Apr 21, 2017

Revisiting MYRA COHN LIVINGSTON, an Amazing Poet

Myra Cohn Livingston
If that's not a name you recognize, click on it and get a brief  introduction to a remarkable poet, teacher, and literary icon. Selections from her poems are featured on countless poetry websites, ranked alongside works by other timeless and amazing poets. The quality of poetry she produced in her lifetime is breathtaking. They stand up well over time and many titles become favorites of new readers.

One collaborator who produced memorable poetry picture books with Livingston is painter Leonard Everett Fischer. Together, they created themed titles, including the SONG series:
EARTH SONGS, SEA SONGS, SKY SONGS, and SPACE SONGS. All were published during the 1980s by Holiday House but are now out-of-print. Fortunately, copies of several titles are still offered online as used books and many remain on library shelves, so they can be accessed and explored. 
I hope many readers here will seek out these titles. With increased interest, perhaps a publisher would consider reissuing the collection. It would be a timely pursuit, since Livingston was decades ahead of the current trend in creating  picture book content for established readers that is based on content area subject matter. 

In the case of this series, the topics are evident in the titles. Fischer's paintings are deeply saturated double-page spreads with intense eye-appeal. They enhance the depth and scope of Livingston's free verse creations, which sometimes take specific forms and patterns (shape/concrete poems, limericks, etc.).

The books are designed to feature one poem per double spread, often using white text on the dark paintings. Each selection merits full attention, offering  a range of reflections within each broad topic. 
For example, in SKY SONGS, the poems progress as follows: Moon, Stars, The Planets, Shooting Stars, Noon, Clouds, Coming Storm, Storm, Tornado, Smog, Snow, Rain, and Sunset. 

Even those poem titles reveal that these provide a feet-in-the-sand perspective on the atmosphere in which we live. That approach yields a surprisingly emotional and personal response to the life above the crust in which we are all immersed.

Here's one example:


You must
be so angry
when you grumble and growl.
Even the wind breathes heavily

the ground
as you boil the
black clouds in steaming pots
to feed the skinny white creatures 

the earth, stretching
out their crooked legs to
touch the trees, hurling down sharp forks
of fire.

Livingston was a noted teacher and literary guide for those learning to write poetry. Her book, POEM-MAKING: Ways to Begin Writing Poetry, is a small but thoroughly detailed guide to the nuts and bolts of poetry forms, structures, and writing as well as offering exercises and examples for beginners to explore. Her collections offer countless examples of mentor text and quality that inspire both novice and expert writers.
Many others have followed in her poetic feet, directly or indirectly. This approach to creating compilations of superb poems on a particular subject can be found in  FRESH PICKED POETRY: A DAY AT THE FARMERS' MARKET, featured here, or FREEDOM OVER ME, featured here. Joyce Sidman's  work, like UBIQUITOUS and SWIRL BY SWIRL, and books by many other poets assure that Livingston's legacy lives on.

Apr 18, 2017

Sunny, Springy Selections: Fruits, Veggies, and Farmers' Markets

The sun is shining, temperatures are rising, and my in-box just announced that the local farmers market will open in two weeks. As it happens, this lovely selection happens to be on the top of my ever-growing stack of poetry to share. There's no better time to share it than this very moment! 

Charlesbridge, 2017

FRESH-PICKED POETRY: A Day at the Farmers' Market was written by Michelle Schaub and illustrated by Amy HuntingtonWith humor, delightful word choice, colorful  and diverse illustrations, and a variety of poetic forms, this day-at-a-Farmers' Market poetry collection unfolds with huge appeal. Forms vary, providing multiple mentor text samples, and each is an impressive poem of intricate rhythm, rhyme, and rationale. 

The poems are as rousing as the sun-rising start, romping kids and dogs, and the tempting fruits, veggies, and bakery on display. The ongoing visual narratives of multi-generational and diverse two- and -four-footed folks offer rich invitations to browse the action as thoroughly as shoppers peruse the produce. 

Beach Lane Books, 2011
Pair this with other treats for the tongue, rollicking romps celebrating healthy, natural foods that please the ear as well as the palette. I recommend April Pulley Sayre's poetry in all it's variations, but especially urge you to explore GO-GO-GRAPES: A Fruit Chant,  and RAH, RAH, RADISHES: A Vegetable Chant.  Her rhyming text is as crisp, patterned, rhythmic, and symmetrical as the fruit and veggies it celebrates.
Beach Lane Books, 2012

 Her photography combines color, shape, patterns, cultures, numbers, comparisons... and more in vibrant books that even include brief end matter, as does FRESH-PICKED POETRY.  

