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February 15, 2018 BOOKLIST
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I love anticipating all the new books that will be published in the coming year. In fact, I post a “sneak peek” list of poetry for young people on my blog (PoetryForChildren.Blogspot.com) every January and then update it all year long. What can we look forward to in 2017? So much wonderfulness! Here we highlight 10 titles that show the amazing variety that poets create for us, a diverse rainbow of writers and forms, from picture-book biographies to edgy anthologies to fact-based verse novels to historical homages to celebrations of culture—all poetry!
To whet your appetite, I asked 11 poets to give us a behind-the-scenes glimpse into their new books, sharing the biggest surprise or challenge they encountered while creating these wonderful works.
Talking with Poets
Picture-book author and poet Carrie Clickard is the creator of Dumpling Dreams: Joyce Chen and Her Peking Ravioli, illustrated by Katy Wu, a picture-book biography in verse about the Chinese American chef, restaurateur, personality, and author who is credited with popularizing Chinese cuisine across the U.S.Carrie says: “Writing any biography in verse is a unique challenge. Dumpling Dreams is also the cross-cultural story of Joyce Chen’s amazing journey from a childhood in China, through the Chinese Civil War, to her success as chef in the U.S. While I love China and have traveled there, I am not fluent in Mandarin or Cantonese, so researching Joyce’s life in Shanghai and Beijing had some daunting moments. Thankfully, I have friends who grew up in China, who helped me with language barriers and in assuring my work stayed respectful of cultural and political viewpoints.”
Pat Mora, founder of El día de los niños/El día de los libros (Children’s Day/Book Day), writes picture books, poetry, and nonfiction reflecting her Mexican American heritage and advocacy for bilingual literacy. Her latest creation is titled with the watchword she coined: Bookjoy, Wordjoy is illustrated by Raúl Colón and features new poems that celebrate her love of words and the many ways we use them to read, write, sing, talk, and tell stories in many languages.Pat says: “Poems: how I love them—reading them and writing them. Bookjoy, Wordjoy is my fourth collection for young readers (and listeners). Personally, I consider all my children’s books for all ages. This collection involved both returning to poems previously published yet not collected, and exploring new topics, all connected by the pleasure of savoring language(s). I discovered the aptness of the term wordjoy on this writing journey. In fact, one poem is titled “Collecting Words.” I wait with great anticipation to see how the talented Raúl Colón will convey the delight of creation, whether with words, paint, music, or dance.”
Poets Irene Latham and Charles Waters are new collaborators in creating the picture-book collection of poems Can I Touch Your Hair? Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship, with illustrations by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko. Two characters, a white woman and a black man—much like the authors—have an extended conversation through poetry about everyday things from their childhoods.Irene and Charles say: “One thing that surprised us both is how we landed at using our own names in the book. First our characters were nameless, and there wasn’t a story at all. We were writing about timeless topics, digging deep about our own childhood experiences, some realer than real, some invented with sprinklings of childhood memories. Then we put in the placeholder names Charles and Irene. As the manuscript developed, it was so intensely personal, we couldn’t bring ourselves to rename the characters. With the guidance of our editor, Carol Hinz, we found the engine that made the story drive its way into existence. In so many ways, they were us—Charles the outgoing, vegan, reading boy; Irene the shy, horse-loving girl.”
Jeannine Atkins writes picture books and novels in verse that feature strong girls and women who have made their marks on science, history, and the arts. Her new historical novel in verse, Stone Mirrors, tells the tale of Edmonia Lewis, a girl with an Ojibwe mother and a father from Haiti, who overcomes abuse and prejudice to become a world-class sculptor in the years following the Civil War.Jeannine says: “While writing about the dramatic events of Edmonia Lewis’ life as a teen, I struggled with how to hold readers’ attention as she gained skills as a sculptor. I thought about how survivors of violence, as she was, are often pulled toward the past with the force of another attacker. The idea to use personification came to me like a gift. Memory became a sometimes treacherous character who also showed Edmonia a winding way into her magnificent work.”
Author of the acclaimed picture-book biography Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker (2014), Patricia Hruby Powell turns her attention to the true story of Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter with her nonfiction novel in verse Loving vs. Virginia, about a white man and a black woman who fell in love and married in a time when this was an illegal act.Patricia says: “Of the hundreds of hours of research I did for Loving, the most interesting were my interviews with the Loving/Jeter family and friends. Mildred’s father and half brothers had a string band. Ray Greene, the Lovings’ friend, told me this story: The Jeter family band was hired to play for a square dance at the white elementary school. When Richard and Mildred tried to attend, Mildred was refused entry because it was a white event and she was colored—as was her family’s band. That injustice really drives home the injustice of segregation.”
Margarita Engle is probably best known for her many award-winning novels in verse set in Cuba, such as The Poet Slave of Cuba (2006), The Surrender Tree (2008), and many more. With her new book, Bravo! Poems about Amazing Hispanics, illustrated by Rafael López, she has created a groundbreaking collection of poems that celebrate the contributions of Latino individuals from around the world (and is published in a simultaneous Spanish edition).Margarita says: “I wrote Bravo! because I wanted to honor many great Latinos, including some who are not as famous as they should be. I hope young readers of all backgrounds will feel inspired to learn more about these amazing scientists, musicians, artists, athletes, writers, activists, and other people of courage. The one characteristic shared by all the widely diverse individuals featured in these poems is independent thinking. They tried things that had never been accomplished before and didn’t let fear of failure discourage them.”
Lee Bennett Hopkins has created so many poetry collections that he has been awarded a Guinness World Record, among his many other awards and distinctions. Now he adds to his impressive body of work with this young-adult anthology of poems by Naomi Shihab Nye, Janet Wong, Douglas Florian, and several others, titled I Remember: Poems and Pictures of Heritage, with illustrations by multiple artists.Lee says: “I Remember: Poems and Pictures of Heritage ranks high as one of the most important collections I have done. With works by 14 distinguished poets and 16 artists, the biggest challenge was how to blend finished poems and artwork together to create a continuous flow. The biggest surprise was how poets opened their souls and hearts to express growing-up years. Some are funny, some heartbreaking, all heartfelt. Many readers will see themselves via I Remember, others will learn empathy, feel compassion, come to recognize we are what we are—whoever we are—through memory.”
Newbery Medal winner Kwame Alexander is adding a new book of poetry alongside his award-winning novels in verse. His forthcoming Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets is a collaboration with teacher-poet Chris Colderley and the Poet Laureate of South Carolina, Marjory Wentworth, with illustrations by Ekua Holmes. Together, their poems offer odes to 20 celebrated poets from around the world.Kwame says: “One of the biggest challenges was selecting the poets and poems to include in the book. We had so many poets that we wanted to include but couldn’t because of space and time constraints. Another challenge was deciding how we would craft our poems to capture our feelings about the different poets. As the book shows, sometimes we wanted to imitate the poet, sometimes we wanted to celebrate the poet, and sometimes we wanted to talk back to the poet. Bringing all these different perspectives together was a difficult, but very rewarding, experience.”
Winner of the National Council of Teachers of English Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children, Nikki Grimes creates poetry full of memorable characters and lyrical language. Her new collection, One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance, with artwork by several notable African American artists, uses the golden-shovel poetic technique, borrowing words from classic poems to use in new poems, linking old and new with themes of power, beauty, bias, and pride.Nikki says: “A few years ago, I was asked to contribute to a special poetry anthology honoring the work of Gwendolyn Brooks. This was a wonderful full-circle moment for me, as Ms. Brooks was kind enough to write a blurb for my very first children’s book, the novel Growin’ (1977). This special anthology (currently in production) compiled poems written in a form new to me, namely, the golden shovel. Each poet’s task was to take a line from an existing poem by Ms. Brooks and create a new poem, in which each line would end with one of the words from the original line. I found this an enormous challenge, and I loved every minute of it.
“As soon as I was done, I knew I wanted to find other projects in which I could apply this new form. That first project became One Last Word. Why poems from the Harlem Renaissance? Because I wanted an opportunity to introduce this generation to these poets, and especially to some of the women poets from that period, of whom so little is popularly known. One Last Word gave me that opportunity. Once I dove into that first poem, I never looked back!”
Marilyn Singer’s poetry may best be characterized by its variety, from the distinctive poetic formats found in the poems for each month in her first poetry book, Turtle in July (1989), to her creation of the reverso poem showcased in Mirror Mirror (2010), Follow Follow (2013), and Echo Echo (2016). Her newest book, Every Month’s a New Year, illustrated by Susan L. Roth, is a nod to new year celebrations around the world.Marilyn says: “I’m a curious person. One day, I wondered not only how the new year is observed among different cultures but when. To my surprise and delight, I discovered that, depending on the lunar calendar, there can be festivities every month of the year. That’s how my collection of poems titled Every Month’s a New Year was born.
“To write the book, I corresponded with people all around the world about their traditions, from Rosh Hashanah and the Chinese New Year, with which I was familiar, to We Tripantu and Matariki, respectively the Mapuche and Maori celebrations, about which I knew little. These folks reminded me constantly that it is an honor to live and work in such a wonderfully diverse world.”
As you choose new books to read, share, and add to the library, be sure you include new poetry in the mix, especially poetry that reflects the diverse experiences that make our lives and communities so interesting.
Bookjoy, Wordjoy. By Pat Mora. Illus. by Raúl Colón. 2017. Lee & Low.
Bravo! Poems about Amazing Hispanics. By Margarita Engle. Illus. by Rafael López. Mar. 2017. Holt.
Can I Touch Your Hair? Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship. By Irene Latham and Charles Waters. Illus. by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko. 2017. Lerner/Millbrook.
Dumpling Dreams: Joyce Chen and Her Peking Ravioli. By Carrie Clickard. Illus. by Katy Wu. 2017. Simon & Schuster.
Every Month’s a New Year. By Marilyn Singer. Illus. by Susan L. Roth. 2017. Lee & Low.
I Remember: Poems and Pictures of Heritage. Ed. by Lee Bennett Hopkins. 2017. Lee & Low.
Loving vs. Virginia: A Documentary Novel of the Landmark Civil Rights Case. By Patricia Hruby Powell. Illus. by Shadra Strickland. Feb. 2017. Chronicle.
One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance. By Nikki Grimes. Illus. by Cozbi Cabrera and others. Jan. 2017. Bloomsbury.
Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets. By Kwame Alexander. Illus. by Ekua Holmes. Mar. 2017. Candlewick.
Stone Mirrors: The Sculpture and Silence of Edmonia Lewis. By Jeannine Atkins. Jan. 2017. Atheneum.
Make crossover connections to social studies or history and invite students to choose people from the past who have made a difference in the world and who represent diverse cultures and experiences. Students can gather facts and details about these individuals, but instead of writing a report, encourage them to try shaping those facts and details into a free verse poem describing their subjects.
Invite students to try the golden shovel poetic form that Nikki Grimes employs in One Last Word. They begin by selecting a favorite, familiar poem and choosing one line from that poem to incorporate into a new original poem they create. Each line of their new poem must end with one of the words from that line of the original, “borrowed” poem.
Students can work with a partner to collaborate on back-and-forth poetry like Irene Latham and Charles Waters do in Can I Touch Your Hair? Start by allowing them to write notes back and forth and then challenge them to turn those notes into poems that are linked to one another.
Sylvia M. Vardell, a professor of children’s and young adult literature at Texas Woman’s University, is the author of the Poetry for Children blog and coeditor (with Janet Wong) of The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations: Holiday Poems for the Whole Year in English and Spanish (2015).
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