Monday, August 31, 2009

Two Back-to-School Poetry Collections to Look For

Disclaimer: Both of these books are written by people whom I consider friends. This does not mean that I'm not being honest in my reviews, but I figure I owe it to you to disclose that I have a personal relationship with the authors, both of whom were kind enough to ask their publishers to send me a copy of their books. So, I have.


For the lower elementary set

STAMPEDE! Poems to Celebrate the Wild Side of School by my friend Laura Purdie Salas, illustrated by Steven Salerno. Laura used terms related to the animal kingdom in creating her collection of poems, and Steven Salerno took her quite literally in creating the illustrations, which show the children as animal-hybrids throughout the book.

Laura's work is clever, creative and playful. It includes poems about groups of children (e.g., "Swarm", which likens the buzz of conversation to a swarm of bees or "Stampede", which compares the thundering of kids heading for the exit at day's end to a herd of elephants) as well as poems about individuals - usually in uncomfortable situations that most kids can relate to. Here's the second poem in the book, "New Mouse":

New Mouse
by Laura Purdie Salas

Go left, then right,
Wrong turns, dead ends,
Can't find my class,
I've got no friends.

Each hallway is
a hallway clone.
Can't find my way
around alone.

A thousand halls,
a thousand ways,
I'm lost inside
this new-school maze.


The poems are set up in a way that essentially moves through the school day - gym class, lunch, recess, references to various classes and situations (such as picture day and rumored crushes). A fun collection of poems about school. Recommended for the elementary school crowd: K-3 per the publisher, but I'm pretty sure kids in upper elementary school would still like this book!

Laura set up a website for the book, which will give you the opportunity to read two more of Laura's poems (the first and last ones in the book). It will also let you see some of Steven Salerno's artwork.


For the upper elementary and middle school set

Countdown to Summer: A Poem for Every Day of the School Year by my friend J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Ethan Long. This book does for the older elementary and middle school age group what Billy Collins's Poetry 180 does for teens: it provides you with 180 poems, one for each day of school. But unlike Collins's book (and the related website from the Library of Congress, both of which are anthologies consisting of poems by a number of poets, all the poems are by a single author.

Pat's book starts with poem #180 and counts its way down to #1. Not all of the poems are funny, although many of them are. Not all of them are about school, although some of them are. Librarians will probably like #175: "Reading Harry Potter Under the Sheets", but they are guaranteed to love #173: "Book Etiquette", which gives directions on how to treat a book properly. But my favorite book-related poem is probably #28: "Ars Libri"


Ars Libri: after Archibald MacLeish
by J. Patrick Lewis

A book should be spirited and odd
As a divining rod,

Wild
As the wonder of a child,

Open to the sky and the slanting rain
As an attic's shattered windowpane.

A book should measure its success
By a censor's distress.

* *

A book should be ten candle-watts
Of afterthoughts,

Brilliant as a marbled vein in a quarry
Of story,

Bold enough to leave behind
Unpeace of mind.

A book should be a welcome late-night guest
After a day-long standardized test.

* *

A book should be the map, flashlight, and skeleton key
To literacy.

For all imaginations out of whack or work,
The CEO and the filing clerk,

For kids
Who yearn to see but hesitate to dream--

A book should both be
And seem.

The collection includes lovely poems about Eid ul-Fitr, Thanksgiving, Kwanzaa, Chanukah, Martin Luther King Day and more, riddles here and there, poems guaranteed to make you chuckle and the occasional political poem.

(Don't believe me? I direct you to #143, "Proposed Amendment to the Constitution":

The President and Vice-President
of the United States shall be required
to take the Fourth Grade Standardized
Achievement Test so that
No President or Vice-President
shall be left behind.

To which I say, "Preach it, Pat!"

Truly, it's not all highbrow. Take #149: "A Lasting Impression"

I scratched your initials
on the seat of my chair --
now you're stuck
on my underwear!

So, even though summer is not yet over here in New Jersey (my kids don't go back to school until September 8th), I am recommending that you get your hands on Countdown to Summer, and that you check out "the Wild Side of School" with Stampede.

Kiva - loans that change lives

3 comments:

laurasalas said...

Thank you so much, Kelly! I don't know how I didn't see this until today. I really appreciate it...and I'm so glad you held off until now. Perfect timing.

And Pat's book is a treasure, as always. I was reading it in the doctor's office waiting room the other day, chuckling out loud (and getting strange looks from around me!). Thanks for pairing my book with his:>)

Hazra said...

I enjoyed "Proposed Amendment to the Constitution". Sounds like a truckload of fun :)

Kelly Fineman said...

Laura: Glad my timing wasn't off - I worried about it.

Hazra: The book is really a wonderful addition to any poetry collection.