Friday, April 30, 2021

25th Anniversary of Children's Day/Book Day

It's the 25th anniversary of Children's Day/ Book Day! Founded by author, poet, professor and literary advocate Pat Mora, this is a celebration of books and kids also known as "El día de los niños, el día de los libros, is a year-long commitment to celebrating all our children and to motivating them and their families to be readers, essential in our democracy." At Pat's website, you'll find tons of information, including resources, and interview with Pat, historical background, FAQs and more!

The Association of Library Service to Children (ALSC) is also sponsor of Children's Day, Book Day with a press kit, fact sheet, and a tool for locating nearby events. Check here.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg! There are so many ways to celebrate books, children, and reading-- starting with sharing a poem in your own home and community! Next: see what's happening at Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme were Matt is hosting Poetry Friday!

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Poem in Your Pocket Day

It's Poem in Your Pocket Day! Want to know more? The Academy of American Poets has all the details here. It's a fun way to encourage the everyday use of poetry by choosing a favorite poem, writing or printing it on a small card, and keeping it in your pocket to read and reread at your leisure. For young people, this can be a fun make-and-take activity to save, share, and trade just like your favorite baseball cards! 

For a fun poem to kick off the celebration, here's Janet Wong's poem ABOUT poems for your pocket entitled "Pocket Poems Card." It's from The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations (Pomelo Books, 2014). 

Another perfect poem for "Poem in Your Pocket Day" is this one, "Hands Say, 'Great Job!'" by Linda Kulp Trout from HOP TO IT: POEMS TO GET YOU MOVING (Pomelo Books, 2020). Not only is it short enough to fit on a tiny business card, it's a poem of affirmation that is fun to read every morning! 

And here is Linda reading her poem aloud to a group of poets gathered to celebrate their poems-- all in HOP TO IT: POEMS TO GET YOU MOVING. 

And for a different twist, look for this new picture book by Chris 
Tougas, Poem in My Pocket,  illustrated by Josée Bisaillon (Kids Can Press, 2021), "the journey of a young poet's words out into the world, where they join randomly with other words to form funny riffs and puns all over a busy city street."

Friday, April 23, 2021

17th Annual Poetry Round Up at TLA

I'm excited to report that the 17th annual Poetry Round Up session is taking place TODAY during the (virtual) Texas Library Association annual conference. I have a bonanza of NINE poets participating this year:

Each poet read selections from new works and it's so engaging, moving, and inspiring to hear them read aloud their own poems and novels in verse. Plus, it was a ton of FUN! :-) These are the nine poets who participated along with covers of the books they shared. 

I wish I could share some of the video recording of our session together, but that's only for the TLA conference this year. Meanwhile, I can definitely say that you should not miss ALL these wonderful new books by these amazing writers! Now head on over to Reading to the Core where Catherine is hosting Poetry Friday this week.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

