Monday, April 30, 2007

Poetry for El Día de los Niños/El Día de los Libros

It’s hard to believe that it’s been ten years since the first celebration of El Día de los Niños/El Día de los Libros, (The Day of the Child/ The Day of the Book) on April 30, 1997, sprung from an idea that poet, author and literacy advocate Pat Mora had, and that REFORMA supported. It has since mushroomed into a grassroots effort on a national scale. And this year for the first time, a Día event is planned for the U.S. Senate. Senators will read to children from the nearby Oyster Bilingual School, ALSC President KT Horning and a representative from La Raza will speak, and children in attendance will receive goodie bags filled with books donated from publishers, plus bookmarks, stickers, and magnets.

Pat Mora continues her efforts as a literacy advocate in promoting El Día de los Niños/El Día de los Libros held every April 30th. Many of her own works are written in two languages (English interwoven with Spanish words and phrases), and in bilingual editions. She reflects her own feelings and experiences growing up in the Southwest in her poems in This Big Sky (Scholastic, 1998), creates rhyming ABC and counting books for younger children with ¡Marimba!: Animales from A to Z (Clarion, 2006) and Uno Dos Tres, One, Two, Three (Clarion, 1996), and writes for middle grade kids and teens with Confetti: Poems for Children (Lee & Low, 1996/1999), and My Own True Name: New and Selected Poems for Young Adults (Arte Publico Press, 2000). Mora has also created an anthology of poetry by other Latino/Latina poets in Love to Mama: A Tribute to Mothers (Lee & Low, 2001).

Start planning now for your own Día celebration for next April 30! Look for poetry that celebrates the unique cultures and languages in your own community. And for connecting with communities across the globe, look for these collections of poetry for young people by poets OUTSIDE our U.S. borders:

Agard, John and Grace Nichols, ed. 1994. A Caribbean Dozen: Poems from Caribbean Poets. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick.
Benjamin, Floella, comp. 1995. Skip Across the Ocean: Nursery Rhymes from Around the World. New York: Orchard Books.
Brenner, Barbara. 2000. Voices: Poetry and Art from Around the World. Washington, DC: National Geographic Society.
Cashman, Seamus, 2004. Something Beginning with P; New Poems From Irish Poets. O’Brien Press. (See entry for March 17)
Delacre, Lulu. 2004. Arrorró Mi Niño: Latino Lullabies and Gentle Games. New York:
Lee & Low Books.
Gunning, Monica. 1998. Under The Breadfruit Tree: Island Poems. Honesdale, PA: Boyds Mills Press.
Ho, Minfong. 1996. Maples in the Mist: Poems for Children from the Tang Dynasty. New York: Lothrop, Lee, & Shepard.
Lee, Dennis. 1999. The Ice Cream Store. New York: HarperCollins.
Mado, Michio. 1998. The Magic Pocket. New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books.
Nye, Naomi Shihab, comp. 1998. The Space Between Our Footsteps: Poems and Paintings From the Middle East. New York: Simon & Schuster.
___, comp. 1992. This Same Sky: A Collection of Poems from Around the World. New York: Four Winds Press.
___, comp. 1995. The Tree is Older than You Are: A Bilingual Gathering of Poems and Stories from Mexico with Paintings by Mexican Artists. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Orozco, Jose-Luis. 2002. Diez Deditos: Ten Little Fingers and Other Play Rhymes and Action Songs from Latin America. New York: Dutton.
Pomerantz, Charlotte. 1982. If I Had a Paka: Poems in Eleven Languages. New York: Greenwillow.
Prelutsky, Jack, comp. 1997. Dinosaur Dinner with a Slice of Alligator Pie: Favorite Poems by Dennis Lee. New York: Scholastic.
Rosen, Michael, comp. 1992. Itsy-bitsy Beasties: Poems from Around the World. Minneapolis, MN: Carolrhoda Books.
Schmidt, Annie M.G. 1981. Pink Lemonade: Poems for Children. Translated and adapted from the Dutch by Henrietta ten Harmsel. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
Yolen, Jane. 2000. Street Rhymes From Around the World. Honesdale, PA: Boyds Mills Press.
For more suggestions, see also posts for April 2: International Book Day and Sept. 22: Poetry Around the World

Every poet is a big child.
And every child is a little poet.

Childhood is the poetry of life.

Poetry is the childhood of the world.

Boris Novak, Poet

[From: Kordigel, M. (1995). "Every poet a big child": The Slovene poet Boris A. Novak. Bookbird. 33, 1, 36-37.]

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Sunday, April 29, 2007

Children’s Poetry for National Garden Month

It’s spring time and April is also “National Garden Month.” Finding poetry for children on the topic of gardens is one way to celebrate the outdoors and help kids re-connect with the earth, plants, and growing things. Here are a handful of poetry books on the topic.

