April is National Poetry Month, which is a perfect time to highlight all the amazing poetry that is out there, but . . . UGH . . . POETRY. At least, that’s how I used to feel. When I was a kid I LOVED poetry, especially Shel Silverstein. But as I got older, and school started requiring me to think about the poetry we were reading and what the deeper meaning might be, I started to resent it. I mean, couldn’t I just ENJOY the poetry instead of trying to decipher how the poet might have been feeling when he wrote it? Apparently not.
Then I started working as a youth services librarian, and I was introduced to novels in verse. All of those middle school and high school memories came flooding back, and I wanted nothing to do with it. Until I read one. Then I read another and another. Finally, I realized I LOVED novels in verse! Why? Because they are complete stories told through a collection of poetry. Poetry rarely takes up a whole page, which made the books super fast to read! It also amazed me how by simply changing the spacing or even font size within a poem an additional meaning was made clear.
"There are Moose Tracks on my back porch. I'm not sure how they got there
One thing I'm fairly certain of-- last night those tracks were NOT there."
Monsters, they're just like us! Sure, they lurk in darkened corridors, drink blood, and terrify unsuspecting villagers. When it really comes down to it, though, we all want the same things. In Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich, Adam Rex explores every aspect of these monstrous needs...in rhyme!
She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain takes the popular folk song to new heights of silliness. A serenading cactus begins our tune, inviting us to sing along. The "She" in question is a pint-sized cowgirl whose legend grows with the song.
We start normally enough, but when we find out that the six white horses she'll be driving are named "Misty, Moonbeam, Milkshake, Stardust, Silvermane, and Snowflake," we find ourselves riding off the beaten path into hilariously imaginative scenarios involving jelly-juggling and rooftop-dancing.
Nursery Rhyme Comics is an all-star line-up of cartoonists and illustrators who use their artistic chops to put fun spins on all sorts of old rhymes and songs. Fifty rhymes adapted by fifty cartoonists. Woo-hoo! I'd like to take a moment to point some choice selections.
When I was in school, we often had to memorize and recite a poem to the class. Some of these poems have stuck with me even as an adult, and I always feel a sense of accomplishment when I can remember one. Memorizing poetry is like a game - you challenge yourself to master the poet’s words and rhythm. Once you do, you are likely to remember it for a long time. One of my kids memorized this short poem from the collection and recited it at dinner the other night when we were having peas:
I eat my peas with honey
I eat my peas with honey
I’ve done it all my life.
It makes the peas taste funny
But it keeps them on the knife.
Yes, we all tried our peas with honey after this...and they do taste funny.
Mary Ann Hoberman, Children’s Poet Laureate from 2008-2010, chose 123 poems to make up Forget-Me-Nots: Poems to Learn by Heart because they are “memorable,” which she points out, has two meanings: “easy to remember” and “worth remembering.” Some are short, like the pea poem above, and some are longer challenges, like Edward Lear’s The Jumblies. There are poems about beasts, families, food, nature, and more. There are poems from famous writers (Roald Dahl), favorite poets (Shel Silverstein), and some I had never heard of. Emberley’s pictures are lively and colorful and make the entire book a pleasure to browse.
Whether you’re “nuts about the coconut,” or think the Japanese Cedar is “ex-seed-ingly fine,” you’ll be drawn into this amazingly creative celebration of trees. I have to say that the statement on the cover was right – I loved this book “tree-mendously!”
Be prepared to have your ideas of books and poetry turned sideways! Poetrees by Douglas Florian is formatted to take advantage of the height created when opened. I’ll go out on a limb and say it is the best combination of words, layout and art I’ve seen in a long time. Whether it is the words of “The Seed” printed in the form of an infinity symbol to show how the life of trees is a cycle or the words in “Roots” that cascade down the page, much like roots sink into the soil, the arrangement of text on the pages adds another layer of meaning to the already strong combination of vivid imagery of the poems and the inspired illustrations. Poetrees is just an amazingly beautiful and effective book.