The task of selecting 100 poems and poets for this anthology must have felt both limiting and liberating. Limiting because if these poems are any example—and they surely are—the talent pool of young poets in America is deep and diverse. That isn’t a surprise, but it must have made the number 100 feel like a huge challenge at times. Yet as hard as choosing must have been, 100 poems also allowed for remarkable inclusiveness.
Zulay, who is blind, wants to be treated like the other kids in her elementary classroom. And mostly, she is. She and her three best friends (one white, one Asian American and one African American, like Zulay) help one another in class and play together during recess. When the other students go to gym, though, Zulay has to work with Ms. Turner, who is teaching her to walk with a cane. Zulay doesn’t want to use a cane because it makes her stand out as different.
As a child, Mary Nohl helped her father build a house along the shore of Lake Michigan just north of Milwaukee and was “happiest when her hands were busy making, building, creating things.” Mary grew up to travel all over the world and was captivated by the art in the places she visited. When she came back home to the house she’d helped build, she began to collect found objects on the beach, with the help of her dogs Sassafras and Basil. The things she gathered were part of something bigger—a creature she could see her in imagination and soon set about bringing into being.
Neel lives on one of the Sundarban islands off the coast of Bangladesh. Neel’s father has always said it’s important to protect the land and the tigers, so Neel is dismayed when Baba agrees to work for wealthy Mr. Gupta hunting a tiger cub that escaped from a nearby refuge. Everyone knows Mr. Gupta wants to sell the cub on the black market. But hardworking Baba needs extra money to hire a tutor to help Neel prepare for an upcoming scholarship exam. Neel doesn’t care about the scholarship; he has no desire to leave the island for further schooling. He does care about the little cub, however, so he and his older sister, Rupa, who wishes she could go to school, are determined to find the cub before anyone else, even Baba, and return it to the refuge.
Unconventional Hoot Owl concocts one outrageous costume after another as he attempts to bag his evening meal. But just as his carrot disguise doesn’t fool a rabbit, his ornamental birdbath get-up fails to result in a pigeon dinner. Undaunted, Hoot Owl moves from one lost opportunity to the next, finally nailing an inanimate pepperoni pizza while wearing the white jacket and toque of a waiter, complete with a mustache penciled below his beak.
Millo Castro Zaldarriaga was born in Cuba in the 1920s and grew up attuned to the rhythms in the world around her, and inside her. She dreamed of drumming, but only boys and men learned how to play at that time. She dared to drum anyway, “tall conga drums / small bongo drums / and big, round, silvery / moon-bright timbales … Her hands seemed to fly / as they rippled / rapped / and pounded / all the rhythms / of her drum dreams.” Her father said no when her sisters asked ten-year-old Millo to join their band. Only boys should play drums, he said. But Millo couldn’t silence the sounds.
Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern are sent to rural Alabama to spend the summer of 1969 with their grandmother, Big Ma, and her mother, Ma Charles. Before putting them on the Greyhound bus, their father tells them: “… Once you cross the line from North to South all of that black power stuff is over.” At 12, Delphine is old enough to understand and believes she can keep her younger sisters in line. But 10-year-old Vonetta is enjoying the attention of Ma Charles and her half-sister and life-long rival, Aunt Miss Trotter.
n 1967, Rose is an old woman looking back on her childhood in Skullyville, Oklahoma, in 1897, in a novel that moves back and forth between Rose, her family and Choctaw community, and residents of the nearby town of Spiro. Among them is the marshall, a man who is despised by Choctaw and whites alike. His cruelty is often random, as when he strikes Amafo, Rose’s grandfather, at the train station one day. Amafo turns the other cheek, and in doing so finds allies among some of the whites in Spiro while leading his community away from confrontation.
“Sky grumbles. Rain tumbles. Big weather — you’d better … get under umbrella! BOOM BOOM.” A rainstorm in the big city on a summer day means the appearance of umbrellas, a mad dash for the subway, and a spontaneous, generous-spirited gathering belowground. “The storm above makes friends of strangers. We laugh under cover at thunder and danger.”
“This is how you tell a story: First you introduce the main character. I’m writing this story about me, so I am the main character.” Rose loves homonyms, prime numbers, and order. It’s important to her that everyone follow the rules. She lives with her dad, Wesley, whose name is not a homonym, and her dog, Rain, whose name is. When Rain disappears during a hurricane, Rose channels her worry into a methodical search with the help of her Uncle Weldon. But in finding Rain she learns that her beloved dog, which her dad brought home for her almost a year before, belongs to someone else.