Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Hip Hop Speaks to children: A Celebration of Poetry with a beat

Hip Hop Speaks to children: A Celebration of Poetry with a beat

Edited by Nikki Giovanni
For ages 9 to 12
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 1997   ISBN: 978-1402210488

For many young people poetry is a form of the written word that they find a little intimidating. There is one format in which poetry is familiar and comfortable – the nursery rhyme, especially when it is set to music. Three Blind Mice, and other similar rhymes are now staples in many nurseries. But what about older children? Is there a musical poetry format for them too? There is. Many musical genres have lyrics that rhyme but there is one that is particularly attractive to the young – hip hop.

In this unique book the editor has collected many kinds of poems which could all, quite easily, be set to music. Just add a drum or a tambourine to provide a beat, and you are off creating a unique rhyming song of your own. Or you can listen to the CD that comes with the book to see how some famous performers have taken a rhyme and turned it into hip hop.

The poems included in the book were written by a very diverse group of people including Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes, Eloise Greenfield, Gary Soto, and Walter Dean Meyers. Then there are the musicians who have written poems, including Queen Latifah, Aesop Rock, and Young MC.

The poems are about a variety of subjects, many of which have a powerful and meaningful message. Tupac Shakur writes about a rose "that grew from the concrete." Nikki Giovanni's The Rosa Parks encourages children to "do the rosa parks" and "shame the bad / comfort the good." The words a simple, punchy, and to the point, and they remind children that they are the ones who can make the world a better place.

On the CD some of the poems are read by the poet, while others are read/sung by someone else. For example, in the book there is an extract from Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech. You can hear Martin himself read the speech and then you can hear a version of it that is set to a rap beat. For some of the poems there is an introduction to help readers better understand the poems and their origins.

At the back of the book readers can find out more about the poets and musicians who contributed to the book.