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I'm Not Adverse to Verse

Published onMar 29, 2024
I'm Not Adverse to Verse

“The time has come', the Walrus said,
To talk of many things,
of ships and shoes and sealing wax,
And the joys of poetry.” 

– with apologies to Lewis Carroll and Alice in Wonderland, 1865

Poetry gets short shrift, notwithstanding that April has been declared National Poetry Month. As little kids, we are entranced by our introduction to words in general and rhyming words in particular. We get immediate results if we use words. We can get a drink of water or a snack, someone will play with us when we ask or are asked. We understand the rules or make up the rules with words like Don’t!, Stop!, Sit! But we learn to revel in words with poetry. For many of us, Dr. Seuss was our first wordsmith who told tantalizing tales of cats, elephants, circuses, hats, Whos, a Grinch, zoos, and a Lorax. Later, we found Shel Silverstein who helped us see sidewalks, garbage, being sick, attic windows, and dirty faces as unexpected places to find poetry. Some of his poems made us wiser and helped us face some darker things that could or did happen to us.

Poetry was with us as we jumped rope to “Cinderella,” “24 Robbers,” “Lady Bug, Lady Bug,”  and dozens of other rhymes. We loved the stories told by Eugene Field in “The Duel”—we called it “The Gingham Dog and the Calico Cat”—and “Wynken, Blynken, and Nod.” We rode with Paul Revere at midnight, and we memorized poems. Not because we had to for a school project, but because we liked the taste of the words in our mouths. We thought and dreamed in poems. We made up our own poems, sometimes for school assignments, and tracked down the doggerel of Ogden Nash and Robert W. Service, and later almost any poem parody that we found in Mad Magazine.

But at some point in time, rhymes and small “p” poetry turned into POETRY. It became something mysterious, something with rules for writing and for appreciating hidden meanings, and sometimes no rhymes. We endured units about POETRY and were grilled about meter, form, our analysis of what the poet was “trying” to say to us, and felt the shame of not understanding (and perhaps being told we were wrong). POETRY just wasn’t worth the risk. We generally didn’t get questions like “which part(s) make(s) you think that?” So, we wrapped ourselves up in the protective armor of “It’s old!” “It’s nerdy/elitist/exclusive,” “It’s boring,” “It’s hard,” and/or “It’s never interested me.” We forget the joy and the pleasures we got from jumping and from Shel, Ogden, Robert, and Mad Magazine.

Poetry is nothing to fear—in fact it’s a delicious sensory experience according to Eve Merriam.1 Poetry is another way to express the human condition, to connect with those things that make all of us a part of the human tribe—despite time, place, and ideology. It touches the “star stuff” that we are all made of. So, reach for the stars with the reader/reviewers/revelers in poetry and the poetic form and READ THESE BOOKS!

A Whale of a Time cover image shows a larg, blue whale underneath a swath of characters and objects like a car, dinosaur, rainbow, ladder, and others.

Title: A Whale of a Time  Lou Peacock, ed., illustrated by Matt Hunt

ISBN: 9798887770253

Grade Level:  ALL

Recommendation: Highly Recommended

Reviewer: Teresa Bateman, Author and retired Teacher-Librarian at Brigadoon and Olympic View Elementaries

Review: With the claim "a funny poem for each day of the year" this poetry collection certainly meets that goal. Lou Peacock selected the 365 poems. Matt Hunt provided the whimsical bright illustrations. Tastes in poetry vary widely and poetry collections can be disappointing. That is not the case here. This book contains all kinds of great kids' poems from kid-friendly poets. They come in all styles with an emphasis on rhyming and rhythm. Unlike many books of this sort, the compiler doesn't force the poems into seasonal categories but rather groups them more or less by theme. For example, you'll find dog poems frolicking together. Donkeys and mules share the same spread. Totally unrelated poems, however, pop up unexpectedly. But are they unrelated? There is an interesting sense of order even with the most unusual combinations. Best of all, there's not a clunker in the bunch. This is a terrific book that merits a place in any library serving children. If you only buy one poetry book this year, make it this one.

Note: Teresa reviewed this in January 2024; at our March meeting she said that she had already worn out her copy.

Tickle Time! book cover shows four fuzzy cats in a yellow frame with a blue background and rainbow text.

Title: Tickle Time!  written and illustrated by Sandra Boynton

ISBN: 9781665925174

Grade Level: PreK-1

Recommendation: Highly recommended

Reviewer: Teresa Bateman, Author and retired Teacher-Librarian at Brigadoon and Olympic View Elementaries

Review: Four exuberant cats dance and sing as this board book invites everyone to enjoy tickle time. The rhyming text has an infectious rhythm that will have parents bouncing a toddler along for a gentle tickling session that will have both parent and child begging for more. Boynton's classic, simple yet oh-so-expressive illustrations accompany the text. Yes, tickling can sometimes be problematic, but this book celebrates all the fun of that physical interaction (although tickling while holding the book may be a challenge).

Other highly recommended titles by Boynton for PreK-1: Woodland Dance! ISBN:  9781665925167 and Eek! Halloween! ISBN:  9781665925143

There Was a Party for Langston book cover shows a cartoon depiction of Langston Hughes in a yellow word crown with several other party goers dancing underneath.

Title: There Was a Party for Langston  written by Jason Reynolds, illustrated by Jerome and Jarrett Pumphries

ISBN: 9781534439443

Grade Level: All

Recommendation: Highly recommended

Reviewer: Eve Datisman, retired Teacher-Librarian reincarnated as Cataloger and Collections Manager at North Olympic History Center

Review:  An intriguing photograph of writers Maya Angelou and Amiri Baraka dancing at a party is the springboard for Reynolds's first (traditional) picture book. The Pumphreys sharpen all their tools for this one, throwing word art like clouds into the sky and regaling readers with scene after scene of the finest guests—Amiri Baraka, Maya Angelou, and so many more—who have come to Harlem's Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture for one reason: to celebrate the opening of the Langston Hughes Auditorium in February 1991. And this is some party. There is music. There is food. There is the feeling that everyone who’s anyone is there. Reynolds sets a syncopated pace, delivering not only a biography as a celebratory dance, but a primer in Hughes’ own jazz poetry. The Pumphrey brothers’ illustrations incorporate verses from Hughes’ poems and other words he set into motion to create a thrumming visual landscape where meaning takes literal flight. This book demonstrates that Hughes’ work is the epitome of what words can be. 

How to Write a Poem book cover shows a cartoon character riding the O in Poem like a unicycle over a pile of other circular objects.

Title: How to Write a Poem  written by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Melissa Sweet

ISBN: 9780063060906

Grade Level: All

Recommendation: Highly recommended

Reviewer: Tanya Kamila, Teacher-Librarian at Stevens Elementary

Review: "Begin with a question, like an acorn waiting for spring." So begins How to Write a Poem, a beautiful directive of cleverly chosen words guiding the reader through the act of observing the natural world, a sure place to find creative inspiration. With metaphors ("the silent sea of your imagination") full of word choice sure to pique interest ("a cotton candy cavalcade of sounds"), this is an excellent read-aloud with many extension possibilities:  an outdoor listening exercise; a creative movement piece; an exploration of metaphors. Kwame Alexander with co-author Deanna Nikaido demonstrates once again through his beautiful imagery, choice, and flow of words why he is one of our premier writers for all ages. Paired with a fun mix of colorful collage this is an ode to poetry, sure to appeal to a wide audience. Do read the notes at the end of the text—the explanation behind the illustrator's (Melissa Sweet) pictures adds to the text’s beauty. A great pairing with the team's first collaboration, How to Read a Book.


Animals in Surprising Shades book cover features a group of brightly colored animals on a beach.

Title: Animals in Surprising Shades: Poems about Earth’s Colorful Creatures  written by Susan Johnston Taylor, illustrated by Annie Bakst

ISBN: 9781957655048

Grade Level: K-6

Recommendation: Highly recommended

Reviewer: Teresa Bateman

Review: The world is filled with colorful animals. This picture poetry book introduces some of them, such as the strawberry poison dart frog, ghost crab, Picasso bug, and more. Each double-page spread includes a close-up illustration as well as a poem. Beyond that, however, it also provides instructions about the poetic form used, as well as a paragraph of further information about the highlighted animal. This creates an intriguing mix of poetry, animal facts, and literary forms. The book includes a glossary, bibliography, and even a bit of a quiz. The biggest question is not whether to buy it but...where do you shelve it?

Inheritance book cover shows several depictions of African American women with beautiful hair against a pink backdrop.

Title: Inheritance: A Visual Poem  written by Elizabeth Acevedo, illustrated by Andrea Pippins

ISBN: 9780062931948

Grade Level: 6-12

Recommendation: Recommended

Reviewer: Craig Seasholes, Retired and Inspired

Review: Poet Elizabeth Acevedo's paean to Black hair and Afro-Latinidad is matched by art of Andrea Pippins in this visual poem that responds to the suggestion that "some people tell me to 'fix' my hair" by asserting "you can't fix what was never broken." A brilliant celebration of her Afro-Caribbean identity, Acevedo's beautiful Black hair is on full display in the video presentation of the poem ( that adds to this book's visual poetics. Acevedo demonstrates her positive approach to life, love, and the beauty of the great African crown she wears proudly for all the world to see.

A Long Time Coming book cover shows a depiction of Ona Judge and Barack Obama holding up a lantern against a blue background with black text.

Title: A Long Time Coming: A Lyrical Biography of Race in America from Ona Judge to Barack Obama written by Ray Anthony Shepherd, illustrated by R. Gregory Christine

ISBN: 9781662680663

Grade Level: 6-12

Recommendation: Recommended

Reviewer: Merrily Tucker, retired Teacher-Librarian, formerly at St. Joseph School

Review: This was definitely one of the saddest books I have read. The list of people the author writes about and their combined experiences make this reader feel like she's been through the wars. That is a testimony to the author's choice to not shy away from difficult topics. He wants us to experience the weight of Black people's lives that he writes about. In this book of "creative nonfiction," the author writes in verse about Ona Judge, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Ida B. Wells, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Barack Obama. He gives little-known details about their lives, really targeting who the person was, and not providing just a superficial overview. Each chapter is devoted to a person (or two in the chapter about Douglass and Tubman). It describes the subjects' early years right up to their death (except with Obama). The verse does not always trip off the tongue but is still powerful (sometimes requiring a second reading). Table of contents, index, timeline, bibliography, and sources are all included. In my humble opinion, this could be a middle school text in an ELA class with many opportunities for further research. Very interesting!


Watch Me Bloom book cover shows a depiction of a child with an afro and sunglasses made from the Os in Bloom. They are surrounded with brightly colored flowers.

Title: Watch Me Bloom: A Bouquet of Haiku Poems for Budding Naturalists written and illustrated by Kirna Patel-Sage

ISBN: 9781913747992

Grade Level: K-6

Recommendation: Recommended

Reviewer: Sreymom Serey, Teacher-Librarian at Cascade Elementary

Review: This book highlights 24 different flowers in haiku poems. Each page displays the plants in vibrant colors while the haiku gives readers an interesting fact about the flowers. The haikus give students excellent examples for writing haiku. It's a beautiful book that should be part of any poetry unit.


Mascot book cover shows a red streak blocking out a mascot logo that appropriates Native American imagery.

Title: Mascot  written by Charles Waters and Traci Sorel

ISBN: 9781623543808

Grade Level: 6-12

Recommendation: Highly Recommended

Reviewer: Eve Datisman

Review: This novel in verse based on Langston Hughes’ poem “Theme for English B” tackles “What happens when a mascot is seen as racist, but not by everyone?” Mrs. Williams tasks her eighth-grade honors English students with a persuasive writing and oral presentation assignment to argue the pros and cons of using an image of Indigenous peoples as mascots. During the school year, the story unfolds in a series of poems that detail the perspectives of six students: Callie (Cherokee African American), Franklin (African American), Priya (Indian American), Luis (Salvadoran American), Tessa (white and previously homeschooled), and Sean (white and living in generational poverty). Predictably, Callie, Priya, and Tessa (who sees herself as a committed antiracist) oppose Indigenous mascots. The boys, who enjoy war paint and tomahawk chops at Rye Braves games, claim the mascot depicts pride in the team and their school. Waters and Sorrel paint a complex portrait of the differing reactions toward the controversy by layering the tweens’ perspectives and showcasing the effects the event has on their individual relationships and the community beyond their school. The creators avoid judgment to present a well-rounded discussion about classism and racism as well as effective, compassionate allyship.


Kin book cover shows a Black character drawing with cornrows surrounded by white floral patterns and a purple background.

Title: Kin:  Rooted in Hope  written by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Jeffery Boston Weatherford

ISBN: 9781665913621

Grade Level: 6-12

Recommendation: Recommended

Reviewer: Teresa Bateman

Review: GR 5+. History is personal. Embarking on genealogical research can be daunting but thrilling. But that is not always the case for many Black families, their heritage interrupted by the enslavement of their ancestors and marred by the atrocities they endured. The Weatherfords invite readers to explore the past of their own family’s history and pay tribute to their enslaved ancestors’ pain and resilience across generations through poetry. The imagined thoughts of Weatherford’s kin and the personification of the things—among them an arrowhead and the Chesapeake Bay—that “witnessed” generations of enslavement will give readers a new perspective and inspire questions like those she intersperses throughout. Stark, raw, scratchboard illustrations throughout the book allow the tone of the poems to switch swiftly from lighter to darker topics, using design to prepare readers for some of the more difficult concepts. Author's and illustrator's notes provide context, and a bibliography offers sources for additional research. Readers familiar with Kwame Alexander's The Door of No Return will want this.


An Impossible Thing to Say book cover shows a pile of multi-colored doodles holding up a boombox against a maroon background.

Title: An Impossible Thing to Say written by Arya Shahi

ISBN: 9780063248359

Grade Level: 9-12

Recommendation: Recommended

Reviewer: Eve Datisman

Review: 8+. Novel in verse. Tenth grader Omid Soltani isn't comfortable in his own skin. As the child of Iranian immigrants living in Arizona, he feels foreign at school, but never Persian enough with his family. When his grandparents arrive from Iran and he meets them in person for the first time, he feels "frozen in Farsi" with his stilted fluency, isolated from the people with whom he most wants a connection. His grandfather Baba Joon gives Omid a journal, hoping it may help Omid. While finding the words for feelings surrounding his experiences navigating his identity, the Islamophobic bigotry he faces in the aftermath of 9/11, and his epic crush on a girl at his new prep school isn’t always easy, he discovers that writing in the journal helps him process. Inspired by a Shakespeare unit in his honors English class, and the play he auditions for to get closer to his crush, Omid attempts to express himself using varying methods of writing that improve communication in everyday life. He even employs Shakespearean dialogue and original rap. This is a love letter to words and the rhymes they make in an honest, nuanced depiction of what it is like to straddle different cultures and the critical need to understand oneself.

Eve Datisman poses for a headshot in front of a bathroom door. She has short, white hair and black frame glasses and is wearing a black and white decorative sweater.
Eve Datisman is a volunteer at the North Olympic History Center. She is currently learning to be a reluctant archivist of the early newspapers published in Clallam County and is currently reading and evaluating the condition of the 1891-1892 issues of The Democrat. She is thinking about what she would like to do to promote them as primary sources for Washington State history projects. 
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