Pictured Poetry

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Pictured Poetry

Illustrated Books of Poems

Whether new to poetry or a devoted reader/writer of verse an illustrated poem can make for an afternoon well spent.  Take a glance through the compilations and biographies or read them endpaper to endpaper.  Read a poem as a picture book, too.  Fun awaits!


A Kick in the Head:  An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms selected by Paul B. Janeczko, illustrated by Chris Raschka

The poem from which the title of this compendium is derived is a concrete poem about poetry by Joan Bransfield Graham and is one twenty-eight poetic forms, ranging from the two-line couplet to the rule heavy pantoum.  Each form is provided with a definition in small print at the bottom of the page and an expanded definition in the back of the book.  A descriptive icon and watercolor and torn paper illustrations by the award-winning author/illustrator Chris Raschka accompany each child-friendly form.

The epitaph poem, Epitaph for Pinocchio by J. Patrick Lewis is simple and funny as are the acrostic poems, Cat by compiler Paul B. Janeczko and the anonymous poem, Dog.  Humor is a major theme throughout and is reflected in the longer, more complex poems, such as the villanelle, Is There a Villan in Your Villanelle? by Joan Bransfield Graham, but the poem of address example, Whispers to the Wall by Rebecca Kai Dotlich deals with the serious subject of the Vietnam War.  Some of the example poems are not well-known but are interesting and well chosen for an introduction to poetry.
Other poetry collections by this compiler/illustrator duo include:
A Foot in the Mouth:  Poems to Speak, Sing and Shout
Intended for performance and recitation, some of the poems are personal, but invite the reader /listener to identify with its subject.  The poem Speak Up by Janet S. Wang is one such poem.  A child is asked to say some words in Korean.  A conversation ensues and a lesson is imparted.  In Favorite by George Ella Lyon a coat in an unflattering fabric and color is worn with pride.  Some of the poems beg to be shared, like the limericks and tongue-twisters or Act IV, Scene 1 of Othello featuring the three witches.
A Poke in the I:  A Collection of Concrete Poems
Concrete poems not only can take on the shape of the subject, but can consist of one word, or can be read from different directions, or emphasize sound, or form a puzzle.  Crickets by Aram Saroyan in which the one word poem imitates the sound, or Swan and Shadow by John Hollander with its meandering lines that form the body of the swan and its shadow are two of 30 visual poems augmented by Raschka’s primary colored images.  Repeated perusal of this book is warranted.
Poetry by Heart:  A Child’s Book of Poems to Remember compiled by Liz Attenborough
The more than one hundred poems are grouped in chapters arranged by content, the shortest and longest poems having their own chapter.  Familiar verse like Starlight and There Is a Time from Ecclesiastes 3, v 1-8 and longer poems that tell a story like The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost or The Listeners by Walter de la Mare are just a few examples of the sensitively chosen entries.  The illustrator for each chapter deftly portrays their set of poems, quirkier artists getting the lighter chapters.

Picture Book Poems
Ellington Was Not a Street by Ntozake Shange, illustrated by Kadir Nelson
2005 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award
A cozy home where children nap, play and listen as famous visitors drop by is the setting Kadir Nelson places Ntozake Shange’s famous poem, Mood Indigo.  Lush greens and blues surround portraits of individuals of various shades of brown as the stanzas from the poem float on the page in colored rectangles.  The tall portrait height of the book and the edge to edge oils further immerse the reader in tale of history.
Jabberwocky:  The Classic Poem from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There by Lewis Carroll, reimagined and illustrated by Christopher Myers
The Jabberwock of Lewis Carroll’s nonsense poem is transformed into many-fingered, basketball-slinging giant on a summer playground that could be in any city.  The hero’s vorpal blade becomes Air Jordan-type shoes as he leaps to the top of the tall page in the epic battle.  Children trying to stand against the pressure of water from a fire hydrant and, later playing a quiet game on a darkened playground provide a satisfying conclusion.
Little Orphant Annie by James Whitcomb Riley, illustrated by Diane Stanley
Reminiscent of the folktale, Little Eight John, James Whitcomb Riley’s much performed moral of what happens to misbehaving children is a poem to memorize or read from with this small picture book.  The orphan of the title works for her food and board by cooking, cleaning and taking care of the family’s children.  Diane Stanley captures a scene from the poem where Annie tells a story to her charges.  She is not much bigger than her charges, commonplace in 1890’s America, but she has the children enraptured by her performance.
 The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, illustrated by Christopher Bing
Digital images, including two letters the reader can pull from envelopes and maps of the events on the night of April 18, 1775 and the morning of April 19, bring to life a thrilling story based on real-life events.  The poem is juxtaposed with period details and large color images.  Information about the real Paul Revere and his flight, with the assistance of others, through the Massachusetts countryside is found in the back along with details of the research that went into the book.
The Negro Speaks of Rivers by Langston Hughes, illustrated E.B. Lewis
A ribbon of water expands into a portrait of a woman in time standing by a primeval river.  Thus begins a sparsely worded journey across continents.  The illustrator includes himself in a rendering of the poem’s third line.  It is the image of a man in prayer, surrounded by darkness, but spotlighted from above.  An illustrator's note expanding on the meaning of the poem is found at the back.
The Spider and the Fly by Mary Howitt, illustrated by Tony DiTerlizzi
2003 Caldecott Honor Book
The Victorian era poem gets a reboot as a black and white, silent film era tale of trickery.  The poem begins with the often used, but misquoted line of the spider inviting the little fly into his parlor.  In Tony DiTerlizzi’s wicked retelling, the reader sees a mustachioed, vampire-like spider applying words of flattery to a suspicious flapper fly while a silvery web grows.  A smug letter from the spider and notes about the famous Mary Howitt are provided at the end of the story.
Enormous Smallness:  A Story of E. E. Cummings by Matthew Burgess, illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo
Quirky and fun, Matthew Burgess’s verse and narrative tells the story of a modern poet and the extraordinary environment that nurtured his innovative talent.  The young Edward Estlin Cummings grew up in a large house with a little a sister, many animals and eight adults.  His mother would write down poems he created as a toddler and make them into his first book of poetry, Estlin's Original Poems.  His father would build him a small cabin in the woods and, later, a tree house to encourage his exploring mind. His father would also join in afternoons of play to further stoke his imagination.  His family's farm would be where he composed his first book, The Enormous Room.  His first published book of poems, Tulips & Chimneys would soon follow and a career as a writer would begin.

The poems who are you, little i; the/ sky/ was; may my heart always be open to little, and others appear as part of Kris Di Giacomo's eye-catching, page-filling images. The font for the poems changes but always appears different from Burgess's writing.  Cumming's quotes also pepper the pages, adding further detail to a visually stimulating book that matches the character of its subject.

A River of Words:  The Story of William Carlos Williams by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
2009 Caldecott Honor Book
William Carlos Williams was a pediatrician/obstetrician in Rutherford, New Jersey for more than forty years and during his long life authored essays, plays and short stories, in addition to poetry.  Nature was an enduring inspiration for his poetry as were the ordinary people of Rutherford and nearby Paterson, New Jersey.  Poems of ordinary life, such as The Red Wheelbarrow and This Is Just to Say appear in Melissa Sweet's collage throughout the book and on the endpapers.  Sweet's collage of the poem, The Great Figure is not only evocative of the poem, but the painting, The Figure 5 in Gold by long-time William's friend, Charles Demuth. 
Papa Is a Poet:  A Story about Robert Frost by Natalie S. Bober, illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon
Lesley Frost’s childhood journal informs much of her father’s story and is told from her point of view.  Lesley details her father’s love of books, nature walks, and lyrical poetry.  As a poultry farmer in New England, Robert Frost struggled to support his family and wrote in the middle of the night, but the sale of the farm and a temporary move the English countryside would prove pivotal in Frost’s career.
Rebecca Gibbon’s ink and watercolor images surround the narrative, map the family’s New Hampshire farm, and highlight Frost’s better known poems, given in their entirety in the back of the book.  Photographs, an author’s note, and Robert Frost’s quotations add further interest to a refreshing look at a famous American.
Pablo Neruda:  Poet of the People by Monica Brown, illustrated by Julie Paschkis
Words in English and Spanish swirl through rivers and plants, mines, an ocean and many other inspirations for the future Nobel Laureate born Ricardo Eliécer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto.  Read a book by a Chilean author and Pablo Neruda’s name will appear, either as inspiration or the lead voice in the national obsession with poetry.  Monica Brown’s concise storytelling and Julie Paschkis’s magical art beautifully memorialize a poet whose music would capture the struggles of the poor as well as the beauty of life.

This lovely picture book contains no Neruda poems, but provides a list of his best known works, which you can also find in the library catalog:

Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair
Canto General