Poems to enjoy: 19 Varieties of Gazelle by Naomi Shihab Nye

Shihab Nye, Naomi. 19 Varieties of Gazelle. HarperTempest, c1994, p2002. 142 pages. Hardcover (by Greenwillow Books) $15.44, ISBN 978-0-06-009765-3; Tr. $5.84, ISBN 978-0-06-050404-5; PLB $14.66, ISBN 978-1-41558-344-9

TL;DR: Do I recommend this book? Yes

Genre: Poetry

Part of a series? No.

Book Summary:

Naomi Shihab Nye collects poems about her family and life as a Palestinian-American woman as well as about Palestine and how the war in the Middle East has affected the countries and the people there. Her poems have a razor-focus, often discussing olives, lemons, shoes, or trees with intense thoughtfulness and care. The poems cover deaths of children and adults, lives lost to war, and memory.

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This collection of poetry is beautiful. I found myself pausing frequently to take in Shihab Nye’s words. Here is a quote from “What news are you listening to?” that stopped me and made me absorb it for a moment:

It was winter in a minute

O I could miss who said what said

but catch the coming of winter

let me be there

please (lines 11-15).

Her other poems will also stop and plead something, pausing the reader as well and making us think. I would absolutely recommend this anthology. I also had a chance to meet the poet last year when the head of now-my library department invited me to a reading while I was interviewing for my current position. I went to the poetry reading, and Shihab Nye’s composure as a person and a poet were striking. As I read the poems for this assignment, I found myself hearing them in her voice, which, while not mandatory for enjoyment of her work, made the poems even more powerful for me.

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

This is the kind of poetry that I want to make sure does not remain relegated to April displays. I would absolutely recommend this to students, and I think that this is a powerful choice for any reader. This could be a really strong choice to recommend to a student who is looking at global conflict and wants to read something from the perspective of someone who has seen war and loved those who have experienced war; seventh and eighth graders could definitely appreciate these nuances. This would be a strong book club choice as well and would be a great way to get students talking about poetry without being forced to feel as though they are diving into any rhyming couplets or “school-work” poetry. Once students have a chance to read and discuss, I would invite them to write some poetry, too. (Ideas from myself; I also know that Naomi Shihab Nye led writing workshops at the school when she visited last year, so that influenced my planning.)

Grade Level: 5-8

Awards and Starred Reviews:

ALA Notable Children’s Books, 2003

Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books starred 6/1/02

Horn Book Magazine starred 9/1/02

Kirkus Reviews starred 4/15/02

National Book Award Finalist, 2002

New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age, 2004

School Library Journal starred 5/1/02

Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA) starred 6/1/02


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