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

Elem./MG – The One Thing You’d Save

Park, Linda Sue. The One Thing You’d Save. Clarion Books. 978-1-328-51513-1. 65 p. $16.99. Grades 3-6. 

In this novel in verse, a teacher challenges her middle school students to think about the one thing they would save if their home was on fire. Their family and pets are already safe, but she wants to know what one thing inside their home is most important to them. It can be any size, any shape. Some students come up with answers immediately, and others ponder the assignment carefully. From cell phones and favorite books to wallets and trading cards, each student explains the reasoning behind his or her choice. Some students share sentimental stories, such as how they would save a hand-knit sweater from their grandmother or a collar from a pet who passed away. The many different voices reflect an inclusive classroom led by a caring teacher who reminds her students to always protect, affect, and respect one another as they are sharing. In her author’s note, Park shares that sijo, an ancient form of Korean poetry, was her inspiration for this book. Classic sijo have three lines of thirteen to seventeen syllables. While the poems in this collection use the sijo structure, many are longer than traditional sijo poems.

THOUGHTS: This novel in verse should spark engaging discussions between middle-grade readers. The question of what to save in a hypothetical emergency is a universal one, and students’ answers will be as varied as the ones presented in the book. This could be a valuable book to use during Morning Meetings to generate conversation and build relationships. It will provide insights into what students value most and will lead to discussions about sentimental value versus practical value. Share this title with guidance counselors as well.

Novel in Verse          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

YA – Vertical Bridges: Poems and Photographs of City Steps

Corso, Paola. Vertical Bridges: Poems and Photographs of City Steps. Six Gallery Press, 2020. 978-1-989-30505-8. 137 p. $16.00. Grades 9 and up.

Steps connect people and places around the world. In Vertical Bridges: Poems and Photographs of City Steps, poet and native Pittsburger, Paola Corso, connects stories of strength and suffering, the past and the present, and family together through the motif of steps. She details the uniqueness of Pittsburgh’s steps (approximately 800 public sets) connecting neighborhood to neighborhood by exploring the history and people of this great city to the “steps” taken in life and the experience that makes each person. In her poem “Beginnings,” Corso moves through the history of Pittsburgh in each stanza and highlights change, the good and the bad, and ultimately connects change universally while focusing on the changing features of Pittsburgh. In later poems, Corso explores hauling water, the famous Spanish Steps in Rome, steps of love, death, faith, immigration, and much more.  Mixed in with her poems are pictures of steps of various size, strength, and life. Each picture tells the story of what was, what is, and what can still be.

THOUGHTS: Although this book of poetry is very specific to Pittsburgh and the experiences of poet Paola Corso, it also takes readers on a journey around the world and connects one with the hardships and joys of life through the mundane: steps. This is a wonderful addition to school library collections in and around Pittsburgh and those looking to broaden their poetry collections. It is also a great text for teaching creative writing and using images with writing. My only disappointment with this text is how it is printed. The print makes some of the photographs hard to see and/or appear blurry. I would have liked glossy pages for the photos to bring them alive.

811 Poetry          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

YA – Say Her Name

Elliott, Zetta. Say Her Name. Little, 2020. 978-1-368-04524-7. 96 p. $18.99. Grades 8+.

A beautiful collection of poetry that celebrates the voices of Black women and girls throughout the ages. The colorful pages call the reader to reflect and act in the world in which we live. Four poems are tributes to and inspired by strong Black women’s voices of the past including Lucille Clifton, Audre Lorde, Nikki Giovanni, and Phillis Wheatley. The collection is clearly meant for Black women and girls, but can be enjoyed by all readers, regardless of their identity. Each page is empowering and can be a solid springboard for discussion.

THOUGHTS: Although stunning, this remarkable collection is recommended for high school libraries who need to revitalize their print poetry material or who have readers interested in reflection, self-care, and individual insight.

811 Poetry          Samantha Hull, Ephrata

Elem. – On a Snow-Melting Day: Seeking Signs of Spring

Silverman, Buffy. On a Snow-Melting Day: Seeking Signs of Spring. Millbrook Press, 2020. $20.99. 978-1-541-58118-0. 32 p. Grades PK-1.

This nonfiction picture book features stunning full-color photographs that perfectly capture the spectacular changes taking place in nature when snow begins to melt. Poetic rhyming text has a predictable noun-verb pattern. Phrases like “Snowmen droop / Cardinals swoop / Rabbits bounce / Foxes pounce” are captured in crisp images. Playful word combinations like “Plink-plonking / Marsh-mucking / Duck-dabbling day” add joyful humor while allowing the reader to focus on the science of Spring. Fun and fascinating, this in-depth look at nature in Spring will captivate young readers.

THOUGHTS: This book would be a great starting point for a lower elementary lesson about the seasons or a lovely book to read before a nature-walk to spot signs of Spring.

