Sunday, June 29, 2008

New Review: SIDE BY SIDE

I can’t help myself! I’m on a roll reviewing new poetry books published this spring and I just can’t stop. I’m attending the annual convention of the American Library Association in Anaheim this weekend (road trip!), and hope to see several new poetry works planned for fall. Meanwhile, here are my thoughts about a new collection that is a companion to a previous ALA award winner. Jan Greenberg’s Heart to Heart: New Poems Inspired by Twentieth-Century American Art (Abrams, 2001) won a Printz honor in 2002 and now has a partner book, Side by Side: New Poems Inspired by Art from Around the World (Abrams, 2008), another elegant volume for older kids and teens.

Similar in design, this slim volume packs potent poems created to accompany distinctive and varied works of art, something I learned is called “ekphrasis”-- poetry inspired by art. Greenberg’s excellent introduction frames the collection and is “must” reading to appreciate the collection fully. She explains that artists from 33 countries on 6 continents are represented here (their locations indicated on a map in the backmatter). Poems created in response to each work of art are grouped in four sections—stories, voices, expressions, and impressions with each original poem appearing in the poet’s native language, as well as in English—a powerful effect. Greenberg also includes biographies of the poets and translators, and an index. It’s a fascinating pairing of art and word worthy of close study and a great model for aspiring writers to imitate. Here’s one poem that I liked especially.

Cat Heaven
by Lo Ch’ing

Translated from the Chinese by Joseph R. Allen

[The Chinese poem appears alongside this translated version.]

Out of the cat’s dream

floats a lavish mouse banquet

As mice sleep deep

in that aroma-soaked dream

Dreaming of
a cat

Eating dreams
for sustenance

From: Greenberg, Jan. 2008. Side by Side: New Poems Inspired by Art from Around the World. New York: Abrams, p. 60.

*SIDE NOTE: There is another poetry collection with a similar title edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins: Side by Side: Poems to Read Together (Simon & Schuster, 1988). In this case, there are pairs of poems to be read by adults and kids, if my memory serves me. It might be interesting for kids to compare the two books or to talk about the selection of poetry book titles. What titles might they choose?

Other books of ekphrastic poetry that pair fine art and poems:
Koch, Kenneth, and Kate Farrell, comp. 1985. Talking to the Sun; An Illustrated Anthology of Poems for Young People. New York: Henry Holt.
Nye, Naomi Shihab, comp. 1998. The Space Between Our Footsteps: Poems and Paintings From the Middle East. New York: Simon & Schuster.
___, comp. 1995. The Tree is Older than You Are: A Bilingual Gathering of Poems and Stories from Mexico with Paintings by Mexican Artists. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Panzer, Nora, comp. 1994. Celebrate America in Poetry and Art. New York: Hyperion.
Rochelle, Belinda, comp. 2001. Words with Wings: A Treasury of African-American Poetry and Art. New York: HarperCollins.
Sullivan, Charles, comp. 1994. Here is My Kingdom: Hispanic-American Literature and Art for Young People. New York: H.N. Abrams.
Sullivan, Charles, comp. 1989. Imaginary Gardens; American Poetry and Art for Young People. New York: Abrams.
Volavkova, Hana, ed. 1993. I Never Saw Another Butterfly: Children’s Drawings and Poems from Terezin Concentration Camp 1942-1944. New York: Schocken Books.
Whipple, Laura, comp. 1994. Celebrating America: A Collection of Poems and Images of the American Spirit. New York: Philomel Books.

TO FOLLOW UP: Invite kids to visit art museum Web sites to select favorite art works as prompts for their own ekphrastic poetry writing. Or encourage aspiring writers and aspiring artists to pair up to create original art and accompanying poems for their own “Side by Side” exhibit.

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Friday, June 20, 2008


Thanks to Sondra LaBrie at Kane/Miller books, I know that today, Friday, June 20th, is TAKE YOUR DOG TO WORK DAY. Who knew such a “holiday” existed? Being a dog lover, I think this is a fun, if not so practical (if we ALL took our dogs to work) idea. I love the idea of “therapy” dogs at hospitals and health care facilities and found this such a comfort a few years ago when my mom was in the hospital. And when I taught sixth grade years and YEARS ago, I desperately wanted to get a dog and my students helped me find one, so I brought him (“Luther”) to school one day. He was a HUGE hit with the kids and they loved taking care of him. It made me a big fan of classroom pets, too, by the way—a great way to develop nurturing and responsibility skills in kids.

In honor of today’s occasion, I’d like to feature a new collection of dog poetry: Stella, Unleashed; Notes from the Doghouse (Sterling, 2008). Linda Ashman has written a fun and frolicking collection of rhyming poems about a much-loved dog’s life all told from the dog’s (Stella’s) point of view. This colorful picture book collection includes 29 poems organized along seven topics from “meet my family” to “the neighborhood pack.” In the illustrations, we see one family adopting a dog from a shelter in the opening poem, “Lost & Found,” and follow their adventures and their new dog, Stella’s, along with an assortment of other dog and human characters. Stella’s poems focus on her relationship with each family member and family pet (cat, fish), as well as her favorite pastimes and pet (!) peeves.

