I Remember: Poems and Pictures of Heritage compiled by Lee Bennett Hopkins

“Heritage makes us who we are. It is an essential, important part of us — our inherited traditions, beliefs, values, and achievements, and how we identify ourselves. Heritage also conjures up remembrances of family, events, travels, songs, celebrations, goals, and challenges. It is our past, our today, and our foundation to build on for the future.” ~ Lee Bennett Hopkins

Our beloved Lee Bennett Hopkins would have turned 82 on April 13, and it’s only too fitting that his birthday falls during National Poetry Month. We’re happy to honor his memory by sharing two poems from one of his final anthologies, I Remember: Poems and Pictures of Heritage (Lee & Low, 2019).

While it is still hard to believe he’s really gone, reading a collection as inspiring as this one is a lovely reminder that the light of his enduring legacy shines on.

I Remember features poem and art pairings by a diverse group of eminent American poets and artists, all of whom were inspired by vivid childhood memories that made lasting impressions on their lives.

Look at this amazing line-up:

POETS

Kwame Alexander * Jorge Tetl Argueta * Joseph Bruchac * Nick Bruel * Margarita Engle * Douglas Florian * Guadalupe Garcia McCall * Marilyn Nelson * G. Neri * Naomi Shihab Nye * Cynthia Leitich Smith * Carole Boston Weatherford * Janet S. Wong * Jane Yolen

ARTISTS

Paula Barragán * Sawsan Chalabi * R. Gregory Christie * Julie Downing * David Kanietakeron Fadden * Insoo Kim * Rafael López * Janine Macbeth * Juliet Meńendez * Daniel Minter * Sean Qualls * Charlotte Riley-Webb * Jeanne Rorex Bridges * Simone Shin * Neil Walden * Michele Wood

 

Michele Wood’s art for Kwame Alexander’s “Here’s What I Remember”

 

The fifteen deeply felt, captivating free verse personal narratives vary in tone and style, and encompass a wide range of emotions, from the excited anticipation of a Native American girl about to meet her storied aunt for the first time (Cynthia Leitich Smith’s “Amazing Auntie Anne”), to the heartwarming joy of a young Latina bonding with her Cuban grandmother as they embroider together (Margarita Engle’s “La visita”), to the visceral fear an African American girl harbors as she and her family travel cross country after her dad is transferred to a new military base (Marilyn Nelson’s “Route 66”).

There is also pride and reverence for one’s place of origin, as in Jorge Argueta’s lyrical tribute to his hometown river in El Salvador (“I can fly/I can sing/I can dream/Like the Tepechapa River”), and Joseph Bruchac’s reflections about the Indian Reservation where he grew up (“Mother Earth is always beneath our feet”).

In Nick Bruel’s moving and revelatory “Pick One,” the half Chinese/half Belgian narrator ponders her racial identity when asked to check a box on a form: “Asian. Caucasian. Pick one.” We learn about her mother’s Han Dynasty ancestors and her father’s Huguenot ancestors, as well as how compassionate adults saved both her parents’ lives during WWII.

These stories celebrate the rich social and cultural tapestries of America, whether it’s an intimate intergenerational encounter, or an incident representative of a larger moment in history.

They underscore universal human truths that will resonate with young readers, while giving them a chance to learn about beliefs and traditions other than their own.

The poets were paired with illustrators of similar backgrounds, who did a beautiful job of interpreting the poems in unique styles informed by their own personal histories. Julie Downing’s lovely watercolor with its soft edges perfectly complements Jane Yolen’s wistful poem, “Calling Home,” and I love Sawsan Chalabi’s party scene accompanying Naomi Shihab Nye’s “Far, Far Away.”

 

Sawsan Chalabi’s art for Naomi Shihab Nye’s “Far, Far Away”

 

I was also happy to see Rafael López’s touch of magical realism with Argueta’s river poem, and oddly enough, R. Gregory Christie’s depiction of Route 66 reminded me of Bob Dylan’s painting, “Endless Highway.” 🙂

With I Remember, Lee reminds us that our human family is endlessly interesting, colorful, varied, fascinating, and surprising. Readers of all ages will be inspired to recall and even share seminal moments from their own lives where meaningful connections were made with other family members in places near and far. We all have stories to tell, as well as closely held beliefs and customs that make each of us truly one-of-a-kind.

The book also includes short statements from the poets and artists, along with profiles and photos of them as children and adults.

Today I’m sharing two food-related poems — a little garlic and gumbo courtesy of Janet S. Wong and G. Neri. So, put on your best bibs, lick your lips, and enjoy!

*

 

 

MOTHER’S DAY
by Janet S. Wong

“Poetry shows you what you are inside, what is on your mind or in your heart when you might not even know it.”

Mother’s Day morning
and I have no present.
No money.
I walk outside.

Kicking the dirt,
my toes hit a rock.
A smooth speckled oval,
it could be a gargoyle egg.
Or a paperweight.
Stuck in a box,
wrapped in the gold paper
Mother saved from Christmas,
the old tape peeled off,
it looks like a good gift.

She shakes the box, smiling,
while I stare at her hands
untying the ribbon,
tearing the paper,
lifting the lid.
She holds the rock with flat fingers,
like some rotten egg.

Mother walks into the kitchen,
puzzling. She puts a clove of garlic
on her thick round cutting board
and brings the rock down hard.

“A garlic rock,” she says,
pulling chunks of garlic
from the broken skin.
“Just what I needed.”

*

 

 

 

GUMBO NATION
by G. Neri

“Poetry is like dreaming through time — a visceral punch to the gut that brings everything back home again. Poetry makes the past immediate, lets you taste sea air, feel gravel on the ground, smell your grandma’s cooking like you’re standing right outside her window. You want to close your eyes and just breathe it in.”

Mami always done said:
when you missin’ home,
make you some gumbo!

Gumbo is life
spicy an’ hot ’nuff
to make you sweat.

Gumbo is life —
rich an’ brown
an’ smellin’ of heavenly
d’light.

Gumbo is you an’ me
an’ this in here
(pointing to my heart).

So stop your mopin’, child!
You homesick?
Make you some gumbo
an’ you’ll be right at home,
no matter where you are!

Get that roux goin’!
White flour an’ butter
over a hot fire
’til it turn muddy brown,
just like the M’ssippi.
The river will take you home.

Then come the earth
which cradles the river —
carrot an’ celery,
pepper an’ onion an’ tomato,
an’ don’t forget the okra —
soft ’nuff to slide down your throat.
Spice it up just right
till it lights up the room.
Then come the meat —
the breath of life.
You got your chicken,
your andouille sausage,
your shrimp an’ crawdad.
Plus a secret flavor from your childhood —
Spam, the meat in a can!
It’s the surprise ingredient (like you).
Top all that with some filé
ground from leaves of a sassafras tree,
smellin’ like the sweet bayou,
deep an’ full of mystery.

Gumbo is the food of your people —
African, French, Spanish, Choctaw —
stirred all together in a Creole mix
and simmered over time
under a hot Louisiana sun.
All this is part of America
an’ part of you,
no matter where you are
or who you with.

You could be in California
or Florida or Minnesota
for that matter.
Get some gumbo in you,
and CooWee!
you’ll be right home again.

So spin some rousin’ zydeco tunes
an’ open all the windows —
Gumbo is bein’ served
an’ things is about to get hot
up in here!

*

 

My first thought upon reading Janet’s touching poem was that with a mother that thoughtful and loving, it’s no wonder she grew up with such a beautiful, giving spirit. Here, a young girl receives an intangible gift in return — the knowledge that her gesture was truly appreciated and valued. How wonderful to have such a clever, imaginative parent!

I love the musicality and heartbeat in Greg’s poem, how skillfully he relates an essential truth: the food we grew up with defines us; it always tastes like home. Had to smile at the mention of Spam, definitely something that takes me back to Hawai’i. There’s nothing like a good recipe poem to stir the senses and evoke fond memories.

Though I was familiar with all the poets in this collection, I enjoyed learning something new about their pasts and seeing their childhood photos. It was also a pleasure to see the work of several new-to-me artists: different styles, techniques, visual statements. Fabulous!

Thank you for this book, Lee. Dear One, we remember.

*

 

I REMEMBER: Poems and Pictures of Heritage
compiled by Lee Bennett Hopkins
published by Lee & Low Books, October 2019
Illustrated Poetry Anthology for ages 9-12, 56 pp.
**Starred Reviews** from Kirkus, School Library Journal and Publishers Weekly

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The wonderful and winsome Amy Ludwig VanDerwater is hosting the Roundup at The Poem Farm. Waltz on over to check out the poetic goodness being served up in the blogosphere this week. Stay safe, be well, and have a good weekend. On Monday, light a birthday candle and read a poem in memory of Lee.

 


*Collection copyright © 2019 Lee Bennett Hopkins. All rights reserved.

*Interior spread of “Mother’s Day,” text copyright © 2019 Janet S. Wong, illustration © 2019 Simone Shin, published by Lee & Low. All rights reserved.

*Interior spread of “Gumbo Nation,” text copyright © 2019 G. Neri, illustration © 2019 Charlotte Riley-Webb, published by Lee & Low. All rights reserved.

*Copyright © 2020 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

25 thoughts on “I Remember: Poems and Pictures of Heritage compiled by Lee Bennett Hopkins

  1. Both poems are so full of emotion and heart and love…thanks for sharing these, Jama. These last few anthologies of Lee’s are wonderful ways of him saying, “I might be gone, but I’m still here!” He would love to see how much we enjoy them.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jama, your post is beautiful.These poems connect us to heritage and poetry and Lee. What more could we ask for as a birthday present. I am sure he is smiling.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m not surprised Lee’s birthday is in April; poetry month celebrates his love and will continue to, won’t it? I have the book ordered from my favorite Indie, but they, happily, are slow because of so many orders. Soon! This is a beautiful celebration of Lee’s book, Jama, Janet’s poem about a mother’s love shows us all how to ‘be’! And Greg’s poem makes me want to get right in the kitchen and rustle up my own memory! I know the art must be gorgeous, too. I just shared a book illustrated by Michele Wood and love that opening illustration you shared. Ah, what a book! Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good things are worth waiting for. I’m sure you’ll enjoy the book once it arrives. I really like Michele’s art and look forward to seeing more of it.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh, these are beautiful poems. I agree with you about Janet’s poem–I was struck by the generous gift she received from her mother who treasured her gift. A garlic rock is just what I need. And that gumbo poem is delicious. The whole collection is a treasure. Thanks for sharing.

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  5. I love this book! Sigh…yet another favorite poetry book locked away in my classroom, lonely, waiting for the kids to come back and choose it for Poetry Friday!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I have not yet had an opportunity to see this anthology, so thank you for sharing a few pages today, Jama. Janet is such a wonderful storyteller, isn’t she? The amount of character depth she puts into her poems is incredible. Like the fact that even though the mother finds the perfect use for the rock, she holds it with flat fingers like a rotten egg. So good.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This is such a beautiful post celebrating an important book. Lee had a few books on the horizon before he died, but he kept talking about this one. He was so proud of it and is surely smiling down at your words and share here. My heart is sad this week and also grateful. Much love to you and yours. Stay safe. xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing that, Amy. How lucky we are to have these last few books of Lee’s to get us through these tough times. Take care.

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  8. Both these poems make my mouth water. Love that Janet’s mother saw the value of the gift presented to her, but also named it aptly: ‘a garlic rock!’ (Who needs a garlic press anyway?) I also love Neri’s poem that reminds us that home is where ever we are, and our recipes. Thank you, Jama, for introducing me to this LBH collection. It had slipped under my radar. Be well. : )

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, we all need garlic rocks! There’s nothing like the taste of home to bring comfort. Hope you get to see this book soon . . . hugs to Smidgey. Stay safe and strong.

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    1. Hope you and your family are safe and healthy. Lee’s book is definitely a treasure; it was wonderful learning more about some of my favorite poets.

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  9. Beautiful post, Jama – and a perfect birthday tribute to Lee. (I shared on FB today, Monday.) Yes, we remember!

    Love the peek inside this book – thanks for sharing two delicious poems and some delicious art. Janet’s “garlic rock” will stay with us and bring a smile and nod, won’t it? So sharp and generous, like Janet.

    Thank you all around!!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Jama, I finally got some time to go back and finish reading the PF posts. Your blog is filled with such amazing poetry all compiled by our sweet Dear One whom we miss so much. I like the title of Lee’s book and am thrilled to see the line-up of amazing poets. Thank you for sharing a slice of this book. I especially loved the way Janet sensitively handled her poem and shared the love and caring her mother gave: “Just what I needed.” The illustration for this poem is as touching as Janet’s poem. Thank you.

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