ONCE AROUND THE SUN by Bobbi Katz, illustrated by LeUyen Pham (Harcourt)
I recently had a group of university students come to the Bookroom, they were using the space to do readings of poetry for young people. I was taken aback by how many read from Shel Silverstein's WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS , a book that certainly represents an earth-shaking shift in children's poetry and is always good for a bellylaugh, but I couldn't help but think that somehow these students had missed the point, had taken the easy route. Perfunctory poetry is not a pretty thing. Going to the poetry shelves should be like entering a roomful of the most romantic, articulate, enigmatic people possible. You don't just go home with the first person you meet. You go to those shelves to fall in love! And when you read a poem, people should see how in love you really are. Have you really fallen in love lately? Have you been so in love you have to share it with the whole wide eye-rolling world? Though the genre of poetry is often relegated to April, its month, I wanted to remind everyone that you can always meet someone new.
In the interest of year-round poetry, we start with ONCE AROUND THE SUN. It makes sense that a poet as seasoned as Bobbi Katz could so masterfully carry her readers through the calendar. Free verse perfectly captures the secret ingredient of every month (June: “When your math book/is completely lopsided:/the pile of unfinished pages on the right/is/skinny/but you need to use your left hand to hold down/all the stuff you’ve already learned…” August: “…the praying mantis/shuttles its rakes/along the whiskerrough stem/of a sunflower,” or “September is/when a piece of chalk/skates across the board/swirling and looping/until it spells your new teacher’s name.”) As for the artwork, I did an actual doubletake: Pham's compositions featuring an African-American boy and girl seem like an homage to Ezra Jack Keats, but glow and sparkle with their own contemporary light. This book features some of the most amazing and beautiful work from both author and illustrator, and given their past offerings, that’s saying a lot.
Also of interest:
Check out my favorite poetry website by author Kristine O'Connell George. Pictured here is one of her hits: FOLD ME A POEM (Harcourt).
If you do not yet own A KICK IN THE HEAD: AN EVERYDAY GUIDE TO POETIC FORMS by Paul Janeczko, ilustrated by Chris Raschka (Candlewick), you need to get a copy! Using straightforward explanations of twenty-nine poetic forms and succulent examples of each, readers are introduced to the variety and diversity of the genre. Yes, forms like sonnets and haikus, but have you ever heard of a senryu? An aubade? This is an eye-opening, mind-altering guide that belongs on the bookshelf of absolutely every educator and every lover of words.
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