“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:
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
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
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.”
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!
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.
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.”
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
Gumbo is you an’ me
an’ this in here
(pointing to my heart).
So stop your mopin’, child!
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,
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
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.