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The Death of the Hat: A Brief History of Poetry in 50 Objects selected by Paul B. Janeczko and illustrated by Chris Raschka

I love everything about The Death of the Hat: A Brief History of Poetry in 50 Objects, collected by Paul B. Janeczko and illustrated by Chris Raschka. From the title and the concept to the fantastic introduction, the amazing collection of poems, the brilliant title, taken from the Billy Collins poem near the end of the book and the vibrant illustrations, this book is an absolute gem. The Death of the Hat: A Brief History of Poetry in 50 Objects is a collection for children, but really it is a collection for everyone.

I'll be honest, I have a long, love/hate relationship with poetry. When I was given Shel Silverstein's Where the Sidewalk Ends 35 years ago as an eleven year old, a door opened for me. In high school and in college, I studied poetry passionately and wrote it badly. Like candy, I could consume huge amounts and many varieties of poetry for the cost of the coins I stole from my Dad's coin basket. Even if I didn't always understand it, the words were manageable and bite-size and I could try to untangle and decipher them. Poetry taught me how beautiful words are, how powerful are the images they create and how memorable, lasting and timeless they are. Even better, poetry connects us to one another. I still delight in sharing Shel Silverstein's poems with my own children and my students. Senior year when my high school English teacher had us memorize T.S. Eliot's The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock and Wordsworth's I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud, I was annoyed at best. However, almost 30 years later I am deeply grateful. Eliot's verse, the first stanza anyway, has stuck with me and reappeared in other creative places over and over. And, while talking about celebrating National Poetry Month with a teacher who also is in charge of the school garden, we found ourselves reciting Wordsworth's poem together, a poem from the Romantic Period of The Death of the Hat: A Brief History of Poetry in 50 Objects.

Janeczko is a gifted anthologist with many collections to his name. Gorgeously illustrated by Raschka and highly readable, The Death of the Hat: A Brief History of Poetry in 50 Objects is a perfect textbook primer on poetry as well as an excellent, all-encompassing collection of mostly Western works. If you don't think you like poetry, read this book and you will. If you like poetry, read this book and you will like it even more. In his introduction, Janeczko admits that, while he included a taste of Eastern poets, "this collection does not do them justice." Keeping to poems about objects also pretty much eliminates the potential for poetry about abstract, philosophical things that sometimes contribute to the kind of poetry that is less than enjoyable (remember that love/hate relationship I mentioned?) Janeczko also notes that finding "early poems written by women was another challenge. Certainly women wrote poems in earlier eras - Jusammi Chikako, Phillis Wheatley, and Charlotte Smith among them - but, at least in the West, poetry written by men was more likely to find its way into print."

The Death of the Hat: A Brief History of Poetry in 50 Objects begins with the 1978 poem, "Things," by Eloise Greenfield, which is a perfect start. The section Early Middle Ages, 400 - 1000 includes a poem about a bookworm and another about grass. Poems by heavy hitters like Rumi, Bashō, Shakespeare, John Donne, Robert Burns take readers through the Enlightenment. The Romantic period includes William Blake, Byron, and Wordsworth, while the Victorian period includes Tennyson,  Longfellow, Poe, Whitman, Rossetti and Dickinson. Modern and Post-Modern and feature favorites of mine like William Carlos Williams, Yeats, Hughes, Pound, Frost, Plath, cummings, and Ferlinghetti with Contemporary including John Updike, Neruda, Mary Oliver, Billy Collins and Ted Kooser. Both Collins and Kooser are former United States Poet Laureates and Kooser is the author of two wonderful picture books:

House Held Up by Trees, illustrated by multiple Caldecott winner Jon Klassen

Bag in the Wind, illustrated by Barry Root

I hope The Death of the Hat: A Brief History of Poetry in 50 Objects is a book you plan to buy and read, buy and give as a gift and read out loud to others. This is a book for sharing and a book for quiet contemplation. A book for everyone.

Source: Review Copy


Anna said…
My first reaction to this post was googling the image of Chris Raschka - because in my mind's eye he started looking more and more like Gandi or Mother Theresa - for lending his genius to meaningful projects. I think I am slowly falling in love! Next I am going to order this book for my kid's birthday without even looking at it - just based on your review. I have bought many of the books you recommended - but this would be the second blind birthday present (first was Nicola Davies Outside you Window a couple of b-days ago). Thanks - I would have surely missed both books if not for you!
Tanya said…
Anna - You have totally made my day (month, year)!!! First, like you, I don't know much about Raschka but have been exploring his work more. Second, it means so much to me to know that reviewing this book has inspired even one person to check it out! It's always been my goal to find the little gems that might not make it to the shelves of a bookstore or other places where people find books these days. Third, I LOVE that you give your child poetry books! I worry that kids aren't exposed to poetry anymore and I am thrilled to know you are out there buying and reading it with your child! Also, OUTSIDE YOUR WINDOW is such a great book! Enjoy and thanks again for your comment!!!

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