Friday, December 31, 2010

Favorite Poetry of 2010

Better late, than never, here are my picks for my favorite poetry books of the year 2010. For me, it is all about the poetry “package,” if you will. The poems, of course, are number one, and they should be interesting, thoughtful, distinctive, and rhythmic. I also value poetry that reads well out loud since I believe that is so crucial in connecting with children. But I also value the design and illustration of each book, since the presentation of the poems as a set provides an essential context for entering, enjoying, and remembering the poems. So many of today’s poetry works do this so well—creating inviting visuals, well-designed layouts, and a distinct combination of art and language.

I also seek out poetry for a range of ages and sophistication levels-- for the very youngest listeners to historical novels in verse for older readers. I look for anthologies that showcase many poets (old and new), as well as collections featuring the works of a single poet. I like picture book compilations, as well as longer anthologies (as scarce as hens teeth nowadays!). I'm also intrigued by bilingual collections of poetry and poetry by writers outside the U.S. and wish there were WAY more of those (in many languages). Finally, I'm also intrigued by the art and illustration within works of poetry and what impact those images have in perceiving the imagery evoked by the language. All in all, I'm pleased to offer you a smorgasbord of my 20 favorites from the year along with brief annotations and connections. Enjoy!

1. Ada, Alma Flor and Campoy, Isabel. 2010. Muu, Moo! Rimas de animales/Animal Nursery Rhymes. Rayo/HarperCollins.
*A bilingual (Spanish/English) collection of 16 playful nursery rhymes taken from Argentina, Puerto Rico, Mexico and Spain together with some original verses, with Zubizarreta (the translator) retaining the musicality of the originals. Simple, rhythmic poems vary in length and featuring not cows, but a conejito (rabbit), a burro (donkey) and una lechuza (an owl), among other appealing animal characters.

2. Argueta, Jorge. 2010. Arroz con leche/Rice Pudding: Un poema para cocinar/A Cooking Poem. Ill. By Fernando Vilela. Groundwood.
* Remember Argueta’s Bean Soup (Sopa de frijoles) last year? Here’s a follow up recipe poem picture book for dessert! This time, the lyrical language introduces us to one of the world’s staples (rice) and how to prepare this popular and delicious dish. Argueta’s fresh phrasing and Vilela’s multi-media illustrations are the perfect pairing for this bilingual food-focused poem book in both Spanish and English.

3. Atkins, Jeannine. 2010. Borrowed Names; Poems About Laura Ingalls Wilder, Madam C. J. Walker, Marie Curie, and Their Daughters. Henry Holt.
*Three contemporaneous women from history (Wilder, Walker and Curie) and their relationships with their daughters are showcased in this remarkable collection of poems that weave together like a novel-in-verse. Well researched, lyrical and compelling, these women, their daughters, and their times come to life in unique ways that connect and cross over.

4. Brown, Calef. 2010. Hallowilloween; Nefarious Silliness. Houghton Mifflin.
*This is classic Calef with his usual interplay of wordplay and artplay in this fun collection of poems perfect for Halloween and beyond. His clever use of point of view and relentless rhyme create irresistible poem portraits about mummies, witches, and “vumpires.” Stylized, full-color art creates the perfect stage for his poems, full of details kids will notice and enjoy. Read these aloud together; the humor is completely infectious.

5. Elliott, David. 2010. In the Wild. Ill. by Holly Meade. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick.
*In the Wild is a perfect companion to Elliott and Meade’s previous work, On the Farm. This time the expansive, double-page spreads feature 14 wild cousins such as the lion, elephant, giraffe, zebra, etc. Elliott’s short rhymes offer a musical and succinct blend of facts and feelings, with a riddle-like wrinkle spread across Meade’s beautiful painted woodblock prints.

6. Engle, Margarita. 2010. The Firefly Letters; A Suffragette's Journey to Cuba. Henry Holt.
*In Engle’s fourth historical work in verse, she brings together three memorable female characters from different strata of society as they grapple with issues of freedom and choice. Based on primary sources from Swedish suffragist Fredrika Bremer and set in Cuba in 1851, Engle once again offers multiple overlapping dramatic points of view captured in the most lyrical imagery and language.

7. Florian, Douglas. 2010. Poetrees. Simon & Schuster.
*As a former Girl Scout and leader, I confess I love trees and identifying various species, so I thoroughly enjoyed the art and wordplay in another engaging Florian picture book collection, Poetrees. Once again, he is so clever in both his creation and arrangement of art AND words in depicting 18 trees from around the world. And don’t forget to check out the “glossatree!”

8. Hemphill, Stephanie. 2010. Wicked Girls; A Novel of the Salem Witch Trials. HarperCollins.
*Hemphill has created a tour de force poetic slice of history with Wicked Girls, a totally compelling multi-point of view depiction of the Salem Witch Trials in 1692. Using the varying perspectives of the girls themselves and a formal language that evokes the period, she manages to deftly suggest The Crucible meets “Mean Girls,” revealing the ageless conflicts and group dynamics that underlie interactions and relationships between girls (and others) across time.

9. Hopkins, Lee Bennett. (Ed). 2010. Amazing Faces. Ill. by Chris Soentpiet. Lee and Low.
*This appealing new collection of 16 “portrait” poems by an assortment of largely contemporary poets celebrates diversity in our population with details and examples that will resonate with children and readers of all ages and backgrounds. Sumptuously illustrated by Chris Soentpiet, it’s the perfect ice-breaker for reading aloud, getting acquainted, and prompting further sharing and writing.

10. Hopkins, Lee. Bennett. (Ed.) 2010. Sharing the Seasons. Margaret McElderry.
*Illustrated with David Diaz’s vivid color palette, this expansive and generous anthology of 48 poems (12 for each of 4 seasons) gives one time to soak up each poem, a selection and blending of poems and voices. This notion of poems throughout the calendar year has such appeal to adults who want to infuse poetry into daily life, yet the poems rise above the mere curricular connection (fall = pumpkins, for example) with fresh language and images (e.g., “one brew of wind”).

11. Lawson, JonArno. 2010. Think Again. Kids Can Press.
*A slim volume of poetry destined for many middle school (and high school) library shelves and surreptitious boy-girl sharing, it’s built upon a series of 48 quatrain poems, almost story-like, in revealing the tenderness, angst, confusion, and exhilaration of fledgling first love. Black and white ink drawings by Julie Morstad “people” the book, suggesting the tentative sketching of a young artist doodling and journaling. Lawson’s clever wordplay and sometimes syncopated rhythms keep the poems from veering into sentimentality and make them open-ended enough to stand on their own as thoughtful and contemplative.

12. Levy, Debbie. 2010. The Year of Goodbyes; A True Story of Friendship, Family and Farewells. Hyperion.
*Based on her own mother’s childhood sharing of 1938 autograph-style/sticker albums in WWII Germany, Levy has created a graphic novel in verse with a childlike look and voice with a strong narrative pull. Be sure to also visit the book’s interactive companion web site, The Poesiealbum Project.

13. Mora, Pat. 2010. Dizzy in Your Eyes; Poems About Love. Knopf.
*The inter-generational points of view provide a powerful frame for the topic of love for young readers—and readers of all ages. There is clearly a youthful point of view and voice, but the poems reference love of parents, friends, family, pets—acknowledging the depth of feeling in many relationships and at many stages of life. Plus, it’s chock full of many poetic forms (and notes about form) which teachers will enjoy.

14. Paschen, Elise and Raccah, Dominique. (Comp.) 2010. Poetry Speaks; Who I Am. Sourcebooks.
*The anthology is filled with more than 100 remarkable selections for ages 12–14 from a wide variety of poets. From Dickinson to Collins to Clifton and beyond, this anthology features both classic and contemporary selections and includes an audio CD (be sure to listen to the CD) with poets reading their own work. A journey of discovery through remarkable poets in a graphic teen-friendly format that looks deceptively like a journal of doodlings.

15. Raczka, Bob. 2010. Guyku: A Year of Haiku for Boys. Ill. by Peter Reynolds. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
*This book really surprised me with its blending of the haiku form (often more formal and prescriptive) and the informal cartoon style of the art and hand-lettered look of the type. That juxtaposition, played out against a clean white background, creates a focused simplicity that is appealing and almost lyrical. The poems themselves are also clever, personal, and loose in feeling, but tightly structured with the clearest of phrasing. In a first person voice, they move us through the year in universal vignettes of boyhood. This book manages to be boy-friendly poetry, while being an engaging example of contemporary nature haiku, too.

16. Sidman, Joyce. 2010. Ubiquitous; Celebrating Nature's Survivors. Houghton Mifflin.
*Another powerful blending of poetry (and prose paragraphs) and art with the double-page spreads of Beckie Prange’s hand-colored linocut prints and Sidman’s distinctive information-rich, yet always evocative poems. You can open to any page and have a poster-like introduction to one of nature’s “ubiquitous” phenomenon presented in 3 ways—poem, explanation, and visualization—each complementing the other. “Ubiquitous” is a word that kids will love learning and saying and then the poems (and amazing art and endpapers) will guide them in conceptualizing that construct and give them a window into the natural world that is understandable and uplifting.

17. Sidman, Joyce. 2010. Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night. Houghton Mifflin.
*This collection of poems about the forest at night—owls, moths, porcupines-- is the last in the trio of “ecosystem poetry books” that began with Song of the Water Boatman (pond) and continued with Butterfly Eyes (meadow). It also offers a parallel layout with beautiful linoleum prints in a double-page spread for each of 12 poems, alongside an accompanying prose paragraph. This marriage of lyrical poetry, science-focused topics, and beautifully executed art has become a Sidman (and collaborating illustrator) trademark!

18. Singer, Marilyn. 2010. Mirror, Mirror. Dutton.
*This picture book collection of clever "reverso" poems reinvents familiar fairy tales in clever, puzzle like fashion. Each tale/poem is two poems, read down the page for one point of view, then up the page for another; such as Red Riding Hood or the Wolf, for example, or Snow White vs. the Wicked Queen, etc. Witty and irreverent, these pithy poems read well out loud and challenge children to imitate the formula, complete with an author's endnote for guidance.

19. Weinstock, Robert. 2010. Can You Dig It? Disney-Hyperion.
*Weinstock is a relative newcomer to creating poetry books for children and has an excellent sensibility for the wild and wacky. Here he once again creates both the dense and cartoon-like art, as well as the clever and quirky poetry, all focused on dinosaurs and paleontology, always a popular topic. He incorporates “big words” and well as sometimes gross humor in strong and rhythmic rhyming poems.

20. Yolen, Jane and Peters, Andrew Fusek. 2010. Switching on the Moon; A Very First Book of Bedtime Poems. Candlewick.
*A companion to Here’s a Little Poem, Yolen and Peters have created a wonderful early years anthology of poems for bedtime, nap time, and other moments for quiet contemplation. With 60+ poems, the range of voices and styles adds richness and the illustrations by Brian Karas (along with the book’s overall design) invite repeated browsing and sharing. 

+More of the best
I was also honored to serve on the Cybils nominating committee for poetry and our shortlist included these gems:
  • Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature's Survivors by Joyce Sidman
  • Sharing the Seasons: A Book of Poems ed. by Lee Bennett Hopkins
  • Borrowed Names: Poems About Laura Ingalls Wilder, Madam C.J. Walker, Marie Curie, and their Daughters by Jeannine Atkins
  • Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse by Marilyn Singer
  • Switching on the Moon: A Very First Book of Bedtime Poems, ed. by Jane Yolen and Andrew Fusek Peters
  • Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night by Joyce Sidman
  • Scarum Fair by Jessica Swaim
Our panel also included: Bruce Black, Elaine Magliaro, Gina Ruiz, Laura Purdie Salas and organizer extraordinaire, Kelly Fineman. Thanks, all! The next round of judges will select a single poetry title as "best of the year" and they will post those selections on Valentine's Day (Feb. 14). Stay tuned...

The ALA (ALSC, YALSA) Awards will be announced shortly (Jan. 10) and I'll be combing those lists and plugging the poetry selections soon.

Also, I'm assembling my usual "sneak peek" list of poetry books to anticipate in 2011. I have 20 titles on my list so far and plan to post that list shortly, too.

So, best wishes for plenty of poetry in 2011!

Saturday, December 04, 2010

LIVE Poetry readings

I'm launching something new today-- video clips of poetry readings (by the poets themselves and shared with their permission). I have a new, easy-to-use Flip video camera and I took it with me to the recent NCTE conference and filmed the four poets on my panel reading from their works. I'm very excited to feature (in order below) new poet Jame Richards, reading an excerpt from her new novel-in-verse, Three Rivers Rising, Lee Bennett Hopkins, reading from his moving poem memoir, Been to Yesterdays, Marilyn Singer, reading the forward-backward reverso poem, "In My Hood" from Mirror, Mirror, and Pat Mora, reading "Sisters" from her 2010 poetry collection, Dizzy in Your Eyes.

Jame Richards

Lee Bennett Hopkins

Marilyn Singer

Pat Mora

There is nothing quite like hearing a poem read by its creator, don't you agree? Since I'm such an advocate for the oral sharing of poetry, I am tickled pink to add this new feature to my blog-- and I hope to include many more clips in the future.

P.S. Congrats to Laura Purdie Salas and Jeannine Atkins-- commenters on previous postings about the NCTE conference prep. They are winners of free autographed copies of books by Pat Mora and Jame Richards. Just contact me with your mailing addresses and I'll send your books your way!