Sunday, April 26, 2009


A WHIFF OF PINE, A HINT OF SKUNK, A FOREST OF POEMS by Deborah Ruddell, illustrated by Joan Rankin (McElderberry)

She snoozed away the winter
in the darkness, all alone.
There's grumbling in her stomach
and she's chilly to the bone.

Her fur is flat and crusty.
Her swollen eyelids sting.
She's starving for a salad
and a heaping plate of spring.

Perhaps you are like the waking woodchuck described above, ready for your heaping plate of spring, and this book delivers it via a walk in the woods just in time for National Poetry Month. Charming line drawings (look at that fretful froggie, the proud beaver gloating atop a finished dam, the robin so rounded with the joy of singing, you can nearly hear it on the page!) and fantastic poems give voice to a toad, tiger beetle, raccoon, chipmunks, a night owl, and even a wild turkey:

I find it most insulting/ that you traced around your hand
And colored all my feathers/ either plain old brown or tan...
Finally, I’m baffled/ that you’ve made me look so dumb.
My head is quite distinguished/ and it’s nothing like you’re thumb.

What sets this book apart is that it is natural, not only in terms of its content but also in its style. Each page emanates a kind of understated but undeniable talent; never precocious or cloying, there is something so genuinely fun here, it verges on the rare and is sure to be a revisited favorite in any poetry collection. Charming line drawings and poems play on all the senses, including the sense of humor. (6 and up)

Also of interest:
A FOOT IN THE MOUTH: POEMS TO SPEAK, SING AND SHOUT by Paul Janesczko, illustrated by Chris Raschka (Candlewick) All right. Admittedly, I have said that this author/illustrator team's invaluable guide to poetic forms, A KICK IN THE HEAD, belongs on every teacher's bookshelf. And yes, yes, I remember, I loved A POKE IN THE EYE: A COLLECTION OF CONCRETE POEMS in which readers can literally see poems take shape. But when this third volume landed on my desk, I thought these guys were pushing it. Another poetry anthology, great, we need that like, well, a poke in the eye or a kick in the head or a foot in the mouth! But no! This is different! These selections are really, really fresh, right out of the gate starting with contemporary author Tracie Vaughn Zimmer’s “The Poems I Like Best”:

The poems I like best/ wear classic black with vintage accessories/
And smell like a new book,/the spine just cracked.
The chitchat overheard on a city bus/or nonsense
volleyed between toddlers/on swings at the park.
My favorite poems/squeeze your hand/on a crowded street and say:

Other goodies like Edwin Morgan’s “The Loch Ness Monster’s Song” told entirely in onomatopoetic language gives Jabberwocky a run for its money, Bobbi Katz's "Pasta Parade" celebrates the language in the macaroni aisle of the grocery store, and Janet Wong offers a poem for two voices, one being Korean. There’s a ping-pong poem by Douglas Florian, a poem called “Good Hot dogs in both Spanish and English" by Sandra Cisneros, a haunted poem called “Where Lizzie Lived,” and it all ends on the high note of Walt Whitman’s “I Hear America Singing.” If poems are a kind of song for the spirit, this contemporary collection will definitely help you and the children hit the high note. I put my foot in my mouth; when it comes to poetry anthologies, this team is three for three. (8 and up)

MY UNCLE EMILY by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter (Philomel) In the interest of reminding children that there are real people behind the books they read, we have a very personal portrait of poet Emily Dickinson, affectionately referred to as "uncle" by her nephew, with whom she has a special bond through nature and lots of inside jokes. When Emily sends him to school with a poem and a bumblebee for his teacher, the poet's idiosyncrasies lead to teasing and trouble, but if one of Uncle's poems got him into it, another can lead him out. This period piece from the nephew's point of view really puts Emily first as a member of the family, and is decorated with Carpenter's inimitably graceful and sensitive artwork with a touch of etching style as befitting of the era. A very lovely companion read to the great introductory collection POETRY FOR YOUNG PEOPLE: EMILY DICKINSON and a classroom exploration. "Uncle" Emily is a great poet for children to know, and one to which they viscerally respond; after all, what preteen hasn't at some time felt, "I'm nobody, who are you?" (8 and up)

More resources! Don't forget to celebrate Poem in Your Pocket Day on April 30th, perfect to pair with Bobbi Katz's POCKET POEMS and the conveniently just released and equally cheerful companion collection, MORE POCKET POEMS. The Kidlitosphere keeps verse a special on the reading menu all year long thanks to Poetry Fridays. Sadly, genius librarian Caroline Feller Bauer's resource THE POETRY BREAK: AN ANNOTATED ANTHOLOGY WITH IDEAS FOR INTRODUCING CHILDREN TO POETRY seems to be out of print, but it's worth getting used or borrowing from the library. Also, be sure to check out PlanetEsme's Poetry Power page for hints on presenting poems (and a recipe for Haiku Fortune Cookies with matching bibliography)...mmmm, almost time for another open mike at the Bookroom, I suppose!

On a personal note
Kudos to Ms. Makagon's hipster first grade class, who on an impromptu visit was all decked out in black berets and reciting cooool poetry to finger-snapping applause! It reminded me of one of my favorite books in the world growing up, Suzuki Beane by Sandra Scoppetone, about the little beatnik girl who lived in Greenwich Village and dug poetry. You cats really know how to live!

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1 comment:

Deborah Ruddell said...

A grateful poet thanks you from the bottom of her heart for this lovely review of A Whiff of Pine, A Hint of Skunk! And now I'm headed straight to PlanetEsme's Poetry Power page for the haiku fortune cookie recipe.


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