Poetry, Pictures and Record-Breaking Stunts


In 1958, photographer and ad agency art director Art Kane got Esquire Magazine to commission a photograph of jazz musicians for an issue devoted to the musical genre at its height. Classical music critic Roxane Orgill turned to poetry to write Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph (Candlewick Press; $18.99; grades 4+), a book about the historic photo session in Harlem that captured 57 famous and not necessarily famous jazz musicians. Illustrator Francis Vallejo has created a series of expansive scenes that focus on the musicians interacting along 126th Street, waiting for the era-capturing click.

Although the photo shoot was not spontaneous like jazz since it took five hours to compose and finish, the resulting image (right) shows the musicians in a relaxed and convivial mood, which the poems also convey. The book ends with the photo, followed by a prose explanation that separates the real and imagined details of the event.



Award-winning poet Eloise Greenfield has collected an assortment of her work in In the Land of Words: New and Selected Poems (Amistad; $6.99; ages 4-8), a slim volume that sometimes sounds like hip-hop lyrics and at other times like elementary-school romance. The character of Nathaniel — whom the poet says resides “only in the world of my imagination,” although some readers believe he is real — claims his lines show that he “can rap, rap, rap / Til your earflaps flap.”

The poet interposes retrospective commentary among poems that she has drawn from her dozen books, many of which Jan Spivey Gilchrist illustrated. In this volume Gilchrist creates sewn fabric collages that vary from shapes to cartoonish young faces.

The poetic style avoids forced rhymes, although the verses do rhyme and contain simple words that come together in new and fresh combinations: “It takes more than a wish / to catch a fish / you take the hook / you add the bait / you concentrate.” Seeming so effortless, the verses will inspire would-be poets to try their hand at the craft, only to discover how easy poetry is not.


See page 2 for more great children's books.


The mammoth 360-page Smithsonian Picturepedia: An Encyclopedia on Every Page (DK; $29.99; ages 9-12) does a surprisingly good job of fulfilling its audacious ambition, although it is
not comprehensive and omits important information about the more obscure topics. It covers the categories of science and technology, nature, geography, culture, sports and hobbies and history.

The book skews to the interests of its intended tween audience. The nature section devotes double pages to plant-eating dinosaurs, meat-eating dinosaurs and prehistoric animals, a rich assortment compared to a single double page for fish.

Stimulating, beautiful and well indexed, the book overflows with interesting facts and breathtaking overviews that start with one small subject and expand to the wider field to which it belongs.



Cleverly capitalizing on its bottomless supply of weird facts and factoids, the Guinness World Records franchise splices and dices information for different age groups.

In Daring Dogs (Harper; $3.99) early readers learn that Sweet Pea walked up 17 steps with a glass of water on her snout, an accomplishment that could torture many a dog compelled to break the record. In this book and others like Wacky Wheels ($3.99), the youngest readers get to focus on the things that reading can teach, bizarre as they are.

As for the older readers, they should not be encouraged to try, for instance, Rusty Haight’s record of enduring 718 crash tests. Wacky and Wild! ($12.99; ages 8-12) includes such feats as Matt Dopson’s breaking of 19 baseball bats across his back in one minute. Like the records in Super Humans! ($12.99; ages 8-12), these are not Olympic events, and they will probably elicit more laughter than emulation, thank goodness.

Frank Lipsius is a contributing writer to MetroKids.


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