In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • “The City, the Country, and the Road Between”: The 2011 Lion and the Unicorn Award for Excellence in North American Poetry
  • Michael Heyman (bio), Michael Joseph (bio), and Joseph T. Thomas Jr. (bio)


Susan Blackaby. Nest, Nook & Cranny. Illustrated by Jamie Hogan. Watertown: Charlesbridge, 2010.

Honor Books:

Rob Jackson. Weekend Mischief. Illustrated by Mark Beech. Honesdale: Wordsong, 2010.

X. J. Kennedy. City Kids: Street & Skyscraper Rhymes. Illustrated by Philippe Béha. Vancouver: Tradewind, 2010.

Seven, they say, is a lucky number. That bit of folk wisdom rings true enough to the judges and editors behind this, the seventh installment of The Lion and the Unicorn Award for Excellence in North American Poetry. Seven years ago Lissa Paul, then one of three coeditors at The Lion and the Unicorn, founded the award. She enlisted the help of Richard Flynn, Kelly Hager, and Joseph Thomas, who, over the course of a year, read stacks of poetry, winnowed them down to smaller stacks, and, finally, chose Marilyn Nelson’s Fortune’s Bones (2004) as our first winner. What set the L&U Award apart from other children’s poetry awards was the essay, which would not simply discuss the merits of the winning book of poetry alongside a handful of honor books, but instead would speculate on issues unique to the project of writing and publishing poetry for children, all the while painting a picture of that year in children’s poetry, treating the good alongside the great, the great alongside the bad, the bad alongside the embarrassing. This tactic was taken wholesale from The Signal [End Page 296] Poetry Award (in fact, before we arrived at a name, we referred to our new award in private as the “Not-the-Signal Poetry Award”). Featured in Nancy Chambers’ much-missed journal Signal, the Signal Award flourished from 1979 to 2001, its influential run ending only two years before the journal itself disappeared. The hole left by Signal’s absence has yet to be filled, but we hope that The Lion and the Unicorn Award will last at least as long as the award that inspired it.

In his introduction to the recent collected edition of the Signal Award essays, Poetry for Children: The Signal Award 1979–2001 (2009), Peter Hunt notes that the award was “set up, in the spirit of the journal, to instigate, provoke, and sustain a conversation about poetry published for children and to provide a service to its readers” (11). Our goals at The Lion and the Unicorn are the same, and our aspiration is that this award and its accompanying essays will, like its progenitor, continue on for decades mapping the varied terrain of North American children’s poetry. This seventh year marks an important moment in the growth of this award, as it is the last year that founding judge Joseph Thomas will contribute to the essay. Last year (the 2010 award, despite the typo in the published essay’s title) was the first year the award stumbled along without the direct influence of Lissa Paul, who had the year before completed her stint as an editor at the L&U. Once Joseph leaves, the award will be an institution standing free from those who founded it: a capable new slate of editors (David Russell, Karin Westman, and Naomi Wood) will guide the work of next year’s judges, two returning (Michael Heyman, who first contributed in 2009, and Michael Joseph, who joins us this year), and one brand new (Emily Cardinali Cormier). Yes, this little institutional history may be a tad dull (and perhaps more than a tad self-indulgent), but, since journals are commonly read online these days, we wanted, upfront, to contextualize just what you’re reading: the most recent installment of an annual series of essays dating back to 2005, an ongoing engagement with the poetry of North America that, although uncollected, reads well from the beginning. So if you’re interested in poetry for children, do yourself a favor, call up those earlier essays on whatever database you may be using (or—is such a thing still possible?—head over to your bookcase), and take a look at what’s been...