Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Editor: Betsy Franco
Photographer: Nina Nickles
ISBN: 0-7636-0905-6 Citation: Franco, Betsy. Things I Have to Tell You: Poems and Writing by Teenage Girls. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press, 2001.
Review: In Things I Have to Tell You Betsy Franco compiles a collection of poems written by teenage girls aged fourteen to nineteen. Dealing with intensely heavy and serious subject matter including body image, sexuality, and drugs, the poems in this collection represent the real-life issues that face today's teenagers from their unique perspective. Readers will be amazed at the literary quality of the poems written by these young women; there is no shortage of figurative language, varying formats, and especially voice. The accompanying photographs by Nina Nickles show realistic images of teenagers, not the glamorous, touched-up Hollywood versions, which serves to enhance the poetry and reinforce the realistic perspective of the book. Though fraught with controversial topics and swear words, teenage girls will especially relate to these poems that validate their every day struggles.
Potential Use: Things I Have to Tell You would be a great way to encourage students, especially teenage girls, to try their hand at writing poetry or to begin a poetry journal. The emotions expressed through poetry can provide an escape for teenagers and serve as an outlet for expressing feelings in a proactive manner. By reading poetry written by girls their own age, this book will show teenagers that they are not alone in their circumstances. See the selection below for an example from the Things I Have to Tell You.
Finding Joy by Marissa Korbel, age 16
I found myself a place
to be, to play
a day went by or maybe two
no thoughts of you to crowd my empty mind
I find my body is to me
as lovely as
a budding tree
a cat with grace
and emerald eyes
so unconcerned with shapely thighs
inside this shape
a woman's hips and breasts
so much wider, softer than the rest
I found myself a crystal blue
like nymphs or faeries do
I never thought of you
or what you'd think of me
I found my body was
a mass of ground
the earth inside of me
behind my vinyl walls of
I was the earth, the sky
it made me want to cry
to shout the softness
I have never dared let out
my curves, my hair
a part of who I was
a blonde in a clear glass pond
myself a flow of nature
Author: Paul B. Janeczko
Illustrator: Chris Raschka
Citation: Janeczko, Paul B. A Kick in the Head: An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2009.
Review: Both informative and entertaining, Paul B. Janeczo has compiled an interesting and versatile collection of poems that give examples of twenty-nine different poetic forms. A Kick in the Head provides brief, simple explanations of each poetic form and gives readers the opportunity to compare actual examples with the rules of the format. Spanning the realm of poetic forms from acrostics to limericks to elegies, the variety of formats provides something for all ages and ability levels. Chris Raschka's innovative watercolor, ink, and torn paper
illustrations perfectly pair with each selection. Students who believe poetry to be "hard" or "boring" will likely relate to the poetic forms like never before through Janeczko's intriguing selections and easy-to-understand explanations.
Whether read aloud or read independently, readers will enjoy the variety of selections and abstract illustrations.
Potential Use: A Kick in the Head is an excellent way to introduce the various poetic forms to students of all ages. The author note at the beginning, the silliness of some of the selections, and the explanation that poetry does not always have to follow the rules encourages students to try some of the forms on their own and inspires creativity. See the examples below for a simple couplet featured in the book, which could be used with even the youngest students, to a more complex elegy, which could be used with the more advanced.
The Mule by Ogden Nash
In the word of mules
There are no rules.
Little Elegy (for a child who skipped rope) by X.J. Kennedy
Here lies resting, out of breath,
Out of turns, Elizabeth
Whose quicksilver toes not quite
Cleared the whirring edge of night.
Earth, whose circles round us skim
Till they catch the lightest limb, Shelter now Elizabeth
And, for her sake, trip up death.
Compiled By: Lillian Morrison
Illustrator: Ann Boyajian
Citation: Morrison, Lillian. More Spice Than Sugar: Poems about Feisty Females. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001.
Potential Use: More Spice Than Sugar would pair well with the 2011 Pura Belpré Award Honor Book The Firefly Letters: A Suffragette's Journey to Cuba by Margarita Engle. This novel details the lives of three feisty females: Frederika, a Swedish traveler; Cecilia, a young slave; and Elena, daughter of the Cuban gentry. These three young women are brought together in a fight against society's expectations, similar to many of the women portrayed in Morrison's collection. Because Cecilia and Frederika are based on real women, More Spice Than Sugar would serve as an excellent extension for readers to peek into the lives of other real-life independent women who went against the norm to follow their dreams. See the poem below for an excerpt from More Spice Than Sugar.
