Showing posts with label poetry. Show all posts
Showing posts with label poetry. Show all posts

Sunday, March 17, 2019

In the Middle of the Night: An interview with Laura Purdie Salas about her writing process (ages 3-8)

I'm delighted to celebrate a new poetry book In the Middle of the Night: Poems from a Wide-Awake House, by Laura Purdie Salas. This delightful collection of poems captured my imagination as they describe the adventures of everyday inanimate objects found at night.
In the Middle of the Night: Poems from a Wide-Awake House
by Laura Purdie Salas
Wordsong / Highlights, 2019
Amazon / your local library
ages 3-8
As part of the blog tour celebrating her new book, Laura was kind enough to share about her writing process with me.

Mary Ann: I'd love to share with readers a little bit about your writing process.

Laura: Thanks so much for being part of the blog tour! Unless I’m writing while traveling, I write on my laptop. I might write individual poems on napkins or my phone, but with a big project like a poetry collection, I do less of that. I write most freely when my fingers can move fast, and I can type much faster than I can write longhand. On July 24, 2012, I wrote in my journal:
I spent 30 minutes, finally, on Nobody's Looking (my original name for this idea) last night right before bed. I don't know why I keep procrastinating. Maybe because I don't have a super-clear image of the finished project in my head.
Mary Ann: I can relate to that so much! Procrastination is really difficult to deal with. What did you do when you felt stuck?

Laura: One thing that helped me was reading lots of poetry books I love, that were in a style I was trying to capture. That day, I wrote this blog post about using mentor texts: Finding My Writing GPS. Reading these books gave me a new sense of enthusiasm.
"Animals on the Go"
Mary Ann: I love your use of words. "Lion flips. / Monkey snips. Dolphin drums. / Dragon strums." Your poems are so much fun to read aloud as each word takes shape first on my tongue and then in our minds. How do you gather words for a poem?

Laura: I collect words on a project by project basis. For example, for a draft of a project I'm currently working on, I wrote in my journal:
Also want to brainstorm some words, synonyms and phrases for belonging, accepted, trust, valued...things like that. Not to mention, just...good. Enough.

belong, fit, like a puzzle piece, believed, traditional, standard, agreed, shouldered, believed, faith, belief, hope, rely, trust, expect, care, protect, guard, depend on, count on, be sure about, worth, price, cost, importance.
Those are all just synonyms, but I often make lists of specifically juicy words I come across in my research that I think, Oooh, I want to use that word somehow in my draft.

Mary Ann: Our students and teachers use a word wall. Do you have a word wall at home? What is your writing space like?

Laura: I love so many words. If I had a word wall, I think our townhome would sag under the weight of it! I love walking while I write, so this is my writing space:
Laura Purdie Salas walking and writing
Mary Ann: I love the way stuffed animals come to life in this! Do you have a story about a stuffie from her own childhood?

Laura: What a great question. I have hardly anything from my childhood. Six or seven books, about a dozen photos, and no toys. But I do have Tommy the Turtle. I may originally have “borrowed” him from my big sister, Patty (don’t tell). He has come with me everywhere I’ve ever lived, and I think Tommy would love to have Octopus teach him how to skate!
Laura Purdie Salas and Tommy the Turtle
Thank you so much, Laura! Many congratulations on a wonderful book. Here are all of the stops on the blog tour:
The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Highlights Press. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2019 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Shout, by Laurie Halse Anderson: true story of a survivor who refused to be silenced (ages 13 - 18)

As we celebrate Women's History Month, I want to make sure we pay attention to all women's stories. Listening to young women is essential; I especially find women's memoirs powerful when they share about their teenage years. In her powerful new memoir Shout, award-winning author Laurie Halse Anderson shares her experience as a survivor of rape and advocate for women's rights, but she goes far beyond this, plumbing the impact of her father's PTSD, her mother's silence, and the rape culture that surrounds us. I highly recommend this powerful, personal reflection.
by Laurie Halse Anderson
Viking / Penguin Random House, 2019
Amazon / your public library
ages 13 - 18
*best new book*
Twenty years ago, Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak helped give survivors of sexual violence a voice, showing how Melinda coped with the trauma of her rape the summer before her freshman year. Anderson begins Shout saying:
"Finding my courage to speak up twenty-five years after I was raped, writing Speak, and talking with countless survivors of sexual violence made me who I am today. This book shows how that happened." 
Writing in free verse, Anderson explores the impact of her father's PTSD from WWII and her mother's silence in a household filled with alcohol-fueled tension. She explains the rape she survived at age 13, and how that led to a downward spiral as high school began. And she shows her recovery as she discovered her voice and her love of language as an exchange student in Denmark.
"In Denmark, in Scandinavia, across Europe
memories of World War II ache like a scar
does when the weather changes or a storm draws near
old countries are riddled with battle wounds
that split open, bleed, and cause new pain if not cared for,
just like us

scars may look stronger than unwounded skin,
but they're not
once broken, we're easily hurt again, or worse
the temptation is to hide behind shields,
play defense, drown ourselves in sorrow
or drug our way to haunted oblivion
until death erases hope"
For me, much of the story's power comes in those ah-ha moments, recognizing hard truths I've learned, moments that speak to my core. This is a story that will mean something different to each reader. Above all else, it will create a conversation--perhaps just two sides of your brain talking to each other, or perhaps among friends.

I want to hold onto her advice for us, especially for young people. She does not sugar-coat her life, or her advice to young people. Take one step at a time.
"Trying to figure out what you want to do,
who you want to be, is messy as hell; the best
anyone can hope for is to figure out
the next step."
Anderson speaks raw truth about the impact of sexual violence and the importance of supporting survivors. Shout is also a powerful call to action, encouraging survivors to find their voice and reminding all of us that we have a responsibility to continue the conversation. Her poetry uses metaphors and similes with graceful, evocative power. The poem "shame turned inside out" is one of my favorites:
shame turned inside out
"Sisters of the torn shirts.

