What the Heart Knows
Jonathan included Sidman’s WHAT THE HEART KNOWS among his October Nominations, noting that it’s for a slightly older audience than her picture book collections. These mostly free verse poems engage at different levels, and to different audiences. Some of my favorites:
“Silly Love Song” (p.61) speaks best to those in the flush of romance, though even young romance works here, and the poem is a wonderful play with metaphor that will tweak the curiosity of most readers: “If you are the Maserati / then I am the oil change // If you are the midnight neon flash, / I am the silver hint of dawn // If you are the raptor’s wings / I am the elephant’s eyelashes….”
“Heartless” (p.41) is for the heartbroken, but works, sadly, for any kind of heartbreak–not just one borne of romance: “You don’t want my heart? / Fine. I will climb a hill / where the sky is wide. / The sun will be setting / and the wet grass will drag at my feet.” I love the rhythm that this poem sets up; the first line of all stressed syllables like a rat-a-tat-tat; the 2nd-4th lines setting up a hard stomping stride, that then gets bogged down in the long 5th line, in the wet grass, forcing the poet/speaker/reader to slow down,”I will crouch there / as darkness wraps me in its arms / ….”
“Invisibility Spell” (p.27) also has magic in its rhythm, as evidence to the title. As the reader speaks the incantantion (of 3 stressed lines in couplets: “When taunting eyes chill me, / when laughter stings like sleet….”), the rhythm shifts at the climax .(….”Who needs this heavy coat of shame? / Beneath it / I burn with beauty.”) and into to spell itself.,: “It is spring. / I belong to the air. / I step from my body, / invisible.”
As is the case with any collection (poems, stories, etc.), some of these are stronger than others, and I think that some work better for a child audience than others. “How to Find a Poem,” for instance, speaks better to an adult, yet there’s still plenty there for the young reader, and the collection on the whole is solidly with the age range for the Newbery.
My biggest quibble has to do with the very beautiful illustrations by Pamela Zagarenski. Sidman and Zagarenski collaborated on the Caldecott-Honor-winning RED SINGS FROM TREETOPS, so I’m not surprised to see them brought together here. But here, in a smaller format, and with a different sensibility to the collection, the illustrations overtake the enjoyment of the text. I found myself crowded and distracted, trying to read them. I wonder if it’s the same for a child audience, or just my old brain…but poetry tends to do better, in general, with as little illustration as possible. Here is where a certain clause from the Newbery criteria might come to bear: “Other components of a book, such as illustrations, overall design of the book, etc., may be considered when they make the book less effective.” But I’d put this question to the committee, if I were on it…this book still strong enough to be discussed at the table.
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