Evanston Public Library’s 101 Great Books for Kids 2023: Poetry

October 30, 2023



37. Animals in Pants by Suzy Levinson, ill. Kristen and Kevin Howdeshell

An irreverently illustrated picture book of simple and silly poems featuring all kinds of animals wearing all kinds of pants. Call Number: x811.6 Levin.S


38. Kin: Rooted in Hope by Carole Boston Weatherford, Ill. by Jeffery Boston Weatherford

Carole and Jeffery Boston Weatherford tell the story of their ancestors through verse, art, and painful, but ultimately empowering, research. Call Number: J Weath.C


39. My Head Has a Bellyache by Chris Harris, ill. Andrea Tsurumi

Step aside, Shel Silverstein! There’s a new funny poetry book in town and it’s going to knock you out. Get ready for elderly cavemen, nail-clippies fairies, and AWOL buffalos in this laugh-out-loud triumph of a collection. Call Number: x811 Harri.C


40. Robot, Unicorn, Queen: Poems for You and Me by Shannon Bramer, ill. Irene Luxbacher

A funny, touching, exciting array of poems fill this collection. From “I did what the toad toad me to do” to “Please Don’t Scream at the Piano” dive deep into some of the best poetry for kids you’ve ever read. Call Number: x811.6 Brame.S


Return to the full list of 101 Great Books for Kids here.

Evanston Public Library’s 101 Great Books for Kids 2022: Poetry

October 21, 2022


  1. Book of Questions / Libro de Las Preguntas: Selections by Pablo Neruda, ill. Paloma Valdivia, translated by Sara Lissa Paulson

Neruda’s last great work of poetry is reimagined for kids in this sumptuous collection. 70 questions of the original 320 are presented thematically to kids, with results ridiculous, thoughtful, and often unanswerable. Call Number: Spanish x861 Nerud.P

  1. Build a House by Rhiannon Giddens, ill. Monica Mikai

Written to commemorate the 155th anniversary of Juneteenth, this song tells the tale of sorrow and joy, pain and triumph, always with the child reader in mind. A marvelously honest look at how to sing when the world has left you nothing at all. Call Number: JPicture Gidde.R

  1. Marshmallow Clouds: Two Poets at Play Among Figures of Speech by Ted Kooser and Connie Wanek, ill. Richard Jones

30 poems complemented with evocative paintings play with images and metaphors, constructing whole new ways to encounter the world. Call Number: x811 Koose.T

  1. Star Child: A Biographical Constellation of Octavia Estelle Butler by Ibi Zoboi

With vivid poems and engaging mini-chapters, Zoboi offers a cosmic look at the legendary science fiction writer’s youth and the events that inspired her to create her otherworldly stories.xBiog Butle.O Zoboi.I

  1. Take Off Your Brave: The World Through the Eyes of a Preschool Poet by Nadim (age 4), ill. Yasmeen Ismail

When Nadim was 4-years-old, his mom told him that a poem is “a kind of story of a feeling or a moment.” Delve into Nadim’s 23 poems, each capturing what it means to really and truly be a kid. x821 Shamm.N


Return to the full list of 101 Great Books for Kids here.

Evanston Public Library’s 101 Great Books for Kids 2021: Poetry

October 18, 2021


38. Dear Treefrog by Joyce Sidman, ill. Diana Sudyka

Slip into the secret spots of your garden and meet a coy creature unafraid to be silent and stealthy. Contains lovely poems and delicious facts about the tiny treefrog. JPicture Sidma.J

39. Honey for You, Honey for Me: A First Book of Nursery Rhymes collected by Michael Rosen, ill. Chris Riddell

Our youngest readers will bounce with glee when read this array of rhymes both old and new. Big beautiful art is sure to entrance toddlers far and wide. x398.8 Honey

40. Hoop Kings 2: New Royalty by Charles R. Smith Jr. 

“Shimmy, shake, spin, stride / dribble in, step back, dribble out, slide.” Meet 12 of today’s hottest basketball champs as Charles R. Smith Jr. makes their poetry on the court into poetry on the page. x811 Smith.C

41. Legacy: Women Poets of the Harlem Renaissance by Nikki Grimes

Award-winning poet and author Nikki Grimes introduces the poems of women from the Harlem Renaissance then answers them with poems of her own. x811 Grime.N

42. Niños: Poems for the Lost Children of Chile by María José Ferrada, Ill. María Elena Valdez, translated by Lawrence Schimel

Thirty-four poems honor the thirty-four children killed during the dictatorship of General Pinochet. Poignant, loving, beautiful words display each child full of life and hope and wonder. J861.7 Ferra.M

43. The 1619 Project: Born on the Water by Nikole Hannah-Jones and Renée Watson, ill. Nikkolas Smith

A class assignment to “trace your roots” leads one Black child to ask her grandmother about their family history. Grandma tells the story of Black pride, history, and what it means to come from a resilient people that have loved, resisted, and persevered. x973.0496 Hanna.N


Return to the full list of 101 Great Books for Kids here.

Announcing Evanston Public Library’s 101 Great Books for Kids List of 2020!

November 6, 2020


Evanston Public Library is pleased to announce the results of our incredibly hardworking 101 Great Books for Kids committee. 2020 proved to be a particularly difficult year for us. When the pandemic closed our library in March it also kept all the books we were trying to read sequestered away. Thanks to the magnificent efforts of staff members like Jessica Iverson, however, deliveries were made in a safe and efficient manner to everyone in their homes. In the end, we may have ended up reading more books for this committee than ever before.

Today’s list is a testament to the dedication of the people of this committee. Please be sure to stop by our library to request any of the titles you would like to see. They represent some of the best books of the year and should not be missed.

All 101 books on this list are appropriate for readers 2-12. You can download a PDF of these titles here at: 101 Great Books for Kids 2020.

For your convenience, here are the categories of the list:


Picture Books

Folk Tales, Fairy Tales, and Religious Tales

Easy and Early Chapter Books

Poetry and Short Stories


Comics and Graphic Novels

Nonfiction Picture Books

Nonfiction for Older Readers



Picture Books


  1. The Barnabus Project by Terry, Eric and Devin Fan.


Barnabus is half mouse, half elephant, and 100% an utter failure as a genetically modified pet. When he and his imperfect friends decide to make a break for freedom, you’ll root for them every step of the way. Call Number: JPicture Fan.T



2. Danbi Leads the School Parade by Anna Kim.


Charming illustrations tell the tale of how a young Korean immigrant child’s first day of school goes from tragedy to triumph. Call Number: JPicture Kim.A


3. Evelyn Del Rey Is Moving Away by Meg Medina, ill. Sonia Sánchez.


What do you do when your “numero uno” best friend is moving away? Daniela and Evelyn squeeze every bit of fun out of their last day in this sweet, hopeful narrative. Call Number: JPicture Medin.M



4. Facts vs. Opinions vs. Robots by Michael Rex.


A bunch of cheery robots help readers learn the difference between facts and opinions in this colorful, funny, much-needed romp. Call Number: JPicture Rex.M


5. Friday Night Wrestlefest by J.F. Fox, ill. Micah Player.


Are you ready to RUMBLE??? Where will your loyalties lie when Dangerous Daddoo takes on the Tag Team Twins with Mama-Rama joining in the fun? Call Number: JPicture Fox.J


6. The Haunted Lake by P.J. Lynch.


Jacob loves Ellen and Ellen loves Jacob. But when Jacob explores a mysterious light in an underwater tower, he’s sucked into the embrace of the beautiful, very dead, Lillith. Can Ellen rescue her love? Call Number: JPicture Lynch.P


7. Hike by Pete Oswald.

A father and child travel to the mountains and enjoy the great outdoors in this warm wordless book. Call Number: J Picture Oswal.P


8. I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes, ill. Gordon C. James.

“I am a roaring flame of creativity. / I am a lightning round of questions, and / a star-filled sky of solutions”. An empowering ode to Black boy joy. Call Number: JPicture Barne.D


9. I Talk Like a River by Jordan Scott, ill. Sydney Smith.

“I wake up each morning with the sounds of words all around me. And I can’t say them all . . .” This exquisitely illustrated book tells the tale of a stuttering kid who finds comfort in his father’s advice. Call Number: JPicture Scott.J


10. My Best Friend by Julie Fogliano, ill. Jillian Tamaki.

“she is my best friend i think / i’ve never had a best friend so i’m not sure.” Two girls meet, play, and enact what may be the world’s most perfect example of friendship. Call Number: JPicture Fogli.J


11. Nana Akua Goes to School by Tricia Elam Walker, ill. April Harrison.

Grandparents Day is coming up and Zura’s Nana Akua intends to arrive. But with the traditional tribal marks on her face, will Zura’s classmates be nice or be mean? Call Number: JPicture Walke.T


12. A New Green Day by Antoinette Portis.

From a “comma in the long, long sentence of the stream” (a tadpole!) to “a black coat slipped around Earth’s shoulders” (night!) simple riddles and breathtaking pictures produce a beautiful book. Call Number: JPicture Porti.A


13. Old Rock (Is Not Boring) by Deb Pilutti.

The other forest creatures think Old Rock lives a boring life, but it astounds them with stories of its surprisingly eventful existence. A clever, humorous science lesson. Call Number: JPicture Pilut.D


14. On Account of the Gum by Adam Rex.

Oh no. There’s gum stuck in your hair? Don’t worry, I know a surefire solution. A book where things get increasingly, hilariously, catastrophically worse. Call Number: JPicture Rex.A


15. Outside In by Deborah Underwood, ill. Cindy Derby.

When you forget that the Outside exists, it has ways of gently reminding you. Nature is the true star of the show in this gentle, poetic celebration of the outdoors. Call Number: JPicture Under.D


16. Overground Railroad by Lesa Cline-Ransome, ill. James E. Ransome.

At the crack of dawn Ruth Ellen clutches her book of the life of Frederick Douglass as she and her family climb a train bound for New York City. A thrilling historic tale of one family’s hope for a better life. Call Number: JPicture Cline.L


17. A Place Inside of Me: A Poem to Heal the Heart by Zetta Elliott, ill. Noa Denmon.

Deep down inside you might feel joy, fear, anger, and peace. But more than anything else, feel the love. A poem of pride by an Evanston author. Call Number: JPicture Ellio.Z


18. Salma the Syrian Chef by Danny Ramadan, ill. Anna Bron.

Salma, a Syrian refugee living in Vancouver, hopes she can make her mother happy again by cooking one of her favorite dishes. A lovely celebration of community and compassion. Call Number: JPicture Ramad.D


19. Smashy Town by Andrea Zimmerman and David Clemesha, ill. Dan Yaccarino.

Who’s looking for some serious smash time? Join Mr. Gilly as he crashes, tumbles and crumbles a great big building down to smithereens. Expect to read this one out loud again and again! Call Number: JPicture Zimme.A


20. This Old Dog by Martha Brockenbrough, ill. Gabriel Alborozo.

Old Dog likes to take things slow to explore the world, but his people just rush rush rush. Will New Girl be the friend he needs? Call Number: JPicture Brock.M


21. We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom, ill. Michaela Goade.

A powerful look at the Indigenous-led movements in the United States to stop the oil pipelines from ruining the natural world. Call Number: JPicture Linds.C


22. Your Name Is a Song by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, ill. Luisa Uribe.

On the first day of her new school, no one can pronounce a little girl’s name. Fortunately, her mother has a surefire solution. A celebration of names of every kind. Call Number: JPicture Thomp.J



Folk Tales, Fairy Tales, and Religious Tales


23. Chia and the Fox Man: An Alaskan Dena’ina Fable adapted by Barbara J. Atwater and Ethan J. Atwater, ill. Mindy Dwyer.

Orphaned Chia does a fox a great wrong by stealing its axe. Will he do what’s right or reject his elders’ teachings? Call Number: JPicture Atwat.B


24. The Fabled Life of Aesop by Ian Lendler, ill. Pamela Zagarenski.

Born a slave, young Aesop learned early on that by using his gift of storytelling he could dispense wisdom and outwit oppression at the same time. Contains twelve of Aesop’s folktales. Call Number: xBiog Aesop Lendl.I


25. The Feathered Serpent and the Five Suns: A Mesoamerican Creation Myth by Duncan Tonatiuh.


When the gods of Mesoamerica fail to create human creatures, they give the sacred bones of creation to the lord of the underworld. Only Quetzalcóatl, the Feathered Serpent, is brave enough to take back the bones and try again. Call Number: x398.208972 Tonat.D


26. The Secret of the Tattered Shoes by Jackie Morris, ill. Ehsan Abdollahi.

A weary soldier encounters a castle with a mystery. The king needs to know why his daughters’ shoes are tattered and torn every night. But is the answer worth dying for? Call Number: x398.20943 Morri.J


27. Tales of the Feathered Serpent: Rise of the Halfling King by David Bowles, ill. Charlene Bowles.

Sayam’s just your average half-human boy in this Mayan tale. When he pops out of an egg and is raised by a kind witch, he has no idea he’ll soon be challenging a tyrant for his throne. Call Number: JGraphic Bowle.D


28. Three Billy Goats Buenos by Susan Middleton Elya, ill. Miguel Ordóñez.

A beautiful blend of Spanish and English retells the classic story of three plump little cabritos and the hungry gigante that wants to munch them up. Call Number: JPicture Elya.S


Easy and Early Chapter Books


29. Albert Hopper, Science Hero by John Himmelman.

Join intrepid science explorer Albert Hopper and his equally fearless (sorta) niece and nephew as they drill down to the center of the Earth! Science facts merge with wacky adventures. Fun for all! Call Number: J Himme.J


30. All the Dear Little Animals by Ulf Nilsson, ill. Eva Eriksson, translated by Julia Marshall.

When Esther finds a dead bumblebee, she joins her friend and her little brother Puttie in becoming the neighborhood funeral directors for a day. A funny, strangely touching look at the lighter side of death. Call Number: J Nilss.U


31. A Bear Named Bjorn by Delphine Perret, translated by Antony Shugaar.

Six small stories tell the tale of a bear and his friends. Fans of Winnie-the-Pooh will find much to love in this charming collection. Call Number: JChapter Perre.D


32. The Best of Iggy by Annie Barrows, ill. Sam Ricks.

“Iggy is the hero of this book because he’s the one who does the things in it. All the things he does (in this book) are bad. Every last one of them.” Intrigued? Then find out just what Iggy did. Call Number: JChapter Barro.A


33. Mindy Kim and the Yummy Seaweed Business by Lyla Lee, ill. Dung Ho.

Being the new kid is hard enough, but what happens when people make fun of your food? Enterprising Mindy Kim has a solution, and it might just get her a friend in the process. Call Number: JChapter Lee.L


34. See the Cat: Three Stories About a Dog by David LaRochelle, ill. Mike Wohnoutka.

In this easy book charmer, a much put upon dog must contend with simple narration that clearly wishes him ill. Call Number: JEasy Laroc.D


35. Stella Endicott and the Anything-Is-Possible Poem by Kate DiCamillo, ill. Chris Van Dusen.

Stella likes school and she does not like know-it-all Horace Broom. But when she and Horace accidentally end up locked in a closet in the pitch black, the solution to their problem lies in friendship. Call Number: JChapter Dicam.K


36. Ty’s Travels: All Aboard! by Kelly Starling Lyons, ill. Nina Mata.

“Woo-woo!” All aboard the Ty express! When no one in his family will play with him, Ty makes his own fun and soon everyone’s getting involved. Call Number: JBegin Lyons.K


37. What About Worms? by Ryan T. Higgins.

Tigers may be big and brave, but they do have one fear: WORMS! So what happens when the worms decide that Tiger’s a wonderful guy? Call Number: JPicture Wille.M



Poetry and Short Stories


38. A Hatful of Dragons: And More Than 13.8 Billion Other Funny Poems by Vikram Madan.

Hilarity abounds in this wild and wacky conglomeration of unique (and goofy) poems! Expect 13.8 billion laughs! Call Number: x811 Madan.V

39. I Wish by Toon Tellegen, ill. Ingrid Godon, translated by David Colmer.

A strange, melancholy, oddly hopeful book for our strange, melancholy, oddly hopeful little world. Call Number: x811 Telle.T


40. Just Like Me by Vanessa Brantley-Newton.

The girls in this book might be drummers, little sisters, shy, or “door buster”s, but each one has something important to say, so you better sit back and listen. Call Number: x811 Brant.V


41. On a Snow-Melting Day: Seeking Signs of Spring by Buffy Silverman.

Are you ready to take a deep dive into a drip-droppy, slip-sloppy, hawk-squawking, woods-walking, crocus-poking, mitten-soaking, snow-melting day? Gorgeous photography celebrates the arrival of spring. Call Number: x508.2 Silve.B


42. Once Upon an Eid: Stories of Hope and Joy by 15 Muslim Voices, edited by S.K. Ali and Aisha Saeed, ill. Sara Alfageeh.

These captivating short stories–some funny, some poignant–by some of the best Muslim authors writing today, capture the various ways Eid is celebrated. Call Number: x297.36 Once




43. The Blackbird Girls by Anne Blankman.

In 1986 Ukraine two girls become unlikely friends after experiencing the fallout from the horrifying Chernobyl crisis. Call Number: J Blank.A


44. Echo Mountain by Lauren Wolk.

Everyone blames Ellie for her father’s accident but this city girl turned mountain expert is determined to find a cure for his coma. A Depression-era tale of fortitude punctuated with scintillating descriptions and writing. Call Number: J Wolk.L


45. Efrén Divided by Ernesto Cisneros.

Fifth grader Efrén’s life turns upside down after he discovers his beloved mother has been deported. This powerful, fast-paced novel shows a boy struggling to keep his family together. Call Number: J Cisne.E


46. Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley.

Sisters Della and Suki have always stuck together, even when they had to live with their mom’s terrible boyfriend. Now he’s headed to jail but Suki’s still not okay. A tough and gripping story of abuse and hope. Call Number: J Bradl.K


47. Fly On the Wall by Remy Lai.

Henry Khoo’s family treats him like a baby, so he does the only natural thing in response: he buys a ticket and hops a plane to Shanghai! A hilarious and clever adventure. Call Number: J Lai.R


48. From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks.

Budding chef Zoe discovers a letter from her estranged birth father serving time in jail for murder. When he tells her he didn’t do it, Zoe will stop at nothing to prove his innocence. Call Number: J Marks.J


49. A Game of Fox and Squirrels by Jenn Reese.

If you could have only one wish, what would it be? When Samantha plays a game with a charming fox, she has a chance to make everything go back to the way it was. But should she? Call Number: J Reese.J


50. Get a Grip, Vivy Cohen by Sarah Kapit.

Autistic Vivy can throw a mean knuckleball and wants to play on an all-boys’ little league team. Made up of emails between Vivy and a Major League pitching star, this engaging book is a home run. Call Number: J Kapit.S


51. The Girl and the Ghost by Hanna Alkaf.

Suraya’s best friend has always been a ghost. He’s cruel and terrible and scary and he adores Suraya. So what happens when she decides the two can’t be together anymore? Call Number: J Hanna


52. Here in the Real World by Sara Pennypacker.

Ware loves the age of knights and chivalry. Jolene prefers the reality of plants and trees. A powerful look at friendship and the birth of a budding artist. Call Number: J Penny.S


53. Hide and Seeker by Daka Hermon.

A simple game of Hide and Seek turns into a nightmare when a malevolent monster starts pulling kids into its terrifying world. You can run, but you cannot hide! Call Number: J Hermo.D


54. King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender.

In this visceral Louisiana-set novel, twelve-year-old Kingston experiences racism and homophobia while grieving the death of an older brother who may now be a dragonfly. Call Number: J Calle.K


55. Leaving Lymon by Lesa Cline-Ransome.

In the 1940s, Lymon loves music and his grandpops. However, after tragedy strikes, he must leave his home and travel into an uncertain future up North. Call Number: J Cline.L


56. The Magic in Changing Your Stars by Leah Henderson.

After Ailey botches his audition for The Wiz, his grandfather hands him magical shoes that once belonged to the legendary Bo Bojangles Robinson. Soon Ailey’s transported to 1939 Harlem where he meets his grandfather…as a boy with tapdance dreams! Call Number: J Hende.L


57. The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert.

California surfer Alberta is the only Black girl in her grade until goth Brooklynite Edie moves into the house next door. Can such different people become friends? Call Number: J Colbe.B


58. Planet Omar: Accidental Trouble Magnet by Zanib Mian, ill. Nasaya Mafaridik.

A Pakistani Muslim boy living in England faces big changes when he starts school in a new town. Fans of Wimpy Kid and Big Nate, meet the one and only Omar! Call Number: J Mian.Z


59. Second Dad Summer by Benjamin Klas, ill. Fian Arroyo.

Jeremiah spends the summer with his dad. The only problem: his father’s flamboyant new boyfriend embarrasses him. Will Jeremiah learn to accept the new dad in his life? Call Number: J Klas.B


60. Show Me a Sign by Ann Clare Le Zotte.

Set in 1805, this atmospheric novel introduces Mary Lambert, a proud Deaf girl who lives among other Deaf people on Martha’s Vineyard. Still mourning the death of her beloved older brother, Mary finds her world shaken up by the arrival of a troubling stranger. Call Number: J Lezot.A


61. Skunk and Badger by Amy Timberlake, ill. Jon Klassen.

As far as Badger’s concerned, he’s happiest holed up in his brownstone doing “important rock work”. But that’s before Skunk arrives and turns his life upside down in this kooky, charming bedtime read. Call Number: J Timbe.A


62. Stand Up, Yumi Chung by Jessica Kim.

Shy Yumi wants to be a stand-up comedian, but her parents do not see a future in telling jokes. When she sneaks a peek at a summer comedy camp, the instructor mistakes her for someone else…and Yumi goes along with it! Breezy fun. Call Number: J Kim.J


