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  • Young People’s Poet Laureate Book Pick

    Things You May Find Hidden In My Ear: Poems from Gaza

    By Mosab Abu Toha

    Of this book, Mary Karr has written, “these poems are like flowers that grow out of bomb craters, and Mosab Abu Toha is an astonishing talent to celebrate.” Kaveh Akbar has written, “…this is poetry of the highest order.” What’s so amazing about the young Abu Toha’s poems is how they feel like cleansing, refreshing tonics, invoking beauty and precious daily life, even though he lives where he was born, in Gaza, what has been described as “the world’s largest open-air prison.” These poems shimmer, without rancor or bitterness, creating a sense of space and humanity but also telling the very true story of what it is like to live in a place where massacres of innocent civilians, too often children, occur regularly and rubble from Israeli bombardment abounds: “Every day I set foot in the maze…” At an even younger age, Abu Toha founded the Edward Said Library, Gaza’s first English-language library, which continues to support cultural activities. He has been a Visiting Poet at Harvard University and has since returned with his wife and three kids to Gaza, where their families remain. These poems will transport you into a realm of deepest humanity and never-ending hope. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

    Read an excerpt from this book!

    Picked by Naomi Shihab Nye July 2022
  • Statute of Liberty in a grey haze with the book title "America, We Call Your Name" in red on top.
    Young People’s Poet Laureate Book Pick

    America, We Call Your Name

    By Camille T. Dungy

    For everyone who believes that poems do make things happen, this is an empowering collection of poems gathered by Sixteen Rivers Press, a shared-work collective in Northern California, on many topics of conflict and controversy. More than two thousand poems were initially submitted when the call went out (in less than two weeks – what does that say?) and mixed with pieces nominated by the poets of the collective. Whatever the moment in history, truth-seeking expression always feels redemptive. But, especially now, when democracy has been so visibly under attack and justice for all races and genders seems particularly tender and vulnerable, we need this potent and beautifully produced book. Many teachers will be grateful for the activism encouraged by widely various writers and perspectives – even teachers in Florida and Texas will be, I promise. Quoted at the front are these lines from W.H Auden’s well-known poem, “September 1, 1939” – “All I have is a voice/To undo the folded lie.”

    Picked by Naomi Shihab Nye June 2022
  • Yellow texts "you don't have to be everything" on a indigo background, with the collage of a woman's profile underneath
    Young People’s Poet Laureate Book Pick

    You Don’t Have to Be Everything: Poems for Girls Becoming Themselves

    By Diana Whitney

    The illustrations in this poetry anthology are so gorgeous, you’ll want to paper your rooms with them. Though the title implies the book is for girls, I’ll bet anything boys will claim this book too. Editor Diana Whitney—who is also a yoga teacher in Vermont—snags readers with her stunningly honest introduction; she confesses her own hardest, growing-up secret in the second paragraph. As a queer mother of two teenage daughters, Whitney invites vulnerability and mutual care in every word she writes. Sections such as “Attitude” and “Belonging” and “Rage” will appeal to all the girls we are or remember being. The delicious poems range from Margaret Atwood to Sahar Romani, Sarah Kay to Natalie Diaz. They’re the positively contagious sorts of poems that will encourage writing in others, giving confidence along the way. And the book’s history is already delicious: it was a #1 bestseller on Amazon in the Teen/YA poetry category, and it made the Indie Bestseller list in the YA category too. Keep giving books as gifts, everybody! In one breathtaking poem, Bianca Stone describes, after much trauma and difficulty, being “prepared to do something drastic / like live and live and live.” This book helps readers want to do that even better.

    Picked by Naomi Shihab Nye May 2022
  • Big, solid block texts "RESPECT" and "THE MIC" surrounding a microphone in the center
    Young People’s Poet Laureate Book Pick

    Respect the Mic: Celebrating 20 Years of Poetry from a Chicagoland High School

    By Franny Choi, Hanif Abdurraqib, Peter Kahn, and Dan “Sully” Sullivan

    Some anthologies are made of pure love; it’s palpable. Peter Kahn, a longtime English teacher and spoken word educator at Oak Park and River Forest High School in Illinois, founded the Spoken Word Club there in 1999. To say this changed countless lives would be an understatement. His coeditors, all marvelous writers, educators, and presenters of poetry, banded together to select 76 terrific poems from club members across the years—Kahn says, “We could have included at least 500.”

