Poetry engages us through its sounds, rhythms, and language. I chose the ten picture books reviewed in this column (including one anthology and a lift-the-flap board book), written by creative poets and presented with eye-catching artwork and typography, because they entice young readers to use their imaginations, to be curious, and to ponder the answers to questions. What would happen outside if we hid away inside our homes? How do people deal with danger? How are we connected to each other and nature? Readers of all ages are sure to delight in these engaging and thought-provoking read-aloud books.
The Animals Come Out. Susan Vande Griek. Illus. by Josée Bisaillon. (2023). Groundwood.
Susan Vande Griek’s opening poem, paired with an illustration showing children playing in a living room, poses the question “Do you ever wonder / what we would see / if you and me / oh, all of us, / just hid away / for days and days?” If we stayed inside, the poem continues, when we looked out our windows “we might see / THE ANIMALS / COME OUT!” The next eight poems and illustrations feature different animals (deer, mallard ducks, bunnies, coyotes, mountain goats, porcupines, foxes, and birds) exploring lawns, streets, sidewalks, gardens, and other outdoor places as a child or adult observes them from a window. The final poem, set against a double-spread illustration showing many animals peacefully roaming outside while people sleep in their beds, ends with “And then we see / how we and they / share this earth, / all share this space.” Josée Bisaillon’s vibrant collage, mixed media artwork enhances the playful spirit of the poems in this engaging picture book. (PreK Gr 2)
How to Write a Poem. Kwame Alexander & Deanna Nikaido. Illus. by Melissa Sweet. (2023). Quill Tree.
Opening with “Begin / with a question, / like an acorn / waiting for spring,” Kwame Alexander and Deanna Nikaido invite children to discover their own poetry. The spare free verse text takes readers through steps of closing their eyes and opening their minds, listening to nature for inspiration, diving into their imaginations, discovering sounds and words and connecting them with emotions and dreams, and nurturing words in their hearts until the words are there “to slide down your pencil” onto the blank page. An introductory quote from Nikki Giovanni—“We are all either wheels or connectors. Whichever we are we must find truth and balance, which is a bicycle.”—served as inspiration for Melissa Sweet’s artwork (collages created with mixed media, handmade and vintage papers, and beach pebbles) that extends the playful, metaphoric imagery of Alexander and Nikaido’s poetry. The final double spread pictures children balancing bicycle-like interconnected circles and the prompt “Now, show us what you’ve found.” The back matter includes notes from Alexander and Sweet. (PreK Up)
Imagine a Garden: Stories of Courage Changing the World. Rina Singh. Illus. by Hoda Hadadi. (2023). Greystone Kids.
In this inviting picture book of free-verse poems, Rina Singh paints vivid word images about the actions of seven everyday people from around the world (a mother, dancer, teacher, coach, teenager, artist, and restaurant owner) who fostered hope in their communities facing challenges. For example, in “The Ballet Teacher,” a young woman in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, teaches 49 little girls ballet as an antidote to the danger of bullies patrolling with rifles. After a shooting during which they had to shelter quietly, “They dance, / trampling the sounds of fear / beneath their feet.” Hoda Hadadi’s expressive illustrations, rendered in tissue-paper collage, work seamlessly with the text to capture the essence of the bravery and resilience of each of these individuals making changes in the world. The back matter provides the backstory of each poem and names the person whose story is told and includes an author’s note on how “even our smallest actions can be world changing.” (PreK Up)
Peek-a-Boo Haiku. Deanna Smith. Illus. by Teagan White. (2023). Little Simon.
Eight haiku relate to animals (hare, fox, bird, ladybug, otter, turtle, squirrel, owl) that are hidden behind the easy-to-lift flaps on the colorful double-spread pages which depict nature scenes reflecting seasonal changes from winter to fall in this sturdy board book. For example, “sea of fallen leaves / divers search for lost treasure— / a golden acorn”) provides a clue to the identity of the creatures behind the two flaps on a fall woodland scene. “Peek-a-boo, squirrel!” This is a book that young children will enjoying reading again and again—listening to these clever haiku and voicing the peek-a-boo identification of the animals revealed when they lift the flaps as well as talking about the details pictured such as the plants and other animals (including one or two small mice) on each double spread. (PreS)
Remember. Joy Harjo. Illus. by Michaela Goade. (2023). Random House Studio.
Joy Harjo, member of the Mvskoke Nation, adapted her poem “Remember,” written in 1983, in this creative partnership with Tlingit illustrator Michaela Goade to produce a thought-provoking picture book for all ages. With the repeated use of “Remember,” Harjo prompts readers to reflect upon who they are (“Remember the sky that you were born under, / know each of the star’s stories”) and how they are connected to the earth and all living things and ends with “Remember you are this universe. // And this universe is you. // Remember.” Harjo’s spare meditative text and Goade’s stunning double-spread illustrations, created with watercolor, gouache, and colored pencils, celebrate the stories and traditions of their Mvskoke and Tlingit cultures. Back matter includes Harjo’s note on the need for poetry in our lives and the importance of remembering and telling our own stories and Goade’s note on the inspiration for her illustrations, done in the traditional art style of Indigenous nations along the Pacific Northwest coast that reflect the Tlingit land and stories. (All ages)
Soccer Queens (Sports Royalty). Charles R. Smith Jr. (2023). Candlewick.
