Exquisite: The Poetry & Life of Gwendolyn Brooks by Suzanne Slade, illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera
In honor of February’s Black History Month and March’s Women’s History Month and April’s upcoming Poetry Month, I tried to find a narrative picture book biography on a BIPOC woman that my kindergartners would understand. I succeeded with Exquisite: The Poetry & Life of Gwendolyn Brooks by Suzanne Slade, illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera.
The story begins with her childhood in Chicago, where she had little money yet treasures found in poetry books. Her father read her these poems, and she memorized them. By the age of seven, Gwendolyn wrote her own poems. Her mother recognized her daughter’s talent. And when she was eleven her poems were published in the newspaper. Throughout her life Gwendolyn continued writing poems, especially about her community. She dreamed about an exquisite future. Her poems went on to win awards—the Pulitzer Prize!
I thought this book was very relatable to my students. It shows young Gwendolyn’s passion for writing. Every day we are writing stories and reading nursery rhyme poems. One of my favorite spreads in the book features Gwendolyn writing about things that are dear to her, such as paper dolls, raindrops, sunsets, and rocks. The painted illustrations are gorgeous, especially the pink clouds that inspire her.
I told the class we could try to write a poem together. We took nominations for a possible poetry subject. This lesson really resonated with one of my lowest students. He asked if we could write a poem about his dog. Since we hadn’t studied poetry yet in our curriculum, I guided the lesson by asking them for describing words for dogs. Putting them all together, we came up with the following:
likes to run,
When we come to our poetry unit, I may circle back to this picture book biography. Gwendolyn is a remarkable role model for the students. She didn’t let her anything stand in her way of achieving her dreams. No matter what stage of her life, she wrote. Gwendolyn was exquisite in all ways.