Saturday, April 21, 2007

Dictionaries, ABCs, and poetry

On this day in 1828, Noah Webster published his first American Dictionary of the English Language. According to the Merriam-Webster web site (who knew?), Noah Webster “learned 26 languages, including Anglo-Saxon and Sanskrit, in order to research the origins of his own country's tongue. This book, published in 1828, embodied a new standard of lexicography; it was a dictionary with 70,000 entries that was felt by many to have surpassed Samuel Johnson's 1755 British masterpiece not only in scope but in authority as well…. He was the first to document distinctively American vocabulary such as skunk, hickory, and chowder.”

I thought it might be fun to look around and see if I could find any poetry collections that were organized alphabetically ala the dictionary. Several readily came to mind, but when I dug further, I was surprised at just how many I found. Here’s my list so far:

Ada, Alma Flor. 1997. Gathering the Sun: An Alphabet in Spanish and English. Lothrop, Lee, & Shepard.
Bryan, Ashley. 1997. Ashley Bryan's ABC of African American Poetry. Atheneum.
Harley, Avis. 2000. Fly with Poetry; An ABC of Poetry. Wordsong/Boyds Mills.
Harley, Avis. 2001. Leap into Poetry: More ABCs of Poetry. Wordsong/Boyds Mills .
Hopkins, Lee Bennett. 2003. Alphathoughts. Boyds Mills Press.
Hopkins, Lee Bennett. 1994. April Bubbles Chocolate. Simon & Schuster.
Janeczko. Paul, comp. 1994. Poetry from A to Z: A Guide for Young Writers. Bradbury.
Merriam, Eve. 1995. Halloween ABC. Aladdin.
Schnur, Steven. 1997. Autumn: An Alphabet Acrostic. Clarion. (See also: Winter, Spring and Summer all by Steven Schnur)
Sierra, Judy. 2004. There's a Zoo in Room 22. Voyager.
Wilbur, Richard. 2001. The Disappearing Alphabet. Voyager.
Young, Judy. 2006. R Is for Rhyme: A Poetry Alphabet. Sleeping Bear Press.

If you work with children, the alphabet comes up a lot-- obviously. With younger children, it’s a subject for mastery. But even as children are growing up, they refer to it constantly as they alphabetize, research, and organize information. So, using the alphabet as a framework for creative activities is a natural. One of my favorite, sure-fire ways to approach class projects as a teacher was to produce group alphabet books, with each individual student taking one letter and creating one page for that letter. Why not use this framework for creating and organizing poetry with kids?

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