31 Days, 31 Lists: 2018 Poetry Books
I think I need to revisit how I review books. Going through the list of today’s books, I was consistently finding titles I’d loved throughout the year. Yet when I tried to determine how many I’d actually reviewed on this blog in 2018, it was all of two. Two! That’s it? I reviewed more folktales this year than poetry? Well, something’s gotta give because I’ve seen a really lovely amount of time and attention spent on works of poetry lately. It used to be they were the sole property of April a.k.a. Poetry Month. And sure, if you’re a librarian and you look at the circulation of your books in the 811 section, you will probably see that the bulk of them went out in the spring, but no matter. Publishers, it would seem, are now putting more faith into the poetry books they publish. So let’s take a look at what we saw this year, and the wide range of topics that were touched.
2018 Poetry Books
Can I Touch Your Hair? Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship by Irene Latham & Charles Waters, ill. Sean Qualls & Selina Alko
Four people get together and create one book. If that seems excessive, I assure you that the end product is worth it. In Latham/Waters/Qualls/Alko’s book, two classmates are paired together in spite of their reluctance. Both harbor prejudices about one another and yet they’re able to become friends after confronting some hard issues. Parents want picture books that help them give voice to tough topics. This book does just that, and all within the context of a story told with poems. You’ll read it and then feel immediately that you need to read it again.
Crawly School for Bugs: Poems to Drive You Buggy by David L. Harrison, ill. Julie Bayless
I like a lot of different types of books, but there will always be a soft spot in my heart for those that upset my expectations. A book full of bugs-at-school poems? Haven’t we all read that kind of thing before? Indeed, the cover looked so overly familiar I’d half convinced myself I’d already read it, long before I’d even picked it up. So what a relief it was to crack it open and discover that Harrison and Bayless have eschewed the same, old, worn bug poems of the past. The poetry in this book is funny and fast. Witty and with a bit of a story here and there. In the field of poetry, it’s hard to get any attention for a collection of poems that can make you laugh, but for those kids hung up on Shel Silverstein, this might not be the worst recommendation to hand to over.
Every Month Is a New Year by Marilyn Singer, ill. Susan L. Roth
The old nonfiction/poetry hybrid! In this book, celebrations for new years are listed and explained with the aid of verse. All told there are 16 celebrations from over 14 countries on display here. You’ve got your secular. You’ve got your religious. You also have five pages of background information about each celebration, a glossary of terms used in the verse, and a list of the author’s sources in the back. Not too shabby, and a keen teaching tool as well.
Have You Heard About Lady Bird? Poems About Our First Ladies by Marilyn Singer, ill. Nancy Carpenter
Let’s say this book dropped on your desk and you could look at any First Lady in American history. Which one would you choose? Admit it. You’d go straight to the current one, wouldn’t you? You’d want to see just precisely how Singer and Carpenter tackled her. It’s an understandable instinct, and I don’t blame you a jot. It’s exactly what happened with me when I read Singer’s previous book Rutherford B., Who Was He?: Poems About Our Presidents back in 2013,only in that case it was Richard Nixon. I seem to have put two Marilyn Singer books together on today’s list, but since I’m listing them alphabetically by title, that’s just a quirk. Both are deserving, particularly this one. After all, it’s not like every First Lady we ever had was a gas. Some were dull as dishwater, and Singer does a grand job with those lesser known few.
Hidden City: Poems of Urban Wildlife by Sarah Grace Tuttle, ill. Amy Schimler-Safford
As someone whose desk looks over the nests of peregrine falcons on my library’s roof every year, I’ve acquired a keen love of urban wildlife. This poetry book is big and blue and may not immediately strike you as the most thrilling title in your collection. That’s kind of what I love about children’s poetry collections, though. Looks can be deceiving. Inside, the poems seem to understand that when it comes to nature in the city, sometimes the small things, the things only kids would notice, are the most important. “Moss in sidewalk cracks / sends up delicate shoots / for shoes to / tread on / break off / carry away.”
I Am Loved: A Poetry Collection by Nikki Giovanni, ill. Ashley Bryan
Apparently Nikki Giovanni and Ashley Bryan first collaborated in 1996 with the book The Sun Is So Quiet. I missed that book entirely but this one, consisting of eleven poems and Mr. Bryan’s art, I caught with no difficulty. More than one reviewer of this book compared Ashley’s art in it to “stained glass” which I think is a nice thought. It makes me remember how Mr. Bryan likes to create sea glass window panels for fun, shown here:
In the Past by David Elliott, ill. Matthew Trueman
Man, the poetry in this book was good. I wasn’t able to get all the works of poetry I loved in 2018 onto my library’s 101 Great Books for Kids list this time around, but this book didn’t have any difficulty. Every person who read it loved its wit and intelligence. Here’s a good example of that:
“The bad news: Like a centipede. Eight feet long. Or more. / The good news: Arthropleura was an herbivore.”
And who can resist a book that commemorates the extinction of the T.rex with this: “even kings / are vanquished / when stars fall / from the sky.”
A must have.
The Lost Words: A Spell Book by Robert Macfarlane, ill. Jackie Morris
Think of it this way. Every single year more and more words enter the English language. What’s the Oxford Junior Dictionary to do in the face of such an onslaught? It shouldn’t surprise us that words get excised from that collection each and every year, but it does, doesn’t it? So what are you going to do about it? If you’re anything like Macfarlane and Morris, you take forty of those words (like acorn, adder, bluebell, dandelion, fern, heron, kingfisher, newt, otter, and willow) and turn them into acrostic poems. Morris adds to this by mixing the words up and adding wordless two-page spreads that portray the essence of the subject matter. Don’t expect this book to slot neatly onto your shelf, though. Clocking in at 15 inches by 11 inches, it’s a big book that’s worth every centimeter.
Rain by Anders Holmer
You know, I’m still perfecting the art of making these lists. As a result, I mess up on a pretty regular basis. Not things that you would necessarily notice, but in ways that cause me to grind my teeth (but then I tell you about it so . . . that’s cool). In this case, this year I somehow managed to louse up my Translations list. Lots of great titles somehow didn’t make it on, like this book from Sweden. I know it doesn’t look like much from the cover, but this was the very last book to get cut from my library’s 2018 best books list. The first time I read it to myself, I was blown away. It’s written in haikus. Haikus so good that they remind you why the form was ever praised in the first place. Here’s one: “Beneath ashes are/ seeds for a new forest that/ might burn someday too.” The poems and art display rain from all over the world. Do not miss this one. I’m serious.
A Round of Robins by Katie Hesterman, ill. Sergio Ruzzier
I suspect that were it not for Mr. Ruzzier’s other book out this year (Fox & Chick) this one might be getting more attention. Following a family of robins, this book pairs beautifully with 2018’s other robin book This Is the Nest That Robin Built by Denise Fleming. Nonfiction for young ages and poetry to boot? Now that’s a winning combination.
Sakura’s Cherry Blossoms by Robert Paul Weston, ill. Misa Saburi
The tanka poem doesn’t get the same amount of attention as the haiku, but it’s well worth knowing about. In this story, a young girl leaves Japan and her beloved grandmother when she moves to America. The transition is hard, and harder still is what happens after Obaachan grows ill. Sakura visits her one last time and is then overwhelmed with grief. A tricky storyline for the young, but Weston manages to give it a comforting ending that refuses to get too sweet or treacly. The poems that tell the tale do so easily. A verse picture book.
Seeing Into Tomorrow, haiku by Richard Wright, photography by Nina Crews
What can I say of it that I haven’t said before? One of my favorites of the year. That can never be overstated. A wonderful mix of poetry from the past and photography from today. A new use of photos by Ms. Crews. A great selection of haikus. It’s got it all. The whole package. Enjoy!
Sing a Song of Seasons: A Nature Poem for Each Day of the Year, selected by Fiona Waters, ill. Frann Preston-Gannon
I had a very good idea this year. After I received a copy of Sing a Song of Seasons I decided that as part of my morning routine with the kids I’d read them the poem of the day. And this seemed so doable too! I mean, I read them at least one picture book after breakfast anyway. How much harder would it be just to read a poem? Well, readers, I failed, but it’s not the fault of this book. Turns out, new routines can be hard to maintain. So I’m keeping this thick thick, gorgeous title on my coffee table in the hopes that I’ll be able to use it again someday. When it comes to poem-a-day books, they don’t get much more luscious than this.
Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Boy by Tony Medina, ill. Floyd Cooper, Cozbi A. Cabrera, Skip Hill, Tiffany McKnight, Robert Liu-Trujillo, Keith Mallett, Shawn K. Alexander, Kesha Bruce, Brianna McCarthy, R. Gregory Christie, Ekua Holmes, Javaka Steptoe, and Chandra Cox
Recently at my library we had Cozbi Cabrera come in to speak about her picture book My Hair Is a Garden. She did a killer PowerPoint as well, and mentioned that she had art in this book too. I’d completely forgotten about that! Fortunately, I was already in love with this title long since. Tony Medina wrote the poems but his thirteen artists give each one of them a different spin. I loved the mix of familiar names (Floyd Cooper, Javaka Steptoe, R. Gregory Christie) mixed in with artists I don’t know as well yet. Yet. Yet.
Vivid: Poems & Notes About Color by Julie Paschkis
You can count on Ms. Paschkis for color. So can you count on her poetry as well? You can, and this book ended up being one of the most fun of the year. You get the poems, sure, but you get some facts too, like that when it comes to purple, “it took about 243,000 snails to make one ounce of dye” long ago.
A perfect way to round off today’s lists.
Interested in the other lists? Here’s the schedule of everything being covered this month. Enjoy!
December 1 – Board Books & Pop-Ups
December 2 – Board Book Reprints & Adaptations
December 3 – Wordless Picture Books
December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds
December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books
December 6 – Alphabet Books
December 7 – Funny Picture Books
December 8 – CaldeNotts
December 9 – Picture Book Reprints
December 10 – Math Books for Kids
December 11 – Bilingual Books
December 12 – Translated Picture Books
December 13 – Books with a Message
December 14 – Fabulous Photography
December 15 – Fairy Tales / Folktales / Religious Tales
December 16 – Oddest Books of the Year
December 17 – Poetry Books
December 18 – Easy Books
December 19 – Early Chapter Books
December 20 – Comics for Kids
December 21 – Older Funny Books
December 22 – Fictionalized Nonfiction
December 23 – American History
December 24 – Science & Nature Books
December 25 – Transcendent Holiday Picture Books
December 26 – Unique Biographies
December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books
December 28 – Nonfiction Chapter Books
December 29 – Fiction Reprints
December 30 – Middle Grade Novels
December 31 – Picture Books
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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