Marshmallow Clouds: Two Poets at Play Among Figures of Speech

by Ted Kooser (Author) Richard Jones (Illustrator)

Reading Level: 4th – 5th Grade

Celebrated poets Ted Kooser along with Connie Wanek, and illustrator Richard Jones, explore figures of speech in a spirited and magical way--and invite our imaginations out to play.

A freewheeling romp through the world of imagery and metaphor, this quietly startling collection of thirty poems, framed by the four elements, is about art and reality, fact and fancy. Look around: what do you see? A clown balancing a pie in a tree, or an empty nest perched on a leafless branch? As poet Connie Wanek alludes to in her afterword--a lively dialogue with former US Poet Laureate Ted Kooser--sometimes the simplest sights and sounds "summon our imaginations" and cry out to be clothed in the alchemical language of poetry. This compendium of the fleeting and unexpected turns the everyday--turtles, trees, and tadpoles; cow pies, lazy afternoons, and pillowy white marshmallows--into poetic gold. A brilliant and timeless collaboration that evokes both the mystery and grandeur of the natural world and the cozy, mundane moments of daily life, this exquisitely illustrated collection is the go-to gift book of the season for poetry fans of all ages.

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Horn Book Magazine

Starred Review
Evocative and playful. . . Jones's full-bleed illustrations, rendered in paint and edited digitally, are striking even in their muted colors. In an afterword, Kooser and Wanek encourage readers to pay attention to their imaginations--all making for a perfect mentor text for students writing their own poems.

--The Horn Book (starred review)


Starred Review
Featuring poems ranging from whimsical to reflective, this illustrated collection by poets Kooser--former U.S. Poet Laureate--and Wanek spans an array of topics. . . Lovely, richly hued and textured paintings, a blend of evocative abstract and figural images, complement and reflect the poems' multifaceted sensibilities. . . . an intriguing, often thought-provoking addition to collections, one poetry aficionados will likely revisit.
--Booklist (starred review) 

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review
Jones incorporates images from each poem into subdued landscapes or domestic settings...often to lovely effect. . . Imagination stretchers, likely to appeal most to introspective readers fond of finding unexpected pairings and connections.
--Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

School Library Journal

Gr 4 Up--Ordinary moments sparkle with imagery, beauty, and wit in this illustrated collaboration between former U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser and noted poet Connie Wanek. The introductory poem, "A Disappointment," defines the rest of this collection, which is organized according to the four elements: Fire, Water, Air, and Earth. Jones opens the scene with a fox zooming off page, a snowy hill and bare trees behind it. The poem is on the right of this spread, and the speaker states seeing a winter tree "clowning around" on one leg. Jones's art, paint that is rendered digitally, is muted and whimsical, delicately nuanced to illustrate a dancing tree for those who want to see. Although the speaker's friend replies it is "all in my imagination," it's clear the disappointment is for those who wish to no longer imagine. The 27 poems that follow invite readers to examine the every day in another way: Meteor showers are cat's claws scraping the sky, tadpoles are lively punctuation marks, and harps are golden moths bursting with song. Each poem has a full spread with fanciful illustrations matching the capricious tone of the work. An afterword, with an extra poem by each author and an invitation to imagine, is included. An enjoyable choice for introducing poetry and literary devices for all ages. VERDICT A must purchase for all libraries.--Rachel Zuffa

Copyright 2022 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Publishers Weekly

Former poet laureate Kooser and poet Wanek give life to inanimate objects in this collection of poems structured around expressions and the elements. In sections organized by Fire, Water, Air, and Earth, an overturned boat appears to be "peering out at the meddlesome world," while a harp is "a great golden moth." Some metaphors are lighthearted ("Oh, sandwich delicious, my book!"); others acknowledge trauma ("the place in your chest/ where it clawed you like a badger"). Jones echoes the authorial duo's restraint, and the speaker's rural familiarity with owls, meteors, plows, and more; contrasting hues provide drama, as in scenes of a bleached moon in a dark winter sky, or a red shirt against a blue sofa. The poems evoke interior perception, reveal life through the poetic gaze, and give voice to "the soft singing that goes on and on." Ages 10-up. (Mar.)

Copyright 2022 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

Dense with imagery, wordplay, and blink-and-you'll-miss-'em slant rhymes. . . an ideal collection for groups with equally varied poetry comfort levels. Jones' paint and digital compositions are at once suggestive and spare enough to serve both readers who like a bit of visual support and those who prefer to spin their own mental images.
—The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (starred review) 

A delightful word journey through the world of everyday places and things. Using twists of phrases and word play, the authors nudge readers to actually think about what they see when they look at everyday things and to let their imagination soar. . . . This is a volume to be read again and again while savoring both the language and the pictures. . . . These joyful, beautiful poems stand on their own and will make vivid pictures in the minds of all readers. An excellent choice.
—School Library Connection (starred review)

The book feels attuned to the fanciful way so many children are naturally inclined to view the world, and to guide them to an even deeper immersion. . . Spare and wholesome yet richly evocative, Richard Jones' illustrations — of meteor showers, snowy moonlit fields, horses amid papery white birch trees and more — enhance and deepen the charm of each poem.
—The Star Tribune

Gorgeous and assured.
—The Virginian Pilot

If you are going to introduce your child to poetry, you can't get much better than Kooser and Wanek.... This is a beautiful book with poems to be savored — sophisticated enough for adults and simple enough for kids.
—Pioneer Press

Marshmallow Clouds is one of those books that works so effectively for young readers that it feels as though the co-authors (co-poets?) had been honing their talents for kids, specifically, for years. One of those books that will subtly coil its way around your heart. . . one of the best collections of original children's poetry I've ever read. . . a beautiful book that could have the power to make your boisterous children introspective, if only for a moment
—A Fuse #8 Production

Inside this book you'll find poems that stick inside your brain, no matter how resistant you might be to the form. Kooser and Wanek are clearly engaged in some kind of sorcery since you can never figure out where one poet started and the other stopped. It's introspective, to say the least, and incredibly lovely. Probably the most impressive book of children's poetry in years and definitely worth a serious conversation.
—A Fuse #8 Production

Meaningful. . . I see this picture book as a role model that could help young poets of all ages do a better job of thinking.
—The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

A beautiful collection for budding poets, readers will go on an adventure through fire, water, air and earth. Each poem is accompanied by beautiful illustrations from Richard Jones and explores the beauty of the world around us.
—Tiny Beans

Ted Kooser
Ted Kooser was the US Poet Laureate from 2004 to 2006 and won a Pulitzer Prize for his book of poems Delights & Shadows. His picture books include Bag in the Wind and The Bell in the Bridge, both illustrated by Barry Root; House Held Up by Trees, a New York Times Book Review Best Illustrated Children's Book of the Year, illustrated by Jon Klassen; and Mr. Posey's New Glasses, an International Literacy Association Children's Choice, illustrated by Daniel Duncan. Ted Kooser lives in Garland, Nebraska.

Connie Wanek has been writing since her hand could hold a pencil. She is the author of four books of poetry, including Rival Gardens: New and Selected Poems, the second book in the Ted Kooser Contemporary Poetry Series. She lives in Duluth, Minnesota.

Richard Jones has worked for more than twenty years in the creative arts. He is the illustrator of numerous picture books, including The Proper Way to Meet a Hedgehog and Other How-To Poems, edited by Paul B. Janeczko, and Bird Builds a Nest and The Squirrels' Busy Year, both by Martin Jenkins. Richard Jones lives in Devon, England.
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Candlewick Press (MA)
Publication date
March 20, 2022
BISAC categories
JNF042000 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Poetry | General
JNF051000 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Science & Nature | General
JNF013120 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Concepts | Words (See Also Headings Under Language Arts)
Library of Congress categories
Picture books
American poetry
Children's poetry, American
Figures of speech
Four elements

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