Book List

Best Middle-Grade Poetry of 2015

Readers would be hard-pressed to find a snappier introduction to language appreciation, poetry and vocabulary enrichment.

FLUTTER AND HUM/ALETEO Y ZUMBIDO

ANIMAL POEMS/POEMAS DE ANIMALES

A striking exploration of the animal kingdom in bilingual poems.

Award-winning author/illustrator Paschkis’ free verse, bilingual animal poems are more than delightful. They tease and meander across the emotional spectrum. Some are whimsical: “Fat cat / naps on a map. / When she gets up / s h e  s t r e t c h e  s / from Arequipa to Zanzibar / and her belly bumps Topolobampo. / Elastic cat.” Others are more reflective: “Out of the darkness / an owl hoots. / An echo. // The night train / is leaving.” The English scans as well as the Spanish, which is noteworthy because the Spanish-language poems were written first—by an author who began teaching herself Spanish while illustrating a previous book, Monica Brown’s Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People (2011). Her deft touch has both languages whispering or laughing at each other across double-page spreads, as if inviting readers to cross a bridge of sound. The dynamic gouache illustrations are as integral to the poetry as the printed text. Stealth vocabulary, hand-written on leaves and ocean currents, swishes and swirls side by side, intent on conversations that are independent of the poems and the playful images cavorting around them.

Readers would be hard-pressed to find a snappier introduction to language appreciation, poetry and vocabulary enrichment. (author’s notes) (Bilingual picture book/poetry. 3-10)

Pub Date: Aug. 18, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-62779-103-8

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: April 15, 2015

Another winning collaboration from two luminaries.

THE DEATH OF THE HAT

A BRIEF HISTORY OF POETRY IN 50 OBJECTS

Janeczko and Raschka reunite for a fourth anthology, featuring poems spanning two millennia.

The unifying conceit—all the poems focus on objects—has a grounding effect, helping readers perceive linkages among the poets across centuries. As Janeczko observes in a pithy introduction, poems are grouped within nine sections named for major periods of Western cultural history, such as the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. Nonetheless, he “could not ignore the strong poems…found from Eastern poets.” The 13th-century Persian poet Rumi observes a candle, “made to become entirely flame.” Seventeenth-century Japanese master Basho muses, “Midnight frost— / I’d borrow / the scarecrow’s shirt.” Twelve women are represented, including Phillis Wheatley, Christina Rossetti and Sylvia Plath. Some poems are famous: William Carlos Williams’ “The Red Wheelbarrow” is here, as well as Robert Burns’ “A Red, Red Rose.” Less familiar choices are poignant, even cheeky: John Updike’s “Lament, for Cocoa” rues, “The scum has come. / My cocoa’s cold.” Raschka’s playful watercolors on crisp, white backgrounds distill both images and emotions from the poems. In “The Cat and the Moon,” he visually parallels William Butler Yeats’ lines, the cat’s eyes echoing the crescent moon’s shape. The white goose of Cui Tu’s “A Solitary Wildgoose” appears throughout, flying alone until uniting with a flock on the back endpapers.

Another winning collaboration from two luminaries. (acknowledgements) (Picture book/poetry. 8-12)

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-7636-6963-8

Page Count: 80

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: Dec. 10, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

Succinct poetry shines in this impassioned celebration of history; the stories of this African-American family traveling the...

POEMS IN THE ATTIC

A girl discovers her mother’s childhood poems in her grandmother’s attic and embarks on a journey through family history that inspires her own poetic tribute to her mother.

The mother’s poetry tells of a childhood of constant resettling as the daughter of a base-traveling Air Force captain. Grimes’ poems and Zunon’s paint-and-collage illustrations take readers through the lands and cultures surrounding global U.S Air Force bases, including stories of aurora borealis observed in Alaska, the cherry blossoms seen in Japan, the hills hiked in Germany, and the mountains climbed in Colorado. (The specific bases are identified in a note in the backmatter.) Poetic forms alternate between the free verse of the daughter and her mother’s tanka, an ancient five-line poetry form originating in Japan (and also further explained in the backmatter). Each spread presents one of her mother’s poems within a large, bright illustration and the narrator’s free-verse rumination on it, placed above a smaller, oval vignette. According to her author’s note, Grimes drew on the varied stories of friends who grew up as military brats to create this imagined intergenerational dialogue. The standout “Grandma Says” enlightens readers to the power of reflective writing: “My mama glued her memories with words / so they would last forever.”

Succinct poetry shines in this impassioned celebration of history; the stories of this African-American family traveling the globe are rich with heart and color. (Picture book/poetry. 6-11)

Pub Date: May 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-62014-027-7

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Lee & Low Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 23, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2015

Like Hughes, Bryan, at 91, can also boast, “I’m still pulling.” (Picture book/poetry. 5-12)

SAIL AWAY

Hughes’ pen is paired to Bryan’s sculpting scissors, making a rich, poetic picture book indeed.

“Literature is a big sea full of many fish. I let down my nets and pulled. I’m still pulling.” Thus ends Langston Hughes’ autobiography, The Big Sea (1945), and here begins the subject of Bryan’s compilation. He chooses both familiar poems, such as “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” and less-well-known ones, such as “Sailor,” to explore all things aquatic, both domestic and international. Reflecting Hughes’ adventures seeing the world via its waterways, the poems feature mermaids, waves, bridges, meeting merchants from all over, and more. Bryan’s intricate and colorful cut-paper collage illustrations breathe new life into the poems. The artist also pays homage to his mother, including photographs of her sewing and embroidering scissors on the endpapers—the same scissors he used to cut the images for these illustrations. Readers don’t have to have ever heard Bryan’s unforgettable, theatrical recitation of “My People” or other Hughes poems to understand the depth of the artist’s appreciation of and admiration for Hughes and his poetry: he opens the poems up visually here in the same way that he opens them auditorily when he performs them live.

Like Hughes, Bryan, at 91, can also boast, “I’m still pulling.” (Picture book/poetry. 5-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4814-3085-2

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Atheneum

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2015

Amazing, indeed: American readers will come away both proud of what the country has to offer and eager to visit the sites in...

AMAZING PLACES

This companion to Amazing Faces (2015) is a tribute to United States landmarks and adds illustrator Hale as a collaborator.

Eleven states are highlighted, ranging from Alaska to Kansas to Massachusetts. San Francisco’s Chinatown, the Grand Canyon, the State Fair of Texas, and the Oneida Nation Museum are among the American treasures featured alongside poetry penned by an eclectic representation of treasured Americans of many ethnicities. The selections’ wide appeal invites intergenerational sharing, particularly in the classroom or at family gatherings. For example, in addition to the reader-engaging, playful visual formatting of Prince Redcloud’s “Niagara,” this poem also lends itself to multivoice readings: “falls / and / falls / forever-ever / flowing / falling / falling / cascading / crashing / dipping / dropping / plunging / tumbling / stop….” Soentpiet and Hale’s exceptional pencil-and-digital illustrations reinforce the word pictures evoked by the poetry. Light and shadow, skillfully rendered with the look of watercolor paint, play across the scenes. A historical glossary is appended, and the map of the United States indicating each landmark’s location is included on the endpapers.

Amazing, indeed: American readers will come away both proud of what the country has to offer and eager to visit the sites in person. (Poetry. 6-11)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-60060-653-3

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Lee & Low Books

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

In her acknowledgments, the author states that Mimi is “for anyone who has big dreams but is short on courage.” By the...

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  • Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature Winner

FULL CICADA MOON

Perhaps a few books manage to capture tweendom's chaos, but too few catch its poetry.

Hilton offers readers the indelible character of Mimi, a half-Japanese, half-black seventh-grader who travels with her mom, Emiko, from their old home in Berkeley, California, to Vermont, where her dad, James, works as a college professor. She’s the new kid at her school during the second half of the 1969 school year—around the time the U.S. starts withdrawing troops from Vietnam and lands on the moon. As Mimi hitches her career dreams to the lunar landing, microaggressions—those daily intentional and unintentional slights, snubs, and insults aimed at people solely because they belong to a marginalized group like Mimi and her interracial family—drag her back to Earth. Spare verse viscerally evokes the shattering impacts these everyday forms of bigotry from family, teachers, neighbors, townspeople, and schoolmates (“I’m trying hard to smile… / and pretend I don’t see… / that kids are making squint-eyes at me”) cause even as Mimi makes fast pals with Stacey, the Southern white girl with “that accent / as fragrant as lilacs,” and a slower, deeper bond with Timothy, the white boy living next door.

