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The power of poetry

April is National Poetry Month! The following books show how poetry can combine with illustrations to express all kinds of feelings, from love to uncertainty to pride in one’s heritage. For more, click the tag poetry and see our upcoming Horn Book Herald: Spring News e-newsletter, featuring our Five Questions interview with Young People’s Poet Laureate Margarita Engle.

Ashley Bryan’s recognizably vibrant, colorful, and moving illustrations accompany a selection of Nikki Giovanni’s poems, both new and previously published, in I Am Loved. The electric blue, sunny yellow, and other warm colors of the front-cover illustration set an upbeat tone that Bryan maintains throughout. While the topics range widely, including dance, self-reflection, nature, and friendship, each illustration affirms the beauty and worth of black and brown children. Several poems recall slavery and the civil rights movement, providing a historical source of strength and courage for contemporary readers. (Atheneum/Dlouhy, 5–8 years)

In That Is My Dream!, Daniel Miyares illustrates Langston Hughes’s 1924 poem “Dream Variation,” showing an African American child (the poem’s narrator) in the segregated South noticing his own family’s experiences compared to those of a white boy and his family’s. The illustrations turn fantastical, showing black and white children soaring on the backs of large birds, dancing, and enjoying one another’s company. Illustrations that depict segregation are in muted browns and grays, which contrast with the radiant yellows, tranquil greens, and orangey-pinks of the dreamlike sequence. A provocative book that invites children to think about race relations yesterday and today. (Random/Schwartz & Wade, 5–8 years)

The late Francisco X. Alarcón’s simple and descriptive verse, printed in both Spanish and English, explains the origins of the days of the week while celebrating Latinx family traditions in Family Poems for Every Day of the Week / Poemas familiares para cada día de la semana. The love this young narrator has for his family shines brightly: Tuesdays are the day to remember his grandmother whispering words of comfort; family dinners at a local restaurant happen on Thursdays; and Friday afternoons are spent with his brothers. Maya Christina Gonzalez’s double-page-spread illustrations, which pay tribute to “Mexico’s indigenous crafts,” richly complement the text. (Lee & Low/Children’s Book Press, 5–8 years)

In Can I Touch Your Hair?: Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship, classmates Irene and Charles (named for coauthors Irene Latham and Charles Waters) are paired together for a poetry project. Irene is white and, according to Charles, “hardly says anything.” Charles, whose “mouth is like a race car / that never stops to refuel,” is black. Each spread contains poems from both of their perspectives, covering everyday topics as well as trickier issues. Sean Qualls and Selina Alko’s layering of print newspaper clippings over paint begs readers to take a closer look at the illustrations. This clever volume would make an excellent read-aloud or a launch pad for collaborative classroom writing. (Carolrhoda, 6–9 years)

From the April 2018 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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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