*Alarcon, Francisco X. 1997. Laughing Tomatoes and Other Spring Poems/Jitomates Risuenos y Otros Poemas de Primavera. San Francisco, CA: Children’s Book Press.
*Bruchac, Joseph. 1995. The Earth Under Sky Bear's Feet: Native American Poems of the Land. New York: Philomel Books.
*Brenner, Barbara. 1994. The Earth is Painted Green: A Garden of Poems about Our Planet. New York: Scholastic.
*Florian, Douglas. 2006. Handsprings. New York: Greenwillow.
*Havill, Juanita. 2006. I Heard It from Alice Zucchini: Poems About the Garden. San Francisco: Chronicle Books.
*Nicholls, Judith. 2003. The Sun in Me: Poems About the Planet. Barefoot Books.
*Shannon, George. 2006. Busy in the Garden. New York: Greenwillow.
*Wong, Janet. 2000. Night Garden: Poems from the World of Dreams. New York: Margaret K. McElderry (for a fun twist!).
*Yolen, Jane. 2000. Color Me a Rhyme: Nature Poems for Young People. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press.

And of course sharing garden poetry provides an invitation to children to DO some planting. As a classroom teacher, I found that planting seeds and seedlings and taking care of them was so rewarding for children. They enjoyed the physicality, as well as the responsibility, of the experience. Some schools even have garden plots for children to tend (and beautify the campus). Invite children to try out their green thumbs. Here’s a poem that does just that. Children can echo the lines or chant along.

Dig In
by George Shannon

Dig a little.
Dig a lot.
Dig a brand-new garden spot.

Plat a little.
Plant a lot.
Plant the seeds and bulbs you bought.

Wait a little.
Wait a lot.
Wait much longer than you thought.

Pick a little.
Pick a lot.
Share the best bouquet you’ve got!

From: Shannon, George. 2006. Busy in the Garden. New York: Greenwillow, p. 10

Match up garden poetry with many of Lois Ehlert’s wonderful graphic and rhyming picture books, including Growing Vegetable Soup (Harcourt Brace, 1987) and Planting a Rainbow (Harcourt Brace, 1988).

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Saturday, April 28, 2007

Birth date of poet Barbara Juster Esbensen

Poet Barbara Juster Esbensen was born on April 28, 1925, in Madison Wisconsin. She won the NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children for her body of work and the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award for her book Dance with Me (HarperCollins, 1995), among other recognitions. Her poetry collections are strong in imagery, fresh perspective and a deft use of language. Her focus on animals and nature is particularly appealing in such books as Echoes for the Eye: Poems to Celebrate Patterns in Nature (HarperCollins, 1996), Who Shrank My Grandmother's House? Poems of Discovery (HarperCollins, 1992), and Words with Wrinkled Knees (Crowell, 1986). Esbensen offers a resource for adults who want additional insight in teaching poetry effectively entitled A Celebration Of Bees: Helping Children Write Poetry (Holt, 1995). For just a taste of her work, here is one poem I particularly like:

Final edition In the index
under D I N O S A U R
we find only
the out-of-print

Once they were
a many-volume set TRICERATOPS
and BRONTOSAURUS lived there
among the footnotes

In a back room
a few large books
remain spines broken
and faded paper torn
A few legbones lie
scattered among the gluepots
beyond repair

D I N O S A U R the ancient
lizard word without
a publisher copyright

From: Esbensen, Barbara. 1986. Words with Wrinkled Knees. New York: Crowell.

Esbensen’s book, Words with Wrinkled Knees, is a creative exploration of both the WORDS as well as ATTRIBUTES of animals and animal names. For example, she imagines the giraffe in the library with the phrases “this word/ munches on the leaves/ of books lined up” and portrays the dinosaur with “out-of-print/ bones.” These library connections are especially fun and suggest activities such as posting animal poems near the animal books, looking for other places to connect with new animal creations, and creating new animal wordplays such as acrostics, crossword puzzles, and word scrambles.

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Friday, April 27, 2007

Baseball in poetry

On April 27, 1947, "Babe Ruth Day" at Yankee Stadium was held to honor the ailing baseball star. “Babe was given the greatest ovation in the history of the national pastime…” On this same day in 1983, Texas legend Nolan Ryan broke Walter Johnson’s 56-year old record with his 3,509th career strikeout. And on this day in 1996, Barry Bonds became only the fourth major leaguer to hit 300 homers and swipe 300 bases. Clearly, it’s time to celebrate baseball and poetry! Here are some of my favorite sports and baseball poetry books for children.

Adoff, Arnold. 1986. Sports Pages. HarperCollins.
Burleigh, Robert. 2003. Home Run. Voyager.
Hopkins, Lee Bennett, comp. 1993. Extra Innings: Baseball Poems. Harcourt.
Hopkins, Lee Bennett, comp. 1996. Opening Days: Sports Poems. Harcourt.
Hopkins, Lee Bennett, comp. 1999. Sports! Sports! Sports! HarperCollins.
Janeczko, Paul. 1998. That Sweet Diamond. Atheneum.
Knudson, R. Roxanne, and May Swensen, comp. 1988. American Sports Poems. Orchard.
Koertge, Ron. 2006. Shakespeare Bats Cleanup. Candlewick.
Morrison, Lillian, comp. 1992. At the Crack of the Bat: Baseball Poems. Hyperion.
Prelutsky, Jack. 2007. Good Sports; Rhymes About Running, Jumping, Throwing, and More. Knopf.
Smith, Charles R., Jr. 2004. Diamond Life: Baseball Sights, Sounds, and Swings. Orchard.