In her acknowledgments, the author states that Mimi is “for anyone who has big dreams but is short on courage.” By the book’s end, readers will be moved by the empathetic lyricism of Mimi’s maturing voice. (glossary, pronunciation guide) (Verse/historical fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-5254-2875-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Dial

Review Posted Online: June 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2015

As so many of our children are immigrants or children of immigrants, we need more of these stories, especially when they are...

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    Best Books Of 2015

  • Pura Belpré Medal Winner

ENCHANTED AIR

TWO CULTURES, TWO WINGS: A MEMOIR

“It really is possible to feel / like two people / at the same time, / when your parents / grandparents / memories / words / come from two / different / worlds.”

Poet and novelist Engle has won a Newbery Honor, the Pura Belpré Award, and the Américas Award, among others. Of Cuban-American descent, she has mostly written about Cuba and Cuban history. This time she brings readers her own childhood. Employing free verse, she narrates growing up in Los Angeles in the 1950s and early ’60s torn by her love of two countries: the United States, where she was born and raised, and Cuba, where her mother was from and where she spent vacations visiting family. Woven into the fabric of her childhood is the anxiety of deteriorating relations between the two countries as the Cuban revolution takes place, affecting both her family and the two countries at large. This is also the time when Engle discovers books and her own poetry as safe places to retreat to. Though it is a very personal story, it is also one that touches on issues affecting so many immigrants, as when she wonders: “Is there any way that two people / from faraway places / can ever really / understand each other’s / daydreams?”

As so many of our children are immigrants or children of immigrants, we need more of these stories, especially when they are as beautifully told as this one. (Cold War timeline, author’s note) (Poetry/memoir. 10 & up)

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4814-3522-2

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Atheneum

Review Posted Online: April 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2015

A stunning picture book that celebrates life, family relations, and determination to preserve traditions and heritage.

THE SONG WITHIN MY HEART

A heartfelt intergenerational story about knowing and preserving heritage and love between elders and young ones.

Basing his bilingual (English and Cree) story on Sapp’s childhood growing up in Saskatchewan, Métis author Bouchard writes lyrically of a young Cree boy preparing for his first powwow. His Nokum (grandmother) guides him through the day and explains the stories told by the beating drums, the singers, and the dancers and describes the power in them. From exciting and happy stories about their people and their homeland to stories about sorrow, birth, and life hereafter, Nokum teaches the boy that he may buy cars and toys, but “Your stories, songs and beating heart / Are truly yours and yours alone.” These stories are sacred and should be passed “from age to youth,” and he should never use “another’s tale / Unless he knows and he approves.” Bouchard’s rhythmic text successfully conveys an emotive and sensory approach to the relationship between the two, enriching the story and echoing the hand-lettered onomatopoeic syllables that represent chanting and drumbeats. Sapp’s profound paintings bring sincere and reassuring images that support and enhance the tale. An audio CD with English and Cree narration by the author (with accompaniment by the music of Northern Cree) is included.

A stunning picture book that celebrates life, family relations, and determination to preserve traditions and heritage. (artist’s note) (Picture book. 5-11)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-88995-500-4

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Red Deer Press

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2015

An adoption story that’s rich in family complexities and that readers won’t abandon.

RED BUTTERFLY

Set against the backdrop of China’s one-child policy, this emotional debut novel-in-verse reveals how one girl refuses to be left behind.

Eleven-year-old Kara lives a sheltered life in Tianjin with Mama, an elderly, American, non-Chinese woman. Mama rarely goes out and refuses to send Kara to school like other Chinese kids. With money tight and a “daddy” who lives in Montana, Kara begins to question why they can’t go live with him. When Kara’s neighbor Zhang Laoshi tells her about being abandoned as a baby, Kara suspects that her hand, “with two short nubs / instead of fingers,” is at the root of her woes. “This is why my birth mother / didn’t keep me, / why she decided to try again / for someone better.” Piece by piece, she discovers a shocking secret about why they must hide. Soon, an accident during a visit from Jody, Mama’s older daughter, sets into motion a roller-coaster adoption process. Kara must make unthinkable choices and painstakingly claim with whom she belongs. Sonnichsen draws upon firsthand experiences in volunteering to improve China’s orphanages and adopting her own Chinese daughter. With spare, fluid language, she creates the endearing, authentic, nuanced emotions of a girl stuck between two worlds and brings to light a foundling’s hope and determination.

An adoption story that’s rich in family complexities and that readers won’t abandon. (author’s note) (Verse/fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4814-1109-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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