The Poet Upstairs
by Judith Ortiz Cofer
Illustrations by Oscar Ortiz
Publication Date: November 30, 2012
Imprint: Piñata Books
Juliana is too sick to go to school one cold, winter day. So she stays at home in bed and looks out her bedroom window. She watches as a tall lady in a red coat and hat carries her boxes of books and papers upstairs. Her mother has heard that the mysterious woman is a poet writing a book. Juliana loves books and can’t wait to meet the poet upstairs.
Juliana listens to the poet’s typewriter clicking and clacking all day long, while outside the snow falls and people rush by bundled up in their coats. She dreams of a tiny tropical island “sitting on the ocean like a green button on a blue dress,” the island home that her mother and the poet share. She dreams of red hibiscus flowers and beaches of white sand.
The next day, she receives an invitation from the poet to come upstairs. Together, they write a poem about a big river that leads to the sea. As they make pictures with words, the walls of the cold apartment become a beautiful vista of mountains, palm trees, birds and flowers. That special day, poetry takes Juliana from her cold and ordinary apartment to a sparkling island habitat.
Invoking Puerto Rican poet Julia de Burgos’ famous poem about the Loiza River, Ortiz Cofer’s lyrical text is combined with Oscar Ortiz’s breathtaking illustrations of the natural world and the animals that inhabit it. This inspiring picture book for children ages 5 to 9 demonstrates the power of the written word as Juliana learns that poetry can change the world.
A 2013 Junior Library Guild selection
Recipient, 2013 Skipping Stones Honor Award
Finalist, ForeWord’s 2012 Book of the Year Award
Honor Book, 2013 Paterson Prize for Books for Young People
“With help from her imagination and the poet upstairs, a young Latina escapes a dreary winter in the city. Together, the nameless poet and Juliana write a poem about a river and escape into a lush land of tropical birds, flowers and sunshine. Although the poem ends and the two return to the cold reality of the city, the poet assures Juliana that she can use poetry as a way to journey to other places. In his debut picture book, Ortiz adds depth to the fanciful, lengthy narrative with his colorful mixed-media artwork.”—Kirkus Reviews
“A bilingual girl named Juliana learns about the immersive nature of poetry after a poet moves into the apartment above hers…debut illustrator Ortiz blends urban and tropical elements in inventive ways.”—Publishers Weekly
“This tale demonstrates how kids can thrive with some encouragement.”—Mamiverse
“An important story about family, dreams, art, and not giving up.”—ForeWord Reviews
“An amazing tribute…and a delightful way to introduce young readers to the importance of words and the power of writing. Illustrations are rich with texture and color that enhances and extends the experience for all readers.”—The Children’s Bookshelf
JUDITH ORTIZ COFER, a poet, novelist, and essayist, is the author of numerous award winning books, including An Island Like You: Stories of the Barrio (Orchid Books 1995, Penguin, 1997), recipient of the 1995 Pura Belpré Award, the ALA Best Books for Young Adults and the Horn Book/Fanfare Best Book of the Year List. Silent Dancing: A Partial Remembrance of a Puerto Rican Childhood (Arte Público Press 1991) received a PEN citation, the Martha Albrand Award for non-fiction, and a Pushcart Prize for the essay “More Room.” She is the recipient of the 1999 Paterson Prize for Books for Young People for The Year of Our Revolution. Most recently, she has published a bilingual book for children, ¡A bailar! / Let’s Dance! (Piñata Books, 2011); Animal Jamboree: Latino Folktales /La fiesta de los animals: leyendas latinas (Piñata Books, 2012), a bilingual collection of Puerto Rican folktales for middle readers, and The Poet Upstairs (Piñata Books, 2012), an inspiring picture book that demonstrates how poetry can change the world. She was a long-time professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Georgia before her death in 2016.
OSCAR ORTIZ was born in Manhattan, New York, USA in 1964. He started painting and selling his pieces back in 2002. Eventually he moved into selling prints and licensing his art all over the world, represented in part by Bridgeman Art Library and similar venues. Oscar’s paintings have graced calendars, CDs, magazines, posters and others. Organizations, like UNESCO, have used his images for several purposes. Among his most recent projects are: illustrating an award winning children book, The Poet Upstairs, by Judith Ortiz Cofer, published by Arte Público and released on November 30th, 2012. He also illustrated a text book for National Geographic Learning.
Each day, he drinks fresh brewed black coffee at 3 PM so as to stay rooted to his Puerto Rican upbringing. He is still dating his high school sweetheart after 28 years of marriage.
Learn more here.
ATOS Interest Level: Lower Grades
Category: Picture Book
ATOS English: 4.4
Accelerated Reader Quiz #: 153979