Elem. – My Poet

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
Juvenile Fiction

Elem./MG – Why Longfellow Lied: The Truth About Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride

Lantos, Jeff. Why Longfellow Lied: The Truth About Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride. Charlesbridge, 2021. 978-1-58089-933-8. 134 p. $18.99. Grades 3-8. 

“Paul Revere’s Ride” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is one of the most famous poems written by an American poet. Memorized by thousands of children (and adults) since its publication in 1860, the poem popularized Paul Revere and the story of the events on April 18 & 19, 1775, when riders traveled the countryside around Boston to warn citizens that British troops were on the move. While the average reader may accept the poem as fact, in actuality Longfellow took some artistic license in his retelling. Author Jeff Lantos examines the poem stanza by stanza, comparing the text of the poem to primary source accounts of the events. Readers will learn reasons Longfellow strayed from the historical record is his retelling, including the need to maintain pacing in the poem, removing details that might detract from the main storyline, and the need to give the poem a sense of drama. Numerous sidebars highlight historical facts and figures, and the text is enhanced by the inclusion of maps, photographs, paintings, and drawings. 

THOUGHTS: This fantastic title is a combination history lesson and literary analysis. The author is a retired teacher and has an engaging conversational tone that is sure to keep readers turning the page. An excellent choice for casual readers or those researching the events surrounding the beginning of the American Revolution, this title deserves a spot on library shelves.

811 Poetry          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

Elem./MG – The World below the Brine

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.

811.3 Poetry          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member

YA – you don’t have to be everything: Poems for Girls Becoming Themselves

Whitney, Diana. you don’t have to be everything: Poems for Girls Becoming Themselves. Workman Publishing, 2021. 978-1-523-51099-3. 165 p. $14.95. Grades 9-12. 

I want this book on my coffee table, but I also want it on my nightstand. And I also want it in my office, and maybe in my car. It’s beautiful and consumable and has something for any woman, in any moment. Whitney’s subtitle is “poems for girls becoming themselves,” but I think many women never got the chance to be themselves. The collection is organized by eight themes: seeking, loneliness, attitude, rage, longing, shame, sadness, and belonging. There is something in this small book for everyone, they just have to be willing to let the poetry awaken their heart and the affirmation of who they are and how they feel will be present. 

THOUGHTS: If your high school students are as hungry for poetry as mine are, add this to your collection. The art and design make the work of legends like Angelou and Oliver as accessible as their modern day counterparts like Gorman, Acevedo, and Baer. At the very least, get this book to just have in your office and hand out the poems like candy on Halloween, but every day. 

Poetry         Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

YA – Ain’t Burned All the Bright

Reynolds, Jason, and Jason Griffin, illustrator. Ain’t Burned All the Bright. A Caitlin Dlouhy Book, 2022. 978-1-534-43946-7. unpaged. $19.99. Grades 7-12.

In a three-part poem using breath as a metaphor, Jason Reynolds depicts what it’s like to be a young Black person in America, in the present moment. Breath One addresses the protests surrounding the murder of George Floyd, as the speaker’s mother watches a repetitive news cycle that “won’t change into something new.” Breath Two relates his father’s struggles to breathe without coughing, a clear reference to COVID-19; the cough is a “blues trumpet in his throat.” Breath Three alludes to climate change, pollution, wildfires, and rising sea levels through a futile search for an oxygen mask. In a pivot, seeing a hint of a smile on his mother’s face, he looks for oxygen not in a box but in his family’s lovable idiosyncrasies, “seeing each other’s mess as a breath of fresh air.” Jason Griffin’s illustrations are as essential to this book as the text. Rendered on moleskine notebook pages with paint markers, sharpies, spray paint, and various kinds of tape, the images are intermittently abstract, suggestive, and realistic. All are thematically linked to Reynolds’ poems, which are cut into lines, words, and letters and incorporated into each page’s collage.

THOUGHTS: Ain’t Burned All the Bright is a work of art that readers will want to pick up again and again to fully engage with its meaning.

Novel in Verse          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD
Graphic Novel

Through three metaphorical breaths, readers are taken on a journey through one of the most difficult times in recent history. In Breath One, readers are introduced to a narrator who wonders “why the story won’t / change into something new” as he describes how his mother won’t change the television channel and his brother won’t look away from a video game. Stunning artwork depicts cities burning as smoke billows out of windows, a NYPD van in flames, and blacked out images. The story transitions to protests over the murder of George Floyd and the back and forth fight to breathe – to have “freedom to walk / and shout / and cry / and scream / and scroll / and post / and pray.” In Breath Two, the speaker still wonders why his mom is glued to the same channel as his father “keeps coughing / from the other room.” Artwork depicts masks and isolation as COVID ravages around the world much like a tornado destroying a town. In Breath Three, the speaker searches relentlessly for an oxygen mask “but couldn’t find / a saving grace.” Clearly painted, taped, drawn, and written on the pages of a moleskine notebook, these two powerhouse creators give readers a lot to digest. The “is anyone still here?” that follows the poem describes their process in an interview style that is not to be missed.

