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Archive for February 11th, 2014

by Sam Juliano

There’s no getting around it.  Caroline Kennedy’s recently-released collection Poems to Learn by Heart breathes life into a literary genre has has lost some relevance in an age of i-phones and college curriculums that have cut back on classes examining poetry.  Caroline Kennedy traces her own affection for poetry back to her own reading sessions with her grandmother Rose Kennedy, who purportedly quizzed them on American history and some of the story poems that captures specific events.  One, Longfellow’s beloved “Paul Revere’s Ride” was a favorite of the late Senator Edward Kennedy, who recited the marathon poem at public events.  The tradition of reading poems as a family though, goes back to Jacqueline Bouvier, who met with her grandfather at least once a week to examine and recite the classics.  The love for poetry was also evident at John F. Kennedy’s inauguration when he looked to Robert Frost for inspiration.  Caroline herself of course published the volume A Family of Poems, a 2005 best-seller, one in which she collaborated with ace illustrator Jon J. Muth.

She and Muth again teamed up for this new volume of poetry, and the work represents some of the finest work the illustrator has ever done in a career that already has amassed some picture book classics.  Muth’s magnificent Zen Shorts won a Caldecott Honor in 2006, and the talented illustrator moved on to some other distinguished picture books such Blowin’ in the Wind, a pictorial rendition of the Bob Dylan treasure, and the moving City Dog Country Frog, a collaboration with Mo Willems.  Muth’s work brings fresh new visualizations to some venerated poems that date back hundreds of years.  Poems by Tennyson, Shakespeare, Beckett, Chaucer, Shelley, Melville, Lincoln, Browning, Crane, Dickinson, Melville and many others are given some lovely new clothes that vividly broaden and accentuate the various interpretations, and offer the art lover some glorious watercolor paintings in this vast 200 page book that is aimed more for the higher middle school and Jr. High School students.  Indeed, this collection could not be appreciated by the youngest, even if the illustrations would still captivate the gifted students in the lower age group. (more…)

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