Jan 13, 2018

Celebrating CYBILS: Poetry Titles You Won't Want to Miss

In case you missed it, my previous post was a celebratory thank you to readers marking the SIX YEAR BLOGIVERSARY of this site. One unexpected bonus from sustaining and developing this blog is that it led me to serve for the last three years on the CYBILS AWARDS round one panels: picture book fiction in 2015, picture book nonfiction in 2016, and poetry in 2017. My preference for working as a ROUND ONE panelist won't surprise readers here or others who know me: I dread the pressure of naming a single "Best" or "Favorite" or "Winner" of anything, but especially in the realm of books. Even narrowing the field can be stressful, and has been in each of these categories. 

This year I was faced with an even tricker issue: POETRY nominees spanned everything from preschool rhyming books to YA/teen novels in verse. 
The process made for some incredibly entertaining and inspiring reading, but decisions were nearly overwhelming. To see what I mean, check out the full list of poetry nominees, click here. Our finalists, now under consideration as the 2017 poetry winner, can be seen here, and I recommend ALL as wonderful reads. 

To make things a bit easier, though, I'll post here some brief notes about some of the picture books among the nominees that I particularly enjoyed, even if they didn't make the cut to be named as a finalist. I'm also sharing them here as an advance "I told you so" when upcoming awards are presented and some of these are among them. Trust me, they are REALLY good reads!
National Geographic

Up first, take a look at the gorgeously photographed and written ANIMAL ARK: Celebrating Our Wide World in Poetry and Pictures, by Kwame Alexander and Joel Sartore.
Breathtaking, truly stunning photography is no surprise when it is produced by National Geographic. The angles, perspectives, lighting, fold-outs, and EYES of these gorgeous creatures will make it a favorite across ages and interests. Kwame Alexander's use of free form Haiku works well to provide minimal but superbly selected words, as sharply hypnotic as the images.

Candlewick Press

Compare that with another amazing animal book, filled with images that will entrance and enchant readers of any age: SONG OF THE WILD:  A First Book of Animals, by Nicola Davies and Petr Horacek.
Without a doubt this is a gorgeous book of illustrations, sized to be a colorful tabletop book and to appeal to young eyes. Its bulk (and cursive text, complex organization) mean it will work best with support from adults. Even so, the various individual entries/descriptions will be favored or less favored throughout the book. At least that was my reaction. The organizing approach should make it well-suited to the youngest (Size/Color and Shape/Homes/Babies/Action) but it offers too little for older readers (no index, resources, or other back matter) and too much for the youngest to grasp the categorical approach due to lack of relative scale among the entries. 
Despite those concerns, this will hit a sweet spot for kids who are zoo fans, who can manage some independent reading, and who engage with the lush art and the lyrical lines that appear on various pages.

Both books are keepers, in the sense that young folks will want to explore them again and again, potentially wearing out the bindings, but treasuring them as books to share with their own children and grandchildren. Both, though, focus on full-scale animals with minimal attention to tiny creepy-crawlies. For that, turn to CRICKET IN THE THICKET: Poems About Bugs, written by Carol Murray and illustrated by Melissa Sweet. 
When it comes to content-specific picture books, this one has it all. The poetry is a delightful mix of rhymed and unrhymed verse utilizing varied forms. Melissa Sweet works her illustration magic on each double spread, shifting perspective, embedding numerous scientific elements within gorgeous and appealing images. The "Cricket Notes" in back matter elaborate (accessibly) on the brief info-box sidebars for each insect poem. Even cockroach and mosquito are equal parts intrigue and yuk-factor, with visual details that lend both accuracy and personality to these typically repulsive critters.This offers something for everyone- sparking curiosity, utilizing specific vocabulary, and charming readers on repeated readings and explorations.

Stay tuned for more suggestions in future posts, and I'll include several of those non-picture-book verse novels. For now, though, take a deep dive into any/all of these three books. Be prepared for an eye-popping, ear-pleasing, exhilarating feast of poetry.

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