Book Reviews: Poetry and Verse

Hidden

Bibliography:

Frost, Helen. 2011. Hidden. New York: Francis Foster Books. ISBN 9780374382216.

Plot:

Wearing her pink dress, and sitting in the back seat of her mother’s car, Wren played with her doll as Mom ran in to pay for gas.  When she hears the gunshot, Wren hides under a blanket on the floorboard as the car starts and speeds away.  Upon hearing a man’s gruff voice and realizing that her mother is not driving, Wren remains hidden until the car is parked, miles away, in a dark garage.  Darra has seen the news about the missing girl, and senses that Wren is in her garage.  After secretly leaving food and water in the garage for Wren, she thinks up a plan to help the captive escape.  Wren manages to get away on her own, never having seen her benefactor.  Darra’s father is convicted of auto theft and goes to prison, leaving each girl to wonder what really happened.  Five years later the girls end up at the same summer camp and instantly recognize each other.  Circumstances throw them together and each has a chance to tell her side of the story—the night that neither of them has ever been able to forget. 

Critical Analysis:

Hidden is written completely in verse.  The two characters in the story each share their thoughts as the story unfolds.  Wren’s accounting of her situation is written in stanza format, while Darra’s memories are flowingly written in freestyle.  The author uses a combination of standard font and italics to differentiate between contemplation and spoken words.  Each poem tells the story unencumbered by excessive narration.  Wren’s poems are comprised of short, well-punctuated sentences while Darra’s memories are written in free verse without punctuation.  This varying of form gives the book movement while helping the reader understand which girl is speaking.  Titles hint at the content of each poem in addition to identifying the speaker.  Frost’s captivating story and poignant descriptions chronicling each girl’s remembrance of the night they will never forget drives the plot line.  The essence of the title, Hidden, is unpeeled to reveal the novel’s multiple layers concealed within the storyline.  This well-crafted young adult novel will appeal to both avid and reluctant readers.  The author uses Diving Deeper: Notes on Form as an epilogue and reveals yet another layer of the story to be discovered.

Reviews:

“Frost’s tale exhibits her trademark character development that probes the complexities of intimate relationships. Here Wren’s touching statement, “I was a happy little girl / wearing a pink dress,” eventually leads to Darra’s private admission to Wren: “None of it was our fault.” Both tender and insightful, this well-crafted, fast-paced tale should have wide teen appeal.” Kirkus Book Reviews

“Here you have all the plot and character development a teacher could require, but with words that don’t intimidate someone unaccustomed to Harry Potter-sized tomes. Of the verse novelists, Frost is one of the best because she never forgets that books of this sort are poetry, first and foremost. So for something original and smart, fun and harrowing all at once, Hidden delivers. It’s verse done right.” School Library Journal

Awards:

Helen Frost is a Printz Honor Book Author.

Connections:

This book would be a great book to use in a writing class.  Encourage the students to experiment with free style stanzas and stream of consciousness writing, combined with creating a story within a story. 

Hidden could also be used in a social skills class to open discussion about how everybody sees things differently:  Wren—the terrified little girl; and Darra—the girl who loved her father even with all of his faults. 

Language Arts classes will benefit from studying the different types of verse which are complimented by the use of imagery and descriptive phrases.


Here in Harlem, Poems in Many Voices

Bibliography:

Myers, Walter Dean. 2004. Here in Harlem, Poems in Many Voices. New York. Holiday House. ISBN 9780823418534.

Plot:

Here in Harlem is an anthology of poetry written by Walter Dean Myers.  Each poem is written with a different persona and voice.  In this work the author celebrates the people and lifestyle of his home town, New York City—more specifically, Harlem.

Critical Analysis:

Award winning author, Walter Dean Myers, assumed the persona of different citizens of Harlem and adopted their voices to write the forty-two poems in this book.  Photos of Harlem, scattered throughout the book, add a concrete feeling to this work.  Each poem is titled with the borrowed persona’s name, followed by his or her occupation and age.  This unique way of titling each poem lets the reader imagine the background of the voice and gives the poem a setting.  The poetry varies in form from couplets to free verse, sometimes rhyming, sometimes without punctuation, and sometimes as one long unbroken thought.  Throughout the anthology, the passage of time is marked by a poem written as a character named Clara Brown, broken into six parts. Clara Brown’s six testimonies chronicle her life from childhood into adulthood, and are followed by her final poem entitled, Retired.  Each of the forty-two poems signal a change in Clara’s Harlem as seen by her neighbors and acquaintances.  In the final few lines of Retired, Clara reminisces,

“Yes, it’s done changed some, honey
And rearranged itself some
But when I was young, I danced these streets”

Awards:

Walter Dean Myers’s other works have received multiple awards including Newbery Honors, Coretta Scott King Award, Boston Globe—Horn Book Honors, Margaret A. Edwards Award, and he is the recipient of the first Michael L. Printz award.

Reviews:

“Inspired by Edgar Lee Master’s Spoon River Anthology, Walter Dean Myers presents another distinctive community in a series of evocative poems (Holiday House, 2004). Harlem comes to life through the voices of those who have lived there, each unique in diverse poetic forms, age of speaker, experience presented, and emotional context.”  School Library Journal

“…The volume celebrates the varied music of the neighborhood—plaintive, joyful, expansive, sly, and bluesy—and photographs from the author’s collection offer a superb visual complement. One of Myers’s best—and that’s saying a lot. Sure to be a classic.”  Kirkus Book Reviews

Connections:

With its time-travel glimpse of Harlem, this book provides a snapshot of Harlem life over most of the twentieth century.  In addition, the verses provide a very personal insight into the civil rights movement of the 1960’s and the plight of the American Negro.  The characters portrayed or spoken about in the poems, such as Langston Hughes, Booker T. Washington, and Jackie Robinson, would provide a natural backdrop for a discussion of famous African Americans, and would be an excellent resource for Black History Month.


Danitra Brown, Class Clown

Bibliography:

Grimes, Nikki, E. B. Lewis, Ill. Danitra Brown, Class Clown. 2005. Amistad, Harper Collins.  ISBN 0688172903.

Plot:

Zuri Jackson and Danitra Brown are best friends.  Zuri is unsure about the new school year, her new teacher, Miss Volcheck, and is a bit intimidated—until Danitra enters the room and makes everything alright.  Told from Zuri’s point of view, this book in rhyme describes the relationship and encouragement a best friend can offer.

Critical Analysis:

This collection of poems by Nikki Grimes tells the story of a shy, timid young girl who depends on her extroverted and devoted best friend.  E. B. Lewis’s watercolors are exquisite and moves the story briskly along with the use of realistic and believable facial expressions, rich colors, and intricate details.  The rhyming stanzas set a bouncing rhythm that keeps the reader connected with the story. Grimes chooses words that every child will relate to in crafting each scenario. “Last week, I scribbled one dumb note: ‘I think Wardell is cute,’ I wrote.”  Finally, the characters, Danitra, Miss Volcheck, and Zuri interact touchingly, yet creatively, as the girls face the challenges of their new school year.

Awards:

Parents’ Choice Award, 2005.  In addition, Ms. Grimes has won multiple Coretta Scott King Awards.

Reviews:

“The poems flow neatly as they tell the continuing story of Danitra, an “original thinker” and a “matchless friend.” Lewis’s illustrations are spot on, capturing the girls’ idiosyncrasies and bringing them to life. A charmer.”  Kirkus Book Reviews

“Grimes’s text, a running sequence of titled verses, neatly voices the critical self-examination of preadolescent girls. Lewis’s detailed watercolor paintings create energy of their own, revealing the girls’ emotions with visualization of both joyous expressions and thoughtful moments.”  School Library Journal

Connections:

Elementary age school children will relate to the plot of these poems in tangible ways.  This book would be well-used as a read aloud exercise for the first week of school.

Discuss how the way we see things is different depending on our personalities and attitude.  Compare and contrast Zuri’s point of view with that of Danitra’s. One could ask, “How did Miss Volcheck change as the poems progressed?”