New for National Poetry Month 2021

April is National Poetry Month, and the following seven titles, for middle-grade and up, represent the variety — and appeal — of the form. See also our Five Questions interview with Linda Sue Park about her new illustrated verse novel The One Thing You’d Save; along with Jacqueline Woodson’s 2021 CSK winning Before the Ever After. We’ll be celebrating poetry all month long; catch up with our reviews and click the tag Poetry.

Niños: Poems for the Lost Children of Chile
by María José Ferrada; illus. by María Elena Valdez; trans. from Spanish by Lawrence Schimel
Intermediate, Middle School    Eerdmans    80 pp.    g
3/21    978-0-8028-5567-1    $18.99

During General Pinochet’s dictatorship, thousands of Chilean citizens were “disappeared,” including thirty-four children. Ferrada’s (Mexique: A Refugee Story from the Spanish Civil War, rev. 1/21) thirty-four poems are titled with each of the children’s names and are musings on how they might have seen the world. “Macarena,” for example, named for a girl killed at age six, reads: “Three birthday wishes: / to make it summer all year long / to find the star that sleeps in the middle of apples / and to discover a secret anthill.” The poems are rich with the sensory details of ordinary life, describing ants collecting crumbs, the faint sound of bubbles popping, the reflection of the moon in a glass of water. Watercolor, graphite, pastel, charcoal, and colored-pencil illustrations accompany the poems, and the visual images are as soft and imaginative as the verse. Concentric circles—puddles of soft blues, golds, and greens — fill a double-page spread to accompany the poem about Soledad, a child who loves the sound rain makes on the roof. In another illustration, a bear, adorned with a stunning coat of spring flowers and birds, represents spring. Without the title and accompanying author’s notes, the vignettes would have little specificity to the horrors in Chile. They are, instead, reminders of the value of every child and leave the reader with a sense of loss for what might have been, had each of these children, and all children killed in political violence, survived. The book closes with a complete list of the young people’s names and ages when they were disappeared — following which a final poem, “Pablo,” honors a boy who in 2013 was found alive. MAEVE VISSER KNOTH

Starfish
by Lisa Fipps
Intermediate, Middle School    Paulsen/Penguin    256 pp.    g
3/21    978-1-9848-1450-0    $16.99
e-book ed.  978-1-9848-1451-7    $10.99

Since she was five, Ellie (now eleven) has lived by a list of Fat Girl Rules: “Make yourself small”; “Move slowly so / your fat doesn’t jiggle”; “When you hear laughter, / someone’s laughing at you.” She only feels comfortable in her body when she’s swimming or spending time with her dog or her similarly fat best friend, Viv. But when Viv moves away, Ellie is alone in facing the sixth-grade bullies, who call her a whale, slam doors in her face, and — horrifyingly — loosen the screws on her desk so it collapses. It’s not much better outside of school, where strangers make rude comments, or at home, where her mother posts dieting articles on the fridge and even takes her to see a bariatric surgeon without her consent. (If it all seems too cruel to be realistic, an author’s note explains that these experiences are based on her own.) Luckily, Ellie has the support of her dad, a new friend, and an understanding therapist who teaches her to stand up for herself. Ellie’s simple and powerful free-verse poems intensify her emotional turmoil and smoothly destroy stereotypes (“They think I’m unhappy / because I’m fat. / The truth is, / I’m unhappy because / they bully me / about being fat”). Her strength in accepting herself and learning to defy her Fat Girl Rules is an inspiring reminder to all readers that they deserve to “take up space.” RACHEL L. SMITH

Legacy: Women Poets of the Harlem Renaissance
by Nikki Grimes; illus. by various artists
Intermediate, Middle School, High School    Bloomsbury    144 pp.    g
1/21    978-1-68119-944-3    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-1-68119-945-0    $13.29

Grimes returns to the Harlem Renaissance (One Last Word, rev. 3/17) to showcase the works of some female poets whose literary prowess has long been underestimated and overlooked — Mae V. Cowdery, Anne Spencer, Effie Lee Newsome, Alice Dunbar-Nelson, and a dozen others. As in the first volume, each poem from the past is matched with a new, original poem by Grimes, skillfully employing the Golden Shovel form, which allows her to bring the relevance of the past into the reality of the present. For example, Esther Pope’s “Flag Salute,” about the lynching and burning of a teenage boy for an alleged aggression against a white woman, is itself infused with lines of the Pledge of Allegiance. Grimes responds with a poignant poem about the unfulfilled promise of equality for African Americans, accompanied by a dramatic mixed-media illustration of a mother lamenting the loss of a son. Illustrations by nineteen contemporary female artists, including Vanessa Brantley-Newton, Nina Crews, Pat Cummings, and Ekua Holmes, elucidate the connections and amplify evocative messages. The eloquent and stirring voices of Grimes and her counterparts of the past resonate with passion, purpose, and resilience. Back matter includes biographies of the poets and artists as well as a bibliography. PAULETTA BROWN BRACY

The Book of Not Entirely Useful Advice
by A. F. Harrold; illus. by Mini Grey
Intermediate    Bloomsbury    160 pp.    g
3/21    978-1-5476-0677-1    $19.99
e-book ed.  978-1-5476-0678-8    $13.99

