Poetry for June

Reviewed by Kate Shepherd

Kate looks at a new collection by Kwame Alexander and Michael Rosen’s What is Poetry? She also reviews short stories by Ellen Oh

Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets by Kwame Alexander with Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth illustrated by Ekua Holmes  hb 9780763680947 $25.00
When I first saw this book, I thought that rather than have poets writing their own poems celebrating such well loved poets, I would rather read poems by the poet being celebrated.  And yet on reading it, I changed my mind and decided that this book gives us so many additional insights into the work of poets such as Robert Frost, E. E. Cummings, Emily Dickinson and Maya Angelou.  Each poem is written in the style and spirit of the poet being celebrated and this may inspire students to experiment with writing their own poems in different styles.

Kwame Alexander has written a beautiful introduction to poetry and also the importance of words and expression in his family when he was growing up and what poetry means to him now.  He is an educationalist who gives many poetry workshops.  His poems and also poems by Chris Colderley and Marjorie Wentworth are included in this collection.  The poets are mainly from the US but the others do come from round the world. The poems are framed by beautiful vibrant illustrations emphasising the very different cultures and settings. They are divided into three parts.  Part 1 Got Style?  includes poems emphasising style and rhythm.  In Part 2 In Your Shoes – the poems suggest that we may have similar ideas.  Part 3 Thank You includes poems which may affect us in very personal ways.  This book could be an inspiration to teachers and students giving them many ideas while bringing them to a new understanding of a wide range of poems and poets.     KS  (10 – 15 years)


What is Poetry? The Essential Guide to Reading and Writing Poems by Michael Rosen  pb 9781844287635  $15.00
This is a long discussion of Michael Rosen’s thoughts on poetry.  He doesn’t come up with a definitive definition of what is poetry – he doesn’t want to. However he does discuss in detail his thoughts about poetry and what it does and he gives many examples of different poems, both modern and classic, by different poets and discusses them.  He also talks about some of his own poems and what motivated him to write them. He discusses ways students could start to write a poem and gives lots of ideas on how to keep writing and finally he gives advice on technical points such as rhyme and rhythm.  The book is so full of ideas and things to discuss that it would be an invaluable handbook for teachers and students interested in poetry.

(11 years up) KS


Flying Lessons and other stories Edited by Ellen Oh  hb 9781101934593 $30.00
Short stories are not usually my favourite form of writing. I often find that they are just too short!  I prefer writing in which I can become engaged with the characters for longer.  However having said that, there were a few stories in this collection which were so impressive. They were succinct, intriguing and perfect in their brevity; in the glimpse they gave of a character’s life, sometimes a glimpse into a world about which I know very little. Matt de la Pena’s story “How to Transform an Everyday, Ordinary Hoop Court into a Place of Higher Learning and You at the Podium” was like that.  It was written in a basketball idiom which was not at all familiar, and yet it had an immediacy, a vibrancy which really captured my attention.  Surprisingly, it is written in the second person but from the perspective of a Mexican teenager who lives for basketball.
“For people like you, ball is more than just ball. It’s a way out.”
The other outstanding story is by Kwame Alexander. (See the review above for Out of Wonder: Poems celebrating Poets.)  The story is called “Seventy-Six Dollars and Forty-Nine Cents”: A Story-in-Verse.  The heading is ‘How to write a memoir’ since this was the assignment set by the English teacher Mr Preston.  Monk knows that a memoir is based on fact but he likes to includes a little fiction.  So written in the first person, Monk describes himself as a twelve year old kid who was totally uncool until he bashed his head in a car accident. After that he could hear what people were thinking.  His verse story about the effect this still has on him is very funny and very clever. The other very different stories in the collection are from diverse backgrounds. They are all American and are dedicated to the memory of Walter Dean Myers.  Ellen Oh is the co-founder of ‘We Need Diverse Books’ and this was the motivation behind her choice of such a wide ranging collection from ten very different authors.

For Middle School students.  (12 –15 years)  KS


Kate Shepherd
Kate has been reviewing books and making lists of recommended books for International Schools since she first set up Austral Ed in 1993.  Now Austral Ed is part of Gleebooks Education which is the Educational division of gleebooks, one of the oldest independent bookstores in Sydney.
Click on the bookshop to follow the link to the Gleebooks Education International Service and further information about their services for international schools.
Feature Image: By Ekua Holmes from her collection – From the City to the Sea.

‘At the ocean, the surfaces under your feet yield to every step, the air is smooth — fragrant. The sounds are light. There are no walls to separate you from anything or anyone.

All the tensions of city life are gradually washed away in the fresh air of the sea.’

With kind permission from:

Janine Quast

Contracts & Royalties Manager

Walker Books Australia


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