Friday, December 29, 2006

Best Poetry for Children in 2006

As we end the year of 2006, I’m thinking back over my favorite moments (my son’s graduation from high school, trips to Japan and China), favorite movies (“Babel,” “Inside Man”) and favorite poetry books for kids. Fortunately, there have been many lovely books of poetry published for young people in 2006. Here’s my list, along with very brief annotations. I'm tickled to see such a variety of works by new and favorite poets-- picture book collections, nature themes, humorous verse, historical poem-stories, a poem biography, poems for the very young, all accompanied by the work of many distinctive illustrators. Each is a gem. You may have other favorite poetry books of your own. Either way, stock up with new titles, double up with multiple copies, and speak up sharing poems with kids you care about every day. Resolve to move poetry up your priority list for 2007. The kids in your life will be richer for it-- and so will you!

1. Brown, Calef. Flamingos on the Roof. Houghton Mifflin.
*Zany, syncopated story-poems are accompanied by crazy, cock-eyed story-paintings about all kinds of make-believe creatures

2. Bulion, Leslie. Hey There, Stink Bug! Ill. by Leslie Evans. Charlesbridge.
*The insect world comes to life through poems and facts, with a fun focus on the gross and gruesome

3. Engle, Margarita. The Poet Slave of Cuba: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano. Ill. by Sean Qualls. Henry Holt.
*The life of nineteenth-century Cuban slave Juan Francisco Manzano is portrayed in vivid free verse from multiple points of view

4. Florian, Douglas. Handsprings. Harcourt.
*Rhyming poems about the colors, sounds, and feelings associated with spring are accompanied by watercolor paintings that energetically capture the mood of the season

5. Frost, Helen. The Braid. Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
*The intertwining poem tale of two sisters surviving hardships as Scottish refugees/immigrants in the 1850’s

6. Greenfield, Eloise. The Friendly Four. Ill. by Jan Spivey Gilchrist. HarperCollins.
*Read aloud poems for multiple voices depict four African American neighborhood children (two boys, two girls) who develop a friendship over a summer

7. Katz, Bobbi. Once Around the Sun. Ill. by LeUyen Pham. Harcourt.
*A-poem-a-month shows city life from the child’s point of view combined with lively, energetic scenic illustrations of a diverse community

8. Larios, Julie. Yellow Elephant: A Bright Bestiary. Ill. by Julie Paschkis. Harcourt.
*A kind of BROWN BEAR, BROWN BEAR book of read aloud color-animal poems full of metaphor and description

9. Lewis, J. Patrick and Dotlich, Rebecca Kai. Castles: Old Stone Poems. Ill. by Dan Burr. Boyds Mills Press.
*A beautiful collection of paintings and poems of historic castles around the world

10. Lewis, J. Patrick. Blackbeard, the Pirate King. National Geographic.
*With classic pirate illustrations by Pyle and Wyeth, as well as modern incarnations, the fascinating life of Edward Teach is captured in poems, facts, and endnotes

11. Myers, Walter Dean. Jazz. Ill. by Christopher Myers. Holiday House.
*A celebration of jazz music and history and a tribute to New Orleans captured with vivid and participatory language

12. Rex, Adam. Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich. Harcourt.
*Rex has written and illustrated an irresistible collection of monster poems told with verve and humor

13. Shannon, George. Busy in the Garden. Ill. by Sam Williams. Greenwillow.
*These rollicking rhymes and riddles about garden life engage even the very youngest children

14. Sidman, Joyce. Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow. Houghton Mifflin.
*Exquisite riddle rhyme pairs explore the plants and animals of the meadow along with informative prose paragraphs and a glossary

15. Siebert, Diane. Tour America: A Journey Through Poems and Art. Chronicle Books.
*Tour the U.S. through descriptive, rhyming poems and mixed media art

16. Weatherford, Carole Boston. Dear Mr. Rosenwald. Ill. by R. Gregory Christie. Scholastic.
*The true story-in-poems about a small, Southern African American community that builds its own school in the 1920s

Friday, December 22, 2006

Christmas Poetry Plus

My nearly-grown-up children are home for the holidays and I’ve had fun reading some favorite poems out loud to them. My 23 year-old daughter said it made her want to cuddle up on my lap and fall asleep—shades of childhood bedtimes! And there are so many wonderful poetry collections to share this time of year. Valerie Worth departed from her “small poem” format with the poetry book, At Christmastime, a large picture book with full page woodcut illustrations by Antonio Frasconi. Another picture book collection worth finding is Nikki Grimes’ Under the Christmas Tree, illustrated by Kadir Nelson, a real gem. Lee Bennett Hopkins offers two wonderful “I Can Read” poetry collections, Christmas Presents and Hanukkah Lights. And there are beautiful multicultural poem-song anthologies to share including Lulu Delacre’s Las Navidades: Popular Christmas Songs from Latin America, Ashley Bryan’s illustrated version of Langston Hughes’ Carol of the Brown King: Nativity Poems, and Hold Christmas In Your Heart: African American Songs, Poems, and Stories for the Holidays selected by Cheryl Willis Hudson.

Ready to laugh? Look for Jack Prelutsky’s It’s Christmas or Alan Katz’s Where Did They Hide My Presents? Or for poems that are more generally winter-themed, look for Francisco X. Alarcon’s Iguanas in the Snow/ Iguanas en la nieve, Douglas Florian’s Winter Eyes, or Anna Grossnickle Hines’s poetry book, Winter Lights: A Season in Poems & Quilts, each beautifully and distinctively illustrated.

Just for fun, share this “Christmas” poem below, reading it antiphonally, with two groups of children reading alternating lines. It’s from an older anthology, More Poetry for Holidays, collected by Nancy Larrick.

Day Before Christmas
by Marchette Chute

We have been helping with the cake
And licking out the pan,
And wrapping up our packages
As neatly as we can.
And we have hung our stockings up
Beside the open grate.
And now there’s nothing more to do

Happy holidays in poetry!

Friday, December 15, 2006

Sun, not snow, poem

Where I live, we don’t have a “white” Christmas with a snowy landscape. It’s Texas and it’s generally sunny with brown lawns and near 80 degrees tomorrow! So, although I enjoy traditional Christmas rhymes and songs about our “winter wonderland,” we have to acknowledge that there are many places that don’t look like a Currier and Ives lithograph this time of year. So I’m always on the lookout for poems that feature the holiday with a twist. Here’s one of my favorites from Lee Bennett Hopkins’ anthology, Ring Out, Wild Bells.

by Frank Asch

If sunlight fell like snowflakes,
gleaming yellow and so bright,
we could build a sunman,
we could have a sunball fight,
we could watch the sunflakes
drifting in the sky.
We could go sleighing
in the middle of July
through sundrifts and sunbanks,
we could ride a sunmobile,
and we could touch sunflakes--
I wonder how they’d feel.

from Ring Out, Wild Bells
collected by Lee Bennett Hopkins

*Just for fun, read the poem aloud and invite children to chime in on the word, “sun” wherever it appears in the poem—- to emphasize the contrast between the “sun” words and the usual “snow” images.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Night Before Christmas

It’s that time of year again; time to hear or recite the classic poem attributed to Clement C. Moore, "A Visit from St. Nicholas,” more popularly known as “The Night Before Christmas,” which first debuted in a New York newspaper in 1823. I have to admit that I loved this poem as a child, memorized it easily, and recited it with relish for many years. It had the breathless appeal of a campfire story, with the zest of a cheer or chant. As an adult, I learned that Moore may not have written the poem at all and that it was first attributed to “Anonymous.” It has also undergone extensive editing, with the names of the reindeer often changed ("Dunder" vs. "Donner"). One of my favorite picture book renditions of the first version of the poem (complete with Author’s Note) is Matt Tavares’ ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, strikingly illustrated in black and white, ala Chris Van Allsburg (although James Marshall’s cartoon version is pretty darn great, too!).

Over the years, this poem has appeared in picture book form many times over, illustrated by dozens of illustrators, from Arthur Rackham and Tasha Tudor to Jan Brett and Mary Engelbreit. I have collected many of these versions, looking for the most unusual variants of spin-offs I can find, from pop up to coloring book, Care Bear or Rugrat, and of course The Night Before Christmas, in Texas, That Is by Leon Harris. And apparently, I am not the only one who enjoys finding parodies of the poem. I found nearly 20 other versions from “An Ernest Hemingway Christmas” (from The New Yorker archives) to two versions of “A Star Trek Christmas” at

Other authors and illustrators have taken the poem’s “formula” and transferred it to Halloween (The Fright Before Christmas by Judy Sierra), or spun a Christmas version with feminist commentary (A Visit From St. Nicholas To a Liberated Household by Judith Viorst), or infused it with cultural diversity (look for the Black Santa in 'Twas the Night B’Fore Christmas; An African-American Version by Melodye Rosales), or created a visual poem puzzle (Can You See What I See? Night Before Christmas by Walter Wick). One new version that appeared this year is A Soldier’s Night Before Christmas by Trish Holland and Christine Ford, illustrated by John Manders. Here, “Sergeant McClaus” delivers unexpected gifts to soldiers sleeping among Blackhawks and Humvees in a desert setting. Although this Golden Book may not win any literary prizes, this version may be just what many families need this Christmas, with its closing refrain, “Happy Christmas, brave soldiers! May peace come to all.”

The poem may take many forms, from playful to serious, but it seems to have staying power with its musical rhyme and hopeful message. It’s certainly firmly entrenched in popular culture! Look for your favorite version to share or challenge children to create their own renditions. And of course, seek out poems that capture other holiday or seasonal celebrations, too.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Rosa Parks Day

On Dec. 1, 1955, Rosa Parks, an African American seamstress, defied the law by refusing to give up her seat to a white man aboard a Montgomery, Alabama, city bus. Parks was arrested, sparking a year-long boycott of the buses by blacks that rippled across the country to change attitudes and laws. Although I grew up hearing that she was tired and simply wanted to stay seated after a long day of work, in recent years I have come to learn that she made a conscious decision to protest by staying put. Learn more about this story from Nikki Giovanni’s picture book, Rosa (Holt, 2005) illustrated by Bryan Collier. Herself a poet, Giovanni has created a moving narrative tribute to Rosa Parks, as an individual and as a force for change in America. Collier’s watercolor-and-collage illustrations depict Parks as an inspiring force that radiates golden light. The book won both a Caldecott honor distinction and Coretta Scott King medal.

Then follow up with three poem tributes. First share, two poems about Rosa Parks, one by Carole Boston Weatherford in Remember the Bridge (Philomel, 2002), and another by J. Patrick Lewis,"The Many and the Few" in Lives; Poems About Famous Americans selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins (HarperCollins, 1999). Then, reach back for the classic poem by Countee Cullen, “Incident,” a vivid picture of racism that begins, “Once riding in old Baltimore.” Here, sadly, an eight-year-old child experiences bigotry on the bus firsthand. The Cullen poem can be found in many anthologies including a picture book collection compiled by Wade Hudson for younger readers, Pass It On: African American Poetry for Children, illustrated by Floyd Cooper (Scholastic, 1993) or for older readers, I, Too, Sing America: Three Centuries of African American Poetry, selected by Catherine Clinton, illustrated by Stephen Alcorn (Houghton Miffflin, 1998). Discuss the person, the story, and the poems with children. Who are the change agents of today?