100 Poetry Books for Earth Day

100 Poetry Books for Earth Day

Poets have written about nature and the natural world for centuries. It’s a favorite topic of writers of poetry for children, too. The following poetry books for young people focus even further on the earth and Earth Day themes such as respect for the land, extinction of species, conservation of resources—all with beautiful imagery and lyrical language.
  1. ________. 2019. Origami and Poetry Inspired by Nature. Ill. by Clover Robin. Somerville, MA: Nosy Crow. 
  2. ________. 2018. Sing a Song of Seasons. Ill. by Frann Preston-Gannon. Somerville, MA: Candlewick/Nosy Crow. 
  3. Agard, John. 2021. Coyote’s Soundbite: A Poem for the Planet. Ill. by Piet Grobler. Oxford: Lantana.
  4. Ak’abal, Humberto. 2021. Aquí era el paraíso / Here Was Paradise. Ill. by Amelia Lau Carling. Toronto: Groundwood Books.
  5. Argueta, Jorge. 2006. Talking with Mother Earth; Poems; Hablando con Madre Tierra. Toronto: Groundwood. 
  6. Bagert, Brod. 2019. Weather or Climate? Poems & Plays About Weather & Climate. New Orleans, LA: Living Road Press, LLC. 
  7. Begay, Shonto. 1995. Navajo: Visions and Voices Across the Mesa. New York: Scholastic.
  8. Blackaby, Susan. 2010. Nest, Nook & Cranny. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge. 
  9. Brenner, Barbara. Ed.1994. The Earth is Painted Green: A Garden of Poems about Our Planet. New York: Scholastic.
  10. Bruchac, Joseph. 1995. The Earth under Sky Bear's Feet: Native American Poems of the Land. New York: Philomel Books.
  11. Bruchac, Joseph. 1996. Between Earth and Sky: Legends of Native American Sacred Places. San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace.
  12. Bulion, Leslie. 2011. At the Sea Floor Café: Odd Ocean Critter Poems. Ill. by Leslie Evans. Atlanta, GA: Peachtree.
  13. Bulion, Leslie. 2018. Leaf Litter Critters. Ill. by Robert Meganck. Atlanta: Peachtree. 
  14. Bulion, Leslie. 2020. Amphibian Acrobats. Ill. by Robert Meganck. Atlanta: Peachtree. 
  15. Bulion, Leslie. 2020. Superlative Birds. Ill. by Robert Meganck. Atlanta: Peachtree.
  16. Coelho, Joseph. 2019. A Year of Nature Poems. Ill. by Kelly Louise Judd. Wide Eyed Editions. 
  17. Cooling, Wendy. Ed. 2010. All the Wild Wonders: Poems of Our Earth. Ill. by Piet Grobler. London: Frances Lincoln Children’s Books. 
  18. Coombs, Kate. 2012. Water Sings Blue: Ocean Poems. Ill. by Meilo So. Chronicle.
  19. Davies, Nicola. 2012. Outside Your Window: A First Book of Nature. Ill. by Mark Hearld. Somerville, MA: Candlewick. 
  20. Davies, Nicola. 2017. Song of the Wild: A First Book of Animals. Somerville, MA: Candlewick. 
  21. Drimmer, Stephanie. 2017. Hey, Baby!: A Collection of Pictures, Poems, and Stories from Nature's Nursery. Washington, DC: National Geographic.
  22. Elliott, David. 2010. In the Wild. Ill. by Holly Meade. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick. 
  23. Elliott, David. 2020. In the Woods. Somerville, MA: Candlewick. 
  24. Engle, Margarita. 2017. Forest World. New York: Atheneum. 
  25. Farrar, Sid. 2012. The Year Comes Round: Haiku Through the Seasons. Ill. by Ilse Plume. Chicago, IL: Whitman.
  26. Florian, Douglas. 2010. Poetrees. New York: Simon & Schuster.
  27. Florian, Douglas. 2012. Unbeelievables: Honeybee Poems and Paintings. Beach Lane.
  28. Florian, Douglas. 2020. ICE! Poems about Polar Life. New York: Holiday House.
  29. Fogliano, Julie. 2012. And Then It’s Spring. Ill. by Erin E. Stead. New York: Roaring Brook Press. 
  30. Fogliano, Julie. 2016. When Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All Seasons. Ill. by Julie Morstad. New York: Roaring Brook Press.
  31. Franco, Betsy. 2015. A Spectacular Selection of Sea Critters. Ill. by Michael Wertz. Brookfield, CT: Millbrook.
  32. George, Kristine O’Connell. 1998. Old Elm Speaks: Tree Poems. New York: Clarion. 
  33. Gerber, Carole. 2013. Seeds, Bees, Butterflies and More! Poems for Two Voices. New York: Holt. 
  34. Gerber, Carole. 2013. Spring Blossoms. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge. 
  35. Harley, Avis. 2006. Sea Stars: Saltwater Poems. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press. 
  36. Harley, Avis. 2008. The Monarch’s Progress: Poems with Wings. Honesdale, PA: Boyds Mills/Wordsong.
  37. Harrison, David L. 2016. Now You See Them, Now You Don’t: Poems About Creatures that Hide. Ill. by Giles Laroche. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge. 
  38. Harrison, David L. 2018. A Place to Start a Family: Poems About Creatures That Build. Ill. by Giles Laroche. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge. 
  39. Harrison, David L. 2021. The Dirt Book: Poems About Animals That Live Beneath Our Feet. Ill. by Kate Cosgrove. New York: Holiday House. 
  40. Havill, Juanita. 2006. I Heard It from Alice Zucchini: Poems About the Garden. San Francisco: Chronicle Books.
  41. Havill, Juanita. 2008. Grow. Atlanta, GA: Peachtree.
  42. Heard, Georgia. 2019. Boom! Bellow! Bleat! Animal Poems for Two or More Voices. Ill. by Aaron DeWitt. Honesdale, PA: Boyds Mills/Wordsong.
  43. Heidbreder, Robert. 2020. Catch the Sky: Playful Poems on the Air We Share. Greystone Kids.
  44. Hoberman, Mary Ann. 2019. The Sun Shines Everywhere. Ill. by Luciano Lozano. New York: Little, Brown. 
  45. Hopkins, Lee Bennett. Ed. 2017. Traveling the Blue Road: Poems of the Sea. Ill. by Bob Hansman & Jovan Hansman. New York: Quarto. 
  46. Hopkins, Lee. Bennett. Ed. 2010. Sharing the Seasons. New York: Margaret McElderry.
  47. Hoyte, Carol-Ann. Ed. 2015. Dear Tomato: An International Crop of Food & Agriculture Poems. Charleston, SC: CreateSpace.
  48. Hutchens, Verlie. 2019. Trees. Ill. by Jing Jing Tsong. New York: Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster. 
  49. Judge, Lita. 2021. The Wisdom of Trees: How Trees Work Together to Form a Natural Kingdom. New York: Macmillan/Roaring Brook. 