[The Poet Emily] by Emily Dickinson
They shut me up in Prose –
As when a little Girl
They put me in the Closet –
Because they liked me "still" –
Still! Could themselves have peeped –
And seen my Brain – go round –
They might as wise have lodged a Bird
For Treason – in the Pound –
Tuesday, April 5, 2011
Author: Joyce Sidman
Illustrator: Pamela Zagarenski
Citation: Sidman, Joyce. Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2009.
Awards: 2010 Caldecott Honor Award, A Junior Library Guild Selection, Claudia Lewis Poetry Award
Review: In Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors, Joyce Sidman expertly manipulates language to explore the unique colors of each of the four seasons. The figurative language in each poem is engaging and begs to be read aloud. Using imagery, metaphor, and a variety of other techniques, Sidman effectively captures the spirit of each season. Pamela Zagarenski's Caldecott-honored illustrations are captivating and perfectly paired with each poem. The vocabulary throughout the book is complex enough to maintain the interest of older readers, but not so complicated as to alienate the younger. Readers of all ages will fall in love with the rhythmic poems and beautiful illustrations in Red Sings from Treetops.
Potential Use: Red Sings from Treetops offers the opportunity to integrate poetry in the art curriculum at a variety of age and ability levels. For younger students, the poems and paintings in the book could be used to inspire their own artwork featuring a specific color. Older students can use the illustrations and poems in the book to inspire more advanced artwork, and then they could write their own poems to pair with their paintings. See below for examples of the colorful poems in Sidman's story, which would be ideal for integrating the language arts and art curriculums.
SPRING (p. 2)
each note dropping
like a cherry
into my ear.
the maples feathery,
sprouts in rhubarb spears;
Red squirms on the road
FALL (p. 20)
Orange ripens in
full, heavy moons,
thick with pulp and seed.
all smoke and candles.
Monday, April 4, 2011
Author: Helen Frost
Citation: Frost, Helen. Diamond Willow. New York: Francis Foster Books, 2008.
Awards: 2009 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, The Lion and the Unicorn Award for Excellence in North American Poetry: 2009 Honor Book
Review: Set in an isolated Alaskan town where residents are transported by dogsleds and snowmachines, Diamond Willow is the story of a twelve-year-old girl trying to show her parents that she is growing up. Willow, a deep-thinking loner, tries to blend in with her classmates and peers, but desperately wants to make friends. Her deepest connections are with the family dogs used for mushing, especially Roxy. Helen Frost brilliantly tells the tale of Willow's attempts to break out of her childhood shell through this novel written in verse. Most of the story is told in diamond-shaped poems (a nod to the character's name, Diamond Willow), and each poem has a hidden message printed in darker ink. The poems are steadily rhythmic and full of figurative language and underlying meaning. Interspersed between the poems are prose sections devoted to the various animals Willow encounters on her journey, all of whom have had previous lives as humans and are connected to the characters in story in some way. A unique take on the reincarnation beliefs of the Athabascan people with a modern twist, Diamond Willow is a coming of age tale full of heartfelt emotion that will appeal to readers of all ages.
Potential Use: Middle school students will relate to the same-aged protagonist in Diamond Willow. This book would be of excellent use with middle-school aged students to introduce novels in verse in a relevant manner. Along with the coming of age tale at the heart of the story are glimpses into the unique beliefs of reincarnation, as told through the eyes of those who have been reincarnated as animals. See the following excerpt for an example of the poetry in Diamond Willow.
the dogs out
to Grandma and
Grandpa's. By myself.
I know the way. I've been
There about a hundred times
with Dad and Mom, and once
with Marty when he lived at home.
Their cabin is close to the main trail.
I know I'm not going to get lost, and I
won't see a baby moose or any bears this
time of year. Even if I did, I'd know enough
to get out of the way, fast. But Mom and
Dad don't seem to see it this way. What
do they think will happen? Dad at least
thinks about it: She's twelve years old;
it's twelve miles. Maybe we could
let her try. Mom doesn't
even pause for half a
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Author: Mary Ann Hoberman
Illustrator: Michael Emberley
Citation: Hoberman, Mary Ann. You Read to Me, I'll Read to You: Very Short Scary Tales to Read Together. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2007.
Review: Mary Ann Hoberman takes on scary tales in her fourth installment of the You Read to Me, I'll Read to You series. Very Short Scary Tales consists of poems set up as brief reader's theaters; each voice has its own color, which makes this book ideal for paired or choral readings. Targeted towards new readers, the poems in Very Short Scary Tales use poetic elements such as alliteration, rhyme, and repetition to reinforce reading techniques. The poems, which are more humorous than scary, cover topics from mummies to skeletons to zombies and will pique the interest and funny bones of young readers, especially those in the first through fourth grades. Michael Emberley's clever watercolor illustrations accompany each poem and will captivate readers' attention. Even though the poems lack depth and the rhyme and rhythm often seems forced Hoberman successfully creates choral readings for her target audience.
Potential Use: It can be difficult for educators to locate poems that are pre-designated for paired or choral readings; the You Read to Me, I'll Read to You series does the hard work ahead of time by clearly color-coding the two voices in each poem. Very Short Scary Tales would be ideal to use for group readings, especially around the Halloween holiday. Each poem is spooky enough to fit the Scary Tale theme, but not scary enough to frighten even young children. A fun activity for this book would be to divide the poems amongst the students in a class and to have a Halloween performance for parents or peers. An example of the color-coded poetry compiling in this book can be found below.
Let's explore inside this tomb.
I'm afraid we'll meet our doom.
Nothing's here to be afraid of.
Here's a package! What's it made of?
Wow! I think it is a mummy!
Butterflies are in my tummy.
It can't hurt you. Don't be scared.
I would touch it if I dared.
Maybe we can both unwrap it.
First I think we'd better tap it.
What if someone's still inside?
Maybe it was someone's father.
Someone's dad? Don't be a dummy!
Maybe it was someone's mummy!
It's an awful lot of cloth.
Eek! Let's go! I saw a moth!
Come on, help me to unwind.
I'm afraid of what we'll find.
We'll be finished in a minute.
Leaping lizards! Nothing's in it!
All that trouble to unroll it.
Then to find out someone stole it.
Robbed its tomb. It makes me sick!
Someone played a dirty trick!
I would like to know who did it
And to find out where they hid it.
I think we should search some more.
Maybe there's a secret door.
We might find another space.
We might find its hiding place.
Wouldn't it be really yummy
If at last we found the mummy?
Maybe this book has a clue.
You read to me, I'll read to you.
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Author: Margarita Engle
Illustrator: Sean Qualls
Citation: Engle, Margarita. The Poet Slave of Cuba: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2006.
Awards: A Junior Library Guild Selection
Review: In The Poet Slave of Cuba, Margarita Engle honors the life of Cuban poet Juan Francisco through a biography written in verse. Born into slavery, Manzano's tragic life is presented from a variety of perspectives including that of himself, his parents, his multiple owners, and even the overseer of the unspeakable punishment Manzano is forced to endure. Documenting the countless injustices suffered by Manzano throughout his life, Engle's haunting tone sets an appropriately grim mood that will leave readers disturbed, yet inspired. The rhythm and cadence in each poem allow the story to be told with fluidity. Complementing the overall solemnity of the biography is the art of Sean Qualls that adds a visual element that only enhances the already sensory-rich language. Additional information provided at the end of the biography gives readers a historical background to Juan Francisco Manzano's life as well as samples of his poetry. Though heavy and emotionally wrenching, Manzano's faith in the midst of his tragic circumstances will inspire and bring hope to readers.
Potential Use: The Poet Slave of Cuba gives readers the unique opportunity to experience the anguish of slavery from a slave's perspective. For older students, this biography can be paired with a study on Cuban history, or even the history of slavery in the United States in order to add a human element to this tragic period in our past. The poems throughout the biography, especially those from Juan's perspective such as the one that follows, will create an emotional connection for students that won't soon be forgotten.
Juan (p. 74)
Fireflies, music, angels,
These are just a few
of the words I find
for songs to sing
and rhymes to rhyme
while my mother and I
try stay alive
waiting for mercy
whichever comes first –
or are they