STEADY HANDS: POEMS ABOUT WORK by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer
(Clarion, 2009), ages 6-14, 48 pp.
This fascinating collection of short free verse poems, inspired by Walt Whitman’s, I Hear America Singing, illuminates the activities of various people at work — from a teacher, librarian, mail carrier, surgeon, artist, and welder, to a baker, tow-truck driver, and cafeteria cook. Framed by the poems, "Morning," and "Night," these concise snapshots sometimes offer surprising reasons why a job was chosen, like the lawyer who opted for a less stressful career "in the company of dogs," or, for a teacher, a side of her job not always recognized:
But not everyone knows
the teacher’s secret torments:
a lesson that knotted understanding
a bright kid who refuses to be inspired
flames of words thrown in frustration —
Vivid sensual details, like the "flap/roll/flap" of the baker kneading dough, or the "ballet of hands" performed by a clerk as she sorts, scans, and bags groceries, speak to the rhythms of the everyday work world of both adults and young people, and will give readers an uncommon appreciation for different types of careers, and what occupies some of the people who have chosen them. In an interview on her website, Zimmer shares that she wanted to "pay homage to the hard work of people of I know." The welder, for example, is her father; the retail clerk, her sister; and the ballet teacher, her mom.
Sean Addy and Megan Halsey have created a stunning array of mixed media collages to complement the poems, consisting of textured backgrounds, found objects, ephemera, photographs, people cut-outs, and drawings, that can only be described as hip, intriguing, and offbeat. Included are some of Zimmer’s own possessions — lace from her wedding dress, her granny’s buttons, and antique keys from her grandparents’ house.
Steady Hands has already received many well-deserved accolades, including a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly, which cites the "inventive, complicated collages, and well-crafted poems." Kirkus liked the "crisp images and dynamic phrases," and Booklist says, "The hands on details blend dreams and realism in the upbeat, contemporary poems that will find a place across the curriculum."
So, are you ready to help me congratulate Tracie?
Just pick up whatever spoon you have at hand and dip deeply into this communal bowl — then work up a long, steady slurp! When your belly’s full, mosey on over to your nearest indie or favorite online bookseller to purchase your very own copy of Steady Hands: Poems About Work. You’ll definitely want one for National Poetry Month in April!
Today’s Special: Career Classic (guaranteed to improve productivity
and brighten the work load).
*Interior spreads posted by permission, text copyright © 2009 Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, illustrations copyright © 2009 Megan Halsey and Sean Addy, published by Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.