Robyn Hood Black - children's author, poet, artist

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Hanging with fellow Georgia writers (from top, l-r) Tracy Walker, Heather Kolich, Donna Bowman, (bottom, middle) Janice Hardy and Paula Puckett
photo by Steve Kolich

Susan Rosson Spain, Robyn Hood Black, Elizabeth Dulemba, and Myra Meade at the Hall Book Exchange in Gainesville, Ga.
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Southern Breeze Kudos Kites 09 - Donna, Robyn, Heather, Sarah, and Peggy

Robyn with Kathleen Duey, author extraordinaire

Robyn with Alaska Nature Writer Debbie Miller

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Life on the Deckle Edge

Poetry Friday - TRAVELING THE BLUE ROAD with Lee Bennett Hopkins, Margarita Engle, & Others...

January 18, 2018

Tags: Poetry Friday, poetry, Traveling the Blue Road, poems about the sea, sea poems, Lee Bennett Hopkins, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Margarita Engle, Bob Hansman, Jovan Hansman

I’m up to my knees in ancestral sleuthing lately, as mentioned in last week’s post. Copying what I’ve seen on other family trees, I’ve been slowly adding sailing ship profile pictures to folks I can identify as immigrants in my own tree.

Our stories are borne upon waves.

TRAVELING THE Blue Road: POEMS OF THE SEA (Seagrass Press, an imprint of The Quarto Group, 2017) is a recent and breathtaking collection by Lee Bennett Hopkins, featuring works by a dozen of today’s most stellar poets and mesmerizing illustrations by Bob Hansman and Jovan Hansman.

First, the visual.

The violet- and indigo-hued cover is gorgeous, with its subtly-rendered small boat silhouette sailing along a horizon line of water above the title, against a backdrop of what I perceive as bubbly stars. Spot gloss on the boat and text adds to the appeal.

A variety of media is used in illustrations throughout the book, including pastels, charcoal, Conte crayons, cut paper and markers. An endnote about the artwork says, The images evolved over the course of the book, beginning with an entirely “archival” image, gradually blending archival images with drawn images, and ending with entirely drawn images. Even the art, which undulates between ethereal and gritty, is a journey.

The personal and creative story of father-son art team Bob Hansman and Jovan Hansman is amazing – Click here for a 2014 feature in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

There is also a note about the various type fonts employed. (This causes shallow breathing in a lettering & type nerd such as yours truly.) I learned a thing or two, and I so appreciate the care taken with this aspect of the book. Exquisite.

Then – the words.

      Wistful with wind and North Star,
      the sea sailed steamships, …

I fell overboard immediately with those opening lines from Rebecca Kai Dotlich’s Forward poem, “SEA.”

Readers embark on a journey through centuries, from Columbus’s 1492 voyage and The Mayflower in 1620 through The Middle Passage and desperate travels during the Irish Potato Famine, World War II, and the Mediterranean Refugee Crisis, among others.

Here is a poem toward the end of the book from Young People’s Poet Laureate Margarita Engle, about the Mariel Boat Lift in Cuba, which took place over six months in 1980:


      Adiós, Mariel, crowded port
      where boats swoop like seabirds,
      each vessel filled up with people
      who dream of seeing primos, tíos y amigos
      on the far shore
      in La Florida,
      where we will soon
      celebrate a fiesta
      with plenty to eat
      and freedom to speak
      of our past, present, future

      as families

      but still divided.

      Adiós, Abuelita, adiós.
      Will I ever see my grandma

©Margarita Engle. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Other contributing poets include Paul B. Janeczko, J. Patrick Lewis, Allan Wolf, Marilyn Nelson, Denver Butson, Georgia Heard, Jane Yolen, Naomi Shihab Nye, G. Neri, and Lee Bennett Hopkins.

The oceans portrayed in this collection are weighty, powerful, full of both promise and threat, as described within the final poem by Lee Bennett Hopkins:

      seas seas smooth seas unfathomable seas titan seas …

After the poetry, brief, thoughtful notes explain the historical context of each poem and the dates of the events they describe. The collection targets ages 8 and up. It has been named a 2018 Notable Poetry Book for Children by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). (Congratulations, all!) Read more, including some stunning reviews, at the publisher’s website here .

What was it like putting together such a challenging collection? Lee Bennett Hopkins shares these thoughts:

      Compiling this anthology was an emotional experience for me. Each poet worked endlessly on each poem. We went back and forth to consider various points of view, honing not only lines and words but syllables! I wanted the poems to read like the waves of the ocean ... calling us, hugging us, showing its strength, power and what it had done, does, and will continue to do forever.

The imagery evoked gave me goose bumps: "Wistful with wind"; "fearless faith'; "facing the blue unknown"; 'the sea was never mine to see". Only poets can do this with language. They capture the sweeping, swooping, clinging, breathing sea.

I am indebted to know these marvelous talents. Ah, poetry. Ah, Poets.

(You caught that, right? The honing not only of lines and words, but syllables? That's why anthologies with Lee Bennett Hopkins's name on the spine are worthy of the accolades received, and then some!)

One final note: So delighted that Lee dedicated this book to Judith Mandell and Stephanie Salkin, whose persistence and organization of many moving parts supported Lee’s induction into the Florida Arts Hall of Fame last February, which I got to see with my own eyes. (A trip on land I’ll always treasure!)

Many thanks to Margarita Engle for sharing her poem here this week, and to Lee Bennett Hopkins for this brilliant collection, another wondrous and important addition to the bookshelf.

Speaking of journeys, for more fine poetry, steer your ship toward A Journey Through the Pages, where our good Captain Kay is rounding up Poetry Friday this week.


  1. January 18, 2018 8:56 PM EST
    Thanks for sharing this stunning collection. I'm adding it to my (ever-growing) list of books to read. Now I'm feeling the sea call to me from oh-so-far away.
    - Kay Jernigan McGriff
  2. January 18, 2018 9:23 PM EST
    It's a worthy add, Kay! Thanks for sailing by, and much appreciation for hosting us all this week.
    - Robyn Black
  3. January 18, 2018 9:31 PM EST
    The backstory makes the book sound even more amazing. What vivid stories are told by these poems. Books of immigrants are always timely, but seem especially so as Republicans seem hellbent on pruning family trees and mowing down people's futures. Maybe these poems will help people remember that all of us, the whole world over, are immigrants if you go back far enough.
    - Brenda
  4. January 18, 2018 10:18 PM EST
    This book will be in my hands tomorrow, Robyn! How wonderful is your post about it, the extras about the illustrators, the poets and words from Lee. I heard a little bit about it last fall at Highlights but not much. Thank you, can't wait!
    - Linda Baie
  5. January 18, 2018 10:40 PM EST
    Thank you for sharing. This is definitely on my TBR list. I actually got to meet Lee Bennett Hopkins at a writing conference last weekend. What a wonderful experience.
    - Rebecca Herzog
  6. January 18, 2018 11:04 PM EST
    Hi, Brenda - it IS amazing how this particular collection of historical moments/experiences offers perspective. And connection. The world needs more of both, doesn't it? Thanks for coming by.

    Oh, Linda - you are going to be moved, appreciating each poem, I would wager. I'll be interested to hear what you think!

    Hi, Rebecca - thanks for popping in. And, lucky you! I keep thinking I might come crash a Florida SCBWI conference one of these years (it's my home state), but timing hasn't quite worked out yet. So glad you got to meet Lee, and I'm sure you'll appreciate this volume when you get to read it.
    - Robyn Black
  7. January 19, 2018 7:20 AM EST
    Wow! Can't wait to curl up with this collection. Sounds wonderful. And I'm looking forward to hearing more about your ancestral project! Cheers! -- Christie @
    - Christie Wyman
  8. January 19, 2018 7:54 AM EST
    Christie, thanks for stopping in! My copy waited quietly until I could delve in, and it really is something to savor all together as well as in its individual offerings. Thanks for the kind words - Cheers right back!
    - Robyn Black
  9. January 19, 2018 8:26 AM EST
    This is the third book today that I need to put in my cart. PF is expensive today. Thanks for sharing this beautiful blue book. Ancestry is fascinating work, but I don't have the patience for it. My brother-in-law gifted me with a scrapbook of my genealogy a few years ago. We go back all the way to Jamestown.
    - Margaret Simon
  10. January 19, 2018 8:55 AM EST
    This book looks so beautiful - in text and image! I've been hearing so much about it, I can't wait to get a copy. Margarita's poem is so poignant and touching.
    - Matt Forrest Esenwine
  11. January 19, 2018 9:16 AM EST
    Hi, Margaret - "PF is expensive today" - HA! Well, better to support poetry than lots of other things, right? ;0) That scrapbook sounds wonderful. I've found some Revolutionary War folks, and some lines who were already here in the 1600s too.

    Matt, you will really appreciate it in-hand! Thanks for coming by, & best wishes during your exciting book whirlwind season.
    - Robyn Black
  12. January 19, 2018 10:28 AM EST
    The cover of this book is stunning on a library stack end-panel. Even non-poetry readers will be drawn in.
    - Diane Mayr
  13. January 19, 2018 10:30 AM EST
    Diane, it absolutely beckons, like the sea, doesn't it? :0) Thanks for popping in!
    - Robyn Hood Black
  14. January 19, 2018 11:07 AM EST
    Thanks for sharing this Robyn. I can't wait to get my eyes on it!
    - Liz Steinglass
  15. January 19, 2018 11:17 AM EST
    Wonderful to see a "blue" book being featured on my first PF after holiday break. What a beauty this book is, and a marvel. Loved reading your thoughts and Margarita's poem. Lee has done it again :)!
    - jama
  16. January 19, 2018 11:49 AM EST
    Your eyes are in for a treat, Liz! And a challenge too, along with mind and heart. XO

    Jama, I was thrilled to navigate your "blue" post today. Thanks for the kind words, and glad you enjoyed. (YES, re. Lee. He is simply a force.)
    - Robyn Black
  17. January 19, 2018 3:34 PM EST
    I like those boats swooping like seabirds.
    The cover is as alluring as a siren :-)
    - Tabatha
  18. January 19, 2018 5:31 PM EST
    This one has been on my gotta-find-and-read list. Thanks for moving it up a notch!
    - Buffy Silverman
  19. January 19, 2018 5:58 PM EST
    THANK YOU Robyn for all the time and effort you put into this blog. I so appreciate all you do. For some strange reason is offering the book for under $8.00; a second print run is due later this month.
    - Lee Bennett Hopkins
  20. January 19, 2018 6:38 PM EST
    Your whole post is like the pull and roll of the sea, Robyn. Such carefully chosen snippets you've shared - definitely enticing. And a resounding 'Yes!' to Lee's comment about syllables! Margarita's poem is wistful beautiful - so glad you could include it all.
    - Kathryn Apel
  21. January 19, 2018 7:03 PM EST
    Hi, Tabatha - isn't that a fantastic image? :0) And I agree re. the cover!

    It needs to breach the surface, Buffy! :0) Thanks for popping in.

    Dearest Lee, Thank YOU for enriching my post today, and for enriching countless lives with this gift of a collection. And, thanks for the heads' up - I just ordered one (that price is ridiculous!) to give to Morgan (my third-grade-teacher daughter), so I can keep mine! ;0)

    Thank you, Kat - such a lovely comment. And I had to leave out so much! You can just imagine the quality between those covers, with that particular line-up of poets. Happy New Year to you across the oceans!
    - Robyn Black
  22. January 19, 2018 8:17 PM EST
    My dad was quite the amateur ancestral sleuth in our family, it was fascinating to climb that family tree up and up and back and back, and imagine what life was like in those faraway places, all those many years ago!
    - Jane the Raincity Librarian
  23. January 19, 2018 8:40 PM EST
    Hi, Jane - it's rather addictive! And to think of so many of them making that brave journey across the ocean years ago... and some, perhaps, not by their own choice. Thanks for visiting!
    - Robyn Black
  24. January 20, 2018 6:44 AM EST
    Thank you for highlighting this book today, Robyn. Like many others, it's been on my ever-growing list for a while. It's hard to imagine the courage it must take to step onto a boat and sail away from everything you know and love. It gives me a new appreciation for all the hardships my ancestors endured. Good luck with your genealogy project!
    - Catherine @ Reading to the Core
  25. January 20, 2018 7:00 AM EST
    It was hard to take my eyes off that stunning cover, but I'm so glad I did. Your post is a delight and I was fascinated by the insights you shared. I can't wait to dive into the pages of this book. I'm off to place an Amazon order right now and am happily anticipating the journey once my copy arrives.
    - Molly Hogan
  26. January 20, 2018 11:05 AM EST
    Can't wait to read. Thanks for this post, Robyn. Lee lives up to an article about him titled "Mining with a Jeweler's Eye."
    - Charles Waters
  27. January 20, 2018 11:35 AM EST
    Hi, Catherine - absolutely, and well put! Thanks for sharing in the adventure.

    Molly, thanks for coming by! I appreciated Lee's sharing his insights so very much. Glad you'll have your own copy soon!

    Hey, Charles - an apt description indeed. And maybe a violin-maker's ear, too? :0) Thanks for swinging by.
    - Robyn Black
  28. January 21, 2018 8:38 AM EST
    I have this book and have dipped my toe's quite emotional to hold so much beauty of such journeys that hold such difficulties. Thank you for this review. I will be sharing thoughts as well.
    - Linda Mitchell
  29. January 21, 2018 4:46 PM EST
    Hi, Linda - will be looking forward to your (always ever-thoughtful) thoughts!
    - Robyn Black
  30. January 23, 2018 12:55 AM EST
    The cover to "Blue Road" is gorgeous, it reminds me of the exhibit that was at the Field Museum a while back "Silk Road." Thanks for sharing this treasure of a book in so many ways Robyn, I look forward to reading and taking it in!
    - Michelle Kogan
  31. January 23, 2018 7:29 PM EST
    Hi, Michelle - Oh, as a visual artist yourself, you'll be especially wowed I think! :0) Thanks for coming by.
    - Robyn Black

Quick Clicks

bio, photos, interview links, etc.
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Explore this genre of sparely crafted poetry which offers endless depth. Resources for students, teachers, and writers.
Author visits
In schools or other settings, Robyn shares her passion for writing and encourages creativity. Presentations for all age groups.
In addition to writing books, Robyn has sold her writing to major children's magazines.
A rhyming tale of a young boy's knightly adventure with an imagined dragon.
Nonfiction, interactive book on wolves featuring giant pop-up and tons of info!