BookKids: Ellen Reads Without Walls

This month, the BookKids team takes on the Reading Without Walls challenge! Below, our Bookfairs’ Manager, Ellen, writes about her experience reading outside her comfort zone. For more posts in this series, click here. 

I consider myself a fairly omnivorous reader of children’s and YA books. When it was asked of us to consider writing a Reading Without Walls blog post, I thought it might be sort of difficult for me to find something that meets one or more of the challenge’s criteria:


For most books, requirements number 1 and number 2 are easy to meet. I have no shortage of books in my TBR pile about characters that don’t look or live like me. And there is a whole world of things out there that I do not know very much about. At first glance, I thought requirement three was also not much of challenge. What format WON’T I read for fun? I’ll read anything that has words (or not, as in the case of wordless picture books). For example, last night I read the text-heavy wrapper on a new bar of Dr. Brommer’s peppermint soap for the two minutes I brushed my teeth.

I gave that last requirement a little more thought and realized there is one format that I definitely do not read for fun: poetry. I do not enjoy most traditional poetry. I hear all the poetry lovers out there gasping in horror. Years of English classes and mind-numbing “what does it mean” discussions drummed any enjoyment of poetry out of me. Just this morning on the radio, I heard the poetry editor of The New Yorker, Kevin Young, talking about how so many people maybe liked poetry when they were younger but grew to dislike it because it was taught poorly to them. Bingo. (Side note: I am not saying I had bad teachers. Overall, I’d say I had good teachers but there wasn’t much variety and it was just so dry. Please don’t troll me.)

Poetry that disguises itself as something else I find palatable, such as a lyrical picture book or a novel in verse that has a storyline to follow. Plenty of songs I like could also be classified as poetry. I do own some poetry, so I’m not completely poetry adverse (heh). But yes, ordinarily, I would not gravitate towards a collection of straight-up poetry and read it all the way through. Skim it maybe, look at the illustrations, sure, but not read the whole thing cover to cover. Some would probably say poetry isn’t meant to be read straight through, but to be visited when you need it. For the purpose of this challenge, though, I am reading the book completely. I ended up reading through about a dozen books but here is what stood out to me and why I picked it:

9780425287682A Poem for Peter: The Story of Ezra Jack Keats and the Creation of The Snowy Day by Andrea Davis Pinkney, pictures by Lou Fancher & Steve Johnson. I love The Snowy Day but knew nothing about its creation, and I like other things I’ve read by the author.

Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets by Kwame Alexander with Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth, illustrated by Ekua Holmes. Kwame Alexander’s novels in verse are fantastic. I know nothing about poets. The art on the book jacket is beautiful.

9780062699459Shaking Things Up: 14 Young Women Who Changed the World by Susan Hood, illustrated by 13 extraordinary women. It’s new, a collection of short biographies, and I like the book jacket artwork. I do not know all the women profiled.

Vincent Can’t Sleep: Van Gogh Paints the Night Sky by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Mary Grandpré. The subject appealed to me and I had read the author & illustrator’s previous book about a painter, The Noisy Paint Box.

These four standouts use poetry in very different ways. Two are collections and two are not. Some rhyme, some don’t. Some use free form and others have margins and clearly defined stanzas. Each author uses rhythm, figurative language, and other poetic devices I vaguely recall from high school English class but have since forgotten the name of. Word choice is important to convey so much in so few words and they all do it beautifully but each author does it in their own way. The variety among 9780763680947poets and their voices is clearly evident in the Out of Wonder collection in which poems are written in homage to and in the style of other poets.

But what I like most — yes, like — about each book is that one of the most creative forms of writing is being used to convey factual information. The fact that the authors of these four books can be artistic and informative at the same time I think is one of the more interesting — and impressive — things about them.

Lastly, I realize that all of them unexpectedly meet all three requirements for the Reading Without Walls challenge: The people in the books do not all look or live like me, topics are ones that I either know little or nothing about, and all are a format I do not usually read for fun.

I’m not sure that reading this group of poetry books will make me eager or seek out more poetry, but it will probably make me pause over a book of poetry next time. Until then, happy reading.

— Ellen

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