2011 Finalists: Poetry

Cousins of Clouds: Elephant Poems
by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer
Clarion Books
Nominated by: Amy @ Hope Is the Word

Poet Paul Muldoon said, “One will never again look at a birch tree, after the Robert Frost poem, in exactly the same way.” Readers of Tracy Vaughn Zimmer’s Cousins of Clouds can make a similar argument, because they will probably never look at elephants in the same way. The title poem, “Cousins of Clouds gives readers their first glimpse of this peculiar creature, explaining that elephants were once able to fly, but long ago, a great prophet took away their powers.
To this very day
you can see the poor elephants
flapping their ears,
dreaming of flight,
but now only
cousins of clouds.
The book includes several poems about the elephant’s unusual body parts. Others, like “Mud Spa” and “Fortress” describe the elephant’s habits. Poems such as “Beggars of Bangkok” and “Sonnet for Sanctuary” provide readers with snapshots of elephants’ treatment throughout the world. Still others, such “White Elephant” and “A Riddle” describe historical traditions related to elephants.
Each poem is further enhanced by a block of prose, which provides background information. Colorful illustrations range from anatomical to folkloric, cartoonish to collage, depending on the topic of the poem. A totally engaging look at an intriguing creature!

Dear Hot Dog
by Mordicai Gerstein
Abrams for Young Readers
Nominated by: Katie Ahearn

From the mystery of air smelling “like roses sometimes, or fresh-cut grass; gasoline or rain or skunk” to the “funny bird” we call scissors, Caldecott Medal winner Mordicai Gerstein keenly turns his artist’s eye and child’s heart to plain objects in Dear Hot Dog: Poems about Everyday Stuff.
Full of gratitude, this collection renews a reader’s appreciation for the stuff we touch and use each day, stuff that just might have feelings of its own.  From morning through evening, Gerstein speaks to and about humble things, elevating them through observation and questions.  We come to see that autumn leaves are really wearing Halloween costumes and hear a toothbrush “gargling your little song.”  A cup “puts a handle” on liquids and a hot dog is “snug as a puppy in your bready bun.  For the first time, we wonder where light goes in the darkness.
By celebrating daily objects, this delightful tribute offers readers of all ages a way to see our own lives – with whimsy, wonder, and thankfulness for the small stuff of our own lives.

Emma Dilemma: Big Sister Poems
by Kristine O’Connell George
Clarion Books
Nominated by: Becky

This is a light-hearted and touching collection of poems in which an older sibling details her “up and down” relationship with her little sister Emma—who can be a “dilemma” at times. Emma embarrasses her older sister in public. She annoys Jessica when she cheats at board games; leaves the caps off all her markers; invades her room and messes with her things; tags along when her sister is playing with a friend.
Still, the two girls share many happy and warm moments. Jessica enjoys reading her favorite picture books to Emma and visiting with old friends. The sisters get silly at the dinner table, sit together and do homework side by side, hold hands and comfort each other.
George’s poems believably capture the frustrations experienced by an older sister and the love she feels for a younger sibling who can be both exasperating and lovable. They provide a tender portrayal of the bond between two sisters with humor and poignancy.

Requiem: Poems of the Terezin Ghetto
by Paul B. Janeczko
Candlewick Press
Nominated by: Tricia Stohr-Hunt

Janeczko’s Requiem is a slender but powerful collection of poems about the Terezin Ghetto, each line, each word, not merely a requiem but a song to the spirit of the victims.
These poems capture the sense of desperation and inevitability, the anguish and daily uncertainty of life for the Jews sent to Terezin, where the Nazis showcased the talents of mostly artists and intellectuals from Prague as a sign to the world of the “humane” treatment the Jews were receiving.
“Although the poems in this collection are based on historical events and facts, most of the characters that appear in the poems are fictional,” Janeczko acknowledges in the Author’s Note at the end of the book. “Some are composites based on my research. Others are totally invented … the characters, their thoughts, and their conversations are products of my imagination.”
 Somehow, Janeczko has found the strength and courage to reach into the heart of each character and bring out of its depths a pulsing, vibrant voice so that these voices speak to us on page after page, touching the souls of the dead and the living simultaneously.

Self-Portrait With Seven Fingers
by J. Patrick Lewis and Jane Yolen
Creative Editions
Nominated by: Gina Ruiz

Those already familiar with the art of Marc Chagall might recognize this title of this poetic biography from Chagall’s painting of the same name. Those new to Chagall are in for a real treat as fourteen of Chagall’s stunning paintings are reproduced in beautiful color and paired with poems from authors, J. Patrick Lewis and Jane Yolen. Readers take an colorful journey through Chagall’s life from his youth in Vitebsk, Belarus, through his artistic explorations that challenged the world’s expectations from artists. Paintings, poems, and bits and biographical notes carry the reader throughout Chagall’s life, from a happy yet humble childhood, his life with Bella, the true love of his life, through the Nazi invasion, immigration to America, Bella’s death and his return to France where he spent the remainder of his life.The one constant for Chagall was his art. In their poems, Lewis and Yolen capture the yearning soul of the artist that is driven to create even amidst (or because of) the darkness that weaves its way throughout his life.  Readers will be inspired to play with some kind of art after reading this book.  The book captures the soul of the artist in a way that supports his art and also that the art supports the poetry.

We Are America: A Tribute from the Heart
by Walter Dean Myers
Nominated by: Laura Wadley

Who or what is American? The answers lie at the heart of this collection of free verse poems. A history of America loosely told, Myers pays homage to the obvious and sometimes overlooked. The titles of the poems when taken together, form a narrative of their own –“We raised up factories and farms great houses and small/We were willing to die to forge our dream/Like clumsy children we fell/We moved on stubbornly”– and highlight the beautiful and ugly truths that weave the history of our nation.
Myers lyrical and heartfelt poems are paired with the vibrant illustrations of his son, and often a quote or excerpt from an important historical document. The poems are enriched and extended by the illustrations, which focus on both the title and content of the poem. “Like clumsy children we fell,” is a poem accompanied by quotes on slavery from Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas. The illustration moves from the scarred back of a slave, to the Battle of Wounded Knee, to a group of Japanese Americans behind the fence of an internment camp. “Ambition betrayed us/Power was too strong a temptation/And yet, and yet …/We could hold up our sins for the world to see.” While the quotes set the poem’s context in history, the illustrations propel the words forward in time, extending their reach and forcing readers to recall Santayana’s words that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
In an Author’s Note at the opening of the book, Myers explains how he came to write We Are America and the research that went into it. He reread the documents that led to our independence and formed the core of our government. He took what he read, together with what he has seen through his lifetime, to pen a moving and generous portrait. “No words here have been penned lightly, no flag waved mindlessly. This is simply my truest feelings for my country, my tribute to America.”