Hopkins, Lee Bennett. 2011. I AM THE BOOK. Ill. by Yayo. New York: Holiday House. ISBN 978-0823421190.
Review and Critical Analysis
I AM THE BOOK is an anthology of thirteen poems compiled by Lee Bennett Hopkins, written for primarily young readers, praising books and reading. There are many well-known poets represented in this anthology including Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Karen B. Winnick, Naomi Shihab Nye and Hopkins himself. Hopkins included a Table of Contents of author’s and titles. Also included are short descriptions of each of the poets in a section at the back of the book entitled About the Poets.
Several poems in Hopkins' anthology employ the poetic elements of personification and metaphor. A POEM IS by Jane Yolen describes words as “running down the page in black script sneakers.” Yolen uses personification when she depicts the words as having the ability to run, to get up and move as a person would. The rhythm of this poem makes the readers eyes fairly sprint down the page as they read the words. Metaphor is commonly used throughout this anthology as well. In WHEN I READ by Beverly McLoughland, the ocean is used as a metaphor for a book. McLoughland writes, “When I read I like to dive in the sea of words and swim. Feet kicking fast across the page splashing words against my skin.” Here the reader is the diver and the book is the ocean. The reader dives enthusiastically into the book soaking up everything as he swims past pages. In PAPERBACK PLUNDER by Michele Krueger the conch shell is used as a metaphor for a book. The woman in the poem has abandoned her book at the beach. Here it patiently waits for the next person to come along enticing them with the words “Lift me to your ear, hear the story I shall tell.” Just as a person lifts a conch shell to their ear to hear the ocean, a reader could lift this book out of the sand and hear its story.
The stanza is the primary poetic form utilized in this anthology. The stanzas vary in length of lines. In addition, some poems employ rhyme schemes while others are written in free verse. The most common rhyme scheme used is the rhyming of alternating lines. THIS BOOK by Avis Harley is written in three line stanzas where the first and third lines rhyme. WHAT WAS THAT? by Rebecca Kai Dotlich also employs this type of rhyme scheme, but within four line stanzas where the second and fourth lines rhyme.
Young readers will have no trouble reading these poems themselves. The language and concepts are not hard to comprehend, however they are quite imaginative. Young people who are avid readers will relate to the themes in these poems. In QUIET MORNING by Karen B. Winnick, the narrator describes sitting on a comfortable window seat with his dog and his book whiling away quiet time reading. BOOK by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater is narrated by a child who enjoys snuggling in bed and reading before falling asleep.
Each of the poems in this collection endeavor to instill a desire to read books in young people by detailing the many different kinds of adventures books provide. Books can thrill, amaze, induce wonder and be companions to their readers. PIRATES by Jill Corcoran is a poem about a subject popular among young people, especially boys, that of the pirate adventure. Corcoran describes pirate books in this manner, “Gunpowder stabs my streaming nostrils. I storm toward shackled screams of a kidnapped damsel. I swashbuckle through my book’s CHAPTER TWO.” WONDER THROUGH THE PAGES by Karla Kuskin describes the magical world of books when she writes, “…nonsense and knowledge came tumbling out, whispering mysteries, history’s shout, the wisdom of wizards, the songs of the ages…” These two poems illustrate the many varied and creative subjects books can encompass, and the words the authors use serve to entice young people to try some of these books themselves.
Yayo has created ingenious, effervescent acrylic illustrations to accompany these poems. These illustrations are all double paged and visually bring to life the words of the poets. They have movement and color and themes attractive to young people. A POEM IS by Jane Yolen incorporates a lot of musical words. In addition to this Yolen writes that words in books are “nudging one another like bumper cars at a fair.” Yayo used these two elements, music and a fair, and crafted an exceptional illustration of a young boy running along a beach with a boardwalk amusement park in the background. However, this amusement park is constructed entirely out of musical instruments. The rollercoaster is a harp and a violin, and a rocket ride is attached to a piano. There is also an intriguing element to Yayo’s work, an actual book or pages from a book appear in an unexpected way in every illustration. In WHO’S RICH? by Naomi Shihab Nye a treasure chest is actually a book emphasizing Nye’s thesis that those who read are rich. To reference an earlier example, WHEN I READ by Beverly McLoughland, the book is representing the water into which the narrator dives. Yayo’s illustrations will keep both readers and listeners, entranced.
Poem Used to Support Critical Analysis and Follow Up Activity
I AM THE BOOK
Tom Robert Shields
I’ll be your friend,
stay by your side,
make you laugh or teary-eyed
On a sun-summer morning.
I’ll spark you,
help you sleep,
you’ll forever keep
On a dappled-autumn afternoon.
I’ll warm you,
keep you kindled,
till storms have dwindled
On a snow-flaked winter evening.
I’ll plant in you
with bursting life
while you are reading.
I am the book
You are needing.
Shields poem I AM THE BOOK embodies many of the poetic forms and thematic elements encountered throughout this book. In this poem Shields also ascribes human qualities to the books, stating that they can contradict their readers, be their friend, demonstrate loyalty or inspire them in many ways. The poem itself is written in stanza form, and every second and fourth line in the first four stanzas rhymes. Shields employs books in this poem as metaphors for friendship and inspiration, something young people who love to read will relate to immediately. Readers and listeners also see Yayo’s creativity through the use of a dog, which like a book is used to represent friendship and fidelity. Yayo also cleverly incorporates an actual book as the dog's muzzle, and every season Shields describes is incorporated into the dog’s body.
For a follow up activity, I would create a large book out of poster board with the words, friend, dreams, winter, and seeds. Then I would divide the children in the audience into four groups, which would each be assigned one of the words, friend, dreams, winter, or seeds. After reading the poem I AM THE BOOK by Tom Robert Shields I would ask each group to write a short poem, and draw an accompanying picture, based on their particular word. These drawings and poems would then be placed on the large poster board book. This combination of listening to the poem, thinking about its meaning, and creating art and poetry based on the words inherent in the poem, would instill in the students how reading and books inspire creativity.