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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Poems to Learn By Heart, chosen by Caroline Kennedy and illustrated by Jon Muth. Disney Hyperion, Hachette. 2013. $19.99 all ages

"The best time to start memorizing is when we are young  and remember things easily. Children can recite their favorite books by heart, and through repetition, even exhausted parents will learn them eventually. In my house, we can all recite The Poky Little Puppy, Caps for Sale, and The Owl and the Pussycat..."

This is the second poetry collection that pairs Caroline Kennedy and Jon Muth, and it's a stellar follow-up to A Family of Poems (Disney-Hyperion, 2005). Ms. Kennedy worked with friends Destiny Campbell and Denisse Cotto to choose poems meant to be memorized by those who share this lovely book.

There are more than 100 entries in the collection and they are presented in themed sections about family, friendship, love, sports, school, self and others. The poets are as widely varied as is their poetry. In Manitoba nearing the end of March, we are left to wonder if spring is on its way. This morning the temperature at 8:00 a.m. was -22C. That is much more in keeping with January weather. So this poem was needed to give me hope for spring:

John Updike

Now children may
    Go out of doors,
Without their coats,
    To candy stores.

The apple branches
    And the pear
May float their blossoms
    Through the air.

And Daddy may
    Get out his hoe
To plant tomatoes
    In a row.

And, afterward,
    May lazily
Look at some baseball
    On TV."

Here's hoping!

The moods are ever-changing, the meanings strong, and Jon Muth's artwork is glorious. I am such a fan! The watercolor illustrations are as meaningful and varied as the text itself. His funny, expressive characters in the nonsense section are memorable and endearing. The poems about war are shown in muted hues and shadow. He graces every single page with faultless images and an obvious love for the words.

This last poem I want to share is very powerful, and makes me mindful of the way I want to spend my life:

"First They Came for the Jews
Martin Niemoller

First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out -
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the communists
and I did not speak out -
because I was not a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out -
because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me -
and there was no one left
to speak out for me."

It should give us pause.

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