2017 Poetry Finalists

by David Elliott
HMH Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Sarah Sammis

David Elliot’s telling of the myth of the Minotaur takes the familiar story and puts them in a fun and exciting format that children will find accessible. The language is modern and a bit rough at times, but is quite appropriate for middle school readers. Readers will enjoy the pacing and the fact that each characters thoughts, ideas, and points of view are laid out separately and thus easily identifiable. By creating one poem for each character’s point of view, emotion, and part in the story the Elliott makes tells the story in bite sized chunks that encourage readers to stay for an entire meal aka to continue reading to see how the story ends. The language and vocabulary are relatable  and yet elevated at the same time.

Interestingly, the poems may tend to remind readers of Aesop’s fables because each poem can stand on its own and provide a lesson to readers. At the same time, the vocabulary, pacing, and story will put parents and teachers in the mind of Shakespearean plays. This book would serve as a nice introduction to reading Shakespearean plays in school for students.

The book ends with a discussion of the Minotaur myth and of the poetic form used by the author. The author tells readers why the language, pacing, and vocabulary of each character was chosen. It would be a good idea for readers to check out this section before the reading the book. All in all, this was a good telling of the myth of the Minotaur that adults and children will enjoy.

Janeane Davis, Janeane’s World

Fresh-Picked Poetry: A Day at the Farmers’ Market
by Michelle Schaub, illustrated by Amy Huntington
Nominated by: Jeff

Hooray, hooray! Today is market day! The urban farmers’ market comes alive in Michelle Schaub’s poems. Readers learn who to see, what’s delicious to eat, as well as discovering how the produce gets to the market. Schaub also captures the fun things at the market such as music, sharpening knives, and the delicious aromas.

Schaub’s playful language and rhyme is spot on. Huntington’s watercolors and detail bring the farmer’s market alive on the pages. Her art work begins with playful endpapers of veggies and begins right at the farm with a two page spread on the dedication page Included is resources for a day at the farmers’ market.

Readers who love to recite poems will enjoy these poems for their cadence and rhythm, and will return to this book time and again.

Jone Rush MacCulloch, Check It Out

I’m Just No Good at Rhyming: And Other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-Ups
by Chris Harris, illustrated by Lane Smith
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Jen N.

As the title and credits indicate, this single-author poetry collection is a full-out assault on any presumptions about poetry being stuffy or dull or needing to rhyme. Despite the title, most of these independent-but-related poems are tightly and cleverly rhymed with compelling meter, packing a wallop with word play, irony, twists, turns, and puzzlers. Following the index of poems by title, Harris provides an
“outdex” of titles that didn’t make the cut. From the jacket to the flap text to the casing to the dedication to the pagination-author note, Harris uses every element of a book and every device you can imagine (and some you can’t) to snag readers’ attention and reel us in, laughing and befuddled too much to object.

Individual poems take on many forms, including dialogue and interaction with Lane Smith’s wonderfully wacky illustrations. Harris avoids self-indulgence, instead treading a fine line between meta-referenced book elements and direct address to the reader. He wrings humor and reflection from every word on the page, including font size, color, and placement, ranging from slapstick guffaws to sophisticated lines that are richer after rereading. None are harmed in the making of his comedy, and he even provides a few
tender moments, like this:

The Child’s Farewell: A hug and a kiss,/ You’re the one that I’ll miss./ Oh, how I wish you could stay.
The Parent’s Response: A kiss and a hug,/I’ll miss your mug./ I love you—now have a great day.

Comparisons to Silverstein and Prelutsky are not exaggerations, and this book will find fans across ages and for decades to come.

Sandy Brehl, Unpaking the Power of Picture Books

Keep a Pocket in Your Poem: Classic Poems and Playful Parodies
by J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Johanna Wright
Nominated by: Jonemac

This delightful mixture of old and new, thoughtful and playful poems will engage readers of any age. Some make us smile; some make us laugh; others make us sigh with reflection. One example, first the “old” poem: “The toad! It looks like it could belch a cloud” by Issa; then the “new” parody created by J. Patrick Lewis: “The tiger! It looks like the sun has been put behind bars.” This collection and the illustrations offer a mix of humor, wisdom, and whimsy. The poems will definitely tickle one’s funny bone (“Stopping by Fridge on a Hungry Evening) and also introduce or remind readers of favorite classics (“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”). For anyone teaching poetry this collection offers an easy invitation to write one’s own parody.

Nancy Bo Flood, The Pirate Tree

Miguel’s Brave Knight: Young Cervantes and His Dream of Don Quixote
by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Raúl Colón
Nominated by: Charlotte

In this poetic celebration of the power of imagination, we meet young Miguel Cervantes years before he creates his unforgettable hero Don Quixote. As a child Miguel copes with the constant chaos in his life by escaping to the world of dreams where he meets a brave knight/ who will ride out on/ a strong horse/ and right/ all the wrongs/ of this confusing/ world. Readers, too, will find comfort and hope through these gentle poems that are beautifully paired with Raúl Colón’s watercolor and pen-and-ink illustrations. Back matter includes notes from both author and illustrator, as well as historical, biographical, and cultural notes.

Irene Latham, Live Your Poem

One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance
by Nikki Grimes
Bloomsbury USA
Nominated by: Becky L.

Taking inspiration from noted and lesser known poets of the Harlem Renaissance, Grimes uses the Golden Shovel form to transform striking lines or entire poems into new creations that riff on contemporary themes, such as hopes and dreams, bullying, racial identity, poverty, injustice, and more. In the opening poem, Grimes asks “Can I really find/ fuel for the future/ in the past?” The answer is a resounding yes. Arranged thematically, original poems of the Harlem Renaissance precede the new poems, with the words of the original poems carefully highlighted as the last word in each line. Working within the strict demands of the form, Grimes has crafted beautifully relevant poems that speak with honesty and encouragement to young people impacted by racial bias and discrimination. In the concluding poem, Grimes leaves readers on a hopeful note with the words “I know life will be rough,/ but we’ve got the stuff’ to make it.” The poems are accompanied by illustrations created by fifteen artists of color, including Christopher Myers, Sean Qualls, Javaka Steptoe, and the author herself. Back matter includes poet and artist biographies, as well as sources.

Tricia Stohr-Hunt, The Miss Rumphius Effect

Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets
by Kwame Alexander, Chris Colderley,‎ and Marjory Wentworth,‎ and ilustrated by Ekua Holmes
Candlewick Press
Nominated by: Bridget Wilson

The authors honor twenty poets in this celebration of poets and poetry. The collection has three parts: Got Style?, In Your Shoes, and Thank You. The authors use the poets’ rhythms, impersonate them, and finally respond to them and their poetry. The poems are all different stylistically and beg to be read aloud. The featured poets are from different eras, countries, and cultures. The “About the Poets Being Celebrated” section includes short biographies as well as a list identifying the eras and countries that the poets are from. Holmes’ paper collage illustrations are bright, colorful, and full of texture. Out of Wonder is a great way to introduce children to these famous poets.

Alexander says it best in the preface: “Enjoy the poems. We hope to use them as stepping-stones to wonder, leading you to write, to read the works of the poets being celebrated in this book, to seek out more about their lives and their work, or to simply read and explore more poetry. At the very least, maybe you can memorize one or two. We wonder how you will wonder.”

Bridget Wilson, What is Bridget Reading