Sisters of the chase
around the desk,
casting couch, hotel
room, file cabinet....

Sisters fishing
one by one
in the lake of shame ...

Sisters, drop
everything. Walk
away from the lake, leaning
on each other's shoulders
when you need
the support. Feel the contractions
of another truth ready
to be born: shame
inside out
is rage."
Laurie Halse Anderson is in the middle of her tour for Shout. See if she's coming to a town near you. She is a powerful speaker.
The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Viking Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2019 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, February 25, 2019

Biddy Mason Speaks Up, by Arisa White and Laura Atkins: a powerful biography of an early California woman fighting for justice (ages 10-14)

As we celebrate Black History, it is crucial we include many people's stories, not just the ones we know well. When our students study California history, we must bring to light the stories of African Americans who helped shape our state. Biddy Mason Speaks Up is a terrific addition to help children learn about an influential African American woman in Los Angeles's early history.
Biddy Mason Speaks Up
by Arisa White and Laura Atkins
illustrated by Laura Freeman
Fighting for Justice series
Heyday, 2019
Amazon / Your local library
ages 10-14
*best new book
Biddy Mason was an African-American healer, midwife, real estate entrepreneur and philanthropist who lived in Los Angeles from 1851 until 1891. Born enslaved in 1818, Biddy was brought to California by the Smith family as one of their slaves, when they moved west as part of the Mormon settlement.
"Even though Granny
isn't allowed to read
or write, she knows
how to read plants."
Arisa White and Laura Atkins weave together Biddy's story with well-researched historical information, giving young readers the historical context for her life. Free verse poems, which enable  readers to feel that they are getting to know Biddy in a personal way, are interspersed with historical information on slavery and midwifery, plantation life and economy, migration, the struggle for freedom, and life as a free black person.
"Biddy probably grew up on a cotton plantation. Cotton, a major cash crop, was grown throughout the Cotton Belt states."
"The record we call 'history' does not tell everyone's story." The voices of ordinary people, especially those who were enslaved or subjugated, were rarely recorded or preserved. When the authors Arisa White and Laura Atkins started writing the biography of Biddy Mason, they faced a challenge: how to accurately portray her story when historical records were scant. They write in the introduction:
"Writing this book was a creative act of repairing the historical record, of imagining Biddy Mason's life based on all the information and stories we could gather. We believe that we are all better when we hear everyone's stories, especially those that have been silenced."
Very little is recorded about Biddy's early years, and so the authors "had to imagine this time in Biddy's life using historical research, 'slave narratives' (written accounts by enslaved people after escaping slavery), and audio interviews with people who lived during the same period and in similar regions." I appreciate how they explain their process and how they used this information to paint a fuller picture.

After 4 years in California, Biddy's owner Robert Smith, planned to move to Texas in 1855. While California was a free state, slavery was legal in Texas. Local sheriffs intervened and took Biddy and her family away from Smith. I appreciate how clearly the text breaks this confusing situation down:
"Even though Biddy was legally free, she had to rely on her community to support her in resisting Robert Smith and the institution of slavery..."
The free verse poems remind me of Ashley Bryan's masterful Freedom Over Me. As Bryan did, White and Atkins used historical records to paint a full picture of ordinary people. This brings to life the stories of Black Americans who helped shape our country.

I wonder if young students will realize that the scenes in the free verse poems did not necessarily occur, or that the authors created the character of Granny Ellen. While the authors are transparent about their process, I wonder if it will be clear to young readers. I see this book as a blend of historical fiction and historical reporting. Detailed source notes show the extensive investigations that went into writing this book.

Illustrations copyright ©2019 Laura Freeman, shared by permission of the publishers. The review copy was purchased for our school library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2019 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, September 9, 2018

We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices, edited by Wade Hudson & Cheryl Willis Hudson -- inspiring, beautiful & uplifting (ages 8-13)

As the news inundates us with the harm caused by divisive politics, institutional racism and prejudice, and angry civic discourse, what do we tell our children? How do we help give them hope, help empower them during these difficult times? We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices is an inspiring new anthology that asks 50 of the foremost children's authors and illustrators to share their love, concern and experience with the next generation.
We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices
edited by Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson
Crown Books, 2018
Amazon / Local library / Google Books preview
ages 8-13
*best new book*
Dedicated to "those who advocate for and pursue a just society and basic human rights for all people," this anthology presents an inspiring collection of poetry, essays, short stories and art designed to give children hope during difficult times, especially children from traditionally marginalized communities. As Ashley Bryan writes in the forward:
"Having a safe space to imagine and dream and (re)invent yourself is the first step to being happy and successful, whatever road you choose to pursue."
This beautiful collection provides children (and the adults in their lives) this safe space. Authors ask questions, share wisdom and provide support. By doing so, they open the window to talking about these difficult times. In the opening poem, Wade Hudson asks:
"What shall we tell you when our world sometimes seems dark and uninviting?
What shall we tell you when hateful words that wound and bully are thrown like bricks against a wall, shattering into debris?"
Other authors share their fears, their worries. Kwame Alexander, in his poem "A Thousand Winters," writes about when his daughter worried that the police would take him away if he was driving too fast. Our youngest children hear the news, see the reaction of adults around them, and they have questions. We must be honest with them, and yet we must also find ways to protect our children and give them hope -- for, as Kwame writes, "if we can't survive this storm, how will our children?"
"A Thousand Winters," by Kwame Alexander, illustration by Eukua Holmes
I especially appreciate the variety in this collection. These are heavy topics, and yet readers turn the pages and find so many different approaches. Jacqueline Woodson writes a letter to her children, reminding them to be safe and be kind as they walk in the world. Joseph Bruchac gives advice about choosing a friend who "sees how beautiful you are, even on days when you're sad." Zetta Elliott reminds children that "You Too Can Fly." The illustrations move from painting with deep hues, to drawings with soft warm touch, to photographs showing children of different races and ethnicities.

Above all, this collection leave me with the feeling that there are caring adults who truly see children, who know how difficult these times can be, and who admire all the ways that our children walk in this world. I'd like to leave you with a bit of Sharon Flake's letter:
"How are you, my love? Well, I hope. I've been thinking about you lately. So, I wanted to check in, to make sure you're okay. I see you...draped in confidence, walking like you own the world, looking fine, skateboarding, protesting injustice, helping out friends. My heart sings at the thought of what is possible for us here on earth because you exist."
I definitely recommend this collection for every elementary and middle school library. I'll be bringing it to my new high school library to see what our students think of it. I purchased the review copy from my local independent bookstore, Mrs. Dalloway's. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, April 8, 2018

I'm Just No Good at Rhyming, by Chris Harris & Lane Smith (ages 7-12)

April showers and spring flowers always remind me that I love celebrating National Poetry Month. My students' favorite new collection of poems is definitely I'm Just No Good At Rhyming, by Chris Harris and Lane Smith. Full of short, funny wordplay in the tradition of Shel Silverstein and Dr. Seuss, this collection has kids laughing out loud and passing it from friend to friend.
I'm Just No Good At Rhyming
And Other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-ups
by Chris Harris, illustrated by Lane Smith
Little, Brown, 2017
Amazon / local library / Google Books preview
ages 7-12
Right from the get-go, Harris hooks his readers and lets them know that they're in for unexpected twists and turns. Just look at the opening poem:
I'm just no good at rhyming.
It makes me feel so bad.
I'm just no good at rhyming,
And that's why I am blue ...

My teacher asked if I could find a word that rhymes with "hat."
"It's something that a dog might chase."
                                              "Aha!" I said. "A car!"
In the space of one line, Harris sets up what you'd expect and then flips it on its head. He gets kids eager to participate and shout out the rhyme, then slaps them with something totally different. Best of all, he never condescends to kids. This is smart, funny writing.
"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I..."
Some poems are short and punchy, while others give you even more to chew on. Harris uses layout and design to get kids thinking about double messages, like in his poem “How the Fourth Grader Communicates.” And there's great back-and-forth between author and illustrator. At one point Harris writes a poem, “I Don’t Like My Illustrator,” and Lane Smith delights in his revenge portrait.
"I Don't Like My Illustrator"
I especially appreciate the irreverent tone and entertaining wordplay. I find myself relating to many different poems, both serious and absurd. And I discover more hidden nonsensical gems on each reading.

I purchased a review copy for my school library, and it's been constantly checked out ever since! Illustrations copyright ©2017 Lane Smith. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Rebound, by Kwame Alexander--the power of story, the power of poetry, the power of the rebound (ages 9-14)

Kwame Alexander knows how to harness the power of story, the power of poetry to touch readers' hearts, to make us laugh and sigh, to make us feel. If your kids like realistic stories that are funny, fast and heartfelt, get your hands on his newest book, Rebound, which hit shelves this week.
Rebound, by Kwame Alexander
HMH, 2018
Amazon / local library / Google Books preview
ages 9-14
*best new book*
Like many twelve year olds, Charlie Bell just wants to hang with his friends and read comics. He's angry at his mom, yet we realize that his bitterness runs far deeper than your typical preteen moods. Charlie's dad died suddenly and he's left alone, angry and alienated---struggling to survive in a black hole, after his "star exploded / and everything / froze."

By using metaphors, Kwame helps readers connect with Charlie's intense grief while giving space for Charlie to sidestep around soft feelings. Kids might not want to talk about their feelings, but they certainly know what it means to wrestle with them. He also paces this story so well, weaving together humor and action with heavier moments.

Charlie begins the summer under the weight of his emotions. Having hit an impasse with his mother, she sends him to live with his grandparents for the summer. Grandfather calls him Chuck, brings him to the Boys and Girls Club with him, and is full of corny refrains ("Champions train, chumps complain, Chuck. Love. Work. Eat. In that order. Time to get in the game, Chuck!").

This is by no means a sports story, but basketball is key. Even better, Kwame has created a new genre-bending blend: slam poetry comics! Just love the illustrations by artist Dawud Anyabwile.
"They had the ball, talking trash.
Zipper said my game was broke
and his was all cash."
Kwame creates a great cast of supporting characters in Rebound, with Charlie's family and close friends. I especially love that two of his close friends are girls. CJ is brainy, sassy and sweet. Roxie can play ball better than most of the boys. She has a "crown of braids" and is "tall as a sequoia, and she walks like there's music in her roots." Oh my, isn't that how you want your daughters to think of themselves?!

Readers will discover many layers within Rebound. They'll go back and realize the connections between Chuck Bell, the dad in The Crossover, and why he never wanted to go to the hospital for checkups. They might see Grandpa's sayings in the rules for life in The Playbook. Or they might think about how they face hard times themselves.

Kwame himself knows how to push through difficulties. He discovered after Rebound went to press that there are some problems with the timeline. Rebound is set in the summer of 1988, but he originally wrote it set in the mid-90s. A few of the cultural references (songs, basketball players) didn't shift when he revised it to the late-80s. These details might be important to us old folks who remember back-in-the-day, but I truly don't think they'll matter to the core audience. The power of the rebound shows how you can overcome setbacks.

Rebound is way more than a prequel to The Crossover. It's a powerful story in its own right, one that will resonate with many young readers. I look forward to sharing it with as many kids, families and teachers as I can.

