Thursday, April 12, 2007

Happy Birthday, Gary Soto

Today is poet Gary Soto's birthday. Dip into Soto’s poetry for young people with the poem, “Ode To My Library” from Neighborhood Odes (Harcourt, 1992) which is almost a short story it shares so many details about a small town library. Its description of the physical space of the library mentions the rooms, the books, the globe, the maps, the fish tank, the pencil sharpener, etc. Another wonderful collection of Soto’s poetry is Canto Familiar (Harcourt, 1995) which includes 25 poems dealing with experiences of Mexican American children growing up in the United States. These poems are written with lively voices that beg to be read aloud.

Gary Soto’s collection, A Fire in My Hands (Harcourt, expanded edition 2006), includes rich, descriptive poems as well as the short author insights that are offered at the beginning of each poem, so helpful to budding poets. For middle school students, Soto has created a set of poems woven together to tell a story about a friendship between two boys, Fearless Fernie: Hanging Out with Fernie & Me (Putnam 2002) and a sequel, Worlds Apart: Fernie and Me (Putnam 2005), with his usual blend of humor and humiliation.

It’s a challenge to choose just one example to share, but this is one of my favorites because of it’s open-ended non-ending. So, what happened?

by Gary Soto

I once tried to steal from Charlie’s Market.
I stood at a tier of thirteen kinds of candy,
And I closed my hand around a Baby Ruth,
Then opened it very quickly
Because it was wrong. I was a boy,
No brighter than the penny
In my pocket. I closed my hand around
The candy again, then opened it.
God would know, my mother would know,
And certainly Charlie who was leaning his elbows
On the glass counter. I didn’t see him watching.
My small eyes stared at the candy,
First temptation of the greedy tooth.
My hand opened and closed around the Baby Ruth
Several more times. I kept thinking
All I have to do is pick it up
And it’ll be mine.

from: Poetry After Lunch: Poems to Read Aloud edited by Edward E. Wilson and Joyce A. Carroll (Absey & Co., 1997).

Now there’s a poem to discuss with young people!

Soto is also well known for his engaging picture books such as Chato’s Kitchen (Putnam, 1995) and its “Chato” sequels and the Christmas story, Too Many Tamales (Putnam, 1993), as well as middle grade novels and short stories including his ground-breaking Baseball in April (Harcourt, 1990) and the appealing The Skirt (Yearling, 1994), plus his contemporary young adult novels, such as Taking Sides (Harcourt, 1991) and The Afterlife (Harcourt, 2003). He has also produced the film “The Pool Party” based on his short novel for young people, as well as written the libretto for an opera entitled “Nerd-landia” and a play for young people called “Novio Boy.” I continue to watch for new Soto gems; his work offers both a much needed Latino voice as well as writing that is often startling in its imagery and phrasing.

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