Review: Poetree

Caroline Pignat
Illustrated by François Thisdale
Red Deer Press, 2018

A tree is so much more than “just” a tree. In Poetree, Caroline Pignat sets a tree as the central object around which a calendar year, four seasons, and an ecosystem turns. Through season-by-season couplets and clever acrostics that draw attention to many features of the natural world, the book offers engaging forms both for kids just beginning to read and spell and for writers discovering and trying poetry for themselves.

It is the illustrations in this book that really stand out for me, however. They are sumptuous, featuring a captivating palette that evolves through the year depicted by the poems. There’s richness here for both readers and pre-readers. Wow!

A book that is enjoyable on many levels, Poetree will make a fine addition to classroom libraries (especially for language arts and science teachers) and a thoughtful gift for any reader who enjoys language and writing.

 

This review was originally published in Resource Links, October 2018.

 

 

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Review: I Tumble Through the Diamond Dust

Edward Willett
Your Nickel’s Worth, 2018

In April 2016, Saskatchewan’s then–poet laureate Gerald Hill sent members of the Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild two lines of poetry each day and challenged the recipients “to create new work either inspired by or incorporating those lines.” Edward Willett took up the challenge and added his own twist: his poems would not only incorporate the distributed lines but also present a brief science fiction or fantasy narrative. He succeeded brilliantly at the challenge, yielding a book of poems that will delight and intrigue anyone who enjoys poetry — and that may win over readers who think they don’t, too.

I Tumble Through the Diamond Dust is a startlingly good book of poetry for teens. Its twenty-one free verse poems are by turns funny, moody, thought-provoking, and dazzling. Some offer a social critique with obvious contemporary resonance, such as “He Really Should Have Written” (in which a mother laments her son who has been lost to a gang of galactic vampires) or “The Telling” (in which a mob is shaken from the complacency of “the Single Narrative”). There are numerous local flashes, such as the references to Fort Qu’Appelle and Prince Albert in “Saint Billy” and the “CBC pundits” in “Facing the Silence”; and there are allusions — light and sly — in “This Is the Way the World Ends” and “Dammit, I’m a Doctor, Not an Entrée.” Younger students are sure to enjoy the gruff, bouncy rhythms of “The Tale of Old Bill from the Ship Cactus Hills,” a quirky revisiting of the frontier epic told with tongue firmly in cheek.

The poems are finely complemented by Wendi Nordell’s black-and-white illustrations, which are intriguing in their own right. This presentation style is tailor-made for senior high Language Arts assignments, both creative and critical. I Tumble Through the Diamond Dust will make a versatile addition to classroom libraries — and as a bonus, readers may be encouraged to seek out the poets whose lines have inspired these poems and perhaps in turn create poetry of their own. This creative collection is a gem!

 

This review was originally published in Resource Links, October 2018.

 

 

Review: Hungry for Science

Kari-Lynn Winters and Lori Sherritt-Fleming
Illustrated by Peggy Collins
Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2018

As society recognizes that science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields need to become more diverse and inclusive, and as creative people increasingly add “art” to STEM fields to produce STEAM (art-influenced science-based thinking), a volume like Hungry for Science represents a welcome addition to libraries and book shelves.

The poems in this short picture book speak to basic scientific concepts such as magnetism, chemistry, life cycles, and sustainability; they’re intended for pre-readers and beginning readers. The chunky, boldly coloured illustrations accompanying the poems are pleasant and inclusive. Some of the little scientists are girls. Some are people of colour. Some are people with disabilities. All playfully suggest that science is for everyone — an important idea, particularly for early learners (who, research shows, are likely to represent scientists as male and able-bodied). The bouncy, playful verses will encourage repeated reading aloud, and the scientific concepts introduced in the poems are supported by a brief back matter to point scientists-in-the-making to further topics for investigation.

Hungry for Science makes science fun and appealing. It’s a great addition to school and classroom libraries, with lots of potential contact points for extension in math, science, ecology, and health lessons. It would also make a strong addition to public libraries, particularly in low-income neighbourhoods where young readers may need encouragement to see themselves in creative, innovative futures.

 

This review was originally published in Resource Links, December 2018.

 

Review: Whispers of Mermaids and Wonderful Things

by Sheree Fitch and Anne Hunt, eds.
Nimbus Publishing, 2017

Whispers of Mermaids and Wonderful Things is a fresh collection of children’s poetry from and about English Atlantic Canada. It includes more than one hundred poems, not all of them written specifically for children. The collection has considerable reach, spanning from late nineteenth-century poetry to poems written just a few years ago. It is particularly well organized for teaching. The poems are organized by theme, and the book includes short biographies of the contributors. There are poems here to complement many standard Language Arts units and to demonstrate a breadth of literary forms and techniques. All in all, it’s a smart, compact, versatile collection, wrapped in a delightful, appealingly designed package.

If you’re looking for a book that will be greatly enjoyed and cherished, check out Whispers of Mermaids and Wonderful Things. It’s an essential addition to public children’s libraries and a worthwhile extension to school and classroom libraries. It would also make a wonderful gift for any young reader who shows an aptitude or appreciation for writing and poetry.

This review was originally published in Resource Links, December 2017.

 

Review: Dear Tomato

edited by Carol Ann Hoyte
photography by Norie Wasserman
Create Space, 2015

 

dear tomatoYou might be surprised to read poems addressed to food and agriculture, but I hope you won’t be surprised if you’re delighted by them. Dear Tomato: An International Crop of Food and Agriculture Poems is an insightful, inspiring collection of poetry about the food we grow, eat, waste, and celebrate.

I should declare my bias from the top: I love poetry and would like to see much more poetry in schools and life. The poems in Dear Tomato range from simple and accessible to complex and intricate and encompass a variety of forms, which the editor identifies. One of my favourites was “The Diversity of Dirt” by Charles Waters, which could easily be modelled and extended in the classroom. The contributors are international and reflect various ages, backgrounds, and perspectives, from gourmand to social activist. This range, so often a weakness in anthologies, was a strength in this volume and added greatly to my enjoyment of the collection. Two features particularly stood out for me: the number of humorous poems, which can be a gentle way to bring reluctant readers to poetry, and the photography, which reflects and elaborates the themes of the collection.

I truly enjoyed Dear Tomato and would love to see this slender book in school and community libraries. It would make an excellent addition to classroom libraries, particularly for teachers looking for environmentally thoughtful cross-curricular materials.

 

This review was originally published in Resource Links, October 2015.

Review: Changelings

by Cassy Welburn
Frontenac House, 2015

Changelings_FC-275x413In Changelings, Cassy Welburn presents poems of everyday transformation, rooted in fairy tales, myths, rituals, and ceremonies and shot through with the banal and unremarkable. Boundaries are consistently blurred — dreaming and waking, the natural and the supernatural — rendering images mutable, elusive. Some of the titles appear familiar (e.g., “The Tell Tale Heart”, “The Thousand Nights and One Night”), but the poems re-present or embellish what we think we know about these texts, creating palimpsests of stories and retellings that are deeply personal and specific. The poems’ many grotesque images are counterpoised against natural and beguiling settings, and produce an eerie atmosphere of creatures on the verge of change.

Changelings is a powerful collection for readers 14 and up. With this age group, the book is likely best used as an independent reading assignment or as individual poems. This volume should also provide an emotionally moving text for teachers and librarians, for whom some of the poems may prove acutely identifiable. Reading it, I was spellbound.

 

This review was originally published in Resource Links, February 2016.