Poet Michael Rosen delves into his moving family history, lending a personal reflection to the contemplative and compelling anthology about migration and refugees, On the Move. Forty-nine of Rosen's poems, evocatively illustrated by Quentin Blake, are arranged in four sections--Family and Friends, The War, The Migrants in Me and On the Move Again--through which Rosen prompts readers to consider the connectedness of one family's experience to the broader movement of people in crisis worldwide.
Rosen captures his youthful moments in London with a stream of consciousness, memories pouring forth poem by poem, family stories and mundane encounters evoking nostalgia while inviting reader reflection. A particularly unflinching series including Rosen's poems "The Absentees" and "The French Uncles" considers the empty spaces left behind by lost loved ones (his Jewish kin), and humble attempts to fill an absence with shared memories or silence. Elsewhere, Rosen juxtaposes the universality of the human experience of migration with an admonishment of xenophobia and persecution: "We say, 'Never again.'/ But/ .../ it can happen again. It does happen again. It has happened again."
Former U.K. Children's Laureate Rosen (We're Going on a Bear Hunt) arranged previously published works for this collection, which he bookends with a helpful introduction entitled "Migrant Poetry" and backmatter that includes a link to some of his spoken poems. Although he occasionally rhymes, as in "Yours Hopefully" and "On the Move Again," Rosen primarily unspools his sobering thoughts through accessible free verse. The book's clean design suits upper-middle-grade readers, although it is likely to appeal to adults, as well.
Blake (The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots) punctuates the anthology with evocative watercolor illustrations. His distinctive, jagged line art conveys a camaraderie and hopefulness among the displaced figures as they move across land and water on double-page spreads with increasingly saturated violet hues. There is a kinetic urgency to Blake's work here, and the anonymous and atmospheric art complements Rosen's message extremely well.
In these honest and pensive poems, Rosen probes his own past to prompt readers to contemplate their own feelings around global displacement. Although Rosen offers a handful of answers about his missing family, it is the unanswered questions that will sit with readers long after finishing the book. --Kit Ballenger, youth librarian, Help Your Shelf
Shelf Talker: An anthology of 49 deeply personal poems artfully explores the human experience of displacement.