Forgive Me, I Meant to Do It: False Apology Poems
Gail Carson Levine
HarperCollins, $16, 80 pages, ages 6 and up
Gail Carson Levine's gleefully snarky poems in "Forgive Me, I Meant to Do It" go a long way in turning this high-minded literary form into a joy for youngsters and their adults. Each free-verse poem is short and impishly rude, but funny as long as you're not the victim.
Levine, best known for her novel "Ella Enchanted," takes her cue for false-apology poems from American poet William Carlos Williams (1883-1963) and his poem "This Is Just To Say."
She pinches his title with each of her 40 of her poems.
Where his false apology was for eating someone else's plums, hers leap from fairy tales and Mother Goose rhymes.
Here's her riff on Snow White:
Dwarves/ you snore/ pick your noses/ never take a bath/ although/ I always/ encourage you/ to be at your best/ Forgive me/ I'm making myself ugly/ and leaving/ with the witch.
In another poem, a bulldozer startles Sleeping Beauty awake, and the apologizing driver says he plans to charge tourists to visit the castle. In another, the cow that Jack sold off cheap gets her revenge after Jack steps away from his giant beanstalk. She chomps through its stalk and says, Forgive me/ I think/I'm worth/more than five magic beans.
You get the idea. Some poems are more successful than others, but overall these are quirky surprises spiced with bloody bits. Each comes to life in loopy, energetic line drawings by Matthew Codell.
For writers who want to try writing their own false apologies, Levine urges them to start by feeling grouchy and mean.
April is poetry month. Two other good collections are the late Shel Silverstein's "Every Thing on It" and Jack Prelutsky's "I've Lost My Hippopotamus."
Stolen Into Slavery
Judith and Dennis Fradin
National Geographic Society, $19, 120 pages, ages 9-14
Award-wining authors Judith and Dennis Fradin shine light on a dark, little-known chapter in American history with their biography of a free black man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841.
They base their story on Solomon Northup's autobiography "Twelve Years a Slave," which he wrote after a dozen horrible years of slavery. It was published before the Civil War.
"Stolen Into Slavery" begins with Northup waking up with a throbbing head in a foul-smelling dungeon in Washington, D.C. The 32-year-old father of three in Saratoga Springs, New York, expected to be freed once it was established he was a free black.
He was among the 400,000 free blacks in the nation. But his free papers and money had disappeared after his captors lured him away from home and drugged him. And sold him.
The man who came to his cell, John Birch, insisted Northup was his slave and had him severely beaten for insisting he was a free man.
So begins Northup's 12 anguishing years of enslavement in Louisiana. It took that long for him to contact his family. They were able to secure his release with the help of a white lawyer who knew him.
The authors' smooth writing style and realistic dialogue let the story develop at an engrossing pace. Their generous use of photographs, maps and artwork enhance the book's page design. The authors also include a timeline, bibliography and online resources.
Time to vote
Young readers have a chance to vote for their favorite book, author and illustrator in an election set up by the Children's Book Council as part of the Every Child a Reader program. Ballots are available at bookstores, schools, and libraries and online at www.BookWeekOnline.com.
There are several books in four age-related categories. The contest is open until May 3. Winners will be announced May 7, which is the first day of Children's Book Week. Last year 525,000 children and teens took part in the national event.