Illustrations copyright ©2017 Dawud Anyabwile. I purchased the review copy, the first of many copies I hope to read and give to students. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Black Girl Magic, by Mahogany Browne -- power in poetry (ages 12-16)

Poetry can cut to the core message, conveying truth in a sparse, direct way. When I shared Mahogany Browne's illustrated poem Black Girl Magic with two students at Berkeley High, they simply said, "Well, it's the truth. That's how it is for black girls." 
"You ain't 'posed to wear red lipstick.
You ain't 'posed to wear high heels."
Browne directly fights back against racism and misogyny, naming the stereotypes and injustices black girls face, and she ends with a resounding celebration of black girlhood and a rejection of society's limitations. 
Black Girl Magic: A Poem
by Mahogany L. Browne
illustrated by Jess X. Snow
Roaring Brook Press / Macmillan, 2018
Amazon / local library / Google Books preview
ages 12 and up
Much of modern society sends negative messages to black girls: Don't wear this; don't smile at that. Don't have an opinion; don't dream big. And most of all, don't love yourself. Poet Mahogany Browne challenges these stereotypes by naming them and crafting a message of strength.
"You black girl magic!
You black girl flyy..."
Mahogany Browne first shared this as a spoken word poem for all beautiful black girls. She created this picture book with artist Jess X. Snow, crafting a powerful visual form for her message. For maximum power, encourage students to listen and see both versions:

Share this powerful poem with all students in middle and high school. Encourage them to explore the messages that society sends and how naming these helps create change. There's power in being seen, in being heard, in claiming space.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher Macmillan. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Friday, May 12, 2017

Congratulations! Margarita Engle named Young People's Poet Laureate (ages 5-14)

I am so happy to celebrate poetry this beautiful Friday morning. Many congratulations to Margarita Engle on being named Young People's Poet Laureate by the Poetry Foundation. This award "recognizes a career devoted to writing exceptional poetry for young readers" and Margarita embodies all that this award stands for.
Margarita Engle has written so many books -- these are just a few of my favorites. Much of her verse highlights her Cuban-American ancestry, influenced by her childhood summers spent visiting her mother's homeland. Her poetry also reflects her background in botany and is filled with vivid descriptions of setting. As Henry Bienen, president of the Poetry Foundation, said,
“Margarita Engle’s passion, knowledge of nature, and curiosity about the world make her work fascinating to children and adults alike.”
Here are just a few of her books that I love to share with children:
Bravo: Poems about Amazing Hispanics
Drum, Dream Girl: How One Girl's Courage Changed Music
Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings -- A Memoir
The Wild Book
In honor of this, I'd like to share two poems Margarita wrote as part of her long collaboration with Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong.
In "Discovery," which is part of The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science, Engle captures the quiet waiting of explorers and the joy when you finally find the treasure you were looking for. Much of her poetry is also available in Spanish translations -- as it is here. Share this poetry video with students to show how photographs can combine with poetry reading to bring it alive.

Many thanks to Sylvia Vardell for sharing this via Poetry for Children.

Much of Engle's work speaks directly to teens. In "Who Am I?" she captures the confusion created with forms and tests that ask students to categorize themselves. This powerful, accessible poem kicks off the terrific collaboration in Just You Wait: A Poetry Friday Power Book, with prompts to encourage students to write their own poetry.
I am thrilled that Margarita has been awarded this prestigious position. She does so much to encourage the love of poetry in our children. Bravo!!!

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Are You An Echo? Discovering the beauty of Japanese poet Misuzu Kaneko (ages 7-12)

Empathy -- it's a vital quality to develop for all of us. How do we reach outside of ourselves to imagine being in someone else's shoes? How do we take someone else's perspective? Misuzu Kaneko's beautiful poetry is a shining example of how poetry can help us stop for a moment and think about the world from a different point of view.
Are You an Echo? The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko
Poetry by Misuzu Kaneko
Narrative by David Jacobson
Translation and editorial contributions by Sally Ito and Michiko Tsuboi
Illustrations by Toshikado Hajiri
Chin Music Press, 2016
Amazon / Your local library
ages 7-12
This striking collaboration shares the story of how Misuzu Kaneko's poetry came to be discovered long after her death; moreover, it brings her poems to an English-speaking audience for the first time. In 1966, a young Japanese poet discovered a poem that struck him with its empathy and simplicity, yet he could find no other poems by this author -- who was she? Did she write other poems?
 -- by Misuzu Kaneko

At sunrise, glorious sunrise
it’s a big catch!
A big catch of sardines!

On the beach, it’s like a festival
but in the sea, they will hold funerals
for the tens of thousands dead.
Linger for a moment on this poem, and ask young readers to think about this poet's message. Why would the fish hold funerals? How does this shift readers' thinking?

Although Setsuo Yazaki began searching in 1966, it wasn't until 1982 that the curious poet uncovered more of Misuzu's poetry. Her brother still had her diaries, which contained the only copies of her poems that still remained. Finally, Setsuo began to discover more about Misuzu's life.

Born in 1903, Misuzu lived in a small fishing village in western Japan where her mother managed a bookstore. "To Misuzu, everything was alive, and had its own feelings." Her wonder and curiosity encourages young readers to think about the natural world with fresh perspective. By interspersing Misuzu's poems with the story of her life, the authors help young readers focus on the poet's work as well as her life.
"Snow on top
must feel chilly,
the cold moonlight piercing it."
After a short, unhappy marriage, Misuzu took her own life at age 26 in 1930. Jacobson conveys her suicide sensitively and straightforwardly. I especially appreciate how this lets young readers feel empathy for Misuzu without sensationalizing her tragedy.

The second half of this picture book shares fifteen more of Misuzu's poems translated into English, along with their original Japanese versions. Children will enjoy lingering over poems; teachers will want to use them as mentor texts for children as they explore writing their own poetry.

My own grandmother used to encourage me to think about different subjects in school as "mental gymnastics," helping me stretch and work my mind in new ways. I wonder if Misuzu's poetry might help us be more limber, more nimble in our emotional interactions with the world. Isn't that what empathy is at its root?

Many thanks to Betsy Bird for first bringing this unique picture book to my attention. Illustrations © Toshikado Hajiri, narrative © David Jacobson, and translations © Sally Ito & Michiko Tsuboi, shared with permission from the publisher. The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Chin Music Press. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, April 17, 2017

Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets by Kwame Alexander, Chris Colderley, Marjory Wentworth, illustrated by Ekua Holmes (ages 8-13)

"A poem is a s small but powerful thing. It has the power to reach inside of you, to ignite something in you, and to change you in ways you never imagined." -- Kwame Alexander
As Kwame Alexander writes in his preface, poetry can pack a powerful punch, touching our deepest feelings, helping us notice everyday details in new ways. In this dynamic collection, Alexander and fellow poets Colderley and Wentworth honor 20 of their favorite poets. Their original poems dance and spin with the poets they admire, inviting readers join the celebration.
Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets
by Kwame Alexander, Chris Colderley, and Marjory Wentworth
illustrated by Ekua Holmes
Candlewick, 2017
Amazon / Your local library
ages 8-13
*best new book*
Every page radiates with life, love and joy, as Alexander, Colderley and Wentworth pay tribute to their favorite poets, ranging from Rumi to Emily Dickinson to Maya Angelou. By selecting such a wide range of poets, they provide many ways in for young readers. There is no one right way to write or read a poem, and this collection lets us find different entry points, "stepping-stones" to wonder, to read, to write.

Alexander begins with "How to Write a Poem," celebrating Naomi Shihab Nye, asking readers to "let loose your heart -- raise your voice." He introduces the metaphor of dance, suggesting that a poet's many voices dance together to find their inner truth.
"How to Write a Poem"
Some young readers may want to emulate poems that notice the details in everyday life. Wentworth spins memories of early morning routines in her poem celebrating Billy Collins: "When you first wake up, notice / how your mother's voice, calling / you to breakfast, sounds like a fire alarm." Colderley celebrates Basho with "Contemporary Haiku:"
"Desks in tidy rows
Notebooks and texts neatly stacked
New year begins soon."
I love this idea that our voices dance together in poetry--with give and take, rhythm and movement. The poet's voice responds to an idea that inspires him; the illustrator adds her own rhythm; the reader jumps in, creating her own spin on the initial idea. One of my favorite poems is "Hue and Cry," celebrating Gwendolyn Brooks:
"Bronzeville lady
Way past cool
Voice like butter
Melting blues"
"Hue and Cry"
Ekua Holmes' mixed-media illustrations bring each poem to a new level, adding her own deep, resonate colors and images, inviting readers to pause and wonder and stay awhile on each page.

Enjoy listening to this radio interview with Kwame Alexander on NPR. As he says, "I think poetry is a way of helping us at least begin to understand ourselves better and eventually each other."

Alexander is definitely a "hopeful romantic," spreading his joy and love of life with readers everywhere. For that, I am truly grateful.

Illustrations © Ekua Holmes 2017, poetry © Kwame Alexander, Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth 2017, shared with permission from the publisher. The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Candlewick Press. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Wet Cement: A Mix of Concrete Poems, by Bob Raczka -- delightfully fun wordplay (ages 8-12)

I love sharing the way poets play with words to make us laugh, think and look at things in a new way. My students especially respond to concrete poetry, where the words are arranged to create images. Wet Cement is an outstanding, fresh collection of concrete poems, definitely worth seeking out.
Wet Cement: A Mix of Concrete Poems
by Bob Raczka
Roaring Brook / Macmillan, 2016
Amazon / Your local library
ages 8-12
Bob Raczka writes that poems are like "word paintings," using words to create pictures in our minds. Concrete poems takes this a step further, creating a visual art form with words.
"In concrete poems, or shape poems...the poet arranges words in the shape of the thing the poem is about or in a way that emphasizes the poem's meaning."
This outstanding collection of concrete poems makes me laugh and smile at Raczka's inventive use of words and letters. He not only creates the poem in new shapes, each title is its own shape poem, with a clever arrangement of the letters. I love the way he uses the "L" to create the hands of a clock in this poem:
"The clock on the wall says it's five 'til three but
the kids in my class say it's five 'til free."

Raczka's wordplay is accessible and inventive, inviting readers to think of words, letters and shapes in a fresh new way. As students what they thing the "t" in "takeoff" is doing all by itself on the page--what does it make them think about? And why did Raczka choose the phrase "Wright on course"?
"Wright on course, headed for heaven. One two three four five..."
These poems give us a moment to play with text, to think about how words create visual art and to laugh at the inventive ways we can arrange words and letters on a page. I love the idea of turning this over to kids, asking them to see how they might play with letters and words to create different shapes. After all, as Raczka shows us, the word "try" is certainly embedded in the word "poetry."

The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Roaring Brook / Macmillan. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Nikki Grimes' poetry resonates with Berkeley students (ages 13-18)

Nikki Grimes visited three schools in Berkeley last week, sharing her powerful poetry and celebrating the poets of the Harlem Renaissance. She read from One Last Word, her newest book which combines poems from the Harlem Renaissance with her own original poems.

Her voice was rich and resonate, passionate and purposeful as she spoke with students at Willard Middle School, Longfellow Middle School and Maybeck High School. Nikki connected with them right away, talking about the importance of honoring women's achievements. Just as the movie Hidden Figures shows, historians and the press have often downplayed the significant accomplishments of women.
Students in Berkeley care deeply about social justice issues, and Nikki's poems resonated with them. Grimes tackles difficult issues head-on. She read her poem "Crucible of Champions," in which her character Jamal speaks directly about the violence and brutality that has led to the "Black Lives Matter" campaign:
"The evening news never spares us. Tune in and we
hear: if you're a boy and you're black, you live
with a target on your back. We each take it in and
shiver, one sharp-bladed question hanging overhead: how
long do I get to walk on this earth? The smell of death is too intense,
And so we bury the thought, because the future is
ours, right? We get to choose? Well, we choose life."
Bill Webb, director of the Maybeck High School, remarked how impressed he was by Nikki's "frank, wise bearing." She didn't give easy answers as she responded to students' questions. When aspiring poets asked about how she found inspiration, she told students not to wait for inspiration to strike, but rather to read as much as they could. Look at how other people write, she suggested, and try writing poems in response. As she told students,
"The power you seek is in sight."
It was truly an honor to spend the day with Ms. Grimes. We appreciate the wisdom, the kindness and the time she took to share with us. Thanks also to Bloomsbury Publishing for sponsoring this visit, and to Mrs. Dalloway's Books for arranging it.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Let’s Clap, Jump, Sing & Shout; Dance, Spin & Turn It Out! Games, Songs & Stories from an African American Childhood by Patricia C. McKissack (ages 2-10)

