Monday, January 29, 2007

Poetry Book Review, #2

Hopkins, Lee Bennett, ed. 1980. Morning noon and nighttime, too.

Illus. by Nancy Hannans. New York: Harper & Row.

I recently had the pleasure of reading this delightful, if older, anthology of poetry selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins. Although some of the poets who were included were familiar to me and others were not, I found the poetry to be of high quality throughout the anthology.

Almost all of these poems had appeared in other poetry books previously, but what makes this anthology so appealing is its theme and the way the poems are arranged throughout it to reinforce that theme. The theme is the same as the title of the book, Morning Noon and Nighttime, Too; it has poems first about morning and breakfast, then about school, playtime, dinner, and nighttime as it proceeds through a child’s day.

To show the variety of thoughts, emotions, and moods expressed in the poems, let us examine just pages three through eight, which deal with morning-time topics. The book begins with the poem, “Zebra,” by Judith Thurman, which is just a brief snapshot of what a child sees upon waking. Next appears, “Light,” by Felice Holman, an examination of the beam of light falling on a child’s hand, which is rather mellow and pensive.

The third poem is called “Morning,” by Myra Cohn Livingston, and recalls those moments in childhood when one is the only person in the house awake. This poem is bursting with energy, although it is only four lines long. “Making Beds,” by Steven Kroll, comes next. It is a rant about having to make beds with a very grouchy but good-natured mood.

Following this, “See, I Can Do It,” by Dorothy Aldis is included. It is a poem about brushing one’s teeth, with a lighthearted mood and a fun rhythm and rhyme. Finally, “Before Breakfast,” by Aileen Fisher, is a downright silly poem about what adults have to do to get ready in the morning versus what kids have to do.

The book is also filled with beautiful pen-and-ink drawings by Nancy Hannans that for the most part enhance the readers’ experience of the poetry and complement the way the poems appear on the page. If I could make any complaint, it would be that they sometimes leave little to the imagination. For example, the first poem, “Zebra,” by Judith Thurman is as follows:

white sun
fire escape,

grazing like a zebra
outside my window.

The accompanying illustration includes a picture of a girl lying in bed, looking out the window through the bars of her fire escape so the reader doesn’t have to imagine how the view of the sun through the fire escape could be like a zebra. Some younger readers might even be thrown off or confused by the presence of a stuffed animal zebra at the girl’s side, wondering if the morning is supposed to be like a zebra or if she’s just talking about the zebra in her bed.

In other cases, though, the illustration is just right, like the one next to the excerpt from Karla Kuskin’s If I Were A… The excerpt reads as follows:

If I were a sandwich,
I’d sit on a plate
And think of my middle
Until someone ate
End of the sandwich.

The illustration for this poem shows a plate with a mostly-eaten sandwich and some crumbs. It is simple, but it supplements the poem without explaining it.

My other comment about the arrangement of the poems is that I appreciated the index of poems in the back that listed all the titles and poets in alphabetical order. I also think a table of contents would have been nice and would have highlighted the chronological layout of the poems, enhancing the book’s ability to express the theme of morning to night.

Overall, I think this book has many poems that children of all ages can relate to and enjoy. It certainly has some that I do, and I would not hesitate to share it with my students.

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