2010 Finalists: Poetry

Borrowed Names: Poems About Laura Ingalls Wilder, Madam C.J. Walker, Marie Curie, and Their Daughters
by Jeannine Atkins
Henry Holt
Nominated by: Jenny Moss

This collection of extended poems for young adults reads as if it’s a novel–a skillful blend of verse, plot, and character development–offering readers a fresh understanding of the complex emotional depths shared by mothers and daughters. The figures portrayed in its pages are based on actual historical figures, and in the creation of these poems the author has remained faithful to history, using information that she researched about each woman’s life.

“When facts failed to answer questions,” explains Atkins, “I let in imagination to coax out what seemed hidden behind surfaces. I hoped each poem could stand alone, but also together suggest the shapes of lives and the connections among the different daughters and mothers.”

Sifting through masses of information about each woman, discovering the seed for a poem, as well as the truth of how mothers and daughters might relate to each other, and then assembling these seeds into poems, Atkins achieves something rare here, a seamless, compelling narrative that sheds new light on the intimacy and challenges of mother-daughter relationships.

Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night
by Joyce Sidman
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Nominated by: Julie Larios

Three-time Cybils winner Joyce Sidman has given us another topnotch collection of nature poems. In Dark Emperor & Other Poems of the Night, her focus is on the flora and fauna of the woods. This time, she examines her subjects through the lens of night. While many may presume the period between sunset and sunrise to be a time of silence and sleep, Sidman sees night as a “feast of sound and spark”…as “a wild enchanted park.” She skillfully brings the dark forest to life with her evocative poetry and imagery. She illuminates the nocturnal behavior of an oak tree, mushrooms, primrose moth, porcupette, great horned owl, eft, and a number of other woodland creatures. She even provides insight into the moon’s “thinking.”

Dark Emperor includes a glossary and concisely written prose paragraphs that contain a wealth of information about the subjects of the poems. Artist Rick Allen used muted colors and abundant black lines in his illustrations to capture the atmosphere of a forest after dark. This collection is a must-have for teachers who enjoy connecting science and poetry—and for children who are budding naturalists.

Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse
by Marilyn Singer
Penguin USA
Nominated by: Maggi Idzikowski (Mama Librarian)

Mirror, Mirror is a picture book collection of clever “reverso” poems that reinvent familiar fairy tales in puzzle like fashion. Each tale/poem is two poems, read down the page for one point of view, then up the page for another; such as Red Riding Hood or the Wolf, for example, or Snow White vs. the Wicked Queen, etc. Witty and irreverent, these pithy poems read well out loud and challenge children to imitate the formula, complete with an author’s endnote for guidance.

Scarum Fair
by Jessica Swaim
Nominated by: Mary McKenna Siddals

Imagine a State Fair, imagine it dark and filled with the most marvelous monsters, now add a clever dose of poetry; dark and twisty, with bouncy rhymes and that make a child grin from ear to ear. Throw in beautiful and fun illustrations by Carol Ashley and you’ve got Scarum Fair, the marvelous little book of poetry by Jessica Swaim. Scarum Fair has a TON of kid appeal, skillful rhymes with an almost musical feel to them. While the poetry may be a little dark (okay, a lot dark) to adults, most children will love it and squeal with shivery glee about a creepy little monster nibbling at their toes. The book consists of 29 very humorous poems designed to really draw children in with its Halloweeny theme and it works very well. Children drawn to the deliciously scary will love poems like The Werewolves’ Den: “Like our friendly canine cousins,/ we’re a cute and cuddly bunch./ Just think of us as puppies,/ and we’ll think of you as…lunch.”

Sharing the Seasons: A Book of Poems
by ed. by Lee Bennet Hopkins
Simon & Schuster
Nominated by: Cynthia Leitich Smith

Poetry about the seasons gives kids a fantastic opportunity to connect literature with what’s happening in their own lives at that very moment. Hopkins’ anthology of 48 poems, 12 for each season, is a masterful collection of classic and contemporary works by a bounty of poets. Each season opens with a crystalline poem by Hopkins, who highlights some of the sights, sounds, feelings, and gear (lost mittens, anyone?) specific to that time of year. Then, from scooters to fireworks, crickets to apple cider, acorns to icicles, these poems highlight the everyday wonders we often take for granted. Most of the poems are extremely kid-friendly, like “Budding Scholars,” by April Halprin Wayland, which begins: Welcome, Flowers./Write your name on a name tag./Find a seat.

Later, the poem ends with the question every secretly snacking student in the history of students dreads: Did you/bring enough/for everyone? Luckily, this anthology, stunningly illustrated with stylized, stencil-effect art by David Diaz, does indeed have just enough for everyone! A delightful must-have for your school, home, or public library.

Switching on the Moon: A Very First Book of Bedtime Poems
by ed. by Jane Yolen and Andrew Fusek Peters
Candlewick Press
Nominated by: heather wilks-jones

Young readers are sure to fall in love with this book from the moment they open to the first poem (“In Good Hands” by Roger McGough: Wherever night falls/The earth is always there/To catch it.). The 60 poems in this collection were selected by two award-winning poets–Jane Yolen and Andrew Fusek Peters–whose eyes and ears for poetry are pitch-perfect. The illustrations by G. Brian Karas prove just right to help young readers ease into the many bedtime rituals that the collection’s poems portray. Few books will soothe night-time fears more effectively or show a child more imaginative, creative ways to look at night time.

(Marilyn Singer’s “Tasty” is a wonderful example: How strange that someone thinks it nice/to eat the moon–a giant slice./I wonder if he finds it kind/to leave a bit of rind behind.) There are poems about the moon, stars, fireflies, bath time, night sounds, dreams and dawn. The book draws together work by Langston Hughes, Lee Bennet Hopkins, Mary Ann Hoberman, Douglas Florian, Karla Kuskin, Vachel Lindsay, Sylvia Plath, Alfred Lord Tennyson and many more. It works beautifully to take children on a journey from the moment it’s time for bed to the moment that dreams end and dawn comes, bringing with it the reassuring sight of the sun. Yolen and Peters have done a masterful job of collecting the poems in this exquisite anthology.

Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature’s Survivors
by Joyce Sidman
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Nominated by: Maggi Idzikowski (Mama Librarian)

Ubiquitous takes readers on a chronological journey through Earth’s “life” time from bacteria, which originated on our planet nearly four billion years ago, to humans, who appeared very late in Earth’s long history. Joyce Sidman proves herself a master of selecting the best type of poem suited to particular subject—be it a diamante about bacteria, poems of address written to a mollusk and a crow, shape poems for the shark and scarab beetle, or mask poems told from the point of view of grass, squirrels, coyotes, and the lowly lichen.

The poems speak to the wonder—and to the essence—of the variety of life forms that exist on this planet today. Beckie Prange’s hand-colored linocuts are an integral part of the book—complementing, supporting, and expanding upon information included in the text. Prange depicts lichens at seven times their life size, provides a close-up look of tiny diatoms as they might appear under a microscope, and illustrates the different stages in the life cycle of beetles. She even gives us a cutaway view of an underground ant colony. The book includes a glossary and an extensive author’s note.