Forget-Me-Nots cover
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The Bulletin
of the Center for Children's Books

The Big Picture, a regular Bulletin feature both on-line and off, is an in-depth look at selected new titles and trends. See the archive for selections from previous months.

Forget-Me-Nots: Poems to Learn by Heart

compiled by Mary Ann Hoberman; illustrated by Michael Emberley

Poetic recitation got a bad rap for a while there, associated as it was with regurgitation of material rather than creative learning. Kids, who can memorize thousands of riddles and belt out rude rhymes at the slightest encouragement (or discouragement), know better, of course: memorization can provide a window into words that merely reading them doesn’t, it offers a special kind of ownership, and it’s often a whole lot of fun. Fortunately, Hoberman is here to champion memorization’s revival.

Already a superstar for her readaloud works (You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You: Very Short Fables to Read Aloud, BCCB 1/11, etc.), she here features what you might call speakalouds. Approximately 120 poems from over eighty poets are divided into eleven sections, some thematic (“Beautiful Beasts,” “Strange and Mysterious”) and some categorized by form (“The Long of It”) or origin (“Poems from Storybooks”). Poets featured range from the contemporary (Hoberman herself, Nikki Grimes, Douglas Florian) to the longterm anthology veterans (Langston Hughes, William Carlos Williams, Elizabeth Coatsworth, Emily Dickinson); the poems range from the free verse to the crisply metrical. Got kids uncertain about memorization? The four-liners, limericks, and haiku of the opening section, “The Short of It,” will be right in their wheelhouse. Got some showoffs who like to go for length? Show them the final section’s ballads from the likes of Kipling, Milne, and Lear. A table of contents lays out the goods in advance, while an index of first lines helps searchers their treasures.

Memorization isn’t just an offhand suggestion for the collection, either. The verses are clearly chosen and arranged with considerable care and attention to the goal (the test runs are probably still echoing through the Hoberman household and leaving its compiler with earwormish fragments of failed entries), and the opportunity to tackle increasing challenges and explore the clearly demarcated sections evokes the allure of working your way through gaming levels. The book provides encouragement and guidance in a thoughtful introduction and a closing spread of suggestions that gives some tips on methodology and draws attention to components of sound and imagery within verse, a focus that not only helps memorization but also the appreciation of the poet’s craft. The volume could see additional duty as a readaloud treasury or readalone delight, since it’s a pretty delicious assortment in general; ultimately, though, it’s best suited to its noble purpose, and it will provide an ideal spur for memorization and recitation in any setting. The inclusion of some venerable classics provides additional appeal for multigenerational sharing and, perhaps, joint recitation; the varying levels of the poetry also ensure accessibility for kids over a range of ages, making the volume a winner for family, camp, or other non-graded situations.

Emberley’s art is an unassuming wonder, a playful masterclass in using the page to support and extend the verse visuals. Watercolor lined with pencil and touched with pastel, the illustrations perform their job with assurance, taste, and humor, subtly linking spreads across the gutter and framing verse in negative or even positive space. For instance, the first anthological spread is a clever perpendical, subtly framing the verses with a focused vertical downpour on the side (which falls on a mournful, umbrella-wielding auk) and an oceanic horizon line on the bottom (the auk bobs in a tiny boat). The subsequent spreads plaster poems on the broad backs of animals, illuminate them in the diagonal lightspill from a flashlight, or curve around them with snowy footprints. Small jokes, visual stories, and sneaky allusions to the poems add to the visual entertainment, insuring that kids will want to return to the book even when they’ve tucked the poems into memory.

“I like to think of the process of learning a poem by heart as a game, with the memorized poem as the prize,” says Hoberman. Now we can all be winners.

--Deborah Stevenson, Editor

Forget-Me-Nots cover

Cover image from Forget-Me-Nots: Poems to Learn by Heart ©2012 by Michael Emberley.  Used by permission of Little, Brown and Company.

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This page was last updated on June 1, 2012.