Music brings people together, not only giving us joy but also creating a shared experience. Let’s Clap, Jump, Sing & Shout; Dance, Spin & Turn It Out! is an inspiring and impressive collection of African American songs, games and stories -- perfect for a home or school library.
Let’s Clap, Jump, Sing & Shout; Dance, Spin & Turn It Out!
Games, Songs & Stories from an African American Childhood
by Patricia C. McKissack
illustrated by Brian Pinkney
Schwartz & Wade / Random House, 2017
Preview on Google Books
Amazon / Your local library
ages 2 - 10
*best new book*
Veteran storyteller and author Patricia McKissack draws on her own childhood and adds substantial research to provide a comprehensive collection of songs, rhymes and stories. Explaining that “our earliest toys are our hands, feet, and voices,” McKissack encourages readers to try these songs for themselves.
"Turn around.
Touch the ground.
Wiggle your nose.
Touch your toes."
The book begins with hand games and claps for the youngest children, and then it moves onto the jump-rope rhymes and circle games school kids love. Chapters with poignant songs and stories inspired by the Underground Railroad and gospel music are especially important for their place in African American history.

Brian Pinkney's illustrations dance and twirl across the page, full of movement and joy. They add a light playful touch in this heavy book (at 184 pages, it's a substantial volume!).

I loved revisiting songs I knew and learning new versions--I couldn't help singing along while I read this! McKissack gives just the right amount of background information--never overshadowing the real joy of this book, the songs and games. She explains the roots of different songs, the ways they were adapted in African American communities, and how she played these games in her own childhood.
"Very often we made up hand claps based on popular songs."
Singing with your child is not only fun, it helps young children’s brain development. Hand movements, clapping and dancing all help children remember songs and reinforce the rhythm and beat. Like stories, songs build children’s vocabulary and help them hear that words are made of different sounds.

Parents, teachers and children will want to dip into this volume time and time again. While the length makes this more of a parent or teacher resource, older children (ages 8-10) will have fun reading and trying out many of the songs and games.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Random House. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Take a Knee, by Kwame Alexander -- poetry + video = powerful communication (ages 9 and up)

As we celebrate Black History Month, we honor those who have come before us, their struggles and their achievements. Poetry, literature, and stories help me do this in a deep and meaningful way. They help history come alive, help create connections and understanding.

Today, Kwame Alexander--inspiring author of The Crossover (winner of the 2015 Newbery Award)--released a poem video on The Undefeated called "Take a Knee." It is incredibly powerful. Please watch this. Please share it.

Kwame writes,
"We celebrate black history to honor those who came before us, who laid the foundation for this house we call America, who struggled and excelled, who took a stand for what they believed in, and sometimes died doing so. We REMEMBER each tremendous journey, we RECOGNIZE the calamities, and we RAISE our voices in solidarity. We take a stand. Together. For the children. For America. And, we live."


Raise our voices.

We stand together; we hear each other's stories; we tell the world that our children matter. Poetry and video is an important communication tool. Thank you, Kwame, for these powerful words.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, January 9, 2017

One Last Word: Wisdom of the Harlem Renaissance, by Nikki Grimes -- powerful, resonate poetry for today's youth (ages 11-16)

Nikki Grimes' poetry exudes warmth and hope, while acknowledging the trials and tribulations that life brings our way. In this outstanding new collection, she shares poetry from the Harlem Renaissance and builds her own verse from it -- creating powerful, resonate poems that speak directly to today's youth.
One Last Word: Wisdom of the Harlem Renaissance
by Nikki Grimes
illustrated by Cozbi Cabrera and others
Bloomsbury, 2017
preview at Google Books
Your local library
ages 11-16
*best new book*
Grimes finds "fuel for the future" in the poetry of the Harlem Renaissance, pairing short poems from that era with her own original poems. She creates a multitude of contemporary voices, mostly of teens grappling with their hopes and dreams and struggles. In her opening poem, the young narrator asks, "How can I stay strong / in a world where fear and hate / wait outside my door?" Her teacher suggests that she seek out the poems of the Harlem Renaissance for inspiration and advice.

Grimes then uses a selection of poems from this era to build her own poems. Using the Golden Shovel poetic form, she takes a key "striking line" from a poem and ends each line of her poem with one word from this striking line. Thus, her modern poems are intimately linked with the original. Each pair of poems is accompanied by a full-color illustration by leading contemporary African American children's artists, adding to the artistic interpretation of these resonate themes.

