As regular readers know, I am the first judge in the Cybils Award in the poetry category. Because of this, I have been reading a lot of verses lately! I am not allowed to share any details about our process for selecting the final candidates, but I am allowed (and recommended) to review the books while reading, so I thought I would share four of them with you today. I hope these bite-sized reviews will suffice to feed your fictional addiction!
When we do that By Elizabeth Velasquez
Posted by Dial books on September 21, 2021
Genres: Historical fiction, verses, young people
Cover artist: Panshe Fabre
My content rating: YA (deals with many adult issues – see review for partial list)
An unforgettable, stormy and hopeful debut novel for young adults in the verse, redefining the meaning of “do it,” for readers Nicholas Mohar and Elizabeth Asbado.
Sarai is a first-generation Puerto Rican eighth-grader who can clearly see the truth, pain and beauty of the world both inside and outside her apartment in Bushwick. Together with her older sister Astrala, she navigates the family traumas and systemic pressures of toxic masculinity and rapidly increasing housing insecurity in Brooklyn. Sarai doubts the society around her, her burikua identity and the life she lives with determination and an open heart, and learns to celebrate herself in a way that has been avoided.
When we do that He is a love letter to all who have taught him to believe that he will not succeed. To those who feel their feelings before they can give them a name. For those who may not yet have all the language but have their own story. Velasquez’s debut novel is sure to leave an indelible mark on anyone who reads it.
When we do that Researcher of ethnic identity against the background of Brooklyn in the mid-90s. Cherry knows that many people see the Bushwick neighborhood as dangerous and disturbing, but for her it is just the house. Many of her neighbors are perceived as criminals, but she sees the hopes and dreams that accompany their failures and flaws. She sees them as imperfect people who try, in every way they can, to “succeed.” The book also explores race and culture. As a Puerto Rican girl who has lived in Brooklyn all her life, Sarai wonders how much of her ethnic background and identity she has a right to sue, and she longs to learn more about her roots.
When we do that Does not walk lightly; It presents the truth of living in poverty and deals with weighty issues like sexual assault, domestic abuse, drug use, teen pregnancy, postpartum depression, miscarriage, racism and misogyny (to name a few – I guess I missed some). This is the reality that Cherry lives in, but she also sees beauty and a sense of solidarity in her community. And in the end, she realizes that “doing it” does not mean she has to leave Bushwick and the building blocks of her life behind.
The only thing you will save By Linda Sue Park
illustrator: Robert Sa-heng
Posted by Clarion Books March 16, 2021
Genres: Contemporary, middle grade, verse
If your house were on fire, what one thing would you save? Newbury Medalist Linda Sue Park explores different answers to this provocative question in linked songs that capture the diverse voices of a middle school class. Illustrated in black and white.
When a teacher asks her class what one thing they would save in an emergency, some students know the answer right away. Others make their decisions more slowly. And some change their minds when they hear the reactions of their classmates. A lively dialogue ignites as students discover unexpected aspects of each other – and of themselves. With her ear for authentic dialogue and knowledge about the priorities and emotions of the twins, Linda Sue Park brings to life the diverse voices of an inclusive class through sharpened, engaging and instantly accessible verses.
A sweet verse narrative that emphasizes the real treasures of life. In this story, Ms. Chang asks her students a simple question: What one object would you take with you if you escaped a fire? Each student’s answer is a window into his or her personality and values. Some of the objects are relatively simple, some are deep. Some students find clever ways to circumvent the rules, while others share personal stories that reveal why their object is sacred to them.
The poems in the book are written in the syllable structure of Sijo, a short form of Korean poetry (though Park explains at the end of the book that she sometimes takes freedom with the length). Since most children are probably unfamiliar with this form of poetry, they will learn something new. (Maybe they will even want to try it for themselves.) In addition, it will encourage them to think about important objects in their lives, and what special meanings their assets may have.
starfish By Lisa Pips
Posted by Young Penguin Readers: Nancy Poulsen Books March 9, 2021
Genres: Contemporary, middle grade, verse
Cover artist: Terra O’Brien
Eli is tired of being ashamed of being fat and doing something about it in this poignant debut novel in verse.
Ever since Eli wore a whale swimsuit and made a big splash at her fifth birthday party, it has bothered her because of her weight. To cope, she tries to live by the rules of the fat girl – like “not making waves”, “avoiding eating in public” and “do not move so fast until your body is moving”. And she has found her safe space – her swimming pool – where she feels weightless in a fat-obsessed world. In the water she can stretch out like a starfish and occupy any room she wants. It’s also where she can stay away from her pushing mother, who thinks that criticism of Eli’s weight will motivate her to diet. Fortunately, Eli has allies in her father, her caregiver and her new neighbor, Catalina, who loves Eli wherever she is. With this support that encourages her, maybe Eli can finally throw aside the fat girl’s rules and the starfish in real life – by being her wonderful self in an unapologetic way.
starfish Is an incredibly powerful book for kids who are bothered by their weight and need to see themselves on the page. But it’s also an important book for everyone else – anyone who may not understand the real damage that can be caused by thoughtless (or offensive) words and deeds. Eli deals with bullying every day, and it’s all harmful. But her worst pain stems from her mother, who fails to see beyond her fears of her daughter’s health and social connections to realize that she is the one causing her daughter’s deepest wounds.
Pips writes a story that is both poignant and painful. Can be attributed and their place. As a person who did not have to worry too much about weight, my instinct was to think, “Certainly, things can not be so bad for most people who are overweight.” And I will say, the book may feel overwhelming for some (it’s the kind of book that might need some processing with kids reading it). But sometimes the truth is not beautiful and we need to hear it anyway. Sometimes life is unfair. And this sense of unfairness makes it more powerful as Eli eventually finds herself on a journey toward acceptance and empowerment.
The Book of Dirt: Songs about animals living under our feet By David L. Harrison
illustrator: Kate Cosgrove
Posted by Holiday home on June 8, 2021
Genres: Picture book, verse
15 fun songs full of facts on earth – what makes it and who lives in it!
dirt! It is made of cracked rocks, rotting plants, perishable animals, fungi and bacteria. It is a plant food and a home for animals of all kinds.
15 songs explore the underground lives of earthworms, spiders, ants, chips and more.Chipmunk, for such a small squirtYou sure move a lot of dirt, You’re sure digging your tunnels deep,
You’re sure you’ll find some nuts to keep, You sure know your underground.Chipmunk, you’re sure to turn around.
The Book of Dirt He collects cute songs about what’s going on underground. It talks a bit about the dirt itself (what it is made of, how it got there, etc.) but focuses more on the variety of creatures that make their home underground. The book is illustrated in a vertical panoramic style, which means you turn the pages up instead of left. This means that there is plenty of room for Cosgrove to illustrate what is going on underground and also just above the surface. The songs are relatively simple but fun to read aloud. Kids will get kicked out of hearing stories about scary crawls like the spider looking for its lunch, as well as larger animals like the gopher turtle that has to share its home with all sorts of guests. At the end of the book, Harrison included a paragraph of facts about each animal as well.