Mass, Wendy. 2007. Heaven Looks A Lot Like the Mall. New York: Little, Brown, and Company. ISBN: 9780316058513

After a terrible dodge ball accident in gym, Tessa finds herself in place she thought she wouldn’t see for a long time: Heaven. What she finds out is that Heaven (at least for her) looks like the mall where her parents worked and where she grew up (mostly). The Mall Manager greets her and hands her a bag with several items in it; items that were once hers and were purchased at the Mall. With the feel of “It’s a Wonderful Life” or A Christmas Carol, Tessa begins to relive moments in her life through the seemingly simple trinkets in the bag. Tessa’s journey leads her to a new understanding of herself and her place in the world.

Critical Analysis
To think of your life story could be told through a series of everyday items is an interesting concept. In Heaven Looks A Lot Like a Mall, Mass does just that through 16 year-old Tessa’s life, as told in verse. From a baby shoe to a sticker that says, “I gave today” to a prom dress, all the items in a bag that is handed to her represents a defining moment in Tessa’ life. With narrative sequentiality, each item from the bag begins a new poem that relives the corresponding moment in Tessa’s life that ultimately leads up to the accident in gym class. Through Tessa’s reliving of these events, her character is well developed as more and more of her is revealed in the dramatic situations that unfold. Tessa’s near-death experience gives younger readers an opportunity to reflect on their own past, while giving hope for the future. As evidenced from this exchange between Tessa and her guide, Nail Boy:

“I bet if you go through the rest
of your life telling yourself,
‘I’m sparkling,’
you’ll have a whole different energy
and experience.”

I chuckle. “If I have a rest of my life, that is.”

He leans forward and locks
his eyes with mine.
“I’m going to tell you a secret.
Our lives are shaped by the future,
not by the past. Once you decide
how you want your life to be,
all you need to do
is live into that future.”

Then quietly he asks,
“If you have a rest of your life,
What are you going to do differently?”
He reaches out to touch my hand
and when he does,
it’s like a jolt of electricity
passes between us. I look up,
and into his eyes, and I think,
I’m sparkling. I sparkle.

And then I answer,
“The next time a dodgeball
is fired at my head,
I’m going to catch it.”

Modeling a portion of this book, have students tell a story in verse about a defining moment in their life.
Use Heaven Looks a Lot Like a Mall, Pieces of Georgia, Becoming Joe Dimaggio, and Jump Ball: A Season in Poems as book club choices for an ESL class.


WATER SINGS BLUE: OCEAN POEMS by Kate Coombs Illustrated by Meilo So

Water sings blue
Coombs, Kate. 2012. Water Sings Blue: Ocean Poems. Ills. By Meilo So. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books, LLC. ISBN: 9780811872843

Plot Summary
In Water Sings Blue, Kate Coombs finds inspiration at the shore. From a story explaining how rocks turn into sand to a poem about an author who never picks up a pen but still leaves his mark on the world, readers will surely find themselves lost in reverie and longing for carefree days on the beach.

Critical Analysis
Water Sings Blue is a lovely collection of poems that create a light, easy going tone. The poems are rhythmic, bouncy, and fun to read. Many of the poems do follow the A-B and A-B-C format, while others are free verse. These patterns work to help create and give a voice to the sea creatures. For example in “Shark”:

He circles and stares
with a broken-glass grin,
his body’s a dagger,
he has lion’s-tongue skin.

He slides through the water
like a rumor, like a sneer.
he’s a quick twist of hunger.
He’s the color of fear.

The illustrations are rendered in watercolor, and are so realistic that they almost appear to be cut-outs.


So’s illustrations beautifully capture the essence of aquatic life. Her control of the brush creates multiple effects with the watercolors. At times the watercolors look like ink from a pen or acrylic.


Water Sings Blue would make a great resource for science teachers when studying the ocean with their students. In “Ocean Realty” readers are able to learn about how sea shells end up on the beach.

ocean realty

Ocean Realty

My name’s Frank Hermit.
Here – take my card.
So you want a house
with a porch and yard?

I have listings for periwinkles,
whelks, and wentletraps;
turbans, tops, and moon shells;
a palatial conch, perhaps?

That one’s not available –
I’m waiting for the snail
to vacate his townhouse
and put it up for sale

But this place has a deck
and a nice view of the land –
beachfront property
is always in demand!

BLUE LIPSTICK by John Grandits

Blue Lipstick

Grandits, John. 2007. Blue Lipstick Concrete Poems. New York, NY. Clarion Books. ISBN 0618851321

Plot Summary
Blue Lipstick is a fun collection of concrete poetry depicting the daily life of an average teenager named Jessie. From daily family life to sharing a secret with a trusted “friend”, Jessie’s day to day life isn’t as ordinary as she might think. Through artistic concrete poems, readers are able to experience the ups and downs of life with annoying brother, a crush on a boy named Elton, and figuring out just what her style is (hence, the blue lipstick). Blue Lipstick will resonate with readers experiencing the teenage years and those of us who have survived and have somewhat recovered.

Critical Analysis
John Grandits has created a fun, engaging, and interactive reading experience in Blue Lipstick. Each poem is unique and has a rhythm all its own, which is further highlighted by the shape Grandits uses for each poem. The pages of this collection are filled with poems that require the reader to twist the book to keep reading poems, and one even is made easier to read with the help of a mirror. The challenge of reading a book that needs so much adjusting keeps readers engaged, and makes the poetry more interactive. One of the things that stand out, is how Jessie grows throughout the course of the book. This is evidenced in two poems: “The Wall” and “The Wall (Revisited)”. Grandits uses to show Jessie’s attitude change towards some people of whom she was not very tolerant. Through this, young readers are encouraged to consider their own preconceived notions about others.

Most of the poems and their shapes are simple, and all are well designed. With the color scheme of black and blue, the words of the poems bring out Jessie’s attitude and moods in a unique way. In addition the shapes and color schemes, Grandits’s uses over 50 various fonts to convey Jessie’s emotions as well.

Grandits’s use of font color and twists and turns are shown in his poem called “Bad Hair Day”. Jessie’s hair experiment goes horribly wrong and she’s left with a really bad hair day. Only her day isn’t nearly as bad as she it seems, when her mom acknowledges she’s growing up and calls her a “woman.”

bad hair day

He also gets creative with the poem title “The Name-Your-Rock-Band Chart”. In this poem, Grandits elicits participation from the reader through a cleverly laid-out chart where the reader can make up funny sounding band names.

Rock Band

Pair with the following books containing concrete poems, and have students create their own concrete poem.
Franco, Betsy. A Curious Collection of Cats. Ills. By Michael Wertz. Berkeley, CA: Tricycle Press. ISBN: 9781582463882
Franco, Betsy. Dazzling Display of Dogs. Ills. By Michael Wertz. Berkeley, CA: Tricycle Press. ISBN: 9781582463882
Grandits, John. Technically, It’s Not My Fault. New York: Clarion Books. ISBN: 9780618503612