joins forces with Tomie De Paola in Little Poems for Tiny Ears (2013) and Jane Yolen and Jane Dyer collaborate on Wee Rhymes: Baby's First Poetry Book (2013).

Discovering Words and Worlds (ages 5-9)

During early school years, children marvel at words as they widen their views of the world.  Poetry makes memorable introductions.

New Ideas

World Rat Day: Poems About Real Holidays You've Never Heard Of (2013) by J. Patrick Lewis. It may be hard to believe, but these 22 holidays really exist! The former U.S. Children's Poet Laureate has odes for Chocolate-Covered Anything Day, Dragon Appreciation Day, and Cat's Day. The collection is diverse in styles, cadences and moods.

Appreciating the Natural World

Another by J. Patrick Lewis. This time, he imagines the insect world in Face Bug (2013). His verses, photographs by Frederic B. Siskind and cartoons by Kelly Murphy invite children into an imaginary museum frequented by bugs that admire visual and word pictures of 14 of their ilk -- from Daddy Longlegs to the Hickory Horned Devil.

Amy Ludwig VanDerwater's Forest Has a Song (2013) unites Robbin Gourley's soft watercolors with the poet's lyrical views of creatures and plants in all seasons. The heroine pictured in illustrations exemplifies sensory awareness and strong imagination as she hears "a pinecone fall," smells a "spicy breeze," and sees a Lady's Slipper as a "Forest Cinderella."

Visiting Imaginary Places

Poetry naturally ignites the imagination. In fantasy settings, poetry and fairy tales are a sure transport to magical places.

Marilyn Singer's Follow Follow: A Book of Reverso Poems (2013) is the companion to Mirror Mirror (2010).  Both books give alternate views of the same fairy tales by reversing the order of their words. For example, one poem is voiced by Aladdin while the "reverso poem" has bitter words from the Jinni of the Lamp. Singer is a mistress of words and whimsy and Josee Masse's colorful illustrations are artistically apt expressions of the poems. 

Grace Maccarone's Princess Tales: Once Upon a Time in Rhyme with Seek-and-Find Pictures (2013) conveys ten familiar fairy tales with cadences that sing. Detailed illustrations by Gail De Marcken have secret objects hidden in the illustrations. 

Humor

Regardless of subject, humor is always popular. Wit, laughter, and unique views are a fabulous combination.

Lisa Wheeler's The Pet Project: Cute and Cuddly Vicious Verses (2013) shows the writer's celebrated rhyming and appreciation of animals. This rhythm-rich story offers interesting perspectives on creatures, scientific exploration, habitats and humor as a young girl seeks a perfect pet. She considers 24 creatures including a cow, polar bears, and a pet rock. She finds each pet lacking, but the poems will satisfy young listeners' ears and funny bones. 

Douglas Florian, one of childrens' favorite humor poets, always has a quirky take on subjects. His latest, Poem Depot: Aisles of Smiles (2014) gives children lots to laugh about with 170 nonsense poems organized as if one is shopping through a bizarre marketplace of odes that offers "Jests and Jives," "Tons of Puns," "Chortles and Chuckles" and more. Florian's illustrations add even more silliness.

Sophisticated Stanzas for More Musing (ages 10 and up)

As children age, their ability and desire to puzzle out poems grows. Poems for older children stimulate both hearts and heads.

Poetry and Stories

Poems linked with stories make for strong narrative and characters that readers will care about.

Tamera Will Wissinger's Gone Fishing: A Novel in Verse (2013) joins 40 poems, 47 different poetic techniques, and the story of nine-year-old Sam who has a passion for fishing but not for his little sister. These narrative poems appear to be simple, but each contains forms and figures of speech -- including alliteration, hyperbole, similes, metaphor and personification -- that Wissinger refers to as "The Poet's Tackle Box."

Nikki Grimes' Word with Wings (2013) enters the world of dreamy Gabby, who seems to have gotten even more distracted since her father has moved out. Her loneliness is compounded when she and her mother move and Gabby enters a new school. Gabby's unique visions have a verve that will set readers' imagination on fire.

Andrea Cheng's Etched in Clay: The Life of Dave, Enslaved Potter and Poet (2013) is a series of poems imagining different perspectives of those who affected the life of Dave, an enslaved potter from the 19th century. Cheng takes sentence fragments Dave left on his crockery creations to create woodprints and free verse poems representing his thoughts on clay, art, relationships and enslavement.

Maryann MacDonald's Odette's Secrets (2013) bases her free verse poems on the life of Odette Meyers, a young Jewish child in World War II Paris who faces "wailing sirens," "strutting" occupying German soldiers, her father's imprisonment, separation from her mother and hiding in small French villages. MacDonald evokes Odette's fear, silence, and the maternal love that buoys Odette.

J. Patrick Lewis uses poetic forms to captures meaningful moments of 17 figures, some well-known, some lesser-known, who made change in When Thunder Comes: Poems for Civil Rights Leaders (2012). Each portrayal is accompanied by an illustration by known artists. One of the gifts of these poems is the diversity of his subjects.  Lewis represents different fields of endeavor, nationalities, and sentiments. In addition, he also varies his poetic techniques.

Contemplative

One of poetry's pleasures comes in its inspiration.  Quite often stunning words urge readers to reflect and reimagine their own lives and thoughts.

Marilyn Nelson's How I Discovered Poetry (2014) is the award-winning poet's reflective look at her own past. In 50 first-person poems, she writes of what it felt like to grow up in the 1950s as the daughter of one of the first African-American military career officers. The poems bear witness to how she fell in love with language as well as describing her isolation and confusion during the eras of racial prejudice, the Red Scare, and bomb drills.

Joyce Sidman's What the Heart Knows: Chants, Charms and Blessings (2013) translates the magical poetic forms of times past into the present. Her 20 poems offer calm, beauty, wisdom, and reassurance as she writes of repairing friendship, happiness, and death. These poems are complex, deeply emotional and provoke thought and conversations. Pamela Zagarenski's art matches each mood -- they are richly-colored, dreamy representations, full of visual imagery. 

Regardless of the intended age, the tones, and topics, the magnificent expressions and descriptions of poetry urge reader to reconsider, reimagine and wonder.  

 
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Susie Wilde (ignitingwriting.com), a read-aloud advocate and children's book crusader for over thirty years, has reviewed for magazines and newspapers and shared her favorite titles with children, parents and teachers.