Saturday, March 24, 2007

Literary Legend: Valerie Worth

If you’re a Book Links subscriber, I hope you checked out the latest “Literary Legends” feature (in the March issue) which focuses on Valerie Worth (and is written by yours truly). It includes a bit of biographical information, mini “booktalks” on three major Worth works (including the brand new Animal Poems), teaching strategies, and contemporary connections. Here are a few nuggets:

In a world of rollicking rhyme and zany humor in children’s poetry, the works of Valerie Worth stand out as quiet portraits capturing the essence of the most ordinary subjects. Who would think to write a poem about a safety pin? “Closed, it sleeps / On its side / Quietly” begins Worth’s poem about this thin “shrimp” of an object. As we work to help children think poetically, exploring their world through words, Valerie Worth offers more than 100 poems that serve as powerful examples of the poet’s gift for observation, comparison, and contemplation.

*All the Small Poems and Fourteen More. Illus. by Natalie Babbitt. 1994. 208p. Farrar/Sunburst, paper, $5.95 (9780374403454). Gr. 2–8.
*Peacock and Other Poems. Illus. by Natalie Babbitt. 2002. 48p. Farrar, $15 (9780374357665). Gr. 2–6.
*Animal Poems. Illus. by Steve Jenkins. 2007. 48p. Farrar, $17 (9780374380571). Gr. 2–6.

Teaching Strategies
• Worth’s poems are distillations of details that describe an object, animal, or place in a way that can engage children’s skills in predicting and making inferences. Try reading aloud one of her poems without first sharing the poem’s title. Challenge children to guess the title and the object described. Then discuss which words or phrases serve as the most revealing clues. Which senses are engaged? What images are provided?

• Make poetry more concrete by introducing the actual objects depicted in some of Worth’s poems: examples include a coat hanger, a safety pin, a magnet, a pencil, an umbrella, and a crayon. Place the objects in a box and invite children to choose an object as a way to select the next poem to read aloud. To make this activity more challenging, after making sure the objects are well hidden in the box, invite children to guess the object by touch only, and then share the corresponding poem as a clue. Afterwards, display the actual object with the poem.

• Children may enjoy the small trim size of the Small Poem collections and want to create their own small books. Find other small-sized books they might be familiar with, such as Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit or Mercer and Marianna Mayer’s A Boy, a Dog, a Frog, and a Friend (Dial, 1967; reissued 2003). Create a display of small books, small poems, and small objects for small children.

• Match Worth’s writing in Animal Poems with Douglas Florian’s wordplay in Mammalabilia (Harcourt, 2000) or other animal poetry anthologies. What factual details about animals can children glean from these poems? Gather nonfiction books about animals and contrast both the art and photographs and the poetry and prose. Guide children in discussing how information about animals is communicated through words and pictures. Children could create their own collage or cut-paper animal pictures and write or choose animal poems to accompany them.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Chat with Poet Janet S. Wong

One of my favorite people, the dynamo poet Janet S. Wong, is participating in an online chat that’s open to the public starting tomorrow, March 21. What a fun way to get in gear for National Poetry Month, right around the corner. Publisher and literacy advocate, Richard C. Owen is hosting this author discussion and recently published a photo-autobiography with Janet entitled, Before It Wriggles Away, as part of their “Meet the Author” series of books for children in grades 2-5. It’s a fun series that features single titles on 35 different authors including poets Karla Kuskin, Lee Bennett Hopkins, Douglas Florian, Georgia Ella Lyon, and Jane Yolen. In addition, Janet has a wonderful new poetry collection out this spring entitled Twist; Yoga Poems. Fellow blogger, Elaine Magliaro, has an in-depth discussion of it on BlueRoseGirls, complete with an interview with Janet and her friend and illustrator, Julie Paschkis. And for more general info about Janet’s other poetry (and picture books), check out her excellent web site. Go, Janet!