Grimes spins classic poems to reflect modern sensibilities. Countee Cullen begins his poem "For a Poet" with the line, "I have wrapped my dreams in a silken cloth." From this, Grimes creates a modern character who uses poetry to hold and protect her secrets, as she navigates her urban neighborhood. Frank Morrison illustrates this poem, showing a young black girl walking past a graffiti-covered wall, with her nose buried in her journal. The result will resonate with my students, helping them imagine themselves in these pages.
"Dream-killers daily stalk the streets you and I
travel, trying to trip us up, but we can give them the slip. I have
learned to protect my heart-songs. I keep them wrapped..."
Grimes' poetry will resonate with the experience of today's teens. She tackles difficult issues head-on. In "Crucible of Champions," based on the poem "Life and Death" by Clara Ann Thompson, Grimes' character Jamal speaks directly about the violence and brutality that has led to the "Black Lives Matter" campaign:
"The evening news never spares us. Tune in and we
hear: if you're a boy and you're black, you live
with a target on your back. We each take it in and
shiver, one sharp-bladed question hanging overhead: how
Long do I get to walk on this earth? The smell of death is too intense,
And so we bury the thought, because the future is
ours, right? We get to choose? Well, we choose life."
Beginning with an introduction to both the Harlem Renaissance, Grimes provides both historical background and a personal connection to this era. Born in "the very Harlem from which many of their careers were launched," Grimes was well aware of the impact that poets like Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes and Paul Laurence Dunbar had. She helps young readers see the way that these writers reflected racial pride during this era.
"Through the decades, this literature has reminded readers, of all races, how vital it is that we define ourselves, set our own paths, celebrate our own capabilities, and determine our own destiny, no matter what obstacles are placed in our way."
Grimes acknowledges the weight of injustices and racial bias, but her voice rises strongly through this collection filled with hope and the assurance the poetry will help readers stand tall. "The past is a ladder / that can help you / keep climbing."

Illustration © Frank Morrison 2017, poetry © Nikki Grimes 2017, shared with permission from the publisher. The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Bloomsbury Children's Books. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary, by Laura Shovan -- story full of distinct voices (ages 9-12)

Many of my students are drawn to realistic fiction because it gives them a chance to immerse themselves in someone else's story. In fact, a recent study has shown that reading literary fiction helps improve readers' ability to understand what others are thinking and feeling (see this article in Scientific American).

Laura Shovan's novel in verse, The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary, is full of distinct voices that prompt us to think about different students' unique perspectives. It's one my students are enthusiastically recommending to one another.
The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary
by Laura Shovan
Wendy Lamb / Random House, 2016
Google Books preview
Your local library
ages 9-12
*best new book*
Eighteen fifth graders keep poetry notebooks chronicling their year, letting readers peak into their thoughts, hopes and worries as the year progresses. Fifth grade is a momentous year for many students, as the finish elementary school and look ahead to all the changes that middle school brings. This year is particularly full of impending change for Ms. Hill's class because their school will be demolished at the end of the year to make way for a new supermarket.

Through these short poems, Shovan captures the distinct, unique voices of each student. The class is diverse in many ways--racially, ethnically, economically, and more. At first, I wondered if I would really get to know the different students since each page focused on a different child; however, as the story developed, I really did get a sense of each individual as well as the class as a whole. Shovan creates eighteen distinctive individuals--with personalities and backgrounds that we can relate to and envision. And these experiences shape how each individual reacts to the year.

I particularly love novels in verse because they allow readers a chance to see inside character's thoughts without bogging the narrative down in too much description. As researcher David Kidd said (in this Scientific American article), literary fiction prompts readers to think about characters: "we’re forced to fill in the gaps to understand their intentions and motivations.” This is exactly what ends up being the strength of Laura Shovan's novel.

The funniest thing, for me personally, has been the shocked look of many of my students when I show them this cover. You see, our school is called Emerson Elementary School. "This is a real book?!?!" they say, incredulously. I know my students will particularly like the way these students protest the plans to demolish their school, bringing their protest to the school board.

As you can see in this preview on Google Books, this collection of poems slowly builds so readers get a sense of each student in Ms. Hill's fifth grade. The poetry feels authentic, never outshining what a fifth grader might write but always revealing what a fifth grader might really be thinking.

I highly recommend the audiobook for The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary. The diverse cast of Recorded Books brings alive each character. This would make a great summer listen, or a great read-aloud for the beginning of the school year.

The review copy for the audiobook was purchased from Audible and for the print copy it was borrowed from my local library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Friday, April 29, 2016

Lee Wardlaw: Interview series with California poets for young people

I'm so happy to welcome the utterly delightful Lee Wardlaw to talk about poetry, pets and her creative process. Even better, we are celebrating National Hairball Awareness Day (April 29th) and National Adopt a Shelter Pet Day (April 30th)! So snuggle up with your favorite furry friend and let's check in with Lee.

Lee Wardlaw claims her first spoken word was ‘kitty’. Since then, she's shared her life with more than two-dozen cats and published more than two-dozen, award-winning books for young readers. Lee has won many awards, including the Lee Bennet Hopkins Poetry Award and the Myra Cohn Livingston Award for Poetry, both for the delightful picture book Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku.

The newly released companion title, Won Ton and Chopstick, is a 2015 NCTE Notable Poetry Book and a BookSource Scout Award Winner for Children's Poetry. Lee lives in Santa Barbara, CA, with her family, which includes two dog-disdaining cats. Welcome, Lee!

1. How do you get into a place or mindset for writing your poetry? Do you have any habits you could share with young writers?

I've found that a long walk works best to get me started. After I've been walking for a few minutes, my mind slips into a trance, and I just let images and words and sensorial experiences bubble up from my subconscious. (Some of the best dialogue between characters in my novels starts out that way, too!) I'll walk for an hour or more, and when I get home I don't even remember the roads I took or the homes I passed. I just have a gush of ideas that need to be drained into the closest notebook. Often, I get the first line and the last line of a poem that way, which is helpful because I never start writing the actual poem until I know where I'm going with it.

