Saturday, November 10, 2012

Make Magic! Do Good!

Poems & pictures by Dallas Clayton
Candlewick, 2012
$17.99, ages 7 and up, 112 pages

Make spirits fly with this joyful collection of poems by a guy who's as excited about life as anyone could hope to be.

Dallas Clayton, the creator of An Awesome Book!, delivers another heart-swelling book about giving life your all and helping others do so too.

"Make magic / do good. / Be who you are. / Be what you should," Clayton writes in a poem that share's the book's title. "See what you can / Live like you could."

Over more than 40 poems, this Los Angeles-based author-illustrator encourages readers to be happy and spread their happiness around.

In "Sunshine," a creature blows a kiss, but the kiss misses the cheek it was meant for and lands on something else instead.

"She blew a kiss / it missed my face / and drifted into outer space / and kissed the sun / and made it smile / now it's been bright / for quite a while."

Every poem is a lesson in living better, and is paired with a picture that's playful and child-like.

"Don't forget to sing today / in a funny voice in a funny way," Clayton writes in a poem, urging kids to practice joy so that it stays with them all of their life.

Later, in "The Whole Wide World," Clayton allows that life isn't perfect and sometimes it's hard to be sunny in a world where there's also hurt.

Don't forget all of the fun, don't "run away / and hide in a box / and cover it up with sticks / and rocks," he adds.

Think of all the people who are stuck in a rut too and need your help to make it through.

Maybe together, he adds, you can find where "the dirt and the hurt and the worse / are gone / and a big bright future / rolls on and on."

Or, he offers in another poem, when bad things get the best of you, hitch a ride with someone who wants to be happy too.

"I'm riding my bike / with my head in the air / through a town without hope / that's weighed down with despair / I'm riding my bike / and mile after mile / I'm passing sad faces / and I wave / and I smile / at all of the folks / in the city of doom. I say 'Hop on the back,' / of my bike / if you'd like.../ I've got room."

All of the poems remind readers they're in this life together, and seem to say, link up arms, it's good to be friends.

"Someday you'll get bigger / bigger than today / and you might be the president / or the star of the high-school play. / Someday you'll be bigger / bigger than you think . / But remember: no matter how big you get / you still used to bathe / in a sink."

Though each poem is unique, many of them feel familiar -- as if Clayton's spirit became entwined with Dr. Seuss's or Shel Silverstein's.

"Be nice to your friends / 'cause you never know / when you'll be stuck / in ten feet of snow," Clayton writes in a Dr. Seuss-like cadence.

Then later, the silliness of Silverstein wanders in.

"I made a mistake when I wrote this / then I covered it up with some ink / then my hands got mistaken and made a mistake / and they spilled it all over the sink."

There are poems about making friends of enemies, helping others keep up and looking out for the little guy.

"If you find a caterpillar / and you keep it in a jar, / just think of how your life would be / if you weren't where you are, / if someone put you in a bowl / or in a tiny box / or  in an old aquarium / filled with shiny rocks."

In "Wake up Your Brain," Clayton encourages kids to shake things up and try something new, while in "The Unicorn Glade," he celebrates letting loose with friends in a sing-song way:

"And they'd talk and they'd swim / and they'd laugh through the night / in the unicorn glade / where the future was bright."

Other poems encourage kids to step up and solve a problem. In the poem "Quiet Joe," a town hems and haws about a rock in the road until a bear quietly solves the problem by moving the rock aside.

"Sometimes," the poem concludes, "it only takes one man / to move one thing / with his own two hands / for everyone in town / to get on by." Why wallow in a problem that you can solve?

Another poem shows how silly it is to be angry when you don't need to be.

In "Throwing Stones," a  boy blames a stone for tripping him, then in anger, throws the stone in the air, only to yell at the sky when it doesn't catch it.

Clayton wants kids to focus on the bright side of life, but also to take chances, even if something is difficult to do.

"A bad idea is one that starts: / 'Oh, that looks so easy. / I could do that, so I will -- that will be so breezy.' A good idea is one that starts / by saying 'That looks fun / and it doesn't matter how hard it is -- / I'd love to get it done."

In the end, of course, the choice will always be the readers' whether to try or not, to take a chance or not:

"A magic rope / hung from the sky / with a sign that read / 'Give me a try." / Should I climb it? / What if I die…? / Or what if I / just walk on by?"

Clayton's love of life is infectious and readers may find themselves, like I was, craving to read more. 

I highly recommend his "Awesome" books and a visit to Clayton's blog, a splashy, joyful place where he shares poems and bits of insight about himself.

Like this poem, "Funeral Request."

"Carry me away/ in a cardboard motorcade / with pastel rainbow ribbons / like a carnival parade. Paint my face by numbers, shave cuss words in my hair / turn up all the speakers / throw confetti in the air. / Dance around in circles / kissing everyone you know / fall asleep at sunrise / as the sky begins to glow. Laugh away the sadness / and cry away the tears / and dream of all the things I'll do / exploring new frontiers."

Harper Collins re-released Clayton's self-published sensation An Awesome Book in March and will be re-releasing An Awesome Book of Love Dec. 26.


  1. My daughter loves this kind of poetry book.

  2. Everyone needs happiness!! What a great concept for a book of poetry.