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How I Discovered Poetry (Ala Notable Children's Books. Older Readers) Hardcover – January 14, 2014
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From School Library Journal
Gr 6 Up—Nelson traces her childhood and developing awareness of civil rights issues in this eloquent collection of 50 unrhymed sonnets. In 1950, her father, one of the first African American Air Force officers, is recalled to duty, launching the family on the first of several cross-country moves. Her father takes a leave from law school, her mother takes leave from teaching, and: "Our leaves become feathers. With wings we wave good-bye to our cousins." Their travels take them from Cleveland to Texas, Colorado, Kansas, California, Maine, and Oklahoma; the leave-takings are always painful. In "Traveling Light," she muses over the family dogs (Pudgy, Lady, and General) left behind. "Daddy explains. We've been transferred again. We stand numb as he gives away our toys." Close family ties help them confront the small-mindedness and racism encountered along the way. In "Bad Name," she observes: "TV is black-and-white, but people aren't. There's a bad name mean people might call you, but words aren't sticks and stones." Books, television shows, and friends provide a respite from the menace of the Cold War. Through snatches of grown-up conversation, she learns of Rosa Parks, Emmett Till, and Little Rock. She overcomes school yard bullies, wonders about boys, and is humiliated by a teacher who makes her read aloud a racist poem: "She smiled harder and harder until I stood and opened my mouth to banjo-playing darkies…." This hurtful episode only underscores the awesome power of words and leads Nelson to wonder whether "there's a poet behind my face." Altogether, Nelson's poems offer a candid portrait of her formative years as well as a triumphant message, which will resonate with readers, young and old, who cherish and recognize the power of words and stories.—Marilyn Taniguchi, Beverly Hills Public Library, CA
In this fictionalized memoir in verse, renowned poet Nelson lyrically recounts her passage from ages 4 to 14, from numerous military base homes; through friends, schools, and dogs; and from developmental stages of initiative through industry to identity. Chronicling the decade of 1950s America, a young self-aware speaker connects national events to daily life experiences. In the author’s note of her self-ascribed “portrait of an artist as a young American Negro girl,” Nelson disclaims that the “I” in the title is she. Rather, her autobiographically inspired collection of 50 nonrhyming sonnets is enhanced by research and imagination. The title poem comes near the end and is breathtaking in the perverse cruelty the young speaker experiences from an educator. Hooper’s line-and-shade illustrations, along with Nelson’s family photos, set a quiet and respectful tone and offer readers the feeling of taking an unsolicited peek behind a heavy curtain. For fans of Nelson’s impressive body of children’s and adult poetry, including the brilliant A Wreath for Emmett Till (2005), this insight into her modulated memories gratifies that heartfelt belief that here writes a woman of great substance. Grades 7-12. --Gail Bush
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These are poems that need to be read slowly so that the reader can process the time period, the emotions, and how kids see the world. Through their eyes that are naive the world of serious conflict does not seem so massive, but still influential.
Reading this book has reignited by passion for reading other poetry. This would also be a great addition to a classroom that studies this time period.