Before poetry month comes to a close, I want to highlight some novels written in verse. Through a series of short poems, an author can tell an amazingly rich story, despite the limited scope for details and dialog.
Most recently, I read A Girl Named Mister, by Nikki Grimes, who is coming to KPL on May 9. The book combines sections in the voice of the title character with poems in the voice of the Virgin Mary, which are in a book Mister is reading during a challenging time.
One of my favorites is Sharon Creech's Love That Dog, which is written as the diary of a boy who is learning to love poetry. The title poem pays homage to a poem by Walter Dean Myers, and others throughout the book are modeled after other famous poems. Speaking of dogs, God Got a Dog by Cynthia Rylant and Marla Frazee imagines what it would be like if God had a life like an ordinary human.
All the novels in verse I've come across are written for children and young adults, but there is much in them to be appreciated for any reader. They seem particularly well suited to addressing difficult topics such as grief and the darker chapters of history, such as Jacqueline Woodson's memoir of growing up during the civil rights movement of the 1960s and 70s, Brown Girl Dreaming. Dana Walrath's Like Water on Stone takes place during the Armenian genocide.
Other authors who frequently write in verse include Kwame Alexander and Margarita Engle. Novels in verse are not a replacement for regular fiction, but like graphic novels, you can read through them quickly for the basic story, or better yet, you can linger to enjoy the nuances of language.
Written and illustrated by Maya Christina Gonzalez, Call Me Tree is a beautiful journey that imagines life as a tree, from a seed in the ground to an árbol standing tall. Written in both English and Spanish, the sparse, lyrical wordings perfectly complement the rich and expressive imagery exploring nature, connectedness, and individuality.
Hari Kunzru brings his unique literary voice to a novel that explores race, privilege, authenticity, and the power of blues music. Drifting in and out of different time periods and settings, White Tears continues in the vein of Kunzru's last novel, Gods without Men, which used a similar fluid timeline. Kunzru is a truly skilled writer and one of the rare popular novelists who gets favorable reviews from the literary intelligentsia, but remains very accessible and a fun storyteller at heart.
Incredibly researched and vividly written, Max by Sarah Cohen-Scali is not for the faint of heart. This historical fiction is based off of real events during WWII, beginning with our introduction to the titular character as he is preparing to be born, the first child of the Lebensborn Program. From his birth until the German surrender, we see the world through Max’s eyes and his heavily indoctrinated thoughts - sexist, anti-Semitic, and homophobic language included.
Getting through the first quarter of this book was a challenge for how descriptive the writing was in those regards. The second half of the book certainly rewards the reader for sticking it out, as Max subtly comes to understand the world around him, and how he deals with it. Max is a brutal story with an important message, well worth picking up.
All Grown Up is a contemporary novel that follows the life of a frustrated artist who ends up in an unsatisfying career in the city, rebelling against the social conventions of marriage and raising children in favor of remaining alone. In the process, she battles her own demons and explores, through her past and present relationships, how she came to be the person she is. It was a fast and satisfying read.
I was interested to hear the author talk about the book as part of this New York Times Book Review podcast on The Definition of Adulthood.
Don't Squish the Sasquatch is my go to choice right now to read aloud with kids of all ages. While boarding an empty bus, Señor Sasquatch lets the driver know that he hopes it doesn't get too crowded because he does not like to get squished. But what else could happen when the bus goes on to pick up Miss Elephant Shark, Mr. Octo-Rhino, Miss Goat-Whale, and Miss Loch Ness Monster Space Alien? The combination proves to be explosive.
How will they revive Señor Sasquatch?
Kent Redeker's silly story mixed with Bob Staake's goofy illustrations just beg for you to ham this one up. Check this one out and start practicing your Sasquatch voice.
I just found out that there is a sequel: Don't Splash the Sasquatch! Don't get in my way as I run to get it or you might get squished.
Bunny's Book Club by Annie Silvestro is all about a Bunny's love of books! It all starts one day when he happens to hear a librarian reading outside to local kids. Bunny realizes right away that books could take him to faraway places where he can experience adventure and excitement!
