Lesléa Newman, was set to be the featured speaker for Gay Awareness Week at the University of Wyoming the same week that college student Matthew Shepard was robbed, beaten and left to die—because he was gay. The poems in this collection are her attempt to explore the events and perspectives surrounding his horrific attack and death. They channel a variety of human and personified points of view including the fence where Shepard was tied, the deer nearby, the stars and wind, as well as the the victim’s mother, friends, police officers, a journalist, and even the two perpetrators. Together, they paint a picture that is gripping, compelling, and heart-breaking. Yet, the book has a quiet dignity that is a fitting tribute to the young life taken too early. In addition, the poetry is beautifully crafted and Newman weaves together an impressive variety of poetic forms including haiku, “found” poems, pantoums, list poems, “This is Just to Say” poems, alphabet poems, villanelles, acrostic poems, and more, along with a section explaining each form. She provides source notes for the factual material that grounds the poems, as well as lists of books, DVDs, and websites that readers may find helpful. This is a brilliant example of how poetry can help us cope with horror in a way that facts alone cannot.
A Song for Matthew Shepard
Somerville, MA: Candlewick
Young Adult [End Page x]
Lesléa Newman’s picture book, Donovan’s Big Day, narrates the experiences of young Donovan as he prepares for his mothers’ wedding that day. From the moment he wakes up to the moment his “mommy and mama” are married, he is challenged to remain on his best behavior and avoid any messy situations. He stifles his temptations to oversleep, play with his cousin Benjamin, and run around the yard with his dog in order to keep his suit clean and unwrinkled. Donovan has a special responsibility today: he is the ring bearer, and has been given the task of keeping the rings safe in his pocket. He is careful in performing his daily tasks, washing his face and brushing his teeth with the utmost care and attention, and he is happy to mingle among his family members while waiting for the ceremony to begin. Because the ultimate event is hidden from the reader until the last two pages of the book, there is a sense of suspense and excitement throughout the course of the storybook. When it is finally time to give the rings to mommy and mama, Donovan is sure to show his mothers just how much he loves them—by kissing the brides. Newman’s heartwarming story is told alongside captivatingly illustrations, and this progressive picturebook is a wonderful addition to any child’s collection.
Donovan’s Big Day
Illus. Mike Dutton
Berkeley: Tricycle Press, 2011 30 p.
(Picture book, 2+) [End Page 10]
The Girl of the Wish Garden: A Thumbelina Story is a loose retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s Thumbelina. An author’s note explains the inspiration behind the revision. Uma Krishnaswami, who first fell in love with Hans Christian Andersen’s stories at the age of eight while living in India, was inspired to write this book after encountering Nasrin Khosravi’s illustrations for a Farsi picture book edition of the Thumbelina story. The illustrations are captivating, a compound of late impressionism and cubism. The illustrations deviate in places from the original Thumbelina plot, and since this retelling is inspired by the paintings, Krishnaswami follows them, although she retains some key elements from the original, especially using the convention of story as a poet’s dream. The text of the story is spare, written in free verse poetic style, following the surreal dream narrative of the paintings. The result is an engaging poem that follows the fluid dynamic of the paintings, shifting landscapes, and narrative atmosphere. As a Thumbelina retelling should, this story brings...