And don’t forget the classic baseball poem, "Casey at the Bat" by Ernest Thayer and available in picture book form illustrated by Patricia Polacco (Putnam, 1997) or by C. F. Payne (Simon & Schuster, 2003) and the Caldecott honor winning Casey At the Bat: A Ballad of the Republic Sung in the Year 1888, illustrated in “scrapbook” format by Christopher Bing (Handprint, 2000). Also fun to share-- the popular seventh inning song, "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" by Jack Norworth also available in picture book form illustrated by Maryann Kovalski (Scholastic, 1993) or Alec Gillman (Aladdin, 1999).

Here’s one baseball poem, just for fun:

Play Ball!
by Lillian M. Fisher

It was my turn to bat
And I hit the ball
So hard it sailed
Right over the wall.
The crowd went wild.
I started to run.
How happy I’d be
If my team won.
First base, second,
third—I’m home free!
Hurrah for my team!
Hurrah for me!

From Hopkins, Lee Bennett, comp. 1999. Sports! Sports! Sports! HarperCollins.

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Marilyn Nelson’s birthday

Today is poet Marilyn Nelson’s birthday (born in Cleveland, Ohio, on April 26, 1946). She’s the author of three amazing poetry books for young adults:

*Carver: A Life In Poems (Front Street, 2001) PAIR WITH: Carole Boston Weatherford’s Remember the Bridge (Philomel, 2002)
*Fortune’s Bones; The Manumission Requiem (Hand Print, 2004) PAIR WITH: The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol. 1: The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson (Candlewick, 2006)
*A Wreath for Emmett Till (Houghton Mifflin, 2005) PAIR WITH: Chris Crowe’s Getting Away with Murder (Dial, 2003)

Each of these is a brilliant blending of poetry and history, completely absorbing and full of details and powerful imagery. But they are for more mature readers, at least middle school age or older, IMO. Her work has been recognized as a finalist for the National Book Award and with Newbery Honor and Coretta Scott King Honor citations. She has also authored highly regarded collections of poetry for adults and has been named the Poet Laureate of the State of Connecticut. She teaches in the English Department at the University of Connecticut and opened her home as a writer’s retreat with the proceeds from the sales of Carver. Isn’t that lovely?

I first heard about Marilyn Nelson when I participated in an NEH funded Children’s Literature Institute in the summer of 1985 held at the University of Connecticut. She had just translated a poem collection by the Danish poet, Halfdan Rasmussen, Hundreds of Hens and Other Poems for Children (1982). Later I learned that she had earned her PhD from the University of Minnesota (in 1979) at the same time I was beginning my doctoral coursework there.

Here’s just one Nelson nugget, the poem, “How I Discovered Poetry,” part of the NEA and Poetry Foundation “Poetry Out Loud” national recitation competition.

How I Discovered Poetry
By Marilyn Nelson

It was like soul-kissing, the way the words
filled my mouth as Mrs. Purdy read from her desk.
All the other kids zoned an hour ahead to 3:15,
but Mrs. Purdy and I wandered lonely as clouds borne
by a breeze off Mount Parnassus. She must have seen
the darkest eyes in the room brim: The next day
she gave me a poem she’d chosen especially for me
to read to the all except for me white class.
She smiled when she told me to read it, smiled harder,
said oh yes I could. She smiled harder and harder
until I stood and opened my mouth to banjo playing
darkies, pickaninnies, disses and dats. When I finished
my classmates stared at the floor. We walked silent
to the buses, awed by the power of words.

From The Fields of Praise: New and Selected Poems copyright 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, Louisiana State University Press.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Celebrating folk poetry and Alvin Schwartz

Author and folklore collector Alvin Schwartz was born on this date in 1927, in Brooklyn, New York (and died March 14, 1992). Although he may best be known for the "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark" series, which are among the most frequently challenged books (or book series) according to ALA, he also compiled over two dozen collections of children’s folklore of many types in very kid-friendly formats. Most of these are completely hilarious, such as:

A twister of twists, a tangler of tongues (1972)
Tomfoolery: Trickery and foolery with words (1973)
Cross your fingers, spit in your hat: Superstitions and other beliefs (1974)
There is a carrot in my ear: and other noodle tales (1986)
Busy buzzing bumblebees: and other tongue twisters (1992)
I saw you in the bathroom and other folk rhymes (1999)

Many children—and adults—don’t realize that the silly songs, rollicking rhymes, and nonsense games we learn in early childhood are indeed a form of literature. Folk poetry is the poetry you don’t even realize is poetry. Rhymes on the playground like "Cinderella dressed in yellow" have no known author and yet are familiar to many generations of children. These rhyming verses can also be included in our poetry collections. Books of riddles, chants, tongue twisters, jumprope rhymes, finger plays, handclapping games, autograph sayings and more often contain poetry and verse. What’s more, children are often intrigued to find in print the verses they have heard and known only orally and only in the domain outside of school—at home and at play.

