Been to Yesterdays: Poems of a Life


Growing up in the late 1950s, young Lee faced the painful events of his parents' divorce, an unstable homelife, and a hand-to-mouth existence. Through it all, he clung to the memory of his grandmother and his hope of becoming a writer. Now in these emotionally charged autobiographical poems, Lee speaks to today's youth.
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Growing up in the late 1950s, young Lee faced the painful events of his parents' divorce, an unstable homelife, and a hand-to-mouth existence. Through it all, he clung to the memory of his grandmother and his hope of becoming a writer. Now in these emotionally charged autobiographical poems, Lee speaks to today's youth.
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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Judy Chernak
Bleakly meaningful poems of a small boy whose life is constantly wracked with change and pain - a father who leaves, poverty, frequent moves, new schools, his grandma's death, and a desperate wish to buy for his mother the one thing she craved. Not a happy book, but one which opens a clear window on a youngster determined to succeed, "to make this world a whole lot brighter" by becoming a writer. Spare illustrations by Charlene Rendeiro help set the tone for some of the poems.
Children's Literature - Jan Lieberman
Hopkins tells his life's story in a poignant collection of original poems. As a young child, his was a 'picture perfect family,' but then came the split, always on the move. His grandmother provided stability and love. One night while his baby sister and brother sleep, his mother tells him about things "...I must say to you/cause/you're the oldest,/strongest,/my number one son./Someday/you will understand/that life can't flow/as you always planned." With simplicity but deep feeling, these bittersweet poems touch everyone.
Children's Literature - Children's Literature
Hopkins has written reams of his own poetry and compiled many wonderful anthologies. The poems in this volume employ a variety of techniques and all look simply written. This is deceptive, for emotions run deep as Hopkins writes of his thirteenth year when his life was turned upside down with divorce, moving, and instability. 1999, Boyds Mills Press, Ages 8 up, $14.95 and $8.95. Reviewer: Susie Wilde
School Library Journal
Gr 5 Up-This autobiographical cycle of poems is a rare gift, a careful exploration of one life that illumines the lives of all who read it. Been to Yesterdays chronicles Hopkins's 13th year, the year he moved from Pennsylvania to New Jersey, the year his parents divorced, the year his grandmother died, the year he knew he'd be a writer. Each poem is a model of emotional economy. The author writes of seeing packing boxes and knowing the family must leave a too-expensive apartment (``Stowed in cardboard/corners/memories rest/quietly/in paper chests''); he reflects on his grandmother's death and his growing up (``no more/sitting on/Grandma's knee/no more/smiles/or kisses/or joy/no more/darling/no more boy.'') The spare elegance of the poems is matched by a spare, clean book design-the words are surrounded by white space and a few pen-and-ink sketches. Like Cynthia Rylant's Waiting to Waltz (Bradbury, 1984), this book offers rich biography in a clear, poetic form. Readers will rejoice that Hopkins decided ``To/make/this world/a whole lot/brighter/when/I grow up/I'll/be/a/writer.''-Kathleen Whalin, Greenwich Country Day School, CT
Susan Dove Lempke
Hopkins distills the experience of his middle-grade years into 28 poems of poignant clarity, achieving in very few words what many prose authors take chapters to tell. The first poem, with its too sprightly picture-perfect family, will make readers suspect that the future holds "another long drawn-out night / another bitter, brutal fight" ending in "the dreaded word--"divorce"." The Woolworth store is a recurring motif in the poems, including the heartbreakingly honest "Clutching," in which Hopkins learns from his mother that the lady with the kind smile and dark skin is a "nigger," not, according to his grandmother, a good word to choose, because "some words / can hurt / when you / blurt 'em out. / Cause / undue sorrow. / Cause / undue pain." Hopkins transforms bleak events into crystalline moments, concluding with his resolve as a 13-year-old to "make the world a whole lot brighter" by becoming a writer. Good reading and an excellent, unconventional choice for teachers doing units on poetry and autobiography.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780756979669
  • Publisher: Boyds Mills Press
  • Publication date: 9/1/2007
  • Pages: 64
  • Age range: 8 - 12 Years
  • Product dimensions: 7.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Lee Bennett Hopkins is a poet and anthologist and has been honored with the Christopher Award, the University of Southern Mississippi's Medallion for "lasting contributions to children's literature," and the NCTE Award for Excellence
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