  50. Keller, Shana. 2020. Fly, Firefly. Ill. by Ramona Kaulitzki. Chelsea, MI: Sleeping Bear. 
  51. Latham, Irene. 2014. Dear Wandering Wildebeest: And Other Poems from the Water Hole. Brookfield, CT: Millbrook/Lerner. 
  52. Latham, Irene. 2016. Fresh Delicious: Poems from the Farmers' Market. Ill. by Mique Moriuchi. Honesdale, PA: Highlights/Wordsong.
  53. Latham, Irene. 2021. Wild Peace. Ill. by Il Sung Na. New York: Roaring Brook. 
  54. Levy, Constance. 2002. Splash! Poems of Our Watery World. New York: Orchard.
  55. Lewis, J. Patrick. 2017. Make the Earth Your Companion. Ill. by Anna and Elena Balbusso. Creative Editions.
  56. Lewis, J. Patrick. Ed. 2012. National Geographic Book of Animal Poetry. Washington DC: National Geographic.
  57. Lewis, J. Patrick. Ed. 2015. National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry. Washington DC: National Geographic. 
  58. Michelson, Richard. 2014. S is for Sea Glass: A Beach Alphabet. Ill. by Doris Ettlinger. Chelsea, MI: Sleeping Bear Press. 
  59. Mora, Pat. 1994. The Desert is My Mother / El Desierto es Mi Madre. Houston, TX: Pinata Books.
  60. Mora, Pat. 1998. This Big Sky. New York: Scholastic.
  61. Mora, Pat. 2014. Water Rolls, Water Rises / El agua rueda, el agua sube. Ill. by Meilo So. San Francisco: Children's Book Press. 
  62. Moser, Lisa. 2016. Stories from Bug Garden. Somerville, MA: Candlewick. 
  63. Murray, Carol. 2017. Cricket in the Thicket: Poems About Bugs. Ill. by Melissa Sweet. New York: Holt.
  64. Nicholls, Judith. 2003. The Sun in Me: Poems about the Planet. Cambridge, MA: Barefoot Books.
  65. Nicholls, Judith. Ed.1993. Earthways, Earthwise: Poems on Conservation. Oxford, NY: Oxford University Press.
  66. Nye, Naomi Shihab. 2020. Cast Away: Poems of Our Time. New York: Greenwillow.
  67. Ode, Eric. 2013. Sea Star Wishes: Poems from the Coast. New York: Sasquatch Books/Random House. 
  68. Ode, Eric. 2019. Otters, Snails, and Tadpole Tails: Poems from the Wetlands. Ill. by Ruth Harper. LA Jolla, CA: Kane-Miller. 
  69. Pappa, Rodoula. 2021. Beautiful Day! Petite Poems for All Seasons. Petaluma, Ill. by Seng Soun Ratanavanh. CA: Cameron Kids. 
  70. Paschkis, Julie. 2015. Flutter & Hum: Animal Poems/ Aleteo y Zumbido: Poemas de Animales. New York: Holt. 
  71. Peck, Jan and Davis, David. Eds. 2011. The Green Mother Goose; Saving the World One Rhyme at a Time. Ill. by Carin Berger. Sterling. 
  72. Pendziwol, Jean K. 2013. Once Upon a Northern Night. Ill. by Isabelle Arsenault. Toronto, Canada: Groundwood. 
  73. Peters, Lisa Westberg. 2003. Earthshake: Poems from the Ground Up. Ill. by Cathie Felstead. New York: HarperCollins. 
  74. Pignat, Caroline. 2018. Poetree. Markham, Ontario: Red Deer Press. 
  75. Portis, Antoinette. 2020. A New Green Day. New York: Holiday House. 
  76. Rogasky, Barbara. Ed. 2001. Leaf by Leaf. New York: Scholastic.
  77. Rossetti, Christina. 2019. Blooming Beneath the Sun. Ill. by Ashley Bryan. New York: Atheneum. 
  78. Salas, Laura Purdie. 2019. Lion of the Sky: Haiku for All Seasons. Ill. by Merce Lopez. Brookfield, CT: Millbrook Press.
  79. Schaub, Michelle. 2017. Fresh-Picked Poetry: A Day at the Farmers’ Market. Ill. by Amy Huntington. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge. 
  80. Sidman, Joyce. 2005. Song of the Water Boatman and Other Pond Poems. Ill. by Beckie Prange. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  81. Sidman, Joyce. 2006. Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow. Ill. by Beth Krommes. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. 
  82. Sidman, Joyce. 2009. Red Sings From Treetops: A Year in Colors. Ill. by Pamela Zagarenski. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  83. Sidman, Joyce. 2010. Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night. Ill. by Rick Allen. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  84. Sidman, Joyce. 2010. Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature’s Survivors. Ill. by Becky Prange. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  85. Sidman, Joyce. 2014. Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold. Ill. by Rick Allen. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 
  86. Sidman, Joyce. 2021. Hello, Earth! Poems to Our Planet. Ill. by Miren Asiain Lora. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
  87. Silverman, Buffy. 2020. On a Snow-Melting Day: Seeking Signs of Spring. Brookfield, CT: Millbrook. 
  88. Singer, Marilyn. 2002. Footprints on the Roof: Poems about the Earth. New York: Knopf. 
  89. Singer, Marilyn. 2003. How to Cross a Pond: Poems about Water. New York: Knopf. 
  90. Singer, Marilyn. 2005. Central Heating: Poems about Fire and Warmth. New York: Knopf. 
  91. Singer, Marilyn. 2012. A Strange Place to Call Home: The World’s Most Dangerous Habitats and the Animals That Call Them Home. Ill. by Ed Young. Chronicle.
  92. Turk, Evan. 2019. You Are Home: An Ode to the National Parks. New York: Atheneum. 
  93. Tuttle, Sarah Grace. 2018. Hidden City: Poems of Urban Wildlife. Ill. by Amy Schimler-Safford. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
  94. VanDerwater, Amy Ludwig. 2013. Forest Has a Song. New York: Clarion.
  95. Walker, Sally M. 2018. Earth Verse: Haiku from the Ground Up. Ill. by William Grill. Somerville, MA: Candlewick. 
  96. Wassenhove, Sue Van. 2008. The Seldom-Ever-Shady Glades. Honesdale, PA: Boyds Mills/Wordsong.
  97. White, Dianne. 2020. Green on Green. Ill. by Felicita Sala. New York: Beach Lane Books.
  98. Wong, Janet. 2011. Once Upon A Tiger; New Beginnings for Endangered
  99. Yolen, Jane. 2015. Sing a Season Song. Minneapolis, MN: Creative Editions. 
  100. Yolen, Jane. Ed.1996. Mother Earth, Father Sky: Poems of Our Planet. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press.
Here's a poem with an Earth Day focus, "When I Move," by the amazing Carole Boston Weatherford from Hop to It: Poems to Get You Moving

And just for fun, here is a video of poet Nancy Bo Flood reading her earth-day-themed poem, "Anyone Home?" out loud to a group of wonderful poets-- all with their own poems in HOP TO IT: POEMS TO GET YOU MOVING.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

"Wiggle Your Ears!" by Jay Brazeau

And here is a video of the poet Jay Brazeau reading his poem out loud to a group of wonderful poets-- all with their own poems in HOP TO IT: POEMS TO GET YOU MOVING.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

“Can You Wiggle Like a Worm?” by Rose Cappelli

And here is a video of the poet Rose Cappelli reading her poem out loud to a group of wonderful poets-- all with their own poems in HOP TO IT: POEMS TO GET YOU MOVING.

Monday, April 19, 2021

"Banana Cake Beat" by Renée M. LaTulippe

And here is a video of the poet Renée M. LaTulippe reading her poem out loud to a group of wonderful poets-- all with their own poems in HOP TO IT: POEMS TO GET YOU MOVING.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

"Zoom Doom" by Helen Kemp Zax


And here is a video of the poet Helen Kemp Zax reading her poem out loud to a group of wonderful poets-- all with their own poems in HOP TO IT: POEMS TO GET YOU MOVING.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

"I Smile with My Eyes” by David McMullin

And here is a video of the poet David McMullins reading his poem aloud.

Friday, April 16, 2021

10 Ways that Poetry Makes Library Collections Better

I write a regular column for School Library Collection, the journal published by Libraries Unlimited, the professional development imprint of ABC-CLIO. And of course, I love it when the topic turns to poetry! For the March/April issue, my article is a practical, annotated list of "10 Ways that Poetry Makes Library Collections Better." You can read the article and the whole issue online, but it requires a subscription to this in-depth online web resource, School Library Connection, an amazing professional development platform with over 250 video lessons, 3000 articles, 300 lesson plans and a searchable collection of 5000+ resource reviews. There's even a free trial available, if you want to explore its offerings. Meanwhile, I'd like to share my brief piece here, in hopes that it helps you make an argument for promoting poetry (if you need one)-- as a librarian, teacher, or even as a parent or volunteer. Happy Poetry Month! 

You're in for a treat this week as Jama Kim Rattigan is hosting our Poetry Friday fun over at Jama's Alphabet Soup. Don't miss it! Go there now! 

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

"At the Eye" by Padma Venkatraman


And here is a video of the poet Padma Venkatraman reading her poem out loud to a group of wonderful poets-- all with their own poems in HOP TO IT: POEMS TO GET YOU MOVING.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

“Monster's Don't Dance” by Ann Ingalls

And here is a video of the poet Ann Ingalls reading her poem out loud to a group of wonderful poets-- all with their own poems in HOP TO IT: POEMS TO GET YOU MOVING.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

“Be the Beat” by Buffy Silverman


And here is a video of the poet Buffy Silverman reading her poem out loud to a group of wonderful poets-- all with their own poems in HOP TO IT: POEMS TO GET YOU MOVING.

Friday, April 09, 2021

Poetry Tackles Tough Topics

I often have the opportunity to write short articles about poetry for young people for
BOOK LINKS magazine, a publication of the American Library Association
. It's always fun to explore various topics through the lens of poetry. For the April, 2021 issue, I invited a dozen poets to share the "back story" behind their latest poetry books or novels in verse-- all dealing with "tough" or challenging topics in the lives of young people. Here's a link to the piece online and here's the article in full.

Poetry Tackles Tough Topics

in ALA's BOOK LINKS magazine

A scan of the new novels in verse and poem picture books published in 2021 reveals many new #ownvoices writers and many tough topics that you might not expect from poets. Issues of bullying, sexual assault, trauma, anxiety, loss and grief, war and survival, hunger and starvation, racial violence and murder are all explored with powerful clarity and deep empathy.

Interior “Tough Topics”
Much of the new poetry this year deals with internal, emotional struggles in the context of relationships with friends, family, and community. Characters experience bullying, ostracism, and rejection, but grow in strength and find their voices as the poetry reveals their struggles and their journeys. Current examples include the novels in verse Unsettled by Reem Faruqi about a girl who moves from Pakistan to Peachtree City, Georgia and deals with multiple layers of bullying and Miles from Motown by Lisa Sukenic with a focus on the anxiety of a family missing a son serving in Vietnam and a girl whose lies are catching up with her. Five poets share their thoughts about their novels in verse dealing with these “tough topics” including Lisa Fipps (Starfish), Chris Baron (The Magical Imperfect), Mahogany L. Browne (Chlorine Sky), Safia Elhillo (Home Is Not a Country), and Linda Sue Park (The One Thing You’d Save).

In Lisa Fipps’ debut novel in verse, Starfish, the young protagonist is bullied about her weight and tries to go unnoticed by living by “Fat Girl Rules,” but gradually comes to accept and celebrate herself. Fipps shares the personal story behind the novel here:“I wrote Starfish because it’s the book I needed as a child. The merciless, relentless bullying because I was fat began when I was a toddler. It’s never stopped. I just have better coping mechanisms as an adult. People’s eyes have always scanned me from head to toe before fixating on my stomach. People point and laugh at me. When you’re fat, people say and do unspeakably cruel things to you. But it was my mother’s words about my weight that nearly destroyed me. They cut me to the core. I think she loved me and just wanted me to be okay. I thought no one else had ever been treated like I was being treated – and it was all happening because there was something seriously wrong with me. I had no one telling me there’s something seriously wrong with those who hurt others. Kids are fatter than ever. So, now’s the time for Starfish. The book’s message is clear: No matter what you weigh, you deserve to be treated like a human being with intrinsic value and worth.”

Bullying is also the focus of Chris Baron’s latest book The Magical Imperfect, when two outcasts develop a friendship and the young protagonist who is selectively mute befriends a peer known as the “Creature” due to her acute eczema. Chris writes: “The ideas for The Magical Imperfect are rooted deeply in my own experience: my Jewish grandparents who immigrated through Ellis Island, and my wife’s family who immigrated from the Philippines, and the challenges, both hidden and on the surface, that we have faced as a family.

Etan and Malia are outcasts and gentle souls in a diverse community of immigrants from a small town in Northern California. Together, the kids endure earthquakes, illness, and challenges beyond their control. They also discover the magic that helps them through it. My hope is that through their adventures, light will shine on the challenges that are often hidden: mental health, chronic illness like severe eczema, and intergenerational family relationships. Now more than ever, we need stories to inspire empathy and hope.”

Chlorine Sky
brings us a poignant story about the ending of a deep friendship and the questions it raises for a girl about relationships. Author Mahogany L. Browne reveals, “I began reading very early and could find so much sweet ease in stories but I rarely found a voice that grappled with the many intersections of growing up a tomboy, brown-skinned, youngest daughter of a single mother's household. Sure, I read about tomboys or Black girls who were suffering from the effects of colorism. I read about single parenting or the tales of a middle-class family. I even read about father's in prison and the impact of drugs on a young person. But those stories never existed in one place.

We are in a time where Black Girl Magic is proclaimed, celebrated, and chanted everywhere. We are also facing the reality that Black Lives Matter is a chant. That Black Trans Lives Matter is a chant. That Save our Girls is a chant. And these chants exist because there is still a structure (be it media or systemic oppressions) in place that reminds us: most of our names will only be remembered because of our untimely deaths or our ability to exceptionally survive the trauma. I didn't want this to only be about the wounds, but the many moments that grow us beautiful, despite the insistence of flattening our experiences and silencing our many tongues.”

Safia Elhillo’s novel in verse, Home Is Not a Country,
is a powerful exploration of the intersection of identity, culture, country, and family told by a girl beginning to discover her own strength. The author shares these insights: “My friendships have been the space where I’ve healed a lot of my relationship to identity, to belonging. So many of my questions and crises around identity were wrapped up in this idea of a country, needing one to claim. But a country is such an abstraction, such an invention, and I was basing my whole sense of who I was around this intangible thing. The nation-state doesn’t care about me. And my communities, my friendships, those are the spaces where I get to heal the ways I have been failed by larger constructs of nation and citizenship and allegiance. So, I actually don’t care anymore where I “belong” in the larger geopolitical sense, because I know who I belong to, who I am accountable to, who I feel allegiance to. And I wanted to honor those communities in this book, those small interpersonal spaces that feel like home when the larger questions about where home is feel so unanswerable.

The choice to write the story in verse ultimately comes down to my relationship to verse versus prose. I feel like I am never going to feel quite fluent in English, in that effortless way, and one of the pleasures of verse is that all of the ways in which I am questioning my own sense of fluency, I can lean into in verse and then it becomes part of the syntax of the poem. I feel less at the mercy of external measures of fluency and English, and instead feel the language get malleable in my hands, ready to bend to my will, to mutate in order to accommodate the things I need to say. I don’t feel bound by the rules of “proper” English, of “correct” grammar. In a poem, I get to invent my Englishes and handmake my grammars. And I wanted to be able to tell this story with all my tools around me.”

Newbery medalist Linda Sue Park wrote The One Thing You’d Save, a novel in verse built upon sijo poems in student voices contemplating their priorities during a class assignment that asks, “If your house were on fire, what one thing would you save?” Park explores the genesis for this work here: “I got the idea for this book maybe fifteen years ago. It came out of the writing process itself: When I’m developing a character, I always think about their STUFF—the actual physical objects that are important to them. I wondered if it would be possible to write some kind of story that focused on things, rather than people….

I’d also been wanting to write another collection of sijo (traditional Korean poetic form) ever since Tap Dancing on the Roof was published in 2007. So, I submitted a collection in 2012. Two rejections. I put it away, but every so often, I would get it out and revise. It was finally accepted in 2017, and then it took a while to find the right illustrator (Robert Sae-Heng, whose work was worth the wait!). The result was a publication date during a worldwide pandemic, when people have had to spend way more time at home than usual. And maybe some of us are getting a different perspective on our stuff: the things we surround ourselves with, how we find comfort, what we value. I was often frustrated by how long it took this book to come out…but sometimes things happen for a reason. And of course, it ended up being about people after all.”

External “Tough Topics”
Some of the forthcoming novels in verse tackle “tough topics” dealing with external pressures, crises, and global events. Here the context is wider with a look at a dystopian future, hunger and starvation, and war and refugees. One current example of a novel in verse that focuses on challenges from the outside world is Alone by Megan Freeman, a survival tale about a girl who finds herself alone in a small, deserted Colorado town. Others include D-39: A Robodog’s Journey by Irene Latham, Samira Surfs by Rukhsanna Guidroz, and Your Heart, My Sky by Margarita Engle who share their insights about the roots of their stories here.

First, Irene Latham conjures a future world with a corrupt government, a country at war, and no domestic animals in 
D-39: A Robodog’s Journey. When young heroine meets a robodog, they’re thrust into a journey for survival. Irene explains:“This book is a combination of many things—which feels appropriate as main character Klynt is quite a tinker-er, and enjoys working with small parts to restore old machines like typewriter, printing press, and robodog. I'm particularly attracted to what I call “writing on the edge”—which for me means writing from that place of sharpest emotion, like we experience in life-or-death, dire, or dystopian scenarios. Check the news feed today, this moment, and you're likely to find such scenarios right here in the United States. Also, I have something of an obsession with the Middle East—no doubt from the time I lived there as a child—so I follow news about the area's arts, culture, politics and war. The war in the book is loosely based on the Syrian Civil war, and I realize now that the book is in part an exploration of freedom—what freedom means, and why it's important to me. The robodog came to me in a dream, fully formed and nearly bzzflopped, begging for m-fuel, just as it first appears to Klynt in the book. I suspect the many times my siblings and I watched the Star Wars movies might have had something to do with it! All of this creates rich, intoxicating writing space for a poet, and I'm grateful for all this book has taught me about love, heroism and acceptance.”