Friday, March 16, 2007

Irish poetry for children

In honor of the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day, I would like to showcase Irish poetry for young people. I learned about a wonderful collection of poems by Ireland’s most notable poets writing for children at last fall’s IBBY World Congress when the book was featured on their IBBY Honour List. The book is Something Beginning with P; New Poems From Irish Poets edited by Seamus Cashman and illustrated by Corrina Askin and Alan Clarke (O’Brien Press, 2004). I was so excited to discover a book of contemporary children’s poetry from another country that was written primarily in English (and wished I could read the other Honour Book poetry selections from Croatia, Greece, Malaysia, Portugal, and more. See my Sept. 22 posting.). Unfortunately, it can be a challenge to locate and purchase books of poetry for kids published outside the U.S. (This one costs $35, which seems like a lot, but only comes to about 25 cents per poem!) The anthology is also beautifully constructed, organized, and illustrated and includes:
*A helpful table of contents organized in general themes
*112 poems, most original for this anthology
*English translations provided for poems written in Irish
*Short biographical sketches provided for each poet and illustrator
*Indexes of first lines; poems; poets and illustrators

Seamus Cashman’s “Editor’s Introduction” tells us that “readers of this book will abandon good manners and muck in, slurp away noisily, happily, repeatedly, at what these poets have dished up.” He’s right! This “stream of dreams and schemes” has poems for all ages, from light and funny, to sad and serious, to tender or thoughtful, with titles such as “Dancing on the Table” and “Skinhead.” The final poem, “P is for Poetry” by Tony Curtis is worth the price of admission all by itself. Not only is this a rich collection of Irish poetry, it’s an amazing poetry anthology of ANY kind. And just to whet your appetite and give you a tiny glimpse of the startling variety of Irish poems available, here are 2 of the 112 gems in Something Beginning with P.

Txt U L8r
by Aislinn O’Loughlin

D gr8 ting bout txt msg cnvrs8ns
s dat u cn uz dese abrvi8ns.
U stp splln wrds d wy dat u auta
& drp sum vwls 2, f dat mks d wrd shrta.

Bt wot f ur so bz b/ng dat clvr
u 4gt hw 2 spll nrml wrds al2gdr?
Coz wit all d ltrs & stf dat wre luzn
dnt u tink rdng dis pom wz cnfuzn?

(p. 16)

Me in a Tree
by Julie O’Callaghan

Unfortunately, it wasn’t
a luxury tree house
with hot and cold running cocoa
or with a robin

bringing me breakfast in bed.
A squirrel didn’t toss acorns
at me when I needed to wake up.
No—that wasn’t how it was.

I hid high up in the leaves.
So many thoughts were floating,
I speared them on to twigs
to see them twinkle in the sun.

But now I realise
I named this poem the wrong thing.
It’s not me in a tree.
It’s the tree in me.

(p. 66)

Aren’t these fantastic? Contemporary Irish poetry is way more than shamrocks and leprechauns, of course. Kids in Ireland are lucky to have so many writers who value poetry and poetic expression for young people. Let’s expand the poetic options for our kids, too, by sharing these gems from across the ocean!

Friday, March 09, 2007

Daylight Savings Time for Poetry

We’re moving the clocks forward this weekend for Daylight Savings Time, several weeks earlier than usual. That prompted me to hunt for any time or clock-related poems I could find—of which there were several. Just for fun, here’s a classic Silverstein:

The Monkey
By Shel Silverstein

1 little monkey
Was goin’ 2 the store
When he saw a banana 3
He’d never climbed be 4.
By 5 o’clock that evenin’
He was 6 with a stomach ache
‘Cause 7 green bananas
Was what the monkey 8.

By 9 o’clock that evenin’
That monkey was quite ill,
So 10 we called the doctor
Who was 11 on the hill.
The doctor said, “You’re almost dead.
Don’t eat green bananas no more.”
The sick little monkey groaned and said,
“But that’s what I 1-2 the 3-4.”

From: Falling Up by Shel Silverstein

And believe it or not, there is even a poem for kids specifically about Daylight Savings Time, although the month for switching has now moved from April to March:

Daylight Savings Time

by Phyllis McGinley

In Spring when maple buds are red,

We turn the Clock an hour ahead;

Which means, each April that arrives,

We lose an hour 

Out of our lives.

Who cares? When Autumn birds in flocks

Fly southward, back we turn the Clocks,

And so regain a lovely thing--

That missing hour 

We lost last Spring.

From: The Random House Collection of Poetry for Children compiled by Jack Prelutsky

For more fun time-related poems, look for:
Lee Bennett Hopkins’ anthologies: It’s About Time or Marvelous Math (“Time Passes”) or Weather; Poems for All Seasons
Carol Diggory Shields’ Lunch Money And Other Poems About School (“Clock watching”)
Handsprings by Douglas Florian
It's About Time! by Florence Parry Heide, Roxanne Heide Pierce and Judith Heide Gilliland
First Morning: Poems About Time compiled by Nikki Siegen-Smith

More time for poetry!