Poetry

Can I Touch Your Hair? Poems of Race, Mistakes and Friendship

By Irene Latham and Charles Waters, Illustrated by: Sean Qualls and Selina Alko
Carolrhoda Books, 2018
Middle grade
Ages 8-12, Grades 3-6
ISBN: 978-1512404425
Other formats:  e-book

Nothing is ever truly black and white. That’s what two classmates in the book Can I Touch Your Hair? learn in fifth grade when they reluctantly wind up paired together for a writing project and believe they have nothing in common.

Irene and Charles’s differences in gender, style, and friends are already stark. Throw into the mix the fact that Irene is white and Charles is black, and both students fear they’re in for an uncomfortable and unmanageable few weeks.

Yet, once each begins to write on the same subject as the other about his or her life experiences and perspectives, Irene and Charles discover that while the differences between them are indeed tangiblein shoe shopping, dinner conversations, church services, hairstyles, and favorite sportstheir differences are unique preferences or circumstances that can be appreciated.

They also learn that color is only skin deep. Even with varying experiences, opportunities, and challenges, at the end of the day, their matters of the heart aren’t so unalike at all, and thus, a friendship unfolds. Readers will experience Charles’s perspective on why it’s annoying to have someone touch his hair, and Irene helps readers understand how one can make awkward fumbles in expressing herself even with the best of intentions.

This book could serve as a great conversation starter for adolescents from middle school age to older youths. Adults may even find it helpful to read these poems with a child and share their own experiences navigating race, identity and friendships. The vibrant illustrations by artists Sean Qualls and Selina Alko are an excellent companion to these compelling poems and will help young readers make sense of what it means to stretch beyond one’s comfort zone to try and understand others.  – SHA


Haiti My Country

Haiti, My Country

Haiti, My Country

Poems by Haitian Schoolchildren
Illustrated by Rogé, Translated by Solange Messier
Fifth House, 2014
Picture book, poetry
Ages 6 and up
ISBN-10: 1927083230/13: 978-1927083239
Honors: New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books

When I was just out of college, I visited Haiti for a couple of weeks with a group from my city, Richmond. We stayed in Port-au-Prince, the capital, and in Hinche, the capital of the central plateau.

How I remember the people in Port-au-Prince is that they shouted at me on the boldly painted taxi-trucks, called tap taps, about very specific policy issues related to the U.S. that I knew nothing about and cannot now recall. I will never forget how that experience redefined my understanding of citizenship and human rights.

In all the places of the world I have visited, there is no place where the clouds have felt so close or the stars so crystal as in Hinche, Haiti. We visited in the dry season, but even so, water tumbled down from the mountains into clear, deep pools. The people in Hinche shared goat stew and plantains and pumpkin soup on the Feast of the Epiphany. They sat down with us and talked about all people working together, sharing the heavy load, making change one step at a time, and never giving up.

I believe that some of the strongest girls in all of the world must be Haitian girls. Some of these girls are poets, praising their homeland in Haiti My Country, a collection of fifteen poems by Haitian teenagers, all from the village of Camp-Perrin in the southern part of the country.

The young poets bring the beauty and hardship of Haiti into focus, and Rogè’s introspective portraits of them reveals youth full of generosity, joy, skepticism, inquisitiveness, and determination.

They write lovingly of trees—mango, soursop, papaya, avocado, pomegranate, mahogany, and giant oak. Of red birds and hibiscus. Of honey and hard labor. Of course, they write of roosters! And, they write of lost smiles and worries and better tomorrows to come. – Gigi


Dust of Eden

dustOfEden
by Mariko Nagai
Albert Whitman & Company, 2014
Historical fiction; Novel in verse
Middle grade and Young Adult
ISBN: 978-0-8075-1739-0

What happens when your own country turns against you in suspicion?

Dust of Eden
, a novel in verse, is the story of Mina Tagawa and her family following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, when their lives in Seattle are changed forever.

Told from the point of view of Mina, a middle school girl, Dust of Eden spans three years during which the Tagawa family goes from being seen as beloved neighbors to being perceived as enemies of the state. Taunts begin at school, even from lifelong friends. Mina’s father is soon arrested. And finally the family, under the requirements of Executive Order 9066, is forced into an internment camp in Idaho.

How does a girl survive when the world she has known her whole life turns against her? Is the answer to bear the pain with silent dignity—ngaman—as her grandfather does? Is it to prove your patriotism by enlisting in the service as her brother does? How do you forgive people who have hurt you for no reason?

This slim volume lays bare some of our nation’s difficult history, but it always stays true to the heart of a young girl as she tries to make sense of hate. I admire this book for its lovely writing, for its gateway to history, for Mina’s quiet strength, and for all the ways that her story reminds us of the high cost of fear disguised as patriotism. ~MM


Meet Danitra Brown

danitra

By Nikki Grimes, illustrated by Floyd Cooper
Mulberry Books, 1994
Picture book/ Poetry Ages 4-8
ISBN:978-0688154714
Honors: ALA Notable Book *Coretta Scott King Award Honor Book * ABA-CBC Backlist title * 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing *Sequoyah Children’s Book Award Master List* Tennessee Volunteer State Book Award Nominee * Pennsylvania Young Readers’ Choice Master List

I love the story called Meet Danitra Brown
about two best friends scootin’ around town.
I’ve read it 100 times, memorized all the rhymes.

Danitra and Zuri don’t care about boys
who tease and taunt and make too much noise.
They just walk on by, heads tilted high.

The story unfolds wholly in rhymes,
written by Miz Nikki Grimes.
Poems short and long, words sweep you along.

That nice Floyd Cooper drew the book.
He gave Danitra a snazzy, summer look.
To purple she’s always loyal, because purple is simply royal.

The story makes me so happy to see
girls who can say, I love being me!
You oughta read Meet Danitra Brown, because she’s the most “splendiferous” girl in town.
-Gigi


Hands and Hearts

heartshands

By Donna Jo Napoli, illustrated by Amy Bates
Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2014
Picture book /Poetry Ages 3 – 7
ISBN: 1419710222/ 978-1419710223

I was initially drawn to Hands & Hearts for nostalgic reasons. During my daughter Judith’s early childhood, we often retreated to the Outer Banks, just the two of us—laughing, running, building sandcastles, and fighting waves like the mother-daughter in this tender book.

If there is any place on Earth where words are unnecessary, perhaps where words even get in the way, that place must surely be by the sea. If there is anywhere on our planet that gives a girl the courage to glide from prose into poetry, it must be the ocean.

Such is the experience depicted in Hands & Hearts. A mother and daughter spend a rich and silent day at the ocean using the poetry of American Sign Language to communicate as they bury their toes in the sand, dive into whitecaps, and hide from the sun. Poems, pictures, and a sign language key unite to make Hands and Hearts an enchanting read. – Gigi


Under the Mesquite

Under the Mesquite
By Guadalupe Garcia McCall
Young adult, novel in verse
Ages 12 and up
Lee and Low Books, 2011
ISBN:978-1600604294
additional formats: e-book
Pura Belpré Author Award *William C. Morris YA Debut Award Finalist *Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults, YALSA *Best Teen Books of 2011, Kirkus *Tomas Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award

I’ve been holding on to my copy of Under the Mesquite for a year, waiting patiently to add it to this list. It was my first selection for Girls of Summer 2013, and in my mind, a perfect choice.

The eldest of eight children living on the border of Texas and Mexico, Lupita is in high school, when her mother is diagnosed with uterine cancer. From the first pages where the illness is spoken of in hushed whispers, all the way to the scenes where Lupita finds herself alone to care for her messy brood, the novel is gripping.

The journey is universal, but its treatment of bicultural Latino life is especially strong (explaining her well-deserved Pura Belpré Award in January). The tortillas for breakfast. The relatives strewn on either side of the border. Her father’s job keeping him far away for weeks at a time. Her mother’s comrades – best friends – supporting Lupita and her siblings to keep them from starving. Even her mother’s frightening visit from Death who comes at night dressed as a bridal skeleton rings true.

Interestingly, McCall’s novel-in-verse began as a series of poems she wrote through the years with her students. These were personal pieces about her mother’s death that she would eventually knit into layered story that is as much about loss as it is about coming of age and hope. We see Lupita mourn for her mother and rage against the circumstances, but eventually, she leans on her gifts as a writer and actor help her survive.

A strong girl is sometimes called on to survive the unthinkable. Under the Mesquite is a look at a strong girl who has to find her sense of self while living through the darkest of days of all. It’s a celebration of strength and family. MM


Inside Out & Back Again

Inside Out and Back Again

By Thanhha Lai
Middle grade
HarperCollins, 2011
ISBN: 9780061962783; ISBN10: 0061962783
Awards/recognitions: *2012 Newbery Honor Winner *2011 National Book Award

I always marvel when a novel is so beautiful you want to re-read it. This is the case with Inside Out & Back Again, the story of 10 year-old Ha who leaves Viet Nam with her mother and brothers after the fall of Saigon and finds herself in the inexplicable world of Alabama.

The novel is written in free verse – which makes for short, stunning scenes that fill all of your senses. Each one builds on the next, capturing in skilled brush strokes the heart of what it means to lose a father to war, a homeland, and – for a young girl – a sense of herself. Throughout are the sights and smells of Viet Nam as we watch the family pray for their father with incense at their altar, long for papayas and fried eels, and force smiles on their faces for the new year to bring proper luck. Thanhha Lai gives us a Viet Nam to love and cherish.

Ha is a mighty girl and a memorable strong girl for so many reasons. She is flawed, prone to mischief, and sometimes disagreeable – the way most interesting girls are. She can’t help but rebel against the notion that only male feet can bring good luck to a house on Tet, the New Year. She pinches a classmate and complains about her bossy brothers. But she also comes across as honest and good hearted, particularly as she senses the grief of her mother and – most particularly –  Brother Khoi. Her journey to be accepted by American classmates is at times heartbreaking, but also at times funny and uplifting.

History is best served up to young readers through the stories of the people who lived it. How wonderful that in this case, we get a memorable strong girl to lead us back. MM


Shark Girl

Shark Girl

By Kelly Bingham
Young adult
Candlewick Press, 2007
ISBN: 0763632074 / 9780763632076
Hard cover, paperback, e-book
Awards/recognitions: * South Dakota Teen Choice Book Awards Reading List * Black-Eyed Susan Book Award (Maryland) * Florida Teen Read Award * Oprah’s Book Club – Kids Reading List * Bank Street College Best Children’s Book of the Year

Find a hammock, a beach chair, or a blanket. Go away to your backyard, the pool, or the ocean. Leave the tissues behind. It’s not that you won’t need them; it will just feel good to let your tears splash these pages. Kelly Bingham’s debut novel, Shark Girl traces one tragic and triumphant year in the life of fifteen-year old artist, Jane Arrowood.

A sunny day at the ocean in June turns into a national news story when a shark attacks Jane, severing her dominant right arm. Jane’s older brother, Michael, starts their day at the beach by teasing his sister about her pink bikini. Shortly thereafter it is Michael who pulls Jane out, saving her life. In a way, the rest of the story shows us how many people and how much time it takes to pull Jane Arrowood out of that moment that changed her life. Everyone works so hard at Jane’s recovery; no one harder than Jane.

Using poetry, journal entries, and interior dialogue to trace Jane’s recovery, Bingham tells the story in three parts. Part One occurs in the hospital immediately after the attack. Letters, cards, and flowers pour in from all over the world. People want Jane to be a hero. Jane just wants to be Jane, again. In the hospital therapy room, she meets a little kid named Justin who has lost his leg below the knee. When Jane tells him, “A shark attacked me,” Justin responds, “He ATE your arm?” Finally, here is someone who wouldn’t know how to walk on egg-shells even with feathers on his feet, and Jane’s recovery deepens. In Part Two, Michael, their mom, and her friends help Jane adjust to returning home. Everyone thinks Jane will never draw again. She remains friends with Justin, who urges her to draw him a picture, but Jane can’t. Part Three begins with Jane alone in the kitchen struggling to cook her own dinner. Flashbacks through poems that begin with “I remember” show us how long this journey has been and will continue to be for Jane. By Part Three, though, Jane is getting there. Her worries have shifted. She talks about make up; she accepts a ride and welcomes attention from a pretty cute guy. She gets angry when a friend makes her feel not good enough. And, Jane’s back.

Shark Girl is a book to be devoured. All in one sitting. I took a blanket and pillow out in the yard and read Shark Girl in an afternoon. Later, I let myself go back and take in the visual experience of how artistically the pages are designed and rendered to bring texture and illumination to the story. GA

Click here to listen to
an interview and reading with Kelly Bingham from Candlewick Press.

Learn more about author Kelly Bingham.


Poetry Speaks Who I Am

Poetry Speaks Who I Am

Edited by Elise Paschen; Series Editor: Dominique Raccah
Middle grade
Sourcebook Jabberwocky, 2010
ISBN: 13-978-1-4022-1074-7
Awards/recognitions: * National Parenting Publications Award

Oh man, do I love this book-and-CD collection – and I say this as someone who is not particularly drawn to poetry. (Forgive me poets!)

There are more than 100 poems here that range from the well-known masters you might find in school (Emily Dickinson, for example, and Langston Hughes) but there are also poems that deal with gym showers, bra shopping, and meeting Malcolm X’s mother. The collection feels accessible across cultures, across sexes, even across generations. I stuck the CD in my car, and soon enough, I was making up reasons to go to the store, just to hear the poets speak in their own voices. That is, until my eighteen-year-old daughter swiped it and took it to school for her own listening pleasure. Now, it makes me ache to think that we ever try to teach poetry without hearing it as spoken word.  MM

Click here to see what I mean. (Audio by permission of author Rebecca Lauren and Sourcebook Jabberwocky)

Check out their website: https://www.poetryspeaks.com/