In early April 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., returned to Memphis to stand again with striking sanitation workers. Fevered and tired, he wanted to skip the April 3 evening rally at Mason Temple, but went and roused the crowd with his oratory and his faith in the path of nonviolence and the promise of the future he knew he may not live to see.
Fifteen-year-old Xiomara is a Dominican American teen living in Harlem. Her twin brother, Xavier, a smart, gentle boy, can do no wrong in their mother’s eyes. Xiomara can do no right. She often feels unseen and misunderstood, even by Xavier despite their closeness and despite the fact she has always defended him, whether from bullies or from their mother’s judgment—the mother doesn’t know he’s gay
“Can we go outside and listen?” Naomi Nye ponders in her introduction. Or stay in. Reflect. Pay. Attention. If we do we’ll find there is no such thing as a too-small moment or memory. The poems here range topically from the treatment of Palestinians (grief), to Ferguson, where Nye grew up (more grief), to the way genuine connection uplifts her.
“Flight! / I’m the first woman pilot, but I won’t be the last — / every little girl who sees me up here in blue sky / will surely grow up with dreams / of flying too!” (from “The World’s First Woman Pilot,” Aída de Acosta, 1884-1962, Cuba) Biographical poems introduce 18 Hispanics whose lives, notes author Margarita Engle, range from those “celebrated in their lifetimes but have been forgotten by history,” to others who “achieved lasting fame.”
Twenty sparkling, original poems each celebrate a specific poet in a terrific collection that also serves as an introduction to the poets honored. The opening poem by Kwame Alexander, “How To Write a Poem,” celebrates Naomi Shihab Nye (“Let loose your heart— / raise your voice. … find / your way / to that one true word / (or two).” The final offering, also by Alexander, celebrates Maya Angelou (“Rise / into the wonder / of daybreak. … Know your beauty / is a thunder / your precious heart unsalable. …Shine on honey! / Know you / are phenomenal.”
“…the odyssey that thousands of boys, girls and young people from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico undertake when they flee their countries because of extreme poverty and fear of violence” is the subject of this powerful, bilingual collection of poems. The opening, title poem compares children and their dreams to clouds.
As a child in the 1960s, Andrea Davis Pinkney was affected profoundly by The Snowy Day. It was the first book she encountered featuring an African American child like her. Her ingenious poem is a celebration of both the character Peter and of his creator, Ezra Jack Keats.
“Average person knows about twelve thousand words. / Average president knows twice that, he says, sounding like / Morgan Freeman.” Nick, 12, is an only child whose parents are on the brink of divorce. While his mother is in Kentucky training race horses Nick is home with his professor father, who is always badgering Nick to read the dictionary he wrote. Nick considers the dictionary, and by extension all reading, a chore.
A warm picture book collection alternates between poems in the voice of an African American girl whose mom is away in the military, and poems in the voice of her mother as a child, growing up in a military family that moved many times. The contemporary girl’s discovery of her mother’s childhood poems has inspired her to write her own, which often reflect on the differences between their childhoods, especially as she is living in one place with her grandmother while her mom is away, rather than moving from place to place.
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.