Monday, December 31, 2007

My favorite poetry books of 2007

It’s the last day of the year and time for me to pause and ponder all the wonderful poetry books published for young people this year. So much variety! Anthologies, biographical poetry, picture book collections, novels in verse, edgy YA work, playful verses for very young children, and more. New voices and new works by old favorites. Great curricular connections in science, social studies, and beyond. Fun experimentation with poetic form and voice. Beautifully written, beautifully illustrated. Serious, humorous, and everything in between. After much deliberation, here’s my list of not-to-be-missed poetry for kids in 2007. Be sure your library has multiple copies of each!

1. Alexander, Elizabeth and Nelson, Marilyn. 2007. Miss Crandall’s School for Young Ladies and Little Misses of Color. Wordsong.
*Powerful sonnets tell the story of Prudence Crandall and her school for African American women in the early 1800’s

2. Crisler, Curtis. 2007. Tough Boy Sonatas. Wordsong.
*Gripping, edgy poems about growing up as a young black man in the city

3. Fisher, Aileen. 2007. Do Rabbits Have Christmas? Henry Holt.
*Lovely, fresh gathering of older poems by Fisher about Christmas in nature

4. Florian, Douglas. 2007. comets, stars, the moon, and mars. Harcourt.
*Florian’s dynamic illustrations and clever, descriptive poetry take us to outer space

5. Frank, John. 2007. How to Catch a Fish. Roaring Brook.
*Evocative oil paintings and lyrical poetry introduce fishing around the world

6. Grandits, John. 2007. Blue Lipstick: Concrete Poems. Clarion.
*Musings of a teenage girl in often unorthodox poetic forms

7. Hemphill, Stephanie. 2007. Your Own, Sylvia. Knopf.
*Semi-biographical verse novel written in the style of Sylvia Plath’s poetry

8. Hopkins, Lee Bennett. 2007. Behind the Museum Door. Abrams.
*Fun collection of field trip poems that make museum artifacts come alive

9. Issa, Kobayashi. 2007. Today and Today. Scholastic.
*Classic haiku by Issa are arranged to create a lovely chronological story

10. Janeczko, Paul. Comp. 2007. Hey, You! Poems to Skyscrapers, Mosquitoes, and Other Fun Things. HarperCollins.
*These “apostrophe” poems of address give a variety of objects a voice

11. Miller, Kate. 2007. Poems in Black and White. Front Street.
*Striking illustrations and lyrical poems address objects that are black and/or white

12. Mora, Pat. 2007. Yum! Mmmm! Que Rico!: America's Sproutings. Lee & Low.
*Vibrant illustrations and pungent haiku (along with fun facts) introduce the origins of foods from across the Americas

13. Park, Linda Sue. 2007. Tap Dancing on the Roof; Sijo Poems. Clarion.
*Park brings the Korean form of sijo poetry to the forefront with clever rhymes and helpful background information

14. Prelutsky, Jack. 2007. Good Sports; Rhymes About Running, Jumping, Throwing, and More. Knopf.
*Participating as well as winning and losing in sports is highlighted in playful rhymes and illustrations

15. Sandell, Lisa Ann. 2007. Song of the Sparrow. Scholastic.
*Verse novel re-envisions a feminist telling of the “Lady of Shallott” classic

16. Schlitz, Laura Amy. 2007. Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!: Voices from a Medieval Village. Candlewick.
*Poem portraits of a variety of interconnected characters in a medieval village

17. Sidman, Joyce. 2007. This is Just to Say. Houghton Mifflin.
*Poems of apology and forgiveness in the voices of a classroom of children

18. Smith, Charles R. Jr. 2007. Twelve Rounds to Glory: The Story of Muhammad Ali. Candlewick.
*A poem biography about boxer Ali told in a shout-out cadence

19. Spinelli, Eileen. 2007. Where I Live. Dial.
*Delicate poems and drawings capture the difficulties of moving and making life transitions

20. Vecchione, Patrice. 2007. Faith and Doubt; An Anthology of Poems. Henry Holt.
*Powerful poems about belief pack this rich anthology

21. Weatherford, Carole Boston. 2007. Birmingham, 1963. Wordsong.
*Photographs and poems trace the sad events of the church bombing in 1963

22. Wong, Janet. 2007. Twist: Yoga Poems. McElderry.
*Color-rich illustrations and metaphorical poems make yoga fun

23. Worth, Valerie. 2007. Animal Poems. Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
*Worth’s descriptive poems and Steve Jenkins’ collage art create vivid animal portraits

24. Yolen, Jane. Comp. 2007. Here’s a Little Poem. Candlewick.
*Fun collection of poems perfectly placed and illustrated for very “little” children

25. Zimmer, Tracie Vaughn. 2007. Reaching for Sun. Bloomsbury.
*Accessible verse novel about a girl growing up with cerebral palsy

PLUS: Hughes, Langston. (75th anniversary edition 2007). The Dream Keeper (and seven additional poems). Knopf.

Please indulge one last book plug, my own: Poetry People; A Practical Guide to Children’s Poets (Libraries Unlimited, 2007). It’s a resource guide for people who work with children and offers biographical information as well as ideas for sharing the poetry of 62 major poets writing for young people.

Happy 2008 in poetry!

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Friday, December 21, 2007

Do Rabbits Have Christmas?

I’m happy to report that poet Aileen Fisher is having a comeback! A selection of 15 of her poems originally published in 8 different poetry books from as long ago as 1946, have been gathered in this lovely picture book collection, Do Rabbits Have Christmas, with a forward by Karla Kuskin. The delicate illustrations by nature artist Sarah Fox-Davies are the perfect accompaniment, placed just so for each poem, whether as a small cameo image or a double-page spread. Her careful, naturalistic renderings of the animals, in particular, keep the images from veering into preciousness. And Fisher’s language is ever fresh and crisp, providing glimpses of moments with an intimate first person voice in lines that rhyme effortlessly. The subject is unabashedly Christmas, full of anticipation, wonder, speculation, and delight, with a focus on the weather, the woods, and small animals-- the mouse, the kitten, the chickadee, the rabbit. Whether your view includes a snowy landscape or not (it's 73 degrees here in Texas today!), the poetry evokes a thoughtful quietness and sparkly spirit that is irresistible. Here’s just a taste.

Before Christmas
by Aileen Fisher

We sing, and plan,
and watch the date,
and write some cards…
and wait and wait.

We look for presents
at the store
and make some, too…
and wait some more.

We wrap our gifts
and tie them straight,
and frost some cookies
on a plate,
and buy a tree
to decorate,
but most of all
we wait… and wait.

From Fisher, Aileen. 2007. Do Rabbits Have Christmas? Illustrated by Sarah Fox-Davies. Henry Holt.

Pair this book with Valerie Worth’s out of print gem, if you can find it, At Christmastime (HarperCollins, 1992) illustrated by Antonio Frasconi.

And for more on award winning poet Aileen Fisher, check out my previous Sept. 9, 2006 posting, in honor of her birthday.

Join the rest of the Poetry Friday gathering at AmoXcalli.

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Friday, December 14, 2007

Moving poetry

My apologies for disappearing! I’ve been going through a major life change: MOVING. In the space of a few weeks, we sold our home (in Grand Prairie, TX where we had lived for 18 years raising two kids) and moved into the big city (of Dallas, where we’re 10 minutes from my favorite theaters, movies, museums, and restaurants!). Each Friday has brought a new crisis: first no electricity for two days, then no Internet for four days! EEK! Things are headed toward normalcy now and it’s time to get back on track with poetry. I’ve actually been reading a lot of poetry during this time as part of the Cybils award (I’m on the poetry subcommittee; stay tuned for news); it’s the perfect antidote.

As I looked for a poem to fit my current circumstance, I remembered a lovely picture book collection that came out a few years ago: My House is Singing by Betsy Rosenthal, illustrated by Margaret Chodos-Irvine. Each poem captures an aspect of the “places and spaces that make a house a home” against a backdrop of Chodos-Irvine’s colorful, sculptural collages. Using a variety of poetic forms, including rhyming and free verse forms, Rosenthal touches on details that children notice in the laundry room, the smoke detector, the refrigerator, the vacuum cleaner, the kitchen, special cubby-holes, the doorbell, the back door, and more. The following poem example gives the book it’s title and captures some of my own thoughts my first night in my new home:

My House’s Night Song
By Betsy Rosenthal

Listen closely.
Can you hear?

Heater whooshing out
warm air.

Blinds flapping
Floors creaking.

Clocks ticking.
Faucet leaking.

Dishwasher clicking.
Pipes pinging.

Listen closely.
My house is singing.

From: Rosenthal, Betsy. R. 2004. My House is Singing. Illustrated by Margaret Chodos-Irvine. San Diego: Harcourt.

It’s time for me to re-join the Poetry Friday Round Up-- which is hosted this week by Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect.

Picture: My new house

Friday, November 23, 2007

NCTE and the Poetry Blast

This time last week, I was attending the annual convention of the National Council of Teachers of English in New York City. What fun-- I love that city! One of the highlights of the conference was soaking up the words of the dozen poets who read from their work at the NCTE Poetry Blast hosted by Marilyn Singer and Michael Santangelo. This event debuted as the ALSC Poetry Blast at the ALA convention four years ago (was that in Orlando?) and has also premiered at the International Reading Association convention and now at NCTE. The concept is simple: enjoy a “concert” of poets reading from their own poetry. There’s nothing quite like hearing poems read by their creators—it’s like seeing the actual Mona Lisa, instead of just a picture of the painting in a book. Intimate, visceral, moving. At the New York Blast, we enjoyed the artistry of Lee Bennett Hopkins, Janet Wong, Marilyn Nelson, Lisa Ann Sandell, Curtis Crisler, Joyce Sidman, Alan Katz, John Grandits, Nikki Grimes, Helen Frost, Charles R. Smith, Jr., and Marilyn Singer. What a line up! Here are a few of the highlights:

*Lee Bennett Hopkins read from his own poetry as well as moving selections from his new anthology, America at War by Georgia Heard and Rebecca Kai Dotlich who were in the audience
*Janet Wong offered her poems with her usual wry commentary and even had an audience member demonstrate a yoga pose to accompany a poem from Twist
*Marilyn Nelson shared selections from her latest work, moving poems from the voices of Miss Crandall’s School for Young Ladies and Misses of Color
*Lisa Ann Sandell read from her lyrical verse novel, Song of the Sparrow, a feminist revisioning of the tale of “The Lady of Shallot"
*Curtis Crisler wowed with his powerful words from Tough Boy Sonatas
*Joyce Sidman moved us with two emotional “dog” poems as well as the fresh perspectives in This is Just to Say
*Alan Kratz made us laugh with his self-deprecating humor and verses from Oops and Uh Oh!
*John Grandits provided visuals to help us engage in the clever and witty concrete poetry of Blue Lipstick
*Nikki Grimes introduced us to her cat, Gorilla, featured in her new collection, When Gorilla Goes Walking
*Helen Frost debuted selections from her new novel in verse, Diamond Willow, another layered, lovely work
*Charles Smith pumped us up with words from his poetic biography of Muhammad Ali in Twelve Rounds to Glory
*Marilyn Singer took us around the world with the “timely” words of Nine O’Clock Lullaby
The hours flew by as we took in their voices, poems from their recent works, and got a sneak peak on new and future releases. What a terrific event to include in a conference devoted to teaching and literature.

I love the idea of a poetry “recital” so much that I have imitated the Blast by bringing the concept to the Texas Library Association conference each spring. Next year, I’ll be hosting the fourth annual Poetry Round Up at the conference in Dallas. Save the date: Thursday, April 17, 2008 (10am-12pm). You’re all welcome. Come experience the poetry of John Frank, Juanita Havill, Alan Katz, Linda Sue Park (as a poet!), Adam Rex, and Tracie Vaughn Zimmer up close and personal. And take this idea and plan your own poetry reading event! Ideally, bring the poets to your venue, but even children can have a blast with poetry by standing up and reading their own poetry or favorite poems by poets they love. Celebrate the spoken word, the kids, and the poetry—all at once!

Picture credit: While in New York, I stayed at my best friend Susan’s home near Gramercy Park. She just moved to New York (from Texas) last spring and I am living vicariously through her Big Apple adventures. The photo is the view from her guest room—AMAZING!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Thanks poems

Thanksgiving is coming up soon, so I looked around for some appropriate poems for the occasion. I gathered a collection of titles for a quick list and two poems that represent two distinct perspectives on being thankful. Enjoy!

All in a Word
by Aileen Fisher

T for time to be together, turkey, talk, and tangy weather.
H for harvest stored away, home, hearth, and holiday.
A for autumn’s frosty art, and abundance in the heart.
N for neighbors and November, nice things, new things to remember.
K for kitchen, kettles’ croon, kith and kin expected soon.
S for sizzles, sights, and sounds, and something special that abounds.
That spells THANKS-- for joy in living and a jolly good Thanksgiving.

Fisher, Aileen. “All in a Word.” in Hopkins, Lee Bennett. Side by Side Poems to Read Together. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988. (Thank you for your poetry collections, Lee!)


Our Daily Bread
by Janet Wong

Nine p.m. we close the store,
wash the counter, mop the floor.

Ten p.m. we finally eat.
Father pulls a milk crate seat

to the table and we pray.
Thank you for this crazy day.

Wong, Janet. A Suitcase of Seaweed, and Other Poems. New York: Margaret K. McElderry, 1996. (Thank you for your poetry, Janet!)

More poetry about giving thanks and Thanksgiving:
Bruchac, Joseph. 1996. The Circle of Thanks. Mahwah, NJ: BridgeWater Books.
Carlstrom, Nancy White. 2002. Thanksgiving Day at Our House: Thanksgiving Poems for the Very Young. New York: Aladdin.
Grimes, Nikki. 2006. Thanks a Million. New York: Amistad.
Hopkins, Lee Bennett. 2005. Days to Celebrate: A Full Year of Poetry, People, Holidays, History, Fascinating Facts, and More. New York: Greenwillow.
Livingston, Myra Cohn, comp. 1985. Thanksgiving Poems. New York: Holiday House.
Prelutsky, Jack. 1982. It’s Thanksgiving. New York: Greenwillow.
Rosen, Michael, J., ed. 1996. Food Fight: Poets Join the Fight Against Hunger with Poems about Their Favorite Foods. San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace.
Swamp, Chief Jake. 1995. Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message. New York: Lee & Low Books.
Wing, Natasha. 2001. The Night Before Thanksgiving. New York: Grosset and Dunlap.
Young, Ed. 1997. Voices of the Heart. New York: Scholastic.

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Friday, November 09, 2007

Poetry for National Children’s Book Week

Coming up next?
Children's Book Week: November 12-18, 2007, a “celebration of the written word” designed to “introduce young people to new authors and ideas in schools, libraries, homes, and bookstores,” according to the Children’s Book Council, the sponsor of this event since 1919. It’s also the perfect time to gather and share poems about books and reading. As it happens, I have also been invited to offer a regular column on “Everyday Poetry” for Book Links magazine (published by the American Library Association). My column debuts this month and features “Everyday Poetry: Celebrating Children’s Book Week.” Here’s an excerpt:

Poets have been writing about the power of reading and books for generations. With a focus on books and reading, these poems are the perfect way to open a storytime or read-aloud session. In fact, reading or reciting a favorite book poem could become the ritual that gathers children together for these activities. Linking poems about books with books and reading helps underscore the value of literature and making time for reading. Who can resist the following seven activities, great for celebrating each day of Children’s Book Week or any other occasion that highlights the pleasures found in reading and poetry? Just like holding a special party to acknowledge a birthday or anniversary, these moments have a magic all their own and create happy memories related to reading and poetry.

Choral Reading: Upper-elementary students can share “Anna Marie’s Library Book and What Happened to It” by Celia Barker Lottridge from When I Went to the Library: Writers Celebrate Books and Reading (Groundwood, 2002) as a choral reading. This poem begs for multiple readers as many voices detail how one library book is passed from reader to reader to reader. A choral reading of the poem would be appealing for an open house, parents’ night, or any function with readers of various ages. Or, pair up this poem with a reading of Lauren Child’s picture book, But, Excuse Me, That Is My Book (Dial, 2005), about Lola’s search for her favorite library book.

Bilingual Poetry: The poem “Books” by Francisco X. Alarcón in his book Angels Ride Bikes and Other Fall Poems /Los angeles andan en bicicleta y otros poemas de otoño. (Children’s Book Press, 1999) is a poetic celebration of books written in both Spanish and English. If you or an audience volunteer speak Spanish, read the poem in Spanish first and follow with a reading in English by another volunteer. Then have both readers read their versions simultaneously. Encourage the readers to pause at the end of each line and start the next line together. The effect is quite stunning and really communicates the music of language.

Poetry Chant: The poem “Good Books, Good Times” by Lee Bennett Hopkins, from his book Good Books, Good Times! (HarperCollins, 1990), first appeared on a Children’s Book Week bookmark and then became the theme for his anthology of book-related poems. This poem is perfect for chanting with two groups of early elementary–age children in a back-and-forth fashion. Performed like a cheer for books and reading, it’s ideal for opening or closing a read-aloud session.

Read the article for the rest of the 7 tips!

One more scoop: Book Week is moving. Beginning next year, Children’s Book Week will be celebrated in May, specifically May 12 – 18, 2008. So celebrate now and again in the spring with bookends of book poetry!

For more poetry at the Poetry Friday Round Up go to A Wrung Sponge this week.

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Saturday, November 03, 2007

Wisdom from Yuyi Morales and Señor Tlalocan

I’m posting from sunny Tucson where I am attending the 7th Regional Conference of the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY), hosted by the U.S. section (USBBY) of which I am the past president. What a terrific event! It’s a gathering of a few hundred people dedicated to promoting international understanding through children’s literature, a cause near to my heart. Our first speaker was the effervescent artist Yuyi Morales who inspired me with her odd and clever juxtapositions of Mexican folk art and wisdom, pop culture connections, and pithy use of language. She used a colorful character, Señor Tlalocan (rooted in Mexican folklore) to guide us through her presentation and presented various prayers of this character both visually and verbally. Here was one of my favorites:

Señor Tlalocan's Prayer

“Mighty impulses of mine, give me the courage to follow you always. Might I remember that there is no right or wrong decision, but only commitment to what I choose. Help me stick with my favorite option and work on it with conviction and passion so as to make everyone believe it was the only choice I had.”

I love this thought and I send it out to all of you and especially to my daughter in honor of her 24th birthday today. And here’s a poem that echoes that conviction, as crazy as the connection might seem.

God Went to Beauty School
by Cynthia Rylant

He went there to learn how
to give a good perm
and ended up just crazy
about nails
so He opened up His own shop.
"Nails by Jim" He called it.
He was afraid to call it
Nails by God.
He was sure people would
think He was being
disrespectful and using
His own name in vain
and nobody would tip.
He got into nails, of course,
because He'd always loved
hands were some of the best things
He'd ever done
and this way He could just
hold one in His
and admire those delicate
bones just above the knuckles,
delicate as birds' wings,
and after He'd done that
He could paint all the nails
any color He wanted,
then say,
and mean it.

From God Went to Beauty School by Cynthia Rylant (HarperColllins, 2003)

Emily, just be who you want to be where you want to be it. All the rest will take care of itself. Thinking about you…

I know it's late to join the Poetry Friday round up, but here's the link for those who are interested.
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Friday, October 26, 2007

A Chocolate Poem for Halloween

Since National Chocolate Day is coming up this weekend (October 28) and Halloween is right around the corner, I thought it might be fun to feature some yummy chocolate poems. I’m honored to share an original poem by one of my favorites, J. Patrick Lewis:

Chocolate-Covered Ants

by J. Patrick Lewis
Used with permission

You start with that ant mandible—
Completely understandable—

A chocolate jaw has never tasted sweeter.

Then bite of bit of abdomen

Before you’ve finally grabbed a min-

i-leg, an itty-bitty centimeter.

But ants despise the holiday

That is their grand finale day

When you become The Chocolate Anteater.

For more chocolate poems, look for:
Arnold Adoff’s Chocolate Dreams (Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1988) and Eats (Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1979) and Lee Bennett Hopkins’s April Bubbles Chocolate (Simon & Schuster, 1994)

For more food poems:
Morrison, Lillian, comp. 1997. I Scream, You Scream: A Feast of Food Rhymes. Little Rock, AK: August House.
Rosen, Michael, J., ed. 1996. Food Fight: Poets Join the Fight Against Hunger with Poems about Their Favorite Foods. San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace.
Stevenson, James. 1998. Popcorn: Poems. New York: Greenwillow.
Thomas, Joyce Carol. 1995. Gingerbread Days. New York: HarperCollins.
Westcott, Nadine Bernard, comp. 1994. Never Take a Pig to Lunch and Other Poems about the Fun of Eating. New York: Orchard.

And for some fun fall and Halloween poetry:
Alarcón, Francisco X. 1999. Angels Ride Bikes and Other Fall Poems. San Francisco, CA: Children’s Book Press.
Florian, Douglas. 2003. Autumnblings: Poems & Paintings. New York: Greenwillow.
Hopkins, Lee Bennett. 2006. Halloween Howls; Holiday Poetry. (An I Can Read Book.) New York: HarperCollins.
Livingston, Myra Cohn, comp. 1989. Halloween Poems. New York: Holiday House.
McNaughton, Colin. 2002. Making Friends with Frankenstein. Cambridge: Candlewick.
Merriam, Eve. 1995. Halloween ABC. New York: Aladdin; republished as SPOOKY A B C, 2002. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Prelutsky, Jack. 1977. It’s Halloween. New York: Greenwillow.
Prelutsky, Jack. 1976. Nightmares: Poems to Trouble Your Sleep. New York: Greenwillow. Reprinted, New York: Mulberry Books, 1993.
Moore, Lilian. 1973. Spooky Rhymes and Riddles. New York: Scholastic.
Rex, Adam. 2005. Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich. San Diego: Harcourt.
Rogasky, Barbara, comp. 2001. Leaf by Leaf. New York: Scholastic.
Schnur, Steven. 1997. Autumn: An Alphabet Acrostic. New York: Clarion.
Singer, Marilyn. 2004. Creature Carnival. New York: Hyperion.
Singer, Marilyn. 2001. Monster Museum. New York: Hyperion.

Want more Poetry Friday gems? Check out the round up at Literary Safari this week.

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Poetry about light, but not necessarily light poetry

On this day in 1879, Thomas Edison demonstrated the electric light successfully. Celebrate with this poem.

Poem to Be Read at 3 A.M.
by Donald Justice
(excerpted from American Sketches)

Excepting the diner
On the outskirts
The town of Ladora
At 3 A.M.
Was dark but
For my headlights
And up in
One second-story room
A single light
Where someone
Was sick or
Perhaps reading
As I drove past
At seventy
Not thinking
This poem
Is for whoever
Had the light on

For more poems about light, look for Joan Bransfield Graham’s collection, Flicker Flash (Houghton Mifflin, 2003). Joan Bransfield Graham’s poetry books are wonderful examples of shape or concrete poetry in which the words of the poems are laid out on the page to suggest the subject of the poem. In both Splish Splash (Houghton Mifflin, 2001) and Flicker Flash, the graphic illustrations combine with the verbal descriptions of water or light in their many, varied forms.

The rhyming shape poems of Flicker Flash explore the different ways that light appears in our world, from the flicker of birthday candles to a flash of lightning. The ingenious illustrations by Nancy Davis feature bold graphic images that play with shape and type in creative ways and add to the impact of each poem. These are perfect selections to incorporate into science or art lessons. Read them aloud by flashlight for added effect. In particular, read “Lamp” seated with the book near lamplight to demonstrate the poem’s “lamp-shine.”

A natural complement is Anna Grossnickle Hines poetry book, Winter Lights (Greenwillow, 2005) or Marilyn Singer’s Central Heating: Poems About Fire and Warmth (Knopf, 2005). Her poem “Lights Out” is ideal for sharing with Graham’s “Lamp” poem—both about reading by the light of a lamp or flashlight. One note: several of Graham’s poems in Flicker Flash deal with fire, including candles, matches, campfires and fireworks. Each is beautifully described and illustrated and can lead to a helpful discussion of both metaphors as well as fire safety! Be very clear about proper procedures for handling fire-related objects like matches and candles, of course.

Here are a few more poetry collections that feature poems about light in its various incarnations, either directly or indirectly.
Bruchac, Joseph. 1996. Between Earth and Sky: Legends of Native American Sacred Places. San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace.
Bruchac, Joseph. 1992. Thirteen Moons on Turtle’s Back: A Native American Year of Moons. New York: Philomel Books.
Dotlich, Rebecca Kai. 1998. Lemonade Sun and Other Summer Poems. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press.
Esbensen, Barbara Juster. 1984. Cold Stars and Fireflies: Poems of the Four Seasons. New York: Crowell.
Fisher, Aileen. 1980. Out in the Dark and Daylight. New York: Harper & Row.
Graham, Joan Bransfield. 1999. Flicker Flash. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Hines, Anna Grossnickle. 2005. Winter Lights: A Season in Poems & Quilts. New York: Greenwillow.
Hopkins, Lee Bennett, comp. 1983. The Sky is Full of Song. New York: Harper & Row.
Levy, Constance. 1998. A Crack in the Clouds. New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books.
Lewis, Richard, comp. 1988. In the Night Still Dark. New York: Atheneum.
Livingston, Myra Cohn. 1984. Sky Songs. New York: Holiday House.
McCord, David. 1962. Take Sky: More Rhymes of the Never Was and Always Is. Boston: Little Brown.
Merriam, Eve. 1986. A Sky Full of Poems. New York: Dell.
Moore, Lilian, comp. 1992. Sunflakes: Poems for Children. New York: Clarion Books.
Moore, Lilian. 1980. Think of Shadows. New York: Atheneum.
Mora, Pat. 1998. This Big Sky. New York: Scholastic.
Ochoa, Annette Piña, Betsy Franco, and Traci L. Gourdine, Eds. 2003. Night is Gone, Day is Still Coming; Stories and Poems by American Indian Teens and Young Adults. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick.
O’Neill, Mary. 2003. The Sound of Day; The Sound of Night. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Rosenberg, Liz, ed. Light-gathering Poems. New York: Henry Holt.
Singer, Marilyn. 2005. Central Heating: Poems about Fire and Warmth. New York: Knopf.
Singer, Marilyn. 2000. Fireflies at Midnight. New York: Atheneum.

Kelly Fineman has more gems at the Poetry Friday Roundup this week.

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Saturday, October 13, 2007

School Lunch Week Poetry

Coming up next week is NATIONAL SCHOOL LUNCH WEEK, October 15- 19. Who knew there was a whole week dedicated to the celebration of meals in the school cafeteria? And what a great opportunity to share one of my favorite poems, “School Cafeteria” by Douglas Florian (from Bing, Bang, Boing; Harcourt, 1994). I love it because the kids love it and every time I share it, it brings the house down. In addition, it’s a poem you can literally sing. Try it to the tune of “99 Bottles of Beer” and sing the last line with exaggerated slowness. It’s absolutely hilarious! Just one note of caution: I was told that some cafeteria staff did not find it as funny as I did. So beware. Remind them that most school-related poems exaggerate the negative qualities of school life, teachers, tests, lessons, etc. and it’s children’s outlet for dealing with their own stresses and anxieties. Then buy a cookie in the lunch line and smile!

School Cafeteria

by Douglas Florian

Nothing is drearier than my school cafeteria-
The food there is really the pits.
The bread is as hard as a brick in a yard;
The cake is all crumbled to bits.
The rotten old cheeses can give you diseases;
The pudding is rancid and runny.
And if you should dare to bite into a pear,
The taste is so bad it's not funny.
The chicken and rice are served cold as ice;
The soups could send groups to the nurse.
The carrots and peas make you whimper and wheeze;
The broccoli comes with a curse.
The pizza, I'm told, is covered with mold;
The salad is pallid and stale.
The dried-out roast beef fills your belly with grief;
They're taking the cook off to jail.
The citrus fruit cup will make you throw up;
The cookies are made out of clay.
The mere thought of lunch
Makes my weak stomach scrunch-
But it's still the best part of the day.

This week's Poetry Roundup is at Two Writing Teachers.

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Friday, October 05, 2007

World Teachers' Day

Today is World Teachers’ Day, an opportunity to recognize teachers and their contributions around the world. World Teachers’ Day was inaugurated in 1994 to commemorate the signing of the UNESCO/ILO Recommendation concerning the Status of Teachers on 5 October 1966. More than 100 countries currently celebrate World Teachers’ Day on the 5th of October.”
Celebrate the day with these poem gems.

Miss Lee and Mrs. Fuller
by Cheryl Miller Thurston

Miss Lee's rows are straight
and her cabinets are dusted.
Her blotter is fresh
and her shades are adjusted.
She always has staples
and Elmer's and tissues.
She never misplaces
a pass that she issues.

Mrs. Fuller does.

Miss Lee's books have covers;
she hasn't lost any.
Her milk money forms
come out right to the penny.
Her class in assemblies
is quite in control.
She never miscounts
or forgets to take roll.

Mrs. Fuller does.

Miss Lee has a gradebook that's neat,
not a smear.
Her lesson plan book
is complete for the year.
Her duties for playground
or lunch never tire her.
She never has principals
trying to fire her.

Mrs. Fuller does.

Miss Lee sees no value
in things that don't fit.
Her warmest remarks
run to "Quiet" and "Sit."
She never sparks passion,
excitement or dreams-
She never sees minds that are
bursting their seams.

Mrs. Fuller does.

from: Thurston, Cheryl Miller. 1987. Hide Your Ex-lax under the Wheaties: Poems about Schools, Teachers, Kids, and Education. Fort Collins, CO: Cottonwood Press.

And just to remind us about our colleagues in education working with children around the world, here’s a poem from the former Czechoslovakia that offers a classroom moment that is typical, no matter what the language of instruction may be!

by Miroslav Holub
Translated by Kaca Polackova

Children, when was
Napoleon Bonaparte
born? asks the teacher.

A thousand years ago,
say the children.
A hundred years ago,
say the children.
Nobody knows.

Children, what did
Napoleon Bonaparte
do? asks the teacher.

He won a war,
say the children.
He lost a war,
say the children.
Nobody knows.

Our butcher used to have a dog,
says Frankie,
and his name was Napoleon,
and the butcher used to beat him,
and the dog died
of hunger
a year ago.

And now all the children feel sorry
for Napoleon.

from; Nye, Naomi Shihab. Comp. This Same Sky: A Collection of Poems from Around the World. Four Winds, 1992.

For more poems, check out the Poetry Friday Round Up hosted this week by WhimsyBooks.

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Friday, September 28, 2007

Happy Birthday, Janet Wong!

What’s with all these poets born in September? Clearly many poets’ parents were having a very merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah, or happy new year in years gone by! All of these poets were born in September: Helen Frost, Paul Fleischman, Jack Prelutsky, Aileen Fisher, Sara Holbrook, Harry Behn, and Shel Silverstein. Let’s celebrate one more September poet’s birthday: Janet S. Wong!

Janet S. Wong was born on September 30, 1962, and grew up in California, the child of Korean and Chinese immigrants. She graduated from UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in History and then obtained her law degree from Yale. However, she was not happy practicing law and decided to make a change, focusing on writing for young people instead. She has since authored nearly two dozen picture books and poetry collections. Her poems have been featured in some unusual venues, including a car-talk radio show, on 5,000 subway and bus posters as part of the New York City Metropolitan Transit Authority's "Poetry in Motion" program, and on the “Oprah” television show. She and her books have received numerous awards and honors, such as the International Reading Association's "Celebrate Literacy Award" for exemplary service in the promotion of literacy.

Janet Wong’s first two poetry collections, Good Luck Gold and Other Poems (Simon & Schuster, 1994) and A Suitcase of Seaweed, and Other Poems (Simon & Schuster, 1996) focus on her own background, exploring cultural connections and growing up with Korean and Chinese traditions. Many of the poems in these two collections lend themselves to poetry performance. For example, try "Face It" (A Suitcase Of Seaweed) with three stanzas that reflect the writer’s musings on her nose, her eyes, and her mouth and how each represents a different part of her identity. Three groups could each read a different stanza, using motions to point to each body part in turn.

Face It
by Janet Wong

My nose belongs
to Guangdong, China--

short and round, a Jang family nose.

My eyes belong
to Alsace, France--

wide like Grandmother Hemmerling's.

But my mouth, my big-talking mouth, belongs
to me, alone.

Wong also has authored several poetry collections on a variety of other topics. Behind the Wheel: Poems About Driving (Simon & Schuster, 1999) is a wonderful gift for the teenager who is learning to drive. The Rainbow Hand: Poems About Mothers and Children (Simon & Schuster, 2000) is an homage to mothers and our relationships with them and includes perfect “Mother’s Day” poem tributes. Wong has two collections of poems that address children's curiosity about dreams and superstitions with Night Garden: Poems from the World of Dreams (Simon & Schuster, 2000) and Knock on Wood: Poems about Superstitions (Simon & Schuster, 2003). Both are beautifully illustrated by Julie Paschkis and invite children to express their own beliefs and concerns-- perhaps poetically. Wong and Paschkis also teamed up for a third illustrated poetry collection this year, Twist, Yoga Poems (Simon & Schuster, 2007), which School Library Journal called “lovely to listen to and to look at.” For more information about Wong and her work, check out Poetry People.

Janet is a dynamic personality, a frequent presenter, and an advocate and mentor for many other authors, poets, and illustrators. I’m a big fan, as you can tell by many of my previous postings, including:
Tuesday, March 20, 2007 about her online chat with kids and her new photo-autobiography, When It Wriggles Away.
Tuesday, August 29, 2006 about the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and her poem about it, “Coin Drive.”
Happy birthday, Janet!

Thanks to AmoxCalli for hosting the Poetry Friday Roundup this week.

Picture credit:
Photo by Anne Lindsay

Friday, September 21, 2007

Remembering Robert

I had the opportunity to meet the talented and effervescent author and illustrator Grace Lin this spring when we were on a panel together at the Texas Library Association conference. Her husband, Robert Mercer, was desperately ill and sadly passed away a month ago at the too-young age of 35. My good friend Nancy also lost her husband to cancer this summer. Grief has been weighing on many I care about recently, so I sought a poem for solace, of course.

by Langston Hughes

I loved my friend.
He went away from me.
There’s nothing more to say.
The poem ends,
Soft as it began—
I loved my friend.

Hughes, Langston. 1994. The Dreamkeeper and Other Poems. New York: Knopf, p. 12.

I would also like to join in the promotion of Robert’s Snow: For Cancer’s Cure, the fundraising effort that Grace initiated several years ago. From the Web site: “Own a piece of art from your favorite children's book illustrator while helping to fight cancer” by buying an original snowflake ornament created by children’s book illustrators. “Since 2004, this online auction has raised over $200,000 for Dana-Farber, and with your help, we can continue this holiday tradition in 2007.” The auction begins in November. And for more information about Robert himself, check out the Blue Rose Girls blog.

For the whole Poetry Friday roundup, go to Sara Lewis Holmes' blog Read Write Believe.

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Friday, September 14, 2007

Dog Poetry

Our family dog, Caesar, has been with us for over 10 years and saw my kids grow from elementary school to college age. He’s a medium-sized mutt (mostly cocker spaniel), a gentle and sociable soul. We thought we lost him a month ago when he had a major stroke, but he has made an amazing recovery and we are even more grateful to have him around. In honor of Caesar (pictured here) and to commemorate the founding of the American Kennel Club on September 17, 1884, I am showcasing doggie poetry today. Here’s one poem that reflects my own tendency to provide voiceovers for my dog’s behavior and actions:

by Maya Gottfried

To: My Person
From: Your Little Friend
Re: My Apologies

I’m sorry about the stain on the piano bench. Accident,
won’t happen again.
And my most sincere regrets about hair on that nice wool suit.
I feel terrible about chewing on your custom-made leather shoes. Though,
they were on the floor.

P.S. Have you seen my chew bone? I was sure that I’d left it on your pillow?

From: Good Dog by Maya Gottfried (Knopf, 2005)

Just for fun: Kids can investigate the drawing contest sponsored by the American Kennel Club. They could make their own drawings of their dogs, another pet, or a pet they might like to have some day. Also for more information about adopting pets that may not be “pedigreed,” they can investigate how to find homeless dogs or cats from area animal welfare organizations across the country. Or some kids may simply want to adopt a virtual pet, or for just plain puppy silliness, choose their favorite dog picture!

Dog poem collections to dig for:
*Arnold Adoff. Friend Dog (HarperCollins, 1980)
*Douglas Florian. Bow Wow Meow Meow (Harcourt, 2003)
*Kristine O’Connell George. Little Dog Poems (Clarion, 1999) and it’s sequel, Little Dog and Duncan (Clarion, 2002)
*Charles Ghigna. Good Dogs/Bad Dogs (Hyperion, 1992)
*Maya Gottfried. Good Dog (Knopf, 2005)
*Lee Bennett Hopkins. A Dog’s Life (Harcourt, 1983) and Pups, Dogs, Foxes, and Wolves: Stories, Poems, and Verse (Albert Whitman, 1979)
*Tony Johnston. It’s about Dogs (Harcourt, 2000)
*Myra Cohn Livingston. Dog Poems (Holiday House, 1990)
*Jack Prelutsky. Dog Days: Rhymes Around the Year (Knopf, 1999)
*Joyce Sidman. The World According to Dog: Poems and Teen Voices (Houghton Mifflin, 2003) and Meow Ruff: A Story in Concrete Poetry (Houghton Mifflin, 2006)
*Marilyn Singer. It’s Hard To Read A Map With A Beagle On Your Lap (Holt, 1993);
A Dog’s Gotta Do What a Dog’s Gotta Do: Dogs at Work (Holt, 2000); The Dog Who Insisted He Wasn’t (Dutton, 1976)
*Amy E. Sklansky. From the Doghouse: Poems to Chew On (Holt, 2002)
*Jane Yolen. Raining Cats and Dogs (Harcourt, 1993).

Hey, poetry lovers, check out the Poetry Friday round up at HipWriterMama's!

Friday, September 07, 2007

Happy birthday, Jack Prelutsky

Tomorrow is Jack Prelutsky’s birthday, so I’d like to send him a happy shout out and celebrate his life and work with a brief post.

He was born on September 8, 1940, in Brooklyn, New York. He attended Hunter College in Manhattan and worked as an opera singer, folk singer, truckdriver, photographer, plumber’s assistant, piano mover, cab driver, standup comedian, and more. He is married and lives in Seattle. He enjoys photography, carpentry, and creating games and "found object" sculpture and collages. He collects frog miniatures, art, and children’s poetry books of which he has over 5000.

Prelutsky has garnered many awards in his long career including citations as: New York Times Outstanding Book of the Year, School Library Journal Best of the Best Book, International Reading Association/Children's Book Council Children's Choice, Library of Congress Book of the Year, Parents' Choice Award, American Library Association Notable Children's Recording, an Association for Library Services to Children Notable Book and Booklist Editor's Choice, among others. In 2006, he was honored as the first Children’s Poet Laureate by the national Poetry Foundation which included a $25,000 prize. His combined works have sold over a million copies and been translated into many languages.

Jack Prelutsky is a prolific writer, with many collections of poetry to his credit, including enormously popular anthologies he has compiled of other poets’ works, such as The Random House Book of Poetry for Children (Random House 1983), Read-aloud Rhymes for the Very Young (Knopf 1986), The Beauty of the Beast (Knopf 1997), and The 20th Century Children's Poetry Treasury (Knopf 1999). In addition, there are many collections of his own popular poetry available including books organized around topics such as Tyrannosaurus was a Beast: Dinosaur Poems (Mulberry 1993) and The Dragons are Singing Tonight (HarperTrophy 1998). His holiday poems are also very appealing: It’s Halloween (HarperTrophy 1996), It’s Christmas (HarperTrophy 1995), It’s Thanksgiving (HarperTrophy 1996), and It’s Valentine’s Day (HarperTrophy 1996), also available in one single audio anthology from HarperChildrensAudio (2005). And for younger children, he created a kind of “American Mother Goose” with nursery rhymes that reference cities and places in the United States, rather than European sites such as “London Bridge” or “Banbury Cross” in his collections, Ride a Purple Pelican (Greenwillow 1986) and Beneath a Blue Umbrella (Greenwillow 1990).

Jack Prelutsky became established as a poetic dynamo with the publication of The New Kid on the Block in 1984, his best-selling collection of 100+ poems illustrated by cartoonist James Stevenson with understated comic genius on every page. With poems that are nearly childhood standards now, like “Homework! Oh, Homework!” and “Bleezer’s Ice Cream,” the music of Prelutsky’s verse is irresistible. Since the publication of New Kid, he rivals Shel Silverstein for name recognition in the field of children’s poetry. Equally popular companion books followed, including Something Big Has Been Here (1990), A Pizza the Size of the Sun (1996), and It’s Raining Pigs & Noodles (2000). A fifth installment is slated for publication in 2008: My Dog May Be a Genius.

Many of Prelutsky’s poems lend themselves to choral reading and poem performance in a variety of ways. For example, his poems with repeated lines or refrains provide a natural opportunity for group participation on the refrain. One of my favorite strategies for performing Prelutsky’s poetry is singing. Count the beats in the first line or two of the poem; then count the beats in the first line or two of the song to see if they match. Many of Jack Prelutsky’s poems, in particular, match song tunes, which may not be surprising when one remembers he was a singer and musician before turning to poetry. Try his poem “Allosaurus” (from Tyrannosaurus was a Beast: Dinosaur Poems), a poem describing the ferocious qualities of this dinosaur sung to the tune of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” It’s a hilarious juxtaposition of lyrics and tune. Challenge the children to match other of his dinosaur poems to song tunes.

by Jack Prelutsky

Allosaurus liked to bite,
its teeth were sharp as sabers,
it frequently, with great delight,
made mincemeat of its neighbors.

Allosaurus liked to hunt,
and when it caught its quarry,
it tore it open, back and front,
and never said, “I’m sorry!”

Allosaurus liked to eat,
and using teeth and talons,
it stuffed itself with tons of meat,
and guzzled blood by gallons.

Allosaurus liked to munch,
and kept from growing thinner
by gnawing an enormous lunch,
then rushing off to dinner.

From Tyrannosaurus Was a Beast
[Sung to the tune of “Row, row, row your boat”]

For more about Jack, his life, and his work, check out his new web site and look for Poetry People; A Practical Guide to Children's Poets (Libraries Unlimited, 2007).

P.S. As always, I'm glad to participate in the Friday Poetry Round Up, hosted this week by Semicolon. (Thanks!)

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Friday, August 31, 2007

Happy birthday, poet Dennis Lee

Dennis Lee (born on August 31 in Toronto) is widely regarded as Canada’s best-loved children’s poet and his work has garnered many awards including the Governor General’s Award for Poetry, Canadian Association of Children’s Librarians Best Book Medals, Hans Christian Andersen Honour List citation, Canadian Library Association Award, and Canadian Library Association Book of the Year for Children nomination.

During his career, Lee has worked as a lecturer in English, as an editorial consultant, poetry editor, as the co-founder and editor of the House of Anansi Press in Toronto, and as a lyricist for the TV series “Fraggle Rock.” He also contributed to the scripts for the films, “The Dark Crystal” and “Labyrinth.” Dennis Lee holds an honorary doctorate from Trent University and his manuscripts and papers are in a permanent collection at the Fisher Rare Book Room at the University of Toronto.

The writing of Canadian poet Dennis Lee is often compared to that of Shel Silverstein or Jack Prelutsky because of his use of zany humor, strong rhythm, and child-friendly topics. Although he may not be as familiar to audiences in the United States, his work still holds wide appeal. In addition, he incorporates many uniquely Canadian references in his verses, easily understandable in context, but offering an added layer of richness to the poems—much like the use of Spanish words in the poems of Gary Soto or Pat Mora.

For an example of Lee’s work, look for The Ice Cream Store (HarperCollins, 1999), full of inventive, energetic and off-the-wall humor. From the title poem on, he celebrates the diversity of children comparing them to ice cream flavors such as chocolate, vanilla, and maple. His rhythmical poems invite children to read or sing along. Take his poem, "A Home Like a Hiccup," for example, that asks children to speculate about what they would be like if they had been born in a different place, and then provides a litany of place names that are fun to pronounce, “Like Minsk! or Omsk! or Tomsk! or Bratsk!” In the end, however, there’s no place like home, and children can provide the name of their individual hometowns when the last line is read aloud, “So the name of MY place is _____________.” Invite the children to locate the poem places on a map or mark the places that they were born or have lived.

A Home Like a Hiccup
by Dennis Lee

If I'd been born in a different place,
With a different body, a different face,
And different parents and kids to chase--
I might have a home like a hiccup:

Like Minsk! or Omsk! or Tomsk! or Bratsk!
Like Orsk or Kansk! like Kirsk or Murmansk!
Or Lutsk, Irkutsk, Yakutsk, Zadonsk,
Or even Pskov or Moskva!

But then again, on a different day
I might have been born a world away,
With brand new friends and games to play--
And a home like a waterfall whisper:

Like Asti, Firenze, Ferrara, Ravenna,
Like Timini, Pisa, Carrara, Siena,
Like Napoli, Como, San Marco, San Pietro,
Or Torre Maggiore, or Roma.

Now, those are places of great renown.
But after I'd studied them up and down,
I'd choose to be born in my own home town--
So the name of MY place is _____________ .

For more info about Dennis Lee, look for Poetry People; A Practical Guide to Children's Poets (Libraries Unlimited, 2007).

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Poetry About School

It’s that time again here in Texas; kids are heading back to school. So, it’s time to dig up some poetry about school and school life, of course. Children often particularly enjoy poetry about school since most of their daily lives are spent there. The ups and downs of classroom life make fine grist for both humorous and serious poetry. Look for these books of poems about school and share them now and throughout the school year.

Abeel, Samantha.1993. Reach for the Moon. Duluth, MN: Pfeifer-Hamilton.
Bagert, Brod. 1999. Rainbows, Head Lice, and Pea-Green Tile: Poems in the Voice of the Classroom Teacher. Gainesville, FL: Maupin House.
Dakos, Kalli. 1990. If You're Not Here, Please Raise Your Hand; Poems About School. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Dakos, Kalli. 1993. Don't Read This Book, Whatever You Do! More Poems About School. New York: Four Winds Press.
Dakos, Kalli. 1996. The Goof Who Invented Homework and Other School Poems. New York: Dial.
Dakos, Kalli. 1999. The Bug in Teacher’s Coffee. New York: HarperCollins.
Dakos, Kalli. 2003. Put Your Eyes Up Here: And Other School Poems. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Frost, Helen. 2004. Spinning Through the Universe. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
George, Kristine O’Connell. 2002. Swimming Upstream: Middle School Poems. New York: Clarion.
Harrison, David L. 1993. Somebody Catch My Homework. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press.
Heide, Florence Parry and Pierce, Roxanne Heide. 1996. Oh, Grow Up! Poems To Help You Survive Parents, Chores, School, And Other Afflictions. New York: Orchard.
Holbrook, Sara. 1996. The Dog Ate My Homework. Honesdale, PA: Boyds Mills Press.
Hopkins, Lee Bennett, comp. 1996. School Supplies: A Book of Poems. Simon & Schuster.
Kennedy, Dorothy M, comp. 1993. I Thought I'd Take My Rat To School: Poems for September to June. New York: Little, Brown.
Lansky, Bruce, comp. 1997. No More Homework! No More Tests! Kids Favorite Funny School Poems. Minnetonka, MN: Meadowbrook Press.
Opie, Iona and Peter Opie, eds. 1992. I Saw Esau: The Schoolchild's Pocket Book. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick.
Paraskevas, Betty. 1995. Gracie Graves and the Kids from Room 402. San Diego, CA: Harcourt.
Prelutsky, Jack, comp. 2003. I Like It Here at School. New York: Scholastic.
Shields, Carol Diggory. 1995. Lunch Money and Other Poems About School. New York: Dutton.
Shields, Carol Diggory. 2003. Almost Late to School: And More School Poems. New York: Dutton.
Sierra, Judy. 2005. Schoolyard Rhymes: Kids' Own Rhymes for Rope Skipping, Hand Clapping, Ball Bouncing, and Just Plain Fun. New York: Knopf.
Singer, Marilyn. 1996. All We Needed to Say: Poems about School from Tanya and Sophie. New York: Atheneum.
Thurston, Cheryl Miller. 1987. Hide Your Ex-lax under the Wheaties: Poems about Schools, Teachers, Kids, and Education. Fort Collins, CO: Cottonwood Press.
Weatherford, Carole Boston. 2006. Dear Mr. Rosenwald. New York: Scholastic.

There are also several YA novels in verse that focus on school life for teens such as Nikki Grimes novel plus poetry, Bronx Masquerade (Dial, 2002), Ron Koertge’s verse novel, The Brimstone Journals (Candlewick, 2001), or Mel Glenn’s classic verse novels, Class Dismissed! High School Poems (Clarion, 1982) or Split Image (HarperCollins, 2000), among many others.

Choosing my favorite back-to-school poem is a bit harder, there are so many I like. Here’s one that just begs for participation and is particularly good for the beginning of the school year as we familiarize children with the routine of the school day (once again). It’s “Pledge” by Carol Diggory Shields, who is a librarian and poet who focuses on school and the curriculum in her various collections. This one is from Lunch Money and Other Poems About School (Dutton, 1995).

by Carol Diggory Shields

I pledge allegiance to the
Vanessa, stop pushing!
Hey, Joey, hey, Joey!
of the United States
I was here first.
of America
Whadya bring for lunch?
and to the republic
Ow, move back!
for which it
Sam, you're on my toe!
Eensy-weensy spider,
one nation under God,
Crawling up your neck!
with liberty
No cutting!
and justice
No fair, Jeremy's cutting!
for all.

A teacher friend, Ruth Tsay, suggested this poem be read aloud by alternating voices. The whole group can begin, reading alternating lines that are the lines of the Pledge of Allegiance (in red). Individual volunteers can each read one of the (italicized) lines that alternate with the pledge lines, such as “Vanessa, stop pushing!” or “Hey, Joey, hey Joey!” For maximum dramatic effect, line up and perform the poem with motions suggested by the words. It’s a humorous look at how wiggly children often behave during such recitations.

As a corollary, it might also be fun to look at the history of the pledge, with its interesting twists and turns. For example, did you know that the Pledge of Allegiance was written for the popular children's magazine, Youth's Companion?
That it was part of a marketing campaign to sell flags to schools in celebration of the 400th anniversary of Columbus arriving in the Americas?
That the original pledge was supposed to be quick and to the point and stated in 15 seconds, but was revised and expanded several times?
That it was first used in public schools on October 12, 1892, but not officially recognized as the national pledge until 1945?

Best wishes for a wonderful school year for all those who are academically inclined. My school year starts Monday!

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Friday, August 17, 2007

Hail Myra Cohn Livingston!

The Grandmere of Contemporary Children’s Poetry, Myra Cohn Livingston, was born on this day. Let’s pause to honor her amazing legacy.

Myra Cohn Livingston was born on August 17, 1926 in Omaha, Nebraska. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Sarah Lawrence College and worked as a professional French horn musician, reviewed books for Los Angeles newspapers, and served as a personal secretary to singer Dinah Shore and later to violinist Jascha Heifetz. She published her first book of poetry for children, Whispers and Other Poems, in 1958 and continued to write, teach, and mentor other poets until her death on August 23, 1996, in Los Angeles, California. She was married and had three children.

Although Myra Cohn Livingston is well known for her work as a poet and anthologist, she also had a tremendous impact on the entire field of children’s poetry. In particular, she was a senior extension lecturer at the University of California in Los Angeles for over twenty years and mentored many of the next generation of children’s poets, including Janet Wong, Kristine O’Connell George, Deborah Chandra, Ann Whitford Paul, April Halprin Wayland, Madeleine Comora, Sonya Sones, Joan Bransfield Graham, Tony Johnston, Alice Schertle, Monica Gunning, Karen B. Winnick, Anita Wintz, among others. (Thanks, Lee! Whom am I still missing?)

Livingston’s numerous awards include: Texas Institute of Letters award, Parent’s Choice Award, National Jewish Book Award, and the University of Minnesota Kerlan Award, among many others. She was also the recipient of the National Council of Teachers of English Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children for her entire body of work.

Called the “poet’s poet,” Myra Cohn Livingston’s writing is characterized by its elegance and sensitivity and its devotion to form and structure. Although many of her 50+ books are now out of print, they may still be on the library’s shelves. She was a pioneer in the creation of thematic anthologies that gathered poems together on current single topics such as holidays, animals, and seasons. These include topical collections of her own original poetry such as:

A Circle of Seasons (Holiday House 1982)
Sky Songs (Holiday House 1984)
Celebrations (Holiday House 1985)
Earth Songs (Holiday House 1986)
Sea Songs (Holiday House 1986)
Space Songs (Holiday House 1988)
Up in the Air (Holiday House 1989)
Birthday Poems (Holiday House 1989)
Festivals (Holiday House 1996)

This year Holiday House is publishing one of Livingston’s early poems in a lovely new picture book format illustrated by Will Hillenbrand. The book features one poem, “Calendar,” from Wide Awake and Other Poems which first appeared in 1959. Each line of the poem appears in an oversize font on a double page spread featuring Ezra Jack Keats-like collages. The effect is an inviting walk through the year highlighting moments familiar and appealing to many young children.

by Myra Cohn Livingston

January shivers,
February shines,
March blows off
the winter ice,
April makes the
mornings nice,
May is hopscotch lines.

June is
deep blue swimming,
Picnics are July,
August is
my birthday,
September whistles by.

October is
for roller skates,
November is
the fireplace,
December is
the best because
of sleds
and snow
and Santa Claus.

[Note that the poet’s birthday is in August!]
Kudos to Holiday House for featuring Livingston’s lyrical poetry in a new release, particularly since so many of her gems are sadly out of print.

In addition to her own poetry, Livingston compiled several other anthologies with poems by many different poets. These include:
Easter Poems (Holiday House 1985)
Thanksgiving Poems (Holiday House 1985)
Poems for Jewish Holidays (Holiday House 1986)
Valentine Poems (Holiday House 1987)
Poems for Mothers (Holiday House 1988)
Poems for Fathers (Holiday House 1989)
If You Ever Meet a Whale (Holiday House 1992)
Animal, Vegetable, Mineral: Poems About Small Things (HarperCollins 1994)
These wonderful collections are examples of what poetry anthologies are all about. Children may enjoy assembling their own collections centered around a favorite theme or topic.

Finally, Myra Cohn Livingston also authored several important professional resources for adults who work with children including The Child As Poet: Myth Or Reality? (Horn Book 1984), Climb Into The Bell Tower: Essays On Poetry (Harper 1990), and Poem-Making: Ways to Begin Writing Poetry (Harper 1991), a book suitable for young people who aspire to be writers, too. For more about Livingston and many of the other poets she nurtured, check out Poetry People; A Practical Guide To Children's Poets (Libraries Unlimited, 2007).

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Celebrating poet Betsy Franco’s birthday

I had the opportunity to meet poet Betsy Franco this summer when she kindly participated in the Poetry Jam session I moderated at the ALA conference in Washington, D.C. in June. What a fun person! Petite, dynamic, and direct, with a quick sense of humor, she won the crowd with her personality AND her poetry. Today is her birthday, so I’d like to send a shout out to her and nudge you all to check out her work, which ranges widely from rhythmic and even math-related poetry for the very young to edited anthologies of the writing of teens. She is a former teacher and educational publisher with a studio art degree from Stanford and a master’s degree in education from Lesley College in Massachusetts. She is married, with three sons, and lives in Palo Alto, California. Her writing (numbering 40+ books) has been recognized on the American Library Association's list of Best Books for Young Adults and on the New York Public Library list of Books for the Teen Age.

A sampling of her poetry includes:
Counting Our Way to the 100th Day!

Counting Caterpillars and Other Math Poems

Edited anthologies of poetry written by teens:
You Hear Me?, Poems and Writing by Teenage Boys
Things I Have to Tell You, Poems and Writing by Teenage Girls

Night Is Gone, Day Is Still Coming, Stories and Poems by American Indian Teens and Young Adults

For just a taste, here’s a fun math-inspired poem by Betsy Franco (from Mathematickles):

+ lightning

+ wind

+ rain that’s warm
summer storm

Look for more wonderful words from Betsy Franco (mother of actor, James Franco!)

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Monday, August 13, 2007

Poet Mary Ann Hoberman's birthday

It's poet and author Mary Ann Hoberman’s birthday, so I’d like to post this little bio-tribute to her and her work. For more complete information, please look for Poetry People; A Practical Guide to Children's Poets (Libraries Unlimited, 2007).

Mary Ann Hoberman was born on August 12, 1930, in Stamford, Connecticut. As a teenager, she wrote for her school newspaper and edited her high school yearbook. She received a bachelor’s degree in history from Smith College and earned her master’s degree in English Literature from Yale University thirty-five years later. In the mean time, she married and had four children. She and her husband have lived for over forty years in a house that her husband designed in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Hoberman has taught writing and literature at all levels and co-founded and performed with a children’s theatre group. But when her first book was published in 1957, she turned her attention to writing for children. Her work has received many citations including a National Book Award in 1983 for A House is a House for Me. She received the National Council of Teachers of English Excellence in Poetry for Children Award in 2003 for her entire body of work.

Mary Ann Hoberman’s poetry often targets our youngest audience with rhythm and repetition, usually published in picture book form or as “read aloud” rhyming “stories,” such as in You Read to Me, I'll Read to You: Very Short Fairy Tales to Read Together (Little Brown, 2004). Other inviting collections include The Llama Who Had No Pajama: 100 Favorite Poems (Harcourt, 1998), Fathers, Mothers, Sisters, Brothers: A Collection of Family Poems (Little Brown, 2001) and My Song is Beautiful: Poems and Pictures in Many Voices (Little Brown, 1994).

For one outstanding example of Hoberman’s style, look for her poem “Take Sound” which she composed especially for the ceremony at which she was given the National Council of Teachers of English Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children. It also appears in Paul Janeczko’s poetry anthology Seeing the Blue Between (Candlewick, 2002). Hoberman acknowledges that the poem pays homage to the great children's poet David McCord, the first recipient of the award, and in particular to his poem, "Take Sky," by echoing its title and cadence. It focuses on the pleasures of sharing the sounds and words of poetry with children and is a great way to begin a poetry lesson or unit or just to celebrate Hoberman’s gift for poetic expression.

Take Sound
by Mary Ann Hoberman

Each word a poem.
Take sound

Its mysteries abound:
To hear a sound;
To sound to find;
Or to be sound
In body, mind;
A stretch of water
Wide and clear;
To register
Upon the ear—
Each separate meaning
Hovers, tense
Above the more
Intended sense.
Each part of speech
Another trope,
A turn
In the kaleidoscope.
And in this lovely
Layered thing,
The origins
Of language sing,
Alive, ambiguous, absurd—
In the beginning was the word.

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Friday, August 03, 2007

U.S. Poetry Map and Texas’s Naomi Shihab Nye

The Academy of American Poets has introduced a new feature on their already awesome Web site—it’s a poetry map of the U.S. with clickable links to each state featuring poetry info for each state. For my state, Texas, for example, you can locate “poetry-friendly” bookstores, poetry events, facts about the state poet laureate and other featured poets in the state, literary organizations and centers, writing programs and colonies, literary journals and small presses, and poems about Texas. I’m particularly pleased to see Naomi Shihab Nye featured there because she is completely fabulous in every way (have you ever heard her SPEAK?) and because she is one of the poets featured who also works with children and young people and has published collections for young readers, as well as for adults. Her work includes anthologies of Texas poetry, international poetry, poems by children, and her own work, of course, such as:

This Same Sky: A Collection of Poems from Around the World (Four Winds Press, 1992)
The Tree is Older Than You Are: A Bilingual Gathering of Poems and Stories from Mexico (Simon & Schuster, 1995)
The Space Between Our Footsteps: Poems and Paintings From the Middle East (Simon & Schuster, 1998) [adapted as The Flag of Childhood: Poems from the Middle East (Aladdin, 2002)]
What Have You Lost? (Greenwillow, 1999)
Is This Forever, or What? Poems and Paintings from Texas (Greenwillow, 2004)
Come With Me: Poems for a Journey (Greenwillow, 2000)
Nineteen Varieties of the Gazelle (Greenwillow, 2002)
Salting the Ocean: 100 Poems by Young Poets (Greenwillow, 2000)
A Maze Me (Greenwillow, 2005)

One of my very favorite poems about the topic of books and reading is hers from A Maze Me:

The List
by Naomi Shihab Nye

A man told me he had calculated
the exact number of books
he would be able to read before he died
by figuring the average number
of books he read per month
and his probable earth span,
(averaging how long
his dad and grandpa had lived,
adding on a few years since he
exercised more than they did).
Then he made a list of necessary books,
nonfiction mostly, history, philosophy,
fiction and poetry from different time periods
so there wouldn’t be large gaps in his mind.
He had given up frivolous reading entirely,
There are only so many days.

Oh I felt so sad to hear such an organized plan.
What about the books that aren’t written yet,
the books his friends might recommend
that aren’t on the list,
the yummy magazine that might fall
into his hand at a silly moment after all?
What about the mystery search
through delectable library shelves?
I felt the heartbeat of forgotten precious books
calling for his hand.

Nye, Naomi Shihab. 2005. A Maze Me; Poems for Girls. New York: Greenwillow, pp. 76-77.

In this collection, Nye’s powerful free verse poetry celebrates girls, particularly the dreams and worries that straddle childhood and adulthood. From topics as mundane as spotting a friend in the school cafeteria to as serious as coping with anger and argument, Nye challenges readers to “feel your thinking springing up and layering inside your huge mind.”

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Monday, July 30, 2007

Best poetry for children, 2003-2006

As I have mentioned before, I was privileged to co-chair the previous NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) Committee that presents the Excellence in Poetry for Children Award. That committee has the responsibility for selecting the recipient of the award for the most outstanding children’s poet every three years. We were thrilled to be able to choose Nikki Grimes as the 2006 recipient of this award. However, the committee is also charged with “exploring ways to acquaint teachers and children with poetry.” One way of doing that is to highlight the wonderful poetry being published for children each year, calling attention to new titles and new poets that children are sure to enjoy. Thus, our committee decided to highlight some of the best poetry books published during our committee’s three-year tenure, 2003-2006. We worked together to select the 10 best poetry books published during each of those three years, based on the criteria for excellence for the award itself: literary merit, imagination, authenticity of voice, evidence of a strong persona, universality and timelessness, and appeal to children.

The complete and annotated list of these 30 poetry books is now available in the July issue of the NCTE journal, Language Arts. The full text version is accessible online to subscribers here.

Or look for:
Vardell, S.M., Oxley, P., Heard, G., Kristo, J., Spivey, G.W., Wong, J., and Woolsey, D. (2007). Best poetry books for children 2003-2006. Language Arts. 84, (6), 552-557.

The committee included:
Yours truly
Peggy Oxley, Co-Chair, Teacher, Grade 2 at St. Paul School in Westerville OH
Georgia Heard, Poet, Palm Beach Gardens FL
Jan Kristo, Professor, University of Maine
Gail Wesson Spivey, Librarian, PS 198 in Brooklyn NY
Janet Wong, Poet, Hopewell, NJ
Dan Woolsey, Professor, Houghton College in NY

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