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Check It Out

Courier Article by Carol Banks
Sunday, July 15, 2007

From Dogs to U.S. Tours, Poetry Takes New Turns

There are many who think poetry is as dry as yesterday's toast. If you fall into this category, here are some suggestions from the Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library's children's poetry collection that just might change your mind. If you can't resist a dog story with a happy ending, don't miss Dogku by award-winning author Andrew Clements.

The adorable pooch with the shoe button eyes on the cover invites us to open the book and share a special literary experience. What sets this shaggy dog tail .. er, tale apart from so many others is the construction of the 17 verses Each is a perfect example of a haiku.

We meet our shaggy, homeless hero "Mooch" as he canvasses the neighborhood mooching handouts. Who could resist those big, soft eyes? Certainly not the family so realistically painted by illustrator Tim Bowers. With three lively children full of boundless energy, the family finds this woofer is just right for them.

Is there anyone who doesn't know the outcome of Ernest Lawrence Thayer's immortal 19th century poem, Casey at the Bat? Over a century later, Dan Gutman, a writer of children's sports fiction, tackles that very question.

His newest book, Casey Back at Bat, takes a look at a beloved sports figure and his chance to change a tarnished image.

Gutman's sequel, however, is a bit of a poetic spoof. (The old-timey illustrations of Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher perfectly convey time and place.) Emphasis is on humor here as Casey and the Mudville Nine face Rutland for first place. Will our Mudville heroes prevail? As the handsome, square-jawed Casey steps up to the plate, ladies in the stands swoon.

"Two men were on, but two were out. There seemed no hope of winning." Then, strike one .. strike two oh no, is Casey doomed to failure once again? Here comes the pitch ..

In the 1950s, Gwendolyn Brooks published an amazing book of poems called Bronzeville Boys and Girls.

A classic for about 50 years, these poems have been reprinted with new illustrations by Caldecott Honor Medalist Faith Ringgold. The poems, depicting children from the Bronzeville area of Chicago's South Side, are timeless in their childlike themes: ".. Mexie and Bridie having a tea party Cynthia playing in the snow .. Michael holding his mother's hand during [a] storm . "

Brooks' daughter, Nora Brooks Blakely, says "the poems are a 'That's me!' for children and a push of the 'recall' button for adults"

With Ringgold's characteristic, vibrant palette infusing the poems with new life, you will visit with Charles, Vern, Eunice, Marie Lucille and all the others from Bronzeville - children you will meet and never forget.

Author Diane Siebert and her husband lived a nomadic life for more than 10 years, traversing the United States on motorcycles and viewing the grandeur of the country.

Several children's books came from this decadeslong adventure, among them Truck Song and Sierra. Siebert has compiled a book of her poems, ".. written in her tent along the way," that provide us with "a spectacular armchair journey"

Tour America: A Journey Through Poems and Art provides a coast-to-coast-and-back-again reflection of the familiar and unusual sights travelers might encounter. Coupled with Stephen T. Johnson's individualistic illustrations, the book is a treasure to savor again and again.

Check out Johnson's ethereal digital and photographic imagery for Siebert's haunting Roswell, the magnificent oil painting for the majestic poem Niagara Falls (you can practically feel the spray of the water), and the Monet-like sweep of the plains for the ode to Tallgrass Prairie.

A perfect coupling of literature and art, Siebert's coffee table book for readers of all ages is meant to be read, not merely displayed.

Carol Banks is supervisor of the READ Center, Central Library's children's Department. Contact her at (812) 428-8222. The opinions expressed in this column are personal and do not reflect policies or official recommendations of the library.