In Samira Surfs, Samira and her family make a traumatic journey from their home in Burma to Bangladesh where Samira is inspired by the Bengali surfer girls. Rukhsanna Guidroz shares this backstory: “Several years ago, I read an article about a group of girls who surf in Bangladesh. They were breaking with cultural traditions, and this act of sheer bravery struck me. Among the surfers was a Rohingya girl. When I researched her ethnic background, I learned about the persecution, and targeted violence Rohingya have faced in Myanmar for decades. In 2017, approximately 742,000 Rohingya fled to neighboring Bangladesh in what many have called "genocide" attempts by the Myanmar military and police. After reading about their harrowing escape, I felt compelled to explore a story that shows a family rebuilding a life despite hardships. In Samira Surfs, 11-year-old Samira faces her fears, makes new friends, and discovers her voice. Surfing and sisterhood pave her way to peace and empowerment." 

In Your Heart, My Sky, Margarita Engle tackles a time of great starvation and food shortages in Cuba in the context of a poignant love story. She shares a bit of backstory here: “During trips to Cuba, I am always saddened by the way relatives still reminisce about the trauma of waking up to nothing but sugar water during the ‘90s. At the same time, I am encouraged by the way they persisted in the uniquely Cuban arts of inventando y resolviendo (inventing and resolving). El período especial (the special period) was a tragic era when I felt compelled to visit often, carrying suitcases filled with food. Some of my cousins fled on rafts. Others stayed and managed to survive. I had written about the hunger of the ‘90s while it was happening, but adult readers in the U.S. did not care about the suffering of islanders. A few years ago, I decided to try again, this time writing for young readers who will soon be voters, free to choose candidates who might dare to lift the six-decades-old trade embargo against Cuba, one of several complex factors that still contribute to food rationing, long lines, and desperate shortages. The pandemic has shown all of us that no one in any country is immune to disastrous economic events. Your Heart, My Sky is a love story, but it is also a cautionary tale. I hope it will be read with empathy and compassion.”

Trauma and “Tough Topics”
Several new novels in verse deal with very difficult issues of personal trauma and sexual assault, mental and physical abuse, drug addiction, death and loss, and murder and racial violence. For example, Muted by Tami Charles features an aspiring singer who experiences the dark side of the music industry, Me (Moth) by Amber McBride chronicles the after-story of a girl who has lost her family in an accident, and Fix by Albert J. Mann and High by Mary Sullivan both deal with the impact of drug addiction on families and friends. Four poets share their thoughts about writing novels in verse with trauma at the center including Joy McCullough (We Are the Ashes, We Are the Fire) and Alessandra Narváez Varela (Thirty Talks Weird Love), Joanne Rossmassler Fritz (Everywhere Blue), and Carole Boston Weatherford (Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre).

In We Are the Ashes, We Are the Fire, Joy McCullough juxtaposes a contemporary girl’s struggle to support her sister, a rape victim, with the fifteenth century figure, Marguerite de Bressieux. Joy reveals, “When I first learned about Marguerite de Bressieux, I was immediately intrigued by the questions around her. Was she truly a French noblewoman who trained herself as a knight to avenge the brutal siege on her family home? Or was she a legend created by a world that needed a story like that? I wanted to write Marguerite’s story in verse because verse allows me to strip away extraneous historical detail that can be distancing, allowing readers easier access to these stories that happened a long time ago but are still achingly relevant. It also allows me as the writer (and the reader!) to access the deep emotions of intense events without having to play out gruesome details. Because I wanted to examine the questions around Marguerite rather than pick a side, I created a contemporary character who could discover her and grapple with those questions as a way to get through her own trauma. That character’s point of view came out naturally in prose, which allowed me contrast and a more modern voice.”

In Thirty Talks Weird Love, by Alessandra Narváez Varela, an anxious, stressed-out Anamaria is growing up in Mexico is visited by her future self who tries to guide her. Varela writes: “One sleepless night, I started writing Thirty in my notebook, inspired by a recent journal entry in which I had wondered if telling a young-adult story would help recapture memories from my teenagehood. I worked as a high-school tutor for five years, and interacting with students made me feel like I had been “born old at heart,” as Anamaria (the main character) puts it, because at that age I only cared about school and seldom had fun. I have dealt with depression since I was a teenager, and attempted suicide when I was 17, but I never took the time to talk to anyone about this because my thinking was, “I’m OK. I can’t stop. I’m going places.”

