Don’t Stop the Poetry

Yesterday I had the Blues

There is beauty and poetry in spoken language. Yesterday I Had the Blues celebrates language… (and color words that depicts moods).  But I really selected this book because Jeron Ashford Frame drops a little AAVE (African American Vernacular English) within this celebration of family.

Linguistic Tangent Below: You have been warned.

Some scholars believe that if you write a dialect phonetically like, “lookin” instead of “looking” that it’s bad form… really bad form. Especially if you only do it for traditionally marginalized groups and no one else. There is a valid point here. But there is also this…

When you write “non-standard” dialects in traditional print English, the beauty of the different ways of speaking becomes invisible on the page. Plus, it reads like someone swapped the character’s voice with a newscaster. Yesterday I Had the Blues takes a step away from that kind of homogeneity toward the poetry of language.

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The Jackie Robinson of Picture Books

The Snowy Day

Long before it was trendy to write about African Americans, Ezra Jack Keats wrote an entire stack of such books.  The Snowy Day really was the the Jackie Robinson of picture books: shattering the racial barrier in the mainstream market.

I’ve read this beautiful poetic tale to my children so many times that I have it memorized.

Minorities have lives outside of social issues, sports and politics

The Paperboy

All too often, when a minority is the main character of a picture book, it’s a book about social issues: racism, injustice, slavery, segregation, immigration, English language learners or sports and sometimes politics.  What you don’t see often is the day to day life of minorities.

Don’t get me wrong.  These issues are extremely important.  But, minorities have lives outside of these narrow areas.  While basal readers are catching up in this area, high quality picture books aren’t.  The Paperboy is a pleasant exception to this rule.  This is not an action story, or a fantasy story.  It just the story of a boy with a paper route.  Everyday life lived by a minority.

But, it’s poetically written so that it holds my students spell bound year after year.

A couple of notes:

I understand that large mainstream publishing companies are capitalist ventures that have done their research.  They know there isn’t a massive market for this kind of book because the bulk of the picture book buying populous is still white.   That said, demographics are shifting in schools and the lived experiences of minorities need to be affirmed too.  This kind of book will help address the gap.

Second, some reviewers have objected to this story because it is the lived experience of a suburban black boy; and that doesn’t reflect the majority of the black experience any more than the Cosby Show.  I respect this objection.  We do need more books that encompass the urban black experience too.  I will include those in future posts.

The Quiet Old Lady is Not Whispering “Hush”

Goodnight Moon

I literally laughed out loud the first time I read this.  Bedtime at my house looks like this from time to time.  This story revisits the “quiet old lady” who whispers “hush”.  But she’s not whispering this time because the house is full of noise from techno-gadgets galore. She goes all Chuck Norris on everyone’s digital devices and sends the family packing to bed.

Spin offs have a special place in my heart.  I love the goofy/fun/modern slant they bring to old stories.  Even those of you who are unfamiliar with Margaret Wise Brown’s classic, Goodnight Moon, will appreciate “Ann Droyd‘s” (aka – David Milgram’s) recreation.

Goodnight Moon

Leave that Bear Alone!

Bear Snores On

Karma Wilson burst on the picture book scene with this thunderously successful poetic effort.  Paired to Jane Chapman’s stellar illustrations, this bear was bound for classic status.  Unfortunately, Wilson’s publisher decided that an endless slew of weak sequels – lacking the creative spark of her first brain child – were just what the doctor ordered.  But don’t let publisher greed deter you.  This is masterful writing.

BTW: Chapman’s moody evening winter snowstorm illustrations are almost enough to land this book in my blog all by themselves.