508.2 Seasons                         Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD 

Elem. – I Am Every Good Thing

Barnes, Derrick. I Am Every Good Thing. Nancy Paulson Books, 2020. 978-0-525-51877-8. 32p. $17.99. Grades K-3.

I Am Every Good Thing is a poem that talks about the resilience, challenge, and beauty of being a child. It demonstrates children doing different activities such as making snowballs, riding a skateboard, swimming, and many other activities that children might do throughout their life. The narrator of this book adds to the feeling of “I can do anything I set my mind to” which is carried over with the illustrations. The illustrations done by Gordon James showcase the poetry beautifully and contribute to the feeling the narrator gives throughout the poem.

THOUGHTS: This is a beautiful book that is a vital addition to every school library collection.

Picture Book          Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

YA – Where We Are

McGhee, Alison. Where We Are. Atheneum/A Caitlyn Dlougy Book, 2020. 978-1-534-44612-0. $18.99. Grades 7-10.

Micah and Sesame had a plan. If Micah and his parents mysteriously disappeared from their home in present-day, downtown Minneapolis, Micah would text Sesame and she would find him. When Deacon comes to escort the Stone family to the South Compound, he confiscates their cell phones so Micah leaves a cryptic note on the wipe-off board on the refrigerator. The Stones have joined a cult that scorns all worldly things—even pencils—and cower and obey the harsh and unreasonable mandates of one man they call the Prophet. Not Micah. He resists and accumulates so many infractions for what the cold and domineering Prophet deems insubordination that the young man barely exists in solitary confinement. Though free, Sesame Gray lives a secret life. After her mother dies (she calls her grandmother because the woman was older when she adopted Sesame), she concocts stories so that neither her friends nor her solicitous neighbors suspect she is living alone in an abandoned garage. Throughout the book, Sesame reflects on both her grandmother’s goodness and also her habit of keeping them isolated and self-sufficient. That behavior serves Sesame well in her current situation, but her experience relying on others to help in the search for Micah brings a new realization that every person needs to depend on someone. High school seniors and sweethearts, Micah and Sesame narrate this curious story in alternating chapters: faithful Sesame on the outside, remains single-mindedly determined to find her lost boyfriend; resilient Micah, imprisoned in a basement laundry and wasting away, continues to leave clues, sure Sesame will find him. In the hands of a different writer, this book about cults and loss would be a toss off. Author Alison McGhee’s writing pulls the reader along this strange tale and makes us care about these two sensitive and insightful characters. Still, the subject manner is very particular and though there is the element of romance, their love is played out through devotion rather than a relationship, leaving the book with limited appeal. It is unclear what ethnicity the characters are (the cult and its members seem white); two neighbor couples are gay; it all is seamless.

THOUGHTS:  I have read other books by Ghee (Maybe a Fox), and admired her unique plot selections. A hide-and-seek love story centered around a cult but not really about the cult is unique, but not so interesting. The fact that present-day Minneapolis is the focal point of so much foment, violence, and pain, and Ghee picks that city to be the setting for a cult/kidnap/romance seems to me an odd-and avoidable-choice. The dust jacket states Ms. McGhee splits her residence between Minneapolis and another place, so perhaps the setting doesn’t matter. Though I couldn’t, I thought these factors promoted this book: subtle but solid theme, good writing, clever idea of creative Sesame to leave poems boxes around town, appealing characters. Like McGhee’s other books, this one fits only a narrow audience. 

Realistic Fiction Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

YA – Light For the World To See: A Thousand Words on Race and Hope

Alexander, Kwame. Light For the World To See: A Thousand Words on Race and Hope. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020. 978-0-358-53941-4. Unpaged. $14.99. Grades 6-12.

“We Can’t Breathe (from American Bullet Points).” Kwame Alexander needed to say something to shed some light on black lives and share some light of hope for the world. “Take a Stand (from Take a Knee).” Kwame Alexander saw those making a difference in sports and culture and politics, then he wrote about them in a way that reaches all of us in three simple, powerful, repetitive messages. “This is for the Undefeated (from The Undefeated).” Through this stylized reprinting of three recent poems, Kwame Alexander aims to make his words hit home for all ages, races, and people. Each of the three are short, thoughtful, visual, and effective in addressing the issues of race in our society and the need to keep that conversation and action moving – for the world to see a better future.

THOUGHTS: I have many thoughts about this small powerful book. First, read it out loud. Second, go find the videos of Kwame reading each for the Undefeated website. Next, go find someone to share, discuss, reflect on these thousand words. Finally, keep adding to your collections, reading diverse perspectives, and finding voice for those who need to be heard. This conversation and collection could really work for all ages with guidance, but perhaps the content is best for secondary grades. Highly recommended.

811 Poetry          Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD

Elem. – Woodland Dreams

Jameson, Karen. Woodland Dreams. Chronicle Books, 2020. 978-1-452-17063-3. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades PreK-2. 

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.

Picture Book          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member