In this issue
For a list of books mentioned in this issue, see link below.
Masthead art © by William Steig, used with permission of Pippin Properties, Inc.
Anthologist Lee Bennett Hopkins’s latest poetry collection, Dizzy Dinosaurs: Silly Dino Poems, is another of his entries in the HarperCollins I Can Read series. Along with Barry Gott’s comically exaggerated illustrations, the nineteen verses mix attention-grabbing subject matter and on-target humor to great effect; it’s a combination that will lure dino-loving poetry-phobes and non-dino-fans alike. Hopkins, the dean of children’s poetry, is one of the genre’s most passionate advocates, and his many contributions to the I Can Read series encourage new readers to embrace poetry as fervently as he does.
1. You must read and reread hundreds, if not thousands, of poems every year. What is it about a poem that captures your attention?
First and foremost, when reading poetry, it is strong emotion expressed that captures me. When I read a poem and utter “Oooh!” aloud and feel words and thoughts racing through my body, I know it is a good piece of work. With light verse it is the surprise element — the “Ah!” factor.
2. Do you have a favorite poem to read aloud to children?
3. Many readers, both children and adults, find poetry intimidating. Do you have any tips on how to convert the poetry-phobic?
Young children don’t find poetry intimidating; they find it intimidating in later years when forced to apply what I call the DAM approach to the genre: Dissecting, Analyzing, and forced Memorization. They grow up loving nonsense rhyme, Mother Goose melodies, song lyrics, etc. It is when they are confronted with pointless questions: “What does the poet really mean? What does that word truly mean?” Who knows? Who cares? I tell teachers to read a poem, any poem; afterward be quiet and ask the class to turn to page sixteen in their math books! Often even I don’t know what the really and truly is when I’m creating a verse.
As for adults, once they come to poetry, they discover new worlds. More in-service work has to be done to bring teachers and poetry together.
4. Which adult poets do you read and admire?
Again, there are so many. Lifelong loves include Langston Hughes, Carl Sandburg, Walt Whitman, Lucille Clifton. Most of their words speak to us even more today than when they were written. Coming from a poor, working class family, I heard these poets speaking from the gut, telling it like it was, empathizing with the people. They talked to ME. Still do.
I’m excited about many. Unfortunately, publishers have cut back drastically on publishing poetry. It is hard for well-known poets to get their work published, let alone newcomers. We are in a state where even agents don’t know how to approach editors regarding the genre. There is so much talent, such rich new voices. I wonder when they will be heard, if ever. It is a great loss for future generations of readers.
These four books of poetry will delight readers with their quirky formats, relatable topics, and laugh-out-loud lines.
Betsy Franco’s A Dazzling Display of Dogs (companion to A Curious Collection of Cats) celebrates pups with silly concrete poems that stretch the type or crowd the words into shapes. In “White Collar Blues,” for example, the angst-filled words (“Mathilda tried to / bite it off. She / batted it with her / paws”) are squeezed into a trapezoid shape to represent the dog’s confining cone collar. Michael Wertz’s stylish digital illustrations pop with color and capture each dog’s personality. The funny subjects and the light, goofy format make it easy to sneak a little poetry into a child’s life. (5–8 years)
Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku by Lee Wardlaw is another pet-centric book. A blue-eyed gray cat narrates the story of his adoption from a shelter and his new life. The cat’s fear, pride, and gradual trust come across clearly: at the shelter, “Latch squeaks. Door swings wide. / Free! Free at last! Yet, one claw / snags, clings to what’s known.” Eugene Yelchin’s graphite and gouache pictures match the poems’ sensitivity as well as their humor, with the cat’s wariness giving way over time to pleasure in his new home. (5–8 years)
Robert Kinerk’s Oh, How Sylvester Can Pester!: And Other Poems More or Less About Manners covers all sorts of etiquette-related behavior, including one boy’s habit of correcting the manners of others and the phenomenon of adults forgetting to practice what they preach. The poems are as varied and funny as Drazen Kozjan’s retro-looking digital illustrations, which feature a multiethnic cast of characters, each with spindly limbs and a highly expressive face. The catchy title may entice children to pick this up — and pick up a tip or two along the way. (5–8 years)
For older elementary-age readers, Emma Dilemma: Big Sister Poems by Kristine O’Connell George hits its mark with thirty-four poems that cover the highs and lows of big sisterhood. Fourth-grader Jess describes daily life with almost-four-year-old Emma, who adores and simultaneously annoys her. The straightforward, honest poems contain a whole range of feelings; likewise, Nancy Carpenter’s illustrations capture both the endearing and irritating qualities of preschool girls. Both the poems and art tell an absorbing story, widening the audience and making this book more than just an opportunity for big sisters to nod their heads in recognition. (7–10 years)
Four familiar chapter-book friends star in new installments; one new kid makes a promising debut.