In this collection of 13 poems, Charles R. Smith introduces women professional soccer stars from different eras with energetic poems complemented with photo-illustration artwork. For example, Carli Lloyd is featured in the poem titled “Lightning” reflecting on Lloyd’s quick footwork on the field. “Ominous / clouds / erase the blue sky / as cleats / churn / and burn / and fly, / . . . as Lightning Lloyd SCORCHES the net.” The poem is visually displayed in the shape of a vertical lightning strike. Ten other poems feature individual “soccer queens” Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan, Christen Press, Crystal Dunn, Julie Ertz, Kelly O’Hara, Megan Rapinoe, Rose Lavelle, Tobin Heath, and Mia Hamm, while two goalkeepers, Briana Scurry and Alyssa Naeher, are featured in “The Protectors.” The final poem pays tribute to the USA team that won the Women’s World Cup in 1999. Back matter includes a photograph of the 1999 team and notes about the women athletes Smith chose to spotlight in these poems. (Gr 3 Up)
Sometimes I Feel Like a River (Sometime I Feel Like #2). Danielle Daniel. Illus. by Josée Bisaillon. (2023). Groundwood.
In 12 short poems, each beginning with a “Sometimes I feel like a . . . ” refrain, children express how they feel about different aspects of the natural world. For example, “Sometimes I feel like a river, / bending and flowing fast, / I twist, I turn around every obstacle, / finding my way forward again.” In other poems, young children make connections to the sun, a mountain, the sky, a cloud, thunder, rain, a rainbow, the ocean, a forest, a star, or the moon. Josée Bisaillon’s vibrant mixed media illustrations playfully show the connections the youngsters share with nature. Back matter features “A Mindful Walk or Roll” activity to involve readers in exploring and appreciating their surroundings ends with “As you walk or roll, quietly absorbing all the sights and sounds around you, may your heart be filled with thanks,” and an author’s note about how we are all connected with each other and the natural world. (PreK-Gr 2)
Trees: Haiku from Roots to Leaves. Sally M. Walker. Illus. by Angela Mckay. (2023). Candlewick.
In Trees, Sally Walker introduces young readers to trees through a collection of haiku organized in ten sections from “In Times Long Past” where “for millions of years / gargantuan tree ferns ruled / Earth’s wet, warm forests” to present-day “Urban Forests” in which “pavement, steel, and glass / surround trees in tamed places . . . / urban oases.” Angela Mckay’s colorful, stylized artwork, done in gouache, provides visual stories of the scientific content in the poems to aid understanding. Extensive back matter includes a time line; additional scientific information related to each of the ten sections of the book; an author’s note; a glossary; and recommendations for further exploration: “Go outside! Look closely at trees and leaves,” as well as books and websites. For more haiku and science, check out Walker’s Earth Verse: Haiku from the Ground Up (2018) and Out of This World: Star-Studded Haiku (2022). (PreK Up)
Welcome to the Wonder House. Rebecca Kai Dotlich & Georgia Heard. Illus. by Deborah Freeman. (2023). Wordsong.
Each of the 12 rooms in the Wonder House has a different theme including curiosity, creatures, science, imagination and wishes. Double-spread pages present one, two, or more poems by Rebecca Kai Dotlich and Georgia Heard on dreamy, pastel illustrations (done in mixed media) by Deborah Freeman that support the room’s theme. The first room, the Room of Curiosity, addresses the overall theme of the book with a poem full of questions by Dotlich that ends with the line “We wonder about so many things!” and Heard’s rhyming couplet “Keep an open heart, / that’s where curiosity likes to start.” The final double spread dramatically proclaims “The Wonder House is our whole world . . . .” An appended “A Note About Wonder,” written by both authors in free verse, challenges readers to use their imagination and creativity and find wonder everywhere and suggests nine activities. (PreK Up)
Where I Live: Poems About My Home, My Street, and My Town. Paul B. Janeczko (Ed.). Illus. by Hyewon Yum. (2023). Candlewick.
This collection of 34 previously-published poems selected by prolific poet and anthologist Paul B. Janeczko prior to his death in 2019 celebrate daily life from the points of view of children. Sorted into three categories: Home, Street, and Town, the short poems, written in a mix of poetic styles and devices, make for interesting independent reading as well as an engaging read-aloud experience. Hyewon Yum’s illustrations, done in colored pencil and water color, feature children and other people and their activities in various places and add warm, visual details that appeal to the imagination and senses. Adults sharing Where I Live with children will find some of their favorites included in each section (my favorites: Valerie Worth’s “back yard” in Home; Linda Sue Park’s “October” in Street, and Langston Hughes’ “City” in Town). Young readers will enjoy identifying their favorite poems as well as talking about what makes their own homes, streets, and towns special. (PreK Up)
Nancy Brashear is Professor Emeritus of English at Azusa Pacific University, in Azusa, California.
These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG).