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Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Death of the Hat: A Brief History of Poetry in 50 Objects. Selected by Paul B. Janeczko and illustrated by Chris Raschka. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2015. $20.00 ages 8 and up

"Lament for Cocoa
-John Updike
The scum has come.
My cocoa's cold.
The cup is numb,
And I grow old.

It seems an age
Since from the pot
It bubbled beige
And burning hot - "

I thought I had a pretty extensive collection; then I read that Paul Janeczko owns more than 1,500 books of poetry. It is from them that he chose the 50 poems he includes in this fourth collaboration with acclaimed artist Chris Raschka. The first three are exemplary anthologies that I have used extensively when doing poetry workshops in classrooms and schools. You should look for them: A Poke in the Eye (2009), A Kick in the Head (2005) and A Foot in the Mouth (2012). This one is a worthy companion to those.

Mr. Janeczko has chosen the poems to share the history of poetry: from the Middle Ages to the present. As he explains in an extensive and much appreciated introduction, he has divided the poems into nine sections and named them for major periods in the history of Western culture. He does not ignore the strength found in poems from Eastern poets, including some of them as well. Female poets are well represented with some of my favorite poems.

The choices are inspired; they are about objects; and, they are a balance of familiar and not so familiar verses. A common thread may unite them; their subjects are varied and wonderfully presented. There is much to discover in the book's pages.

"A Riddle on the Letter E
Lord Byron

The beginning of eternity, the end of time and space,
The beginning of every end, and the end of every place.”

I am a great admirer of Chris Raschka’s bold and brilliant watercolors. Here, he places them on bright white backgrounds in order for readers to  appreciate the visuals and the emotions that they offer. There are many details purposely shared to spark interest and discussion. Be sure to watch for the white goose, until it finally finds  a home on the endpapers at the back.

This is one terrific addition to any poetry collection. It is worthy of celebrating its publication. We are blessed to have such a rich and truly accessible collection to share with our children.


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