Climbing Shadows

Written by Shannon Bramer Illustrated by Cindy Derby Groundwood Books (House of Anansi Press) 

The poems in Climbing Shadows were inspired by a class of kindergarten children whom poet and playwright Shannon Bramer came to know over the course of a school year. She set out to write a poem for each child, sharing her love of poetry with them, and made an anthology of the poems for Valentine’s Day.

This original collection reflects the children’s joys and sorrows, worries and fears, moods and sense of humor. Some poems address common themes such as having a hard day at school, feeling shy or being a newcomer, while others explore subjects of fascination — bats, spiders, skeletons, octopuses, polka dots, racing cars and birthday parties. Evident throughout the book is a love of words and language and the idea that there are all kinds of poems and that they are for everyone — to read or write.

Cindy Derby’s dreamy watercolor illustrations gently complement each poem. Beautiful, thoughtful, sensitive and funny, this is an exceptional collection.

“Do you remember that scene in Orlando by Virginia Woolf where a bunch of witty people are in a room saying witty things and then Alexander Pope walks in and says three things so devastatingly witty that he just destroys everything? That’s what happens when Climbing Shadows gets paired alongside other collections of poetry. Smart. Honestly heartfelt. Utterly beautiful to look at. See the bar? Yeah. It just got raised.” (Full Review here)

—Betsy Bird, School Library Journal


A stunning book of poems for children…Perfect pairing of words and art…Bramer’s evocative words are made even more memorable by the watercolours of San Francisco’s Cindy Derby...Feelings abound in these verses, and it becomes clear that even four- and five-year olds live complicated lives.
— Edmonton Journal

Derby’s art sort of looks like the lovechild of Stephen Gammell and Matt James. That spidery, delicate art all awash in evocative watercolors that feel like something out of the world’s nicest fever dream. Only Derby could make the hips of a skeleton look like a particularly lovely variety of Venus flytrap. Only she would cover a grumpy girl in anthropomorphic chocolate chip cookies, all feet and boots and crumbs. But the reason that Derby was the absolute ideal person to pair with these poems is that she can do exactly what Bramer does, note for note. When Bramer goes big and expansive, when her view backs up and backs up and encompasses so much more than one child and one thought, that’s when Derby backs up. That’s when you’ll see her snow splattered pines on steep mountainsides and the moon shine on a woman padding down a steep hill one moment and then the wispiest strand of a spider’s web or the shadow of a flower on snow the next. A person should get vertigo the way she moves about from page to page but instead you just feel so safe and comforted. Derby’s art makes you feel that everything is going to be okay. Even when it’s weird. ESPECIALLY when it’s weird.
— Betsy Bird, School Library Journal

The works carry notes of wistfulness and wonder, astute observations, and poignant reflections on one’s place in the world
— Publishers Weekly

The illustrations from Cindy Derby (who made one of this year’s funniest picture books) are delicate, impressionistic watercolors with wispy, nuanced lines. She does a fine job of capturing the kinds of landscapes you would see in, say, a cryptic, early-morning dream, and she quite masterfully captures mood and atmosphere. Derby can go from tender to delightfully peculiar (remember the octopus in the tree?) with ease.
— Julie Danielson, Kirkus Reviews