April happens to be National Poetry Month, which is a good excuse, if you need one, to treat yourself to the pleasures of reading poetry. If you’re looking for a way to get someone, child or adult, interested in reading some poems, you can’t do better than introducing him or her (and yourself) to Visions in Poetry, a new series of books from Kids Can Press. So far, there are seven books, including Ernest Thayer’s Casey at the Bat, Edward Lear’s The Owl and the Pussycat, Alfred Lord Tennyson’s The Lady of Shalott, Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven, Alfred Noyes’ The Highwayman, Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky, and My Letter to the World and Other Poems by Emily Dickinson. Each poem (or, in Dickinson’s case, several poems) has been paired with illustrations from a contemporary artist. They range from the whimsical (Stéphane Jorisch’s interpretation of Lear’s poem), to Genevieve Côté’s colorfully delicate pictures accompanying Tennyson’s poem, to Joe Morse’s thought-provoking rendition of Casey at the Bat, which is set against the background of an inner-city sandlot baseball game.
Morse’s illustrations are certainly not how I had ever pictured Casey and the Mudville 9, and to be honest, was initially a bit put off by them. Yet the more I studied them and reread the poem, I concluded that Morse had taken what is essentially a great example of light verse and given it a depth and resonance I could never have imagined.
And, since I’m being so honest here, I was delighted to acquaint myself with Tennyson’s well-known poem, The Lady of Shalott. Despite the fact that I was an English major (and was deep into the whole Camelot and Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur shtick), and although I was familiar with several of the quotable lines of the poem (Agatha Christie used the first three words of the line “The mirror crack’d from side to side” as the title of one of her mysteries, for example), I had never actually read the poem itself.
Each of the books has a useful section of notes on the poet and poem as well as a brief discussion of the artist’s interpretation of the work. All in all, it’s a well-conceived, finely executed series, aimed at readers 10 and up. Bravo to Kids Can Press.