Voices in the Air: Poems for Listeners

Book review by
Lucinda Dyer, Common Sense Media
Voices in the Air: Poems for Listeners Book Poster Image
Captivating, unforgettable collection of free-verse poems.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Along with names familiar to most readers (Emily Dickinson, Maya Angelou, Bruce Springsteen, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Edison), the poems introduce many authors, activists, artists they'll probably be unfamiliar with -- e.g., poets Galway Kinnell and Mary Oliver, rancher historian Hallie Stillwell, artist Rosa Bonheur, and blues singer Robert Johnson.

Positive Messages

Never underestimate the power of poetry.

Positive Role Models & Representations

For readers who think poets live solitary and uneventful lives, Nye's poems prove exactly the opposite. She travels widely, delights in quirky encounters, and is passionate about righting the injustice she sees in the world.

Violence

Violence is a backdrop in several poems but never described in detail. A poem is entitled "Little Brother Shot Playing with Pistol." A verse asks, "Who predicted people torture, murder, people disappeared?" and another speaks about "a ruined house bombed out of being."

Sex

A kiss.

Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that National Book Award Finalist Naomi Shihab Nye's Voices in the Air: Poems for Listeners is a collection of 95 free-verse poems. They're populated with writers, artists, musicians, and lots of ordinary people and set in places that range from a Texas airport and the streets of Gaza to a small town in California and a beach in Nansha, China. Nye's poems are thought provoking and sometimes humorous, and often tackle big issues like refugees and racial prejudice, but her easy and accessible style is sure to captivate even the most reluctant readers of poetry.

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What's the story?

In VOICES IN THE AIR, readers discover that Maya Angelou "loved the jingle of the massive key ring carried by cable car conductors" and that John Steinbeck would sharpen 24 pencils each day and write until they were dull. Nye writes about eating Chinese food with friends in Georgia and the challenges of being a first-grader in a fifth-grade poets' workshop. In "Unbelievable Things," she remembers wearing a gray linen shift dress when having lunch with the president of Finland and a shopping cart stolen in a Home Depot parking lot. She recalls a day spent with Jack Kerouac’s widow, Stella, where they "talked, ate tuna fish, pawed through closets and didn't answer the phone." Poems like "What Do Palestinians Want" reflect her own background as the child of an American mother and a Palestinian refugee journalist father, who grew up in St. Louis, Jerusalem, and San Antonio, Texas.

Is it any good?

These poems will inspire readers to slow down, turn off their digital devices, and find a quiet place to lose themselves in an unforgettable collection of free verse. For readers who may be intimidated by the unfamiliar names of artists and writers in Voices in the Air, there's a section of biographical notes with a few lines about each person. An index of first lines makes it easy to locate a favorite poem or be intrigued enough by a line ("Up late watching TV commercials while waiting" or "Fifty years before you did your homework") to try a poem they haven't yet read.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how many of the poems in Voices in the Air shine a light on injustice in the world. Do you think poetry can actually inspire social activism and change?

  • In today's digital world filled with social media and breaking news, do "quiet" books of poetry still have a place?

  • What person or issue does Nye write about that you now want to learn more about?

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