Alvin Schwartz’s collection of uniquely American verse, And the Green Grass Grew All Around (1992) is one of my all-time favorites and has so many wonderful examples that children will enjoy. You may be surprised, for example, to discover that there are second and third verses to poems you knew only one verse of as a child. One of my favorites is a parody of the song, "I've been working on the railroad"-- "I've been working on my homework/ all the live long day/ I've been working on my homework/ just to pass..." (It ends abruptly on purpose!)

For additional examples of children's "folk poetry," look for Iona and Peter Opie’s I saw Esau: The Schoolchild’s Pocketbook (1992) or Virginia Tashjian’s Juba This and Juba That (1969). Authors and collaborators Joanna Cole and Stephanie Calmenson have also created several collections of folk poetry worth knowing about such as Anna Banana: 101 Jump-Rope Rhymes (1989). And Judy Sierra has gathered a gem with Schoolyard Rhymes: Kids' Own Rhymes for Rope Skipping, Hand Clapping, Ball Bouncing, and Just Plain Fun (2005). And for a scholarly analysis of this "genre" look for Poetry's Playground: The Culture of Contemporary American Children's Poetry (Landscapes of Childhood) by Joseph Thomas.

This medium helps validate children’s experiences, link oral and written modes of expression, and invite active, even physical participation. Children can collect other examples on audio or videotape and explore neighborhood, cultural, and linguistic variations. They can translate their English favorites into other languages represented in their community. Older children may enjoy exploring the historical roots of childhood folklore or writing down new and unfamiliar examples.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Poetry and the newspaper

The first American newspaper, the Boston News-Letter, was published by John Campbell, a postmaster, on this day in 1704. It was originally a single sheet of paper printed on both sides and published weekly. One of my favorite poetry-making activities involves using the newspaper as a bank of words, ideas, and print. Kids really enjoy this “building block” approach to poetry and it often provides a bridge to writing for kids who are hesitant or reluctant to try poetry writing. It’s called “found” poetry and is based on taking text from other sources such as newspaper articles, ads, picture books, etc. and converting it into a poem. I enjoy using newspaper articles (or news from the web) since this material is handy and offers current information that is often interesting and relevant to young people. In addition, “mining” poems for words and ideas for a poem helps children process the information and focus on key points for discussion.

This activity can be conducted with the whole group, in small groups, or individually once children are familiar with the process. It begins with choosing a news article (or other text) of interest, then reading it, discussing it, and highlighting and writing the key words and ideas from the piece that seem particularly sharp, interesting, or relevant. From that list of words and ideas, you arrange a poem, eliminating unnecessary words and phrases and inserting a few others, if needed, for sense or meaning. What emerges is often interesting news, plus powerful poetry. Then post the poem along with the news article, and if time allows, a drawing or photograph that the kids choose or create. Here is an example that I created based on this sample news report from the web.

Peace One Day Commitments 2004
As one way of observing the Day, many peace based NGOs and individuals representing a wide variety of religious and spiritual traditions, are observing "International Day of Peace Vigils" with the following objective: "To encourage worldwide, 24-hour spiritual observations for peace and nonviolence on the International Day of Peace, 21 September 2004 in every house of worship and place of spiritual practice, by all religious and spiritually based groups and individuals and by all men, women and children who seek peace in the world." These global 24-hour observations for peace are meant to demonstrate the power of prayer and other spiritual observations in promoting peace and preventing violent conflict. They will also help raise public awareness of the International Day of Peace and can directly support the establishment of a global ceasefire. You can personally support this worldwide initiative by committing to conduct a spiritual observation and promulgating the Vigil idea among religious and peace-based groups in your community.

And here is one possible poem based on the words and ideas of this article that I created as an example. (Obviously, several different poems are possible from one news article, based on the choices each poem “finder” makes.)

Peace One Day

One way
observing the Day
International Day of Peace
peace and nonviolence
21 September
in every house of worship
in every place of spiritual practice
all men, women and children
who seek peace in the world
preventing violent conflict
raising public awareness
support a global ceasefire
this worldwide initiative
in your community.
Peace One Day

Physically cutting and manipulating the words of a newspaper article makes poetry “writing” a bit more concrete for kids who are still learning how to structure phrases, sentences, and poems-- and shows them that poems can come from anywhere—even today’s headlines.

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Monday, April 23, 2007

Happy birthday, Mr. Shakespeare

William Shakespeare’s birthday is said to be today. He is captured beautifully in words and pictures in Bard of Avon (Morrow, 1992), the nonfiction picture book biography by Diane Stanley and Peter Vennema. One of my favorite parts of that book is the wonderful endnote detailing his unique coining of words such as “hint,” “excellent,” “lonely,” and “hurry.” And of course we also associate Shakespeare with the poetic form of the sonnet. It's a form that some of today’s poets who write for children have also tackled.

One of my favorite examples is Helen Frost’s Printz Award honor book, Keesha’s House (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2003) which incorporates both sonnets and sestinas. It’s the story-through-poems (remember novels in verse on April 19?) of a motley group of teenagers who each find themselves at a crisis point in their lives and come together at Joe’s house, a welcoming place for kids who aren’t welcome or safe in their own homes. The central character, a strong survivor named Keesha, is the catalyst for each teenager finding this safe haven, thus the book’s title. The various points of view make for compelling reading, with perspectives shifting as the story is pieced together through sonnets and sestinas. It is also an excellent audiobook read in multiple voices (Recorded Books, 2004). Here’s just one sampling of a sestina (and it happens to be set in the library and you know how I like poems about the library!):

Do Not Leave Children Unattended
by Helen Frost

After school and on weekends I go to the library
and do my homework or listen
to music. I brush my teeth, wash my hair,
and, a couple of times a week, I shave. They have
a private sink in one of the handicap stalls.
Sometimes I go in the youth section and sign

up to play computer games. There’s a sign
I know there’s younger kids than me who use the sink in that stall
like I do. I keep my eye on them. I try to listen
to adults that talk to them, especially in the rest room. Last week, I had
something creepy happen when I was combing my hair.

A guy made a comment about my gorgeous red hair,
which is nothing new. But right after that—the first sign
of something weird—he asked if he could have
a picture of me. I got out of there fast. When the library
was about to close, he left the same time I did. Hey, listen,
he said, you need a ride somewhere? I said, No, thanks, stalled

for time until he left. The next day, I came out of the stall
and he was in the rest room combing his hair.
He said something to me, but I didn’t stay to listen.
Now I watch every move he makes. If I ever see a sign
that he’s messing with one of the kids that hang out in the library,
I’ll—well, I don’t know what I’ll do, but I know I’d have

to help. I guess I’d act casual, like I had
some reason to be there—but I’d stall
around and eavesdrop till he left the kid alone. The library
should be a safe place, and if a kid needs a place to comb his hair,
just let him be. Hey! I finally got a job. I’m going to sign
the paperwork this afternoon. I have to listen

to a tape about dishwashing safety. That’s funny! I’ve listened
to my mother harp on that stuff all my life. Like—you have
to scrub the cutting board. Use bleach or boiling water. There’s a sign
in the rest room—in fact, there’s one in every stall—
reminding us employees to wash our hands. We have to use hair
nets if we get anywhere near food. The librarians

won’t be seeing so much of me now. That’s a good sign. I’ll have
a bathroom I can use at work, and I’ll just use the library stall
to wash my hair. I’ll listen to music while it dries.

from Frost, Helen. Keesha’s House. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2003)

Other poets who have written sonnets for young people include:
J. Patrick Lewis
Alice Schertle
Myra Cohn Livingston
Naomi Shihab Nye
Jane Yolen

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Sunday, April 22, 2007

Tree Poetry for Earth Day

Today is officially Earth Day and many people also celebrate Arbor Day sometime during the month of April. And although there is an abundance of nature poetry for children available, I think it would be appropriate to focus on TREES, in particular. Living on the prairie in Texas, I’m a big fan of trees, since we don’t have many. I was a tree climber as a kid and a tree planter as an adult. And there are many poems about trees to share with young people beginning with Joyce Kilmer’s classic, “Trees” which begins “I think that I shall never see/ A poem lovely as a tree.”

In fact, once I started looking, I found that many of my favorite poems were about trees, from David McCord’s “Every Time I Climb a Tree” to “Arbol de Limon/ Lemon Tree” by Jennifer Clement and translated by Consuelo de Aerenlund, presented in both English and Spanish (in Naomi Nye's anthology). Here’s a poem by Karla Kuskin that is also a fine example of “concrete” or “shape” poetry in which the words of the poem also suggest the shape of the poem’s subject.

If you stood with your feet in the earth
Up to your ankles in grass
And your arms had leaves running over them
And every once in awhile one of your leafy fingers
Was nudged by a bird flying past,
If the skin that covers you from top to tip
Wasn’t skin at all, but bark
And you never moved your feet from their place
In the earth
But stood rooted in one spot come
Then you would be me:
A tree.

Kuskin, Karla. 1972. Any Me I Want to Be. Harper & Row.

For more “tree” poems, look for these anthologies:
Brenner, Barbara. 1994. The Earth is Painted Green: A Garden of Poems about Our Planet. Scholastic.
Bruchac. Joseph. 1995. The Earth Under Sky Bear's Feet: Native American Poems of the Land. Philomel Books.
Fisher, Aileen. 2003. Sing of the Earth and Sky: Poems about Our Planet and the Wonders Beyond. Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press.
George, Kristine O’Connell. 1998. Old Elm Speaks: Tree Poems. Clarion Books.
Greenfield, Eloise. 1988. Under the Sunday Tree. Harper & Row.
Gunning, Monica. 1998. Under the Breadfruit Tree: Island Poems. Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press.
Jones, Hettie, comp. 1971. The Tree Stands Shining: Poetry of the North American Indian. Dial Books.
Kuskin, Karla. 1980. Dogs and Dragons, Trees and Dreams: A Collection of Poems. HarperCollins.
Kuskin, Karla. 1975. Near the Window Tree. Harper.
Levy, Constance. 1994. A Tree Place and Other Poems. McElderry.
Lindbergh, Reeve. 1990. Johnny Appleseed. Joy Street Books.
McCord, David. 1999. Every Time I Climb a Tree. Little Brown.
Nye, Naomi Shihab, comp. 1995. The Tree is Older than You Are: A Bilingual Gathering of Poems and Stories from Mexico with Paintings by Mexican Artists. Simon & Schuster.
Singer, Marilyn. 2002. Footprints on the Roof: Poems About the Earth. Knopf.
Yolen, Jane. 2000. Color Me a Rhyme: Nature Poems for Young People. Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press.

And of course this begs for a poet-tree display! Create a paper tree trunk and branches and encourage children to choose their favorite poems to display on large green paper leaves hanging from the branches.

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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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Friday, April 20, 2007

Happy Birthday, April Halprin Wayland

Happy birthday to April in April! Poet and picture book author April Halprin Wayland is, in her own words, “… a writer, a mother, a speaker, a musician, an organizer, a teacher, a poet, a performer, a storyteller, a traveler, a stay-put-er, a walker, a meditator, an aqua farmer, a pet-owner, a cloud collector, a procrastinator…” She’s also a bright new talent to watch. Her first novel in verse, Girl Coming in for a Landing (Knopf, 2002) received rave reviews, including a Lee Bennett Hopkins honor award in 2003. Kirkus called it "…utterly fresh and winning collection of verse …spot-on observations. Employing many forms of verse, some rhymed, some not…all of them are accessible and exquisitely crafted.” Horn Book described it as “…sincere and overflowing with turbulent emotion. The unnamed narrator’s innocent exuberance spills forth…”

Here is just a tiny taste of that engaging verse novel, appropriate for readers in middle school and up, IMO:

Poetry is My Underwear
by April Halprin Wayland

My sister found them.

Read them out loud.
She’s so proud,

she’s running to our parents
waving my poems in the air.

Doesn’t she know
she’s waving my underwear?

from Girl Coming in for a Landing by April Halprin Wayland (Knopf 2002)

Wayland has published nearly 100 poems in a variety of anthologies and magazines and has a new novel-in-poems coming soon: Thirteen, Fourteen, Fatteen.

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Support Teen Literature Day

I tend to focus more on children, rather than young adults, in my work (often a blurry distinction), but today I’d like to highlight a brand new occasion, Teen Literature Day. Poetry may well be the most ageless of all genres, in that all kinds of poems can be shared with all ages of children. There are some poets, however, who have particularly addressed the issues and concerns more pressing to the adolescent audience. This includes the narrative poems of Mel Glenn, the varied anthologies compiled by former English teacher Paul Janeczko, the writing of Ralph Fletcher, and individual titles by people like Tupac Shakur. There are many collections of poetry available specifically for teen readers, including notable anthologies gathered by Ruth Gordon, Liz Rosenberg, Patrice Vecchione, Naomi Shihab Nye, Betsy Franco, and more. And of course many teens enjoy adult poetry, classics, and poetry Web sites. But one of my favorite sources of appealing contemporary poetry for young adults is the novel-in-verse or verse novel, a form particularly popular with young readers in middle and high school.

Here’s a helpful description from Tasmania, of all places:
“This contemporary genre combines the power of narrative with the rich, evocative language of verse. Of course, some verse novels contain ordinary verse and little plot, but the best free verse novels are beautifully crafted, convincing reading experiences with a strong sense of voice. Although the narrative structure of a verse novel is similar to a prose novel, the organisation of story is usually in a series of short sections, often with changing perspectives. Verse novels are often told with multiple narrators, providing readers with a cinematic view into the inner workings of characters’ minds. Most verse novels employ an informal, colloquial register.”

One could view today’s verse novel as the contemporary offshoot of the ancient epic poem, a lineage including Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and even Tennyson’s Idylls of the King. Victorian verse novels for adults evolved to compete with the mass market appetite for novels in mid-1800’s with novels generally earn more than poetry. Nilsen and Donelson cite Mel Glenn’s first book, Class Dismissed! (1982) as a ground-breaking verse novel for it’s “candid, first-person speech to discuss intense situations” (Literature for Today’s Young Adults, 2001, p. 299). Here’s a sampling of 10 of my favorite verse novels for young people:

Creech, Sharon. Love that Dog
Frost, Helen. Keesha’s House
Glenn, Mel. Split Image
Herrick, Steven. The Simple Gift
Hesse, Karen. Out of the Dust
Koertge, Ron. The Brimstone Journals
Nelson, Marilyn. Carver, A Life in Poems
Sones, Sonya. Stop Pretending: What Happened When My Big Sister Went Crazy
Wayland, April Halprin. Girl Coming in for a Landing
Wolff, Virginia Euwer. Make Lemonade
+ Grimes, Nikki. Bronx Masquerade (a blending of narrative and poetry)

Each of these authors has other verse novels worth checking out, too. It can also be very engaging to read these works out loud in parts, with different readers voicing different characters. Minimal preparation, maximum dramatic effect.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Poetry BY Young People

In honor of Young People’s Poetry Week, I thought it might be appropriate to feature some poetry that is written BY children. In general, my goal in sharing poetry with children is to focus on reading, performing, and discussing it, rather than on writing it; on the experience of poetry rather than the production of it. However, many children naturally experiment with writing poetry, particularly when they are immersed in reading and talking about it. (But I continue to be frustrated by the converse: children expected to WRITE poetry, when they’ve had very little experience reading or listening to it.) Sharing poetry BY kids can be appealing because it touches adults with the voices and experiences of our youngest, and inspires children who begin to think of themselves as possible creators of poetry. Here’s one of my personal favorites, gathered and published by poet Sanford Lyne in Ten-Second Rainshowers:

Forever and a Day
By Heather Lachman
Grade 4

I want to go home.
The day is long.
It has been long ever since
I woke up.

