Review of No Fair! No Fair! poems by Calvin Trillin, pictures by Roz Chast

No Fair! No Fair!

And Other Jolly Poems of Childhood

Poems by Calvin Trillin
Pictures by Roz Chast

Orchard Books (Scholastic), 2016. 32 pages.
Starred Review

Oh this book made me laugh! It compelled me to read it aloud, first to people at work, then even when I was home alone.

This is a book of poetry in the tradition of Jack Prelutsky and Shel Silverstein — rhyming poetry about the logic and illogic of children’s lives.

Here’s a stanza from one of my favorites, “The Grandpa Rule Is in Effect”:

Whenever Grandpa’s minding us,
There’s just one rule we must respect:
To do what we would like to do.
The Grandpa Rule is in effect.

Here’s the beginning of “Who Plays What?”

I like all our games of pretending,
But why is it always routine
That I am the queen’s loyal servant
And Claudia’s always the queen?

Here’s the refrain from “The Backseat”:

She’s over the line,
She’s over the line.
She occupies space
That’s rightfully mine.

And here’s a nice one full of kid logic, from “Could Jenny Get This Shot for Me? I’ve Done So Much for Her!”:

I know this shot will guard me from the measles and the mumps —
Diseases that could leave me with two different kinds of lumps.
I’m glad the stuff that’s in the shot will keep me safe from harm,
But can’t they put the needle into someone else’s arm?
If so, my older sister is the person I’d prefer.
Could Jenny get this shot for me? I’ve done so much for her.

I like all the small poems in “Evening Complaints.” This one’s called “Going to Bed”:

Though Nate stays up, to me you’ve said,
“Okay, my friend, it’s time for bed.”
I’ll bet when I’m as old as Nate,
You still won’t let me stay up late.
I’ll say, “I’m eight,” but you won’t care.
No fair, no fair, no fair, no fair.

I have to admit, a few of the poems didn’t quite work as well read aloud — but the majority are so well done, they compel reading aloud.

And Roz Chast’s pictures are the perfect companion! She gets a child’s eye view of the world just right — with that touch of cynicism and humor in every one of her pictures.

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Review of Wet Cement, by Bob Raczka

Wet Cement

A Mix of Concrete Poems

by Bob Raczka

Roaring Brook Press, New York, 2016. 44 pages.
Starred Review

Bob Raczka explains what’s going on in this book in a note at the front:

I like to think of poems as word paintings. A poet uses words like colors to paint pictures inside your head.

In concrete poems, or shape poems, the words also paint pictures on the page. The poet arranges words in the shape of the thing the poem is about or in a way that emphasizes the poem’s meaning.

But here’s what’s really cool: by cleverly arranging individual letters, you can also paint a picture on the page with a single word. In this case, the letters become your colors.

In this book, I’ve done both. In the title of each poem, I’ve created pictures with letters. In the poems themselves, I’ve created pictures with words.

Besides showing kids what concrete poems are, this book gets the reader looking at things in new ways. I love the title example of calling the book of concrete poems Wet Cement and having the words pictured coming out of a cement mixer.

An example I can easily explain is his poem “Hopscotch.” In the title, the nine letters of “Hopscotch” go up the page in place as if in a hopscotch grid. On the next page, the twelve words of the poem go up the page in the same format.

The title of the poem “Clock” places the letter L inside the letter O looking like a clock. The poem has these words in a circle like the numbers of a clock: “The clock on the wall says it’s five ‘til three but”

Then the hands of the clock, appropriately placed, use the words: “the kids in my class say it’s five ‘til free.”

There’s lots of cleverness here. The poems are short and sweet and don’t look difficult. They’re at least not difficult to understand, but get you looking at the objects in new ways.

This book will definitely spur kids to try to create their own concrete poems. They may discover it’s harder than it looks!

But I like the way the ending poem, “poeTRY,” invites experimentation (and these lines are centered):

poetry is about taking away the words you don’t need
poetry is taking away words you don’t need
poetry is words you need
poetry is words
try

mackids.com

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Review of Jumping Off Library Shelves, selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins

Jumping Off Library Shelves

A Book of Poems

selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins
illustrated by Jane Manning

Wordsong (Highlights), Honesdale, Pennsylvania, 2015. 32 pages.

A book of poems about libraries! Yes, please!

There are fifteen poems in this book, all by different authors except for Rebecca Kai Dotlich, who has the starting and ending poem. All the poems have something to do with libraries.

I’m going to simply quote some of my favorite lines.

From “Refuge,” by Nikki Grimes:

. . . smiling at the sweet kingdom of story
inviting me in
to rest, to explore –
to dream.

