Friday, March 01, 2024

Poetry Friday- In and Out Window and Forsooth

Yolen, Jane and Peterslund, Cathrin. In and Out Window
March 12, 2024 by Philomel Books
Copy provided by the publisher

Jane Yolen has been writing for quite some time, and has enthusiastically embraced many genres and formats, from my favorite Young Heroes series with Robert J. Harris to her graphic nonfiction title Bad Girls with Heidi Stemple to picture books. She has also been writing poetry for a while, with several books like 1990 Bird Watch: A Book of Poetry as well as single poems in anthologies and magazines. 

In and Out Window combines some retrospective inclusions with newer poems, and range from very short rhymed couplets to longer, formal poems like "My Teacher". There is some free verse, but the vast majority of the poems embrace scansion and rhyme but play with it in innovative ways. Her formal verse is so good (like "Souble Up June's Black Belt Memories", and so few people write it, that I wished she had thrown in a sonnet or two!

The topics vary widely but do focus on the elementary school experience. Poems are thematically linked, with chapters headed "At Home", "Animals", "School", "After School", and my favorite, "Career Poems", with each chapter divided into "In" and "Out". This gives a nice feeling of organization to the book, although there is not a table of contents. 

I liked that this was the size of a fiction book; many poetry collections have more of a picture book format, that some middle school readers don't like. This reminded me strongly of collections I had as a child, although I would argue with the publisher's description that this was like collections by Shel Silverstein. Yolen's verse is much better. 

I've actually debated whether I will keep this for my own or put it in my library collection. It was really quite a nice collection that I very much enjoyed. We don't do much with poetry in language arts classes now, but since I thought it was a good idea to pursue writing poetry as a career when I was in college (not that majoring in Latin was a better idea when it came to gainful employment), I am reluctant to hand books of poetry to any future progeny who might contribute to my care when I am elderly. It's an excellent choice for public libraries, and for schools where poetry is studied widely. 

Matejek-Morris, Jimmy. Forsooth 
November 7, 2023 by Carolrhoda Books ®
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Calvin is best friends with Kennedy and Jonah, but things start to become problematic when he has a disastrous performance in Cinderella. Kennedy is Cinderella, and Jonah is the prince. Calvin is a footman who blows his lines (the titular "forsooth") and "ruins" the play. When Calvin sees Jonah and Kennedy kissing afterwards, it strikes him oddly, but the really upsetting thing occurs later, on the last day of school. When yearbooks are signed, Kennedy uses the opportunity to tell Calvin that she's leaving to move to New York City to live with her mother and go to a performing arts school. Calvin is devasted. In the wake of this announcement, he develops some new friends, including Kennedy's rival, Maia, and neighbor Blake. Calvin's mother makes him go to choir practice at the Catholic church, and Maia hopes to get the solo. After another disastrous occurrence, the priest gives the solo to Calvin. He keeps that information to himself, especially since Maia is helping him and Jonah put together a film that they hope will encourage Kennedy to move back. Calvin is anxious about many things, and Blake, whose father suffers from anxiety, teaches him some valuable coping skills. Calvin is attracted to both boys, but his Catholic upbringing makes him want to deny this. His older sister is dating a boy, and keeping it secret because the parents are so strict, so he knows he can't tell them, even though his father seems to be oddly understanding at several points in the book. Jonah is studying for his bar mitzvah, and trying to find a way to honor his deceased father at the ceremony. Calvin helps him, but also has moments with Blake. When Maia finds out about the solo, that new friendship is in danger of falling through. The whole summer is very tense for many reasons, and when Kennedy comes back to visit (after blocking both Calvin and Jonah from her social media after realizing they like each other), things get very dramatic. Will Calvin be able to figure out what it is that he wants from his family and friends so that he has the support he needs to be his authentic self? 
Strengths: This captured the progession of middle school romances in a very realistic way-- a whole lot of the process is just figuring out if the other person likes you, and if they do... what do you even do? Layering this on top of a theater background gives it some form, and the addition of friend drama is perfect, because losing at least one friend in middle school is almost guaranteed. There should probably be a few more middle grade books with families who are religious, but it is becoming increasingly rare for families to have religious affiliations. The interactions with Calvin and his parents and sister are quite interesting. The inclusion of Kennedy's social media "fame" will make this even more appealing to young readers. 
Weaknesses: This had a LOT of angsty drama. I wish that there had been more of an underlying plot that dealt with something other than Calvin figuring out his identity or his relationship with his friends and family. 
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who liked Better Nate Than Ever or Pancholy's Nikhil Out Loud

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