Picture books for National Poetry Month 2022

April is National Poetry Month, and in addition to our Five Questions interview with the New Yorker’s poetry editor Kevin Young about Emile and the Field, here are five other recent picture books and poetry books to inspire preschool and primary readers. We’ll be celebrating poetry all month long; catch up with our reviews and click the tag Poetry.

by Douglas Florian; illus. by the author
Primary    Beach Lane/Simon    48 pp.    g
3/22    978-1-5344-6590-9    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-5344-6591-6    $10.99

Florian returns to the zoo (zoo’s who, rev. 5/05) with twenty new pithy and jubilant poems about animals. Some of the poems are peppered with interesting facts, such as “The African Elephant”: “Each tusk can weigh / more than a man / (and measure just as long).” Occasionally a standalone couplet creates the space for sheer silliness: “I wanted to write a poem on an antelope. / But I cantaloupe.” Each of the poems incorporates clever wordplay to create an ultimate punch line, while Florian’s characteristically rough-textured art, with its thick crayonlike lines and deep colors, plays up the joke. The illustration accompanying “The Midwife Toad” shows a male toad loaded down with eggs on his back and with a “World’s Best Dad” hat on his head. “The Hammerhead Shark” declares, “I hunt for squid or bass or ray– / my hammer head nails down my prey,” and the illustration depicts a shark using its head to hammer some nails into a board. The wide range of creatures — from centipedes and seagulls to mandrills and flying foxes — offers young readers familiar specimens as well as some less well-known ones. Florian’s experimentation with word meanings and usage models how to have fun with writing, imagery, and verse. JULIE ROACH

Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem
by Amanda Gorman; illus. by Loren Long
Primary    Viking    32 pp.    g
9/21    978-0-593-20322-4    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-0-593-20323-1    $10.99

“I’m a movement that roars and springs, / There’s a wave where my change sings.” A dark-skinned, guitar-playing young protagonist serves as a sort of Pied Piper for positive change in this debut picture book by National Youth Poet Laureate Gorman. Sporting a big afro ponytail, she walks through town, helping wherever she’s needed, as other children join her in cleaning up trash, planting flowers, painting storefront walls, and more. The illustrations’ details point subtly to the children’s unique identities — a variety of skin tones, a yarmulke, a wheelchair — but as the protagonist articulates the unifying themes of cooperation, self-esteem, and empowerment, they all work together to make change with the resources they have, including their own hands. Long’s (Someone Builds the Dream, rev. 5/21) powerful acrylic and colored-pencil illustrations bring each scene to life. A mural recalling stained glass and depicting Martin Luther King Jr. is featured near the beginning of the book; another mural declaring “We Are the Change,” which shows the protagonist and the other child activists joyfully playing music together, appears near the end. This inspiring call to action unambiguously suggests that every individual, regardless of age, can contribute to making the world a better place. MICHELLE H. MARTIN

Moving Words About a Flower
by K. C. Hayes; illus. by Barbara Chotiner
Preschool    Charlesbridge    40 pp.    g
3/22    978-1-62354-165-1    $16.99
e-book ed.  978-1-63289-961-3    $9.99

A seed grows into a dandelion and becomes a ball of seeds that scatter. In a book that relies on typographical creativity to relate information, text placement mimics what’s happening in the story. On the opening spread, for instance, “a million silver raindrops… / falling, falling, falling… / hitting the sidewalk with a splash” takes the form of an active rainstorm. On the subsequent spread, the text about the post-storm rainbow is set in an arc shape, each line a different color. A sprout pops up in the city sidewalk, revealing the buttery-yellow petals of a dandelion. Soon, it’s “a feathery / white ball of / seeds,” which then sail on the wind and land far away in a green field. One dandelion survives to spread its seeds again. The book’s playful visual imagery, which also includes various font colors, makes for an engaging read; the text not only forms concrete shapes but also conveys movement (the title’s “moving words”) and successfully communicates the scientific elements of the story (e.g., lines of text shaped like roots in the soil). Back matter provides more facts about these “tough” flowers and their life cycle. JULIE DANIELSON

Poems from When We Were Very Young
by A. A. Milne; illus. by Rosemary Wells
Preschool    Norton    80 pp.    g
10/21    978-1-324-01653-3    $19.95
e-book ed.  978-1-324-01654-0    $17.48

Wells says in an opening note that she chose her favorite twelve poems from Milne’s beloved classic to present in “picture-book format.” She gives each its own introductory page on which she shows that poem’s characters (usually a cat, mouse, rabbit, or other critter) as well as other important elements. For instance, for the first entry, “Happiness,” the introductory page shows the character John as a cat, along with three small, square pictures with labels for each: mackintosh, boots, hat. This sets the stage for very young children so they can make more sense of what’s to come. Wells also puts her own interpretation on some of the poems. In “Disobedience,” which begins “James James / Morrison Morrison / Weatherby George Dupree / Took great / Care of his Mother, / Though he was only three,” she adds extra text, placed in speech bubbles, in which James’s mother is safely returned home — a reassuring if narratively radical touch. Through her brightly colored paintings (which incorporate iconic British markers such as Underground signs, red phone booths, and double-decker buses) and expressive characters, Wells will bring a new generation of readers to these almost-one-hundred-year-old poems. A glossary is appended of some of Milne’s “old-fashioned” words, such as shilling and porringer. SUSAN DOVE LEMPKE

Stop That Poem!
by Eric Ode; illus. by Jieting Chen
Primary    Kane Miller    32 pp.    g
9/21    978-1-68464-223-6    $14.99

A child stacks rectangles, each with one word printed on it (reminiscent of magnetic poetry), atop a wagon. When the stack gets too tall, the wind carries the rectangles away, and they become more fluid-looking — but still readable, as the child and friends chase the rectangles through a field and lake, gather them on a clothesline, despair as a dog carries that clothesline away, and so forth. A few speech bubbles provide dialogue, but most of the text is composed of an evolving poem about evolving poems: “A poem might / jump up / take flight / climb higher and higher / then settle like / birds on a wire.” Chen’s illustrations, in muted colors punctuated with bright orange, show the poem constantly propelled forward across landscapes while a growing, diverse cast of children gets involved. Aspiring poets should be encouraged in their creativity by this lilting “ode” (pun on the author’s name intended) to the challenge and joy of getting a poem just right. SHOSHANA FLAX

From the March 2022 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Horn Book
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