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The Death of the Hat: A Brief History of Poetry in 50 Objects Hardcover – March 10, 2015
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From School Library Journal
Gr 3 Up—Poet and anthologist Janeczko has joined with illustrator Raschka to create their fourth anthology of poetry for young people. The 50 selections are arranged in nine sections, each representing a different time period, from the early Middle Ages to the present day. The common thread is objects. The title poem discusses the demise of hat wearing in our society, while others take on such varied objects as ships, shadows, candles, stars, trees, cats and even stamp albums and manhole covers. Included are familiar offerings (e.g., Emily Dickinson's "The Railway Train," Robert Louis Stevenson's "My Shadow," and Robert Burns's "A Red, Red Rose"), as well some lesser known works. An in-depth introduction provides welcome context and explains how the examples were chosen from Janeczko's personal collection of more than 1,500 books. Although the poems are mostly representative of Western literature, readers will find some examples of Eastern poetry. Women are also represented, such as Naomi Shihab Nye, Christina Rossetti, and Sylvia Plath. Raschka's lively, vibrant watercolors frame the text, enhancing and imbuing the poems with life. VERDICT This award-winning pair have once again delivered a book to be celebrated. Though the subject matter makes this most appropriate for younger readers, this anthology may also find a home in middle and high school libraries and classrooms. An excellent addition to any collection.—Carole Phillips, Greenacres Elementary School, Scarsdale, NY
Raschka's playful watercolors on crisp, white backgrounds distill both images and emotions from the poems. ... Another winning collaboration from two luminaries.
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Raschka’s lively, vibrant watercolors frame the text, enhancing and imbuing the poems with life.... This award-winning pair have once again delivered a book to be celebrated.... An excellent addition to any collection
—School Library Journal (starred review)
Janeczko and Raschka’s stellar fourth poetry collaboration, following A Poke in the I and other acclaimed titles, presents a chronological "history" of the development of poetry, from the Middle Ages to the present.... Janeczko’s selections and Raschka’s characteristically airy illustrations let readers uncover layers of meaning, possibility, and emotion in poems from Rumi, Emily Dickinson, William Wordsworth, Pablo Neruda, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and others. Janeczko’s substantial introduction gives an overview of poetry’s evolution over the centuries, yet works like Lord Byron’s "A Riddle, on the Letter E" resonate powerfully on their own: "The beginning of eternity, the end of time and space,/ The beginning of every end, and the end of every place."
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
This accessible collection, containing poems from a wide variety of eras, regions, and styles and by a diverse group of writers, is a subtly thoughtful and engaging gateway to classic poetry, and a superb resource for the classroom.
—Booklist (starred review)
That all the poems are about objects unifies the collection; their chronological organization provides structure ... Raschka’s soft, impressionistic watercolors showcase each poem.
Raschka’s droll sweeps of watercolor and ink are by turns bright, bold, humorous and solemn, while Janeczko’s selections range from simple riddles to longer meditations.... The way in to this poetry is through objects, yet the intangible universe of human thought and experience is captured here with them. These things that seem so real are only temporary, but the poems may last for centuries.
—The Washington Post
An interesting mixture of old-fashioned tastes and contemporary sensibility.
—Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
The practical pleasure of an anthology of poetry is the ease with which you can dip in—and bail out. Children and their parents are likely to feel both impulses with "The Death of the Hat: A Brief History of Poetry in 50 Objects," an elegant if faintly odd collection of verses compiled by Paul B. Janeczko. Ornamented with Chris Raschka’s loose, lively watercolors, the pages seem to emanate cheer, but there is an elegiac feel to many of the pieces that will leave a more melancholy impression on the reader.
—The Wall Street Journal
Truly a young person’s introduction to the heights and depth and breadth of poetry...For many a bewildered adult, wishing to bring poetry to a young reader and not knowing how or where to begin, "The Death of the Hat,’’ will be a positive godsend.
—The Boston Globe
This historical approach to poetry and poets through the ages is a wonderful addition to poetry collections.
Top customer reviews
I count 20 poems suitable for children (though they are by no means the best) and 26 poems which are not -- so with over half of the poems being ones I wouldn't read to a child, it's hard to recommend The Death of the Hat as a children's poetry book! Here's an overview of the poems:
"A Bookworm" by Anonymous-- Meh. A child will not know how to interpret 'thoughtful discourse' or 'the strong base it stood on' (even I am not sure what the poet means by the latter). A child will also not know the meaning of the word 'whit' -- and all of this difficulty in a poem of only 6 lines!
"A Solitary Wildgoose" by Cui Tu - a child will likely be disturbed by the poet's insinuation that it's better for a bird to be shot or caught in a net than to simply find itself flying alone.
