Last week I featured a poetry book that spotlights all of the American presidents, and this week I’m sharing another substantial poetry book. My America: A Poetry Atlas of the United States is compiled by Lee Bennett Hopkins and illustrated by Stephen Alcorn. The book is divided into eight sections based on the regions of the U.S.: Northeast States, the Capital, Southeast States, Great Lakes States, Plains States, Mountain States, Southwest States, and Pacific Coast States. Each section opens with a map and table of facts about each state in the region. This is followed by six to eight poems for each region (excepting the one poem for D.C. in the Capital section). Many of the poets whose works appear in this volume are unknown to me, but a few are readily recognizable: Nikki Giovanni, Langston Hughes, Carl Sandburg, and our old friend, Anonymous. 🙂 Lee Bennett Hopkins (who even has an award named after him) has a couple of poems in here, as do a couple of older children’s poets I recognize.
Of course, my girls immediately looked up Alabama to see if our state is represented by a poem, and indeed it is: “Alabama Earth (At Booker Washington’s Grave)” by Langston Hughes. The fact that we actually visited Booker T. Washington’s gravesite and home a few years ago made this poem doubly meaningful to us. The final lines of this poem are particularly compelling:
While over Alabama earth
These words are gently spoken:
Serve–and hate will die unborn.
Love–and chains are broken.
My personal favorite is from the Northeast section of the anthology, a poem entitled “Frost’s Farm Road” by James Hayford. Robert Frost is my favorite poet, so I naturally love that this poem is so reminiscent of Frost’s style, from its beginning–
I pocketed a pebble
From Frost’s farm road at Ripton,
to its end–
In that high circle of his
In or just under the Great World.
Stephen Alcorn’s illustrations are painted using casein on paper with no “preliminary pencil sketches” so as to “surrender to the magic of each poem,” with each illustration “reworked” over time to the lovely, textured illustration reproduced in the book.
This is an altogether lovely book, one that invites slow, thoughtful reading. It, too, would make a great accompaniment to a history or geography study. Highly Recommended. (Simon & Schuster, 2000)