Spring into April with a new batch of children’s poetry books, just in time for the 20th anniversary of National Poetry Month. From a “wow”-worthy batch of concrete poems that dance across the page to a poetic guessing game and a touching trip through the seasons, three new collections make for accessible and thoroughly modern introductions to an enduring art.
POEMS THAT POP
Bob Raczka’s newest book, Wet Cement: A Mix of Concrete Poems, “uses words like colors to paint pictures.” This playful collection of 21 poems takes inspiration from single words, similar to 2013’s Lemonade, and in the visually arresting style of classic concrete poets like E.E. Cummings or Carl Andre, brings his simple verse to life. Words slash the page in the shape of an electric bolt in “Lightning”; letters seem to thaw and drip into readers’ hands in “Icicles”; and the letters of “Hopscotch” skip across the page in the game’s instantly recognizable layout. But Raczka’s poems aren’t all whimsy. There are plenty of quiet moments where a sense of childlike awe shines through, as in wonderful “Dipper”: “Up here in the sky, / I’m a vessel of stars / my brim overflowing with night.” In today’s highly visual world, Raczka’s poems are a fantastic gateway into the genre.
WHO IN THE HAIKU?
The art of Japanese haiku and silly riddles collide in Deanna Caswell’s Guess Who, Haiku. Readers will love piecing together the clever clues for each animal and insect as each page asks, “Can you guess who from this haiku?” From a dairy cow—“new day on the farm / muffled mooing announces / a fresh pail of milk”—to a loyal dog— "Sitting for a treat / an eager tail smacks the ground / over and over"— Caswell runs through a cast of common critters, and her engaging bite-sized poems are just right for the preschool crowd. Bob Shea provides illustrations in his bold and lively graphic style, which make the big reveal of each mystery animal a pure delight. Caswell ends the book with a helpful note that breaks down exactly what haiku is, how it’s structured and how readers can recognize syllables, encouraging a deeper understanding of each line. Guess Who, Haiku makes a traditional form of poetry into a guessing game that almost feels like a poetic version of Fisher Price’s classic See ‘N Say toy, which is a sure sign that this could become a read-aloud favorite.
CELEBRATE THE SEASONS
The natural world’s seasonal transformations have been inspiring poets for centuries, and Julie Fogliano adds her own inspired collection to the mix with When Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All Seasons. Beginning on the first day of spring with a cheerful bird’s song “poking / a tiny hole / through the edge of winter,” readers meet a diverse cast of children that explore, climb, swim and frolic their way through the days of all four seasons, and Fogliano devotes about a dozen reflective poems to each, all titled with a specific month and date. Pencil-and-gouache illustrations from Julie Morstad bring a delightfully vintage feel to scenes where wildflowers seem to blossom endlessly, piles of crisp fall leaves beckon and snow gently drifts outside of a window. From lazy summer days that are “hot and thick like honey” to the messy fun of pumpkin carving and the stillness of winter, this collection is sure to be one that little readers will love to pull off the shelf and flip through again and again.