akibird

A Blog of Children's Literature

Crossing Stones April 18, 2011

Crossing StonesCrossing Stones by Helen Frost
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Crossing Stones by Helen Frost (2009)

Novel in Verse, 178 pages

18-year-old Muriel Jorgensen is an opinionated young woman who begins to question the risks of war and the inequality of women. The Jorgensen’s live across from the Norman’s, and their properties are divided by Crabapple Creek, but the line is blurred as all the families use the creek’s crossing stones to see each other every day. Both mothers hope their children will marry within the families: Muriel and Frank Norman, Ollie (Muriel’s 16-year-old brother) and Emma (Frank’s 16-year-old sister). Muriel is not sure how she feels about Frank and is afraid to get caught up in the life of a housewife. However, before she can decide, Frank enlists and is sent abroad to fight in The Great War. Only Muriel openly expresses the risks American young men are taking while boys go away to war. However, Muriel and both families are not ready for the reality of war, its destructive nature, or the changes happening back home. Frost’s characters portray the common patriotic sentiment pre-WWI and the disillusionment after the war in their alternating verse narration. The poet’s form in particular is quite interesting, creating a flowing creek pattern in all Muriel’s poems, showing her developing thoughts and forming beliefs. Furthermore, Frost’s form for Ollie and Emma’s poems as “cupped-hand sonnets” connected through beginning and end rhyme shows their bond and the stepping stones they have been for one another. Crossing Stones would be an excellent supplement to a WWI study for any young adult, providing the experiences of people back home and touching on other major events occurring in the era, i.e. women’s suffrage, child labor, and women in the workplace.

 

The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom

The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba's Struggle for FreedomThe Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom by Margarita Engle
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom by Margarita Engle (2008)

Novel in Verse, 158 pages

A Newberry Honor Book and the winner of the Pura Belpré Award, The Surrender Tree captures the struggles of Rosa Castellanos Castellanos, or Rosa la Bayamesa, the former slave turned herbal healer who takes care of the sick and wounded during Cuba’s struggle for independence from Spain. Broken into five parts, the story begins around the time Rosa is freed from her owner but still must run from slavehunters who work for the Spanish Crown which does not recognize the slaves’ freedom. The slavehunter Lieutenant Death, as evil as his name implies, has an eye out specifically for Rosa because of her ability to slip out of his sight right before her capture. The poetry documents the next fifty years of Cuba’s history, most of which Rosa and the other rebels must hide from Spanish rule and slavehunters in makeshift hospitals in caves and the jungle. Rosa’s empathic soul and commitment to her oath of healing shine through all she does, including treating Lieutenant Death and injured enemy Spanish soldiers. Peasants who were not able to escape were forced to leave their homes and move into the world’s first “reconcentration camps,” a decree by Captain-General Weyler. In alternating voices, the reader hears the perspective of Rosa, her husband José, Captain-General Weyler, Lieutenant Death, and Silva, a reconcentration camp escapee. To avoid confusion, each poem is titled with the name of its speaker. In her short but stirring verse, Margarita Engle draws on the emotions of a war-torn country through the hearts of all those involved, exemplifying the pain, courage, frustration, determination, and exhaustion war brings. While the author takes some liberties with characters’ words since there are holes in the recorded history of Cuba’s Wars for Independence, The Surrender Tree is a great addition to young adult lessons on the history of Cuba with its more personal accounts of guerilla warfare.

 

Sweetgrass Basket

Sweetgrass BasketSweetgrass Basket by Marlene Carvell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sweetgrass Basket by Marlene Carvell (2005)

Novel in Verse, 243 pages

In heart-wrenching dual free-verse narratives, Carvell crafts the voices of two Mohawk sisters, Mattie and Sarah, who are sent to an off-reservation school after their mother dies. Doing what he thinks is best, their father sends his children away to go to school, where they have lessons, march, and do domestic work. In their alternating voices similar to diary entries, the girls share their stories of leaving home on a long train ride and receiving a slap in the face by the head mistress, Mrs. Dwyer, because they are too afraid to let go of one another on their first day at the school. While the girls soon find a few friends and kindness in some of the school’s employees, both just want to return to the land and culture they call home. While Sarah cries all the time from homesickness, Mattie begins to be more headstrong and refuses to cower like the other girls under Mrs. Dwyer’s strict hand. When Mattie is wrongfully accused of stealing Mrs. Dwyer’s silver brooch, she refuses to admit she is guilty and attempts to escape the school. Carvell’s poetry embodies the broken souls of both sisters and does not skip a beat when the narration switches voices. Painting a painful but often true story of misunderstood culture and emotional child abuse, Sweetgrass Basket portrays the experiences of many Native American children who went to the boarding schools so far away from their homes, their families, and themselves. I would highly recommend this book to ages 11 and up.

 

All the Broken Pieces

All the Broken PiecesAll the Broken Pieces by Ann E. Burg
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

All the Broken Pieces by Ann Burg (2009)

Novel in Verse, 218 pages

In brilliant verse, Ann Burg shares the experiences of Matt Pin, a Vietnamese refugee who was adopted by an American family. Airlifted out of war-stricken Vietnam when he was 10, he still remembers it all, and the memories haunt him: the mother who made him leave her to come to America, his younger brother’s limbs lost to war, the American father who never returned for him or his mother. Now in seventh grade, Matt has a loving new little brother and has become the star pitcher for his baseball team; however, some teammates refuse to accept him, taking out their pain from the war on Matt (“My brother died / because of you”). Matt’s adoptive parents decide to take him to a Vietnam vet support group to hear their stories and find a way to help him let go of some of the broken pieces that cut into his soul like shards of glass. Matt’s poetic narration shows the reflection of a child who is learning to grow up with post-traumatic stress and who does not yet understand the causes of war or its destruction. Heartbreakingly, Matt must learn to stop blaming himself for his brother’s injuries, the Vietnam vets’ pain, and the numerous shattered lives in order to shed his fear and embrace his life, both past and present. While Burg touches on many heavy issues within the book (the nightmares of PTSD, the destruction of war, the guilty feeling of loving a new family, the sting of racism, and the need to belong as a child), her simple prose poetry allows YA readers to relate and understand a life that might be very different from their own. Burg’s beautiful metaphor of the game of baseball and life winds itself through the story as Matt and his teammates accept each other and help one another grieve. While an amazing stand alone read, All the Broken Pieces would be an excellent supplement to a unit on war and its effects on soldiers and civilians.

 

Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature’s Survivors April 13, 2011

Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature's SurvivorsUbiquitous: Celebrating Nature’s Survivors by Joyce Sidman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature’s Survivors by Joyce Sidman (2010)

Poetry, 40 pages

In a truly ingenious marriage between poetry and science, Joyce Sidman creates a colorful lesson of the world’s 1% of species that have survived its evolution, starting with bacteria 3.8 billion years ago. With a topic that might bore non-science lovers, Sidman pairs the history of each species or large group with a poem inspired by the creature to create an engaging book to satisfy various readers’ palates. Along with amazing colorful illustrations and different layouts for every new creature, unique poetry with different styles and forms creates a surprise at every turn of the page. On the right-hand page, each creature’s historical existence is shared along with its Latin term and size. At the end of the book is a glossary that defines poetry and science terms alike for extra curious readers. Most impressive are the end pages that capture the earth’s existence in a bending timeline that attempts to capture all 4.6 billion years and each creature’s birth on earth. Ubiquitous would be a great book to include in a science lesson or booktalk for first grade and up.

 

Here’s A Little Poem: A Very First Book of Poetry February 14, 2011

Filed under: Beginning Readers and Poetry — akibird @ 1:27 pm
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Here's A Little Poem: A Very First Book of PoetryHere’s A Little Poem: A Very First Book of Poetry by Polly Dunbar
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Here’s a Little Poem: A Very First Book of Poetry by Jane Yolen and Andrew Fusek Peters and illustrated by Polly Dunbar (2007)

Poetry, 105 pages

Full of sunshine and rhyme, Here’s a Little Poem captures the whimsicality of youth and the essence of day to day life. Through a multitude of poetic voices, Yolen and Peters have created a flowing narrative on growing and learning through the eyes of a child. Dunbar aptly creates a unique and fanciful visual experience for each poem that carries itself into the tone of each section of the collection, producing a colorful mosaic of childhood moments in tongue-tickling verse. As an extensive collection of over sixty short poems, the book could work as a bedtime ritual or independent practice for a beginning reader. While the piece would be too lengthy to read aloud completely at story time, sharing a couple of favorite poems during a booktalk may spark an interest in young poets.

 

Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse

Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reversible VerseMirror Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse by Marilyn Singer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Mirror Mirror by Marilyn Singer (2010)

Beginning Reader, 32 pages

Marilyn Singer turns traditional fairytales upside down in Mirror Mirror by using her reverso, two way paired poems that tell both sides of each story using the same words. A reader will need background knowledge of the original tales to appreciate and understand the juxtaposition of the poems, as in “Bears in the News” where the first poem finds a startled Goldie Locks a victim, and the other shows the innocent bear family coming home to an intruder. Kudos to Singer for working with limited language to produce both points of view for each tale and to Masse for her colorfully contrasted illustrations that change perspective to capture both poems perfectly. As a creative collection of opposing poems, Mirror Mirror is a new twist on some classics to share with beginning readers during a book talk or story time.