Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

My America: A Poetry Atlas of the United States

My America: A Poetry Atlas of the United States

Selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins
Illustrator:  Stephen Alcorn 
Paper Engineer: For ages 8 to 12
Poetry Picture Book
Simon and Schuster, 2000   ISBN: 978-0689812477

When most of us think of an atlas, we think of a large format book that is full of maps of all kinds. If the atlas is about the United States, there will probably be maps showing the geographic regions, the states, and then in-detail maps of each of the states. This atlas is very different. There are maps, eight of them in total, but most of the book is taken up with words and illustrations rather than maps. Poet Lee Bennett Hopkins wanted to give readers a unique picture of the United States; one that uses poems to take people from “sea to shining sea;” one that captures how exciting and diverse this country is; and one that celebrates the many natural  and manmade wonders that can be found throughout the United States.

The book is divided into eight sections, each one of which focuses on a particular region. Each section opens with a map and some basic statistics about the states that can be seen on the map. For example, the first chapter is about The Northeast States and in the opening, we find out a little about Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Then the poems begin, and they show us a little about this region, often capturing the flavor of the states. We read about how “Red lobster boats bob above barnacled anchors” in Maine, and how a New England lighthouse serves as a “compass for ships / as they pass / through the night.”

In the section about the Pacific coast states, we visit some California missions, which “hold tales / of ancient years.” Here we can travel from the “Ice built, ice bound, and ice bounced” lands of Alaska to the island of Hawaii where the Mauna Loa, the live volcano, rumbles “A tumbled tune,” and sends “Fire!” into the air.

This extraordinary collection of poems brings together the words of many poets including Lee Bennett Hopkins, Langston Hughes, Nikki Giovanni, and Douglas Florian. Together they give readers a vivid picture of an extraordinary country.