Sunday, April 19, 2009

Not-poetry by poets

More catching up...

Poets are writers, first and foremost, I know that, but still I’m surprised when I find fiction or nonfiction books by the poets I love. I’m seeing several this spring, with more to come, I’m sure.
  • Verse novelist Sonya Sones has a new picture book written with her husband Bennett Tramer, illustrated by Chris Raschka entitled Violet and Winston (Dial), sweet (autobiographical) tales of a friendship between a duck and a swan.
  • Nikki Grimes has a new easy reader chapter book that is sure to please transitioning readers, Make Way for Dyamonde Daniel, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie (Putnam).
  • I think the upcoming picture book, The First Dog by J. Patrick Lewis (with Beth Zappitello) illustrated by Tim Bowers (Sleeping Bear Press) is not-poetry, and perfectly timed!
  • John Grandits has a new picture book coming out, The Travel Game, illustrated by R. W. Alley (Clarion).
  • I just read Jane Yolen’s lovely historical picture book, My Uncle Emily, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter (Philomel) about Emily Dickinson’s relationship with a special nephew.
  • I featured the wonderful Rebecca Kai Dotlich’s picture book, Bella & Bean, in my online Poetry Month Guide for Simon & Schuster that I mentioned previously. It’s ALMOST poetry in that it’s about two friends, one of them a poet who struggles with finding time to think and write, while still being a good friend.
Today, I’d like to mention Mary Ann Hoberman’s forthcoming novel for middle grade readers, Strawberry Hill (Little, Brown). It’s a Penderwicks-style novel, neither cynical nor sentimental, about a year in the life of a girl growing up during the Depression. Allie is 10 and has just moved into a new home on Strawberry Hill. Hoberman chronicles her year of adjustment, as Allie goes to a new school, makes friends, and tries new things. It’s a family story in the best sense of the word, with incidents and anecdotes about life in a well-adjusted family, in a neighborhood peopled with a variety of personalities.

It’s a very gentle historical novel that captures a sense of the period and the financial difficulties facing nearly everyone in one way or another (and feeling very relevant once again). I loved the tiny details that suggest life in the 30’s, particularly regarding how the kids entertained themselves (calling out to play, having tea parties with dolls, cutting out paper dolls, etc.). I grew up on Betsy-Tacy and the like, so this feels like a familiar throw-back to such girl books. Fans of the American Girl novels will love Strawberry Hill.

Hoberman makes the formula fresh with a clear, fresh first-person point of view that knows and sees just what a ten year old would experience. Plus, each chapter is ever-so-brief in just 4-5 great read-aloud pages that nearly stand alone as story vignettes. There is also genuine tension in the plot as a friend-of-a-friend makes a disparaging comment about her being Jewish. Religion is a running thread throughout the story and leads to Allie’s gradual revelation about how we choose and keep friends. Here’s just a taste.

Chapter 20 begins:

“The night before school started, I couldn’t fall asleep for a long time. I kept worrying about what was going to happen, whether some kids would be mean to me, whether I would make any friends. I had seen Center School from the outside, but I had never been inside it. It was three stories high and made out of dark red brick, just like my old school. But it had a high fence all around it and it was in a different kind of neighborhood. Instead of houses like in New Haven, there were stores and gas stations and some old boarded-up buildings. It looked a little scary.

The next morning I woke up really early. My mother came into my room, still in her nightgown. She asked me how I was feeling. I said I wasn’t exactly sure.

‘I understand,’ she said. ‘You’re feeling apprehensive. It’s only natural to feel a little apprehensive on the first day at a new school.’

I had never heard that word before, but it sounded just right. I repeated it to myself as I started to get dressed: ap-pre-hen-sive. I got out my writing folder and added it to the list on my word animals page: appreHENsive. I had already collected some others: COWard; DOGged; sCATter; BULLet; sPIGot; scalLION.”

Hoberman, Mary Ann. 2009. Strawberry Hill. New York: Little, Brown, p. 109-100.

I love how poets inject some word awareness even in their fiction writing! Don’t miss this junior novel from Children’s Poet Laureate Mary Ann Hoberman. The ARC indicates there will be illustrations sprinkled through the book at regular intervals. The strawberry vine decoration in the top corner of every new chapter adds sweet visual interest and I love that novels have returned to the custom of illustrations throughout. I remember poring over pictures like that in my childhood reading, a way to pause and think about the story and imagine what the characters are up to. I hope today’s readers will do the same with Allie, Mimi, Martha, and all the rest.

And of course, follow up with sharing some of Mary Ann’s poetry, especially:
Hoberman, Mary Ann. 1991. Fathers, Mothers, Sisters, Brothers: A Collection of Family Poems. Boston: Joy Street Books.
Hoberman, Mary Ann. 1998. The Llama Who Had No Pajama: 100 Favorite Poems. San Diego: Harcourt.
Hoberman, Mary Ann. 2009. All Kinds of Families. New York: Little, Brown.
+plus her “you read to me, I’ll read to you” story-poem collections.

Image credit:

Posting (not poem) by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2009. All rights reserved.

1 comment:

Janiece Kelly said...

My Granddaughter absolutely loved this book. She will be 10 years old on 8/28/09 and I bought it early in August for her Birthday(gave it to her early, Grandma's can't wait!) I had no idea until bringing up this site that it had just been released this month. I just happened to find this book up on a top shelf way in the back of the bookstore, only two left, now I know why.
I am anxiously awaiting the next book in this series? or another equally as good for my 10 year old granddaughter. I also have a 5 year old granddaughter and a 13 year old grandson. I am looking forward to seeing old and new books coming out. Thank you Mary Ann Hoberman! Janiece Kelly