Friday, December 30, 2011

Favorite poetry of 2011

I’ve been quiet for a bit, celebrating the holidays and taking a much needed end-of-semester break. I’ve also wrapped up several poetry-related projects including two forthcoming articles for the March 2012 issue of Book Links (an article on awards for children’s poetry and an “almanac-like” piece offering 100 poetry books linked to historic or celebration occasions for each day in April). Our annual Librarians’ Choices group also finalized its deliberations on the best 100 books for children and YA and we’ll share those results next month. Of course there are several poetry titles on that list! And I had the honor of serving on a Cybils Awards committee—this time the brand new “App” committee reviewing some 50 book-based apps for children and selecting our shortlist of favorites. That was quite an education and I’ll post more about that next week. There were no poetry-focused apps on our list (beyond rhyming works like Dr. Seuss), but it has inspired me to explore creating some! Stay tuned on that topic.

Meanwhile, as the year is drawing to a close and as usual, I’d like to offer my annual list of favorite poetry books of the year. I think it’s been another great year for poetry for young people. I wrote about ten trends I observed this year on the PACYA blog (featured last week). It begins:

In examining the nearly one hundred books of poetry published for young people in 2011, I’ve found there’s quite a variety in style, tone, content, and format available. In fact, I noticed ten mini-trends (if 2-3 books constitute a trend) that are worth exploring: animals, humor, music, culture, novels in verse, stories in verse, emerging new voices, poetic innovation, ebooks, and book poetry. Some titles feature tried-and-true “formulas” for creating appealing poetry for young people (using the connecting theme of “animals,” for example), and others venture into brand new territory (such as creating poems using only the letters from a single word, as in Bob Raczka’s Lemonade). Once again, the variety and quality offer an intriguing snapshot of the state of poetry for young people today. [Read the rest of the piece here.]

Today, I’ll offer my own list of 20 of the most distinctive, most appealing books of poetry of 2011. As a group, they offer a mini-library of what’s new and great about poetry for kids: in style, in format, in look, in impact, in emotional power, etc. I’ve blogged about most of these previously, as well as many, many other terrific titles of the nearly 80 poetry works published this year and I’d love to hear about other people’s favorites. Here you go…

1. Engle, Margarita. 2011. Hurricane Dancers; The First Caribbean Pirate Shipwreck. Henry Holt.
*a powerful novel in verse set in the early 1500’s about a slave named Quebrado, a Spanish pirate named Bernardo de Talavera, and a hostage named Alonso de Ojeda and their intertwining fates when all three are stranded on an island after a hurricane destroys their ship.

2. Frost, Helen. 2011. Hidden. Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
*an inventive verse novel told from two different perspectives—one girl is inadvertently kidnapped during a robbery and get-a-way. The daughter of the kidnapper quietly helps her, but when her father is arrested neither of their lives will ever be the same. Several years later the two girls attend the same summer camp and must confront the past, their feelings, and the repercussions.

3. George, Kristine O’Connell. 2011. Emma Dilemma: Big Sister Poems. Ill. by Nancy Carpenter. Clarion.
*a picture book story-in-poems that introduces the unique relationship between sisters as allies, playmates, and even enemies with a focus on two particular sisters and a crisis of too much togetherness

4. Henderson, Kathy. 2011. Hush, Baby, Hush! Lullabies from Around the World. Ill. by Pam Smy. Seattle: Frances Lincoln.
*a book of traditional lullabies gathered from all over the world with words in the original language plus the English version, together with a melody line and engaging illustrations

5. Hopkins, Lee Bennett. Ed. 2011. I am the Book. Holiday House.
*a collection of thirteen poems written by various top poets all on the subject of books and celebrating the joy of reading

6. Janeczko, Paul B. 2011. Requiem; Poems of the Terezín Ghetto. Candlewick.
*a haunting look into the lives of those imprisoned in the Terezin Concentration Camp during World War II, proudly hailed by Hitler as a sanctuary for artistic Jews

7. Lai, Thanhha. 2011. Inside Out and Back Again. HarperCollins.
*powerful debut work from a new voice, a loosely autobiographical work about her own experience as a refugee from Vietnam and as a new immigrant to the U.S. in the 1970s

8. Lewis, J. Patrick and Yolen, Jane. 2011. Self Portrait with Seven Fingers: A Life of Marc Chagall in Verse. Creative Editions.
*an art-filled biography in poems that combines glimpses into Chagall’s art with factual details and evocative poetry exploring the distinctive life path of an artist

9. Marcus, Kimberly. 2011. exposed. Random House.
*in this debut novel in verse for teens Marcus pens a heartbreaking tale of how one act of violence can tear apart a friendship, a family, and a community.

10. McCall, Guadalupe Garcia. 2011. Under the Mesquite. Lee & Low.
*another debut novel in verse featuring a young Latina girl with artistic aspirations in a close-knit family coping with the mother’s struggle with cancer

11. Nursery Rhyme Comics; 50 Timeless Rhymes from 50 Celebrated Cartoonists. First Second.
*a clever and comprehensive collection of classic nursery rhymes all freshly interpreted by a variety of top cartoonists

12. Ostlere, Cathy. 2011. Karma. New York: Razorbill.
*Maya and her Sikh father travel from Canada to India with her Hindu mother’s ashes on the eve of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination. In the chaos that ensues, they are separated and this powerful debut verse novel becomes a story of survival, sacrifice, culture clash, and ultimately love.

13. Raczka, Bob. 2011. Lemonade and Other Poems Squeezed from a Single Word. Roaring Brook.
*a clever book filled with puzzle poems built from the letters of a single word; solve the word patterns then enjoy the simple childhood themes

14. Salas, Laura Purdie. 2011. BookSpeak!. Ill. by Josee Bisaillon. Clarion.
*the rhyme, rhythm, and voice of each poem told from the point of view of a book, will not only will this inspire children to read THIS book, but will inspire them to read period.

