Is It Time for a Poem Yet?

April is National Poetry Month!

Technically it's not poetry, but All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, $14.95; for all ages) does use cats as a metaphor. This isn't a cat book - it's about AS, a disorder along the spectrum of autism. Author Kathy Hoopmann lyrically lists such a child's possible weaknesses ("when he's forced to mix, he doesn't know how") and even more strengths ("many an Asperger child has reached the top of his chosen field"). An inspired aid to understanding, accompanied by cute photos of cats.

Two distinguished poets help us celebrate National Poetry Month even though they're no longer with us. Bronzeville Boys and Girls (HarperCollins, $16.99; for ages 7 to 10), by the late Gwendolyn Brooks, offers 34 delicious glimpses of specific and easy-to-imagine children. Each mostly rhyming poem evokes an emotion, and some of the titles give clues: "Robert, Who Is Often a Stranger to Himself," "Cynthia in the Snow," "Rudolph Is Tired of the City" and "John, Who Is Poor." Brooks proves that childhood is universal, in the Bronzeville section of Chicago or any other neighborhood. First published in 1956, these editions are newly illustrated by Caldecott Honor artist Faith Ringgold in her colorful folk-art style.

Celebrating animals rather than people, Animal Poems (Farrar, Straus; $17; for ages 4 to 8) is a welcome new read-aloud by the late Valerie Worth. In 23 spare, free-verse poems, she captures the essence of creatures from snail to whale, minnow to elephant and kangaroo to hummingbird: "Even now/Awhirr with/The dark's/Atomic thrum." Just ordinary animals, elevated to special status with well-chosen words. Elegant cut-paper illustrations are the work of Steve Jenkins.

- Kathleen Krull

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