Poetry for Everyone
Nancy Brashear and Carolyn Angus
Poetry is for everyone. Here are some recently published books for sharing: traditional nursery rhymes in ear-pleasing and eye-catching picture book format, collections of poetry written in various poetic forms that tell stories and convey information on a variety of topic of interest, and anthologies that celebrate the work of individual poets.
Aquí era el paraíso=Here Was Paradise: Selección de poemas de Humberto Ak'abal=Selected Poems of Humberto Ak'abal. Humberto Ak’abal. Patricia Aldana (Ed.). Trans. by Hugh Hazelton. Illus. by Amelia Lau Carling. (2021). Groundwood.
Aquí era el paraiso=Here Was Paradise introduces the poetry of Humberto Ak’abal (1952-2019), who is recognized as one of the greatest Indigenous poets of the Americas. In the introduction, Patricia Aldana, who selected the poems in this beautifully-designed anthology, explains why Ak’abal chose to write his poems in K’iche’, the native Mayan language of Guatemala, then translated them into Spanish, and, later, into English. Although Ak’abal wrote for an adult audience, the topics and simplicity of his poems make them suitable for young people, too. The poems are presented in Spanish and English on facing pages. For example, “La Lluvia / Ayer encontré a una nube llorando.” “The Rain / yesterday I came across a weeping cloud.” Amelia Lau Carling's watercolor-and-pencil illustrations that introduce thematic portions of the book (such as childhood, animals, family members, nature, seasons, spirits, and the plight of indigenous people) are especially inviting. Back matter includes additional information about the poet, illustrator, translator, and editor. (Gr 6 Up)
The Book of Not Entirely Useful Advice. A. F. Harrold. Illus. by Mini Grey. (2021). Bloomsbury.
A. F. Harrold presents young readers with a book of silly poems accompanied by Mini Grey’s vibrant illustrations with their own visual humor. Harrold sets the tone for the book as he confesses up front that the offered advice “will not only make you happy, not only keep you safe, but also—most importantly—stop you from getting eaten by tigers.” The book’s hodge-podge of advice is divided into four equally nonsensical sections relating to food, ducks, and dessert (“But, watch out for crocodiles in your porridge / and watch out for tigers under your toast”); to animals, giants, and the natural world (“Don’t kiss / anything with a hiss”); to school life, onions, and general-knowledge-type stuff (“Always keep an onion handy / They’re great for self defense”); and to the human condition, drama, and miscellaneous other subjects that didn’t fit elsewhere (“The merits are debatable / of a castle that’s inflatable”). Back matter includes notes for readers wishing to continue their adventure in advice with directions for creating a “Advice-A-Tron 216” game and an “Index of Advice, Examples, Morals, and Useful Lessons.” (Gr 3 Up)
Carry On: Poetry by Young Immigrants. Simon Boulerice (Ed.). Trans. by Susan Ouriou. Illus. by Rogé. (2021). Owlkids.
In this collection of poems and portraits of young immigrants participating in a creative writing workshop at a Quebec high school, teens write about their feelings of sadness and uncertainty on leaving behind family, friends, and a familiar way of life and share their hopes for the future as they make a foreign place their new home. Lines from the poems give voice to personal statements, but also express the universality of the immigration experience. “Immigration is heartache / But a lucky break too” (Dowoo Kim, South Korea). “What waits for us in this place? / What path will my life take?” (Dimitri Dogot (Moldova). “I have gained the future / I have lost the past” (Hernan Farina Forster, Uruguay). Back matter includes an editor’s note and an illustrator’s note. (Gr 6 Up)
Dear Treefrog. Joyce Sidman. Illus. by Diana Sudyka. (2021). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Set against a background of Diana Sudyka’s lush, brightly colored double-page paintings, Joyce Sidman’s free form poems filled with observations and introspection on verso pages are matched with factoids about treefrogs on recto pages. In summer, a shy, young girl in a new home makes a quiet discovery. “I See You / suddenly / among the tangled green / a tiny dollop of / frog / where before / there was only leaf / . . . / Are you new here too?” After she introduces a new friend, a young boy, to Treefrog, he also is fascinated by the tiny creature. As the story progresses, Treefrog disappears during the winter, and then in the final poem, spring arrives. “We See You / suddenly / a tiny dollop of / frog / where before / there was only leaf / . . . / Dear Treefrog / did you miss us too?” Back matter features a “More About Treefrogs and How to Welcome Them” page. (PreK-Gr 2)
Delicious!: Poems Celebrating Street Food Around the World. Julie Larios. Illus. by Julie Paschkis. (2021). Beach Lane.
“Cajun? Lebanese? Cuban? Thai? / So many choices! What should I try?” Julie Larios’ first poem, “Carts in the Park,” in which a girl ponders the diversity of foods available in New York City, is the perfect introduction to this collection of short (four to six lines) rhyming and free verse poems about street foods from around the world. In “Market Breakfast,” a young boy enjoys champurrado, a hot milk drink, and cinnamon churros in Oaxaca, Mexico; in “Train Station,” passengers purchase cups of saffron tea to quickly drink up in Mumbai, India; and in “Dance Class,” a young girl selects a special treat of deep-fried scorpions on a stick after her dance class in Beijing, China. Julie Paschkis adds watercolor paintings showing people enjoying street foods and colorful thematic borders to the fourteen poems. A double-page “International Menu of Sweets and Treats” provides additional information. (PreK- Gr 2)
Everything Comes Next: Collected and New Poems. Naomi Shihab Nye. Illus. by Rafael Lopéz. (2021). Greenwillow.