From Lyne, Sandford, comp. 1996. Ten-Second Rainshowers: Poems by Young People. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Several poets who have worked in schools, libraries, and with other youth projects have gathered and edited collections of poetry written by children of all ages. Collections such as Salting the Ocean edited by Naomi Shihab Nye (Greenwillow, 2000) or Ten-Second Rain Showers (Simon & Schuster, 1996) and Soft Hay Will Catch You (Simon & Schuster, 2004) both edited by Sanford Lyne, and for young adults, Paint Me Like I Am: Teen Poems from WritersCorps by Bill Aguado (HarperTeen, 2003) and Things I Have to Tell You: Poems and Writing by Teenage Girls and You Hear Me? Poems and Writing by Teenage Boys (both Candlewick, 2001) collected by Betsy Franco are all beautiful books full of unsentimental and authentic young voices. And for a more humorous look at poetry writing, consider Australian author Gary Crew’s mock journal, Troy Thompson’s Excellent Peotry [sic] Book (Kane/Miller, 2003) which LOOKS like a collection of very personal poems in a child’s own handwriting (although it’s created by an adult). For children who aspire to be writers or who may find personal poetry writing a helpful release, these books are an invitation to see oneself as a writer, to see children as capable of poetic expression, too.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Poems, Comfort, and Nikki Giovanni

Along with everyone else, I’ve been following the unfolding of events at Virginia Tech with shock and sadness. As a college professor, it’s unnerving to think of a campus as unsafe. As a parent of college-age children, it’s even more terrifying. My thoughts and prayers go out to all those coping with the aftermath. I also remembered that there’s a poet on that campus. Nikki Giovanni has been on the faculty at Virginia Polytechnic Institute in Blacksburg, Virginia since 1987. I believe she will be participating in the convocation planned there shortly. How lovely to have a poet participating in this grieving process. I looked quickly for one of her poems to showcase at this moment and found this one.

The World Is Not A Pleasant Place To Be
by Nikki Giovanni

the world is not a pleasant place
to be without
someone to hold and be held by

a river would stop
its flow if only
a stream were there
to receive it

an ocean would never laugh
if clouds weren't there
to kiss her tears

the world is not
a pleasant place to be without

Here are a few collections of poetry for young people with poems that I find comforting during difficult times.

Georgia Heard. This Place I Know: Poems of Comfort
Naomi Shihab Nye. What Have You Lost
Nancy Willard. Step Lightly: Poems for the Journey
Arnold Adoff. Love Letters
Francisco X. Alarcon. Poems to Dream Together
Nikki Grimes. Hopscotch Love: A Family Treasury of Love Poems
Pat Mora. Love to Mama: A Tribute to Mothers
Langston Hughes. The Dreamkeeper
Cynthia Rylant. God Went to Beauty School

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Monday, April 16, 2007

Happy Young People’s Poetry Week (April 16-22)

Today marks the beginning of Young People’s Poetry Week (April 16-22), the most important week of the year, of course (when it comes to poetry for children)! Just about ten years ago the Academy of American Poets initiated the observance of National Poetry Month to celebrate poetry and its place in American culture. Since then, the poetry “movement” has continued to gain momentum with the emergence of Young People’s Poetry Week in 1999 sponsored by the Children’s Book Council, a focus on poetry slams as the centerpiece for Teen Read Week in 2003 sponsored by the American Library Association, and the inauguration of the Poetry Blast in 2004 led by the Association for Library Service to Children, a concert of children’s poets held at the annual conferences of ALA and the International Reading Association. (I’ve brought that same “concert” idea to the Texas Library Association conference and was proud to lead the third annual poetry “round up” just last Friday in San Antonio featuring Jaime Adoff, Tony Crunk, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Charise Mericle Harper, Heidi Zingerline Mordhorst, and Eileen Spinelli.)

The Children's Book Council, in collaboration with the American Academy of Poets and the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, sponsors Young People's Poetry Week during the third week of April, providing a variety of wonderful resources to assist with programming and celebrations. You’ll find a list of new poetry titles, a downloadable bookmark, crossword puzzles, interviews with poets, and articles on sharing poetry written by Carole Fiore, Lester Laminack, and yours truly.

So, happy YPPW to you and yours. Here’s a poem to open the door to poetry for the young people in your life!

The Poem as a Door
by Eve Merriam

A door
is never
A door
is always

You cannot skip over,
you cannot crawl under;
walk through the wood,
it splits asunder.

If you expect it to be bolted,
it will be.

