________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 30 . . . . April 9, 2010


City Kids: Street and Skyscraper Rhymes.

X. J. Kennedy. Illustrated by Philippe Béha.
Vancouver, BC: Tradewind Books, 2010.
104 pp., hardcover, $17.95.
ISBN 978-1-896580-44-9.

Subject Headings:
City children-Juvenile poetry.
Children's poetry, American.

Kindergarten-grade 6 / Ages 5-11.

Review by Valerie Nielsen.                                        

**** /4


Playing hockey
Feeling cocky,
Whizzing down the ice!

Swing my stick
Double quick
Sink a goal in twice!

More sticks whack!
Fresh attack!
But I'm slightly slow

To duck the puck—
What bad luck!
Where'd my front teeth go?


Anyone who has enjoyed sharing poetry with young people will have been delighted at one time or another with the poems of X.J. Kennedy. Winner of many awards (including the Award for Excellence in Children's Poetry in 2000 given by the National Council of Teachers of English and the 2009 Robert Frost Medal for a distinguished lifetime of service to American poetry), Kennedy is a master of lighthearted, whimsical verse. He and his wife Dorothy collaborated in editing two of the finest collections of poetry for children published in the last two decades: Talking Like the Rain in 1992 and Knock at a Star: A Child's Introduction to Poetry in 1999.

     Each of Kennedy's 38 poems is set in a big city somewhere in the English-speaking world. Neighborhoods and streets mentioned may lead the reader to recognize New York, Toronto and London. In a clever twist at the beginning of the book, illustrator Philippe Béha arranges the table of contents as a subway map, with each poem's page being represented by a numbered stop. 

internal art

     Philippe Béha is a well-known artist and illustrator who is a member of the prestigious Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. He has illustrated over 100 books for children, and in 1999 he won the Mr. Christie Book Award and the Governor General's Literary Award (both for illustration) for his picture book Biscuits in the Cupboard. More recently in 2009, he won the Christie Harris Illustrated Children's Literature Prize for The King Has Goat's Ears.

     Béha's lively and vibrant illustrations of Kennedy's short poems have just the right amount of quirkiness to enhance the poet's sense of fun: Some poems reflect the grittier side of city living.  "Singapore Shorty" is about a homeless man; "Where will we run to?" ponders a world… "when the moon's polluted in its turn/and the sun sits/with its wheels blocked in the used star lot." In "Fireman," the poet tells the story of Anthony Farrell who died in the World Trade tower "…holding his face to the fire/climbing to face it, higher, higher."

     City Kids: Street and Skyscraper Rhymes will be a welcome addition to poetry collections in the elementary school library as well as a good choice for parents and grandparents who enjoy reading poems to small listeners. The verses can be enjoyed by kids living anywhere, but they will have a special appeal to those living in a big city. Teachers in the elementary grades will find that sharing the poems in language arts classes is a great way to show their students that their ordinary surroundings make fine subjects for poetry.

Highly Recommended.

A retired teacher-librarian, Valerie Nielsen lives in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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ISSN 1201-9364
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