Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Poetry A-Z: Y is for Yolen and Youthful

Why oh why did I start at the end? Perhaps because these were some of the most challenging letters and I thought I should get them out of the way. Silly me!

When I began my research I couldn't help but think of Y as a boyish letter. After all, without that Y chromosome we'd have a world of girls. But alas, the letter Y didn't seem to lend itself to any particularly boyish adjectives or poems. It did, however, keep leading me to a woman of particular note in writing circles (poetry and otherwise). So let's start today with Yolen.


Jane Yolen has written more than 300 books in an amazing array of genres, succeeding wildly in each one. Many of her poetry books will make an appearance over the course of this month, but the ones I want to highlight today focus on one of my favorite poets.

THE EMILY SONNETS: THE LIFE OF EMILY DICKINSON is a collection of sonnets that tells Emily’s story from the points of view of Emily herself, her sister Vinnie, her niece Mattie, her friend Thomas, an unknown critic, and Yolen. Additional information and anecdotes are found throughout the pages. I savored the sonnets on my first read, lingered on the extensive end notes, then re-read the poems with renewed enthusiasm. Yolen lovingly captures and portrays Emily and shows readers quite clearly how much Emily was admired and loved by those around her.

MY UNCLE EMILY is a picture book that tells the story (part fiction, part real) of Emily Dickinson's nephew Gib. This one begins:
"One day when we were in the garden, choosing flowers for the table, my Uncle Emily gave me a dead bee and a poem for my teacher. Sometimes Uncle Emily is like that, as if she wants me to see the world one small bee and one small poem at a time."
Gib worries about the reaction of his classmates (rightly so!) to the poem. At recess a boy makes fun of his Uncle Emily, so Gib defends her and slugs him. When Gib goes home with a limp, he doesn't tell his family the whole truth about the day's events. This is a wonderful little story about honesty that may just interest readers in learning more about Dickinson.

YOUTHFUL - typical or characteristic of young people

I have a fairly tattered copy of a poetry book from childhood. I can't remember what I loved so much about it, but I imagine it appealed to me the way much of poetry for the very young does today. Preschool poetry often gets trapped in the traditional (not that there's anything wrong with classic rhymes), but there are a number of recent collections that tap into the joy of childhood and the exuberance of the really young.

A LITTLE BITTY MAN AND OTHER POEMS FOR THE VERY YOUNG, written by Written by Halfdan Rasmussen, translated by Marilyn Nelson and Pamela Espeland, and illustrated by Kevin Hawkes, is a volume of poems originally written in Danish. Though a small collection (only 13 poems) is filled with whimsy and rhymes that sing like the best of Mother Goose. This volume is perfect for the littlest readers as much for the appropriateness of vocabulary as the perfectly sweet selections.

HERE'S A LITTLE POEM: A VERY FIRST BOOK OF POETRY, collected by Jane Yolen and Andrew Fusek Peters and illustrated by Polly Dunbar, is filled with sweet and silly rhymes that fairly sing. The book is oversized and heavy, but it's well worth picking up and sharing with little ones. Organized into the categories Me, Myself and IWho Lives in My House?I Go Outside, and Time for Bed, there is a poem here for most important and everyday events in a child's life. There are also nonsense poems, tongue twisters, animal poems, and more! Since the poems in this volume have been collected from across the English-speaking world, the retention of regional spelling and usage may have you needing to explain some things to young readers. In the back you'll find the contents indexed by poem and poet. Every reader, young and old alike, will find something to love here.

WEE RHYMES: BABY'S FIRST POETRY BOOK, written Jane Yolen and illustrated by Jane Dyer, is my new go-to baby shower book! While a few of the poems come from Mother Goose, most are Yolen originals. Here's an excerpt.


Mama's hug is gentle,
Daddy's hug is long.
Grandad's hug
Is warm as a rug.
And Grandma's comes with a song.

There's a lovely blend of playfulness, sing-song treats, and happy rhymes. This one is perfect for the littlest and newest poetry lovers.

That's it for Y. See you tomorrow with some X inspired poetry ponderings.


  1. Y is for YOU. I love poetry month with you! Thank you!

  2. My very favorite Yolen poems are about fairytales - one about anorexic princesses ("Fat is Not a Fairytale"), the other about the "other" in the form of a wolf ("Once Upon"). She just has this amazingly keen sense of the world through words and I find I just want to gather up all of her gems and sit on them like a dragon, hoarding.