Friday, June 06, 2008


I’d like to follow up on last week’s posting with another review of a school-themed book of poetry. In the novel-in-verse, Where the Steps Were (Boyds Mills/Wordsong, 2008), Andrea Cheng features a precocious class of third graders in inner city Cincinnati, Ohio (modeled after and dedicated to her sister, a teacher). They’re worried about their school closing and are vocal in their concerns, as the poems pile up from each child’s individual perspective. Many things happen during the course of the school year, as they bond with one another and with their sympathetic, experienced teacher, Miss D.

One of my favorite elements of the book is the many references to other works of literature, particularly other poems. The kids respond specifically to “Dreams” and “Merry Go Round” by Langston Hughes and “Harriet Tubman,” by Eloise Greenfield. Aesop and Cinderella also pop up in important ways, as does the folktale of “Stone Soup” as you can see in this example.

Stone Soup

Grams puts water

in the pot
and sets it on the hot plate

until it boils.

Then we each get to cut up something

and put it in

like carrots and celery and beans and potatoes.

Grams puts in

a big ham bone

and I say

That’s nasty,

but we make the best vegetable soup

I ever tasted

in my life.

From: Cheng, Andrea. 2008. Where the Steps Were. Honesdale, PA: Boyds Mills/Wordsong, p.69.

I also enjoyed the many black and white block print illustrations sprinkled throughout the book, and the Fall, Winter, and Spring divider pages that provide a pause and transition in the events. These very young kids deal with some difficult situations (racism, poverty, dashed hopes) that are handled with sensitivity and care. Follow up with last week's Naked Bunyip Dancing by Steven Herrick, Joyce Sidman's This is to Say, or Sharon Creech's Love that Dog for more poetry about kids in school and particularly, kids discovering the power of poetry.

For more poetry by Andrea Cheng, look for Shanghai Messenger (Lee & Low, 2005), the story of a Chinese American girl’s travel to China for the very first time.

For the rest of the Poetry Friday Round Up, go to Sarah Reinhard's blog.

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