    That’s what poetry does: it stirs a sense of abundant life in all. In one of the numerous introductions to this book, Sully Sullivan mentions “befriending [his] bewilderment” as one of the gifts of growing up with such poetry experiences. What a great description. This is a book for teens, teachers, workshop leaders, and poetry readers of all ages. Sections include “Coming of Age,” “Monsters at Home,” and “Survival Tactics.” A different editor gracefully introduces each one.

    Picked by Naomi Shihab Nye April 2022
  • An African man in tribal costume opening his arms wide and looking up at the sky, where there is a printed title "ashley bryan" and "words to my life's song" in front of an illustrated  big, yellow sun
    Young People’s Poet Laureate Book Pick

    Words to My Life’s Song

    By Ashley Bryan

    The legendary Ashley Bryan—painter, poet, storyteller extraordinaire, resident of Little Cranberry Island, Maine, who wintered in Sugarland, Texas, with family—left the planet gently February 4, 2022, at the age of 98. Thankfully, his dozens of books survive him and will continue to bring joy to millions of readers. I recommend Words to My Life’s Song because Bryan tells the beautiful story of his own life, as he does in his last book, Infinite Hope, which records his grueling experiences in World War II. But all his books are treasures. This one focuses on finding, discovering, becoming who we are. Bryan loved random found objects, beach glass, and bits and pieces. From some of these objects, he made puppets and stained-glass windows. He felt poetry emanating from scraps, light, and the tiniest revelations, and being in his presence was a rush of fresh air. He urged children to create their “own home libraries”! (His spoken sentences all had exclamation points at the ends.) I once saw him receive standing ovations from college students, elementary school kids, and a whole bookstore of community members, all in the same day. He was tireless, funny, and perpetually welcoming to crowds of children who visited him on his island. To consider a world without him is simply impossible, so perhaps we might conjure his presence twice as much by talking even more about his books, paintings, love for poetry and Black poets wherever we can. The Ashley Bryan Center will continue in his Maine home. Please support it: visit it and spread the word!

    Picked by Naomi Shihab Nye March 2022
  • A book cover with the title "What We Were Born For" and the author's name "Emilie Lygren" written in yellow across the surface. There are green leaves all over, and, in the middle, a young person with black hair in orange swim suit is lying on a surfing b
    Young People’s Poet Laureate Book Pick

    What We Were Born For

    By Emilie Lygren

    In this marvelous, compact, first volume of poems by Emilie Lygren, a California outdoor educator who has developed outdoor science curricula for youth (the BEETLES project at the Lawrence Hall of Science) and worked as a life coach and mentor for teens, a kitchen manager, and a barista, readers find a world shimmering in beauty and possibility. Whether contemplating the daily news or rivers or mothers or circles of students really discovering the outdoors for the first time, Lygren’s poems shimmer with revelation. There is a simplicity of being in every act and day that abides and sustains all people. Soil, a fly, shadows, the ways of planting seeds—Lygren writes about her father’s tools in a poem that has made me cry so many times since first hearing it years ago in a Tassajara wilderness workshop and then seeing it years later on a page. What tools do people really need? How do people keep constructing lives they might live honorably, together? How do people keep being born to new wonder the longer they live? Lygren is a meditative poet with immense social energy: her lines inspire people to become better. They also encourage thinking of poems that may have been missed. Everyone is richer than they think they are. Give this book to people you love as well as yourself.

    Picked by Naomi Shihab Nye February 2022
  • Young People’s Poet Laureate Book Pick

    Another World: Poetry & Art by Young People

    By Ann Gengarelly and Tony Gengarelly

    It’s another year, so let’s have Another World. Perhaps featuring two books from Vermont back-to-back in this column is unseemly, but celebrating the voices and visions of young people will never be unseemly. This gorgeous volume sings of inspiration and hope; it’s a new year anthem all its own. The Gengarellys have devoted themselves to working with young writers and artists of all ages for many decades. They offer after-school and summer workshops through the Poetry Studio at their home and garden in Marlboro and teach widely in schools and universities. In her poem “Blossoming Words,” Erin LeBlanc, 12, asks, “What if every flower bloomed a word? / What if each stalk was a sentence?” The poem ends, “words meant to fill a garden, / words that were always there, / waiting for a listener.” Teachers will find these poems by young writers very helpful in classrooms, triggering happy writing contagion. Ann describes a recent conversation with her grandson, in which he called her a different kind of social worker, saying, “You get people to express their emotions.” Through wide, clean pages; a large, appealing font; and many imaginative full-color works of visual art, Another World carries readers away to better places. Happy 2022!

    Picked by Naomi Shihab Nye January 2022
  • An illustrated book cover that features a silhouette black hand with the title "How to Love the World" written on it is picking on a flower and surrounded by more.
    Young People’s Poet Laureate Book Pick

    How to Love the World: Poems of Gratitude and Hope

    By James Crews

    Crews, a fine poet and teacher, appears to have a Midas touch when it comes to gathering wonderful poems and growing popular anthologies. Two months ago, more than 90,000 copies of How to Love the World were in print, and more than 50,000 had already sold. Heartening news for the world of poetry: people are loving and sharing this book, which hasn’t yet been out a year. And rightly so. After too many extremely strenuous seasons, many people apparently want and need more positivity. What finer way than to absorb wondrously inviting poems studded by “reflective pauses” inviting further thinking and personal writing. Poets include Tracy K. Smith, Joy Harjo, Ellen Bass, Ted Kooser, Amanda Gorman, Alberto Rios, and many more. The connections between these poems feel exquisitely right. This book is needed right now. As with Crews’s previous popular anthology, Healing the Divide, also featured as an earlier YPPL book pick, this volume has an extremely pleasing smaller-size, tuckable-flaps, velveteen physicality. In a melodious foreword, Ross Gay writes, “Witnessing how we are loved and how we love makes the world. In his superb introduction, “The Necessity of Joy,” Crews discusses “soul time” and its essential presence. How to Love the World is for everyone—adolescents, teens, adults—who welcomes greater fullness of joy and wholeness of days.

    Picked by Naomi Shihab Nye December 2021
  • The texts "100 POEMS TO BREAK YOUR HEART" on the colorful surface of different round shapes
    Young People’s Poet Laureate Book Pick

    100 Poems to Break Your Heart

    By Edward Hirsch

    Do not miss this magnificent gathering of poems, from William Wordsworth and John Clare to Harryette Mullen and Meena Alexander. Each poem is expertly placed in its own chapter of eloquent context, like a perfect gemstone set in a shining golden ring. Possibly there is no living guide to poetry more deft and caring than Edward Hirsch, widely-published poet and president of the Guggenheim Foundation, who also edited the now-classic How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry. He’s not only an anthologist, but also the most insightful interpreter of why some poems come to mean so much to so many people: how they penetrate the crush of babble around us and change us forever. Probably some of us feel our hearts have been broken plenty of times in the past few years. Of course, reading poems of empathy helps to mend us more than re-break us. This is a book to keep at bedside, to open when feeling low, to share with those who find poetry mysterious or difficult. It’s engaging, healing, and rich in every way.

    Picked by Naomi Shihab Nye November 2021
  • "Meditations & Poems for Writers by Kim Stafford" in black on a mustard brown background on top of a black and white photo of a paperback book in front of what looks like the corner of a wooden block
    Young People’s Poet Laureate Book Pick

    Meditations & Poems for Writers

    By Kim Stafford

    Why would a lifelong writer who has been Oregon’s hardworking poet laureate and published so many books of poetry and prose decide to create his own self-published series of pocket-sized poetry treasures that cost only five dollars each? In November of 2016, Stafford realized he wanted to put a book together in time to give away at the Women’s March in January 2017. He contacted nine editors he knew, but none responded, so he decided to make the tiny book on his own. When he held the first volume in his hand—The Flavor of Unity—he appreciated how easy it felt to give such a small book away—almost like a “festive whim.” He ended up sending 1,000 copies to college students around the nation to distribute at the Women’s March. And he kept making magical little books.

    One of my favorites of these appealingly slim volumes is Meditations & Poems for Writers. It’s perfect for writers, teachers of writing, and students. In this hugely helpful treasure, Stafford describes the daily writing practice of his father, poet William Stafford; offers his own remedies for writer’s block; muses on “the powers & pleasures of thought”; and offers a piece about “faith in fragments.” These are some of the most eloquent, encouraging mini-essays one could ever read. They’re all you need.

