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Reader Response: What the Heart Knows: Chants, Charms & Blessings by Joyce Sidman and Pamela Zagarenski

What the Heart Knows: Chants, Charms & Blessings by Joyce Sidman, Illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski 

Boston: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2013

ISBN 978-0-544-10616-1

*Please note that the following post may contain spoilers and does not summarize the text, as it was written as part of my coursework for LIS 7220 Materials for Young Adults, and the first group of intended readers are my professor and classmates, who should be familiar with the book. If I make adjustments or an additional post with summary/review information in the future, I will post an update link here. Now read on!


As it turns out, I’m familiar with both this author and illustrator. I discovered this after reading the book and making it to the back book flap. This is full of mostly positive associations for me as I enjoyed both books and even just reading their titles was able to recollect something about them (I read a lot of picture books. Not all of them stand out.).

As might be expected, I mostly remember the content of Sidman’s Swirl by Swirl (in particular because it is a math and nature book and there simply seem to be not enough picture books in these subject areas, none the less both at once!) and the illustrations of Zagarenski’s book Sleep Like a Tiger.

First Impressions

I am more blown away by the illustrations in this book than anything else. The poetry is good and in many ways general in a good way, so that it can be easily applied to the reader as needed. Since the book is split into sections of poetry which separate the content by tone and purpose, it seems useful as a read-when-needed book versus a straight-through read. The illustrations are thought-provoking, many-layered, and evoke the feelings and images of the text. So much so that it dawned on me that this was the only book of poetry we read for this week which happened to have illustrations. I’m not sure I would have even noticed otherwise.

17166008 whattheheart what-the-heart-knows_dvd.original


Many of the poems in this book lend themselves towards a teen readership, as they address issues of change, both in friendships (Chant to Repair a Friendship) and physical relocation (Lament for my Old Life), as well as an urge for freedom, utilizing one of the ultimate teenage symbols in the poem Gift Spell, which wishes for a car key, or in a larger sense, freedom. The language is easy to access and could probably be read by middle school age students as well, in terms of language levels.


Even when reading the Laments & Remembrances, this book as a whole has a positive outlook on life. Even when leaving things behind, it is while looking towards the future. This is uplifting in a way which I think anyone could use from time to time, and the illustrations on the whole help bring out the quietness of the text. Most of the poems, chants, charms, blessings, etc, carry with them a feeling of peacefulness, or what I would describe as sacredness. (I may be putting my own feelings deep into the text here. I’ve been considering the word “sacred” lately, as the Loft Literary Center and the MIA have been requesting for people to consider what Sacred Is. This book reminded me of that in tone.)

On a personal note

I gave my very first storytime reading today for kids, and I woke up exceptionally nervous. Sometimes I feel like more of a teenager than an adult, or more of a child, and part of it is the feeling I don’t think I will ever shake, which is that I am still growing up. And the piece A List of Things That Will Set You Free helped do just that for me upon waking. I close on that note.

A List of Things That Will Set You Free by Joyce Sidman

            A voice.
            A touch.
Not caring.

Saying to yourself:
            I am too old to do this.
            I am too young to do this.
            I am too smart to do this.
            It’s not my fault.
            It is my fault.
            It is my fault, and I will fix it.

            I can do this.