Monday, November 03, 2008

Hip Hop Today

I recently read on Publisher’s Weekly Children’s Bookshelf that the poetry collection, Hip Hop Speaks to Children (Sourcebooks/Jabberwocky), a collection of 51 songs and poems edited by Nikki Giovanni, is a huge hit. It’s #9 on the New York Times children’s picture book bestseller list with 30,000 copies already in print. And compiler Nikki Giovanni appeared on NPR’s “All Things Considered” last month to talk about it.

It’s been reviewed by many others already, with excellent commentary on the variety of poems, poets, illustrators, and voices represented. So… I’d like to focus on my favorite element: the AUDIO component-- the CD that accompanies the book. As a previous member of the Odyssey Award for Outstanding Audiobooks committee, I’m always seeking out quality audiobooks for young people, particularly poetry on audio. And here is a gem!

There are 36 (!) tracks, and each track is a stand-alone treat, moving from spoken word to music and lyrics back and forth in a varied and pleasing way. I would almost argue that one should begin with the audio alone first. There is nothing quite like hearing a poem read by the poet himself or herself. It etches itself into one's aural memory. Hearing the voice of Langston Hughes in an old recording of his own reading of his poetry is a window into time. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech is here, alongside a modern re-interpretation of it. A few tracks provide Nikki Giovanni's commentary on the history or context for a particular poem or song-- I almost wished for more of that. What an amazing archive of music and poetry history this is for this and future generations.

My only complaint is that the volume varies a bit, but that's partly due to the inclusion of aging clips from more technologically simple days (a Langston Hughes recording from the 40's, I think) and partly due to a variety of readers (some close to the mic and others farther), but only the purist would quibble.

The range of selections is tremendous and provides a window into African American poem history, the blurring of music and poetry, and the voices of color that have contributed to poetry for young people for over half a century. As we consider the potentiality of an African American President for our country, this collection could not come at a better time. It's a celebration of sound and song in poetry for young people of all ages, colors, and political parties. It holds up for listening to over and over again, an excellent sign for any work!

My favorite nugget is Oscar Brown, Jr.’s “Dat Dere” (Track 18, with a short intro by Giovanni on Track 17; pages 26-27). I wish I could import the audio track, but I'm stumped. But here is the NPR podcast interview with Giovanni. I wish all the poems in the book were available on the CD; I wish there were more poetry books for children on audio; I wish we had more audio recordings of more poets writing for young people. Audio + poetry = unforgettable! Thanks, Sourcebooks. Keep it up!

[The publisher, Sourcebooks, has plans for more anthologies for kids next fall; another Poetry Speaks to Children anthology, edited by Elise Paschen, for middle-school readers, and The Tree That Time Built, edited by Mary Ann Hoberman and Linda Winston, an anthology of poems celebrating science, nature and the environment, also for middle-school readers. Sounds wonderful! I hope there is a CD with each of these books, too.]

Picture credit:


Linda said...

I'm a big fan of Nikki Giovanni's so I can't wait to get this book.
Thanks for sharing it with us!

Anonymous said...

I think it would be super if this book inspired some radio stations to schedule "children's poetry" programming...or even just to mix things up by slipping a poem in between songs now and then. Does anyone know: are there radio stations that do that already?

Sylvia Vardell said...

Thanks for your comments-- and great idea, Janet. I had heard that a previous Poet Laureate (Ted Kooser, I think) wanted to get more poetry on the radio, but I'm not sure what became of that. Garrison Keillor does some of that, of course, but doesn't focus on poetry for kids much. Wish he would! Podcasts provide another possibility...

Kelly Polark said...

Always glad to hear when a poetry book sells well!

Anonymous said...

I am absolutely obsessed with her earlier works. 'My House' is one of them.