The National Council of Teachers
of English (NCTE) recognizes outstanding children’s poets by bestowing its Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children.
This award, established in 1977, was given annually until 1982, and is now awarded every three years. In 1996, Bernice E.
Cullinan compiled a collection of poems of its first ten recipients. She called this book A JAR OF TINY STARS. The poems were
selected by 3,500 children as their favorites. The poets are: Arnold Adoff, John Ciardi, Barbara Esbensen, Aileen Fisher, Karla Kuskin, Myra
Cohn Livingston, David McCord, Eve Merriam, Lilian Moore, and Valerie Worth.
The authors and their poems
are featured chronologically according to the year in which they won the award. Each author’s section begins with a
beautiful watercolor wash portrait done by Marc Nadel. The facing page includes a quote from that author regarding their insights
on poetry. This is followed by five poems beautifully and simply illustrated with pen and ink drawings by Andi MacLeod. There
is lots of white space which, with the clean lines of the illustrations, gives a crisp impression. The emphasis is certainly
on the poets and their poetry. The last section of the book is entitled “About the Poets,” and includes another,
longer quote from the author as well as a few paragraphs called “You May want to Know.” This includes interesting
personal information about the poet as well as biographical data.
In case the five poems in
the body of this book leave the reader unsatisfied, the Bibliography includes a list of some of the works done by the poets
and would be very helpful in searching for further reading. The index includes authors, titles of the poems, and the first
lines of the poems.
In her introduction, Cullinan
says that “. . . children like poems they can understand: ones that make them laugh and ones that tell a story.”
This is evident in this collection. As a whole, these poems are vivid in their imagery and have a direct style of language;
little is left to personal interpretation. Most of these poems rhyme and have a strong sense of rhythm. The joy that children
find in living is apparent, which makes these poems timeless in their appeal.
Children and adults alike
can share in the feelings you get when a puppy is around. Aileen Fisher’s poem, “My Puppy” is strong, simple,
and rhythmic. “I have a playful prankish pup: / When I stoop down he prances up / And snuffs my neck and slicks my ear
/ As if I’d been away a year:
/ I say, “Be good, you prankish pup.” / But he just smiles and eats
me up!” All five of Fisher’s poems represented here represent something dear to childhood: a puppy, a cat, a cricket,
a bunny, and simply being outside.
The poetry of Lilian Moore
has slightly more subtle nuances. Her rhyme isn’t as apparent; the rhythm isn’t as bold. But the messages are
still very vivid. With Moore’s poetry, the unusual line breaks add to the
beauty. “If You Catch a Firefly” is a good example. The words rhyme, but the format adds to the balance. It could
have been simply two couplets that rhyme. However, her formatting emphasizes the stars and their brightness:
If you catch a firefly
and keep it in a jar
You may find that
you have lost
A tiny star.
If you let it go then,
back into the night,
You may see it
Valerie Worth’s poems
are filled with descriptions of everyday items. Her descriptions include personification which will give the reader a new
perspective. For example, “The lawnmower / grinds its teeth / over the grass, / Spitting out a thick / Green spray;”
and the safety pin “. . . looks / At the sharp / Point with a / Surprised eye.”
A JAR OF TINY STARS is a
delightful book which will enhance the library of any lover of children’s literature.
Bernice E., editor. 1996. A JAR OF TINY STARS: POEMS BY NCTE AWARD-WINNING POETS/CHILDREN SELECT THEIR FAVORITE POEMS. Honesdale, PA: Boyds Mills Press, Inc. ISBN: 1563970872.