Bon Apetit!

Apr 13, 2017

Voices of Joy, Voices of Freedom

After several posts about some of my "old-timey" poetry favorites, (here, here, and here) let's flip the focus to more-recent  poetry publications. There are plenty of blogs that make this their core mission, including suggested activities and lessons. One example you'll want to know about is THE POEM FARM, by children's author and writing teacher, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater.

As for this blog, I've featured poetry collections and reflections in the past, but I'm approaching this series with more frequent and varied poetry posts. In this case I'd like to share two different collections of poems for children by African-American artists. In the first case, the anthology was released in 1991 A quarter century later, in 2016, a book in which the voices of slaves are interpreted was created by author/artist Ashley Bryan.

Scholastic Anthology, 1991
MAKE A JOYFUL SOUND: Poems for Children by African-American Poets, was skillfully edited by Deborah Slier, and delightfully illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu. In the past few years there has been widespread attention to the very real, even urgent, need for books by diverse creators. This collection, released in 1991, decades before that movement, includes poems by African-American authors whose copyright dates stretch as far back as 1956 (Gwendolyn Brooks), 1951 (Langston Hughes), and even 1927 (Countee Cullen). 
In Ruby Dee's introduction she says..."(poetry is)....sharing our most profound and personal living spaces with people who then go from being strangers to being co-travelers on life's marvelous excursions into better understandings. It can lead to action. It can lead to love."
If you are somehow unaware of the WE NEED DIVERSE BOOKS movement within the creating/publishing/circulating world of books for young readers, this is from their website:
OUR MISSION Putting more books featuring diverse characters into the hands of all children. 
OUR VISION A world in which all children can see themselves in the pages of a book.

This is often paraphrased as providing ALL readers with books that can serve as both windows and mirrors. 

What I love most about this collection is that the language, illustrations, topics, and emotional experiences are a thousand-percent universal, demonstrating clearly that the human race is the underlying status of all races. Here's an example:

By Lucille Clifton
I already know where Africa is
and I already know how to 
count to ten and
I went to school every day last year, 
why do I have to go again?

For every child who eagerly lays out a back-to-school outfit and supplies, maybe even days in advance of school resuming, there are equal numbers of kids who share the sentiment in the above poem. 

With many formal book structures (table of contents, title index, author index, first line index,  and brief bios of poets, MAKE A JOYFUL SOUND should be included in every classroom and home collection. At a minimum, it should circulate out of libraries at a furious pace, leading to additional explorations of original works and collections by the various featured authors.
A Caitlin Dlouhy Book
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2016

Then there's FREEDOM OVER ME: Eleven slaves, their lives and dreams brought to life by ASHLEY BRYAN.  "Brought to life by" is a perfect description of this creation by multi-award-winning author/illustrator Ashley Bryan. 
In his author's note, Bryan describes having acquired a collection of slave-related objects. He chose one from among them-- a legal document that outlines the estate of a man named Fairchilds.
Bryan drew from the very spare content in that document, one which referred to enslaved people as "boy" or "girl" regardless of age, one which enumerates those lives as possessions in the same categories as cows, cotton, and hogs. Each human life was listed with a name and price, but no other reference to age or description or special talents were described. 

That spare content and Bryan's knowledge of history became the foundation for eleven portraits, ones in which he infused life into those who had no control over their own destiny. He then studied and listened to the persons he had envisioned, imagining their daily lives and inner voices. Documents and clippings of those times are embedded within the free verse voices and images of those lives. 

So, one very recent collection dips further back in time, and an older anthology rises to prove itself timeless and timely in a pro-diversity landscape. Both merit attention, sharing, and some eager encouragement. 

Celebrate this NATIONAL LIBRARY WEEK by seeking these out in a library near you, then thanking those library workers for the amazing ways in which they keep old and new books alive, waiting to reach you when you arrive.

Picture books are as versatile and diverse as the readers who enjoy them. Join me to explore the wacky, wonderful, challenging and changing world of picture books.