63. The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez by Adrianna Cuevas.

Cuban-American Army brat Nestor moves from town to town. The upside? He can talk to animals. Soon after he arrives in New Haven, Texas, he learns that he must solve a mystery involving missing pets, his abuela, and sinister forces in the woods. Call Number: J Cueva.A


64. Ways to Make Sunshine by Renée Watson, ill. Nina Mata.

After her family experiences some financial hardship, Ryan Hart has to move to a new house and face new challenges in Coretta Scott King Author winner Watson’s chipper series opener. Call Number: J Watso.R


65. Wayside School Beneath the Cloud of Doom by Louis Sachar.

The wacky kids of Wayside School have all kinds of problems. So when a great big, nasty cloud of doom perches on top of their school, things go from weird to wild. Call Number: J Sacha.L


66. What Lane? by Torrey Maldonado.

In this fast-paced realistic novel, Black sixth grader Stephen’s eyes become open to a world divided by race and force him to choose different lanes. Call Number: J Madlo.T


67. Wink by Rob Harrell.

It’s hard to blend in when you’re losing your hair, forced to wear a floppy cowboy hat, and get called “the cancer kid” behind your back. But when Ross Maloy becomes obsessed with learning the guitar, things go from awful to awesome. Call Number: J Harre.R


Comics and Graphic Novels

68. Go With the Flow by Lily Williams, ill. Karen Schneemann.

How do you battle injustice when you’re young? When Abby discovers that the tampon/tampax machines in her school are always empty, she and her friends band together to fight for what’s right. Call Number: JGraphic Willi.L


69. Green Lantern: Legacy by Minh Lê, ill. Andie Tong.

After his grandmother dies, Tai Pham is left with more than just his sadness. He’s left with her jade ring and legacy as the last Green Lantern. But can Tai get a hold on his emotions long enough to learn how the ring truly works? Call Number: JGraphic Le.M


70. Mister Invincible: Local Hero by Pascal Jousselin with Laurence Croix, translated by David Bryon and Ivanka T. Hahnenberger.

Evildoers, beware! Mister Invincible is here! With the power of playing with panels and sequential pacing, consider this French import one of the funniest and cleverest books of the year. Call Number: JGraphic Jouss.P


71. My Video Game Ate My Homework by Dustin Hansen.

What do you do when a virtual reality game eats the science fair project that was going to save you from summer school? This accessible adventure has the answer. Call Number: JGraphic Hanse.D


72. The Postman From Space by Guillaume Perreault, translated by Françoise Bui.

Bob’s a simple space postman who loves his regular routine. So what’s he supposed to do when the Boss gives him a wacky new route with strange planets and kooky inhabitants? A younger comic with a gentle lesson of getting out of your comfort zone. Call Number: JGraphic Perre.G


73. The Runaway Princess by Johan Troïanowski, translated by Anne Collins Smith and Owen M. Smith.

Princess Robin just can’t stay put! In three lushly illustrated stories she helps new friends, outwits a witch, and defeats a crew of nasty pirates. Call Number: JGraphic Troia.J


74. Shirley & Jamila Save Their Summer by Gillian Goerz.

Basketball loving Jamila and super sleuth Shirley team up to escape unwanted summer camps and to solve a mystery involving a pool and a missing gecko. Call Number: JGraphic Goerz.G


75. Snapdragon by Kat Leyh.

When she stumbles on the local witch in the woods, Snapdragon discovers a whole wide world where being the odd one is a blessing, not a curse. Call Number: JGraphic Leyh.K

76. Stepping Stones by Lucy Knisley, colored by Whitney Cogar.

Jen does not want the following: To move to the country with her mom and her mom’s boyfriend, to get to know his kids, and to work on a farm. But what happens when she starts to like not just one but ALL of those things? An Evanston artist’s story. Call Number: JGraphic Knisl.L


77. Twins by Varian Johnson, ill. Shannon Wright.

Shy Maureen can’t understand why her twin sister Francine keeps pulling away from her. Hurt and betrayed, their split culminates in each girl running against the other for class president. May the best twin win! Call Number: JGraphic Johns.V


78. Yorick and Bones by Jeremy Tankard and Hermione Tankard.

Poor Yorick. Stuck in the ground he’s rescued by a friendly pup and sets off on a quest to find a real, true friend. Can the answer to his prayers be closer than he thinks? Call Number: JGraphic Tanka.J


Nonfiction Picture Books

79. All of a Sudden and Forever: Help and Healing After the Oklahoma City Bombing by Chris Barton, ill. Nicole Xu.

When something horrible happens, what do you do? One April morning in Oklahoma a truck with a bomb exploded. In its wake, a single tree remained. A true story of healing and recovery. Call Number: x363.32 Barto.C


80. The Cat Man of Aleppo by Irene Latham and Karim Shamsi-Basha, ill. Yuko Shimizu.

It’s not just humans that suffer when there’s war. When ambulance driver Alaa Aljaleel discovers the hungry and abandoned cats on the streets of Aleppo, Syria, he rallies the world to help him care for the small and the weak. Call Number: JPicture Latha.I


81. Clever Hans: The True Story of the Counting, Adding, and Time-Telling Horse by Kerri Kokias, ill. Mike Lowery.

Can a horse really be as smart as a human? Clever Hans sure seemed like it. A fascinating story of the equine that fooled the world with his true intelligence. Call Number: x636.1 Kokia.K


82. Dark Was the Night: Blind Willie Johnson’s Journey to the Stars by Gary Golio, ill. E.B. Lewis.

How did the voice of a blind man, travelling this country by train, literally reach to the stars? Golio brings to life the beautiful story of how Willie Johnson’s singing ended up on the Golden Record of Voyager I. Call Number: xBiog Johns.B Golio.G


83. Drawing on Walls: A Story of Keith Haring by Matthew Burgess, ill. Josh Cochran.

“I think it is very important to be in love with life.” Since he was a young child, Keith Haring wanted to draw and paint. Now the full story of his life comes to life in this eye-catching, vibrant, joyful biography. Call Number: xBiog Harin.K Burge.M


84. Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks by Suzanne Slade, ill. Cozbi A. Cabrera.

When she was a child in Chicago, this future Poet Laureate would look at the clouds and “dream about the future, which was going to be ecstatically exquisite.” A gorgeously rendered look at the power of perseverance by an Evanston artist. Call Number: xBiog Brook.G Slade.S


85. Fauja Singh Keeps Going: The True Story of the Oldest Person to Ever Run a Marathon by Simran Jeet Singh, ill. Baljinder Kaur.

What happens when you decide to run your first marathon at the age of 81? What happens when you start finishing marathons at 100? The inspiring story of a man that has never let the world slow him down. Call Number: xBiog Faujasi Singh.S


86. A Garden in Your Belly: Meet the Microbes in Your Gut by Masha D’Yans.

Take a gorgeous trip into your microbiome, where good food and exercise will keep the more than 100 trillion microorganisms there happy and healthy. Lush and funny watercolors bring the impossibly small to life! Call Number: x612.3 Dyans.M


87. Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera by Candace Fleming, ill. Eric Rohmann.

The life cycle of a bee is so much more than just getting honey. Follow an Apis mellifera as she cycles through multiple jobs in the hive, complemented by luscious, velvety oil paints. Call Number: x595.799 Flemi.C


88. If You Take Away the Otter by Susannah Buhrman-Deever, ill. by Matthew Trueman.

Playful sea otters aren’t merely cute. Once they were hunted to near extinction causing an army of sea urchins to wreak devastation. A clever, enticing, and beautiful look at the interconnectedness of nature. Call Number: x599.7695 Buhrm.S


89. Incredible Jobs You’ve (Probably) Never Heard Of by Natalie Labarre.

Tired of grown-ups asking you what you want to be when you grow up? Then take some tips from a book that offers you such options as water slide tester, dinosaur duster, gross stunt tester, and more! Call Number: x331.702 Labar.N


90. The Most Beautiful Thing by Kao Kalia Yang, ill. Khoa Le.

Kalia’s grandmother has one tooth, but her smile is the most beautiful her granddaughter has ever seen. A moving picture book memoir filled with jaw-dropping art about growing up with little money in a Hmong-American home. Call Number: x305.9069 Yang.K


91. A Ride to Remember: A Civil Rights Story by Sharon Langley and Amy Nathan, ill. Floyd Cooper.

Sharon Langley looks back at 1963, the year she became the first African-American child to ride the carousel in Baltimore’s Gwynn Oak Amusement Park. Call Number: x305.8 Langl.S

92. Shirley Chisholm Is a Verb! by Veronica Chambers, ill. Rachelle Baker.

“A catalyst for change in America” gets her due in this riveting, inspirational, magnificent biography of a figure that so much more than just the first Black woman to make a bid for the presidency. Call Number: xBiog Chish.S Chamb.V


93. Swish! The Slam-Dunking, Alley-Ooping, High-Flying Harlem Globetrotters by Suzanne Slade, ill. Don Tate.

“Skilled athletes, expert players, and electrifying performers all rolled into one.” Meet the ballplayers that broke racial barriers even as they went on to live up to their globe trotting name. Call Number: x796.323 Slade.S


94. Your Place in the Universe by Jason Chin.

From kids to the cosmic web of the universe, gorgeous watercolors encompass the sheer scope and scale of everything inside and beyond our own galaxy. Call Number: x523.1 Chin.J


Nonfiction for Older Readers


95. All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team by Christina Soontornvat.

In 2018, saving twelve boys and their soccer coach trapped in a Thai cave became a worldwide rescue effort. This account chronicles how the plan came together and offers a rewarding Thai perspective along the way. Call Number: x796.525 Soont.C


96. The Bird in Me Flies by Sara Lundberg, translated by B.J. Epstein.

Berta may be just a farm girl, but she desperately yearns to be an artist. But in 1920s Sweden, a dream like that is impossible . . . or is it? Call Number: J Lundb.S


97. Darwin’s Rival: Alfred Russel Wallace and the Search for Evolution by Christiane Dorion, ill. Harry Tennant.

Living a life of adventure and exploration, this canny scientist helped Darwin unlock the secrets of evolution, though his name is practically lost to history today. Call Number: xBiog Walla.A Dorio.C


98. The Eagle Huntress: The True Story of the Girl Who Soared Above Expectations by Aisholpan Nurgaiv with Liz Welch.

The long tradition of Kazakh eagle training has always been handed down from father to son. Now meet Aisholpan, the girl who lives to defy expectations. Call Number: xBiog Aisho.N Aisho.N


99. A Sporting Chance: How Ludwig Guttmann Created the Paralympic Games by Lori Alexander, ill. Allan Drummond.

In the mid-1900s, a time when disabled people with spinal injuries had little hope, doctor Ludwig Guttmann discovered ways to help them not only survive but thrive. His efforts led to the creation of the wildly popular Paralympic Games. Call Number: xBiog Guttm.L Alexa.L


100. The Talk: Conversations About Race, Love & Truth, edited by Wade and Cheryl Willis Hudson.

Thirty excellent authors and artists from different backgrounds talk about how to be anti-racist in a series of powerful short essays, stories, poems, and illustrations. Call Number: x305.8 Talk


101. Tracking Pythons: The Quest to Catch an Invasive Predator and Save an Ecosystem by Kate Messner.

It’s a master of disguise, can swallow an entire baby deer, and is rapidly devouring the Florida natural wildlife. How do you stop an invasive species that’s practically invisible? These scientists may have found the answer. Call Number: x597.9678 Messn.K


Committee Members

Patricia Alm, Sally Battle, Betsy Bird, Chelsea Elward, Jessica Iverson, Katy Jacob, Hannah Johnson, Leigh Kennelly, Kerry Littel, Elacsha Madison, Judith Mathews, Susan McClelland, Christina Mendez, Martha Meyer, Jennifer Wasilewski Mills, Olivia Mo, Bill Ohms, Julie Rand, Reenie Ruckdaeschel, Paula Shapiro, Elizabeth English Steimle, Bridget Sweeney, Luke Thompson, Amy Louise Tripp, Jennifer Wasilewski, and Brian Wilson





Evanston Public Library’s 101 Great Books for Kids 2020: Poetry and Short Stories

Poetry and Short Stories

38. A Hatful of Dragons: And More Than 13.8 Billion Other Funny Poems by Vikram Madan.

Hilarity abounds in this wild and wacky conglomeration of unique (and goofy) poems! Expect 13.8 billion laughs! Call Number: x811 Madan.V


39. I Wish by Toon Tellegen, ill. Ingrid Godon, translated by David Colmer.

A strange, melancholy, oddly hopeful book for our strange, melancholy, oddly hopeful little world. Call Number: x811 Telle.T

40. Just Like Me by Vanessa Brantley-Newton.

The girls in this book might be drummers, little sisters, shy, or “door buster”s, but each one has something important to say, so you better sit back and listen. Call Number: x811 Brant.V

Be sure to read the ebook on Overdrive here.


41. On a Snow-Melting Day: Seeking Signs of Spring by Buffy Silverman.

Are you ready to take a deep dive into a drip-droppy, slip-sloppy, hawk-squawking, woods-walking, crocus-poking, mitten-soaking, snow-melting day? Gorgeous photography celebrates the arrival of spring. Call Number: x508.2 Silve.B


42. Once Upon an Eid: Stories of Hope and Joy by 15 Muslim Voices, edited by S.K. Ali and Aisha Saeed, ill. Sara Alfageeh.

These captivating short stories–some funny, some poignant–by some of the best Muslim authors writing today, capture the various ways Eid is celebrated. Call Number: x297.36 Once


You can find the full 101 Great Books for Kids 2020 list here.

Name That Text Type!: What Is Poetry?

Hello, April! National Poetry Month has arrived! Time to brush up on or learn for the first time what poetry is, what poems can be about (hint: anything you want!), where we can find them, and what the guidelines are for writing different types of poems (like concrete, limerick, haiku, acrostic and more)! Learn what stressed syllables are (hint: they aren’t anxious), the difference between rhythm and rhyme, and metaphor and simile!

Check it out on Hoopla here. It’s a Bonus Borrow, and won’t count as one of your 4 monthly borrows!

Then engage with Ms. Sally’s Family Poetry Jam activities! We’d love to see the poems you come up with!

Poetry: Not Just for April Anymore

September 25, 2019

Publishing runs in cycles, and libraries consciously and unconsciously follow those cycles. Because April is considered National Poetry Month, there is a temptation to just read all the poetry you like then, and forget about it for the rest of the year. Happily, that is not how Evanston operates. But while ours is a poetry loving burg, even I sometimes forget that we can talk about the wonderful collections on our shelves any day of the year and not just in the Spring. Here then are four recent poetry publications that you may have missed, but shouldn’t miss out on.

Instruments of the True Measure: Poems by Laura ‘Da

Shawnee poet ‘Da writes in a way that Publishers Weekly described as, “a metaphoric system that binds arithmetic, cartography, Indian removal, and personal legacy”. What does that look like? Narrative poems and short essays for the most part, with lines that jump out at you, “like a tongue/ poking around// in the shrill vacancy/ of a shattered tooth.”

You Darling Thing by Monica Ferrell

“Every sixteen-year-old girl likes// A murderer for an admirer.” This book has collected multiple stars from a wide array of different professional journals, and why not? This dangerous little collection is full of magnificent bites of sound. “Somewhere a mutiny is tearing loose from/ Its tree like ripe fruit”. One review called it striking. I can’t think of a better word.

Bullets Into Bells: Poets and Citizens Respond to Gun Violence

Timely. Would that it were not so. If you’ve an interest in reading the poetry of Billy Collins, Patricia Smith, Natalie Diaz, Ocean Vuong, Danez Smith, Brenda Hillman, Natasha Threthewey, Robert Hass, Naomi Shihab Nye, Juan Felipe Herrera, Mark Doty, Rita Dove, and Yusef Komunyakaa as they discuss gun violence, this book is for you. Poems, prose, and an ongoing discussion.

No Secret Where Elephants Walk: Poetry & Images, Africa by Carol and Arnie Kanter

No list is complete with the inclusion of our own local Evanstonian poets. Poetry and photography mix and meld for readers that are interested in wildlife, travel, and the fragile, vanishing places.

Don’t Cry, Darling. It’s Blood All Right

August 30, 2018

Today we shall engage in a little bit of edification for the masses. Poetry! It’s not April, but who says we have to relegate verses to that month alone? Today’s piece comes from the Ogden Nash collection Parents Keep Out, Elderly Poems for Youngerly Readers circa 1933 (it’s out of print but you can order a copy through our library pretty easily if you like). In it, you will find that the more things change, the more they stay the same. I dedicate Nash’s words to all those of you out there who believe that we live in times where children are more bloodthirsty than ever before. Remember – this poem was originally published in the 30s.



Whenever poets want to give you the idea that something is particularly meek and mild,
They compare it to a child,
Thereby proving that though poets with poetry may be rife
They don’t know the facts of life.
If of compassion you desire either a tittle or a jot,
Don’t try to get it from a tot.
Hard-boiled, sophisticated adults like me and you
May enjoy ourselves thoroughly with Little Women and Winnie-the-Pooh,
But innocent infants these titles from their reading course eliminate
As soon as they discover that it was honey and nuts and mashed potatoes instead of human flesh that Winnie-the-Pooh and Little Women ate.
Innocent infants have no use for fables about rabbits or donkeys or tortoises or porpoises,
What they want is something with plenty of well-mutilated corpoises.
Not on legends of how the rose came to be a rose instead of a petunia is their fancy fed,
But on the inside story of how somebody’s bones got ground up to make somebody else’s
They go to sleep listening to the story of the little beggarmaid who got to be queen by
being kind to the bees and the birds,
But they’re all eyes and ears the minute they suspect a wolf or a giant is going to tear
some poor woodcutter into quarters and thirds.
It really doesn’t take much to fill their cup;
All they want is for somebody to be eaten up.
Therefore I say unto you, all you poets who are so crazy about meek and mild little
children and their angelic air,
If you are sincere and really want to please them, why just go out and get yourselves
devoured by a bear.

– Ogden Nash, Parents Keep Out

Poet Profiles: Aozora Brockman

April 25, 2017

poetEven though National Poetry Month is winding down, we’re not done celebrating here at EPL. This Sunday, April 30 at 4 pm we’re thrilled to welcome poets Aozora Brockman and Anita Olivia Koester as part of the 2017 Evanston Literary Festival. Both will read from their latest collections, and in anticipation, we recently spoke with Brockman via email. Raised on an organic vegetable farm in Central Illinois, Brockman is the author of two chapbooks, The Happiness of Dirt and Memory of a Girl. She is the recipient of the 2015 Jean Meyer Aloe Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets, and her poems have been published in the Cortland Review, Fifth Wednesday, Reckoning and other journals. She lives, works, and writes in the haven of her family’s farm. You can learn more by visiting her website, and below she discusses her poetic origins and inspirations, her writing process, and her superb poem “Bottomland.” Enjoy!

EPL: Can you tell us a little about your background as a poet? What started you writing poetry? What did you write about when you began, and what do you write about now?

Aozora Brockman: My very first poems emerged as improvised songs when I was young. Some winter evenings, as I went out to feed and water our chickens and goats, the rhythm of my feet crunching on the packed snow set a beat, and my arm swinging my empty egg pail added a counterpoint. When I opened my mouth, words would come tumbling out and follow a melody I made up on the spot.

I am easily overwhelmed by sensations and sounds, so spending whole days cooped up in the house in the winter listening to the constant chatter of public radio made me feel like a helium balloon blown too full. So I loved those rare moments of solitude and silence, when it was just me and the moon and the snow, when all of the words that I had shoved down inside of my throat floated out into the cold air. Most of the time the words were strung together randomly and didn’t make a lot of sense, but at times I found myself singing thoughts and feelings that reflected deeply what I needed right then to express.

I think this is what I love most about writing poetry—sometimes, when you sit down with a pen and paper and allow yourself to write whatever comes into your mind, you discover something deep inside of you that needed to come out into the world. Suddenly something clicks into place, and whatever was vague inside your mind is now concrete, right on the page. I’ve been hooked on that feeling—of empowerment, and joy—since I was young, and that has kept me writing.

But it wasn’t until I took a class with Rachel Jamison Webster through the Creative Writing program at Northwestern that I dared to think of myself as a poet. Growing up, I felt there was a clear difference between poems that I read in school—which oftentimes confounded me—and what I was writing. I used poems as a kind of short-hand for longer essays, and I hardly knew what I was doing with form or enjambment or rhythm. I remember that I was terrified of taking the Reading and Writing Poetry course with Rachel because I thought I would fail at writing “good” poems. Thankfully, I was wrong! Not only did Rachel convince me that I was capable of writing poetry, but she also encouraged me to delve deeper into myself and to write with sensitivity and bravery. She taught me that there was great freedom in writing poetry—that I could be wholly, unabashedly, myself—and that poetry has the power to rupture structures, to heal, and to make people feel tremendous emotion.

The poems I wrote before meeting and learning from Rachel were more reserved and filled with imagery of the vegetable fields of our farm. I still derive inspiration from the beauty of our family farm, but the poems I write now are emotionally open and probing.

EPL: Can you give us a window into your writing process? How do you begin, and what are the essential ingredients of a good poem? Has your idea of what poetry is changed since you began writing?

AB: Ideas for poems often come to me when I’m weeding or harvesting on our farm. The repetitive movements of swiping a hand hoe around seedlings and brushing dirt up against them, or gathering up a bouquet of pink beauty radish and twirling a twist-tie around them engages my body and mind in such a way that I feel intimately connected to the dirt, bugs, birds and woods that surround me. This meditative space is conducive to poetic inspiration.

Sometimes I see something gorgeous and fall in love—a butterfly emerging from a emerald cocoon or a spider spinning an intricate web—and have to write about it, or sometimes I am digging up sweet potatoes and the joy of it sparks an idea. My father likes to say that when he’s working on the farm, he’s not composing songs or writing the next great American novel, but that his mind is essentially blank, fully concentrated on the task before him. I’m not writing poetry while I’m working either, but something about being completely engaged, on hands and knees in dirt, allows my mind to wander off and settle on an idea. Most of the time I am so busy on the farm that I forget the idea or image during the course of a physically intense work day, but usually it comes back to me again while working in the field and sticks in my memory.

