Poetry Friday: Announcing the CYBILS Poetry Finalists


Winner announced Valentine’s Day

There were twenty-nine nominees for this year’s poetry category. Can I say that 2013 produced a fabulous crop of poetry titles? My first round judges whittle most of their lists to a top ten and then we came to consensus with the sensational seven finalists. They represent diversity and books for all ages. Here they are:

FOLLOW, FOLLOW: A BOOK OF REVSERSO POEMS by Marilyn Singer, illustrations by Josee Masse, companion to Mirror Mirror, Dial Publishing, Nominated by: Perogyo Review by Bridget Wilson, What is Bridget Reading?

Marilyn Singer returns to the reverso, a poetic form she created, in MIRROR, MIRROR. The reverso is quite clever. First you read the poem from top to bottom. Then you flip it and read it from the bottom up. The reverso proves the old adage ” there are two sides to every story.” Singer describes the collection best: “Imagine / fairy tales / upended.” And now reversed: Upended / fairy tales? / Imagine!”
In Follow Follow, Singer takes twelve tales and breathes new life into them. Too often people perceive fairy tales as unchanging. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In this collection readers will hear from Thumbelina and the mole, the tortoise and the hare, the twelve princesses and the soldier. At the end of the book Singer offers more information about the tales and the reverso form. Josee Masse’s beautifully bright illustrations offer readers a visual of both sides of each tale.

FOREST HAS A SONG: POEMS by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, illustrations by Robbin Gourley, Clarion Books, Nominated by: Laura Purdie Salas. Review by Sylvia Vardell, Poetry for Children

This is a beautifully designed poetry picture book in which the gentle watercolor paintings (by Robbin Gourley), the layout of poem and painting on each page, and even the spidery font of the text work together to create a poetry collection that is both inviting and comforting. The natural world has long been the topic of poetry for young people– and for good reason– and VanDerwater taps into the child’s connection with the simplest details– pinecones and sticks, footprints and flying birds, with poetry that offers many tactile details that invite children to touch, smell, and see the world outside their iPads in tangible ways. She also offers a variety of poetic forms so children (and teachers) can see how poets use the words and space on the page. Her use of rhyme is particularly noteworthy– making it look so natural– as if we all spoke in lyrical language when captured by the beauty of the forest.

POEMS TO LEARN BY HEART edited by Caroline Kennedy, paintings by Jon J. Muth, Disney Hyperion, Nominated by: bevpdx. Review by April Halprin Wayland, Teaching Authors

The ambition of this beautiful collection of more than 100 poems is truly to encourage students to learn poems by heart. Editor Kennedy’s preface includes practical tips on memorization, ending with, “I hope that…once they learn them by heart, they won’t even need this book.” Classic, contemporary, nonsense poems and poems which challenge readers to think, are organized organically within each of ten sections (including sections about self, family, school, sports and war…and an extra credit section for those who want to memorize even longer poems). Every section begins with an engaging one-page introduction, often disclosing Kennedy’s personal connection with the poems that follow. Its premise, poetic choices and the editor’s enthusiasm throughout as well as the exquisite watercolor paintings by Jon J. Muth which, as Kennedy writes, “add meaning, depth and freshness to the poems” combine to make this an award-winning book.

PUG: AND OTHER ANIMAL POEMS by Valerie Worth, illustrations by Steve Jenkins, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Nominated by: The Cath in the Hat. Review by Ed DeCaria, Think, Kid, Think!

In this follow-up to 2007’s ANIMAL POEMS (itself a Cybils finalist that year), Worth again brings her seemingly-simple subjects to life in a sophisticated yet accessible way. Readers will meet her “plug-ugly” pug, the bull who “would not melt”, a mouse “left as a gift on the step”, and sparrows and pigeons who “seem at home where there appears to be no home”, plus fourteen other inviting, inspiring, or sometimes intimidating creatures. Jenkins adds color and texture to each poem, from the silver sparkle of a wood thrush’s eye to the distressed look on a too-long dachshund’s face, making each two-page spread pop. Pug is a masterful book of free-verse poems and illustrations that will challenge readers to view animals from an entirely new perspective, and to admire the subtle behaviors, attitudes, and characteristics that make each one unique.

THE PET PROJECT: CUTE AND CUDDLY VICIOUS VERSES By Lisa Wheeler, Illustrated by Zachariah OHora
Atheneum, Nominated by: Bridget Wilson. Review by Jone MacCulloch, Check It Out

Any young reader longing for a pet will want to read this riotously funny research romp by a bespectacled young girl on a quest to find the perfect pet. Readers are forewarned that “Animals aren’t’ always charming.”

Notebook in hand to track observations, she visits a farm, zoo, and the woods as well as performing a “home study.” What she concludes from her research may surprise readers.

Wheeler’s tongue in cheek verses will provide laughs for all while introducing readers to a variety of pet possibilities. Combined with OHara’s use of strong lines yet whimsical acrylic illustrations this book will be read and reread.

What stood out in THE PET PROJECT was the author’s ability to weave words, poems, and a little bit of science into a fabulous collection.

WHAT THE HEART KNOWS: Chants, Charms & Blessings by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Nominated by: Sylvia Vardell. Review by Kelly Fineman, Writing and Ruminating
Truly a miraculous little book. Hard to categorize in some ways, but it has four sections: 1. chants & charms – to bolster courage and guard against evil; 2. spells & invocations – to cause something to happen; 3. laments & remembrances – to remember, regret, or grieve; and 4. praise songs & blessings – to celebrate, thank, or express love. I love the idea of giving children both poems and permission to express and validate their emotional experiences.

WHEN THUNDER COMES: POEMS FOR CIVIL RIGHTS LEADERS By J. Patrick Lewis, Chronicle Books, Nominated by: Becky L. Review by Anastasia Suen, Poet!Poet!

Written by 2011-2013 Children’s Poet Laureate J. Patrick Lewis, this valuable book of poetry profiles seventeen civil rights leaders, the famous and the not-so-famous. Each poem has a two-page spread with gorgeous artwork by five different artists.

The title of the poem explains the person’s role. Mitsuye Endo is THE CAPTIVE. “I was a typist, nothing more. / I loved my life, I hated war.” A short biography in the back of the book explains how she fought for her civil rights after being held in a World War II Japanese internment camp.

When Thunder Comes: Poems for Civil Rights Leaders can be used year round to celebrate the heroes of civil rights. For children and teens who want to change the way things are, this smart and intriguing look at key civil rights figures can guide the way.

Thanks to Betsy I Think in Poems for hosting the first Poetry Friday of 2014.