It was not until my mid-twenties that I asked for help and started treatment. As a lecturer of creative writing at UTEP, I became more comfortable sharing my experiences with students as I encouraged them to write openly about their own challenges. My conversations with amazing high-school and college students led me to conceive of Thirty, a character who visits Anamaria from the future and says “you’re not alone.” The form emerged organically, shifting from prose into verse as I transcribed my original draft. It soon became obvious that Anamaria had to talk to the reader in verse because she’s a poet herself!”

Issues of anxiety, mental illness, and personal loss are at the forefront of Joanne Rossmassler Fritz’s new novel in verse, Everywhere Blue, as a family struggles with finding their missing son and brother. Joanne reveals: “I've dealt with anxiety for most of my life, so I knew I was ready to write about an anxious protagonist. Maddie started out very much like me (I played the oboe; I was the youngest of three siblings, I was a nervous kid who constantly worried about vomiting), but as I revised and revised (and revised some more!) she took on a life of her own. She became a real person to me, not just a character in a book. She needed some of her own characteristics, and that's where the research came in. This book began with one poem I wrote in 2013 (about oboe lessons and early darkness). As a teen, I lost all four of my grandparents within a few years, so those memories stayed with me for a long time. But I never experienced a missing person in my own life. Strum came to me soon after my son's childhood friend vanished in 2014 (and, sadly, to this day has never been found). I wanted some kind of closure for that family. So, I wrote hope into the situation." 

Carole Boston Weatherford
has brought many important events in African American history to life in her award-winning poem picture books. Her most recent, Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre, may be the most powerful and personal of all. Carole shares: “I wrote Unspeakable as a lamentation for Black Wall Street and a testament to the people who perished in, or survived, the massacre. The topic is personal for me. According to my family's lore, one relative was lynched--burned to death. Another had his store torched by a white merchant. I was also inspired by the late illustrator Tom Feelings, who gave me a sneak-peek at a work-in-progress on lynching. When I embarked on this project, the massacre's 2021 centennial had not dawned on me. What I did know is that hate crimes persist.”

All of these writers bring their own perspectives to these “tough topics” as writers do. But as poets, their use of poetry to tackle challenges of internal, emotional struggles, to expose external pressures and global crises, and to address issues of trauma, violence, and death is unique and powerful. Through lyrical language, well-crafted structures, and the mindfulness of white space, these poets invite the reader to brave these difficulties virtually and grow in their capacity to understand the pain of others with greater empathy.

1. Baron, Chris. 2021. The Magical Imperfect. New York: Feiwel & Friends.
2. Browne, Mahogany L. 2021. Chlorine Sky. New York: Crown.
3. Charles, Tami. 2021. Muted. New York: Scholastic.
4. Elhillo, Safia. 2021. Home is Not a Country. New York: PRH/Make Me a World.
5. Engle, Margarita. 2021. Your Heart, My Sky. New York: Atheneum.D
6. Faruqi, Reem. 2021. Unsettled. New York: HarperCollins.
7. Fipps. Lisa. 2021. The Starfish. New York: Penguin/Paulsen.
8. Freeman, Megan E. 2021. Alone. New York: Simon & Schuster/Aladdin.
9. Fritz, Joanne Rossmassler. 2021. Everywhere Blue. New York: Holiday House.
10. Guidroz, Rukhsanna. 2021. Samira Surfs. Ill. by Fahmida Azim. Kokila.
11. Latham, Irene. 2021. D-39: A Robodog’s Journey. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge.
12. Mann, J. Albert. 2021. Fix. New York: Little, Brown.
13. McBride, Amber. 2021. Me (Moth). New York: Feiwel & Friends.
14. McCullough, Joy. 2021. We Are the Ashes, We Are the Fire. New York: Penguin/Dutton.
15. Park, Linda Sue. 2021. The One Thing You’d Save. Ill. by Robert Sae-Heng. Boston: HMH/Clarion.
16. Sukenic, Lisa. 2021. Miles from Motown. Fitzroy Books.
17. Sullivan, Mary. 2021. High. Fitzroy Books/Regal House Publishing.
18. Varela, Alessandra Narváez. 2021. Thirty Talks Weird Love. El Paso, TX: Cinco Puntos Press.
19. Weatherford, Carole Boston. 2021. Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre. Ill. By Floyd Cooper. Minneapolis, MN: Lerner/Carolrhoda.

Now head on over to The Opposite of Indifference where Tabatha is hosting our Poetry Friday posts this week. See you there!