Book Reviews: #CYBILS2023 Finalists Poetry Collections

Roses are red.

Violets are blue.

If you don’t like college basketball.

This list is for you.

Happy #PoetryFriday to you. For some of us, basketball is a kind of poetry in motion. For others, well, it just isn’t. Thankfully, this roundup of poetry books can help. Moving, funny, imaginative, jarring … all found in the pages of these poetry collections. And a book that almost knocks Shel Silverstein off his golden pedestal? Uh huh.


Animals in PantsWinner
Suzy Levinson, illustrated by Kevin Howdeshell and Kristen Howdeshell
Harry N Abrams
Nominated by: Becky L.

Linda @ Goodreads – Be ready to laugh out loud, from every page, filled with most imaginative “animals in pants.” What Suzy Levinson, in brief, and hilarious poems, does in her book made me want to share and then find other animals that could also be dressed in such appropriate attire – ha!

Gary @ What’s Not Wrong – Levinson’s whimsical verse relies heavily on rhyme, but it isn’t repetitive because the cadences vary from page to page. The short poems are enhanced by Kristen and Kevin Howdeshell’s Eric Carle-style artwork showing animals expressing a variety of attitudes and emotions. Animals in Pants is a worthwhile choice for home and school bookshelves. While the clever verse and appealing illustrations are the surface features of Animals in Pants, the content of this picture book actually provides critical thinking opportunities galore.

Natalie @ Goodreads – If animals wore pants, what kind would they wear? A clever series of poems describe each animal’s pant sitch. Very fun.


Dark Testament: Blackout Poems
Crystal Simone Smith
Henry Holt & Co.
Nominated by: Rosemary Kiladitis

Gary @ What’s Not Wrong – Crystal Simone Smith’s Dark Testament is a moving collection of blackout poems drawn from Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. Reading Dark Testament is enhanced by the jarring black rectangles and stark white spaces within the text. Knowing the subtractive process involved in creating the poems and the nature of the source material also intensifies how readers react to the poems.

Dark Testament is an excellent recommendation for young adult audiences who are attuned to social justice issues and may have encountered or created blackout poems in class or on their own. These poems can also serve as model texts for creating blackout poems, tribute poems, social justice poetry, or many other purposes.

Linda @ Goodreads – Crystal Simone Smith, crushed by the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, had been reading George Saunders’ book, Lincoln In The Bardo, and began to “see” words as messages from others who had met their own deaths in other horrific ways. These are blackout poems, told by victims or their mothers, for remembrance, for hope, and to readers, they will also be heartbreaking. In the way “Say Their Name” has become important to many, Smith chooses the words that could be said. Photos of murals and memorials honoring some victims are included in the book, too. It is made even more poignant because of its reality. There is an author’s note between Saunders and Smith.

My Head Has a Bellyache: And More Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-Ups (Mischievous Nonsense, 2)
Chris Harris, illustrated by Andrea Tsurumi
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Katy K.

Natalie @ Goodreads – A hilarious poetry collection that almost knocks Shel Silverstein off his golden pedestal. Truly delightful.

Linda @ Goodreads – The book made me do it! Hilarious antics, made even better by Andrea Tsurumi’s art! Don’t miss this one!

My Review
Here are things about monsters
who give kids a fright,
also things on the pages
that’ll last for the ages –
at least till tomorrow night.
Just follow the page numbers,
they add to the theme
of silly, yet wise,
a dreamy surprise.
No matter the goofy,
I like that it’s spoofy
and a poet’s extreme
that may make you scream
with laughter!

Welcome to the Wonder House
Rebecca Kai Dotlich and Georgia Heard, illustrated by Deborah Wordsong Freedman
Wordsong/Astra Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Sylvia Vardell

Linda @ Goodreads –  I can’t imagine NOT having this and sharing it with a class or only one child. I am inspired to “wonder”, too!

Sarah @ Goodreads – What a beautiful book- poems by two amazing poets accompanied by Deborah Freedman’s lovely artwork. I can see this being used as a springboard for many creative activities for both readers and listeners.

Gary @ What’s Not Wrong – Dotlich and Heard provide two or three poems for the rooms of curiosity, praide, ordinary things, creatures, nature, science, time, place, quiet, imagination, mystery, and wishes. Deborah Freedman’s colorful multi-media illustrations are an appealing blend of concrete and abstract images. The poems use a variety of forms and can serve as models for writers of all ages, and the final page spread encourages readers to “grab a / notebook, gaze out a window, follow a / meandering creek, sit on a step, / and look and / listen to the ordinary and the extraordinary / all around you.”

Where I Live: Poems About My Home, My Street, and My Town
Paul B. Janeczko, illustrated by Hyewon Yum
Candlewick Press
Nominated by: Melissa Fox

Sylvia @ The Horn Book – This collection of variously contemplative and playful poems offers an intimate picture of daily life from a child’s point of view. Thirty-four poems about “Home,” “Street,” and “Town” explore the ever-widening circle of a child’s awareness of community. Various poets capture the rhythm of life inside and out, on the weekend and at bedtime, and through the seasons. The collection offers a mix of poetic styles—all very accessible to the reader and listener and all unified by Yum’s engaging illustrations in colored pencil and watercolor. Scenes ranging from urban apartment life to small-town backyards and front porches are full of a pleasing diversity of children and adults.

Linda @ Goodreads – It’s a great book to share with students who will want to write about the special places they live, and perhaps illustrate their work. Hyewon Yum’s watercolor and colored pencil illustrations beautifully show the lively days of people, and animals, too, having lots of fun where they live. The variety of ways to imagine where we live and what we do will inspire all who read this lovely book.