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
Popovici Danny. The Fox and the Forest Fire. Chronicle Books, 2021. 978-1-797-20282-2 44 p. $17.95. Grades K-3.
A young boy moves from the city to a house in the woods. At first, he is unsure of his new surroundings, but he begins to love his new environment with time. He loves to explore, adventure, and learn about the animals and their homes that inhabit the woods that surround his new home, especially a bright orange fox that lives nearby. In Danny Popovici’s The Fox and the Forest Fire, the reader will fall in love with the forest through the eyes of a young explorer. But when the young boy spots a fire that quickly engulfs the woods, his family is not only displaced, but his beloved home, trees, bugs, plants, and animals are forever changed. With a forest fire, so much can change quickly, but the family (and forest) can regrow and rejuvenate with time, hope, and support. In this touching story, resilience wins.
THOUGHTS: The Fox and the Forest Fire was written and illustrated by a volunteer forest firefighter, which gives the book a unique and special perspective. The story has an uplifting message about rebuilding and resilience, not only for humans but for nature too. At the close of the book, the author’s notes and information could ignite essential conversations in the classroom about the effects of natural disasters on our environment. I love that this book can serve as a resource for coping with personal and community tragedies with a small nod to the first responders that risk their lives for others.
Seeger, Laura Vaccaro. Red. Neal Porter Books. 978-0-823-44712-1. 38 p. $18.99. Grades K-3.
With just two words on each spread, the illustrations and the emotions they evoke take center-stage in this title about a young fox’s separation and ultimate reunion with his family. After becoming separated, the fox leaves the forest and explores nearby fields, roads, and farms. He also sees humans and their fences, wheelbarrows, nails, and trucks. He is eventually caught in a metal trap and displays some of the strongest emotions in the book. A young girl empathizes with the trapped animal, releasing him back into the wild where he eventually reunites with his family. Full-page illustrations featuring acrylic paint on canvas depict many shades of red in both the natural world and the man-made one. Each shade corresponds with something the young fox is exploring or experiencing. This title completes the trilogy that includes the Caldecott Honor book Green and the acclaimed Blue. An Author’s Note at the end describes the way these three books are linked as well as some of the inspiration behind the series.
THOUGHTS: Students will feel the connection between color and emotions as they page through this title. The links between the emotions the fox experiences and the colors used to convey the world around him will spark discussions during morning meetings as students explore feelings like anger, fear, courage, joy, empathy, and love.
Picture Book. Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD
Heidicker, Christian McKay. Scary Stories for Young Foxes: The City. Henry Holt and Company, 2021. 978-1-25018-144-2. 386 p. $17.99. Grades 5-8.
O-370 only knows of life on the farm. The elder foxes tell him stories about wild foxes who have adventures beyond anything he can imagine. O-370 and his cousin, R-211 dream of having their own adventures like Mia and Uly, the foxes they hear about in the stories. Even though they want to have adventures, they also know that the farm is a good place for them. All the foxes who live here get food twice a day and have a warm place to sleep. Best of all, when they are done at the farm, they get to go to The Barn, a special place where foxes eat centipedes all day and play with all the foxes that have gone before them. One night, O-370 is desperate for an adventure and slips out of his cage to explore The Barn. What he discovers sends him running into the forest and to the edge of the nearby city. After meeting a group of tough city foxes, O-370 realizes he may not have the skills to survive away from the farm. O-370 decides he must use the strategies in the stories he heard as a young kit to survive in the city.
THOUGHTS: In the follow-up novel to Scary Stories for Young Foxes, author Heidicker follows a similar format. He intersperses the story of O-370 with an older fox storyteller who is relaying O-370’s story to kits. Fans of his first novel will be happy to see previous characters Mia, Uly, Beatrix Potter, and others make appearances throughout the book. This book is a great addition to middle grade libraries, especially for young fans of horror and animal stories.