Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Amazing Faces, by Lee Bennett Hopkins: celebrating diversity through wonderful poems (ages 4 - 12)

Poetry has the potential to speak to children in a way that really touches their hearts. I try to sprinkle it in throughout our reading at home and in the library - just a poem here or there to enjoy, not necessarily to belabor the point. Amazing Faces is an inspiring collection of poems that children will love having at home and in school. Lee Bennett Hopkins, a tremendous anthologist and poet, has collected sixteen poems that celebrate the diversity of our schools and our communities in America today. It is one of my favorite books of the entire year, and one that I nominated for the Cybils Award.

Amazing Faces
by Lee Bennett Hopkins
illustrated by Chris Soentpiet
NY: Lee and Low Books, 2010
ages 4 - 12
available on Amazon and at your local library
This collection of sixteen poems will evoke personal responses from children as they see themselves and their friends reflected in these poems. Hopkins, author of over 130 books of poetry for children, has gathered poems from some of today's best known children's poets, including Nikki Grimes, Jane Yolen, Janet S. Wong, and Joseph Bruchac. But the children in the poems really come front and center, as you read about a boy who falls asleep beside his mother as she sews clothes, a young girl who practices karate, a family who listens to their great aunt tell stories around the fireplace, and many more.

One of my daughter's favorite poems is "Aunt Molly Sky", by Joseph Bruchac. I particularly enjoy this stanza:
"A certain smile always appears
when she feels a story about to come.
That smile is like an open door
All of us, young and old, are welcome."

- from Aunt Molly Sky, by Joseph Bruchac
The illustrations by Chris Soentpiet are wonderful, and will draw children who might be hesitant to try poetry into this collection. Soentpiet fills his illustrations with people from many different ethnic backgrounds, and he took careful effort to make the details reflect their ethnicity. For example, he writes in an interview on publisher Lee and Low's website,
"Since there are lots of different nationalities in this book, I had to make sure the trinkets and jewelry match what the characters would wear. I had to make sure the Native-American grandmother wears costume jewelry that reflects her heritage but at the same time was trying not to "stereotype" the look. Subsequently, I attended two powwows to learn about the Native Americans."
Great stories are a mirror to see yourself, your friends, your family - this collection a wonderful way to share that experience with children. It is a collection I will share at home and at school with children, drawing them into poetry, and giving them a chance to see themselves and their friends reflected in wonderful artwork and poems.

The illustrations here are all by Chris Soentpiet, shared with permission of the illustrator. Find out more information about Amazing Faces on Lee and Low's website. I particularly found the stories behind the poems fascinating. Nine of the poems are original for this collection. Make sure you read Lee Bennett Hopkins interview on Wild Rose Reader, as part of the NCTE convention - here and here. Other reviews include:
- Carol's Corner
- Wrapped in Foil
- Kids Lit

The review copy came from my local public library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion will go to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.


  1. I remember reading this book in school it was very inspirational and made me feel equal to every one else it depicts diversity very well and the words are beautiful. after reading this book it lead me down the road to many other books along with some of my favorite from an African-American Book Publisher.

  2. I need to get this book for my library and home! Thanks for highlighting it and sharing the gorgeous illustrations & poems. Beautiful!

  3. Travis, you are oh so right - Lee & Low is an amazing publisher, one that I turn to again and again for books that reflect my students' experiences.

    Andi, I do hope you can get this for your school and home. I have a public library copy and just can't let it go! A sign that I need to go out and buy one for myself!

    thanks for your comments and kind words,
    Mary Ann