THOUGHTS: Ain’t Burned All the Bright is a beautiful combination of poetry and art that is best enjoyed in one sitting then returned to again and again.

Poetry          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Elem. – Stop that Poem!

Ode, Eric. Stop that Poem! Kane Miller Books. 2021. 978-1-68464-223-6. $14.99. Grades 3-6.

When creating a poem, we find that it can soar to new heights… which is exactly what happened here! A young girl created a poem that became too tall and flew away! As the young characters in the book chase after the pieces of the poem, the reader becomes aware of how a poem can create, soar, float, slither, and become a multitude of possibilities. While we want to stop the poem from soaring away, we also want to set the poem free with our words.

THOUGHTS: A uniquely created book, as we follow several pages of floating words in different environments to create a variety of poems. Readers will begin to see the possibility that poetry can be as they read through this book.

811 Poetry          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

YA – The Seventh Raven

Elliot, David. The Seventh Raven. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 978-0-358-25211-5. 177 p. $17.99. Grades 8-11.

Jack and Jane have prayed and prayed for a daughter but to no avail. Their six sons, all named Jack, are rough-and-tumble boys while Robyn, their seventh son, is a gentler soul. When Jane finally gives birth to a daughter, they realize quickly she is sick and will not survive the night. The father in his anger curses aloud that all of his sons are no better than birds. The universe magically heeds his words, and all seven boys are transformed into ravens, and in exchange, the little girl, later named April, lives. While the eldest six sons are infuriated over their new fate, Robyn feels as if he has finally found where he belongs. Fifteen years later, April feels as if a dark shadow lurks over her and has for her entire life. Upon discovering the truth about her brother from her parents, she sets out to find her feathered family members and release them from the curse, no matter the cost. 

THOUGHTS: In this interpretation of the Grimm Brothers’ “The Seven Ravens,” David Elliot delights readers with his poetic writing. Each character in the book is narrated through a different form of complex poetry which adds a lyrical element to this complicated story of human emotion and moral dilemmas. Although this book is recommended for grades 6 and up, the complexity of poetry would lend itself better to older, more advanced readers.

Fantasy                Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD
Verse Novel

Elem. – Dear Treefrog

Sidman, Joyce. Dear Treefrog. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2021. 978-0-358-06476-3. $17.99. Grades K-3

Dear Treefrog is a delightful book of poems about the nature of the treefrog. With incorporated facts on the sides of the pages, this book provides some wonderful poems that explain what the frog is doing. Illustrated pictures increase the serenity of the treefrog, proving a fun experience for young readers.

THOUGHTS: A fun poetry book about the treefrog. Readers will enjoy the poems, all while learning fun facts about this animal!

811 Poetry          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

Elem. – Hello Earth! Poems to Our Planet

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.

811 Poetry          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member

Elem. – Poem in My Pocket

Tougas, Chris. Poem in My Pocket. Kids Can Press. 978-1-525-30145-2. 32 p. $16.99. Grades K-3. 

A young writer stows a poem in her pocket but her pocket has a hole, and the words tumble out, bouncing down steps and swirling in the breeze. She tries desperately to gather the words and recreate her poem, but instead, the words mix with street signs and storefronts and advertisements. Her words combine with others to create new puns, funny sayings, and inspirational messages. Thunder clouds roll in, and the rain pushes her words into the muddy ground. She fears they are lost forever, but her words become seeds of thought that grow into a poetree. The girl realizes these new words might be even better than her original ones, proving that a little revision can sometimes be a good thing. Vibrant digital illustrations, sprinkled with runaway words from the girl’s poem, depict a bustling city filled with multicultural inhabitants. Backmatter includes information about National Poetry Month in April. Each April, one day is also designated as Poem in Your Pocket Day, and people participate by selecting a poem, carrying it with them, and sharing it with others. The book’s final page also includes a list of websites students can visit for more information about Poetry Month and Poem in Your Pocket Day. Tougas also challenges students to look back through the story and locate as many rhyming words as possible, and a list of all the pairs is included on the book’s final page as well.

THOUGHTS: Although this title is especially appropriate for sharing during April, students will enjoy the lighthearted wordplay and illustrations any time of year. This book might also serve as a stepping stone, encouraging students to try their hand at creating their own poems and to have fun with words.

Poetry          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD