It’s Barbershop Quartet Day (or Sweet Adeline Day), the day the 4 person a capella singing group was established in 1938. And it just so happens that there are at least two collections of poetry for young people that are written to be read aloud by FOUR voices. These are Paul Fleischman’s Big Talk: Poems for Four Voices (Candlewick, 2000) and Eloise Greenfield’s book, The Friendly Four (HarperCollins 2006). [Please let me know if you know of others!] Here’s just one poem sampling, perfect for School Library Media Month (also in April) and the upcoming National Library Week.
At the Library
by Eloise Greenfield
Rae: Good morning.
Drum, Dorene, Louis: Good morning. I’d like a book about
Dorene: a bubbly brook.
Drum: a pastry cook.
Louis: a pinto horse.
Rae: Of course. Here’s one for you, one for you, and one for you.
Drum, Dorene, Louis: I’m back, and this time,
I’d like a book about
Dorene: how to swim without water.
Drum: how to make a cloud rain lemonade.
Louis: how to teach a spider to speak.
Rae: Sorry, those books are not on the shelves. Try again next week.
From: Greenfield, Eloise. 2006. The Friendly Four. HarperCollins, p. 42.
It’s almost like poetry reading meets readers theater, with multiple voices taking multiple parts for a dramatic read aloud. This is probably one of the more difficult forms of choral reading since it requires synchronization of reading as well as getting used to two completely different lines sometimes being read at the same time. Paul Fleischman’s poems may be the best known examples of poems written for multiple voices, beginning with the Newbery award winning, Joyful Noise (HarperCollins, 1988), poems about insects and I am Phoenix (HarperColllins, 1985) bird poems (both for TWO voices). These are excellent beginning points for children in the middle grades. It takes practice, but poems for multiple voices are almost magical when read aloud.
Another poet who has written poems expressly for two voices is Georgia Heard in Creatures of Earth, Sea, and Sky (Boyds Mills Press, 1992). And look for Lee Bennett Hopkins anthology, Side by Side: Poems to Read Together (Simon & Schuster, 1988). Mary Ann Hoberman has also created a blending of narrative and poetry in her You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You books of stories, fairy tales, and Mother Goose. Each collection is told in rhyme with columns of color-coded text for two readers to share, as in You Read to Me, I'll Read to You: Very Short Fairy Tales to Read Together (Little Brown 2004). These are perfect for parent-child reading activities or for older and younger children to read together.
And if you hunt, you can find poems that may not be intended for multiple voices, but may be very effective delivered that way. Bilingual poems can often be read aloud in this way. For example, Jennifer Clement’s poem, "Arbol de Limon/ Lemon Tree” appears in both Spanish and English (translated by Consuelo de Aerenlund) in Naomi Shihab Nye’s collection, This Tree is Older Than You Are (Simon & Schuster, 1995). If you are a Spanish speaker or have a Spanish speaker volunteer in your audience, she/he can read the poem in Spanish, followed by a reading in English. Then BOTH readers read their version simultaneously, in both Spanish and English. Just be sure to 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.