Paul Meisel’s illustrations across single or double page spreads are delightful, singing with a primitive Norman Rockwell-style narrative pull. The font, poem placement, and use of space create a very pleasing whole worth revisiting many times. Stella, her adopted family, and her poems, all have a lot of personality, with lots of kid appeal. Here’s a sample poem from near the end of the book with a sweet message communicated in a fun way.

Someone for Each of Us
by Linda Ashman

Tall and stately.
Short and stubby.
Brindled, spotted, speckled, shaggy.
Small and perky.
Large and bulky.
Wiry, curly, droopy, saggy.

Sporty, active.
Rough and tumble.
Moody types inclined to brood.
Pampered sorts
who crave attention.
Loners who need solitude.

Humans come in many forms—
different styles, sizes, traits.
Life is sweet,
and much less lonely,
when we find our perfect mates.

From Ashman, Linda. 2008. Stella, Unleashed; Notes from the Doghouse. Ill. by Paul Meisel. New York: Sterling, p. 38-39.

A Teacher’s Guide for this book is available at the author’s Web site.

Pair Stella, Unleashed; Notes from the Doghouse with the new picture book by the fun-loving sister team, Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel, Help Me, Mr. Mutt!: Expert Answers for Dogs with People Problems, for more fun from the dog point of view.

My poetry-loving colleague, Elaine Magliaro, also reviewed Stella, Unleashed on her blog, Wild Rose Reader. Check it out for more insights. (Hint: we agree!)

For more Poetry Friday fun, go to Semicolon.

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Friday, June 13, 2008

New Review for Father's Day: KEEPING THE NIGHT WATCH

In honor of the upcoming Father’s Day on Sunday, I’d like to highlight a new poetry book by Hope Anita Smith, Keeping the Night Watch (Henry Holt, 2008). It’s her second book for young people, a companion to her first work of poetry, The Way a Door Closes (Henry Holt, 2003). In the first book, an urban African American family copes with the departure of the father when hard times have hit. It’s a compelling work for ‘tweens and teens with sensitive illustrations by E. B. Lewis. In this companion volume (which can stand on its own, by the way), the father has returned. You might think it would be a happy, easier time, but this transition brings it’s own difficulties and challenges as the father tries to re-integrate into the family. In particular, the voice of the poetry is that of the oldest son in the family of 3 kids, and he’s bitter and angry. He has stepped up and served as the “man of the house,” blossoming in responsibility, and “keeping the night watch” as the title suggests. He struggles with giving up this role and with forgiving his father’s failure. Here’s one example poem that captures these feelings:

Showdown at the O.K. Corral
by Hope Anita Smith

When Daddy left,
our house was empty,
too big for the rest of us.
We couldn’t fill up all the space.
Now that he’s back,
I can’t find a place to fit.
There isn’t enough room for me.
Daddy looks the same,
but something’s different.
He takes up too much space.
He’s in my space.
His eyes are constantly
waving the white flag of surrender,
but I am like a gunfighter in the Old West.
I walk around with my words drawn,
ready to fire.
Because this house isn’t big enough
for the two of us.

From: Smith, Hope Anita. 2008. Keeping the Night Watch. New York: Henry Holt, p. 13.

Smith is the recipient of the 2008 Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Award and her first book garnered several recognitions, including:
  • NCTE Notable Children’s Books in the Language Arts, 2008
  • Bank Street Best Children's Book of the Year, 2008
  • Bank Street Claudia Lewis Award, 2008
  • Books for the Teen Age, New York Public Library, 2008
  • Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award Honor Book, 2008
This new work is sure to be just as successful.

And here are some more books for young people with poems about fathers and father figures:
Appelt, Kathi. 2004. My Father’s Summers: A Daughter’s Memoirs. New York: Henry
Fletcher, Ralph J. 1999. Relatively Speaking: Poems about Family. New York: Orchard.
Grimes, Nikki. 1999. Hopscotch Love: A Family Treasury of Love Poems. New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard.
Grimes, Nikki. 1999. My Man Blue: Poems. New York: Dial Books.
Grimes, Nikki. 2002. When Daddy Prays. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdman.
Hoberman, Mary Ann. 1991. Fathers, Mothers, Sisters, Brothers: A Collection of Family Poems. Boston: Joy Street Books.
Livingston, Myra Cohn, comp. 1989. Poems for Fathers. New York: Holiday House.
Moss, Jeff. 1997. The Dad of the Dad of the Dad of Your Dad. New York: Ballantine.
Sidman, Joyce. 2000. Just Us Two: Poems about Animal Dads. Brookfield, CT: Millbrook Press.
Steptoe, Javaka, comp. 1997. In Daddy's Arms I Am Tall: African Americans Celebrating Fathers. New York: Lee & Low Books.

For more Poetry Friday gems go to Cloudscome at A Wrung Sponge.

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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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