Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Children's Verse That Celebrates Playful Wonderment

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Children's Verse That Celebrates Playful Wonderment

Article excerpt

Poetry surprises. Perhaps not children as often, who can find a distant planet in the glowing, fiery-skinned orb of a peach, or Cinderella's glass slipper in the translucent, pointy-toed body of a creeping snail. But for those of us less accustomed to seeing the world through the lens of our imagination, poetry surprises.

And delights, I should add, as two new collections of poetry, Gwendolyn Brooks's Bronzeville Boys and Girls and Valerie Worth's Animal Poems, so readily demonstrate.

"Bronzeville Boys and Girls" was initially released in 1956. This 2007 reissue, published after Brooks's passing, not only introduces a new generation of readers to her poetic observations and deft use of language, it also offers up 40 pages of lush illustrations, newly imagined by Caldecott Honor artist Faith Ringgold.

Although "Bronzeville Boys and Girls" has an urban setting in Brooks's own Chicago neighborhood, what is so appealing about this anthology of 34 poems is the way it captures childhood's universal moments, from curiosity over a new neighbor to waiting for a seed to sprout.

Brooks's strength as a poet lies in her ability to place these simple moments in a larger social, cultural, and, at times, even philosophical context.

Her poem about an outdoor tea party, for example, moves from "Pink cakes, and nuts and bon-bons on/ A tiny, shiny tray" to "It's out within the weather,/ Beneath the clouds and sun./ And pausing ants have peeked upon/ As birds and God have done."

And when little Ella leaves her oatmeal to chase winter clouds, "Mother-dear went following/ But reprimand was mild./ She knew that clouds taste better than/ Oats to a little child."

Although Brooks's poems do tackle some of the problems of the inner city - poverty being the most prominent example - her lively, inventive language, in combination with the warmth of Ringgold's illustrations, counterbalances any occasional heaviness. Instead, this collection feels like a celebration not only of a time and a place, but also of childhood itself, when big news can make a kid "peacock up and down" and a star is not a star but "a dancy little thing."

Valerie Worth's "Animal Poems," also released posthumously and illustrated by another Caldecott Honor winner, cut-paper artist Steve Jenkins, brings a similar creative observation to the animal kingdom. …

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