Open Sesame: Poetry Springs Forth

Open Sesame: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

April is for Poetry: Six Books for Kids

April is National Poetry Month! And if ever there were a month for spontaneous outbursts of snowdrop-covered verse and dandelion rhymes – it’s now. After a long, grueling winter, to see the ice recede and flowers push up and bloom, to hear birdsong in the morning and to leave heavy coats behind, is poetic glee. Spring itself is living poetry. What a glorious time to share some couplets with a couple of kids, so here are six books for young bards. 

Should You Be A River: A Poem About Love by esteemed author and illustrator, Ed Young, is a picture book for all ages. Once part of a 40-foot scroll, this poem uses the elements of nature – earth, air, fire, and water – to express unconditional love, from plunging waterfalls to towering trees. Brilliantly rendered illustrations combine torn paper, photographs, and calligraphy. An author’s note reveals the loss from which the poem emerged and the healing that transpired. An emotionally stirring tribute to the power of love.

Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music is inspired by Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, a young Chinese-African-Cuban girl who broke Cuba’s taboo against female drummers. Told in spare, rhythmic verse, this picture book poem by Margarita Engle tells of a girl who dreams of playing drums – bongos, congas, timbales – even though the islanders believe drumming is only for boys. Staying true to her dreams, the girl drums in secret, until her music breaks free and breaks down the gender barrier. Vibrant illustrations by Rafael Lopez show the backdrop of island life – ocean, jungles, carnival, and the street cafes of Havana. A noteworthy blend of history and poetry for young composers.

Changes: A Child’s First Poetry Collection features poems by Charlotte Zolotow and pictures by Tiphanie Beeke. Published in concurrence with Zolotow’s 100th birthday, more than two dozen of her beloved poems have been collected and arranged by season. Zolotow’s keen and delicate observations and the childlike wonder with which she communicates lends itself naturally to a child’s first entry into the world of poetry. Poems such as “Lying in the Grass,” “By the Sea,” “Leaves,” and “The First Snow” share the warm joy of nature’s changes while introducing the pleasing sounds of poetry. Charming illustrations depict images and scenes with a tenderness that compliments the text.

The Maine Coon’s Haiku: And Other Poems for Cat Lovers, written by Michael Rosen and illustrated by Lee Anthony White, is a picture book especially for feline fanatics. Twenty different breeds of cats, from Manx and Persian, to Maine Coon and British Shorthair, are paired with twenty expertly crafted haiku. Each poem and picture reveals a moment in a cat’s world and their particular personality. Illustrations, in muted hues, are both graceful and scratchy, much like the cats they portray. Facts about each breed can be found at the end for cat lovers who just want more cats.

The Death of The Hat: A Brief History of Poetry in 50 Objects, selected by Paul B. Jeneczko and illustrated by Chris Raschka, takes middle graders on a quick tour of poetry by way of odes to period objects. An introduction by the editor explains how the 50 poems were selected. Poets from Shakespeare to Mary Oliver in a variety of poetic styles are paired with Raschka’s imaginative watercolor and ink illustrations. From a bookworm in the Middle Ages and a burnt ship in the Renaissance, to Victorian street lanterns and Post-Modern mushrooms and manholes, this collection provides a unique and intriguing doorway into poetry.

Hypnotize a Tiger: Poems About Just About Anything, by Calef Brown, is a ridiculously funny collection of poems on a variety of themes, with sections like “The Critterverse,” “The Insect Section,” and “Word Crashes.” Zany, absurd, nonsensical, and bizarre are just a few adjectives describing this new collection of poems. Original characters and outlandish scenarios fill pages accompanied by hilarious, cartoon sketches, which add layers of laugh out loud humor. Young versifiers will also enjoy a comic Q & A with the creator.


Cheli Mennella

Cheli has been involved with creative arts and education for most of her life, and has taught many subjects from art and books to yoga and zoology. But she has a special fondness for kid’s books, and has worked in the field for more than 20 years. She is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Valley Kids and teaches a course for adults in “Writing for Children.” She writes from Colrain, where she lives with her musician-husband, three children, and shelves full of kid’s books.

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