"Grass" by Bai Juyi - a child might find this one interesting, but the analogy is strange: a huge plain of grass (which yellows and dies each year but then leaps back to life to the point of overgrowing) is compared to the poet's feelings at being parted from a friend. Is the analogy that feelings of friendship wax and wane, like the growing of the grass, yet never die? Or, is the analogy that his feelings are as large and deep as the grass when it is growing well (ignoring the part of death and rebirth)? . . IDK. I think this poem will make a child feel dumb because he/she will not totally get it, but will assume everyone else does. Please don't put a child in this comfortable position!
"In Praise of a Sword Given Him by His Prince" by Colman mac Lenini - I find an ode to a sword distasteful in a collection of children's poetry, plus the poem has an air of braggadocio which rubs me the wrong way. Not to mention that I don't think a child will understand it without help from an adult: the language is just too complicated. Plus, I don't agree with some of its assumptions (who says that hard iron is better than feathers?). Here it is: judge for yourself:
Blackbirds to a swan,
Feathers to hard iron,
Rock hags to a siren,
All lords to my lord;
Jackdaws to a hawk,
Cackling to a choir,
Sparks to a bonfire,
All swords to my sword.
"Grainfield" by Ibn 'lyad - again, I don't like the violent imagery for a children's collection. Here it is: judge for yourself:
Look at the ripe wheat
bending before the wind
like squadrons of horsemen
fleeing in defeat, bleeding
from the wounds of the poppies.
"A Just-Finishing Candle" by Rumi - The poem insinuates that it is better to be dead than alive, and that is not an appropriate poem for a child! "A candle is meant to become entirely flame in that annihilating moment it has no shadow . . . Look at this just-finishing candle stub as someone who is finally safe from virtue and vice" (etc.) No, no, no, no, no.
"From Mercurio's Queen Mab Speech" by Shakespeare - a child is not going to understand this!
"So Breaks the Sun" by Ben Jonson - "So naked trees get crisped heads, and colored coats the roughest meads" . . .again, too complicated
"A Burnt Ship" by John Donne - too violent and depressing for children. Here it is: judge for yourself:
Out of a fired ship, which by no way
But drowning could be rescued from the flame,
some men leap'd forth, and ever as they came
Near the foes' ships, did by their shot decay;
So all were lost, which in the ship were found,
They in the sea being burnt, they in the burnt ship drown'd.
"Stick and Hat" by Emperor Le Thanh Tong - Duh that this was written by an Emporer: check out the implied, fascist violence:
They're insignificant when not in use,
But work wonders when properly employed.
In times of peril, sticks strong and true defend the realm;
Whatever the weather, all take shelter beneath their wide-woven hats,
The stick preserves the peace and plenty of the land,
The hat gives shade and refuge to the world.
What marvels they make possible, when used this way:
The hand wields power, as the head directs and leads. [I.e; the hand will use the stick to BEAT THE CR*P out of whomever I decide!]
"An Hymn to the Evening" by Phillis Wheatley - just too complicated, with words like forsook, zephyr, purl, sable, placid slumbers, snares, scepter.
"Retort on Mordaunt's 'The Call'" by John Scott of Amwell - awesome poem for an adult, but too difficult for children, with words like discordant, lures, tawdry, Ambition's voice, ravaged, swains, mangled, "catalogue of human woes"
"To the Moon" by Charlotte Smith -- depressing, and insinuates that after death, the souls of suffering humanity go to the moon 'to rest' (What???)
"A Riddle on the Letter E" by Lord Byron - okay, a child would appreciate this poem
"Mouse's Nest" by John Clare - not a bad poem to read to a child
"I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud" by Wordsworth - an awesome poem I love, but still a bit complicated for a child
"The Eagle" by Alfred Lord Tennyson - still difficult for a child, but easily explainable by an adult
"Snow-Flakes" by Longfellow -- this poem is too dark and depressing: instead of seeing the beauty in falling snow, Longfellow sees despair
"The Haunted Palace" by Edgar Allan Poe -- uh, young children don't need to read (or listen to) Edgar Allan Poe. Plus the language is very complicated, rife with phrases like "good angels tenanted," "In the monarch Thought's dominion," "Never seraph spread a pinion," "along the ramparts plumed and pallid," "a winged odour went away" . . .etc.
"The Dismantled Ship" by Walt Whitman - Daddy Walt was not Singing the Body Electric when he wrote this sad, depressing poem:
In some unused lagoon, some nameless bay,
On sluggish, lonesome waters, anchor'd near the shore
An old, dismasted, gray and batter'd ship, disabled, done,
After free voyages to all of the seas of earth, haul'd up at last and hawser'd tight,
Lies rusting, mouldering.
"Street Lanterns" by Mary Elizabeth Coleridge -- too complicated. I myself barely understand what the poet is trying to communicate.
"My Shadow" by Robert Louis Stevenson - children will love this poem
"Cobwebs" by Christina Rossetti - again with the depressing poems! sluggish, broodeth, stagnant, "no pulse of life through all the loveless land" NO
"The Railway Train" by Emily Dickinson - a poem definitely written for children, yet still with complicated words like prodigious, supercilious, shanties, quarry, and punctual, and phrases like "neigh like Boanerges" and "Stop - docile and omnipotent - at its own stable door."
