Climbing Shadows – Perfect Picture Book Friday – #PPBF

When Shannon Bramer began work as a lunchroom supervisor in a kindergarten classroom in Toronto, her job unexpectedly flowered into sharing her passion for writing poetry “during the tiny window of time they had before going outside.”

She introduced children to the work of many writers, including Gwendolyn Brooks, Emily Dickinson, Frederico García Lorca, Dennis Lee, and Joy Harjo.  And sometimes she read her own work to show that “a poet could be a mom….a kindergarten lunchroom supervisor who thinks the word crunchy is as powerful as the word broccoli is beautiful.”

She showed the children the wondrous nature of poetry, and filled their backpacks and heads with glorious words. She wrote each one of them a poem and turned it into a Valentine anthology that they then took home to read to their parents. Some of the poems in this book are taken from that anthology.

All of these poems are wonderful. For example:

The poem “I Love to Draw” begins:

A drawing is a poem

with a house in it

or a circle or a fox.

A drawing is a string

of letters I’m practicing…

The poem is much longer, but I’ll stop and show you Cindy Derby’s haunting illustration that’s paired with this poem. I could look at this page for hours. I’m tempted to hang this illustration on my wall so I can live with it forever by my writing desk, reminding me of the wonders and weirdness of childhood.

Text ©️Shannon Bramer – Illustration ©️Cindy Derby

I recall Mac Barnett saying recently that picture books should give children strange and wondrous dreams. I’m thinking this book will do just that.

There’s the polka dot song, where the line “the sound of rain is polka dots” triggers ideas about other aspects of this world that resemble polka dots.

Text ©️Shannon Bramer – Illustration ©️Cindy Derby

This gorgeous anthology contains poem after poem of surprising insights inspired by (and for) children.


Text ©️Shannon Bramer – Illustration ©️Cindy Derby

With poems like “You Speak Violets,” “Three Hearts and No Bones at All,” and “I Don’t Need a Poem,” the author never talks down to kids or underestimates their ability to appreciate poetic ambiguity and strangeness paired with illustrations that are, themselves, poems. This book should be in every home and classroom, because you never know when you’re going to need a poem—like right now.

Happy Poetry Month!


Write a poem inspired by one of the illustrations in this book.

Think about ways you can turn what you’re eating for lunch into a poem, then write or arrange your food into a poem.

Paint a watercolor illustration inspired by your poem or one of the poems in the book.

Title: Climbing Shadows: Poems for Children

Author: Shannon Bramer

Illustrator: Cindy Derby

Publisher: Groundwood Books, House of Anansi Press, 2019

Themes: poetry, writing poetry, inspiration

Ages: K-5th grade

For more perfect picture book recommendations, please visit Susanna Hill’s website.

18 thoughts on “Climbing Shadows – Perfect Picture Book Friday – #PPBF

  1. Patricia Tilton says:

    Such a charming book or poems. I agree with you about the imagination in the illustration of the wolf climing the treetops. Keeps one young. Also like the polka dots — I thought about it raining gum drops, special gems, meatballs, rainbow ice cream drops, and so on. I couldn’t read the tiny pring of the poem, but it looks like it encourages imagination. Lovely choice today!

  2. Sarah Tobias says:

    This looks wonderful. I have been writing a lot if poems lately. A friend said yesterday her son is struggling with his daily e-learning journaling. I suggested he write a poem and then went blank on sharing one with him. This morning I wrote two acrostic poems about snow for him.

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      I love that you’re writing poems for him! I think this is a good time for poetry. It helps us process our world on so many levels. We used to recite two memorized Robert Frost poems with our son at bedtime, The Road Not Taken and Stopping By the Woods on a Snowy Evening. He loved doing that.

  3. Joanna says:

    I love how Cindy’s art is so recognizable and yet so adapted to each book she illustrates. I love her work. What a great title. I can’t wait to read this collection of poems.

  4. ptnozell says:

    Such a fascinating find! The illustrations are hauntingly beautiful & the poems you’ve highlighted are delightful. Thanks for brightening an otherwise dreary day – much better to think that it’s polka dots falling from the sky than more rain!

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      Oh, no! It sounds like you’re soggy. For us, it’s been mostly overcast toward the end of this week. I need some sunshine to brighten my day, too! As I understand it, Derby is a self-taught artist whose portfolio was a grand prizewinner at her first SCBWI conference. I’m thinking she’s going be a Caldecott winner in the not-too-distant future. Perhaps her illustrations for her new collaboration (Outside In) with Deborah Underwood, will be a winner. Betsy Bird gave that book a fabulous review.

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      I think you’ll find that Cindy has a distinctive style. She’s got a new book out with Deborah Underwood, called OUTSIDE IN, filled with her gorgeous illustrations. I’m waiting for my signed copy to be shipped to me.

  5. Ste J says:

    That illustration is really effective, for some reason the fox has me in mind of Ted Hughes’ The Iron Man, another wonderful story. This is another future purchase for Amelia.

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