When I sit down to write, I close my eyes and think of an image or scene that struck me. I try to remember how it felt to be in that moment: what I was touching, what I was smelling, what colors I was mesmerized by, what voices or sounds I was hearing. Then, with words, I try to recreate that memory as vividly as possible so that it can enter into someone else’s mind. To do that, I have to translate images and hard to describe feelings into language—which takes a lot of trial and error. But I always want my reader to be right there with me, feeling and seeing and hearing through my eyes and body.

For me, the most essential ingredient to writing a good poem is an openness to, sensitivity towards, and love for the world around me. If I am closed off to the world, or fearful and anxious of what surrounds me, my poems become one-dimensional or forceful. Because I fear something, I want to see the world without depth and ignore the complex chaos just below the surface. This way of seeing and feeling makes my poetry substanceless and devoid of truth. I believe the best poetry does not try to bang the reader over the head with an argument, but rather reflects the world in all of its complexity, even if it reveals something ugly or heartbreaking.

I haven’t always felt that poetry was so connected to love and openness—in fact, I think I’ve just recently come to this conclusion. It has been almost two years since I graduated from college, and for most of that time, I found it very difficult to write poetry. As a young adult facing the realities of climate change, political instability, racism, sexism and everything else, I felt an immense weight on my shoulders, and, filled with terror about my future, I retreated inside myself. But this spring, I finally feel myself opening up again, and love and hope are brimming in my heart. Poetry is brimming in me, too, because for the first time in a long while, I am seeing the world clearly and with care, and I want so much to share what I am seeing and feeling, and to connect with others. Poetry, it seems, is all about wanting to connect, and though I probably knew this on the surface-level before, I know this with conviction now.

EPL: What poets have inspired you? What are you reading right now?

AB: Rachel Webster inspires me immensely. Her poems quicken my heart when I’m reading them, and images and thoughts and feelings grow so big inside of me that I have to put her book down to write a poem myself. I feel very connected to her poetry, and that bond lets me break free from where I am stuck in my mind, and hurtles me into a new realm of thought.

I also love Joy Harjo’s poetry, and Audre Lorde’s poem “Power” is one of my all-time favorites. The work of Anne Sexton, Franny Choi, Nicky Finney and June Jordan fascinate and inspire me.

I am reading Wendell Berry’s A Small Porch right now, which is a joy! My grandpa, Herman, adores Wendell Berry and he and my grandma Marlene gifted all six of their children with a copy of the book this past Christmas. My grandpa, who is an avid lover of poetry, always asks me when I see him if I’ve finished reading the book yet. I’m happy to say I am now halfway through it! As a farmer-poet, Wendell Berry infuses his poems with the cycles of the seasons and laments our destruction of the earth. As my grandpa explains it, instead of going to church on Sundays with his wife, Berry spends his Sabbath walking in woods or sitting on his porch, writing poems. I am inspired by this idea and hope to be a farmer-poet like Berry someday.

EPL: Can you tell us a bit about the poem you chose to share?

AB: “Bottomland” is a love poem to the black loamy dirt of our fields, and to my brothers, Asa and Kazami, who played in the dirt with me when we were still too young to help out on the farm. I found with this poem that it is very difficult to describe how we played with the dirt, and the joy of it, to a reader who isn’t intimately familiar with our farm. I mention a “burdock hole” in the poem, for instance, and I am sure that most people have never even heard of burdock, much less know how it is harvested.

Burdock, called gobo in Japanese, is a long black root that extends up to three feet into the ground. To harvest it, we take spades and shovels and dig out around the three rows of burdock, careful not to cut through the roots in the process. The deep and wide hole that remains after we’ve dug out all of the burdock looks almost like a grave. When my brothers and I were little, we’d be just as tall as the hole, and while my dad—who I call Otōsan—hurled shovel after shovel of dirt out of the hole, we would have nothing to do but immerse ourselves in the soil all around us: feeling it, smelling it, looking at it up close, or even tasting it. (My brother Kazami was infamous for eating handfuls of dirt!)

During one of those burdock harvests, Asa noticed how some of the dirt Otōsan piled up next to the hole came trickling down the side of it, and since the edge of the hole wasn’t perfectly smooth, the streams of dirt would catch on little knobs and ruts on the way down. Asa showed me how to take a handful of dirt and let it run down the side of the hole, then gather it up from the bottom and run it down again and again. We observed how the finest dirt would settle on the knobs and ruts while the coarser dirt would tumble all the way to the bottom of the hole, and something about this process was beautiful and fascinating to us. I loved to touch the dirt that coated the knobs and marvel at its rabbit-fur-like softness.

When Asa read Memory of a Girl, he told me “Bottomland” was his favorite poem and that it made him nostalgic for our childhood. I wrote “Bottomland” to remember and relive the most joyous moments of growing up on our farm, and the poem makes me nostalgic too. What I miss most is being able to derive so much happiness from playing with what surrounded us—dirt. Since not many people grew up playing the way we did, it is easy to feel that what I remember from my childhood is imagined or not real. But “Bottomland” allows me to capture those memories, and live again the days when the bottomland field was my whole world.

Poet Profiles: Anita Olivia Koester

April 14, 2017

April is National Poetry Month, and here at EPL we’re celebrating with a very special poetry event. On Sunday, April 30 at 4 pm we’re excited to welcome poets Anita Olivia Koester and Aozora Brockman as part of the 2017 Evanston Literary Festival.  Both will read from their latest collections, and in anticipation, we recently spoke with Koester via email.  A Chicago poet and editor for the lit journal Duende, Koester is the author of the chapbooks Marco Polo, Apples or Pomegranates (forthcoming), and Arrow Songs which won Paper Nautilus’ Vella Chapbook Contest. She is the recipient of Midwestern Gothic’s Lake Prize, the Jo-Anne Hirshfield Memorial Poetry Award, and the Bread Loaf Returning Contributors Award, and her poetry is published or forthcoming in Vinyl, Tahoma Literary Review, CALYX Journal, Tupelo Quarterly, and elsewhere.  You can learn more by visiting her website, and below she discusses her poetic origins and inspirations, her writing process, and her excellent poem “Confessions of a Childless Woman.”  Enjoy!

Evanston Public Library: Can you tell us a little about your background as a poet? What started you writing poetry? What did you write about when you began, and what do you write about now?

Anita Olivia Koester: I published my first poem in December 2013, and I would say it was my first or second serious poem. Before that I wrote poems here and there, but had always intended to be a novelist and therefore I read novels. I hardly knew how to read a poem back then, nor had I been exposed to much contemporary poetry. That poem was unlike anything that came after it, mostly because it was written as a fictional poem and from a man’s perspective. I haven’t written a poem from a male’s perspective since. My poems, though often mythical and imaginative, are essentially autobiographical. And I suppose in some ways that first poem was as well, as it was about a husband who cheats on his wife and is experiencing an almost paralytic guilt. Sometimes acquiring empathy for the people who have hurt us can begin the healing process.

Though I had known since childhood that my desire was to become a writer, it wasn’t until I divorced that I was able to start out on the journey to finding my own voice. And many of my poems revisit this theme, the odyssey of a woman in search of her voice, the many beasts she must slay along the way both societal and internal. And for me this journey involves a tremendous amount of loss, and even guilt for leaving one life behind for another. When I first started writing, I was writing fiction, and then I began performing poems at open mics when I lived for a time in Paris. Even though I was always nervous to go up on stage, I loved how immediate the emotional connection could be with other like-minded people. If I read a poem about my father people would come up to me afterwards to tell me about their fathers, and there was a palpable feeling of celebration of emotion and language that I had never known in my life. Nor had I ever felt part of a community before, when I was married I lived an isolated life. I suppose I started writing poetry because of poets, because poets are some of the most welcoming, curious, and interesting people I’ve ever met, and in many ways it felt to me like I had discovered a new family.

book coverEPL: Can you give us a window into your writing process? How do you begin, and what are the essential ingredients of a good poem? Has your idea of what poetry is changed since you began writing?

AOK: I feel like my process is always changing, not necessarily developing, but changing. I don’t allow myself to ever say I can only write in one state, and therefore I can allow writing to happen at any time and in any place. I probably write more often than not at home on my computer, but I compose poems on walks to the park, on trains, on planes, in the morning, just as I’m falling asleep, in the shower, while I’m washing dishes. And many times those poems are never put to paper, they just form within me and drift off or perhaps lay in wait (I doubt it though, since I have a terrible memory). But if the piece strikes an emotional cord with me, eventually I will find my way to my phone or computer to write it down, I wish I could say I still wrote on paper, but it’s become a rare occurrence. Not all of these compositions become poems, and even those that do, do not always get sent off to journals. But, they will stay in my files and when I’m feeling stuck I can look to them for lines, words, or images.

Occasionally I write a poem that never has to be revised or reworked, and often times these are my best poems. But even then they’re usually built off the back of lesser poems, I might write five or ten poems on one subject before I finally write the poem that gets it right. And then there are the poems that go through countless drafts, and that is when poetry is like chipping away at a boulder in order to end up with one good quality nugget. Sometimes the poem can seem so small in comparison to the process of arriving at it.

I couldn’t possibly claim that my poems always have the essential ingredients, but when I read poems, I respond to the emotional quality of them first. I always want to be moved by a poem. Beyond that, it varies. I’m personally fond of lyric poetry, poetry that is concerned with the musical elements of a poem – syntax, alliteration, prosody, assonance, slant rhymes, anaphora, repetition, and such. I like to be transported or enraptured by the language itself even at the expense of meaning. For me, the words should dance, or sing, or at the very least sway and hum. I’ll take those poems over poems of wisdom any day. Knowledge can be rather cold. I’d rather read a person’s messy and scattered thoughts that in the end only culminate in experience than be told anything definitive by a poem.

I think my understanding of poetry and poetics has deepened immeasurably since I started writing poetry, and I still have much to learn. It’s one of the things I love about poetry, the continual discovery of just how many ways there are to write something as common and as oft-written as a love poem. It’s hard to appreciate a poem until you’ve read a thousand of them, but once you’ve read a thousand of them, you can’t wait to read a thousand more and go back and read that first thousand again and again. Poems alter depending on the reader and their engagement of it, where they are in their life and what they are feeling, and in that way the life of a poem – as long as it is being read somewhere by someone – is endless.

EPL: What poets have inspired you? What are you reading right now?

AOK: Oh gosh, I’m always reading 10-30 books at a time. I’m an exceptionally slow reader of poetry, and one reason I love chapbooks is that I can sometimes finish them in a sitting or a few days. Otherwise, I can spend months reading a book of beautiful poems. Each poem is often like a long story compressed, and sometimes I’m so emotionally exhausted after engaging with one knock-out poem that I have to put the book down. (I don’t recommend reading this way at all.) In order to force myself out of this way of reading I sometimes sit at the park and just read a book of poems out loud from cover to cover and let it wash over me without allowing myself to overthink or analyze which I can always do later. We had precious few warm days this winter in Chicago, but on the last warm day I went to the park and read Ocean Vuong’s Night Sky with Exit Wounds, which is a remarkable book for both the gentle quality within the strength of his voice and for how diverse it is formally. Another one of my favorite books that came out this year was Joshua Bennett’s The Sobbing School, which I might be reading for years since each poem is so emotionally intense it’s like a kick to the stomach and yet the poems are also complex and intellectual.

Other books currently on my nightstand include, Natalie Diaz’s When My Brother Was an Aztec, Roger Reeve’s King Me, Marianne Boruch’s Eventually One Dreams the Real Thing, Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello’s Hour of the Ox, and Jennifer S. Cheng’s House A. And then there are those poets that my poetic universe revolves around, and those currently are Sharon Olds, Pablo Neruda, Adrienne Rich, and Larry Levis.

EPL: Can you tell us a bit about the poem you chose to share?

AOK: “Confessions of a Childless Woman” has a rather long history. It began at the first writing residency I ever went to, a magical place tucked away amid the cornfields of Nebraska called Art Farm. Because I had all this time to create and was surrounded by visual artists, I found myself inspired to do a photo shoot with a number of vintage mannequins I found on the property. Some of the torsos were in the trunk of an abandoned Peugeot which smelled rank when I opened the rusted latch to pull them out. It was the kind of place where you might find some odd pile of materials to repurpose, basically a creative person’s ideal setting. And this one mannequin in particular spoke to me because of a crack she had running down her side. That mannequin – and one other with a beautiful though weatherworn face – became the main subjects of a self-portrait series I did in which the mannequins were placed in various roles I’ve lived. I’ve exhibited this series in a few places in Chicago including the public library, and people always remark on how eerily emotional the mannequins seem.

I spent a great deal of time both shooting and editing the series, as well as printing, framing, and exhibiting them, and now since I’m too lazy to find them another home, they decorate my apartment. The crack running down the one mannequin’s rib cage and breast has so occupied my imagination I’m sure I’ve dreamt about it. In some ways it was cathartic to take some of my emotions and place them on these mannequins, and in other ways it left me exposed and vulnerable. It gave a kind of physical shape to my own psychic pain. One of these photos became the cover of my first chapbook, Marco Polo, and other ones have gone on to be published in journals and books, though I never sold one of the prints, I think in part because they can be disturbing, though not to me.

The poem itself explores my deepest personal struggle, one I share with so many women. We are still brought up to think that a woman who doesn’t ever experience pregnancy and childbirth is not a really a woman.  If we cannot have children, we feel shame and perhaps unworthy of love, and if we chose not to have children, or it just never happens along the way, then we feel guilty, like we are perhaps not whole. This places such tremendous pressure on the woman, and so in the poem I pose the question of why can’t the aberration – the deviation from the norm – be beautiful, be celebrated. And what does it mean to be an aberration, how is the word defined? As it turns out the word has such a wide range of definitions – none of them particularly positive – and yet the definitions themselves are beautiful and poetic and have to do with light, images, seeing, and even the movement of celestial bodies.

This poem was published in Tupelo Quarterly along with two of the mannequin photos which I digitally manipulated to engage further with this poem. Visually, the poem mirrors the crack in the mannequin, which creates a duality that further illustrates my own struggle between two possible selves, the one with children, and the one without. The last line becomes a kind of suture – yes, these issues seem to separate women, but they ultimately draw us together on a deeper level. The poem is also about distortion. The first line is deliberately not capitalized in a kind of rebellion against norms. Everyone who looked at this poem – excepted for the editors who published it – was bothered by that, and at times I was too. But that was exactly the point! As a writer I find it important to always be interrogating ideas of normality as well as language, societal structures, rules and laws.  If we are not vigilant, all of them can be used against us.

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