From “At the Library,” by Michele Krueger:

I’ve found a treasure,
a literal pleasure.

a book
I’ve not read
before.

From “Enchantment,” by Jane Yolen:

Stack by stack,
shelf by shelf,
I pick out books
all by myself.

Of course I like “Librarian,” by Joan Bransfield Graham

How do you
always find
the perfect
book?

You get that
look
in your eyes
and there
it is . . .

another
surprise
to savor.

From “The Poetry Section,” by Alice Schertle:

It reached out and grabbed me!
That poetry sound
set my heart singing,
spun me around

like a million bells ringing,
a hundred-piece band –
those poems made music
right there in my hand.

There’s even a poem about reading to dogs at the library, “Reading with Riley,” by Kristine O’Connell George:

all ears, all listen,
as we snuggle deeper
into story.

From “Book Pillows,” by Amy Ludwig Vanderwater:

With my head on a book
I dream of a place
where a pig loves a spider. . . .

Wild things on a rumpus!
Fat evil kings!
Boy wizards, girl witches!
Horses with wings!

And the beginning and ending poems imagine mice in the library at the start and end of the day. Of course at night they read the books! From “Midnight in a Library,” by Rebecca Kai Dotlich:

whiskers, tails twitch,
there’s magic in the air;

These poems are accessible for very young children as well as kids in school. And they celebrate libraries. What could be better?

leebennetthopkins.com
boydsmillspress.com

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Review of Measure for Measure, edited by Annie Finch and Alexandra Oliver

Measure for Measure

An Anthology of Poetic Meters

edited by Annie Finch and Alexandra Oliver

Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2015. 256 pages.

Measure for Measure is like a college course on poetic meter. You learn about the different metric forms and then hear examples.like a college course on poetic meter. You learn about the different metric forms and then experience them.

The book explains various types of poetic meter – and then is filled with examples. This is a book that should be read aloud! There’s a nice selection of classic poems I’d heard before combined with more modern ones.

My one little complaint was that many examples were only excerpts from longer works, and I would have preferred the complete poem in most cases. But I have to say that this did keep the book short and manageable. The Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets come in a compact size, easily carried about, with a ribbon bookmark.

My method was to read aloud the poems on one double-page spread each morning. Hearing the poems, I quickly got a feel for the different meters.

Reading the names of the sections, you’ll understand that this book will teach you about new poetic forms. We’ve got: Accentual Poems, Trochaic Poems, Anapestic Poems, Dactylic Poems, Iambic Poems, Poems in Ballad Meter and Fourteeners, Amphibrachic Poems, Dipodic Poems, Poems in Sapphics and Alcaics, and Poems in Hendecasyllabics, Cretics, and Lesser Ionics.

This charming little book is both instructive and entertaining. And a must-read for aspiring poets.

randomhouse.com/everymans
everymanslibrary.co.uk

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Review of Animal Ark, photographs by Joel Santore, words by Kwame Alexander

Animal Ark

Celebrating our Wild World in Poetry and Pictures

photographs by Joel Sartore
words by Kwame Alexander
with Mary Rand Hess and Deanna Nikaido

National Geographic, 2017. 40 pages.
Starred Review

At the back of this book, the photographer tells us:

At its heart, the Photo Ark was born out of necessity.

I have been sent around the world by National Geographic magazine for more than 20 years to take photographs of people, places, and animals. There have been assignments to capture images of the fiercest predators, the shyest sea creatures, the most beautiful birds, and so many more. Several years ago, I started to see that people weren’t paying much attention to the fate of all the other species we share this planet with. Without action, and soon, I worried that many animals could go extinct.

The Photo Ark is my answer to this. By introducing the entire world to thousands of photographs of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and even insects, I hope we can get everyone following, liking, texting, tweeting, and even talking about this wondrous world of ours.

In the Photo Ark, every creature is equal. I use simple black and white backgrounds, which make all animals appear to be the same size, no matter how large or small they might be in the wild. Each photo also shows you the amazing detail of a creature’s scales, skin, or feathers; their eyes, antennae, or legs – each creature with its own kind of stunning beauty. A slippery minnow in the Photo Ark appears as big as a shark, and a tiny tiger beetle as impressive as a mighty tiger.

I want people around the world to look these animals in the eye, and then fall in love with creatures as dazzling as a pheasant or as odd as an octopus. And once we love something, won’t we do anything to save it?

The highlight of this book is Joel Sartore’s stunning photographs of 32 of these creatures. But they’ve been paired with Kwame Alexander’s poetry to make a powerful picture book and bring these animals to young readers. The poet chose haiku as the form to create a potent message and create instant connection with the reader.

