By John Grandits
cover image retrieved from
Grandits, John. 2007. BLUE LIPSTICK CONCRETE POEMS. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. New York. ISBN-13: 9780618851324
Jessie, a teenager experiencing her fair share of high school angst, lights up the pages of this story in verse. The true beauty of it, however, is in the format of the poems. Imagery and emotion come to life in the concrete scripting of the story. Blue Lipstick reads almost like a diary. Jessie pours her heart into the poems, taking the reader through the gamut of her emotions: frustrated, irritated, panicked, awed, love-struck in poems with tell-tale titles like “Talking to My Stupid Younger Brother is Like Swimming Upstream in a River to Nowhere,” “A Chart of My Emotional Day,” “Bad Hair Day,” and “My Absolutely Bad Cranky Day.” Jessie chronicles her daily activities in poems with mundane titles such as “Volleyball Practice,” and “The Bowling Party,” but her experiences are anything but mundane. In typical teenage fashion, Jessie is consumed with her attire and appearance, her friends (or lack thereof,) her least favorite teacher and subject (Mr. Holt, English,) and how lame her family can be- sometimes. Reading Blue Lipstick takes the reader on a journey through high school life that brings to mind similar personal trials and adventures.
Concrete poems have never had it so good. Typically reserved for verse about subjects in nature (flowers, mountains, raindrops, kitty-cat faces) or other topics with somewhat predictable shapes (winding roads, sailboats,) concrete poems have new life in this fresh take on a teenager’s existence. The day-to-day trivial pursuits of an ordinary teenager, Jessie, leap into action in Blue Lipstick as the words of her story come to life in concrete poetry. Far from predictable, the shapes of these poems are as erratic as a teenage girl’s life, lending humorous authenticity to her many mood swings and escapades.
While concrete poems can sometimes be difficult to follow through their meandering form, attempting to trace the path through Jessie’s words and anecdotes is part of the adventure. The poems themselves are the artwork, with doodles and varying fonts completing the pictures. Grandits constructs unique shape poems that literally give life to Jessie’s actions and reactions. The title poem, “Blue Lipstick,” sets the tone and color scheme for the book. Blue- both the color and the emotion- are skillfully woven in throughout the book.
Random, erratic, unique, genuine- this companion book to Grandits’ Technically, It’s Not My Fault is a skillful, occasionally hysterical, look at the life of an American teenager. The free verse styling allows Jessie to rant, rave, contemplate, and emote to her heart’s content. Grandits effectively employs a teenager’s lexicon to legitimize his subject. The rich vocabulary and careful word choice drive home the sentiments of a teenager. With each poem wrapped neatly in a descriptive shape, the mood is set as the reader turns to each new page. Even a skeptic of shape poems will find reason to enjoy Blue Lipstick.
"Grandits playfully, and quite effectively, channels a teenage girl's dreams, anxieties, and pet peeves—all in a series of concrete poems, no less—in this much stronger follow-up to Technically, It's Not My Fault. We first meet ninth-grader Jessie on the book's cover, as she's busy defending her lipstick purchase. . . . Her words (i.e., the poem) form the frame kissed by electric-blue lips. It's a cover that'll grab adolescent girls' attention—and the poetry inside is equally appealing. . . . It's to Grandits's credit that his protagonist isn't confined to a 2D existence. She leaps right off the page, in turn feisty and insecure." The Horn Book v. 83 no. 4 (July/August 2007) p. 408-9
Grandits crafts his collections with the needs of poetry-phobic readers in mind. It isn't even necessary to crack the book, since the first poem, "Blue Lipstick," is cleverly placed on the front cover, surrounding a reflective mirror. As he did in that terrific collection, the author uses artful arrangements of text on the page, along with 54 different typefaces, to bring his images and ideas to life. This irreverent, witty collection should resonate with a wide audience.
ConnectionsBlue Lipstick is the perfect vehicle to open a discussion about feelings. Use it as a part of a lesson on emotions and how to respond to situations in a positive way.
Have students write a response poem to Jessie, either requiring concrete poetry or allowing the format of choice.
Have students construct a concrete poem of their own, taken from a common experience in their day-to-day life, as Jessie does in this book.
To introduce concrete poetry, share a few simple poems that are written in a regular format. Have each student select a poem and rewrite it in a concrete shape. Add other details to complete the illustration/poem. Discuss the importance of readability when using a concrete poems.
Share other volumes of concrete poetry, such as A Poke in the I: A Collection of Concrete Poems, written by Paul Janeczko and illustrated by Chris Raschka; Doodle Dandies: Poems That Take Shape, written by J. Patrick Lewis and illustrated by Lisa Desimini; and Meow Ruff: A Story in Concrete Poetry written by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Michelle Berg.
Make interdisciplinary connections. Select a specific event or topic the class is currently studying and guide students in creating a related concrete poem.
Other books by John Grandits: