Friday, May 24, 2013

Poetry Friday - A review of Poems to Learn by Heart

One Christmas, when I was around seven or eight, I was given a book of poetry. I remember that I was very disappointed with the book because it wasn't the collection of fairy tales that I wanted. Then my father started to read the poems to me and I heard about a tiger "burning bright," for the first time. We laughed at Lear's funny limericks and that book of poetry became one of my favorite books. I ended up learning a lot of the poems by heart and many of them are still with me. Every so often I dig them out of my memory and enjoy them.

Caroline Kennedy
Illustrated by Jon J. Muth
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 8 and up
Hyperion, 2013, 978-142310805-4
There was a time, not that long ago, when children and young people were expected to memorize reams of information and pages of text, both poetry and prose. Nowadays, thanks in part to the digitalization of our world, children think that memorizing quotes, passages from classic books, and poems is no longer necessary. The truth is that there is a good reason for having poems and pieces of literature at your fingertips. Caroline Kennedy feels that “a poem can remind us that others have journeyed far and returned safely home.” Poems can encourage and sustain us when life is throwing challenges our way. Firmly believing in the power of poetry to heal and support people, Caroline Kennedy has collected more than a hundred poems to memorize that will appeal to readers of all ages.
            She begins by giving her readers a simple and humorous poem called The First Book by Rita Dove. In the poem, the poet encourages us to open the book and “Dig in.” It might be a little hard to get started, but it will be worth it in the end and if you do, “the world as you think / you know it” will never be the same.
            After this warming up poem, we begin our journey in earnest. The book is divided into eleven chapters, each one of which focuses on a theme such as “Here I am and other poems about the self,” and “I’m expecting You! and other poems about friendship and love.” Readers will find poems to memorize that are only a few lines long, and others that are longer and perhaps more challenging. They will come across poems they have heard or heard about such as If by Rudyard Kipling and The Tale of Custard the Dragon by Ogden Nash. They will also discover many poems that are new to them, poems that vibrate with power and whose language delights the tongue. Perhaps a funny bone will be tickled, or perhaps an image will make the reader pause and think.
            As the pages are turned, readers will encounter the words of Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, William Blake, William Shakespeare, Langston Hughes and many other wordsmiths who found a wide variety of ways to excite, amuse, and touch readers.
   All in all this marvelous collection is perfect for dipping in, and perfect for sharing. Jon K. Muth’s gorgeous watercolors provide a lovely backdrop for the poems and for Caroline Kennedy’s words.

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