Tag Archives: poetry

Cricket in the Thicket – Perfect Picture Book Friday

19 May

This week’s addition to Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Book Fridays comes to us from the heart of bug country, the Great Plains. What do you think of when you think of Kansas?

You’re not in Kansas, anymore, Toto….

Well, that’s what I used to think until I spent the week with Carol Murray at Highlights Summer Camp last July. When not writing/revising and attending workshop sessions, we rambled through the bug-filled countryside of Pennsylvania, discussing all things kidlit. And that’s how I found out she’s from Kansas. Now, whenever the Sunflower State (and wind) comes up in casual conversation (it happens daily, trust me), I immediately think of Carol. 

Seriously, though, I’ve been eagerly anticipating her book for nearly a year, and I’m sure that she has been waiting far longer than that while Melissa Sweet finished those luscious illustrations. So here it is!

The cover immediately lets readers know they’re in good, buggy company. And the whimsical dedication page 

also sets the tone with playful humor. The first poem I read wasn’t the first in the book. I just opened it to a random page and was treated to the following:

 

Spinning Spiny-Back

I spin,

and spin, 

and when I need

a peppy picker-upper,

I spin a little more,

and then

I eat my web for supper. 

In the text box in the lower right hand corner of the page we learn: “Spiny-backs are orb weavers. When they build a new web, they take down the old one and eat the discarded silk, which is a great source of protein. Spiny-backs are champion recyclers.”

I flipped to another page to find one of the more unsavory-named critters, the dung beetle:

 

Let’s Hear It for Dung Beetle!

I don’t get much respect, and I suspect you didn’t know

that I was very popular in Egypt long ago.

A sacred bug. Oh yes, indeed! A charm with magic power.

Too bad you didn’t know me in my former, finest hour.

 

Don’t you just love the internal rhyme in the first line? And the hard “c” and “ch” sounds in the third line. (Can’t you just hear that crusty scarab scrabbling through the dung?) And the alliterative “efs” that lead softly into the lingering “hour”? This poet has chops!

Each poem is beautifully rendered via mixed media illustrations and accompanied by fascinating tidbits about the featured bug. I can imagine any number of children who will delight in memorizing these poems and reciting them whenever they find a ladybug, damsel fly, dung beetle, jumping spider, walking stick, preying mantis, or even the lowly common fly. The book features 27 bugs in all and includes three pages of back matter that provide even more cool facts about each one. 

Want to know something amazing about the Monarch caterpillar and butterfly? Well, I’m not going to spill the bugs. You’ll have to read the book to find out! Happy reading!

TITLE: Cricket in the Thicket

AUTHOR: Carol Murray

ILLUSTRATOR: Melissa Sweet 

PUBLISHER: Henry Holt, May 2017

TARGET AGE: Preschool-Adult (yes, adults will love them, too)

 

 

Harlem: A Poem by Walter Dean Myers

14 Apr

In honor of National Poetry Month and Perfect Picture Book Friday, I’m shining the spotlight on a brilliant Caldecott and Coretta Scott King Award Winner from 1997:

“They took to the road in Waycross, Georgia

Skipped over the tracks in East St. Louis

Took the bus from Holly Springs

Hitched a ride from Gee’s Bend

Took the long way through Memphis

The third deck down from Trinidad

A wrench of heart from Gorree Island 

A wrench of heart from Gorree Island

To a place called Harlem

Harlem was a promise

Of a better life, of a place where a man didn’t

Have to know his place

Simply because he was Black.”

 

Thus begins a tactile and rhythmic journey through Harlem. This book may have been written twenty years ago, but it feels quite contemporary. Current nonfiction writers are increasingly telling the stories of people, events, or places with similar atmospheric details and poetic language. Walter Dean Myers was far ahead of his time.  

The only thing missing is back matter. The names of people and places are sprinkled throughout, but if you want to know more, you must do the research. If this book were being published in 2017, you can bet the back matter would be rich with details, including a timeline with key events and people as well as author/illustrator notes. 

Although Walter Dean Myers has passed, I would love to see a new edition of this book published, complete with back matter and an illustrator’s note from Christopher Myers, Walter’s son. 

The collage illustrations add so much texture to the poem that I would recommend reading the picture book. However, if you just want to immerse yourself in Myers’ poem, here’s a link to the text of “Harlem” online. 

Title: Harlem

Author: Walter Dean Myers

Illustrator: Christopher Myers

Publisher: Scholastic Press, 1997

Target Audience: Everyone

Return from the Abyss

22 Sep

Summer slips away, leaving room for Fall. The first order of the day is to talk for a moment about a friend’s book of poems, Selene by Michael Odom. 

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Don’t turn your back on her

I see this book as a reflection of an obsession. A woman. A sorceress. A corpse. An eternal ambivalence, love and hate. The cover uncovers, revealing the darkness within. It is not an easy read. But then, poetry can be unsettling. A way of seeing that slices through the dailiness to a core that may be exquisitely ugly. But it is real, and we cannot turn our guilty gaze away from the disaster. Just the opposite. We hope to understand more about our own lives the longer we stare at the ruins of others’.

The opening poem lets the reader know that men will not get off easily in this book:

“The simple strength of men who never know,

Their muscle-coats, their steel, their robotic wars,

Their Scantron lives lesson-planned in their brains,

The blows they give and take to the head, sports,

Their races to finish lines, walks to start,

Ready-go guns, their disciplined controlled

Resilience, their climbing grasps, like primates,

For leafier nests, prettier mates, shinier cars,

And Power, the lying god, their angry work

Ethics with long old ages dreaming TV

And beaches and golf, their nearby balls-of-dust

Planets they reach for and prayers to a ghost,

Big man boasts…I know a boy much smaller

Who carries in his pocket a collapsed sun.”

For what it’s worth, I can’t help but think that the boy is the poet’s sun. Pun intended.
The reading pendulum will swing completely in the other direction tomorrow with a new title for Perfect Picture Book Friday. And then a rec for a new YA or two next week. Some Middle Grade novels…Stay tuned! Looking forward to catching up with everyone in the blogosphere.

Spring Night (After Wang Wei via Robert Okaji)

10 May

Well, it seems I’ve been inspired by one of my favorite poets, Robert Okaji.

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Spring Night

(after Wang Wei via Robert Okaji)

 

Dogwood petals sigh in spirals, blessing my recline.

Spring darkness rests on hollow muted hills

while moonlight strikes the owls awake,

their hoots slipstreaming through ravines.

 

Unlike Robert, I named the birds and took liberties with the tree petals. I’m writing a new rhyming picture book right now, so this detour was a welcome respite. Feeling a little spring-feverish. Ahhh—ahhh—Cheers!

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Parts and Even More Parts – Perfect Picture Book Friday

22 Apr

So you’re looking for a couple of books from a brilliant author/illustrator? Ones that will make kids say “ewwww” page after page, all while laughing uproariously? Ones that kids will want to read again and again and again because each little twist is ingenious?

Tedd Arnold’s will do the trick:

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For the most part, his rhyme is spot on,

“I just don’t know what’s going on

or why it has to be.

But every day it’s something worse.

What’s happening to me?”

 

but purists will note that the rhyme on the second spread is—inverted! **!!Gasp!!**

“I think it was three days ago

I first became aware—

That in my comb were caught a couple

pieces of my hair.”

 

Now, one could argue that this book was published in 1997 and the rhyme police have gotten much more strict in recent years. But I will tell you that if you’re an author-illustrator and you come up with something as original as:

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“Then later on (I don’t recall

exactly when it was)

I lifted up my shirt and found

this little piece of fuzz.”

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“I stared at it, amazed, and wondered,

What’s this all about?

But then I understood. It was

my stuffing coming out!”

Editors may give you a “Get Out of Rhyme Jail Free” pass. Page after page of inspired body part distress.

Not content with one body part book, Arnold published a second called “More Parts” (not reviewed here), and a third called “Even More Parts” in 2004. Originally published under the “Dial Books for Young Readers Imprint,” they are now published by Puffin.

“Even More Parts” takes a literal look at body part idioms and their horrifying consequences.

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Tongue-tied, anyone?

Although each page includes small comics of several idioms for each body part, Arnold selects the funniest to fill the spreads. The end papers include mini illustrations of many more. Bonus: All of these books should engage even the most reluctant readers AND PARENTS.  

“Even More Parts” could also be used to support Common Core Curriculum in kindergarten through second grade.

Check them out!

Titles: “Parts” & “And Even More Parts”

Author/Illustrator: Tedd Arnold

Publisher: Puffin

Ages: preschool-second grade

This post is in conjunction with Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Book Friday.

Surprise! Mother’s Day Gift!

12 Apr

I am NOT having an affair with my postman. He loves to ring and run, never waiting to see if I’m home. When I find the package on the doorstep, there’s not even a telltale trail of exhaust from his vehicle on the street. I’m not sure if he’s afraid of me or is an extreme introvert. Either way, it doesn’t matter. Not when he leaves this on my doorstep!

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My early Mother’s Day gift to myself, the last delivery in Tupelo Press’s subscription series, Cooking with the Muse, written and compiled by Myra Kornfeld (chef, author, educator) and Stephen Massimilla (poet, scholar, professor, painter).

This cookbook is crammed with delectable poems, essays, recipes, and food porn photos and illustrations. I can’t wait to get the pages dirty, because as we all know, like writing and sex, cooking is about the process as well as the destination.

The contents range from  “A Brief History of the Poetry of Food” to a year’s worth of recipes, essays, and poetry organized by seasons. It is more than splendiferous, folks! It’s a food-prose-poem orgy! Get busy and buy this for yourself or someone you love.

You can buy it all by its lonesome, OR you can still subscribe to last year’s series and get the whole kit-n-kaboodle (a nod to my buddy, author Mike Allegra) along with a discount for the 2016 subscription series.

Although the graphic shown directly below reads “2016,” it’s really the 2015 series.

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As you may (or may not) have noticed, last year’s subscription included Lawrence Raab’s “Mistaking Each Other for Ghosts,” a poetry title that was long-listed for the National Book Award. Tupelo Press rocks! 

Here’s the series being offered for 2016:

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So ya know what I’m going to do, right? I’m going to give myself a Mother’s Day gift for next year and order another subscription series.

And as long as the postman delivers, he can ring and run. It’s those beautiful Tupelo Press books that I’m pining for, not him. 

Click on the link below. After all, it is 

National Poetry Month!!!

Tupelo Press Bookstore

Setting Fire to the Origami Crane – For Sarah Briggs Hoffmann

21 Sep

A little over a year ago, we gathered family and friends on an island in Muscongus Bay in Maine to celebrate Peter Hoffmann‘s (my father-in-law) life and bury his ashes in the island cemetery. It was a glorious day—sunny and warm—for a picnic, wine, and shared memories.

Sarah, my mother-in-law, asked the kids to craft parachutes with candy payloads and toss them from the treehouse to represent the Berlin airlift of Peter’s childhood.

Later, we lighted a bonfire, dined in the darkness, and listened to some of Peter’s favorite jazz recordings.

Then Sarah passed away around 3am that night, most likely from a heart failure brought on by a severe asthma attack. She had long struggled with diabetes and asthma.

There is no word for the emotion. Shock is far too tame. Disbelief, a limp noodle of a word. Nothing could be said.

So we said little, hugged a lot, and kept the family close because we were going to bury Sarah’s ashes four days later. This is the birch log one of her three sons hollowed out to hold Sarah’s ashes.

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Giotto, Sarah and Peter’s dog, kept vigil while we waited to bury her beside Peter.

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Throughout the days following her death, Giotto would suddenly stand, look out the window and howl silently.

This past August, family members gathered on the island to honor Sarah’s life. She loved children, always engaging them with stories and activities, like the parachute project for Peter’s memorial. Often times, sparklers were involved.

So we constructed a wooden origami crane. Our son and his cousins designed, nailed, nail-gunned, taped, and wired sparklers, roman candles, and fireworks waterfalls to the structure. Then at dusk, we set it floating on Muscungus Bay before lighting it on fire. We didn’t have a proper camera for the event, so phone shots will have to suffice.

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Construction completed:
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Setting the crane afloat on the old raft, The Rusty Blade:

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Waiting for darkness:

 

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Shimmering across the bay:

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Farewell, Sarah

Sarah also loved poetry. So when we returned, I donated to Tupelo Press’s 30/30 project, where selected poets write and publish a poem a day each month. I sponsored a poem from one of my favorite poets, and gave him only a title as starting point. Here’s Robert Okaji’s stunning and uncanny result:

Setting Fire to the Origami Crane (the one floating on Muscongus Bay) at Sunset / by Robert Okaji

 

Who is to say which comes first, the flaming crane

or the sunset’s burst just over the horizon

 

and under the clouds? There are causes and causations,

an illness named bad air and another attributed to wolf

 

bites, neither accurate. There is the paraffin to melt,

and the folded paper resting comfortably nearby, with

 

a small, unopened tin of shoe polish and the sound of

tears striking newsprint. You know the myth of the

 

Viking burial — the burning ship laden with treasure

and the deceased clothed in all his finery. But pyres

 

are lighted to make ash of bodies, to ease the soul’s

transition to the heavens. Think of how disturbing

 

it would be to come upon the charred lumps of your

loved one washed ashore. And other myths — various

 

versions of the afterlife created to bend wills and

foster hope where little exists — to which have you

 

departed? There are no returns in your future, no more

givings, and your ashes have dispersed among the clouds

 

and in the water. They’ve been consumed by earth and

sky, inhaled and swallowed, digested, coughed out but

 

never considered for what they were. So I’ve printed

your name a thousand times on this sheet, and will

 

fold and launch it, aflame, watching the letters that

comprise you, once again, rise and float, mingle

 

and interact, forming acquaintances, new words,

other names, partnerships, loves, ascending to the end.

 

 

Thank you, Robert. Sarah would have loved the poem you didn’t know you were writing for her.

 

Find more of Robert Okaji’s poems on his website: O at the Edges

or at the Tupelo Press 30/30 Project website under August poems. These will only be available until the end of September.

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