A FEW OTHER EVENTS FOR
APRIL 3:

  • Happy birthday Virginia Silverstein (Life in a Bucket of Soil) and Sandra Boynton (Barnyard Dance; Moo, Baa, La La La!).
  • It’s the birth date of Washington Irving (1783–1859), The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle, and Edward Everett Hale (1822–1909), The Man Without a Country.
  • In 1860, the Pony Express begins its first successful run from Missouri to Sacramento. Read They’re Off!: The Story of the Pony Express by Cheryl Harness and Off Like the Wind!: The First Ride of the Pony Express by Michael D. Spradlin, illustrated by Layne Johnson.

Inaugurated by the Academy of American Poets in 1996, National Poetry Month takes place in April. The Academy lists a variety of projects, including a Poem-A-Day, where new poetry is e-mailed to those who register. Like the rest of the country, we’ll be celebrating National Poetry Month on the Almanac and will recognize Poem in Your Pocket Day (April 18) and Talk Like Shakespeare Day (April 23) along with some fine poetic works—Sharon Creech’s Love that Dog (April 7), Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Paul Revere’s Ride (April 19), and Valerie Worth’s All the Small Poems and 14 More (April 20). The month of April provides an opportunity to think about poetry and its place in American culture, not to mention its role in the lives of children.

Today I’d like to introduce National Poetry Month with the work of the one of the twenty-first-century’s best new poets for children. As publisher at Houghton Mifflin, I saw the manuscript for Joyce Sidman’s first book of poems, The World According to Dog, which was sent to me by her editor Ann Rider. I loved Joyce’s voice, and her ability to capture the essence of an animal in a few well-chosen words. Also, I was a natural enthusiast for a book of well-written dog poems. Since that time, Joyce’s books have won more major awards than most poets for children ever see, including a Caldecott Honor and a Newbery Honor this year for Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night. When I read this book, and her other title published in 2010, Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature’s Survivors, I realized I still loved her voice. In these ten years, Joyce has moved from a poet of promise to a seasoned, intelligent craftsperson who selects ambitious subjects for books.

Since 99 percent of all the species that have appeared on the planet are now extinct, in Ubiquitous Joyce focuses on nature’s survivors. This book, illustrated by Beckie Prange, takes readers through 4.6 billion years of history. Joyce presents both a poem and well-crafted paragraph of information to describe bacteria, lichens, beetles, geckos, ants, and in the end, human beings. In a concrete stream-of-conscience poem about squirrels, she writes “we dash from limb/to limb sailing out over/the leaves with our para-/chute tails which by the/way also act as umbrella.” Never before has a poem made me long to be a squirrel, but that is exactly what this talented author pulls off.

For her Newbery Honor Book, Dark Emperor, Joyce used the same format—poem and thoughtful facts—to present the creatures who come out at night while others sleep. Owls, snails, moths, bats, and porcupettes (what a delicious word) emerge. “I am a baby porcupette./ My paws are small; my nose is wet./But I can deal with any threat;/I raise my quills/and pirouette.” Rick Allen’s exquisite linoleum cuts add to the pleasure of reading the material. Both of these books present poetry and information of equal value. Both are lovingly designed and illustrated, inviting the reader into the poetry and text. Both testify to the power of a well-chosen word and the artistry of Joyce Sidman.

I hope you have a wonderful month of April celebrating poetry. I just want to thank Joyce, and her editor, Ann Rider, for giving us such well-crafted, beautiful volumes to begin our celebration. It makes me happy to see books like Dark Emperor and Ubiquitous—books that reaffirm that “only the rarest kind of best in anything can be good enough for the young.”

Here’s a page from Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night:

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Originally posted April 3, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Animals, Award Winning, Newbery
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COMMENTS

  1. Yukari says:

    I bought Dark Emperor after it won the Newbery Honor but I’ve been holding on to it, waiting for National Poetry Month. I’m looking forward to sharing it with my students — I think it will appeal to a great many of them because animal fact books are always popular in my library. (Luckily, a couple of the grade levels are working on animal reports so this ties in well on so many levels.) It will be wonderful to introduce nocturnal animals to the kids via poetry.

  2. Laura says:

    Great idea to use Dark Emperor to introduce nocturnal animals! It is an example of what we school library teachers strive to do which is to weave excellent literature and information literacy skills into the curriculum!

  3. Laura says:

    Anita, I heard you say this at Boston College yesterday and loved reading it today in your essay that “only the rarest kind of best in anything can be good enough for the young.” it takes an extraordinary talent to write children’s literature. Writing for children is different than writing for adults and “books that become classics are those that touch the hearts of both children and adults.”

  4. beth says:

    If you turn from page to page you can see the moon sliding across the sky; it rises in the front pages and then gets chased by the dawn at the end. It’s a very powerful image of a night.

    Poetry can be a hard sell with my boys, but this book let them compare the vivid images of the poems with the reliable sense of the facts. I think they felt more willing to try the poems because the writer was also a bit of a scientist.

    We found this book through the Cybils Poetry shortlist.

  5. Andrena says:

    “They dig, they climb, they drag, they haul
    They never seem to play at all.” – Taken from Sidman’s poem The Ant in Ubiquitous

    Her poetry soothes me. I enjoy it’s rhythm – and if it weren’t for her poetry I would not read so much about nature!!
    What a lovely cover and presentation! I find the collaboration between Sidman and Prange a great match. Her poetry is soothing and calming to read and against the backdrop of Prange’s illustrations – it’s a perfect combination!

  6. Erica S. says:

    This is such a beautiful book – I checked it out of the library (along with Ubiquitous) specifically so I could show it to my roommate, a former art history major!

  7. Vicky says:

    This is just such a lovely book – and what skill Sidman has shown in weaving together poetry and nonfiction. She has a real gift of interpreting information in a lyrical way.

    I never saw myself as someone who would want to own poetry books, but now her “Red Sings From Treetops” is a prized possession and several of her others are on my wish list!

  8. Ashley says:

    I read this book last semester and I loved everything about it! I never knew I could learn so much about nature when done in poetic form! The illustrations were particularly interesting as well. The colors are kind of backwards, inverse almost?

  9. Kathy says:

    I loved The Dark Emperor. A must read!

  10. suzi w. says:

    ooh, how fun. Just requested from my library.

  11. Vicki says:

    Joyce Sidman’s books are intelligent, accessible, and filled with inspiring words and research-provoking information. I end up going back again and again to discover a new phrase, something new to learn about more deeply.

  12. Janet Wong says:

    Thank you, Anita, for this terrific post about our Empress of Children’s Poetry, Joyce Sidman! Joyce (and Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, Sylvia Vardell and I) will be presenting at IRA on Monday, 4/22 at 11am and I am so looking forward to it. Joyce has such a gracious and generous way of seeing things; I think we’ll all emerge from this session with a boost of calm energy!

  13. Anita says:

    Janet: I wish I could be at that session!

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