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Versatile verse

National Poetry Month (better known as April) celebrates a form that can be used in myriad ways to explore any topic imaginable. Here are two collections of poems with themes in common, and two books that use poetry to help tell a larger story.

wardlaw_won ton and chopstickA kitty named Won Ton makes his second appearance in Lee Wardlaw’s Won Ton and Chopstick: A Cat and Dog Tale Told in Haiku. Won Ton’s haiku narrate his adjustment to the arrival of a new puppy. At first things do not go well — “Ears perk. Fur prickles. / Belly low, I creep…peek…FREEZE! / My eyes full of Doom.” — but eventually the two find common ground in their mutual love of their little-boy owner. The interrelated haiku together create a story of gradual friendship, but each can also stand alone, capturing Won Ton’s quintessential felineness (“Nap, play, bathe, nap, eat, repeat.”). Eugene Yelchin’s graphite and gouache illustrations contrast the sleek gray cat with the roly-poly brown puppy; pastel backgrounds highlight the pets’ expressive faces and body language. (Holt, 5–8 years)

mcnamara_poem in your pocketElinor, star of the picture book A Poem in Your Pocket, initially feels confident in her poetry-writing ability, but her firm grasp of terms like simile and metaphor doesn’t mean she can write great poetry herself. She gets more and more worried as the class prepares for a visit by a famous poet. Author Margaret McNamara slyly works in a lot of information about poetry while keeping the focus on Elinor’s dilemma. Examples of poetry the kids come up with may inspire young readers to attempt their own writing, especially since G. Brian Karas’s gouache, acrylic, and pencil pictures make the diverse group of classmates look like they’re having a great time. (Random/Schwartz & Wade, 5–8 years)

brown_hypnotize a tigerCalef Brown’s collection Hypnotize a Tiger: Poems About Just About Everything ends with an invitation to write your own poetry, but the whole book is such an invitation. Brown takes several kids’-book conventions — such as the celebration of the outlier, weird animals, and complaints about school — and gives them fresh energy. He even infuses the yucky-foods trope with original twists (the Loofah Torte is particularly startling). From the bottom margin, a peanut gallery of creatures much given to puns comment on the poems and offer their own. Black-and-white drawings add to the jauntiness and the welcoming, joyous mood. (Holt/Ottaviano, 7–10 years)

janczko_death of the hatIn their fourth collaboration, The Death of the Hat: A Brief History of Poetry in 50 Objects, selector Paul B. Janeczko and illustrator Chris Raschka offer readers fifty poems whose origins range from the early Middle Ages to the postmodern and contemporary eras. The poems are unified by a common theme — each is about an object — and organized chronologically. Raschka’s soft, impressionistic watercolors showcase each poem, visually encouraging readers to keep reading. Expect variety in the selections, from old favorites such as “My Shadow” by Robert Louis Stevenson to “Grainfield” by Ibn ‘Iyād to Pablo Neruda’s “Ode to a Stamp Album.” (Candlewick, 7–10 years)

From the April 2015 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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Shoshana Flax About Shoshana Flax

Shoshana Flax, assistant editor for The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MFA in Writing for Children from Simmons College.

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