The Poet Upstairs
By Judith Ortiz Cofer • Illustrated by Oscar Ortiz
Arte Público Press • 2012 • 32 pages
Curiosity comes naturally to children, but the development of their creativity hinges on the availability of supportive adults. This tale demonstrates how kids can thrive with some encouragement. A little girl is intrigued by the lady who moves to the apartment upstairs along with many boxes of books. Rumor has it that she is a writer. The click-clack heard coming from the woman’s apartment certainly sounds like a typewriter. (Children today may need to Google “typewriter,” which is why an image of the outdated instrument may have been more appropriate when first mentioned in the book, rather than eleven pages later.)
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The typewriter clearly sets the story decades ago, when a young girl daydreams about being a poet. How does a poet create beautiful images with words?, she wonders. Encouraged by her mom and welcomed by the poet, the girl learns about the process of creative writing. The book’s bold, colorful illustrations serve to create an escape from the enveloping urban landscape. Words and images transport the reader from the city to a tropical paradise that represents the poet and her young pupil’s shared island heritage. Though this is a story about writing, it is just as much about a writer’s journey, and about the role mentors play in the lives of those who write.
—Reviewed by Professor Gisela Norat, Agnes Scott College