cover image Neighborhood Odes

Neighborhood Odes

Gary Soto. Harcourt Children's Books, $17 (80pp) ISBN 978-0-15-256879-5

The Hispanic neighborhood in Soto's 21 poems is brought sharply into focus by the care with which he records images of everyday life: the music of an ice cream vendor's truck, the top of a refrigerator where old bread lies in plastic, dust released into the air when a boy strums a guitar. The diverse voices include that of a 12-year-old girl ``with hair that sings / like jump ropes'' and a fourth-grade boy whose new teeth create the ``racket / Of chicharron / Being devoured . . . .'' The vocabulary sprinkled with Spanish (there is a glossary at the back of the book) remains consistent, as does the form of the poems, which fall in long vertical columns with short lines. The tight clumps of language reproduce the quality of rapid and playful conversation. Affectionate without being overly sentimental, the collection provides a good introduction to contemporary poetry as well as a fine homage to a Chicano community. Diaz's woodcuts complement the poems perfectly: the silhouettes are fanciful and dynamic but do not draw attention from the words on the page. Ages 8-12. (Apr.)