The Proper Way to Meet a Hedgehog and Other How-To Poems
“The mix of poets, styles, and topics makes for a collection that will prompt children and their parents and teachers to grab paper and pencil—or laptop and mouse—to try writing their own ‘how-to’ poems.”
It’s bittersweet to review Paul B. Janeczko’s 25th poetry anthology for young people since he passed away on February 19 of this year. But The Proper Way to Meet a Hedgehog and Other How-To Poems is another outstanding collection, with 33 poems about everything from “How to Tell Goblins from Elves” by Monica Shannon to “How to Make a Snow Angel” by Ralph Fletcher—an unselfconscious mix of the ethereal and the real.
Some of the subjects are treated forthrightly, as in Marilyn Singer’s advice on “Toasting Marshmallows.” Other poems are tongue-in-cheek, as in “How to Take Care of Your Tree” by Allan Wolf, which includes advice such as knitting the tree a hat when fall has left him naked or reattaching fallen leaves with tape or glue.
While some of the poems were written for the collection, others are classics, such as “Mix a Pancake” by Christina Rossetti, “Swing” by Robert Louis Stevenson, and the wonderful “Rules” by Karla Kuskin, which begins: “ Do not jump on ancient uncles./Do not yell at average mice.”
Well-known poets such as J. Patrick Lewis, Margarita Engle, Douglas Florian, and Helen Frost are represented here, along with new stars like Kwame Alexander. It’s good to see two poems relating to disabilities in the book, “A Lesson from the Deaf” by Nikki Grimes about how to sign a particular word and Steven Withrow’s lovely offering, “How to Read Braille.”
The poems are full of possibilities. Try this, they seem to say. Try telling the two kinds of camel apart or scaring a monster at bedtime or being a mole. In the hopeful poem “Walking on Mars,” Irene Latham lets young readers know they should practice the necessary skills because “the first person to walk on Mars/might be you.”
The book ends with April Halprin Wayland’s poem that encourages children to go out and see the world anew: “How to Pay Attention.” Richard Jones’s soft, peaceful artwork adds to the happy tone of this book. The mix of poets, styles, and topics makes for a collection that will prompt children and their parents and teachers to grab paper and pencil—or laptop and mouse—to try writing their own “how-to” poems.