Book List

Best Picture-Book Poetry of 2019

A perfect addition to the bookshelves of culture, poetry, and art.

I REMEMBER

POEMS AND PICTURES OF HERITAGE

Curated by poet Hopkins, a collection of poems and illustrations sourced from a diverse pool of creators.

Each double-page spread or multipage sequence captures a childhood memory, an artist paired with a poet welcoming readers into an expansive space of youth and memory. Storyteller G. Neri describes his “Creole, Filipino, and Mexican” heritage as a “great example of globalization,” and other contributors celebrate their mixed cultural heritages: Juliet Menendez (Guatemalan/Irish), Janet S. Wong (Korean/Chinese), Janine Macbeth (Asian/black/white/Native), and Nick Bruel (Chinese/Belgian). Insoo Kim doubles down as a poet and illustrator in “Speak Up,” in which a young boy challenged to “say something Korean” confronts his dual identity as a U.S.–born Korean American. Poets and artists are generally paired loosely by identity, with Naomi Shihab Nye’s Palestinian heritage and Sawsan Chalabi’s Lebanese background contributing to their collaboration, for instance, and Abenaki author Joseph Bruchac’s poem “Rez Road” juxtaposed with Mohawk artist David Kanietakeron Fatdden’s symbolic painting. Brief statements by each creator accompany their contributions, and select vocabulary is defined discreetly in tiny type at the ends of poems. The compilation ends with a wonderful section that includes child and adult photos and bios of all of the book’s contributors, a nice touch that inspires, as it puts names to faces for youth to see that people of all cultures are accomplished artists.

A perfect addition to the bookshelves of culture, poetry, and art. (Picture book/poetry. 8-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-62014-311-7

Page Count: 56

Publisher: Lee & Low Books

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

Young people lucky enough to find this miraculous collection in their hands will indeed look.

THE PROPER WAY TO MEET A HEDGEHOG

AND OTHER HOW-TO POEMS

This anthology provides instruction on an eclectic sprawl of topics: walking on Mars, toasting marshmallows, telling the difference between goblins and elves, and more.

A table of contents readies readers and makes this zany collection feel orderly. “How to Build a Poem” comes first, celebrating the craft that underpins poetry and “words that hammer, / words that nail, / words that saw, / words that sail, / words that whisper, / words that wail.” Children immediately feel the pull of all the verse ahead. Contemporary poems make up the bulk of this collection, but a few poems reach across swaths of time. Robert Louis Stevenson’s brilliantly evocative “The Swing” proves how a great poem endures. Children will soar hearing, “Up in the air I go flying again, / Up in the air and down!” All of the poems offer exhilarating construction while speaking directly to children about topics young people hold close to their hearts (haircuts, riding a new bike, rules). Depicting a diverse gathering of children, these mellow painted illustrations feel at once soft and gravely, with crosshatching, textures, and lines. The engaging artwork nudges the poems into the foreground, giving them ample room to breathe. The collection closes with “How to Pay Attention,” just two lines that are almost a sacred offering. “Close this book. / Look.”

Young people lucky enough to find this miraculous collection in their hands will indeed look. (Picture book/poetry. 6-11)

Pub Date: March 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-7636-8168-5

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: Dec. 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2019

Richly rewarding and clever: a visually arresting, inventive treatment of a popular subject.

LION OF THE SKY

HAIKU FOR ALL SEASONS

In this spirited collaboration, Salas and López present 24 suggestive poetic snapshots chronicling the cycle of a year.

Highlighting season-appropriate objects for spring, fall, summer, and winter, Salas magnifies the spareness of the haiku form by turning each concentrated first-person portrait into a riddle as she tantalizingly omits naming the subject describing itself. Meanwhile López offers young and pre-readers florid visual hints, depicting in deft brush strokes and lush colors the author’s hidden subjects. Combined, these artists render objects gentle as summer’s fireflies (“fire in our bellies / we FLICKER-FLASH in twilight— / rich meadow of stars”) or winter’s snowflakes (“I’m cold confetti / falling from a crystal sky, / blanketing the town,” here shown as a white-roofed town in a snow globe painted against a wintry verdigris sky spackled with haphazard white blots) or bold as a fall jack-o’-lantern (“I perch on the porch, / spooky face frozen in place, / fire BURNING inside”—glowering large with flaming orange eyes as the finger of a ghostly trick-or-treater rings the doorbell in the background). What sets this volume apart from similar haiku explorations of the seasons is the tight synthesis of visual object and oblique verbal depiction, making for both wonderfully contemplative experiences of each illustrated poem and the seamless progression of nature’s cycle through the year.

Richly rewarding and clever: a visually arresting, inventive treatment of a popular subject. (Picture book/poetry. 5-10)

Pub Date: April 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5124-9809-7

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Millbrook/Lerner

Review Posted Online: Jan. 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2019

Readers will dance in their dreams.

SONGS IN THE SHADE OF THE CASHEW AND COCONUT TREES

LULLABIES AND NURSERY RHYMES FROM WEST AFRICA AND THE CARIBBEAN

A chorus of drums, woodwinds, strings, creoles and indigenous languages will delight the ears at bedtime.

The rich sounds collected by Soussana travel between the West African coast and the Caribbean. From the dark and painful history of slavery and colonization, these lullabies give melody and rhythm to cultural values, traditions, fables, and familial struggles shared by the diaspora. “Lóba” speaks of the wonders of nature and calls on the people to protect it. “Oyiri Marie” tells the story of a hairdresser and a man who turns into a lion. In “Hormiguita Retozona,” an ant has every excuse not to help her mother do chores. The book provides further education on the languages spoken and a map of the countries represented; accompanying each song are the lyrics in both English and the original language, along with beautiful illustrations by Gueyfier. African and Afro-Caribbean children adorned in bright prints and patterns dance, play, sleep, and sing across the pages. Other songs have images of indigenous flora and fauna, city skylines, the sea, and the forest. The vibrant colors mirror the diversity of each country and ethnic group, and the tunes are catchy and easy to hum.

Readers will dance in their dreams. (Picture book. 3-7)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-2-924744-53-3

Page Count: 80

Publisher: The Secret Mountain

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

A giddy ride through our stellar neighborhood and beyond.

THE DAY THE UNIVERSE EXPLODED MY HEAD

POEMS TO TAKE YOU INTO SPACE AND BACK AGAIN

Poems about stars, planets, moons, and other astronomical wonders, accompanied by stylish anthropomorphic illustrations.

Opening with a “Solar Sunnet” (“Next time you want to wish upon a star, / you need not even wait for night to fall”) and a spectacularly silly “Moon Buffet” (“Ophelia’s made of tacos / and Europa’s made of Spam”), this versified tour of the solar system and beyond offers both astronomical and metrical delights. Of the latter, Wolf’s frequent use of multiple voices (cued by lines in different colors) plays to fine effect in zippy exclamations by three shooting stars from the Perseid shower, the measured strains of tidally locked Pluto and Charon as they whirl in a stately do-si-do, and an effervescent rap on astronomical distances: “They call us DJ Energy / and MC Square! / Physics is our business. / We’re a relative pair.” Raff puts faces, generally with goofy expressions, on nearly all of the cartoonish heavenly bodies she depicts posing against starry backdrops, including both light- and dark-skinned human figures in some scenes. The author unpacks select facts and concepts on each poem in closing notes, and he also identifies his meter, poetic type, and any literary references. His comment on the title poem’s climax is a cogent one: “If it hasn’t happened to you yet, it will eventually.”

A giddy ride through our stellar neighborhood and beyond. (glossary, URLs) (Picture book/poetry. 7-13)

Pub Date: March 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-7636-8025-1

Page Count: 56

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: Dec. 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2019

Rancid rhymes and syncopated stank and plenty of eeeew just for you.

EEK, YOU REEK!

POEMS ABOUT ANIMALS THAT STINK, STANK, STUNK

What is that pong? These critters smell wrong!

“Eek, you reek, / You made a funk. / Where you have been / Things stink, stank, stunk.” Yolen and daughter Stemple (Monster Academy, 2018, etc.) team up again for a collection of poems that…um, celebrate those animals large and small that make the world a smellier place. The requisite skunk and stinkbug are joined by their lesser-known putrid pals. There are the stinkpot turtle, or Sternotherus odoratus (“There you are, oh odoratus, / With your musky turtle status. / Small mud-loving omnivore / That raccoons equally adore. / You pump out bad perfumes galore / When chased down by a predator”), and the hoatzin, a very smelly bird that digests like a cow and smells so foul no animal will eat it. A trio of haiku about icky insects adds to the fun (and info), as do longer poems on ferrets, musk oxen, wolverines, Tasmanian devils, and more. Nobati’s green-tinged, digitally painted pencil drawings depict the reeking wretches and virtually make the stink visible. A paragraph of information on each creature graces the close, as does a glossary of smelly words and a fetid further reading list. The tone is fresh, however, and the foolish foulness may just hook those who think poetry stinks.

Rancid rhymes and syncopated stank and plenty of eeeew just for you. (Informational picture book/poetry. 6-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5124-8201-0

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Millbrook/Lerner

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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