Thursday, April 26, 2012

Looking for Me - a review

April is National Poetry Month, and I realize that I've almost let the month slip away without any poetry book reviews.  Just in time, I came across my Advance Reader Copy of Looking for Me, which went on sale April 17.

Rosenthal, Betsy R. 2012. Looking for Me. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Based on the real stories of her mother and many aunts and uncles, Betsy Rosenthal tells a story in verse of her mother, Edith - the fourth child in a large, Jewish, Depression-era family in Baltimore,

Family Portrait, Baltimore, 1936

We're lined up:
girl boy, girl boy, girl boy, girl boy, girl boy

and in the middle of us all, Dad,
who ordered us to smile
right before the Brownie clicked,
standing stiff as a soldier
no smile on his face,

and Mom's beside him,
a baby in her arms
and in her rounded belly
another one,

just a trace.

Girl, boy, girl, boy, count them up - twelve children in a row house, sleeping three to a bed, always short of money, new clothes and food.  Edith's teacher asks her to write about her family, but she doesn't write about herself.  After all, who is she in this great big family?  Looking for Me chronicles Edith's quest to find individualism in a time when, seemingly, there was no time for such frivolous thoughts. Rosenthal's poetic style varies from free verse, to concrete to metered rhymes.  The subject matter varies as well - following the ups and downs of a year in Edith's life, which, while harsh and disciplined, also held moments of great joy and fun,

They're Lucky I Found Them

Lenny, Sol, and Jack
said Mom left them sleeping
on the sofa bed,
or so she thought,
and ran to the store.

But after she left,
they started to bounce
and bounce
and bounce some more.
Then the bed closed up

and they were stuck
until I came home
and changed their luck.

Some poems are heart-wrenching depictions of life as an 11-year-old Jewish girl who has been touched by death, poverty, meanness, bigotry, and indifference.  Others are uplifting,


I am a bubble
blown full
with Miss Connelly's words,

floating out of the classroom,
bobbing across the grassy lot,
drifting by Levin's Bakery,

letting the breeze carry me to the diner.
Dad yells when I come in,
but I just float right by him.

It's always said that it's best to write what you know.  This is Betsy Rosenthal's family, and she knows it well.  The poignant stories of her mother, aunts, uncles and grandmothers have lived on in her home, and she has done us the very great favor of inviting us in to hear them.

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