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.


Heidi Mordhorst said...

Oh, thank you, Sylvia! I pay as much attention as I can, and still I've missed a quarter of these titles entirely. It's always fun to get the big picture.

Happy New Year to you, once again!

Jeannine Atkins said...

Thank you for making sure we don't overlook all the great work to enjoy from this past year (I'm currently reading The Watch That Ends the Night with wonder and awe) and for giving us so much to look forward to in 2012! I love peeking at the gift wrap of what's ahead! Best wishes for another joy and poetry filled year for you!

Diane Mayr said...

Hi Sylvia! I'm sorry to say that for my public library, there has been a purchasing freeze! Hopefully it will be lifted before 2012 starts heating up, but sadly, there will never be a chance to catch up. Still, we do the best we can. Thanks for this list of 20, I should be able to at least order those titles from the list that we don't already have in the collection.

Mary Lee said...

This is a great list, Sylvia! THANKS for all you do for poetry!!

Anonymous said...

Someone linked me to this page and I'm loving all the resources you post. Thank you! Any chance you know of a poem a day resource for kids? My 7 year old sees that I get a grown up one in my email (from and he told me he wanted to get a poem a day in his email too!

laurasalas said...

Hi Sylvia---Three things:
1) Thank you for including BookSpeak on your list. I am honored to be there!
2) Can't wait to hear more about apps.
3) I've passed along to you a Versatile Blogger Award. If you don't have time to do this, no worries. I usually don't. But it gave me a chance to name five blogs I want to get BACK to reading regularly!

Annie Donwerth Chikamatsu said...

Dear Sylvia,

I thought you may be interested in announcing the JAL Foundation's 12th Children's Haiku Contest for children 15 and under. There are due dates for different JAL offices worldwide
HAIKU FOR CHILDREN by Patricia Donegan is a great resource book for teachers. I sent this message through FB but wasn't sure if you would see it. Sorry for the duplication.
Best, Annie

KateCoombs said...

What a great list! Thank you very much. Like Heidi, I've missed some of these--Jane Yolen's book, no less! Will now look for it. :)

Toby Speed said...

Thank you, Sylvia. I've added a few titles to my own TBR list. I'm currently rereading Treasure Island (which reads like a poem, every word), and think I'll follow that with Hurricane Dancers.

Charles Waters said...

Thank goodness for a list like this! Sylvia you rock.