Mirror, mirror, on the wall: poetry books for one and all
Clever and delightful—those are the best words to describe Mirror Mirror, a new collection by noted poet Marilyn Singer. In her latest book, Singer has created her own new form of poetry, which she calls a “reverso,” a poem that reads the same backward and forward. “When you read a reverso down, it is one poem,” Singer explains. “When you read it up, with changes allowed only in punctuation, capitalization, and line breaks, it is a different poem.” She focuses on fairy tales, such as “In the Hood,” which first gives Little Red Riding Hood’s perspective, and then, when read the other way, tells the wolf’s side of the story. “Cinderella’s Double Life” tells her tale before and after the ball, while “Mirror Mirror” is a poem by both Snow White and her Wicked Stepmother.
Josée Masse’s accompanying art continues the double view in striking fashion, by dividing each scene in two. Older preschoolers will enjoy these poems, as well as elementary students, who are likely to want to write their own reversos.
For the fun of it
The theme of different points of view continues in Our Farm: By the Animals of Farm Sanctuary. Maya Gottfried wrote these poems in the voices of various animals, such as “It’s Good to Be a Kid,” by baby goats Ari and Alicia. These are humorous, short poems—good for preschoolers and young elementary students. The farm animals from the sanctuary in Watkins Glen, New York, come to life with the soft, up-close artwork of artist Robert Rahway Zakanitch. His pleasing style brings to mind the artwork of children’s illustrator Jane Dyer.
Allan Ahlberg and his late wife Janet are beloved for their Jolly Postman series, and Allan has a new title that will be immediately captivating to young poetry readers: Everybody Was a Baby Once. The humorous artwork of Bruce Ingman seals the deal, making this a book that will make children laugh out loud. Ingman’s art is simple, yet funny and full of action and expression. The poems include such hilarious selections as “Dirty Bill” (“I’m Dirty Bill from Vinegar Hill, / Never had a bath and never will”). These short verses are full of old-fashioned fun and reflect the British heritage of their author, but children from around the world will enjoy poems like “Soccer Sonnet,” which includes the line “Little Jack Horner / Scored straight from a corner.”
The fun continues in Name That Dog! Puppy Poems from A to Z. Peggy Archer has named each poem after a dog, such as a long-haired cocker spaniel named “Elvis,” who “wiggles and jiggles and dances around. He swings to the music with a rock ’n’ roll sound.” You’ll also meet “Houdini,” a mini-pinscher who escapes from his collars; “Melody,” a basset hound who sings; and a giant Saint Bernard named “Rex” (first initial: T). Stephanie Buscema’s artwork aptly defines the shining personality of each puppy. Buscema has worked for Marvel Comics, DC Comics and Disney, and her background is reflected in her lively, colorful illustrations, which are vibrant and sure to draw children in. Name That Dog! is a crowd-pleasing canine chorus.
Don’t be fooled by the cover of Can You Dig It?. With its big purple dinosaur, this volume looks like it might be yet another dinosaur book. Rest assured that it is not. Robert Weinstock has done a brilliant job of both writing and illustrating this clever book of verse. His wordsmithing is extraordinarily fun, with lines like these:
My great aunt was LuAnn Abrue,
The pal-e-on-tol-o-gist who,
Was famed for finding fossil poo,
Like giant T.rex number two.
With these poems about dinosaurs, archaeologists, Neanderthals and more, kids will be smiling, but adults may chuckle even more. Weinstock’s cartoon-style illustrations are eye-catchingly fun.
Over the years I’ve seen many poetry books by Douglas Florian, and I always find his gift of language and sense of nature to be particularly sensitive. That’s certainly the case with Poetrees, which is filled with odes to trees. Students will enjoy and learn from Florian’s short poems about trees like banyans, sequoias, Japanese cedars and dragon trees. There’s a glossary in the back, explaining, for instance, that monkey trees are originally from South America, and how they got their name. Florian’s evocative illustrations are made with gouache, colored pencils, watercolors, rubber stamps, oil pastels and collage on primed paper bags. This paper bag background gives the illustrations a unique textured look and added depth.
Lee Bennett Hopkins has been creating anthologies of poetry for years, and I particularly like his latest collaboration with Caldecott Award-winning illustrator David Diaz, Sharing the Seasons: A Book of Poems. Diaz’s bold, bright colors and stylized, luminescent mixed media illustrations give this anthology a contemporary, edgy feel.
The poems are arranged by season, with an opening quote introducing each section, such as Longfellow’s “Spring in all the world! /And all things are made new!” Poets include Carl Sandburg, Marilyn Singer, Rebecca Kai Dotlich and more. The poetry is easily accessible, but not always predictable, such as Beverly McLoughland’s fun “Don’t You Dare,” which begins:
Stop! cried Robin,
Don’t you dare begin it!
Another tweety rhyme
With a redbreast in it!
One of my very favorites of this season’s poetry books is the beautifully illustrated and organized Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature’s Survivors. It’s a unique book that includes poetry, biology and ecology lessons, along with spectacular artwork. Author Joyce Sidman notes that 99 percent of all species that have ever existed are now extinct, and in this book she pays tribute to a variety of species that continue to thrive, such as bacteria, mollusks, lichen, sharks, beetles, ants, diatoms and humans. Each spread contains a short but comprehensive biological discussion of the species, a gorgeous illustration and a poetic tribute.
Sidman’s poems are fun and innovative. For instance, the text of the shark poem is laid out in the shape of a shark. Some are traditional, while “Tail Tale” is a free verse monologue humorously told by a squirrel. Becky Prange’s illustrations are arresting, informative and gorgeously filled with color. The book’s endpapers are a timeline showing when various forms of life appeared on Earth. Ubiquitous is a brilliant book that mixes art, poetry and science in imaginative ways, and is an excellent choice for home, schools and libraries.
A colossal poem
Emma’s Poem: The Voice of the Statue of Liberty is not a book of poetry; instead, it’s a picture book about one of the most famous poems in America. Writer Linda Glaser has created a lovely biography of Emma Lazarus, who in 1883 wrote a poem called “The New Colossus” that is engraved on a plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty. Her poem has become immortal, as though the Statue of Liberty itself were speaking, saying: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
Glaser’s text is interesting and informative, making history come alive in storybook fashion. Claire A. Nivola’s watercolor and gouache illustrations are rich in color and historical detail, propelling the story forward while showing the lifestyles of the day.
Lazarus was born in 1849 to a wealthy Jewish family in New York City. This book explains how she began helping immigrants at Ward’s Island in New York Harbor, and how she began writing about immigrants for newspapers and in poems. Lazarus wrote “The New Colossus” when she was 34 years old. She died four years later of Hodgkin’s Disease, before the Statue of Liberty was erected—although she wrote her poem to help raise money for its pedestal. Emma’s Poem is a superb book for elementary-age children interested in our nation’s history and values.
Alice Cary writes from her home in Groton, Massachusetts.