In Princess Posey and the Perfect Present (sequel to Princess Posey and the First Grade Parade), Posey thinks of a great birthday present for her teacher and is distraught when one of her best friends brings the same thing. Stephanie Greene’s brief chapters capture a first grader’s enthusiasm, small but real heartache, and problem-solving gumption, while Stephanie Roth Sisson’s black-and-white illustrations get Posey’s every facial expression right. (5–8 years)
Grace’s best friend Mimi has big news: her parents are planning to adopt a little girl. When the two are hired to help watch a neighbor’s four-year-old, Lily, it would seem an excellent opportunity for Mimi to practice being a big sister — but little Lily decides she doesn’t like Mimi one bit. Eight-year-old Grace’s voice is consistently funny, frank, and believable, and readers will speed through Just Grace and the Terrible Tutu, the sixth entry in Charise Mericle Harper’s generously illustrated series. (6–10 years)
Ruby Lu’s third book, Ruby Lu, Star of the Show, finds her eager to take her dog, Elvis, to obedience school. When her father loses his job, Ruby wonders if they can even afford to keep Elvis, much less send him to school. Leavening the seriousness of her family’s money worries is third-grader Ruby’s Ramona-like talent for getting into trouble. New illustrations by Stef Choi may take a bit for fans to get used to, but Lenore Look’s characters are as comfortably familiar — and entertaining — as ever. (6–10 years)
Calvin Coconut’s fans are in for a surprise with this fifth book, Calvin Coconut: Hero of Hawaii, as Graham Salisbury takes the series up a notch, giving readers a taste of the action-packed adventure his YA novels are known for. When Calvin’s friend Willy falls into a flooded river following a major tropical storm, Calvin jumps in after him. The rescue is grippingly described, and illustrations by Jacqueline Rogers help young readers follow the story; kids will relish the extra drama in fourth-grader Calvin’s life. (7–10 years)
Clara Lee and the Apple Pie Dream by Jenny Han introduces readers to a new friend. As sparkly and cheerful as the jacket glitter, the story follows Korean American Clara Lee as she navigates the critical crises of third grade. Clara Lee worries that her heritage makes her not quite “as American” as her snooty classmate Dionne, also competing for the title Little Miss Apple Pie Princess. Julia Kuo’s numerous illustrations provide newly independent readers with both plot clues and speedy page turns in this winning chapter book. (6–10 years)
—Jennifer M. Brabander
History truly becomes story in these four first-rate accounts of iconic Americans.
Jim Murphy’s The Crossing: How George Washington Saved the American Revolution goes along on Washington’s famous crossing of the Delaware River on Christmas Day 1776 and his subsequent defeat of the British at Trenton and Princeton. Readers will appreciate Washington’s talent for strategy and see how he came by his nickname: the Old Fox. (9–12 years)
Washington had been an admirer of Benedict Arnold, an early hero of the Revolution — how did things go so wrong? In Steve Sheinkin’s The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism, & Treachery, readers will come to understand this most famous American traitor. While the book is strictly historical and impeccably sourced, Sheinkin relates this biography with a great sense of drama and adventure. (10–14 years)
In Tom Thumb: The Remarkable True Story of a Man in Miniature, George Sullivan calls Tom Thumb “the nation’s first celebrity.” Little people had long been displayed as freaks, but Tom Thumb, with his genuine repertoire of show business skills, broke the mold. Sullivan does a commendable job of placing his biographical subject in the context of his times, nearly the whole of the nineteenth century. A plethora of photographs bring the man and his era to life. (9–12 years)
Candace Fleming always finds innovative ways to present her historical subjects, and Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart is no exception. The book begins on July 2, 1937, on board the ship Itasca, where crew members are waiting in the remote Pacific to guide Earhart to tiny Howland Island, a destination at which she never arrived. Further attempts to contact the missing flyer are interspersed with a chronological account of Earhart’s life, presented with an attention to reader-friendly details and with plenty of photographs. (9–12 years)
Four new novels for teens reach across both time and place, with settings ranging from the sixteenth-century Caribbean isles to 1990s France. Despite temporal and physical distance, the protagonists share a determination to survive, and their struggles reveal as much about their historical contexts as their own natures.
Several first-person narratives converge in Margarita Engle’s verse novel Hurricane Dancers: The First Caribbean Pirate Shipwreck. Pirate Bernardino de Talavera captures conquistador Alonso de Ojeda and sets sail, planning to ransom his prisoner. When a hurricane hits, the ship collapses; captive and captor (both historical figures) escape to Cuba with fictional slave Quebrado. Naridó and Caucubú, legendary star-crossed lovers, enter the tale when Naridó rescues Quebrado. The hurricane serves as a recurring metaphor, foreshadowing the emotional tempests within each character. (12 years and up)
After escaping the clutches of “Mother” at the close of Joe Rat, Joe turns to street-sweeping for a living in Mark Barratt’s The Wild Man. Joe is drawn into the mysteries of the well-to-do Harvey family — as well as those of his own, when his father (gone since before Joe’s birth and thought to be dead) returns. Plenty of thrills and chills build to a climax that brings all the players to a nighttime confrontation on the dangerous Victorian London wharfs. (12 years and up)
In Julie Chibbaro’s Deadly, sixteen-year-old Prudence (already too familiar with death, and passionately interested in its causes) takes a job in New York City’s Department of Health and Sanitation, helping to trace the origins of a typhoid outbreak. Prudence discovers a connection between patients — eating peach ice cream — and this observation leads to an Irish cook named Mary Mallon, a.k.a. “Typhoid Mary.” Chibbaro keeps the reader deeply engaged in Prudence’s perceptions and feelings while delicately integrating real-life events. (12 years and up)
Translated from the French by Y. Maudet, Anne-Laure Bondoux’s A Time of Miracles follows Koumail, a young refugee boy who, in the mid-1990s, leaves his war-torn home in the Caucasus and heads for France. According to his guardian Gloria’s oft-told tale, Koumail came to live with her as a baby after a train derailed, and his dying French mother thrust him into Gloria’s arms. War eventually forces them out of the country on foot; through their journey, the mysteries of Koumail’s origins and of Gloria’s past deepen. (12 years and up)
The March/April 2011 Horn Book Magazine has just been published, and while I of course love all my children equally, this special issue is among the very richest (and best-looking) we have ever sent your way. The theme of the issue is “Fact, Fiction, and In Between,” and the whole constitutes an intriguing survey of the state of children’s non- and historical fiction today. Susan Campbell Bartoletti, Marc Aronson, Elizabeth Partridge, and Tanya Lee Stone explore the wide possibilities in bringing history to books for young people today; Leonard Marcus looks at the informational possibilities of ABC books; editor Erica Zappy goes inside Houghton’s award-winning Scientists in the Field series to explain how a science book comes together (see our interview with this year’s Sibert winner Sy Montgomery in the June 2010 issue of Notes). And there is so much more, from a history of children’s nonfiction by Kathleen Isaacs to an argument for bias-free science education by Steve Jenkins to an in-depth look at how an illustrator researches and creates paintings for a nonfiction book by cover artist Matt Tavares. As a bonus, ten historical novelists and writers of nonfiction share their best stories about tracking down the facts for their books — where else will you find a photo of Andrea Davis Pinkney in boxing gloves? A complete table of contents is available at our website; non-subscribers to the Horn Book Magazine can purchase single copies online.
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