I can’t emphasize enough how striking these images are against their black and white backgrounds. Of course, I got to hear Kwame Alexander perform some of these poems with the images flashed up on a screen. Unforgettable!

This is a book you need to experience for yourself.

KwameAlexander.com
nationalgeographic.com
ngchildrensbooks.org
nationalgeographic.org/projects/photo-ark/

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Review of Are You an Echo? by Misuzu Kaneko

Are You an Echo?

The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko

Poems by Misuzu Kaneko
Illustrated by Toshikado Hajiri
Narrative by David Jacobson
with translations and editorial contributions by Sally Ito and Michiko Tsuboi

Chin Music Press, Seattle, 2016. 64 pages.
Starred Review

As soon as you touch this book, you know it’s something special. You can feel the high-quality paper, which seems appropriate for a book of Japanese poems.

This is a book of poetry from Japan’s most-loved children’s poet, but it’s also a biography and the story of uncovering Misuzu’s story.

The book begins with Setsuo Yazaki, who read one of Misuzu’s poems and wanted to find out more about her. He was the one who uncovered her diaries and made public her life story, as well as many more unpublished poems. She is now widely read by children in Japan. Along with telling this story, on each spread one of her poems is given.

Then the book tells Misuzu’s life story, still accompanied by her poems. Her story is a tragic one. She was given “a disease that caused her great pain” by her “bad, unfaithful husband.” She was married for four years, but after she left, her husband was going to take their child away. The book lingers on her last night with her child, then tells us:

Misuzu wrote a letter that night asking her husband to give Fusae to her mother.
She was weak from the illness and determined not to let her husband take their child.
So she decided to end her life. She was only twenty-six years old.

On the opposite page, we’ve got Misuzu’s poem, “Cocoon and Grave” comparing a person to a silkworm. Like the silkworm becoming a butterfly, “the good person will grow wings, become an angel and fly away.”

The narrative part goes on to talk about how Misuzu’s poems were rediscovered after her death and went on to have special significance after the tsunami in 2011.

The book finishes with a collection of 15 more poems by Misuzu, with the original Japanese shown as well.

Despite Misuzu Kaneko’s tragic life story, this lovely book expresses hope, and shows the beauty of looking at the world with eyes of kindness and empathy.

How can you help but like someone with this philosophy?

TO LIKE IT ALL

I want to like everything –

onions, tomatoes, fish –
I want to like them all,

everything in the meals
my mother makes.

I want to like everyone –

doctors, crows –
all of them, too.

Everything and everyone in the world
God has made.

www.chinmusicpress.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

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Review of Tony, by Ed Galing, illustrated by Erin E. Stead

Tony

by Ed Galing
illustrated by Erin E. Stead

A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, 2017. 32 pages.
Starred Review

I’m biased in favor of this book. At the 2017 ALA Midwinter Meeting in Atlanta, I heard Erin Stead talk about how they found the manuscript and I saw some images from the art.

Erin and her husband first saw the text as a poem in a newspaper put out by homeless folks. When they tried to find the author, they learned he had just died in his 90s. Their publisher worked hard to get permissions, and the result is this beautiful and quiet picture book.

I certainly would not have seen this poem as a potential picture book text. But seeing it in that form, I have to acknowledge that these words are the perfect vehicle for Erin’s art.

The story (almost the incident) is of a cart horse named Tony who pulled a milk truck. Early in the morning, Tony and his driver would bring milk, butter, and eggs to the author’s house. He was awake, even though it was 3 a.m., and would greet Tony.

The driver told the author that Tony always looked for him. And here are the words for the last five spreads of the book:

wouldn’t miss Tony for the world,
I would reply
sturdily,
giving Tony another pat,

he is such a wonderful
horse, and so handsome.

I am sure he heard
that, Tom would
smile widely,
as he got back into
the truck

and as they pulled away

I knew that Tony
did a little dance.

See how simple? But oh, the beautiful art! The simple curve of one of Tony’s legs, showing the little dance.

The color is a simple green background, with radiant highlights of yellow for the rising sun or light coming out of a building.

And Tony – well, I fully believe that he is such a wonderful horse.

This isn’t a snappy or silly story. This isn’t a fable or a myth. It’s more of a vignette, but a slice of life that reveals love and friendship.

It’s the sort of book that compels an appreciative pause when you’re done.

