Whereas by Layli Long Soldier

Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: Being American Indian in America, a country that doesn’t always respect that reality or treat it well.

What made me pick it up: I love poetry because it’s wonderful word play and brief (helpful if you, like me and Abby, are in a Goodreads competition). This being by an American Indian writer only made me more intrigued.

My favorite things: It’s difficult to put into words how this poetry affected me. Yes, it’s always good to be, even briefly, submersed in a culture that isn’t yours, but this… this is different. This is like a sucker punch. Every time. It’s wrenching and raw and you feel exposed as you witness an even more exposed writer. You viscerally experience her injustice. Her dualities and all her struggles. And you want to sincerely atone for everything that has happened to her people even though you know that is impossible. The damage is too great. I love poetry because it’s like math — it makes me focus, and think hard, and at the end be overcome with a sublime feeling of inspiration and awe because of the magic that appears on the page once you figure it out. I cannot recommend this enough.

Who it’s great for: Poetry fans. Anyone interested in American Indian history or experience.

Erica’s rating: five-shells

Find this book on Amazon (affiliate link) or in your local library.


Miss Crandall’s School for Young Ladies and Little Misses of Color by Elizabeth Alexander and Marilyn Nelson



Originally published in: 2007

What it’s about: Poems and biographical notes tell the story of the first school for African American girls in Connecticut and the challenges it faced.

What made me pick it up: It was reviewed by a friend on Goodreads and I had never heard of either the book or the story of Prudence Crandall and her school. Thankfully the library had a copy so I ordered it in.

My favorite things: This book is written in poems and they give powerful snippets of both Crandall’s and the students’ experiences and the backlash they faced trying to get an education. They are difficult experiences which can be hard to read about but the authors work to not only tell the story but also impress upon readers why the students thought getting an education was important enough to risk it. The poems are accompanied by lovely illustrations.

Who it’s great for: Those looking for stories of African American history outside the usual characters.

Erica’s rating: four-shells

Find this book on Amazon (affiliate link) or in your local library.


Out of Wonder by Kwame Alexander

Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: A picture book of poems written in the style of famous poets to celebrate those poets’ work.

What made me pick it up: I had read two of Alexander’s other books and enjoyed them so when I saw he was releasing this project I put my name on the list.

My favorite things: The illustrations in here are amazingly vibrant, not surprisingly since Ekua Holmes’ first illustration project was given a Caldecott Honor in 2016. These images manage to channel each poet just as much as the writing does. And the writing is quite good. I wasn’t familiar with all the poets but the ones I was, I can say for certain that these tribute poems are well done and match the style.

Who it’s great for: Young readers who want to know more about poetry and poets. Fans of exquisite illustrations.

Erica’s rating: four-shells

Get a copy of this book at Amazon (affiliate link) or your local library.

Enormous Smallness by Matthew Burgess


Originally published in: 2015

What it’s about: Poet E.E. Cummings.

What made me pick it up: I saw it online while searching for other books and once I learned who it was about I went and found it on the shelf and checked it out.

My favorite things: This book reads like a poem. It includes a lot of information about Cummings’ life and writing as well as a few of his poems. The illustrations are inventive and beautiful.

Who it’s great for: Children who can read a longer picture book or sit through one being read to them. Anyone who likes poetry, especially fans of Cummings. Those who appreciate whimsy.

Erica’s rating: four-and-a-half-shells

Get a copy of this book on Amazon (affiliate link) or your local library.


Native Guard: Poems by Natasha Trethewey


Originally published in: 2006

What it’s about: Poems about the difficulty growing up biracial in Mississippi when anti-miscegenation laws still existed, interspersed with poems of grief about losing her mother, and poems that explore the roles of black soldiers during the Civil War.

What made me pick it up: I was putting up a new display in our book drop window when I found this gem of a return. I’m not going to lie, I picked it up because it was so slim. I held onto it because I haven’t read a collection of poems recently. And I finished it that night because these poems are that good.

My favorite things: This book may be brief but it is powerful. You can see why she won the Pulitzer Prize and was the US Poet Laureate. Haunting is the word I would choose to describe these poems. They are beautiful and honest and informative if you haven’t personally experienced these issues. I enjoy books like this so much that keep returning to mind long after I finish them.

Who it’s great for: Teens or adults. Anyone interested in being carried away to another emotional state or time in history. Readers looking for new poems.

Erica’s rating: four-shells

Pick up a copy of this book at Amazon (affiliate link) or your local library.


Serafina’s Promise by Ann Burg (2015)


What it’s about: A young Haitian girl named Serafina and her dream to be a doctor when she grows up despite all the challenges she faces.

What made me pick it up: This book was recommended to me by Goodreads after I rated another novel in verse.

My favorite things: The message of hope in this book is wonderful. Serafina is a very determined character. The author also gave a very honest portrait of the hardships of daily life in Haiti. I especially enjoyed the incredibly lyrical language.

Who it’s great for: Older kids. Teens. Adults. Anyone interested in the struggles of developing nations. People who want a quick read. Those who like poetry.

Erica’s rating: four-shells

Booked by Kwame Alexander

Originally published in: 2016

What it’s about: A teen boy has his first romantic interest while struggling to deal with bullies at school and his parents divorce.

What made me pick it up: I saw Kwame Alexander  speak at the Virginia Library Association annual conference in October and hadn’t read any of his books. In one weekend I checked out and completed this and his earlier Newbery Medal-winning book The Crossover. Oh yeah, and the entire book is written in verse.

My favorite things: Alexander has an ability to really make books about sports feel like the sporting event. They just have a flow to them. I really appreciated the true depiction of a teenager – priorities confused, emotions confused, everything dramatic but not any more than would actually happen. I was also pleased to see support for mental health issues by adults surrounding the teen characters.

Who it’s great for: Teens. Adults. Anyone looking for a quick, fun read with realistic characters. Fans of soccer and unusual vocabulary words. People looking for something a little different.
Erica’s Rating: four-shells 

Find this book on Amazon (affiliate link) or at your local library.