by Marilyn Singer; illustrated by Josée Masse
Dutton Children's Books, 2010
For ages: 8-12
Based on fairy tales, this series of reverse poems from Singer is sure to excite even the most reluctant poetry reader. A reverse poem is a poem that can be read from top to bottom and then again from bottom to top, only changing the punctuation and capitalization -- the word order is exactly reversed. This fun play on words slightly changes the meanings of the poem and can be a great way to open discussions on word meanings. In an author's note page, Singer explains that reverse poems are also useful for telling two sides of the same story.
This is expressed perfectly in the poem about Snow White -- where the top-to-bottom version is told from Snow White's perspective and the bottom to top version is from the Queen's. Masse's colorful and bright cartoonlike drawings are each split in half to fully illustrate the two versions of each poem. All the favorites are here, including Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Rapunzel, making this a fun treat.
Inside Out & Back Again
by Thanhha Lai
For ages: 8 and up
Based on the author's own experiences and told in verse, this is the story of 10-year-old Hà. Hà lives in Saigon, South Vietnam, in 1975. The poems are divided into four sections and cover the span of a year. Hà's father has been missing due to the war for most of her life. Saigon is about to fall to the North Vietnamese, and even though her family is hopeful about her father's return, Hà's mother makes the decision to leave home.
The family is lucky enough to board a ship that offers a chance at freedom. Hà describes the deplorable conditions on the boat, "We are told/to sip water/only when we must/so our bodies/can stop needing." Finally the family reaches Guam, where it lives in a camp until eventually making its home in Alabama. It is in Alabama where Hà's family truly learns how to survive and make a life for itself.
Readers will learn a lot from this immigrant experience, especially Hà's perspective of going to school in Alabama. She feels like a true outsider, but hope prevails.
by Douglas Florian
Harcourt Brace & Co., 1998
For ages: 5 and up
Florian both writes and illustrates the 21 poems dedicated to insects and spiders in this poetry collection. The poems describe different attributes of the title animal and often humorously focus on the things we dislike most about the certain bug. For example, the poem about mosquitoes is four lines, but describes the insect well:
Mosquitoes are thin.
Mosquitoes are rude.
They feast on your skin.
For take-out food.
Florian's paintings are engaging abstracts in muted, earthy colors and describe subtly the bug in question. This would be a fun book to read for children who enjoy insects and also those who are studying insects for the first time at school. If you enjoy this collection, Florian has more poetry books to check out, including collections about mammals and the solar system.
Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature
by Joyce Sidman; illustrated by Beth Krommes
Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2011
For ages: 4-8
Inspired by the outdoors, this book is dedicated to spiral shapes found in nature. Whether it is the tail of a harvest mouse or a coiled bull snake, a calla lily or a sweet pea; spirals can be found all around us. Sidman gives just one verse per page, allowing the reader time to explore the labeled illustrations that showcase the spiral shapes that can be found all around us.
The verses are almost lyrical: "a spiral reaches out, too, exploring the world. It winds around and around ... and clings tight, grasping what it needs." The illustration accompanying the last verse shows an Asian elephant curling its trunk in a spiral shape around a branch.
Krommes' illustrations are clear and colorful and give readers a great perspective on nature. Notes are included at the end of the book that explain many of Sidman's word choices. For example, Sidman says that a spiral "is a strong shape," and here readers learn exactly how a hedgehog rolls up in a tight spiral to protect itself from enemies.
This book is fun to read and explore and is a great alternative to a picture book.
Lemonade and Other Poems Squeezed From a Single Word
by Bob Raczka; illustrated by Nancy Doniger
Roaring Brook Press, 2011
For ages: 8-12
This is a collection of poems derived from one word -- using only words that share the same letters from the title word. The poems are presented in two versions -- the first is almost a word puzzle (and when the reader figures out what Raczka is doing, can actually be quite fun) where the letters are lined up very strangely. The second version is presented in a more readable form.
One example in the more readable form is the poem Friend:
Doniger illustrates the poems with simple line drawings, only using red, black and gray colors. The illustrations are a nice complement to the complexities of the oddly spaced poems.
Raczka encourages readers to create their own poems derived from one word, and this book will certainly be an inspiration to all budding poets.
A Pizza the Size of the Sun
by Jack Prelutsky; illustrated by James Stevenson
Greenwillow Books, 1994
For ages: 8-12
If you are looking for funny poetry, Prelutsky is the poet for you. Named the first-ever children's poet laureate by the Poetry Foundation, Prelutsky is known for his silly and humorous poems. This collection focuses not on one subject but all things kids find intriguing, from a poem about crazy computers to a warning about approaching emus:
Do not approach an emu,
the bird does not esteem you.
It wields a quick and wicked kick
that's guaranteed to cream you.
The pen drawings that accompany the poems are simple, but they add whimsy to each page. The drawing on the page of the emu poem shows a boy midair after supposedly being kicked by said emu.
No doubt children, especially boys, will find these poems enjoyable.
Lisa Smant is assistant manager in the Youth Center at the downtown Fort Worth Library. Look for these books at your local branch.