MacLachlan, Patricia. My Poet. Illustrated by Jen Hill. Harper Collins, 2022. 978-0-062-97114-2. $17.99. 32 p. Grades K-5.
The recently deceased master of subtle writing, Patricia MacLachlan, bears tribute to the late poet, Mary Oliver in My Poet. Though Oliver remains unnamed throughout the picture book, the comparison to her is undeniable. For most of her adult life, Oliver resided in Cape Cod; MacLachlan, too, was a citizen of Massachusetts and reports that she had a passing acquaintance with the poet. Covering a span of one day, a young girl, Lily, meets the poet she dubs “my poet” at a farmer’s market, and the two explore the woods and seashore and enjoy different animals together. As Lily searches to develop her writing style, the mentor poet guides her to inspirational scenes of nature. Jen Hill’s loosely drawn illustrations evoke the spray of saltwater, the busyness of the farmer’s market, the secrecy of the woods. “My poet” encourages Lily in her pursuit of the “just right” words to compose her poem and Hill’s illustrations are in perfect concert with MacLachlan’s lyrical prose. Used as a mentor text to encourage creative writing or as a calming read aloud, this nuanced book speaks to the sensitive child. Lily’s use of a notebook walking through the woods imitates Mary Oliver’s favorite pastime as a child growing up in Ohio: to escape a tumultuous home life, she would spend as much time as possible outdoors, jotting down poetry in her own notebook, even hiding pencils in tree trunks.
THOUGHTS: I don’t know if I am enraptured by this book because I appreciate the understated prose of Patricia MacLachlan or because I am in awe of the paradoxically gentle yet powerful poetry of Mary Oliver. Either way, the prose offers many openings into discussion of Oliver’s poems (she wrote of fish playing with her toes and a whole volume devoted to her beloved dogs). Even without the mention of Oliver, the book pursues the work of writing for young children or as a mentor text for older ones. The illustrations remind me of Allan Drummond (Green City) are a refreshing fit for the words.
Poetry Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia
Whitman, Walt. The World below the Brine. Creative Editions, 2021. 32 p. 978-1-568-46361-2. $18.99. Grades 4-6.
This picture book is a beautiful iteration of Whitman’s poem from Leaves of Grass. In just one stanza, the poet directs the reader’s attention to the wonderful and varied life under the salty sea. Whitman begins with a discussion of the plant life and how its many colors play with the light. Next are the “dumb swimmers,” who appear sluggish as they crawl on the bottom, like the sea snail, or like jellyfish that “graze…suspended.” The free verse poem ends with a catalog of better-known sea creatures, such as the shark, whale, and sting-ray. In the final lines, the poet observes that the world below the ocean does not differ much in its environment and society from the one above it. The verse comes alive with James Christopher Carroll’s rich, luminescent illustrations which the publisher likens to the works of Marc Chagall. Done with mixed media, the stunning images create a surrealistic atmosphere in the text. The drawings depict the poem through the eyes of a boy, who dives into the ocean and is amazed at all that he sees and experiences. As he swims furiously to escape from the jaws of hungry predators, the boy is surprised at his marine rescuer and returns to his boat. Whitman’s verses inspire us to open our eyes to the wonders of all worlds of our planet.
THOUGHTS: This is truly a remarkable rendition of Whitman’s “The World below the Brine.” The illustrations are Caldecott quality and readers will enjoy examining the drawings closely. This lyrical work is a great resource for poetry units. Highly recommended for elementary and middle school libraries.
Sidman, Joyce. Hello Earth! Poems to Our Planet. Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-0-8028-5528-2. 62 p. $18.99. Grades 3-6.
This collection of free verse poetry about Earth was first published in Spain in 2016. An example of creative nonfiction, this volume contains verses in which a narrator, representing “some of your children-the human ones,” talks to the planet about its wonders. Sidman begins with a poem (“Floating”) about Earth’s place in the solar system and in the next two, brings us back to its surface. Following this, the narrator chats with Earth about its age, formation, and history, asking “What was your favorite part?” Other poems focus on volcanoes, earthquakes, continents, day and night, ecosystems, water and plants, giving us a good look at our world. The oversized volume ends by reminding us to enjoy the amazing marvels of our planet and to take care of it. The back matter provides more information, organized by topic and its related poem(s). Sidman’s works are best known for stunning illustrations and creative layouts. By contrast, the watercolor and acrylic drawings by Miren Asiain Lora may not seem as engaging. People are drawn on a small scale and the font is subdued and orderly. Perhaps this is done to focus our full attention on Mother Earth. A class of Earth Science students and their National Geographic certified teacher helped Sidman with understanding “how Earth works.”
THOUGHTS: This book of verse is perfect for Earth Day storytimes and works as an introduction to Earth Science Units. This imaginative work is a great addition to elementary collections, especially where poetry is popular.
In this cozy story, a young girl takes a walk through the woods on a late autumn evening. Accompanied by her dog and a notebook, the girl says goodnight to the animals she sees and encourages them to settle into their sleeping place. Each two page spread features a different forest animal. The rhyming text is written in an AA-BB sequence and describes the animal’s behavior in just a few words, like “Berry Picker” and “Honey Trickster” for the bear. Before this verse, the author includes a short phrase that begins with “Come Home,” and is followed by a two word description of the animal. For example, Jameson calls the squirrel “Bushy Tail” and the woodpecker “Strong Beak” instead of using their common names. As the night draws in, snow flurries begin to fall and the pair returns home to their cabin, where it is now the girl’s turn to go to bed. Boutavant’s charming illustrations capture the atmosphere of the season, and the reader can almost feel the chilly night wind just like the fox. On the last two pages, the illustrator displays the girl’s own drawings from her notebook, depicting the wildlife that she observed.
THOUGHTS: With its comforting text and cadence, this book makes for a wonderful bedtime story, which will surely help children settle down to sleep. It is also a good choice for fall or early winter storytimes. To make it more interactive, the librarian could ask students to guess the type of animal just by listening to the words and afterwards show the pictures. Highly recommended for all elementary collections.