Do you hear what I hear?

Versatile poet Marilyn Singer has again teamed up with Canadian illustrator Josee Masse to create a vivid collection of brief poems that promise to appeal to a broad array of children.

Echo Echo by Marilyn Singer and illus by Josee Masse

As with her two previous titles featuring reverso poems, a form Singer devised that employs pairs of poems that can be read line-by-line in two opposite directions, Echo Echo: Reverso Poems about Greek Myths plays with perspectives, short lines, accessible language and lively content.

This intriguing format proves to be a particularly apt approach for the subject of Greek mythology, so resonant with dual perspectives and dramatic conflict. Singer’s polished poems provide one point of view on the left-hand side of a page and an opposing perspective in the other half. Visually, too, each side stands out, as the text of one poem employs white text against a vibrant Aegean blue, while the other displays the opposite combination.

The fourteen pairs of poems, complemented with Masse’s bright, energetic full-page acrylic illustrations, feature the famous myths of Pandora and the box … the rivalry between Arachne and Athena … King Midas and the daughter he turned to stone … Perseus and the slaying of Medusa … Bellerophon and his capture of the winged horse Pegasus … the self-absorbed Narcissus and Echo (a highlight of this collection) … Pygmalion and the statue Galatea … Theseus and his escape from the labyrinth thanks to Ariadne … Icarus and Daedalus … Melanion and Atalanta and the three golden apples … and the tragic stories of Demeter and Persephone and of Eurydice and the musician Orpheus.

Singer’s playful yet thought-provoking poems provide educators with the perfect resource to help young people realize the power of point of view, of word choice, of poetic tone, and punctuation. Why not use this creative poetry to craft a writing workshop like no other? As Singer writes, “When the world was young,/ such wonders!”

See also …

My previous post on Singer’s Mirror Mirror and on poetry collections that celebrate nature.




Lines that Lift Late Summer Blues

Illustrator Julie Paschkis (Through Georgia’s Eyes, 2006, etc.) taps her characteristic vibrant folk-art motifs to enlarge the space for joyous wordplay in her sprightly new bilingual poetry collection Flutter & Hum/Aleteo y Zumbido: Poemas de Animales.
Flutter and Hum by Julie Paschkis
Paschkis’s collection of 12 brief poems, complemented with vivid double-spread illustrations rendered in gouache, glimmers with surprising suppleness. In “Snake,” or “La Serpiente,” the 11-line poem secretes numerous “s” sounds, and her grassy images of twisting tendrils slip in words such as swerve, subtle, shy, and swallow. On the opposing facing page, she highlights such alliterative Spanish words as sombra (shadow), sabia (he/she knows), sorpresa (surprise) and solo. As most of these do not appear in either the English or Spanish poem, they act as extended riffs on the child-pleasing poetry.

For her playful poem “Turtle/La Tortuga” Paschkis focuses on the shell as a secret vault of enchantment: “The turtle hides/in her shell./But maybe there is space,/a place/for hidden treasure.” Embedded in the hard shell are drawings of gems, locks, and keys, while copious pointy teeth embellish the shell’s border. On the English half of the two-page illustration, the shell reveals such words as glow, inside, glisten, while the right-hand side gives us the Spanish gema (gem), adentro (inside), and lustra (he/she polishes). Unhurried, curious readers will relish the correlation between the Spanish words and various related English words.

In her author’s note, Paschkis reveals the singular inspiration of her poetry. While illustrating Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People, a picture-book biography written by Monica Brown (2011), she fell in love with Spanish and immersed herself in the Chilean poet’s work. That led her to create her own poems, first in Spanish and then in English. Some poems, she noted, “are not translated word-for-word; instead I used the phrase that worked best in each language to convey the same meaning.”
This energetic interplay of art and poetry lends itself to multiple creative uses—choral reading, acting, musical adaptations—as well as leisurely literary romps and reveries.

Reprinted with permission from the New York Journal of Books.

