Learning to read, wanting to read, daring to read—nearly every state of mastering the word is explored in VanDerwater’s collection of 23 poems.
Bookless? No worries. Cereal boxes, road signs, or even wildly decorated notebook paper can fill the bill for the greedy page gobbler. But if you happen to have a book…ahhhh, the sublime delight of reading under the covers way past dark (just like mom did) is unsurpassed. “She taught me how / a story leaps / like magic / from each page. / I’m sure my mom / read past her bedtime / under blankets / at my age.” However, in this inconsistent collection, the meter alternately flows, leaps, limps, and stutters. An achingly sweet poem about a child mourning her grandma while holding fast to the lessons learned in Charlotte’s Web is two back flips away from a pedestrian ode to hawks. “I am nestled on my couch / field guide perched upon my lap. / I am learning names of hawks / that own the never-ending sky.” O’Rourke’s illustrations are also uneven in quality. The oddly flat expression in “I Explore” vies with both the poignant father/daughter tableau in “Stories” and the comically imperious countenance of rodent Cleopatra in “Googling Guinea Pigs.” Overall, these poems lack the organic integrity and easy lyric harmony found in VanDerwater’s earlier books: Forest Has a Song, illustrated by Robbin Gourley (2013), and Every Day Birds, illustrated by Dylan Metrano (2016).
Readers willing to pick and choose will find some gems, but there are a few rocks as well. (Picture book/poetry. 5-10)