It was an honor to be able to meet author/poet Joyce Sidman last week, as I’ve always been a fan of her work, in particular her newest book, This Is Just to Say: Poems of Forgiveness and Apology, which easily makes it onto my list of the year’s best poetry books. In honor of my meeting Joyce, allow me to do a little run-down of what are, in my opinion, the children’s poetry highlights of 2007. I’ll list them according to author’s last name, rather than hierarchy, as I’d be hard-pressed to rank these in terms of preference.
Today and Today
by Kobayashi Issa, illustrated by G. Brian Karas (Scholastic)
Brian Karas has outdone himself with this beautiful collection of haiku poems that deserves a place in any poetry lover’s library. Eighteen of Issa’s poems are included here, and each reads like a small, distinct snapshot, capturing moments that reveal the personality of the seasons, the beauty of nature, and the richness of human emotions. Paired with these snapshots are wonderful mixed media illustrations of a family going about the usual, mundane (but not unimportant) actions of their daily lives, all the while growing, aging, changing, and even, in the case of the grandfather, dying. Together, the poems and illustrations in this book deliver a reminder that time flows in a continous circle, that we live our lives in brief moments set against a backdrop of years. After death we find renewal. After winter, spring.
The Owl and the Pussycat
by Edward Lear, illustrated by Stephane Jorisch
(part of the Visions in Poetry series published by Kids Can Press; October 2007)
Kids Can Press has done marvelous things with the titles in its Visions in Poetry series, but by golly this is my favorite so far. The purpose of the series is to entice accomplished illustrators to illustrate familiar poems in ways that reveal something new or unepected about their content. Through the genius of his illustrations Stephane Jorisch takes Edward Lear’s nonsense poem of inter-species romance and makes of it something completely new. Jorisch’s illustrations reimagine Lear’s poem as a tale of star-crossed love, of prejudice, of two different animals from different social classes who are shunned for their unpopular decision to be together. Unwilling (or unable) to live in a society where the creatures wear masks and won’t accept them as they are, the owl and the pussycat go to sea in a beautiful pea green boat. They sail away to "the land where the bong-tree grows" which is populated by other "unpopulars" like them… and they live happily ever after. A love story in extreeeeemely hip, slightly edgy clothes, this book may be published as a children’s book, but it is TRULY a book for all ages and one that’s not to be missed.
This Is Just to Say: Poems of Forgiveness and Apology
by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski (Houghton Mifflin)
A sixth grade class is charged with the task of writing poems of apology. The people to whom they’ve written the poems reply with poems of forgiveness. Such is the premise of Joyce Sidman’s new book, only Sidman didn’t employ a classroom of sixth graders to write these poems. She wrote them herself, in the voices of different apologetic sixth graders and their respondents, some of them students, some of them adults, some animals or inanimate objects. The poems themselves are written in a wide variety of styles, on a wide variety of subjects, some sad, some funny. The results are eclectic, clever, and startling for the depth of emotion they’re able to capture and the "big picture" they’re able to reveal. It’s hard not to fall under the spell of a book this charming, and this creative, and it’s hard to imagine that any teacher reading it and not wanting to replicate the experiment with his or her own students. If you were to write a poem of apology about something, what would it be, and for whom? Start thinking.
Here’s a Little Poem: A Very First Book of Poetry
collected by Jane Yolen and Andrew Fusek Peters, illustrated by Polly Dunbar (Candlewick Press)
This book is my new favorite shower gift. Jane Yolen and Andrew Fusek Peters have compiled here a truly winning collection of short poems that ought to have great appeal for the shortest of children, and Polly Dunbar’s illustrations have made them positively sing (and shout and whistle and skip and snore — on the bedtime pages, that is). In this book, bright, bouncy, round-cheeked children jump and fuss and bounce and trundle across some of the liveliest pages I’ve ever seen, made so by the combination of great language, perfectly tuned to reading aloud, and whimsical images to catch the eye of every child and invite them to giggle and grump along with the no-no bird who lives in the Tantrum Tree, the grandpa with hands "as warm as pockets," and the shadow that bounces beneath a bouncing stone. Perfect for ages infant – kindergarten and for lovers of language like me.