15. Thompson, Holly. 2011. Orchards. Random House.
*when a young girl takes her life and her circle of peers is complicit, Kana is sent to her mother’s childhood home, a small village in Japan, to visit with her family, and reflect on her role and her own identity

16. Vardell, Sylvia and Wong, Janet. Eds. 2011. P*TAG.
*in this first ever digital anthology of new poetry for young adults, 31 poets speak to the complicated lives of today's teens, with new, quirky, reflective, and soulful poems about love and longing, war and worry, tattoos, piercings, watching people, being watched, broken lives, and more (I know it’s a bit self-serving to highlight my own project, but I think these poems are really special and I didn’t write ANY of them!)

17. Wardlaw, Lee. 2011. Won Ton; A Cat Tale Told in Haiku. Ill. by Eugene Yelchin. Henry Holt.
*the sweet story of a shelter cat as he settles into his new home told in senryu, a form of Japanese poetry, capturing the fickle nature of the feline creature

18. Wheeler, Lisa. 2011. Spinster Goose; Twisted Rhymes for Naughty Children. Ill. by Sophie Blackall. Atheneum.
*a clever, satirical twist on classic Mother Goose rhymes in the “Lemony Snicket” tradition

19. Wolf, Allan. 2011. The Watch That Ends the Night; Voices from the Titanic. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick.
*this massive, compelling novel in verse captures this historic and tragic event through multiple perspectives (including the iceberg itself) and varying poetry formats

20. Zimmer, Tracie Vaughn. 2011. Cousins of Clouds; Elephant Poems. Houghton Mifflin.
*through combined poetry, informative paragraphs, and evocative illustrations, the power and myth of the world's largest land animal is revealed in a variety of poetic forms

As award committees deliberate about their choices, as teachers select books to read aloud with kids, as librarians develop their book collections, as parents and grandparents shop for their children, I hope they’ll all include POETRY on their wishlists. There are so many wonderful works worthy of consideration and sure to hold up in repeated readings over and over again.

I’m now working on my “sneak peek” list of forthcoming poetry for 2012. I already have 22 titles to highlight, but I’m sure there are many more in the works. If you know of any, please let me know. I’ll post that list in early January and keep updating it throughout the year.

It's not too late to join the last Poetry Friday for the year hosted by poet Julie Larios at The Drift Record. Happy new year!

Image credits:;;;

Posting by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2011. All rights reserved.

Friday, December 02, 2011

NCTE Poetry Award Winner J. Patrick Lewis + TOOLBOX

Although I announced the news about the NCTE Excellence in Poetry for Children Award last year, J. Patrick Lewis officially received his award at the most recent NCTE Convention in Chicago. He also presented at a solo session where he read from his works and even shared some “outtakes” from his wonderful SPOT THE PLOT book of book-riddle poems. I shared a tiny clip of him reading two posts ago, fyi.

Today I’d like to highlight a new tool that my graduate students (of librarians and teachers) collaborated on this fall to promote the work of Lewis, our NCTE Poetry Awardee AND Children’s Poet Laureate. In September, I gave the students in two of my classes a list of all his poetry books. Each student chose a different book and then worked to create either a readers’ guide for classroom and library use OR a digital trailer designed to highlight and promote the book. They came up with some very rich and interesting resources for more than 40 of Pat’s books. Check out the J. Patrick Lewis Poetry Toolbox.

I’m also excited to share info about Pat’s forthcoming books in 2012 (subject to change):
  • Take Two! A Celebration of Twins (with Jane Yolen), Candlewick, Ill. by Sophie Blackall, March 2012.
  • Edgar Allan Poe’s Pie: Math Puzzlers in Classic Poems, Harcourt, Ill. by Michael Slack, April 2012.
  • Last Laughs: Animal Epitaphs (with Jane Yolen), Charlesbridge, Ill. by Jeffrey Stewart Timmons, Spring 2012.
  • When Thunder Comes: Poems for Civil Rights Leaders, Chronicle Books, Ill. by "a showcase (6) of illustrators," Fall 2012.
  • Never Spit from a Roller Coaster (tentative title, 140+ poems), Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press, Ill. by Matt Cordell, Fall 2012.
  • The Book of Animal Poetry (200 poems), edited by J. Patrick Lewis, National Geographic, with photos, December 2012.
Don’t these sound terrific? Lots to look forward to! (And I’ll post my usual “sneak peek” list of all anticipated children’s poetry titles in January. Watch for it.)

One final note: For those of you who are educators or work with groups of students, this notion of creating a collaborative blog (or wiki or other e-site) is something to consider. It’s been very rewarding for my students and for me (and I know other colleagues have also experienced success in similar Web ventures). My students create assignments that are all the more meaningful for being shared with a “real” audience (beyond the professor for a grade). I started with a “toolbox” site to promote the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award (and am working on another “toolbox” site to promote the Promising Poet Award). We’ve made several blogs now and I plan on creating more—and welcome any thoughts about where there’s a need in the children’s poetry world.

PLUS PTT: And of course, Janet Wong and I have used the blog format to anchor our e-books of poetry in our Poetry Tag Time series.

Isn’t it wonderful how the Web offers us opportunities to share our work and support one another so readily? I’ve been teaching for 30 years and have always tried to make it possible for students to share with each other, but this takes it to a whole new level. And who knows what’s next? Janet and I have plans for a children’s poetry “app” and then… 

Join the rest of the Poetry Friday crew at Carol's Corner. See you there!

Posting by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2011. All rights reserved.