Since it's time for the annual convention of the American Library Association (hi from New Orleans), I thought it might be a good moment to plug the latest issue of Book Links magazine, a Booklist publication of ALA. Book Links is celebrating its 20th anniversary with a special issue this month "with a look at the most groundbreaking books and authors of the past two decades." My "Everyday Poetry" column is a full-blown article on the recent history of poetry for children entitled, "Time for Poetry; Two Decades of Poetry for Children."
I had a lot of fun looking back at the publishing of poetry since 1990 and was surprised and pleased to see how many "new" poets have emerged during this period. Here are just a few excerpts from my piece. (The entire thing is available at Booklist Online to subscribers, fyi.)
Time for Poetry; Two Decades of Poetry for Children
When we stop, take a breath, and look back, we see that the last 20 years have given us a whole new generation of poets writing for young people including Douglas Florian, Joyce Sidman, J. Patrick Lewis, Kristine O’Connell George, Janet Wong, Pat Mora, Helen Frost, Nikki Grimes, Margarita Engle, and many more. It’s seen the emergence of new awards for poetry for children established by Lee Bennett Hopkins (in association with Penn State University; for poetry books in 1993 and for new poets in 1995), Bank Street College (the Claudia Lewis Poetry Award in 1998), and the Poetry Foundation (the Children’s Poet Laureate in 2006).
ALSC began featuring the now-annual Poetry Blast with poets reading from their works at the ALA annual conference in 2004 (I'll report on the 2011 event on Monday!) and the National Council of Teachers of English initiated the annual “Poetry Notables for Children” list in 2006. We’ve seen the rise of the novel in verse and the fall of the multi-poet anthology. Now poets have web sites full of kid-friendly resources, many blogs showcase weekly “Poetry Friday” sharing, and the Cybils award celebrates poetry (among other categories) selected by children’s literature-focused bloggers. Poetry for children now makes its appearance as downloadable audiofiles and as e-books for Kindles and iPads. What’s next?
First, let’s take a look backward. Prior to 1990, we must not overlook the gigantic contributions of Jack Prelutsky and Shel Silverstein who paved the way for many of today’s poets with their irreverent humor and child-centered topics. Nor should we discount the previous recipients of the NCTE award whose poetry careers established the depth and breadth of the genre for decades: Lee Bennett Hopkins (2009), Mary Ann Hoberman (2003), X. J. Kennedy (2000), Eloise Greenfield (1997), Barbara Esbensen (1994), Valerie Worth (1991), Arnold Adoff (1988), Lilian Moore (1985), John Ciardi (1982), Eve Merriam (1981), Myra Cohn Livingston (1980), Karla Kuskin (1979), Aileen Fisher (1978), and David McCord (1977).
The works of these great names still merit reading and sharing. In fact, these poets are new names, too, for any child who has not yet encountered their poetry. Poetry has a special advantage in achieving timelessness—consider Ann and Jane Taylor’s “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” published in 1806, for example. Let’s consider some of the major mile markers along the way over the last twenty years.
Here, I discuss the work of several poets who began publishing at the beginning of the decade (Marilyn Singer, J. Patrick Lewis, Kristine O'Connell George, Alice Schertle) as well as brand new poets who follow in their footsteps...
Next I discuss the rise of the popular topic of SCHOOL in poetry for young people...
Humor in poetry is the next focus...
Poets from parallel cultures
A new wave of poets from parallel cultures began writing and publishing poetry for young people in the 1990s. Although poetry by the likes of Langston Hughes, Nikki Giovanni, Gwendolyn Brooks, Lucille Clifton and others had been available to young readers for years, this decade brought an emergence of a rainbow of names whose entire writing careers now focused on a young audience. Consider these milestone works of poetry for young people:
• Gary Soto’s A Fire in My Hands (1990), a major Latino poetry collection for teens
• Naomi Shihab Nye’s This Same Sky: A Collection of Poems from Around the World (1992), the first of several compilations of world poetry for young people
• Joseph Bruchac’s Thirteen Moons on Turtle’s Back (1992), a milestone work of Native American poetry for children
• Walter Dean Myers’s Brown Angels: An Album of Pictures and Verse (1993), followed by several award winning poem-art collaborations with his son, Christopher
• Joyce Carol Thomas’s Brown Honey in Broomwheat Tea: Poems (1993), a celebration of African American heritage and identity
• Janet S. Wong’s Good Luck Gold and Other Poems (1994), the first mainstream Asian American poet for young people
• Pat Mora’s Confetti: Poems for Children (1996), the first mainstream Latina poet for young people
• Francisco Alarcón’s Laughing Tomatoes and Other Spring Poems/Jitomates Risuenos y Otros Poemas de Primavera (1997), a landmark bilingual Spanish/English collection
These beautiful and groundbreaking works laid the foundation for the emergence of many other distinctive poetic voices from parallel cultures including Charles R. Smith Jr. (Rimshots; Basketball Pix, Rolls, and Rhythms, 1999), Jorge Argueta (A Movie in My Pillow/Una película en mi almohada, 2001), Carole Boston Weatherford (Remember the Bridge: Poems of a People, 2002), Hope Anita Smith (The Way a Door Closes, 2003), and Joyce Lee Wong (Seeing Emily, 2006).
Novels in verse
... is the next topic... then...
In just 20 years, the field of poetry for children has been transformed by new voices, new styles, and new formats. But those established names haven’t stopped creating either. Don’t overlook works such as The Tree That Time Built: A Celebration of Nature, Science, and Imagination (2009) compiled by Mary Ann Hoberman and Linda Wilson or The Great Migration: Journey to the North (2011) by Eloise Greenfield or Roots and Blues; A Celebration (2011) by Arnold Adoff or A Girl Named Mister by Nikki Grimes (2010) or City Kids: Street and Skyscraper Rhymes by X. J. Kennedy (2010) or Birds of a Feather by Jane Yolen (2011).
Named the nation’s first Children’s Poet Laureate by the Poetry Foundation in 2006, Jack Prelutsky continues to write new works that receive instant recognition, such as his latest The Carnival of the Animals (2010) with the accompanying musical CD. Even the late great Shel Silverstein published another posthumous anthology in 2011, Every Thing On It. Lee Bennett Hopkins, 2009 NCTE Poetry Award winner, continues to produce award-winning works of poetry such as his own City I Love (2009), as well as nearly 40 anthologies in the last 20 years, including Good Rhymes, Good Times (1995), My America: A Poetry Atlas of the United States (2000), Days to Celebrate: A Full Year of Poetry, People, Holidays, History, Fascinating Facts, and More (2005), America at War (2008), and Sharing the Seasons (2010). In addition, his anthologies often mark the debut of new up-and-coming poets such as Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, Jill Corcoran, Toby Speed, Cynthia Cotten, and many more.
It’s exciting to see the genre of poetry grow and expand in all these different directions, exploring possibilities of poetic form, hybrids with other genres, and a creative use of design, visuals, and media. I’ve often said there is such variety in the smorgasbord of current poetry that everyone can find something to savor. The key is in keeping our poetry collections varied, current, and in use. With well-stocked shelves brimming with the poetry gems of the last 20 years and a bit of poetry promotion (in April and beyond), kids will find something to enjoy and cherish for a lifetime. In the next 20 years, today’s readers are tomorrow’s poets—but only if we share poetry with them now.
Posting by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2011. All rights reserved.