cover image All We Needed to Say: Poems about School from Tanya and Sophie

All We Needed to Say: Poems about School from Tanya and Sophie

Marilyn Singer. Atheneum Books, $15 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-689-80667-4

Printed on creamy pages and decorated sparsely with black-and-white photographs, this unusual collection features verses, paired by topic and events, written in the voices of two middle-graders named Tanya and Sophie. For example, Sophie expresses her disgust with the school cook's tribute to Valentine's Day (""meat loaf/ bright red in slices shaped like hearts"") while Tanya imagines herself hurling a handful of red Jell-O ""like a shimmering cherry bomb"" (so she can ""startle the teacher/ custodian and cook/ and most of all Sophie sitting there/... / never knowing that I could maybe be/ as wacky wild/ as she."" Clark's small, shadowy, generally unpopulated photographs are wonderfully evocative of an urban school, and Singer's (Please Don't Squeeze Your Boa, Noah) poems are filled with startling images. But while the theme is clear--the value in making friends with people who are ""different from [oneself]""--she undercuts it somewhat in failing to differentiate between the two characters' narrative voices. Tanya is the good student who loves to learn, while Sophie is sent frequently to the principal's office and won't answer the teacher's questions even when she knows the right answer, but both girls speak in the same sophisticated, adult style. Although not wholly successful, it's an interesting experiment. Ages 8-12. (Aug.)