Long ago, Magician Bill Malone created a magnificent cups and balls routine based on the nursery rhyme “Rub a Dub Dub”. The humorous poem and eye-popping illusions combine to create a routine that has become a classic of magic, enjoyable by all ages. This same outcome is possible in books, when we combine visual imagery with lyrical text. The result can be a story that captivates both young and old readers. This month, we’ll take a look at three of my favorite poetic or lyrical books. First, we’ll take a look at a book about one of my favorite historical figures, written by one of my favorite authors.
“Jesse Owens: Fastest Man Alive”, written by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Eric Velasquez tells they story of Olympian Jesse Owens, focusing on his incredible experience at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. Told through a series of poems that highlight moments along Jesse’s journey, this book provides a glimpse into both the sports competition at the Games, as well as the political climate at the time.
Two of my favorites are Beyond Berlin, which speaks to the Germany that was hidden from (or ignored by) visitors to the games, and On the Victory Stand, which celebrated Jesse Owens first appearance on the medal podium and highlighted the steps Hitler took to avoid having to shake his hand. Weatherford’s poems are both emotionally connective and informative, and Velasquez’s artwork matches the poems in beauty and intensity. With many agents and editors pleading with authors to create biographies that are told in unique ways, this is a shining example of an inventive way to tell an important story in our history.
Candace Fleming’s “Giant Squid”, illustrated by Eric Rohmann, introduces readers to one of nature’s most elusive creatures. The combination of Rohmann’s dramatic illustrations and Fleming’s lyrical text creates an atmosphere worthy of a deep-sea adventure. As we learn what scientists have discovered about the giant squid (and what has yet to be discovered) we are taken on a journey into the depths of the ocean.
Our encounter with the squid gets us up close and personal, takes us on a hunt for food, and gives us a ring side seat for a dramatic escape. “Giant Squid” is a wonderful introduction to this fascinating creature and is a terrific mentor text for anyone looking to make their prose more lyrical.
One of my favorite recent additions to my library is “One Last Word” by Nikki Grimes. This incredible book of poetry highlights the work of Harlem Renaissance poets using the Golden Shovel poetry form. If you’re not familiar with it, the Golden Shovel form starts with a line from a poem, or the whole poem in its entirety. The words from the line are used as the last word in each line of a new poem. The form is challenging but, in the hands a master like Nikki Grimes, the results can be incredible.
“One Last Word” includes poems from the Harlem Renaissance, paired with Golden Shovel poems from Grimes. She has built a bridge that transports the reader back to Harlem. I’m particularly enamored with this collection because my earliest introduction to poetry was through the works of Harlem Renaissance poets like Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes, and Jean Toomer. Anybody interested in poetry, or improving their writing, should check out “One Last Word”.
Well, that’s all for this month. Have a magical, and lyrical, month.