Apr 13, 2017

Voices of Joy, Voices of Freedom

After several posts about some of my "old-timey" poetry favorites, (here, here, and here) let's flip the focus to more-recent  poetry publications. There are plenty of blogs that make this their core mission, including suggested activities and lessons. One example you'll want to know about is THE POEM FARM, by children's author and writing teacher, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater.

As for this blog, I've featured poetry collections and reflections in the past, but I'm approaching this series with more frequent and varied poetry posts. In this case I'd like to share two different collections of poems for children by African-American artists. In the first case, the anthology was released in 1991 A quarter century later, in 2016, a book in which the voices of slaves are interpreted was created by author/artist Ashley Bryan.

Scholastic Anthology, 1991
MAKE A JOYFUL SOUND: Poems for Children by African-American Poets, was skillfully edited by Deborah Slier, and delightfully illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu. In the past few years there has been widespread attention to the very real, even urgent, need for books by diverse creators. This collection, released in 1991, decades before that movement, includes poems by African-American authors whose copyright dates stretch as far back as 1956 (Gwendolyn Brooks), 1951 (Langston Hughes), and even 1927 (Countee Cullen). 
In Ruby Dee's introduction she says..."(poetry is)....sharing our most profound and personal living spaces with people who then go from being strangers to being co-travelers on life's marvelous excursions into better understandings. It can lead to action. It can lead to love."
If you are somehow unaware of the WE NEED DIVERSE BOOKS movement within the creating/publishing/circulating world of books for young readers, this is from their website:
OUR MISSION Putting more books featuring diverse characters into the hands of all children. 
OUR VISION A world in which all children can see themselves in the pages of a book.

This is often paraphrased as providing ALL readers with books that can serve as both windows and mirrors. 

What I love most about this collection is that the language, illustrations, topics, and emotional experiences are a thousand-percent universal, demonstrating clearly that the human race is the underlying status of all races. Here's an example:

By Lucille Clifton
I already know where Africa is
and I already know how to 
count to ten and
I went to school every day last year, 
why do I have to go again?

For every child who eagerly lays out a back-to-school outfit and supplies, maybe even days in advance of school resuming, there are equal numbers of kids who share the sentiment in the above poem. 

With many formal book structures (table of contents, title index, author index, first line index,  and brief bios of poets, MAKE A JOYFUL SOUND should be included in every classroom and home collection. At a minimum, it should circulate out of libraries at a furious pace, leading to additional explorations of original works and collections by the various featured authors.
A Caitlin Dlouhy Book
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2016

Then there's FREEDOM OVER ME: Eleven slaves, their lives and dreams brought to life by ASHLEY BRYAN.  "Brought to life by" is a perfect description of this creation by multi-award-winning author/illustrator Ashley Bryan. 
In his author's note, Bryan describes having acquired a collection of slave-related objects. He chose one from among them-- a legal document that outlines the estate of a man named Fairchilds.
Bryan drew from the very spare content in that document, one which referred to enslaved people as "boy" or "girl" regardless of age, one which enumerates those lives as possessions in the same categories as cows, cotton, and hogs. Each human life was listed with a name and price, but no other reference to age or description or special talents were described. 

That spare content and Bryan's knowledge of history became the foundation for eleven portraits, ones in which he infused life into those who had no control over their own destiny. He then studied and listened to the persons he had envisioned, imagining their daily lives and inner voices. Documents and clippings of those times are embedded within the free verse voices and images of those lives. 

So, one very recent collection dips further back in time, and an older anthology rises to prove itself timeless and timely in a pro-diversity landscape. Both merit attention, sharing, and some eager encouragement. 

Celebrate this NATIONAL LIBRARY WEEK by seeking these out in a library near you, then thanking those library workers for the amazing ways in which they keep old and new books alive, waiting to reach you when you arrive.


  1. Hello I am author Benjamin Boyd. I would love it if you could do a review of my book. The Adventures of Kid Humpty Dumpty. I think you and your followers would enjoy it. I will gladly provide you with a copy of my book for your honest review. You can get a preview of my book on amazon.com http://www.amazon.com/Adventures-Kid-Humpty-Dumpty/dp/1606932659/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1464278127&sr=8-1&keywords=The+adventures+of+kid+humpty+dumpty My book is The Adventures of Kid Humpty Dumpty. Kids and adults will love entering into this fun, imaginative world. Young Humpty Dumpty wants to make friends with a new kid in town, but there is just a few problems. The first is Humpty Dumpty is way too nervous to talk to her and the second is the very anti-boy and very over the top sunny side twins. It is a funny Heart warming story of this famous and very clumsy egg adventures show that he is just like you and me. It all takes place in colorful and fun world where anything is possible.
    It makes a great bed time story with characters that kids can relate to and grow to love because the already love them. Every kid and adult has heard the rhyme of how he fell from the wall but with this they can see a beautiful world with lots of egg people and it just something that jumps out at the imagination. Thank You for your time. I look forward to hearing from you. Contact me at bjessieb2@yahoo.com

    Thank You,
    Benjamin Boyd

  2. Hello, Benjamin. Thanks for stopping by to read this post, and others, I hope! I checked out your book and it appears to be self-published. That in no way means it isn't a fine book, but as a policy I've limited my reviews to books that are traditionally published. Even then, I decline some review requests due to limits of time and topics. I'm happy to see you using a traditional nursery rhyme as the basis for your clever story, since I firmly believe that the traditional rhymes and tales provide touchpoint for many literary works in later years. All best in your continued writing and reading projects. Sandy


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