    He manages to sneak in nugget-sized poems, one dedicated to the late, very great Brian Doyle, and to tell amazing stories too. But this is Stafford’s way. He has always been the most generous practitioner of the writing craft, one of the best teachers on the planet, and now offers magical volumes that feel as significant and precious as the Little Leather Library with green embossed covers I inherited from my German grandfather. Stafford’s later editions have titles such as Circumference (Poems of Consolation & Blessing), Earth VerseIn Praise of Disarray (Poems of Love & Affection), We Begin a Better NationDr. Fauci’s Smile (Pandemic Poems), Little Book for Common GoodThe Right to Be Forgotten, and An Encyclopedia for Growing Older. But Meditations & Poems for Writers is one you could keep beside you on your writing desk for decades and keep flipping open whenever you need a big boost—or a pal.

    Picked by Naomi Shihab Nye October 2021
  • A pair of hands holding on a mud with a growing plant under the book title "Story of My Heart"
    Young People’s Poet Laureate Book Pick

    The Story of My Heart—Pongo Poetry from Child Study and Treatment Center

    By Ann Teplick

    In a poem called “Can You Hear Me Yet?” Wyatt, age 14, writes, “I just met my mom this year / I was told my family all died / But there my mom was, waiting for me / on the porch at my aunt’s house.” Bam! In this collection, poems spring from revelation, trouble, complexity, difficulty, and the sheer honesty of young voices. The book is a testament of life, spoken by participants in the great Pongo writing project of Seattle, which has, for many years, supported youth who experience trauma. The streets are not easy. The days do not always shine. But the Pongo project is miraculous. Sure, poetry is art, but it has also been essential therapy forever. Kudos to Richard Gold and the hardworking staff and mentors who make this miracle happen.

    Through juvenile detention centers, psychiatric hospitals, community health centers, and elsewhere, the counselors and teachers of Pongo conduct their profoundly supportive work, encouraging young voices to experiment with language and share their perspectives. In surveys conducted since 2005, 1,580 young writers reported very positive effects from their creative-writing workshops. Ninety-nine percent said they enjoyed their writing experience, and 81 percent said they felt better after writing. On the back of this anthology, I wrote, “The happy contagion which springs from telling one’s own true story, writing one’s own thoughts, following the trail of imagination … passes from person to person as a healing gift.”

    The group poems are often as moving and meaningful as those by individuals. Poet Ellen Bass celebrates how the poems in this book “speak of strength and resilience” as well as hardship, and she quotes Sasha, who writes, “The story of my heart is so high and shiny, only eagles hear it. Deep and velvety—moles wear it tunneling home.” Pongo could be a model for every city in the world. National trainings and free web resources are offered via www.pongpoetryproject.org.

    Picked by Naomi Shihab Nye September 2021
  • This is a combination of two book covers: The Scraps Book and Rain Fish. The one on top has a bird standing on a tomato that has an insect next to it; they look like paper crafts made by kids. The one on the bottom are three fishes in different colors and
    Young People’s Poet Laureate Book Pick

    The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life (2014) and Rain Fish (2016)

    By Lois Ehlert

    When my husband asked our five-year-old grandson a few days ago, “What’s the difference between children and adults?” Connor didn’t pause before replying, “Children are funner.” Lois Ehlert was certainly fun—in every cell of her luminous being. When she died on May 25, 2021, the blow felt doubled because her departure happened only two days after the death of the beloved Eric Carle—two of the brightest glowing beacons of American children’s books for decades. Both Ehlert and Carle passionately loved nature and color, collage, and the magical fun possibilities of surprise on the page. She even received the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art Artist award for innovation in their happy field.

    Ehlert was also a poet; in books such as Rain Fish, she explores the joys one may find in rearranged trash on the ground. With gorgeous images made from leaves, twigs, cardboard, socks, feathers, and bottlecaps, et cetera, readers are reminded to be observant: “But you better look fast, because rain fish don’t last.” Her autobiographical book Scraps is a gorgeous, colorful narrative of how she became an artist to begin with—her parents told her she could keep all her projects in process out on a little folding table as long as she kept working on them. She wrote, “I was lucky; I grew up with parents who made things with their hands.” Lois inherited their bits and pieces—scraps of fabric, sewing supplies, her father’s wood scraps—and learned that ideas, art, and dreamy images popped up everywhere. She reminds readers to stay vigilant and appreciate the pleasures of every day. In wondrous books such as Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, Nuts to You!, Growing Vegetable Soup, Moon Rope, In My World, and dozens of others, Ehlert documents and illuminates the poetry and wonder available to all. Now, in honor of her and her beautiful life, please do order a few more copies to give to babies or children or even adults the next time you need a gift for someone. You’ll feel like a more fun person. You can’t go wrong.

    Picked by Naomi Shihab Nye August 2021
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