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Poems in the Attic by Nikki Grimes and Elizabeth Zunon #WeNeedDiverseBooks #WeHaveDiverseBooks #DiverseKidsBooks #Blackpoetry #MilitaryKid
Poems in the Attic is the picture book story of a seven-year-old African American girl who, during a visit to her grandmother’s attic, finds a box of poetry that her mother wrote as a child. Her mother’s poems are full with the yearning for an Air Force father who is often away and the wonder of discovering new places as the family moves again and again when her dad returns from deployments.
Nikki Grimes, the author makes several bold, creative choices in the telling of this story. The protagonist is never named and the story has a polyphonic poetic narrative voice. The protagonist’s mother’s voice comes through on the right side of the pages in the Tanka poems the protagonist is reading and the protagonist’s voice is represented on the left side of the pages in free verse poetry. (more…)
This is a somber and sobering collection of poems with illustrations which attempt to capture the kind of cruelty that nobody wants to explain to their children, but we have to, don’t we? Nelson writes, “Forget him not. Though if I could, I would / forget much of that racial memory,” and she writes with such charge, with such sorrow that sits in your mouth, the kind of sorrow that you don’t want to swallow because if you do, maybe you’d forget.
Marilyn Nelson remembers the lynching of Emmett Till in 1955; she was nine. Emmett was 14 years old, and the book, although strong enough for the minds of adults is gentle enough for a discussion with a bright, open child. The vocabulary is advanced, probably more suited for a pre-teen, but a smart 8 year old would be fine with the language. In fact, it could be a good vocabulary building book with phrases like parallel universe and terms like witness and atrocity.
While reading the piece I often wondered, is this the kind of thing you read with a child? And over and over the answer is yes. Nelson addresses this in her foreword, where she explains the form which her poems take, “Instead of thinking too much about the painful subject of lynching, I thought about…the strict form [and how it is] a way of protecting myself”. So would a parent have to delve into the harsh topic of lynching? Not unless you felt your child was ready for such a thing, but this book would still reach out to your child because children are smart and understanding. They have sadness and complications. They understand our sadnesses, our triumphs and sorrow, and although deep and dark, sadness must break to light. The illustrations in this book lend themselves to brightness, they call on those silver-lining moments, and they represent, just as Emmett Till does, innocence.
Recommendation: Recommended; Ages: mature 8 year olds – 14
Review by Rachelle Escamilla
California poet laureate Juan Felipe Herrera shares the story of his migrant farmworker childhood through powerful language and colorful illustrations (by Elly Simmons) in Calling the Doves.
Not once is Juan negative about his humble beginnings; he fills these pages with love and poetry. Born on the road to migrant worker parents in central California, Juan grew up in a one-room house his father built on top of an abandoned car he describes as “a short loaf of bread on wheels.” His father makes bird calls that attract doves and his mother recites poetry at dinner, all of this inspiring him: “I would let my voice fly the way my mother recited poems, the way my father called the doves.”
While the language is always evocative, one particular metaphor may confuse readers. All other metaphors work beautifully, for instance, he describes a green canvas as “a giant tortilla dipped in green tomato sauce,” and ”the wolves were the mountain singers.” However, when describing his family eating outdoors, “the sky was my blue spoon, the wavy clay of the land was my plate” may be taken literally by children (and some adults) who might have trouble making sense of these lines.
Besides that instance, this lyrical story accompanied by striking illustrations tell a story rarely seen in children’s literature, from immigration to migration according to the seasons of melon, lettuce, and grapes, to traditional healing arts. A wonderful celebration of migrant and Mexican-American culture, this book is a great way to teach your child poetry as well as diversity.
Recommendation : Highly Recommended. 6+
Reviewer: Yu-Han Chao
From the Bellybutton of the Moon/ Del Ombligo de la Luna And Other Summer Poems/ y otros poemas de verano by Francisco X. Alarcon
This is a book of free verse poems about the poet’s childhood experiences in nature, travel, and with his family during his visits to his grandparents’ home in Mexico. The poems are filled with simple vignettes of imagery. They are printed first in Spanish then in the English translation. All poems are accompanied by vivid oil painting illustrations. This is a great book to introduce middle school and older elementary children to free verse poetry while imparting the wonder of being a part of the life of grandparents in a different rural country every summer. All children who spend extended vacations with family members during the summer will relate with these poems of familial love and journey and those who visit Mexico will enjoy this celebration of the rural Mexican landscape, lifestyle and Mexican culture.
Recommendation: Highly Recommended; Ages: 8+
Book Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda
Written with transracial adoptee children in mind, this book, with a series of lyrical statements, contrasting the differences in the physical appearances of children’s and parents’ body parts to the emotions, attitudes , and life perspectives associated metaphorically with the physical, sensorial, or functional purpose of the body part, communicates the conscientious and humane value system that parents teach and transfer to their children with such fluidity and beauty that you feel the text bringing you and your child closer and helping your child see the best in themselves and their depthful connection to you. In no cheesy, but a substantial, poetic, non-didactic prose, the book really conveys that who we are and who we help each other grow to be inside is what is valuable and what makes us family. The illustration is beautiful, realistic and includes illustrations of many different parent-child racial pairings including parents and children who share the same race but obviously different features so it doesn’t have to read as a book about “all of us racially different kids”; a child walks away from this book understanding that no one looks exactly like their parents but the loving way we navigate in the world is the offspring of our parents way of raising us.
Recommendation: Highly Recommended; Ages 4-12
Book Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda