BEFORE MORNING by Joyce Sidman . . . This picture book contains a single poem, but what a lovely, haunting poem it is! The form of this poem is an invocation, and as such it seems like it could have been an outtake from her previous collection, WHAT THE HEART KNOWS. Can a single poem beat out an entire collection of good ones? Better be one heckuva poem!
ECHO ECHO by Marilyn Singer . . . This is a companion book to her earlier collections, MIRROR MIRROR and FOLLOW FOLLOW, which applied her inventive reverso form to various fairy tales; this one does likewise for Greek myths. I wondered whether these books relied too heavily on the gimmicky form rather than beautiful language, but I’ve softened my stance somewhat.
FREEDOM IN CONGO SQUARE by Carole Boston Weatherford . . . Like BEFORE MORNING, this is a single poem, but I’m not sure that any piece of text lingers in my mind as much as this one does: “Mondays, there were hogs to slop, / mules to train, and logs to chop. / Slavery was no ways fair. / Six more days to Congo Square.” It just insinuates itself into my brain. So infectious!
FREEDOM OVER ME by Ashley Bryan . . . Shortlisted for the Kirkus Prize, Bryan here gives voice to a dozen slaves by imagining their lives and their voices. I love the idea of this book, and the illustrations are lovely, but I’m not feeling the poetry here which likely means that I need to spend more time with it. Poetry improves with each reading, so you really need to read a poem a half dozen times before you can properly evaluate it.
JAZZ DAY by Roxanne Orgill . . . Winner of the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Picture Book, this is actually a poetry collection inspired by that famous photograph of several dozen great jazz musicians taken by Art Kane for Esquire magazine in 1958. The wonderful illustrations mean that this one will also be in the Caldecott conversation. I probably need to spend more time with the text–it is always so with poetry–but even so I’m not sure this is the strongest contender on this list.
WET CEMENT by Bob Raczka . . . Probably the best book that you haven’t heard about this year, but should have. It’s concrete poetry! If you remember the work of John Grandits (TECHNICALLY, IT’S NOT MY FAULT, BLUE LIPSTICK), then this is cut from the same excellent cloth. Like ECHO ECHO, I think this one could be perceived as too gimmicky compared to other offerings mentioned here, but I’d love to be proven wrong!
WHEN GREEN BECOMES TOMATOES by Julie Fogliano . . . We’ve seriously flirted with both of Fogliano’s picture book collaborations with Erin Stead. This is her first collection, and perhaps its time to give her a more serious look. It reads like a diary of four seasons: “march 22 / just like a tiny, blue hello / a crocus blooming / in the snow”
Have we had this kind of depth in the poetry books in recent memory? There are several books here that I would be quite pleased with, if the Newbery committee felt so inclined.
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About Jonathan Hunt
Jonathan Hunt is the Coordinator of Library Media Services at the San Diego County Office of Education. He served on the 2006 Newbery committee, and has also judged the Caldecott Medal, the Printz Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. You can reach him at email@example.com
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