At home with poetry

Get ready for National Poetry Month, coming in April! These five books for younger readers feature poems about all kinds of places, about feeling at home, and about poetry itself. See also the Guide/Reviews Database subject tag Poetry, and for older readers, check out our Five Questions interview with Renée Watson and Ekua Holmes about Black Girl You Are Atlas.

How 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?” SYLVIA VARDELL

Welcome to the Wonder House
by Rebecca Kai Dotlich and Georgia Heard; illus. by Deborah Freedman
Primary, Intermediate    Wordsong/Astra    40 pp.
7/23    9781635927627    $18.99
e-book ed.  9781635928631    $11.99

Twenty-nine poems in a lovely mix of forms and styles populate this book, presented as a “house” with twelve double-page-spread “rooms.” Each room has a slightly different focus on the function of wonder in exploring the natural world. In “Room of Curiosity,” two poems invite readers to question, think, and imagine as they observe their surroundings and investigate the world around them. “Room of Science” considers the work of different disciplines: e.g., “In a lab, a physicist creates soap bubbles, / wobbling gifts of air wrapped in slippery skin / that POP in an instant.” The topics are abstract (time, imagination, quiet), but the poems guide readers through specific moments and questions, including wondering about a pebble’s history and speculating about dinosaurs’ last day on Earth. Freedman’s intriguing mixed-media illustrations use wide washes of color in shades of blue, green, gold, or purple with subtle hints to the objects referenced in the poems. In the final “Note About Wonder,” the poets encourage questioning and creativity and challenge young readers to express themselves through writing, painting, building, and more. SYLVIA VARDELL

At the Poles
by David Elliott; illus. by Ellen Rooney
Preschool, Primary    Candlewick    40 pp.
10/23    9781536205992    $18.99

That paragon of poetic pith Elliott (In the Woods, rev. 3/20; and others) returns with another winning entry. Here his focus is on animals of the polar regions, from emperor penguins in Antarctica, through two species that inhabit the waters of both regions, to polar bears in the Arctic. Many of the fifteen brief poems use direct address, the better to connect creature with readers (orca: “You have a reputation / both / thrilling and widespread. / You inspire admiration, / awe, / and not a little dread”); some employ internal rhymes or multiple rhymes (southern elephant seal: “But how do you ex- / plain your tremendous / amplitude when you / sometimes go for months / without a single / bite of food?”); all display originality of thought. Rooney’s eye-catching portraits — created using printmaking ink, gouache, crayon, and digital and traditional collage techniques — vary to match the tone of each poem, from lighthearted and humorous to majestic and haunting (see her shivery Greenland shark). Appended with useful and relevant “Notes About the Animals.” MARTHA V. PARRAVANO

What You Need to Be Warm
by Neil Gaiman; illus. by various artists
Primary, Intermediate    Quill Tree/HarperCollins    32 pp.
10/23    9780063358089    $18.99
e-book ed.  9780063358102    $12.99

Gaiman, who serves as a Goodwill Ambassador for the UN Refugee Agency, used social media to ask people about their memories of being warm, to draw attention to — and raise money for — those unhoused or displaced due to violent conflict. He wove respondents’ words into the free-verse poem that is this compelling picture book’s text. The twelve loose stanzas are vivid and specific with relatable details. Each is interpreted by a different artist (with fascinating explanatory notes from the illustrators appended), including Yuliya Gwilym, Petr Horáček, Oliver Jeffers, and Nadine Kaadan. What makes us warm? Physical things like blankets, radiators, fireplaces, coats and gloves, and hot cocoa, as well as more abstract concepts such as a smile, memories, safety, or a kind word. The double-page spreads create entire scenes that expand both the context and the meaning of the lines — all in only three colors: shades of black, white, and orange. It’s an unusual palette; the orange is especially effective in conveying heat and warmth, and the grayscale provides a unifying thread across the various artistic styles. Midway, the illustrations feature several scenes of refugees and migrants, but the hopeful conclusion depicts children at play and at home with the words, “You have the right to be here.” One other intriguing element is the graphic look of the text, with spacing that varies and key words in a larger font size — creating another telegraphic poem-within-a-poem. SYLVIA VARDELL

by Isabelle Simler; illus. by the author; trans. from French by Vineet Lal
Primary, Intermediate    Eerdmans    64 pp.
3/24    9780802856203    $18.99
e-book ed.  9781467467544    $18.99

Simler takes on the perspectives of twenty-seven creatures who share the intricacies of their homes in this eye-catching French import. Each entry features a poem about, and illustration of, the animal and its habitat. The playful poem titles include a comet moth’s “Silky Apartment,” a European fan worm’s “Tubular Condo,” and the common tailorbird’s “Haute Couture Bedchamber.” Creatures relate their stories with style: the satin bowerbird tells readers that its home is built from sticks and twigs, which Simler describes as “an arched avenue.” It paints its walls with berry juice, adding, “I have a real flair for home decoration.” Readers leave with facts about the natural world, such as that the red ovenbird takes several weeks to construct its “Mud Bungalow,” that the elf owl is the smallest owl in the world, and that the silk that connects the walls of the “Leafy Fortress” of a weaver ant is spun by young larvae. Simler’s highly textured, jewel-tone illustrations give readers detailed peeks into the animals’ homes. The elf owl stares directly at readers from its perch on a cactus plant, and a Sumatran orangutan, about to succumb to sleep, gazes out from a “mattress of fresh leaves” in the forest. These vivid, sensory poems could serve as superb classroom writing prompts, and back matter (including a glossary and recommended resources) provides additional information. JULIE DANIELSON

From the March 2024 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Horn Book
Horn Book

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing.