This is a biography. Everyone knows biographies are supposed to be dry enough to choke a camel and that biographies are all about the time line and footnotes. A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams by Jen Bryant is an exception. It has all the accoutrements of a proper work of nonfiction for children but with a style done in a lyrical homage worthy of a poet. Unfortunately, I barely noticed any of that since I couldn’t avert my eyes from the illustrations to read the actual text.
Illustrator Melissa Sweet created playful mixed media collages using recycled book covers that incorporate drawings, watercolor, and replicas of drafts of William Carlos Williams actual work. To distract me from learning much of anything about WCW, bold colors mix with vintage paper to form word art fragments using actual poems. I find a recurring element in the design similar to the happy and totally circulated around the internet Spam One Liner series by Linzie Hunter.
Okay I did snag a few nuggets from the author, I was reminded of how both basic and beautiful Williams poems are. I also learned he was a doctor by trade. And oh yeah, his first book only sold 4 copies.
I recently came across another childrens book that could serve as a funny poetry writing lesson for older elementary school students. This is Just to Say: Poems of Apology and Forgiveness by Joyce Sidman who riffs off of a William Carlos Williams piece of the same name. It’s set up as an anthology of poems created in a writing unit in a hypothetical classroom.
Sidman invents many scenarios that beg asking for forgiveness, everything from ratting on your best friend, to accidentally killing the class lizard, to feeling like you caused your father to abandon the family. There’s also a set of “replies” to the poems that respond to the writer’s need for closure and give the reader a further peek inside the issue.
This is Just to Say
I have eaten
that were in the icebox
you were probably
the were delicious
and so cold