The third installment in the hard-core Poetry for Kids series again weds top-notch scholarship with visual artistry in introducing children to the poetic wonders of another American treasure: Walt Whitman.
Here, Whitman scholar Karbiener (Liberal Studies, New York Univ.) and illustrator Evans harmoniously capture the immediacy of Whitman’s verse, and perhaps in no other instance does this series’ 8-inch-wide format serve better, affording readers the rare pleasure of seeing Whitman’s seemingly endless lines run clear across the page, unenjambed as he intended. In her preface, Karbiener explains that she seeks to provide a rough biographical sketch of Whitman, fleshed out in endnotes. For example, “Come Up from the Fields Father” depicts the moment a family receives the news its only son has been injured in battle: “O this is not our son’s writing, yet his name is sign’d; / O a strange hand writes for our dear son—O stricken mother’s soul!” Karbiener’s notes on the poem describe how that “strange hand” often belonged to Whitman, who, as a volunteer during the Civil War, “wrote hundreds of letters that briefed families on soldiers’ conditions.” Evans’ deeply expressive earth-toned watercolors match both the poet’s exacting attention to detail and his proclivity for cataloging vast states of nature and cityscapes.
Though Whitman’s sophisticated 19th-century vocabulary may tax today’s youth, this dynamic volume proves a seminal addition to any library. (glossed terms in margins) (Picture book/poetry. 10-16)