Teen Tuesday – What If God Was One of Us

In 2003, Cynthia Rylant, Newbery Award winning author of Missing May and the beloved writer best known for her early reader series Henry and Mudge and Mr. Putter and Tabby, wrote a slim volume of poetry entitled God Went to Beauty School. “He went there to learn how/to give a good perm/and ended up just crazy/about nails . . . /He got into nails, of course,/ because He’d always loved/ hands—/ hands were some of the best things/ He’d ever done . . . .

The free verse style and the simple, straightforward language make the poems easily accessible, a lot like the God who’s depicted in them.   And despite being, well, GOD, he wonders about the world he set in motion and the things people are doing in it. What a spark of inspiration Cynthia Rylant must have had to write about a God who does the ordinary—who makes spaghetti, who goes skating, and gets a desk job. God also watches too much cable, God has body issues, and God even gets arrested (but it was righteous anger)!

Each poem is written with gentle humor and insight, centering on an unassuming God who’s not throwing his weight around and who gets treated like everybody else. Yet even though he’s being unobtrusive, he’s still GOD, so when “God got in a boat” or “God took a bath,” the actions take on more significance and meaning. And that’s the beauty of this little book: revealing the extraordinary in the ordinary, showing that God can be just like us, or perhaps, we can be a little like God.

godgotadogA decade later, in the fall of 2013, Cynthia Rylant teamed up with two-time Caldecott Honor medalist Marla Frazee to repackage God Went to Beauty School. The original 23 poems were whittled down to sixteen. The order was reshuffled and the second poem in the first book became the new title, God Got a Dog. In addition to adding Marla Frazee’s incredible illustrations, the most notable change to the new book is God’s interchangeable pronoun. Several poems have recast God as a “she” and the corresponding pictures shows God in a multitude of charming personas—racially diverse, old and young, male and female. There’s God as a middle-aged white guy with red plaid pajamas enjoying his coffee from a smiley-face mug. There’s God as a small, dark-skinned girl sporting a yellow life vest, her numerous pigtails sticking up from her head like exclamation marks as she glides along the lake in a swan boat. And there’s the God in the title poem, an old woman on a rainy day, with an umbrella and shopping bag in one hand and a purse in the other.

God Got a Dog takes the essence of the first book and makes it shine a little brighter. Celebrate the remains of National Poetry Month by checking this title out. Better yet, try both books and do a comparison. Which one do you prefer?

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Teen Tuesday – Poetry Meets Prose

Do something different for Poetry Month! How about reading one of these YA books where poets and poetry play a pivotal role in the story:

graffitimoonGraffiti Moon by Cath Crowley

Shadow and Poet are graffiti artists whose works are scattered throughout their industrial Australian town. Lucy, feeling a profound connection to Shadow’s paintings, has been searching unsuccessfully for this elusive street artist until she’s assisted one evening by former classmate, Ed. With alternating narratives from Lucy and Ed, and interspersed with poems by Leo (aka Poet, Ed’s best friend), Graffiti Moonlures readers along—not for the mystery of Shadow’s identity, but for Lucy’s reaction when she discovers the truth.

Nobody’s Secret by Michaela MacCool

Teen Tuesday reviewed this last year and was intrigued by the portrayal of a teenaged Emily Dickinson who’s resourceful, daring and determined to uncover the identity of a murdered man. An historical fiction, a mystery and a biography rolled into one, Nobody’s Secret offers an unconventional introduction to Emily Dickinson’s work.

Another YA novel where Ms. Dickinson plays a pivotal part is Kate Burak’s Emily’s Dress and Other Missing Things.Uprooted to Amherst, Massachusetts following her mother’s suicide and friend’s disappearance, Claire has more than enough to deal with as she repeats her senior year in high school.   But her life becomes even more complicated when she takes Emily Dickinson’s dress from its museum home. Claire’s first person voice is witty and reflective and readers who check out this book will find not only a story of loss and longing, but an interesting missing person’s case to boot.

Paper Towns by John Green

Quentin has spent most of his life in love with the girl next door: flamboyant, popular Margo Roth Spiegelman. But after a night spent helping Margo wreak vengeance on her frenemies, Quentin finds she’s disappeared the next morning. Following very cryptic clues, including an in depth examination of Walt Whitman’s poems, Quentin discovers that Margo might not be the girl he, or anyone else, thinks she is. As expected from a John Green novel, there is great dialogue between Quentin and his friends, a raucous road trip, and very understanding parents.

James Whitman definitely does not have understanding parents in Evan Roskos’ Dr Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets.  In fact, his parents have thrown his older sister out of their home after she is papertownsexpelled from school. Deeply depressed, anxious and worried for his beloved sister, James is self-aware enough to know he needs help and hope, one reason he embraces Walt Whitman’s poetic exuberance. Similar to Matthew Quick’s Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock, both novels feature hurt and desperate young men struggling for acceptance.

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

Captured American pilot Rose Justice becomes a prisoner of war in Germany’s infamous Ravensbrück concentration camp during World War II . The daily horrors suffered by Rose and her fellow prisoners are graphically portrayed, as is the sliver of beauty Rose imparts to her friends through the songs and poems she’s memorized. Later, it is Rose’s own poetry that bears witness and stands as a testament to the friends she’s lost and the appalling conditions they endured. A companion novel, Rose Under Fire can be read alone but readers will lose the backstory of several characters first introduced in Code Name Verity.   Both novels are riveting reads of heartbreaking courage.

Whether to make sense of the world around us, to express what might seem inexpressible, or to simply share the wonder of words, poetry plays a definitive role in the lives of the characters mentioned above. Explore their stories and put a little poetry in your life! And do feel free to share your own book recommendations in the comments.

In the Stacks: National Poetry Month!

In the Stacks: A Blog Straight from the Mind of Steve

I know, I know, it has been quite a while since my last blog dear readers. I must say, over the last couple months it has seemed like I might actually have been hit hard by the dreadful “writer’s block”. (Queue eerie, spooky music) However fate has got me smiling high today. Why you ask? Well, because it is April readers, and April is non-other than National Poetry Month. Perfect, I know! It is actually more and more exciting the more I think about it. I am SO relieved for this month because here in the Library District we get to make extra celebratory events and highlights for all the amazing people who have ever dared pick up a pen or pencil and write from their heart and soul. Or perhaps they just typed and typed away on a computer keyboard or typewriter. (For information on what a typewriter is folks, please consult your local librarian).

poetryI’ve always kept a soft side for poetry. I have even attempted on a few occasions (when I wasn’t forced for an English assignment) to actually make up a few special ones from my heart to the woman who now owns it…. She knows who she is. And though she is a die-hard thespian by nature, I don’t think she faked her way through the smiles and tears that she showed after reading them. I don’t say that to gloat readers, honestly. I am simply explaining that with the effort and emotion behind it, poetry is a lovely form of communication and a personally viewed disclosure of life and the people, places, and things therein.

Now here at Whitney Library we are going full swing into this wonderful month by having a new local poet, Lee Mallory in our space to perform some of his most recent poems. Lee is known in the literary world as “The Love Poet”; sooth and sultry I know. Mr. Mallory will be performing in our Conference Room on the 22nd of the month, and personally, I cannot wait! It should be the perfect close to this month. Also, in our very own department, we have the amazingly talented Selina to hype up our branch’s appearance during this month to show just how much we love our fellow poets. When you’re in the Whitney Library next, you simply must check out the new display behind the Circulation Desk. (You kinda can’t miss it ;).

Now I can go on and on and ON about different poets and special quotes and passages from many a selected work to add in or reference here, but I will end with just one. Once I started thinking about this new blog and the fact it is National Poetry Month, one specific work came to mind. Over a year ago, a coworker recommended that I read this acclaimed poet named Charles Bukowski. Bukowski was straight out of the “Beat Generation,” and through his numerous writings and his personal life, he had quite possibly the main portion of controversy attached to his name. Now with Kerouac, Burroughs, and Ginsberg in the mix, that is truly saying something. Anyway, I did pick up and read through one of his more recent collections a short time after, and from the very first poem that I read, I was hooked. I’d like to finish up this blog by copying down just a small portion of that poem to add to this phenomenal theme. I hope you all have a lovely April, and great rest of the year.  Until next time dear readers, stay classy… stay reading.

“If it doesn’t come bursting out of you in spite of everything, don’t do it…if you’re trying to write like somebody else, forget about it… Don’t be like so many writers, don’t be like so many thousands of people who call themselves writers, don’t be dull and boring and pretentious, don’t be consumed with self-love, the libraries of the world have yawned themselves to sleep over your kind… when it is truly time… it will do it by itself… there is no other way, and there never was.”