This is another one where my descriptions don’t do the artwork justice. Check it out yourself!

www.mackids.com

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Review of The Further Adventures of the Owl and the Pussy-cat, by Julia Donaldson

The Further Adventures of the Owl and the Pussy-cat

by Julia Donaldson
illustrated by Charlotte Voake

Candlewick Press, 2017. First published in the United Kingdom in 2013. 32 pages.
Starred Review

I’m a little perplexed how much I like this book. I don’t really consider myself a fan of The Owl and the Pussycat. And yet, just opening this book got the original poem singing in my brain.

And this one does the same thing – It sings inside your head. The story may be a little more slender. Rather than getting married, the owl and the pussycat are looking for their lost ring. But hey, it’s all nonsense. And it does end happily.

Juliet Donaldson works in some other Edward Lear characters, like the Pobble Who Has No Toes.

The story is not weighty at all – but it sings, with the very same lilt as The Owl and the Pussycat. I find I simply must read this book to a group of children – expect to hear it soon at a Storytime in Old Town Square.

And if you have a child who will listen to nonsense, try this out! The lilt of the language is a delight!

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Review of Out of Wonder, by Kwame Alexander

Out of Wonder

Poems Celebrating Poets

by Kwame Alexander
with Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth
illustrated by Ekua Holmes

Candlewick Press, 2017. 50 pages.
Starred Review
2018 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award

Here’s a beautiful large-format book of poems celebrating poets. Kwame Alexander and his two co-authors have written poems in three sections. Poems in the first section match the favored style of the celebrated poet. Poems in the second section incorporate the feelings and themes of the celebrated poet’s work. And poems in the third section respond to the celebrated poet with thanks.

It’s all done with large, lovely paintings accompanying the poems, in a book in large format. To hold this book and leaf through it gives you a feeling of grandeur, nicely setting off the importance of these poets.

Kwame Alexander puts it well in the introduction:

A poem is a small but powerful thing. It has the power to reach inside of you, to ignite something in you, and to change you in ways you never imagined. There is a feeling of connection and communion – with the author and the subject – when we read a poem that articulates our deepest feelings. That connection can be a vehicle on the road to creativity and imagination. Poems can inspire us – in our classrooms and in our homes – to write our own journeys, to find our own stories….

Allow me to introduce you to twenty of my favorite poets. Poets who have inspired me and my co-authors with their words and their lives. They can do the same for you. Some of the poets we celebrate in this book lived centuries ago and wrote in languages other than English, while others still walk the streets of San Antonio and New York City today. Chris Colderley, Marjory Wentworth, and I had two requirements for the poets we would celebrate in Out of Wonder: first, they had to be interesting people, and second, we had to be passionately in love with their poetry. Mission accomplished!

I believe that by reading other poets we can discover our own wonder. For me, poems have always been muses. The poems in this book pay tribute to the poets being celebrated by adopting their style, extending their ideas, and offering gratitude to their wisdom and inspiration.

Enjoy the poems. We hope to use them as stepping-stones to wonder, leading you to write, to read the works of the poets celebrated in this book, to seek out more about their lives and their work, or to simply read and explore more poetry. At the very least, maybe you can memorize one or two.

We wonder how you will wonder.

This is one of those books where you need to see for yourself how striking it is. Check it out!

candlewick.com

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Review of One Last Word, by Nikki Grimes

One Last Word

Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance

by Nikki Grimes

Bloomsbury, 2017. 120 pages.

This book is a tribute to poets of the Harlem Renaissance, and contains fourteen poems by poets from that time. The poems are illustrated with artwork by Cozbi A. Cabrera, R. Gregory Christie, Pat Cummings, Jan Spivey Gilchrist, Ebony Glenn, Nikki Grimes, E. B. Lewis, Frank Morrison, Christopher Myers, Brian Pinkney, Sean Qualls, James Ransome, Javaka Steptoe, Shadra Strickland, and Elizabeth Zunon.

But the heart of the book is the Golden Shovel poems Nikki Grimes has written in tribute to the Harlem Renaissance poets.

The idea of a Golden Shovel poem is to take a short poem in its entirety, or a line from that poem (called a striking line), and create a new poem, using the words from the original…. Then you would write a new poem, each line ending in one of these words.

Nikki Grimes does this with the poems she’s selected and included. She either uses one line or the entire poem, and uses those words as the ending of the lines of her own poem.

For example, the first poem selected is “Storm Ending,” by Jean Toomer, and the first line of the poem is “Thunder blossoms gorgeously above our heads,” and that first line is printed in bold. Then Nikki Grimes wrote a poem, “Truth” that uses these six words as the last word in each of the six lines.

It’s a lovely way of paying tribute to the original work. This book would be good simply as an anthology. But with Nikki Grimes’ poems playing off the original poems, and the work of this distinguished collection of artists, this book is something much more.

nikkigrimes.com
bloomsbury.com

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