If a walk isn't convenient, I curl up in a chair with a notebook and a cat, and brainstorm. (I also brainstorm in restaurants, or in my car, or wherever I am when I have a few free minutes.) Sometimes, the brainstorms are random scribbles; other times, I actually begin with specific categories, and play off those. Here's a picture of one of the brainstorms I did for my newest book Won Ton and Chopstick: A Cat and Dog Tale Told in Haiku. I'm always been a cat person, so I don't know much of dogs. In this storm session, I wrote down everything I could think of about dogs to get an idea of what the puppy in the story would be like, and what kinds of puppy-isms might contribute to the plot.
Lee's brainstorming for Won Ton and Chopstick
This second photo shows another storm session I had on a placemat when out for a casual dinner with my husband and son. (Yes, my family is used to me 'disappearing' from conversations to jot stuff down. It's my middle-aged version of a teenager staring at his cell phone.)
Lee's dinner brainstorming
2. I love sharing descriptive words with kids is there a word that's been on your mind lately that's particularly delicious?

It depends on the mood I'm in! If I'm feeling silly, I delight in words such as 'weasel' or 'cumberbund'. I also like words that when you see them written, you're not quite sure how to pronounce them, like Phoebe or calliope. (I love the word calliope! Say it out loud: cah-LIE-oh-pee. Listen to the sounds…feel how your mouth purses and stretches!) I enjoy making up words, too, when I can't find one that exactly fits what I'm trying to say. Not long after my husband and I got married (33 years this summer), I came up with the word 'miffled' to describe how I felt whenever he'd come home late for dinner without calling first. 'Miffled' was a combination of 'miffed' and 'ruffled'. (I now see that 'miffled' is in the Urban Dictionary as being a combo of 'miffed' and 'baffled'.) In my middle grade novel 101 Ways to Bug Your Teacher, I use the word 'goose-blisters' to describe a particularly scary and shaming moment - - and how that moment feels physically to my protagonist.

3. What are three books of poetry you'd like to see in every child's home, for them to dip into whenever they want?

I love-love-love All the Small Poems and 14 More by Valerie Worth. Worth is a master at writing succinct, simple poems about common, ordinary objects - - a key, a coat hanger, a thread of string - - and exalting them to extraordinary things.

Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein is, of course, a MUST for its silly wit and wisdom and poems that everyone can relate to!

Last, I think every household should have a good book of nursery rhymes. One of my favorites is My Very First Mother Goose, edited by Iona Opie (the noted folklorist) and endearingly illustrated by Rosemary Wells. (I'm a huge Wells fan. I love the sweet exuberance of her bunnies, and kittens, and bears.)

4. Is there a poem you have memorized that you can share a snippet with us? Maybe it's something you say to yourself when you need encouragement or just when you want to delight in the power of words.

My memory isn't what it used to be, but I can still recite by heart "Three Cheers for Pooh" by A.A. Milne, a poem I've loved since age 3 or 4. It never fails to make me giggle. I can also recite "The Walrus and the Carpenter" and "Jabberwocky" by Lewis Carroll. The first stanza of "Jabberwocky" appeared in a magazine in 1855, and was titled "Stanza of Anglo-Saxon Poetry". Later, Carroll expanded it, turning it into a story poem. Here's that first stanza:
'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
I love the word play in this poem, especially since so many of the words Carroll invented are now in our dictionary - - words such as "chortle", "burble" and "galumph". How frabjous is that?!

Thank you so much, Lee! Thank you so much for sharing your love of poetry with children and families. I love this video of you reading Won Ton and have to share it with readers.

If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Cat poems: short poetry for picky kitties (ages 4-10)

Growing up, I regularly confided in my cat Tippy Toes--he always listened patiently, reassured me with his rhythmic purring and never told anyone else my secrets. These three poetry books capture the personality of cats and bundle them up in short, evocative bursts that can entice even picky children.
In a series of short poems, a cat tells the tale of his adoption from an animal shelter. The cat's personality comes alive, both with Wardlaw's humor and her sly observations. I love these set of poems from the opening in the shelter:
The Shelter

Nice place they got here.
Bed. Bowl. Blankie. Just like home!
Or so I've been told.

Gypsy on my left.
Pumpkin, my right. Together,
we are all alone.

Visiting hours!
Yawn. I pretend not to care.
Yet--I sneak a peek.

Poet Lee Wardlaw (whom I'm interviewing on Friday!) explains that she uses senryu, a form of Japanese poetry similar to haiku. Both typically have three unrhymed lines with a controlled number of syllables (5-7-5). Whereas haiku captures the essence of a moment in nature, senryu focuses on the foibles of human nature in a humorous way.

My students love they way that Wardlaw tells a story through her poems, and also the way she captures this cat's finicky, picky personality. I had fun watching Wardlaw read aloud the beginning in this video preview. They are delighted when I show them the sequel: Won Ton and Chopstick: A Cat and Dog Tale Told in Haiku.
The Maine Coon's Haiku and Other Poems for Cat Lovers
by Michael J. Rosen
illustrated by Lee White
Candlewick, 2015
Your local library
ages 7-10
Cat lovers who ponder the personalities of different cats will enjoy Rosen's haiku. I'd recommend this for children in grades 2-5 because these short poems are more reflective and not driven by a story. Each poem spotlights a different breed of cats; the brevity and poignancy capturing the feline essence. Here are two of my favorites:
Turkish Angora
whooshing down the hall:
Angora, then her all-white
dust devil of hair

on the windowsill's
balance beam, the cat pirouettes
as the kibble pings
Rosen’s phrases capture the cats' frisky, quirky movements with delightful imagery. In turn sweet, spirited, and humorous—these short poems fill me with smiles, just like their subjects.
A Curious Collection of Cats
by Betsy Franco
illustrated by Michael Wertz
Tricycle, 2009
Your local library
ages 6-10
This collection of concrete poems is just so much fun. Concrete poems visually arrange words to create the meaning through the images. These cats are bursting with personality as they fight, pounce, stretch and perch.
The visual interplay between words and images brings alive the poetry in a new way for many students. As the School Library Journal wrote in its review, "The poems are so embedded within the illustrations that it is hard to imagine them without the artwork; they are virtually inseparable. In a print of a cat licking its neck, its exceptionally long tongue is created out of words."

The review copies came from our school library; Candlewick and Macmillan kindly sent review copies. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books