Today it is my pleasure to present Sylvia Vardell as my repeat Featured Guest. Sylvia first appeared on December 4, 2009. I know you’ll enjoy and learn from Sylvia. I always do. First I’ll post her original essay. Following that you’ll find a few new remarks she sent for today’s post.
Looking back: Poetry for children 2009
By Sylvia Vardell
At the end of last year (2008), I looked back and noted, “… there is an interesting variety, with picture book collections dominating, and new trends in poetry morphed with biography growing strong. I’m also seeing more experimentation with poetic form/topic and book layout which is fun for those of us who like to provide diverse models for aspiring writers and artists.” As I review the crop from 2009, I continue to see a preponderance of the picture book format (J. Patrick Lewis’s Countdown to Summer is one exception) dominating the market. But we’re also seeing some creative variations like anthologies which include CDs of audio recordings of poem readings (like Mary Ann Hoberman’s nature collection, The Tree That Time Built and Julie Andrew’s anthology) and poetry book design that creates a visual feast beginning with the very cover and binding (like Monsterologist by Bobbi Katz).
Humor is always a big trend in poetry for children, so I was surprised to see less of that than usual this year. Notable exceptions were Jon Agee’s clever, Orangutan Tongs; Poems to Tangle Your Tongue, Robert Weinstock’s Food Hates You, Too and Karma Wilson’s What’s the Weather Inside?, among others. In contrast, it seemed like there were many collections of contemplative nature poems published this year, such as Heidi Roemer’s Whose Nest is This?, Michael Rosen’s The Cuckoo’s Haiku and Other Birding Poems, Jane Yolen’s A Mirror to Nature and An Egret’s Day (do you see a bird theme emerging?)
I’m always glad to see curriculum-friendly collections published because they appeal to teachers (and kids) and add zest to science, social studies and other areas. Linda Ashman’s Come to the Castle is one such example as are Lee Bennett Hopkins’s anthology, Incredible Inventions and Deborah Ruddell’s A Whiff of Pine, A Hint of Skunk. Not one, but two collections about jobs were welcome this year: Tracie Vaughn Zimmer’s Steady Hands: Poems About Work and J. Patrick Lewis’s The Underwear Salesman: And Other Jobs for Better or Verse. And don’t forget Douglas Florian’s Dinothesaurus, fun for science (for dino-facts) or language arts (for dino-words) or any time! Publishers tell me these are the most marketable anthologies and I can see why from a practical standpoint. (Of course I’m a fan of weaving poetry from all sources into the curriculum and beyond, but themes help make the connections more explicit for the un-initiated.) Teachers sure could use more collections with possibilities for mathematics, for example.
Verse novels continue to be with us, although these may have peaked, since I’m seeing fewer now, I think. Three standouts, in my opinion, were Ann Burg’s All the Broken Pieces, Thalia Chaltas’s Because I Am Furniture and Betsy Franco’s Metamorphosis (part prose, part poetry). Tweens and teens love this format, so I hope we’ll continue to see these coming. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see a graphic novel/novel-in-verse hybrid? How about a dystopian sci fi novel-in-verse?
Participatory poetry also made an appearance this year in two noteworthy collections, Messing Around the Monkey Bars and other School Poems for Two Voices by Betsy Franco and A Foot in the Mouth; Poems to Speak, Sing, and Shout compiled by Paul Janeczko. Of course nearly any poem can be participatory in some way, but I think teachers, in particular, appreciate collections that provide guidance and models for doing so with kids. More please!
Poets continue to focus on form and I enjoy those so much, seeing how poets can take one form in so many different directions. Some of this year’s examples include books of concrete poetry (Curious Collection of Cats by Betsy Franco), acrostic poetry (African Acrostics; A Word in Edgeways by Avis Harley), list poetry (Falling Down the Page collected by Georgia Heard) riddle poetry (Spot the Plot! A Riddle Book of Book Riddles by J. Patrick Lewis), definition poetry (Well Defined; Vocabulary in Rhyme by Michael Salinger), mask poetry (Button Up! Wrinkled Rhymes by Alice Schertle), and haiku (Vampire Haiku by Ryan Mecum). The amazing Helen Frost cast a beautiful new form of “stone” poems for her novel-in-verse, Crossing Stones.
Probably the most distinctive trend I saw in poetry this year was a focus on time passing as a connecting thread in poetry collections (such as in Joyce Sidman’s Red Sings From Treetops; A Year in Colors or Heidi Mordhorst’s Pumpkin Butterfly or David Harrison’s Vacation, We’re Going to the Ocean!). But that’s the topic for another posting. In the mean time, if I could offer a “wishlist” of future books of poetry that I would love to see in print, it might include some of these ideas:
• Reissues of old favorites (e.g., Myra Cohn Livingston, David McCord, Eve Merriam, John Ciardi, Turtle in July, Near the Window Tree, and so many others), perhaps mixes of these poems and new voices
• Poems about food, especially food around the world
• Call and response poetry
• Question poems, ala Pablo Neruda, in fact an anthology of Neruda for kids would be awesome
• More poetry about cultures in the U.S. and around the world, especially Latino and Asian cultures (India? Mexico?) In fact, more world poetry altogether
• Poems about hard times, about surviving
• Where are the gay voices? The poetry for teens about being gay or questioning, coming out, gay-straight friendships and conflicts
• We now have poetry books with CDs of audio recordings of poems; how about books with DVDs of poem performances or poems interpreted in American Sign Language?
Thank you, poets and publishers, for a bountiful year of poetry. (Thank you, David, for this opportunity to pontificate!) These are just a few of the gems we enjoyed this year. Keep ‘em coming!
Here’s Sylvia’s new post written for today.
As I look over my review of 2009 books, I see I was wrong about one thing: verse novels have definitely NOT peaked. I see several exciting new examples coming out this year in 2011, including:
1. Chaltas, Thalia. 2011. Displacement. Viking.
2. Engle, Margarita. 2011. Hurricane Dancers; The First Caribbean Pirate Shipwreck. Henry Holt.
3. Frost, Helen. 2011. Hidden. Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
4. Grimes, Nikki. 2011. Planet Middle School. Bloomsbury.
5. Herrera, Juan Felipe. 2011. Skate Fate. HarperCollins.
6. Janeczko, Paul. 2011. Requiem; Poems of the Terezín Ghetto. Candlewick.
7. Lai, Thanhha. 2011. Inside Out and Back Again. HarperCollins.
8. Marcus, Kimberly. 2011. exposed. Random House.
9. Ostlere, Cathy. 2011. Karma. Penguin.
10. Ostow, Micol. 2011. family. Egmont.
11. Shahan, Sherry. 2011. Purple Daze. Running Press Kids.
12. Thompson, Holly. 2011. Orchards. Random House.
13. Van Cleave, Ryan G. 2011. Unlocked. Walker.
Not only is this a significant increase in the number of novels in verse being published, but the variety of voices is significant too. I’m particularly intrigued that this format is showcasing multicultural stories (e.g., Engle, Grimes, Herrera, Janeczko, Lai, Ostlere). In addition, many of these are historical in setting and context (e.g., Engle, Janeczko, Lai, Ostow, Shahan), an interesting blend of poetry and history. Finally, this format also marks the debut of several new voices in poetry for young people (e.g., Lai, Marcus, Ostlere, Ostow, Shahan). I’m so glad to be wrong in this case. I’m a fan of the novel in verse form and I know many teen/tween readers love it, too. So, it’s terrific to see so many choices and voices in this format emerge. I can’t wait to see what’s next!
Sylvia M. Vardell, Ph.D.
Texas Woman’s University
School of Library & Information Studies
P O Box 425438
Denton TX 76204-5438