Harrold (The Song from Somewhere Else, rev. 5/17) presents poems (a few repurposed from previous collections) full of practical and not-so-practical insights on topics ranging from compliment-giving to where not to dunk your biscuits. Some are in loosely metered rhyme, others in free verse, often in an amusingly formal voice. “Never muddle your lunch box and pencil case, / because wood and graphite don’t taste / very nice. / (I only ever did this twice.)” It’s all very silly, and sometimes gross (“Rabbit Risks”) or dark (“Nasty Rabbit Poem”) — but it’s clear, even without the introductory admonition to “use your brain and work out for yourself which bits to follow and which bits to ignore,” that hardly anything is meant to be taken seriously. Adding to the sense of playfulness is the poems’ varied placement in and around Grey’s (Traction Man Is Here!, rev. 3/05) vibrantly colored illustrations, as well as occasional pages that encourage reader participation: a few blank spaces for writing or drawing; a fill-in-the-blanks “Advice-a-Tron 216.” Make of the advice what you will, but enjoy — and, seriously, don’t put a crocodile in your ear. SHOSHANA FLAX

Red, White, and Whole
by Rajani LaRocca
Middle School    Quill Tree/HarperCollins    224 pp.    g
2/21    978-0-06-304742-6    $16.99
e-book ed.  978-0-06-304744-0    $9.99

It’s 1983, and thirteen-year-old Reha feels she has “two lives.” In one, she’s a serious student who tries to make her Indian immigrant parents proud but is seen as an outsider (who speaks “Indian”) at her predominantly white school. In her other life, Reha, who doesn’t actually speak her parents’ native languages, feels that “no matter where I go, / America or India, / I don’t quite fit.” These feelings intensify when her Amma (mother) is diagnosed with leukemia, goes through several rounds of chemotherapy, and, ultimately, succumbs to her illness. Composed of short, metaphor-rich poems, this verse novel weaves together complex narrative strands with sophistication. It does the double duty of giving voice to the hyphenated American experience and navigation of dual identities, while also representing the illness and loss of a parent with tenderness and fidelity to the stages of grief. Blood is a predominant metaphor, but it’s not off-putting. The “red, white, and whole” of the title refers to “whole blood…the precious river in our arteries, our veins, our hearts,” and represents both Amma’s illness and Reha’s more abstract yearning to belong wholly to one place. Give this emotionally powerful novel to immigrant, third-culture kids or anyone experiencing grief and loss. JULIE HAKIM AZZAM

Everything Comes Next: Collected & New Poems
by Naomi Shihab Nye; illus. by Rafael López
Intermediate, Middle School    Greenwillow    256 pp.    g
9/20    978-0-06-301345-2    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-0-06-301347-6    $9.99

A substantial volume of poems by Nye, the Palestinian American poet and current Young People’s Poet Laureate, is a pleasure on many fronts. This compilation, which includes new poems and others from her past collections (including some originally for adults), is loosely divided into three sections, “The Holy Land of Childhood,” “The Holy Land That Isn’t,” and “People Are the Only Holy Land.” Having so many of Nye’s poems all bumping up against one another reminds us of her particular themes and her deceptively quotidian subjects — meals, family anecdotes, birdwatching, highway signs, relocation, mint tea, coincidences, lost and neglected objects, hope. The poems are sometimes funny but never reductive; and they keep the reader off-balance. We all know about the prohibitions of childhood, but who thinks of “Don’t kiss the squirrel before you bury him”? The poems’ style is conversational and spare of simile, the tone warm, welcoming, inclusive — and occasionally angry. The poem “A Few Questions for Bashar Assad” begins benignly: “We’re curious about your shoes.” We’re a few lines in before we catch the undercurrent of controlled fury. She tackles difficult subjects — war, bereavement, Arab-Jewish relations, refugees—but always with a resonant, stereo point of view: “Love means you breathe in two countries”; “Where we live in the world is never one place.” When she asserts that “not everything is lost,” she has earned her optimism through alert, original, empathetic observation. Lucky the reader who would have this collection on hand for visiting and revisiting. SARAH ELLIS

Hard-Boiled Bugs for Breakfast: And Other Tasty Poems
by Jack Prelutsky; illus. by Ruth Chan
Intermediate    Greenwillow    144 pp.    g
1/21    978-0-06-301913-3    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-0-06-301915-7    $9.99

Prelutsky fans specifically, and fans of humorous poetry generally, should find just what they’re looking for here: nonsense confidently delivered in lines that scan satisfyingly (“My dragon is mad at my ogre, / My ogre is mad at my gnome, / My gnome will not talk to my goblin. / It’s truly upsetting my home”), surrounded by Chan’s exuberantly cartooned black-and-white drawings. Along with imaginary creatures and the like, the poems cover familiar realistic kid-concerns such as homework, sibling conflict, and spinach — and if some are a little too familiar (see “I’ve Got a Cold”), guessing a predictable ending might feel like a victory for some readers. The collection includes a few different forms: a section of haiku from various animals’ points of view breaks up the silliness, and the cleverly rhymed concrete poem “Figure 8” had this reviewer-via-e-book barely refraining from turning her laptop upside down. Bon appétit! SHOSHANA FLAX

From the April 2021 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Horn Book
Horn Book

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