Review of How to Write a Poem

How to Write a PoemHow to Write a Poem
by Kwame Alexander and Deanna Nikaido; illus. by Melissa Sweet
Primary    Quill Tree/HarperCollins    32 pp.
4/23    9780063060906    $18.99
e-book ed.  9780063309937    $10.99

Alexander and Nikaido offer a single poem as this lyrical picture book’s text, inviting young readers (and listeners) to “dive deep into the silent sea of your imagination” and “discover… / words / raining / everywhere. / Invite them / into your paper boat / and row row row.” They cleverly integrate alliteration, similes, allusions, and wordplay to model for young writers what a poem can look and sound like. The buoyant text provides ample sensory imagery and nudges readers to look, listen, hear, feel, touch, speak, and then write, offering a guide for the process of observing, imagining, and putting it all down in words. Sweet’s dynamic collage illustrations, composed of “vintage and handmade papers, paint, pencils, printed letterforms, and beach pebbles,” suggests another level of engagement with the concept; her lively arrangement of words and lines across each double-page spread gives readers a visual example of how to play with language. In her appended note, she reveals that the text inspired her to think of circles (“big rounded marks, delicate lines, and cut-paper shapes in orbit filling the space”), suggesting the circular nature of the writing process; lined notebook paper is visible in many of the illustrations, hinting that the goal of the book is to inspire writing, too. A note from Alexander provides further thoughts on the question: “What is poetry?”

From the May/June 2023 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Sylvia Vardell

Sylvia Vardell is a professor in the School of Library & Information Studies at Texas Woman’s University and author of Children’s Literature in Action, Poetry Aloud Here, A World Full of Poems and the Poetry for Children blog.

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