The Picture Book Buzz

Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

It is so relaxing to lie on my back and watch the clouds drift and spiral past. Years of finding shapes replaced with deep breathing exercises and attempts to clear my mind (and emotions). I'm finding this particularly helpful these days. Precious, stolen moments to let wishes and dreams free.

While bright blue, cloudless days are a valuable commodity in the Pacific Northwest, I do love photographing the glowing, vibrant colors of a sunset dancing among clouds. My #PPBF choice has some of the most Exquisite sunsets and it's written by one of my favorite authors.

I love Suzanne Slade's books. Her skill at finding fun stories and unusual formats is something to aspire to. With 140 books published, it's hard to pick a favorite. Though, I do really like Countdown: 2979 Days to the Moon, Out of School and Into Nature: The Anna Comstock Story, and Friends for Freedom: The Story of Susan B. Anthony & Frederick Douglass.

In keeping with her interest in writing about inspiring people from Chicago, Suzanne has written a stunning, lyrical tribute to the poet Gwendolyn Brooks. And what a great month - National Poetry Month - for this book to soar into the world.

Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks

Author: Suzanne Slade

Illustrator: Cozbi A. Cabrera

Publisher: Abrams Books for Young Readers (2020)

Ages: 6 - 9

Nonfiction

Themes:

Poetry, perseverance, and following your dreams.

Synopsis:

A picture-book biography of celebrated poet Gwendolyn Brooks, the first Black person to win the Pulitzer Prize Gwendolyn Brooks (1917–2000) is known for her poems about “real life.” She wrote about love, loneliness, family, and poverty—showing readers how just about anything could become a beautiful poem. Exquisite follows Gwendolyn from early girlhood into her adult life, showcasing her desire to write poetry from a very young age. This picture-book biography explores the intersections of race, gender, and the ubiquitous poverty of the Great Depression—all with a lyrical touch worthy of the subject. Gwendolyn Brooks was the first Black person to win the Pulitzer Prize, receiving the award for poetry in 1950. And in 1958, she was named the poet laureate of Illinois. A bold artist who from a very young age dared to dream, Brooks will inspire young readers to create poetry from their own lives.

Opening Lines:

Gwendolyn grew up in the big city of Chicago

with little money to spare. Yet her family owned great treasure—

a bookcase filled with precious poems.

What I Liked about this book:

Those lyrical opening lines and accompanying gorgeous illustration let us know we are in for a magnificent journey. I'd love to be that little girl, with such a treasure. With a sprinkling of internal and end rhymes and a varying rhythm, Suzanne Slade creates a poetic and inspiring ode to Gwendolyn Brooks that is fun to read aloud.

Text © Suzanne Slade, 2020. Image © Cozbi A. Cabrera, 2020.

Surrounded by the poetry in these books, and her father's nightly recitations, Gwendolyn Brooks grew up reciting and writing poetry; it seeped into her soul, becoming as important as air. She filled notebooks and dreamed of a "future, which was going to be ecstatically exquisite, like those clouds” she watched from her porch.

Text © Suzanne Slade, 2020. Image © Cozbi A. Cabrera, 2020.

It seemed that destiny agreed. At eleven, Gwendolyn was published in a newspaper and a magazine. But, then the Depression hit. Her writing sustained her through these tough years, and through the isolation of high school, and the following years of racial injustice and poverty. Her poems captured the "nonstop busyness, the hard-luck grittiness" which she saw and heard in her South Side Chicago neighborhood, as snapshots of the neighborhood's hardships and joys. Persistent and inspired she wrote. Eventually, she won awards and the interest of a publisher. In 1950, Gwendolyn Brooks won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. She was the first black writer to win that prize.

Text © Suzanne Slade, 2020. Image © Cozbi A. Cabrera, 2020.

Cozbi A. Cabrera's stunning acrylic paintings feature exquisite bright pink, orange, and blue sunsets, detailed moments of Gwendolyn's family life, historic images of Chicago, and beautifully created images of her words floating around her and into the world. The back matter, which includes a previously unpublished poem (written when she was fifteen), an author's note, and a timeline, rounds out a captivating picture book biography on the life of Gwendolyn Brooks.

Resources:

- write your own poem about clouds. Can you use a poem form that is new to you?

- read The Bean Eaters by Gwendolyn Brooks (https://www.poetryfoundation.org/learn/children), write a poem about your neighborhood or what you see from your porch.

- participate in Poem In Your Pocket Day (4/30) (https://poets.org/national-poetry-month/poem-your-pocket-day).

- listen to Suzanne Slade & Cozbi A. Cabrera read Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks (https://youtu.be/mYcnCH7Z9zg).

- check out the resources, activities, and poet interviews on Reading Rockets (https://www.readingrockets.org/calendar/poetry).

If you missed the interview of Suzanne Slade on Monday, find it (here).

This post is part of a series by authors and KidLit bloggers called Perfect Picture Book Fridays. For more picture book suggestions see Susanna Leonard Hill's Perfect Picture Books.

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