Beginning with an introduction by poet and author Edward Hirsch and a foreword by Palestinian-American Naomi Shihab Nye, the United States’ Young People’s Poet Laureate (2019-2021), this collection of Nye’s old and new poems and short prose affirms her belief that people matter and that caring for each other’s sorrows, sufferings, and celebrations promotes hope. The poems are organized into three sections: “The Holy Land of Childhood,” with insights and observations of children, “The Holy Land That Isn’t” describing the human consequences of war including poems about the displacement of Nye’s family, and “People Are the Only Holy Land” dealing with the lives of people and their stories. Beautiful black and-white illustrations by Rafael López focus attention on the relationships between people and things. Back matter includes Nye’s “Slim Thoughts” about the nature of writing; “Notes on Poems,” which provides the context for some of the poems; and biographical notes on Nye and Hirsch. (Gr 6 Up)
Girls and Boys Come Out to Play. Mother Goose. Illus. by Tracey Campbell Pearson. (2021). Margaret Ferguson.
“Girls and boys come out to play, / The moon doth shine as bright as day.” Tracey Campbell Pearson turns the classic nursery rhyme “Girls and Boys Come Out to Play” into a delightful picture book in which Mother Goose invites young children to join her on a lively nighttime adventure in the neighborhood before she returns them to their homes for bedtime. “Good night. Sweet dreams.” With repeated readings, young children will enjoy searching the richly-detailed mixed media illustrations for the host of nursery rhyme characters from the eight Mother Goose poems on the endpapers: “Hey Diddle, Diddle,” “Ring Around the Rosy,” Humpty Dumpty,” “Little Boy Blue,” “Jack and Jill,” “Rub-a-Dub-Dub,” “Old King Cole,” and “Wee Willie Winkie.” (PreK- Gr 2)
The Last Straw: Kids vs. Plastic. Susan Hood. Illus. by Christiane Engel. (2021). Harper.
Susan Hood pairs seventeen poems with text boxes and quotes to introduce how child activists from around the world have come up with creative ways to deal with the ever-growing plastic problem. The first poem, “Fantastic Plastic,” which addresses the importance of plastic, ends with the quatrain “Is plastic a blessing? / Or is it a curse? / It makes our lives better. / BUT could they get worse.” A text box adds a key question: “How do we use—and reuse—the plastic we need, refuse the plastic we don’t, and avoid abusing the Earth?” The final poems, “Stand Up, Speak Up” and “Join the Crew,” should inspire readers to reconsider their thinking about plastic and act to bring about change to save our planet. Back matter includes an author’s note, timeline, infographics on alternatives to plastic items and the top ten ocean polluters, sources, notes on poetry formats, and further reading (books and websites). (PreK Up)
Legacy: Women Poets of the Harlem Renaissance. Nikki Grimes. (2021). Bloomsbury.
In Legacy, Nikki Grimes follows up her celebration of poets of the Harlem Renaissance in One Last Word (2017) by pairing original poems, written in the Golden Shovel format, with poems that introduce readers to the works of not-well-known women poets of the era (Mae V. Cowdery, Alice Dunbar-Nelson, Gwendolyn Bennett, and twelve others) organized into three parts: “Heritage,” “Earth Mother,” and “Taking Notice.” As Grimes explains in a note on poetic form in the front matter, the writer of a Golden Shovel takes a short poem in its entirety, or a line from the poem, and creates a new poem with lines ending with these words. Each set of poems in Legcy is paired with a stunning full-color illustration by a contemporary Black woman artist. Back matter includes biographies and selected works of the poets whose voices are heard in the book, artist biographies, sources, and an index. (Gr 6- Adult)
Niños: Poems for the Lost Children of Chile. María José Ferrada. Trans. by Lawrence Schimel. Illus. by María José Valdez. (2021). Eerdmans.
In Niños, María José Ferrada pays homage to “the lost children of Chile,” the thirty-four children under the age of fourteen among the thousands of people who were executed or “disappeared” during the seventeen-year military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, which began in 1973. Ferrada’s short poems, translated from Spanish and each titled with a child’s name, imagine childhood experiences and connections to the natural world they might have enjoyed had they not been innocent victims of political violence. Each poem appears against the background of an emotive mixed media illustration created in soft colors by María José Valdez. Back matter includes a list of the children and their ages at the time of their “disappearance” and the final poem, “Pablo,” with a note about Pablo Athansiu, who was included on the list until he was found alive in 2013. (Gr 6 Up)
What Are Little Girls Made Of? Jeanne Willis. Illus. by Isabelle Follath. (2021). Nosy Crow.
What are little girls made of? “Sun and rain and heart and brain— / that’s what girls are made of.” In this collection of feminist retellings of seventeen classic nursery rhymes, the girl kissed by Georgie Porgie sends him on his way with “Don’t kiss me unless I say,” and after Humpty Dumpty’s great fall from a wall, his shell is mended and his tears dried by a female doctor. Isabelle Follath’s playful mixed-media illustrations pair perfectly with Jeanne Willis’s witty portrayals of independent girls doing what they want to do. The final rhyme, “Girls and Boys, Come Out to Play,” ends with an empowering message for all children as both boys and girls choose their own activities. (PreK-Gr 2)
Nancy Brashear is Professor Emeritus of English from Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, California. Carolyn Angus is former Director of the George G. Stone Center for Children’s Books, Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, California.
These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG).