Book Reviews and More

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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Poetry - Genre Three Reviews

Review for I Am the Book by Lee Bennett Hopkins, Illustrated by Yayo

Hopkins, Lee Bennett. I Am the Book. Ill. by Yayo. New York: Holiday House, 2011. ISBN 9780823421190

     I Am the Book is a poetry anthology arranged by Lee Bennett Hopkins. The anthology features 13 poems that celebrate the love of reading. Books and stories are center stage as the topic of the poems. Each poet puts their own spin on the subject of books. One poem, “Paperback Plunder” by Michele Krueger is told from the point-of-view of a paperback novel left behind on the beach. The poem uses a lovely simile to compare the book to a giant conch shell saying “Lift me to my ear,/Hear the story I shall tell.” Other poems celebrate the excitement of getting lost in a story, such as “Don’t Need a Window Seat” by Kristine O’Connell George and “This Book” by Avis Harley. Both poems evoke lively images of the excitement a person can feel when they are lost in a story. In “Don’t Need a Window Seat”, the ride on the bus is compared to the ride in the imagination that a reader takes with the “Bus’s wheels are turning fast,/I’m starting Chapter One,” and “Riding my imagination/flying down city streets./Got this great new book to read-/who needs a window seat?” In “This Book”, avid readers can relate to the child who is captivated by a book through the whole day, from when they wake up, through school, then “I forgot I was hungry/I almost missed dinner” and onto the end of the day which they spend reading by flashlight to find out the ending of the book. This is an experience many readers will be able to picture in their minds, and begs the question – what books have you read lately that fill your mind throughout the day? Both of the poems have a quick-paced rhythm that would lend well to reading aloud. Other poems in the collection evoke a quieter, more reminiscent feel about reading. “Quiet Morning” by Karen B. Winnick and “Book” by Amy Ludwig Van Derwater both bring up the comforting emotions of snuggling up with a good book in bed or on a rainy day and the satisfaction that can come with that time. Any of the poems in this collection would make an excellent introduction to story time. Often, librarians use a little rhyme or song to help calm the kids down and prepare them to listen to a story. Perhaps one of the poems from I Am the Book could also be paired with that to help prepare children to fully engage into the wonder of a book.

     I Am a Book features illustrations for each poem in the collection by the artist Yayo created with acrylics on canvas.  Each poem receives a double page spread in the book, which allows the art to spread across the page and accents how the words and the pictures work together. The illustrator does an especially effective job for the poem “What Was That?” by Rebecca Kai Dotlich. The illustration of a whale with a book with for a tail is clever and pairs well with the words “What was that/that made me blink?/Made me wonder,/made me think?” Just as the poem points out how a book can make you wonder about fantastical things, the picture of the whale delves into the world of imagination. The rhyme scheme using short 3 and 4 syllable stanzas and an A-B-C-B pattern also flows nicely together with the mood and feel of the poem. Overall, the anthology flows smoothly from one poem to the next. I like how it begins with “Quiet Morning” and ends with “Book” which ends with the line “Closing the cover/I sigh - /Good-bye, friend.” It also cleverly breaks up the collection with “Poetry Time” by Hopkins himself in the middle saying “It’s poem o’clock./Time for a rhyme –“, which acts as a middle-of-the-day poetry break within the collection itself. The book also includes an information section about each of the contributing poets at the back of the anthology.

     I Am the Book was a California Reading Association’s Eureka! Picture Book Award Silver Honor book as well as a 2012 Chicago Public Library Best of the Best selection. It also was a 2011 Nerdies Book Award winner for Poetry. Anthologist Hopkins is the founder of the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry award, as well as a Christopher Award winner. Library Media Center reviews says the compilation “would be a great addition to any elementary media center… The illustrations have a whimsical and carefree feeling that all readers will enjoy.”
     Lee Bennett Hopkins is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most prolific anthologist for children with currently more than 120 anthologies to his credit, so there is no shortage of anthologies to explore by Hopkins, including the excellent Amazing Faces and easy reader collection Dizzy Dinosaurs: Silly Dino Poems. Poetry anthologies by other writers that feature a variety of classic and modern poets include A Family of Poems compiled by Caroline Kennedy, the National Geographic Book of Animal Poetry edited by J. Patrick Lewis (which features fabulous photographs), and The 20th Century Children’s Poetry Treasury selected by Jack Prelutsky. A Child’s Book of Poems illustrated by Gyo Fujikawa invites readers to pore over the engaging pictures, and an excellent collection for bedtime includes Poems and Prayers for the Very Young, selected and illustrated by Martha Alexander. Readers who enjoy this poetic celebration of books should also check out BookSpeak: Poems About Books by Laura Purdie Salas or perhaps pair one of these poems with picture books about books such as Wild About Books by Judy Sierra, Miss Brooks Loves Books (And I Don’t) by Barbara Bottner, Dog Loves Books by Louise Yates and The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce.
Quote from Lee Bennett Hopkins: “Guiness was a total shock. It was all due to Sylvia Vardell and one of her doctoral students, who initiated this and saw it through. I had nothing to do with it. It was a thrill and an honor.”
Hopkins, Lee Bennett. I Am the Book. New York: Holiday House, 2011.
"I Am the Book." Holiday House Book Page. (accessed February 24, 2014).
"Poetry Month 2013: ‘Good Books, Good Times!’ by Lee Bennett Hopkins." Renee LaTulippe No Water River. (accessed February 24, 2014).
Review for Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai
Lai, Thanhha. Inside Out & Back Again. New York: Harper, 2011. ISBN 978-0-06-196278-3

In Inside Out & Back Again, Thanhha Lai lyrically explores the experience of a young girl and her family’s journey from Saigon to Georgia during the Vietnam War.  Kim Hà is a ten-year-old girl living in Saigon in 1975. Her father left to fight in the war, and has been missing in action for nine years. Hà, her mother, and three older brothers are struggling to make it in the war-torn country. When Saigon falls, the family flees on a boat with thousands of other refugees. After almost a month on the ship, the refugees are rescued and allowed to choose a land for their new home. Hà’s mother chooses America, and Hà and her family end up in Georgia. But the family’s transition to America is not an easy one. At one point Hà poignantly says, “No one would believe me/but at times/I would choose/wartime in Saigon/over/peacetime in Alabama” (Lai 195). Despite the difficulties and prejudice they encounter, Hà and her family eventually begin to find their place in America.

Inside Out & Back Again is a beautifully written verse novel. One aspect that makes verse novels unique is that the narrative is revealed through poems that link to one another to tell the story. As Dr. Sylvia Vardell points out in Children’s Literature in Action, “The best verse novels are built on poems that are often lovely stand-alone works of poetry” (Vardell 116). Inside Out & Back Again does that remarkably well. As I was reading the novel, I often stopped and tried to imagine the page as a poem by itself. Even without the surrounding background of the novel, the verses evoke strong feelings. When you combine the verses along with the story of the novel, it creates a complimentary picture. In fact, this is one of the strengths of well-written novels in verse. The language, rhythm, and poetry combine with characters, settings, and context to bring out the best in both the novel and the verse.
The character of Hà rings true through her words describing the hardships she faces, both in school in Saigon,

“From now on
will be for
happy news.
No one has anything
to say” (Lai 18),

 as well as in America,

“Pink Boy keeps asking,
What are you?
By the end of school
he yells an answer:
She should be a pancake face.
She has a pancake face.
It doesn’t make sense
it does” (Lai 196).

 The book is a wonderful opportunity to allow readers to experience a life that is most likely very different from their own experience. It can allow children to empathize with the issues that face refugees. Through the story’s strong characterization, rich setting details and relatable family dynamics, readers can find themselves in 1975, living and empathizing with a memorable young girl’s experience.

     Inside Out & Back Again won the National Book Award in 2011 and was a 2012 Newbery Medal Honor Book. Kirkus Reviews gave it a starred review saying, “In her not-to-be-missed debut, Lai evokes a distinct time and place and presents a complex, realistic heroine whom readers will recognize, even if they haven’t found themselves in a strange new country.” School Library Journal blogger Elizabeth Bird states, “All told, Inside Out and Back Again has the brevity of a verse novel packed with a punch many times its size. It’s one of the lovelier books I’ve read in a long time…”

     This novel’s richness and multi-layered subject matter lend it to pair well with several different types of novels. Children who enjoy the novel in verse form may want to explore others written in this style, including Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse, The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, and May B. by Caroline Starr Rose. Inside Out & Back Again places readers in the 1970s, which would make this book a nice selection to pair with a social studies or history unit about the Vietnam War. Other books that may appeal to interest in this time period include The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt and Shooting the Moon by Frances O’Roark Dowell. For more about the refugee experience, the picture books How I Learned Geography by Uri Shulevitz, The Lotus Seed by Sherry Garland, or Brothers in Hope: The Story of the Lost Boys of the Sudan by Mary Williams may be a nice companion to the story, as well as the novel Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate, which is also written in verse. To further explore the theme of trying to find one’s place in new or unwanted situations, include books such as One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams Garcia, Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm, Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan, and Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool.

Quote from Thanhha Lai:
“I’m not so presumptuous as to think I could offer a voice to refugee children, but more of a sparkle to jump start their own stories. While writing I thought often of other 10-year-old refugees in the world.”

Bird, Elizabeth. "Review of the Day: Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai." A Fuse 8 Production. (accessed February 22, 2014).

"INSIDE OUT AND BACK AGAIN." Kirkus Reviews. (accessed February 22, 2014).

Lai, Thanhha. Inside out & Back Again. New York: Harper, 2011.

"Thanhha Lai, Inside Out and Back Again - National Book Award YPL Winner, The National Book Foundation." The National Book Foundation. (accessed February 22, 2014).

Vardell, Sylvia M. Children's Literature in Action: A Librarian's Guide. Westport, Conn.: Libraries Unlimited, 2008.

Review for Mirror Mirror by Marilyn Singer, Illustrated by Josée Masse

Singer, Marilyn. Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse. Ill. by Josée Masse. New York, N.Y.: Dutton Children's Books, 2010. ISBN 9780525479017.

     Mirror Mirror by Marilyn Singer is a collection of poems in reversible verse that can be read both forward and backward. Singer refers to this style as a reverso poem. She describes the style on the last page of the book saying, “When you read a reverse down, it is one poem. When you read it up, with changes allowed only in punctuation and capitalization it is a different poem.” What a clever and fun format! In this collection, Singer bases most of the poems on well-known fairy and folk tales, such as Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rumpelstiltskin, Rapunzel and many others. In “In the Hood”, we read the first poem from the perspective of Little Red Riding Hood, but when you reverse it, we get to hear the poem from the Big Bad Wolf. In “The Sleeping Beauty and the Wide-Awake Prince,” we hear from both the Sleeping Beauty and her knight in shining armor. With “Cinderella’s Double Life,” the reader gets to hear Cinderella’s perspective before and during the ball. The book includes 14 poem pairs, as well as an author’s description in the back of the book of how she came up with the idea of reverso poems – including her first one written about her cat.

     Despite the fairy tale subject manner, the poems themselves have a modern, even irreverent at times, tone about them. They pair nicely with the beautiful, colorful illustrations of Josée Masse, who adds a graphic design element that highlights the different sides of the poems. The poems themselves vary in readability, with some of the reverses reading more smoothly than others. Two of my favorites include “Have Another Chocolate” about Hansel and Gretel. In this reverse poem the stanzas flip very easily and “When you hold it out,/your finger/feels like/a bone./Fatten up./Don’t/keep her waiting…” becomes “Keep her waiting,/Don’t/Fatten up./A bone/feels like/your finger/when you hold it out.” In “The Doubtful Duckling” about the story of the ugly duckling, the reverse switches from “Someday/I’ll turn in to a swan./No way/I’ll stay/an ugly duckling” to “An ugly duckling/I’ll stay./No way/I’ll turn into a swam/someday.” While these poems are fun to read aloud, having a written copy of the poem makes the reader appreciate the clever switching of the stanzas even more, so having more than one copy of the book for kids to investigate further would be helpful. Another interesting thing to try is to read the poem on the right first, and then the left, instead of the usual left to right order. It just adds another flip to the reading, and helps the poems be seen and re-seen in a different light.

     Mirror Mirror was on the 2011-2012 Texas Bluebonnet list, the New York and Chicago Public Library Best Books of 2010, and the Washington Post’s Top 15 Books of 2010. Kirkus Reviews starred review states: “Masse’s gorgeous, stylized illustrations enhance the themes of duality and perspective by presenting images and landscapes that morph in delightful ways from one side of the page to the other. A mesmerizing and seamless celebration of language, imagery and perspective.” Booklist’s starred review says the book is “a must-purchase that will have readers marveling over a visual and verbal feast.”

     Marilyn Singer created another reverso poetry book called Follow Follow, which will definitely appeal to fans of Mirror Mirror. It includes more fairy tale based stories, along with an extended author’s note with summaries of the tales and further explanation of Singer’s reverse poetry style. These books just beg for a poetry lab or workshop to allow kids to attempt their own versions of reverso poetry – what a fun challenge! These poems would pair especially well with a study of fairy tales, folk tales and fractured fairy tales. Although most of the poems are based on familiar tales, a revisiting of the original tale would be beneficial to enhance the meanings of the poems. Since these poems offer a look into perspectives, stories such as The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Sciesczka or The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig by Eugene Trivias would make nice comparisons. Even modern movies such as Happily Never After, Hoodwinked, Shrek, or the classic Disney versions of some of the tales would be a fun way to round out a study into all of these forms. For more interactive poetry options, try Messing Around on the Monkey Bars by Betsy Franco, which encourages reading aloud from two voices. Another take on old classics includes Alan Katz’s books based on traditional songs, so try Take Me Out of the Bathtub or I’m Still Here in the Bathtub for another way to explore putting a new twist on old things. 

Quote from Marilyn Singer: “For what genre is as much about gorgeous, glorious, perfect words than poetry?”

"Marilyn Singer." Marilyn Singer: Author: Marilyn On Writing. (accessed February 26, 2014).

"MIRROR MIRROR." Kirkus Reviews. (accessed February 26, 2014).

Singer, Marilyn. Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse. New York, N.Y.: Dutton Children's Books, 2010.

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