Thursday, July 24, 2008

New Review: Black Stars in a White Night Sky

Here’s a new name to watch: JonArno Lawson from Toronto. Fellow Canadian Robert Munsch said this about Lawson’s first book of poetry for young people, The Man in the Moon-Fixer’s Mask: “This highly accessible but unusual book of wordplay fun for children brings back to life the long lost oddball spirit of the best of Ogden Nash and Hillaire Belloc.” That spirit continues in Lawson’s latest, Black Stars in a White Night Sky published by Boyds Mills Press this spring. Hazel Rochman at Booklist wrote, “his uproarious collection blends slapstick, puns, parodies, and sheer absurdity with lots of wry ideas.” I agree! This collection of 100+ poems is fun to flip through and full of a range of poems from the serious to the silly. Here are two samples from that spectrum:

Are You Worried?
by JonArno Lawson

Are you worried you’re not
like everyone else?
Your worries will only worsen
when you find
that the path to conformity
is different for each person.

p. 14

He Laughed with a Laugh
by JonArno Lawson

He laughed with a laugh
that he wished was his laugh
but everyone knew it wasn’t.

When he laughed he would ask,
“Does that sound like my laugh?”
And everyone said, “It doesn’t.”

The laugh that he laughed
that wasn’t his laugh went,
“Hardy har har, guffaw!”

The laugh that he laughed
that he wished wasn’t his went,
“Hruck, sniffle-hick, hee-haw!”

p. 107

Black Stars in a White Night Sky was first published by Pedlar Press in Toronto in 2006, and received the 2007 Lion and the Unicorn Award for Excellence in North American Poetry. I’m so glad to see it cross the border for kids in the U.S., too. Black and white illustrations by Sherwin Tija have a graphic/comic sensibility and add to the appeal of the collection to middle grade and middle school readers. And I love the “small-type notes for those with excellent eyesight” at the back of the book featuring fascinating notes on the backstories for many of the poems. For fans of X. J. Kennedy, David McCord or J. Patrick Lewis, here’s another smart poet whose language play and poetic versatility are sure to please.

Now I’m on the lookout for two other new 2008 releases by JonArno Lawson:
*Inside Out: Children’s Poets Discuss Their Work (published by Walker Books in the UK)
*Voweller's Bestiary: From Aardvark to Guineafowl (illustrated by the poet and published by Porcupine's Quill, a Canadian literary press)

More Poetry Friday fun can be found at A Year of Reading.

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Buttercup Poems for Ice Cream Day

Today is National Ice Cream Day, an unofficial day to celebrate summer with ice cream. In 1846, the hand-cranked ice cream churn was invented and ice cream cones first appeared at the St. Louis World Exposition in 1904. In honor of the occasion, I’d like to feature a brand new poetry picture book from Canada from the cow’s perspective, Buttercup’s Lovely Day, by Carolyn Beck (Orca, 2008). (Cow – milk – ice cream, get it?)

From the lilting end pages at the beginning with bees buzzing across a buttercup yellow sky and ending with stars twinkling across a deep blue one, this poetry collection is a gem. There are doublepage spreads for each poem with a shifting focus from a closeup on the cow to more pastoral landscape cow-scenes. There are 14 poems set from day to dusk-- with pages darkening from beginning to end-- a kind of lullaby of the day for the reader or listener.

But the poems are not just lyrical pastorals. This poet is not afraid to acknowledge the “cow pies,” cow dung, and the churning cud of cow life, often with clever and humorous details and wordplay. Beck uses a very effective and natural rhyme and a pleasing arrangement of words on the page. The poems’ structure fits the rhythm of the words and story perfectly and the illustrations by (sister) Andrea Beck offer an engaging complement that maximizes the picture book format. Here’s just one sample poem:

I love the dark.
It creeps up on me

like the rising tide

of a gentle sea.

A puddle of grey,

a drift of murk,

a hush, a twitch,

a shift, a lurk.

The mossy musk

of the darkening creek.

A bloop!

A swoop!

A flit. A squeak.

Beck, Carolyn. 2008. Buttercup’s Lovely Day. Ill. by Andrea Beck. Custer, WA: Orca Book Publishers.

If you remember Alice Schertle’s poetry collection, How Now, Brown Cow? (Browndeer/ Harcourt Brace, 1994), it’s the perfect companion to Buttercup’s Lovely Day. TWO cow poetry collections! Who knew?

Or if you’re looking for more Canadian poetry for kids, look for these comprehensive anthologies:
Til All the Stars Have Fallen: Canadian Poems for Children edited by David Booth (Kids Can Press, 1989)
The New Wind Has Wings: Poems from Canada edited by Mary Alice Downie and Barbara Robertson (1984; first published in 1968).

[Thank you, Susan Corapi, for this lovely gift and for helping me learn more about Canadian poetry for kids!]

Join the rest of the Poetry Friday line up hosted by Kelly Fineman today. Thanks, Kelly!

P.S. The brand spankin' new Poet Laureate has just been announced: Kay Ryan.

The new CHILDREN'S Poet Laureate will be announced later this summer. Stay tuned!

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Friday, July 11, 2008

Traveling with Summer Poetry

I’d like to take a moment to thank you, reader, for keeping me going. I’m approaching the second anniversary of my blog which started July 14, 2006, and I’m tickled pink to still be at it—thanks to the many people who have posted, commented, and encouraged me. The world of poetry for young people is a small, but special community and I am honored to be part of it!

This week, I’d like to direct you to Book Links magazine once again, where my regular “Everyday Poetry” focuses on “Portable, Packable Summer Poetry” in the July issue, including an original poem, “The License Plate Game” by the always generous Janet S. Wong. You may remember that she posted versions of that poem here (April 25) and revised the final version that appears in Book Links based on that input. Cool to see the blog and print worlds intersect like that.

Meanwhile, I’d like to expand a bit on the topic of poems for summertime. For many wonderful poems, the place is the key. We can set the stage with poems about geography, such as Lee Bennett Hopkins’ collection, Got Geography! (Greenwillow, 2006) or J. Patrick Lewis’ A World of Wonders: Geographic Travels in Verse and Rhyme (Dial, 2002). Or we can focus specifically on the U.S. with the poetry of Diane Siebert in Tour America: A Journey Through Poems and Art (Chronicle, 2006) or another compilation by Lee Bennett Hopkins, My America: A Poetry Atlas of the United States (Simon & Schuster, 2000). Display a world or U.S. map and invite children to locate the places referenced in the poetry.

For a more specific emphasis, spotlight these collections below on unique and historic sites around the world. Children can research factual information about a favorite place to accompany the poem or attempt reconstructing the site out of clay, cardboard, or popsicle sticks to display alongside the “monumental” poem.
  • Between Earth and Sky: Legends of Native American Sacred Places by Joseph Bruchac (Harcourt Brace, 1996)
  • Castles: Old Stone Poems by Rebecca Kai Dotlich and J. Patrick Lewis (Wordsong/Boyds and Mills Press, 2006)
  • Monumental Verses by J. Patrick Lewis (National Geographic, 2005)
  • Sacred Places by Jane Yolen (Harcourt Brace, 1996)
Some children may be gone during the summers visiting extended family members or spending time with a divorced parent. Two poetry collections that capture some of the serious and silly moments of a summer away are Summerhouse Time by Eileen Spinelli (Knopf, 2007) and for older readers, My Father’s Summers: A Daughter’s Memoirs by Kathi Appelt (Henry Holt, 2004). Encourage kids to keep their own summer poetry journals, with doodles, drawings, and poems that they can share or keep private.

Before they hit the road, children can check out the National Poetry Map on the Internet to discover which were the most sought-out poems in 2007 in each individual state. Go to “Good Reads: State Favorites and Critics Picks.”

Janet Wong has also authored a collection of poems all set in the car: Behind the Wheel: Poems about Driving (Margaret K. McElderry, 1999). Some are about life in the car and some use driving as a metaphor. Kids can choose their favorite, copy it on special paper, and share it in the car with friends or family.

Families who spend hours on the road or in the air often enjoy audiobooks to help pass the time. Walter Dean Myers has two works of poetry that have been masterfully adapted to the audio format produced by Live Oak Media complete with original music: Blues Journey (2005) and Jazz (2007). Much of Shel Silverstein’s and Jack Prelutsky’s poetry is available on CD, too, read by the poets themselves. Kids can also make their own recordings of themselves or others reading favorite poems out loud.

Poetry Friday is hosted by Under the Covers this week. See you there!

Picture credit: ALA

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Fifth Annual Poetry Blast at ALA in Anaheim

I’m still on the road, driving home from the recent American Library Association convention held in Anaheim last weekend. It was a terrific conference, an opportunity to learn a lot, reconnect with friends and colleagues, and participate in meaningful ALA work. Much of time was spent in meetings of the Sibert committee (more on that later) which was fascinating. And the Caldecott, Newbery, and Geisel acceptance speeches were AMAZING and you’ve probably read about them elsewhere. By turns hilarious and moving, and extremely innovative in delivery—we’ll be talking about them for years.

But one of the highlights for me, of course, was the fifth annual ALSC Poetry Blast held on Monday evening. Here, 13 poets read from their works and kept us mesmerized for over two hours. Here are my “cliff notes” from the evening. Make plans now to join us for next year’s Blast. (This is the event that inspired me to launch the Poetry “Round Up,” a parallel event held at the TEXAS Library Association conference every spring.)

*First up: Joan Bransfield Graham read from her works, Splish Splash and Flicker Flash, as well as selected poems from various anthologies. She invited us to participate using echoing and sign language, as well as her magical ocean sound and thunder cloud instruments. (Scoop: watch for a future food poem collection and one illustrated by Joan herself with innovative photographs.)

*Next, Jane Medina read from her books, My Name is Jorge and The Dream on Blanca’s Wall. She described herself as “Latina at heart” and shared moving poems about hope and identity from the voices of child characters, but capturing universal longings.

*I had heard Charles R. Smith, Jr. share a “round” from Twelve Rounds to Glory at last November’s NCTE Poetry Blast and loved it, so it was a treat to hear him perform ANOTHER round. Plus, he followed with an excerpt from his forthcoming book, Black Jack, about the first black heavyweight chamption, Jack Johnson.

*You may remember that Linda Sue Park came to my TLA Poetry Round Up in Dallas in April, so it was terrific to see her again and hear her share more of her intriguing sijo poems from Tap Dancing on the Roof. I also learned that her first published work was a haiku poem that earned her $1 at age 9!

*I had never heard Monica Gunning read before, but I am a big fan of her work, particularly America, My New Home (which I so identify with). With her lilting Jamaican accent and grandmotherly gravitas, she shared poems that reflected her growing up years on the island and her observations of her new homeland.

*The work of Francisco X. Alarcón has been among my favorites for years now, so I was a bit ga ga to meet him! He began by chanting a brief thanks to the ancestors in the four directions and then shared poems from previous works, as well as from his new book, Animal Poems of the Iguazú/Animalario del Iguazú which he said was based on his travels to a rainforest in South America where he “interviewed” the animals. Don’t miss the “Jaguar” poem!

*Next up was Ann Whitford Paul who read from her girlpower collection, All by Herself, as well as from other moving and evocative works. Her poem “Word Builder” from Lee Bennett Hopkins’ anthology, Wonderful Words will appear as a beautiful poem picture book illustrated by Kurt Cyrus (himself a poet and illustrator and previous TLA Poetry Round Up participant).

*It was a treat to hear Ruth Forman who is new to children’s poetry with her book Young Cornrows Callin’ Out the Moon, but is well established in the world of poetry for adults. She shared both (all from memory) and blew us away. “Poetry Should Ride the Bus” was a particular favorite!

*Pura Belpré Award recipient Margarita Engle is also new to the children’s poetry world and has made an indelible impression first with The Poet Slave of Cuba and now with this year’s The Surrender Tree, from which she read. We also learned that she helps her husband train search and rescue dogs by “pretending” to be lost in the woods (and reading and writing poetry), but admitted she was often not pretending!

*Julie Larios was a hoot, starting off with her grown up poem created as an exercise built on using paintchip names to create a poem. She also read from her Yellow Elephant and the newly published Imaginary Menagerie—beautiful, lyrical poems.

*You know what a huge Nikki Grimes fan I am, so it was terrific to see and hear her again. She read from several upcoming works which I am eager to get: Oh, Brother, about step-siblings, First Kiss, a YA collection, and Barack Obama, Son of Promise/Child of Hope, a prose-poem picture book due out in September.

*What can I say about the ever-amazing J. Patrick Lewis? He had us groaning with laughter and quiet with sadness by sharing some of The World’s Greatest poems (don’t you love that pun?) and selections from The Brother’s War and a Horn Book featured poem. I have to admit I especially love his deadpan ironic epitaph poems!

*As always, co-host Marilyn Singer finished the evening reading from two works that are new this year: Shoe Bop! and First Food Fight This Fall and Other School Poems in the voices of kids (don’t miss that LAST poem about the LAST day of school). I also learned that one of my favorite poetry books EVER, Turtle in July, was her FIRST work of poetry and is now sadly out of print. FIND IT. It is a beautiful mesh of her lyrical and rhythmic poems and gorgeous watercolor illustrations by Jerry Pinkney. Also perfect for July!

Congratulations, Marilyn (Singer) and Barbara Genco for assembling a delicious smorgasbord of poet voices—such variety, humor, power, and wisdom. We were all moved, fed, and inspired. Look for the SIXTH annual Poetry Blast at next summer’s ALA convention. It’s always held on Monday evening and is one of the best things at the convention, IMO.

Happy Fourth of July, everyone. Celebrate with a poem by one of these terrific writers!

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