Friday, June 29, 2018

Poetry Friday with a review of World Make Way

When I was growing up one of my favorite pieces of music was Pictures at an Exhibition. The composer uses music to describe what he saw when he visited an art exhibition at the Imperial Academy of Arts in Saint Petersburg in 1874. I was therefore very interested when I heard that a group of poets had written poems that were inspired by works of art in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It is fascinating to 'see,' through their words, what the poets saw on the walls of the museum.
Edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 7 and up
Abrams, 2018, 978-1-4197-2845-7
Every person sees a work of art differently. Some may notice the forms in the artwork, while others may be captivated by the colors. Some may only see the story that the artwork seems to be telling, and others may be drawn to examine how the artwork was created in the first place. Everyone’s reaction to the work is therefore different and unique.
   In this splendid book nineteen poets have created poems that were inspired by works of art that are on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The first of these is a portrait by Gustav Klimt. In it we see a girl in a white dress looking at us. Her hands are behind her back and there is an air of impatience about her. Certainly this emotion conveyed itself to Marilyn Singer. In her poem Paint Me we hear the voice of the girl who wants Klimt to “Hurry up and / paint me.” She has things to do and, furthermore, she is tired of the dress with its flowers. She is ready to be on the move; it is time for the world to “make way,” for her and her restless energy.
   For the painting Dancing in Columbia, Alma Flor Ada has written the poem Dancing. The narrators are the musicians in the painting, seven of them in all, who take up so much space that there is room for only two dancers. The man and women are “absorbed in our music” and their attention is such that “everything else is forgotten.”
   In Cat Watching a Spider we see an image of a cat watching a little spider scuttle across the floor. The cat is hunched, its attention fixed on the little animal. The poem that Julie Fogliano has written about this wonderful artwork perfectly captures, in just a few words, the moment that we are witnessing. We feel the pause that brings the cat to a place of stillness that is unusual in one who is often a creature of “prowl and prance / and teeth and claws.”
   Winslow Homer’s painting Boys in a Dory made the poet Charles Ghigna think of early evening when movement is slow and where the boys in the boat “float as in a dream, / soft and serene.”
   It is fascinating to see how the poets featured in this collection reacted to the artwork. Sometimes readers will see what they saw and perhaps feel what they felt, and sometimes the poet’s ‘take’ on the artwork will be a surprise. We will pause and take in their perspective and marvel at the way in which perception can be so different from person to person, and so interesting. At the back of the book the editor includes information about the poets who contributed to the book. He also tells us about the artists, whose work is featured on the pages.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Picture Book Monday with a review of The Koala who could

Stepping out of our comfort zone is something that many of us are very reluctant to do. We like to stick with things that are familiar and that feel safe. The problem with doing this is that a life without adventures can be rather dull. You also learn less about yourself and the world when you restrict yourself. In today's picture book you will meet a koala who is too scared to venture down from the tree that he calls home, and as a result his life is both lonely and predictable.

The Koala Who CouldThe Koala who could
Rachel Bright
Illustrated by Jim Field
Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Scholastic, 2017, 978-1-338-13908-2
Kevin the koala has simple needs. He likes to have a tree to sit and nap in, and leaves to eat. He likes a quiet life, which is why he likes to stay in his tree and avoid change. From his vantage point the ground beneath him seems “a frightening place,” and so he stays well away from it. Trying new things just isn’t something he is interested in doing.
   One day Wombat invites Kevin to “come down here and play,” but Kevin stays put. Even after the roos tell him that there is nothing to be afraid of on the ground, Kevin declines to join them; he firmly clings to his tree.
   Day after day Kevin sits in his tree, living his life the way he has always done. Then one morning Kevin wakes up and something is very wrong. A bird is pecking on his tree. In fact the birds is pecking the tree so vigorously that the tree starts to list and lean. Closer and closer to the ground it gets, with Kevin holding on for dear life. The other animals gather below, offering to catch him if he will just jump, but Kevin is too scared to do something so dangerous.
   All too often we are prone to holding on to things that are familiar and safe. We avoid trying new things because they are unfamiliar and scary; we cannot be sure how things will work out if we try these new things. In this amusing picture book, we meet a koala who resists change at every turn, until something happens that turns his life upside down. Children will be fascinated to see how things work out for Kevin. and they will delighted to discover that his story has a surprising ending.
  


Friday, June 1, 2018

Poetry Friday with a review of Emma's Poem

When I was ten years old I was lucky enough to cross the Atlantic in an ocean liner. Soon after dawn one summer morning we sailed past the Statue of Liberty and I have never forgotten that moment. Many years later I was able to see the Statue of Liberty up close, and I also visited Ellis Island. I have read the poem that is inscribed on the statue and that is now part of this country's history, and I feel great pride to live in a place that has provided sanctuary to so many refugees over the years. Today I bring you the story of the poem and I hope the narrative lifts you up and inspires you. 

Emma’s Poem: The voice of the Statue of Liberty
Linda Glaser
Illustrator:  Clair A. Nivola
Nonfiction Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013, 978-0544105089
When Emma was little she had a very comfortable life living in a lovely, large home with her mother, father, and siblings. She lacked for nothing, and was able to indulge in her love of books. She had the time to read, and spent many hours writing stories and poems. The people she spent time with came from similarly comfortable backgrounds, and the world of New York’s well-to- do people was the only one she knew.
   Then one day Emma visited Ward’s Island in New York Harbor and there she met immigrants who had traveled across the Atlantic as steerage passengers. They were poor and hungry, and many of them were sick. They had so little and had suffered so much. Like Emma, they were Jews, but unlike her they had been persecuted and driven from their homes. Friends and family members had died, and now here they were in a strange land with no one to assist them.
   Emma was so moved by the plight of the immigrants that she did her best to help them. She taught them English, helped them to get training so that they could get jobs, and she wrote about the problems that such immigrants faced. Women from her background did not spend time with the poor and they certainly did not write about them in newspapers, but Emma did.
   Then Emma was invited to write a poem that would be part of a poetry collection. The hope was that the sale of the collection would pay for the pedestal that would one day serve as the base for a new statue that France was giving to America as a gift. The statue was going to be placed in New York Harbor and Emma knew that immigrants, thousands of them, would see the statue of the lady when their ships sailed into the horbor. What would the statue say to the immigrants if she was a real woman? What would she feel if she could see them “arriving hungry and in rags?” In her poem, Emma gave the statue a voice, a voice that welcomed all immigrants to America’s shores.
   In this wonderfully written nonfiction picture book the author uses free verse to tell the story of Emma Lazarus and the poem that she wrote. The poem was inscribed on a bronze plaque that is on the wall in the entryway to the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal. It has been memorized by thousands of people over the years, and has come to represent something that many Americans hold dear.
   At the back of the book readers will find further information about Emma Lazarus and her work. A copy of her famous poem can also be found there.
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