With national poetry month coming up in April, I have been excited to read poetry again and to think about the process of writing poetry. When I came across Jen Bryant’s book A River of Words about William Carlos Williams, it was a perfect fit for this exploration. I have always loved Wiliams’s poetry for its simplicity and for his courage to break the mold of patterned, rhyming poems. His story is fun to share with children who, while they love rhyme, are sometimes stymied by creating poems with rhythm and rhyme. A River of Words is another collaboration between Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet whose interplay between illustration and text is so tight that it is hard to believe they came from two separate people. Quotes from Williams’s writings are interspersed with the story and are often part of the illustrations. His poetry also adorns the inner and outer covers of the book for those eager to read more. Bryant hooks her young readers in by starting with Williams’s life as a boy and tracing his interest in nature and writing from a young age. She writes, “Like the water that sometimes ran slow, smooth, and steady, and other times came rushing in a hurried flood, Willie’s lines flowed across the page.” How lovely! Bryant also makes a point of how Willie writes in “a new way,” letting “each poem find its own special shape on the page.” That’s a great freeing example for children to follow in their writing. Like the interspersing of his words and the text of the story, the timelines in the end pages of the book draw parallels between the events of Williams’s life and his publications as well as world events. This is a wonderful reference for students studying biography and history. Bryant and Sweet’s notes at the end provide further insight into their process, which is helpful for students writing their own stories. The pair’s other books, A Splash of Red about artist Horace Pippin, and The Right Word about Roget’s Thesaurus are equally delightful and worth seeking out.
Suggested Ages: This book is well suited to children in the middle Elementary grades that are studying biography and history. They will appreciate the level of detail as well as the personal story of Williams and can draw additional information from the end pages for further research.
I have always thought that picture books are a bit like a poem, beautifully laid out line by line, but, with the added dimension of illustrations to give the reader a richer experience. Helen Frost’s Sweep up the Sun, is the perfect example of this. She has taken a poem that she wrote and laid it out in a picture book format with Rick Lieder’s striking photographs of birds stretched across the pages. The pairings of words and photographs showing birds learning to fly, playing and soaring through sun, rain and snow seem simple in their elegance, but are clearly the result of thoughtful interplay between the author and photographer. In not clutter the beautiful pages with too much text, Frost has limited the text within the story to the lines of the poem and saved more information for the end of the book instead. There is wonderful additional material there about the birds included and their behaviors for those interested in learning more. This book is another in the stunning nature series by Lieder and Frost, which also includes, Step Gently Out, Among a Thousand Fireflies, and Wake Up!.
Suggested Ages – This book is appropriate for very young children who will be amazed by the photographs and respond to the rhythm of the poetry. Early readers can follow the simple text along and older students will appreciate the extra information at the end of the story.
Topics – seasons, outdoor play, poetry
Summary – If you’ve ever found seashells in your lint catcher, then Mary McKenna’s Bringing the Outside In will strike a chord of familiarity. In footprints, drips and collected treasures, McKenna describes outdoor exploration through the seasons which are always brought home for reflection. Patrice Barton’s joyful illustrations lend a kind of carefree flavor to McKenna’s poetic phrases. I particularly enjoyed the laundry room scene of kids in their skivvies hanging dripping swimsuits with the dog shaking its wet fur in the midst. I also love the final scenes of the kids sharing memories by the fire and then later pulling out pictures from their adventures to remember their past adventures together. McKenna’s simple poetry captures both the camaraderie found in natural exploration as well as the treasures to be found there.
Suggested Ages – This book is suitable for preschool-aged children and up. All young readers will relate to the fun to be had in each season and also the friendships to be found in the outdoors.
Topics – water, water cycle, poetry
Summary – “Drip. Sip. Pour me a cup. Water is Water.” Thus begins Water is Water, as author Miranda Paul invites us to patter, slide, and seep us through the water cycle. Her simple, lyrical phrases help us to experience water in its many forms. Early readers will identify with the crisp sounds and poetic format of the writing. Jason Chin’s illustrations perfectly complement the text by showing what fun water can provide. The additional information at the back of the book is presented as a glossary of terms with illustrations that is both readable and informative. This is followed by another section of illustrated quick fun facts about the importance of water to our bodies and to the earth.
Suggested Ages – This non-fiction book is appropriate for pre-K children as well as early readers, as there are different levels of information tailored to each level of comprehension.