Sunday, April 13, 2008

Happy birthday, Lee Bennett Hopkins, on Scrabble Day

April 13 is supposedly Scrabble Day, one of my favorite word game/board games. Scrabble was created in 1938 by Alfred Mosher Butts. For a fun poetry connection, see how Mike Keith has used the scrabble squares to create a poem: A Scrabble®-Tile Anagram Poem by Mike Keith (2000).

Even more importantly, April 13 is Lee Bennett Hopkins’ birthday. Happy birthday, Lee! He has been the focus of discussion on the CCBC listserv recently as we’ve considered his enormous contributions to the field of poetry for young people. Check out my April 13 posting from last year for more information about Lee, his life, and his work. This year I’d like to talk about his latest anthology, America at War. It’s a beautiful, moving collection with more than fifty poems and paintings divided into eight sections featuring each “American” war, from the American Revolution to the Iraq War. Classic poems by the likes of Walt Whitman and Carl Sandburg appear alongside contemporary voices such as Rebecca Kai Dotlich and Georgia Heard.

However, the book is not about war, as Hopkins points out in his poignant introduction. “It is about the poetry of war…. America at War presents the raw emotions of warfare as seen and felt by poets.” The design and layout of the book are also perfectly tuned to the tone of the work, with each poem appearing to be engraved upon the large, creamy page accompanied by expansive watercolor illustrations that convey a historical sweep that evokes the WPA murals of the past. Together, the poems and art capture both specific details of each conflict as well as deep and tender emotions that sadly cross the ages. Here’s one example:

by Cynthia Cotten

My brother is a soldier
in a hot, dry,

sandy place.

He’s missing—

missing things like

baseball, barbecues,

fishing, French fries,

chocolate sodas,
flame-red maple trees,

blue jays,

and snow.

I’m missing, too—


his read-out-loud voice,

his super-special

banana pancakes,
his scuffed up shoes

by the back door,

his big-bear

good night


There are people

with guns
in that land of sand

who want to shoot

my brother.

I hope

they miss him,


From Hopkins, Lee Bennett, comp. 2008. America at War. New York: Margaret K. McElderry.

Be sure and look for Lee’s other poetry anthologies with a focus on U.S. history and geography:
Hopkins, Lee Bennett, comp. 1994. Hand in Hand: An American History through Poetry. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Hopkins, Lee Bennett, comp. 1999. Lives: Poems about Famous Americans. New York: HarperCollins.
Hopkins, Lee Bennett, comp. 2000. My America: A Poetry Atlas of the United States. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Hopkins, Lee Bennett, comp. 2002. Home to Me: Poems Across America. New York: Orchard.

Thank you for your continuing contributions to children, reading, and poetry, Lee!

Picture credit: Me!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Lee has done more for children's poetry than anyone else on the planet! HAPPY BIRTHDAY, LEE! How appropriate that your birthday is during National Poetry Month!