"The Red Wheelbarrow" by William Carlos Williams - really? Just because it is short and does not use complicated words doesn't mean it is a poem for children! My own sons read this in middle school and were like WTF? Red wheelbarrow is really a fragment, not a poem -- and if it IS considered a poem, then it is a poem too fleeting and abstract for most children to 'get' or enjoy. Here it is: judge for yourself:
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
"The Love Tree" by Countee Cullen - this poem, representative of the Harlem Renaissance and the struggle of freed American slaves to build a better life for their descendants, envisions love as a crucifixion with the sacrifice being largely unappreciated by those who benefit from it. I think the theme is too mature for a children's anthology.
"Fan-Piece for Her Imperial Lord" by Ezra Pound - "O fan of white silk, clear as frost on the grass-blade, You also are laid aside." A child doesn't need to read about a man tossing a woman aside as if she were nothing more than a fashionable accessory. Save this [haiku?] for later years.
"The Cat and the Moon" by William Butler Yeats - an interesting poem that children will enjoy hearing read aloud, though slightly confusing.
"Stars" by Langston Hughes - definitely a poem written for children, but most of Langston Hughes' poems don't do much for me (I'm sorry! I feel like that makes me look badly, but it's the truth). First, I don't think it is healthy for a child to long for night because he/she longs for 'oblivion' (I understand that this characterization was Hughes' protest against living conditions in Harlem in the early part of the last century, but times have changed, and a survival skill in desperate circumstances often becomes a dysfunction in normal circumstances. I also don't know why Hughes would tell the oppressed child to 'reach out and grab a star' when, one would think, that act would ultimately make the child feel even more powerless (since a star cannot actually be grabbed). I know, I know: you say, "He is speaking metaphorically!" But children are very literal, they are not born knowing that "reach for the stars!" is always meant positively in our culture, and this poem reads literally. I am pretty positive that most children are not going to know what Hughes is telling them to do. Here's the poem: judge for yourself:
O, sweep of stars over Harlem streets,
O, little breath of oblivion that is night,
A city building
To a mother's song.
A city dreaming
To a lullaby.
Reach up your hand, dark boy, and take a star.
Out of the little breath of oblivion.
That is night,
"A Cloud Shadow" by Robert Frost - a fun personification of nature that I am sure most children would like
"Driftwood" by Witter Bynner - a decent ode to a campfire . . . except I doubt children will get "Were leaves more real, or driven nails, or fingers of builders, than these burning violets?" (Because I'm not totally sure I understand it either)
"Boxes and Bags" by Carl Sandburg - I think Sandburg is vastly over-rated, and this is a weird poem, but some children might like it.
"City Trees" by Edna St. Vincent Millay - an okay poem that children will think pleasant (but not awesome!)
"Manhole covers" by Karl Shapiro - a cool poem but far too difficult for children, with vocab and ideas like "great savage khan," "Mayan calendar stones," indecipherable, electrum, "mottoed and sculptured," whelked, "Gentle Bethlehem", iron-old, cryptic, "dated beauty"
All of the remaining Post-Modern and Contemporary poems are okay, but certainly not the best that are out there for children:
"Mushrooms" by Sylvia Plath - a decent poem that a child who has seen a bunch of mushrooms push up overnight might appreciate
"Lament, for Cocoa" by John Updike - an okay poem, but a poem about hot chocolate should be SO MUCH better than this one!
"i thank You God for most this amazing" by e. e. cummings - I love e. e. cummings and I love God, so therefore I love this poem
"The Cat" by Lawrence Ferlinghetti - a poem most children will like (after you explain what a Sphinx represents: its in the poem twice)
"Ode to a Stamp Album" by Pablo Neruda - a fun read aloud poem, if a child has ever seen a stamp album and, thus, knows what it is
"The Summer Day" by Mary Oliver - I like this poem except for the last lines about the inevitability of death. Children don't need to focus on death.
"A Birthday Card" by Ted Kooser -- more of a poem for tweens and teens, not young children
"The Death of the Hat" by Billy Collins - a poem kids will find interesting until, again, the final morose & sentimental lines about death
"Flash Cards" by Rita Dove - more of a poem for tweens and teens, not young children
"Famous" by Naomi Shihab Nye - an okay poem, but PALES in comparison to the infinitely superior "If" by Rudyard Kipling
Pros: This reminded me of my college Norton anthologies, traveling through time with literature, except that I actually wanted to read this book. Norton would also have benefited greatly with the addition of Rascka’s illustrations. Kids will be motivated to look for objects in their world that can serve as inspiration for their own poems.
Cons: With the exception of Pablo Neruda, all the poets after the Renaissance are British or American.