Also see …

Poem-Mobiles Crazy Car Poems by J. Patrick Lewis and Douglas FlorianPug and Other Animal Poems by Valerie WorthStardines Swim High Across the Sky and Other Poems by Jack Prelutsky

Sidman’s Fresh Winter Poems

Winter’s splendors shine in the latest collaboration between award-winning children’s poet Joyce Sidman and illustrator Rick Allen, whose stellar prints graced the author’s Newbery Honor-winning poetry collection Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night (2010).Winter Bees and Other Poems of the Cold by Joyce Sidman
As with their previous work, Winter Bees and Other Poems of the Cold hums with a glorious trio of lyrical poetry, vibrant artwork, and natural science explained in crisp prose. The dozen brief poems show off a range of voices, tones, and formats in a full-throated effort to move readers to appreciate how the natural world adapts to the cold.
Employing a clear, consistent format of vivid double-page spreads showcasing the poem on the left and scientific information on the right, the poet and illustrator work harmoniously to stunning effect. Opening with the graceful “Dream of the Tundra Swan,” the team then moves on to feature coiled snakes, a new snowflake that “leaps, laughing/ in a dizzy cloud,/a pinwheel gathering glitter,” a rascally moose, winter bees, and others.
Ms. Sidman performs a sprightly dance with each of her subjects, dipping into rich sensory details with élan and displaying her facility with rhyme, rhythm, and poetic devices. She writes some poems from the perspective of a particular animal (“Brother Raven, Sister Wolf”) and throughout, shows a remarkable talent in her choice of poetic form. For “Under Ice,” Ms. Sidman writes of beavers in the form of a pantoum, distinguished by a pattern of using the poem’s second and fourth lines as the first and third of the next stanza. The last stanza employs the first and third lines in reverse order; thus, the poem’s final line is the same as the first. In this way the poet comes full circle, opening and closing with the image of the beavers’ snug winter home, “the fat white wigwam.”
These fresh poems spring to life with Mr. Allen’s original linoleum block prints, hand-colored and digitally scanned, composed and layered. The snowy images on these pages quiver with movement and assorted perspectives. As readers note the tundra swan’s upcoming “yodel of flight,/the sun’s pale wafer,/the crisp drink of clouds,” they can trace the V formations the vigorous swans make as they soar above a frosty lake. On subsequent pages, we see a chickadee preening, springtails flipping, a wolf prowling, and a ravenous moose reaching for a slender tree branch. The artist’s pleasing range of perspectives— from the upward view of tall trees and frigid sky to the downward gaze at a small fox coiled for warmth– can’t help but engage the reader. The illustrator offers fascinating glimpses of such internal worlds as the beavers’ cramped rooms beneath an icy pond and the winter bees clustered around their queen.
Winter Bees will make for a lovely companion on a chilly night, accompanied by hot cocoa and snuggles with young ones. Even middle-schoolers won’t be able to resist this bright concoction of art, words, and science. The glossary at the end serves to clear up any confusion about scientific terms and poem forms related to the text.

Reprinted with permission from New York Journal of Books.

See also …

Story of Snow The Science of Winter's Wonder by Mark Cassino with Jon NelsonEye to Eye How Animals See the World by Steve JenkinsOver and Under the Snow by Kate Messner

Stirring the Pot for Halloween Treats

Do bookstores have to be so predictable in their Halloween displays, as yet again they promote ho-hum Clifford and Curious George and Scooby-Doo products? Families can save their money and their sanity by heading to the library instead, where an array of craft books, poetry, folktales, and novels await anyone with a library card.

One way to combat the oppressive commercialism that has crept into the holiday is to make it yoEd Emberley's Drawing Book of Halloweenurself — whether it’s costumes, decorations, puppets, or cupcakes. Look for craft books by Kathy Ross, such as All New Crafts for Halloween. And remember feeling proud of those monsters you drew with the help of the wonderful old Ed Emberley’s Halloween Drawing Book? Don’t let your children grow up without Emberley’s engrossing little books. An alternative for slightly older children is Ralph Masiello’s Halloween Drawing Book.

Ghosts, ghouls and humor show up in plenty of kid-pleasing poetry. Adam Rex’s Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich and his follow-up, Frankenstein Takes the Cake will have children (and parents?) howling with laughter. The illustrations are as much fun as the punchy poems featuring various monsters.

Other titles to look for are compilations such as Jack Prelutsky’s It’s HalloweenLee Bennett Hopkins’ Halloween Howls: Holiday Poetry or Marc Brown’s Scared Silly: A Halloween Book for the Brave: Poems, Riddles, Jokes, Stories and More.

