New readers and listeners love the cadence and predictability of rhymed poems and J. Patrick Lewis is a master of the form. In the hyperbolically titled The World's Greatest Poems, illustrated by Keith Graves he offers an amusing and inventive ride into the world of superlatives. From the kookiest hat to the tallest roller coaster to the highest air on a skateboard and every other nutty record in between, Lewis delights readers with his verbal acrobatics and clever poetic forms. The bouncy rhymes are illustrated with droll acrylic-and-pencil drawings that poke fun at the records that people keep. Here is Lewis' limerick to the world's largest potato: "There once was a tater named spud / Who said to his tater tot, 'Bud, / Remember the size is / What takes Tater Prizes, / So don't be a stick-in-the-mud!' " I can imagine young readers dragging out almanacs and record books to write other record-breaking poetry.
Just for laughs
Oops! by Alan Katz, illustrated by New Yorker cartoonist Edward Koren, indulges in silly rhymes. Katz recently scored a hit with Take Me Out of the Bathtub and this collection promises to appeal to the same audience. Sometimes treading on the edge of what adults would call good taste, Katz proves once again that poetry can be very funny indeed. "Hair? Where?" is told from a mischievous boy's point of view: "Dad says, 'You're giving me gray hair!' / At my behavior / he's often appalled. / But I don't see much / gray hair was up there . . . / looks more like I'm making him / bald!" Katz is all about groan-producing puns and plays on words that will have kids rolling their eyes. When he makes sly references to bodily functions, the surprised reader will laugh out loud. Perfect for sharing with boys.
Lee Bennett Hopkins, one of the most prolific poets and anthologists in the world, compiles powerful poems about centuries of conflict in America at War, illustrated by Stephen Alcorn. Tracing American history from the Revolutionary War to the current war in Iraq, Hopkins chooses poems from familiar voices like Sandburg and Whitman, Levertov and cummings, but also introduces the gut-wrenching poignancy of poems by Iraqi veterans. Part history book, part art book and all poetry, this volume will be as comfortable in a classroom as on a coffee table. These poems get at the heart of what it means to fight in a war, serve in the military and be affected by war.
Abuzz about bees
Naomi Shihab Nye's new collection, Honeybee is a response, in poems and essays, to the recent news of the honeybee's decline. It seems Nye has always been interested in the language of bees and the news that the bees were ailing inspired this volume. Nye's unique voice for peace and justice, coupled with her unwavering wonder, make her one of my favorite poets. Whether she is writing about the variety of humans at an airport or the return of the frogs' song, Nye seems alive in a way that ordinary people can only imagine. Nye's perspective is the prism of hope and the trust that people can live together in peace. I keep coming back to this phrase from "Missing Thomas Jefferson," "I am looking for the human who admits his flaws / Who shocks the adversary / By being kinder and not stronger / What would that be like? / We don't even know." If you are a newcomer to Nye, start here; then, like a honeybee, dip into the nectar of her many other collections.