When summer ends, story time moves inside the library, a place that Bunny didn't think he was allowed to enter. But one night his longing for books gets the better of him, and he decides to venture over to the library. But alas it is locked! What to do? Being an ingenious rabbit, he leaps at the bar of the book return, lands inside the slot and through it into the confines of the library itself. He gets very excited seeing all the books that are available. Bunny spends the night exploring the various sections of the building, picking up tomes of interest along the way. With a towering stack of books, he makes his way back to his burrow ready to read his newly found treasures. This behavior becomes a habit, and he returns night after night. Pretty soon he invites some of his animal buddies to join him in exploring the wonderful world of books. Somehow, all the animals are able to fit through the book return, even Bear but only after a good deal of squeezing and wriggling.
One particular evening, all the animals are so immersed in their book finds inside the library, that they don't notice or hear a librarian arriving to work early. Not knowing what to expect, Bunny and his friends are delighted that she points out that the library has strict rules and the first rule of business is that "every book lover must have one of these"- a library card. Each animal receives a shiny, new card allowing them to borrow books legitimately, as long as they are returned.
Back inside the confines of Bunny's home, they inaugurate Bunny's Book Club as proud founding members.
This is a truly whimsical story with lively and attractive illustrations by Tatjana Mai-Wyss, that is sure to please kids and even adults. It's very pro-library, pro-books, and pro-book club to boot. What's there not to like?
Although, I own a pet bunny named Patrick, adopted from the Great Lakes Rabbit Sanctuary on St. Patrick's day six years ago, he is not much into books or reading. Being only four and one-half pounds, he makes up for his small stature with a very big assertive personality. He also happens to be very smart and as a result, he rules the roost in our house that he shares with three large male cats. Basically,whatever Patrick wants he eventually gets by manipulating both cats and humans who cohabit in our house. In the past five or six months, nine year old Patrick or Patricio, as we sometimes fondly call him, has become quite cat-like in his behavior and tastes. He started to use the cats' litter box, sleeps in their cat beds, likes to sneak in a few cat kibbles for a snack and actively seeks out the cats for play time. He hasn't eaten Timothy Hay for years now and instead has trained his humans to purchase fresh greens for him three times a week. His favorites are cilantro,parsley, mint, and the super food for both humans and apparently bunnies- kale!
As my husband is fond of saying in referring to him, "What a guy!"
Jade’s mother tells her to take every opportunity that becomes available to her, but she also knows the word opportunity is laced with coded messages. When the opportunity to join Woman to Woman is put in front of her, Jade is not interested. Until she finds out that completing the program means getting a scholarship to college. Paired up with a mentor that doesn’t seem to have her life together any better than Jade, wondering why her white friend can’t see that sometimes it IS about race, and wanting more out of this so-called opportunity, Jade begins to learn more about herself, her place in the world, and that if she wants to see change, she needs to speak up for herself and others.
This book was so amazing. From the very beginning I was hooked. Jade’s voice is clear and strong, and, as the story progresses, I love that her character development is subtle, yet major. Finishing it, I felt inspired. I have a feeling this book will be making its way into my personal collection very soon.
American Street follows the story of a Haitian teenage girl named Fabiola who planned on coming to stay with her aunt and cousins in Detroit, Michigan. Though Fabiola was born in the US, and is an American citizen, her mother is not, and she ends up getting detained at the JFK airport. As a result, Fabiola is forced to start a brand new life on her own-- creating a new identity in an unfamiliar country, with family she doesn't know, all the while trying to find a way to be reunited with her mother.
It's always interesting to see your home through someone else's eyes, and this debut novel by Ibi Zoboi, a Haitian immigrant herself, provides a fresh and unique perspective on the American Dream, and the compromises one has to make along the way.
The Civil War is over. Army Captain Jefferson Kidd is traveling through Texas from one remote community to another reading the news to residents from newspapers around the country, telling them about distant countries, scientific experiments, an upcoming census, explorations. Along the way, he is asked to escort a 10-year old girl, captive for four years among the Kiowa, back to her aunt and uncle in southern Texas. She is the sole survivor from an Indian raid and has few memories.
In one sense, this is a western – the wild west, Indians, good guys and bad guys – but in the boarder sense it is a snapshot of a time and place, a sense of duty, and ultimately of love.
This slim volume was a National Book Award Finalist and on many “best of” lists for 2016. Reviewers have described is a “jewel”, “not to be missed”, “excellent in every respect”, “beautifully written”. I agree.