For some of the best seasonal stories, head over to 398.2 for folk literature from around the world. One of Short and Shivery Thirty Chilling Tales retold by Robert D. San Soucithe most dog-eared, beloved collections in my school library was Short & Shivery: Thirty Chilling Tales retold by Robert D. San Souci. Ranging from diverse cultures, the stories are not uniformly scary, but they are all well-written and accessible to children ages 8 to 12. The volume includes such memorable tales as the Appalachian “Tailypo,” the Grimm Brothers’ “Robber Bridegroom,” and “Skeleton’s Dance,” from Japan. Audio- and e-book editions are also available. Another winner is any of the perpetually popular Alvin Schwartz collections, such as Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, illustrated ghoulishly by Stephen Gammell.Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

As for novels, many older children (ages 10+) will be drawn to Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, winner of the 2009 Newbery Medal, which unspools the bizarre adventures of a boy called Bod as he grows up being raised by ghosts in a cemetery. Gaiman reads his gripping novel aloud on his well-crafted web site.

For slightly younger ones (ages 8 to 12), it’s hard to top James Howe’s Bunnicula series, featuring an evil-looking bunny (found at a Dracula movie) that comes to live with the Monroes, Harold the dog and Chester the cat. When various vegetables show up with teeth marks and drained of all juice and color, the clever cat ascertains the toothy truth. Who knew a vampire story could be so much fun? Another witty one (for ages 6 to 8) is Kate DiCamillo’s Princess in Disguise, in which the pig Mercy Watson is persuaded to dress up in a pink gown and tiara. 

And for younger ones:

See my prior post on Julia Donaldson’s Room on the Broom, as well as any of the tales featured in the 2011 Scholastic DVD Teeny-Tiny Witch Woman and More Spooky Halloween Stories.

Ashley Bryan’s Joyous Handiwork

In yet another celebration of creativity, acclaimed author/illustrator Ashley Bryan shares with readers his “family of hand puppets,” crafted with far-flung detritus. Peach pits become eyes … a coconut morphs into a head … a wishbone evokes whiskers. Oh, the random scraps that unfurl a panorama of puppets fit for the wildest tales!Ashley Bryan's Puppets

Ashley Bryan’s Puppets is not a craft book; rather, it’s an unusual poetry collection utilizing vibrant photos and a simple poem Bryan wrote for each of the 33 puppets showcased here. Clearly an act of love and joy, Bryan has bestowed every puppet with personality and a relevant name. Lubangi, meaning born in water, is a mermaid draped in netting studded with starfish and cockle shells. Jojo, the storyteller, has a head and hands made of gloves: “In every finger of my glove/ I tap tall tales of peace and love./ The fingers of my well-gloved hands/ Store stories told in foreign lands.”

In his note, the author/creator relates that as he walks the shores of his longtime home in the Cranberry Isles of Maine, he collects shells, bone, driftwood, nets, and sea glass. What child wouldn’t relate to this impulse? While readers won’t find instructions or photos of the author’s creative process (alas), they will find plenty of inspiration for their own puppets. Parents and young ones can use this book as a source for ideas, while teachers and librarians might select a few poems and photos to share as part of a puppet-making project based on folktales — perhaps using one of Bryan’s own vivid versions.

And see my prior post on Ashley Bryan.


Small Poems That Soar

Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems just might be one of the brightest choices you make this year in the field of children’s books. It takes only a few minutes to sample this collectiFirefly July A Year of Very Short Poemson of 36 well-chosen poems that span the seasons, but many a child –and adult–will pause to savor the dazzling lines, illustrated with such verve by Caldecott Honoree Melissa Sweet.

This singular collection, selected by acclaimed poet Paul B. Janeczko, shines with poems by such popular children’s poets as Lillian Morrison, Eve Merriam, and James Stevenson, as well as some surprising choices: William Carlos Williams, Richard Wright, and Charles Reznikoff.

Beginning with spring (yes, it’s arrived!), each season plays out in nine poems. Ms. Sweet gives us her painted bright red pickup truck loaded with hand-drawn images of old fans to accompany Gerald Jonas’s energetic poem “In Passing.” Readers can bump along while reading about the “dumpy junktruck/stacked full of old floor-fans,/unplugged, unsteady, undone,/free-whirling like kids’ pinwheels… .”

The illustrator’s detailed collage-watercolor-gouache illustrations vary in style as they encounter distinct poems and moods. Her gape-mouthed gulls, for instance, humorously evoke the ravenous creatures depicted in X.J. Kennedy’s brief poem that compares the birds’ cries to rusted gates. For another summer poem, the titular poem by J. Patrick Lewis, Ms. Sweet shows fat globes of light encircling the fireflies’ tails and childlike pencil drawings of grass, trees, and weeds sprouting in the dusk. It’s enough to inspire us adults to return to our firefly-chasing ways.

To my ear, two of the special surprises in this book arrive in the winter portion. “Snow Fence” by Ted Kooser is a stunning six-line beauty. I’m not going to spell it out for you; just find your way to the page with the vivid red fence and ponder his lines. Another remarkable entry is Reznikoff’s two-line riff on what the house-wreckers left.

What marvelous activities teachers, librarians, and parents can concoct with Firefly July. Language arts teachers can find writing prompts here, teach metaphors or sensory images or point of view … art teachers can use the book to inspire collages … parents can relish a sweet morning or bedtime to share these vivid little creations. Highly recommended for every home, school, and public library, especially for use with grades 2-5.

And see my previous post on Water Sings Blue and these titles … 

Kick in the Head An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms by Paul B JaneczkoReading Poetry in the Middle Grades 20 Poems and Activities by Paul B JaneczkoCollected Poems for Children by Ted Hughes




Words Worth Chanting

If you’re looking for a beautiful, soulful, abiding children’s book, consider What the Heart Knows: Chants, Charms & Blessings by the extraordinary poet Joyce Sidman. What the Heart Knows by Joyce Sidman

Winner of multiple awards, including this year’s NCTE Award for Excellence in Children’s Poetry, Joyce Sidman is one of my favorite poets writing for children. People of all ages, however, can find much to treasure in her work, especially her latest title.

In her introduction, Sidman notes these poems are about “repairing friendship, slowing down time, understanding happiness, facing the worst kind of loss. They are words to speak in the face of loneliness, fear, delight, or confusion.” She explores such universal hopes and worries with fresh imagery and the kind of repetition, alliteration, and emotional heft you expect to find in prayers or sacred poetry. In these decidedly secular poems, however, she honors the feelings we so often ignore.

Dividing the book into four parts: Chants & Charms, Spells & Invocations, Laments & Remembrances, and Praise Songs & Blessings, the poet explores a range of experiences. The first poem, the triolet “Chant to Repair a Friendship,” will speak to many readers:

“Come, friend, forgive the past;
I was wrong and I am grieving.
Tell me that this break won’t last–
take my hand; forgive the past.
Anger’s brief, but love is vast.”

She ends by repeating the poem’s first two lines. Who hasn’t experienced a relationship that needed such healing words?

In other brief, pleasing poems, Sidman explores time’s slippery nature, as when she laments the loss of a teddy bear, “I thought I didn’t need,” or highlights such ephemeral delights as building sandcastles or watching a curled-up cat. One of the pleasures of these poems is how she uses such common subjects to ponder deeper truths. “Blessing on the Curl of Cat,” for instance, turns out to be about the writer finding her place in a shifting world. And “Come. Happiness” describes the emotion not as “some flashy friend” but as one that is “more like a raindrop,/governed by mysterious principles.” She concludes that poem with this surprising request: “Bathe us with your cool spray./Fill us with your splendid breath./Help us do your work.”

Heightening the beauty of What the Heart Knows is the fantastical artwork by Caldecott Honor-winning illustrator Pamela Zagarenski. Her bright, whimsical images, rooted in fairy tales, grace each poem and inspire readers to think more deeply about these lovely poems.

Middle-schoolers and older readers will be fortunate if this book happens to fall down the chimney. Who knows where that might lead? They might discover poetry has the power to help us make sense of a bewildering world.

For excellent tips on using this remarkable little book in the classroom or library, see Sidman’s guide.

Looking for more ideas for great gift books? See my posts A Time for Peace and Christmas in the Country.

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