There is only one opening:
yourself as the key.

With a sigh of happiness
you pass through
to find on the other side
someone with a sigh of happiness
welcoming you.

from The Singing Green (HarperCollins, 1992)

Invite children to share their favorite poems and post them on the door for others to enjoy as they come and go all week long!

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Sunday, April 15, 2007

Happy Library Week (April 15 – 21)

Today marks the beginning of National Library Week, a time to “celebrate the contributions of our nation's libraries, librarians and library workers and to promote library use and support.” What a perfect time to seek out poetry about the library, librarians, books, and reading. I published an article last year in Children and Libraries that featured poetry for children about the library. [Vardell, S.M. (2006). A place for poetry: Celebrating the library in poetry. Children and Libraries. 4, (2), 35-41.] Here is a brief tidbit:

“Poetry can be the vehicle for highlighting the unique resource that is the library while providing a reminder of the special power of the genre of poetry for children, too. Since poems are generally short, they lend themselves to quick sharing as openings or closings for story times or special events. Since they are spoken word art, they lend themselves to oral or choral reading and can involve children in active participation in the poem performance. And since poems are intense containers of images and experiences, they can make a powerful point (about libraries, books, reading) in very few words. Finally, by choosing poems showcasing libraries, we can celebrate both the library and poetry itself, during National Poetry Month, National Library Week, School Library Media Month, all in April, or any other time of the year.

Lewis, J. Patrick. 2005. “Necessary Gardens” from Please Bury Me in the Library. San Diego, Harcourt.

Necessary Gardens
By J. Patrick Lewis


This eight-line poem is an acrostic with each letter of the word “language” used to begin a line of the poem. After reading the poem aloud once, find eight volunteers, one for each word/line, to “pop up” and read/say each line wherever they are seated. In fact, with each word/line on a large card or mini-poster, this poem can be performed “popcorn” style with the words shouted out in nearly any order, for a spontaneous, creative alternative. This is one poem among many gems about books, reading, and the library—the theme of the anthology. And if children enjoy this acrostic form, challenge them to try writing their own acrostic poems with book-related words of their choosing. If you have a button maker, this poem can even fit on a button to promote the library, books, reading, AND poetry.”

In this previous article, I noted 13 poems about the library. Since then, I have found another 14 poems (for children and young adults). Here’s the new batch:

1. Appelt, Kathi. 1997. “Javier” from Just People and Paper/Pen/Poem: A Young Writer’s Way to Begin. Spring, TX: Absey & Co.
2. Bagert, Brod. 1999. “Library-Gold” from Rainbows, Head Lice and Pea-Green Tile; Poems in the Voice of the Classroom Teacher. Gainesville, FL: Maupin House.
3. Frost, Helen. 2003. “Do Not Leave Children Unattended” from Keesha’s House. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
4. Greenfield. Eloise. 2006. “At the Library” from The Friendly Four. New York: HarperCollins.
5. Grimes, Nikki. 1998. “42nd Street Library” from Jazmin’s Notebook. New York: Dial.
6. Gunning, Monica. 2004. “The Library” from America, My New Home. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press.
7. Hopkins, Ellen. 2006. “See, the Library” from burned. New York: McElderry.
8. Katz, Alan. 2001. ‘Give Me a Break” from Take Me Out of the Bathtub and Other Silly Dilly Songs. New York: Scholastic.
9. Lewis, J. Patrick. 2005. “Please Bury Me in the Library” from Please Bury Me in the Library. San Diego, Harcourt.
10. Livingston, Myra Cohn. 1994. “Quiet” in Hopkins, Lee Bennett, selector. April Bubbles Chocolate; An ABC of Poetry. New York: Simon & Schuster.
11. Lottridge, Celia Barker. 2002. “Anna Marie’s Library Book and What Happened’ in Pearson, Deborah, editor. When I Went to the Library. Toronto: Groundwood Books.
12. Nye, Naomi Shihab. 2005. “The List” from A Maze Me; Poems for Girls. New York: Greenwillow.
13. Prelutsky, Jack. 2006. “It’s Library Time” from What a Day It Was at School! New York: Greenwillow.
14. Silverstein, Shel. 1981. “Overdues” from A Light in the Attic. New York: HarperCollins.

I am now officially obsessed with this quest! If you know of any other poems for young people that focus specifically on the LIBRARY (or librarians), please let me know. Meanwhile, go to your local library, thank the hardworking library staff, wish them a “happy library week,” and check out some poetry!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

A Poem for Dream Day

Somewhere I read that today is officially National Dream Day! Here is one of my favorite “dream” poems (in addition to all the wonderful “dream” poems by Langston Hughes, another favorite). It’s by the Japanese poet Michio Mado from an older collection, The Animals, illustrated with delicate papercut images by award-winning artist Mitsumasa Anno and translated into English by the Empress Michiko of Japan, herself a poet.

by Michio Mado

At night,
When quietly
The two tiny windows of my body
Lower their blinds,

The two tiny windows
Of all creatures of all kinds,
Living in the sky,
The sea, and on land,
Lower their blinds, too.

So as not to cause
A single dream

To be mixed
With any other.

From: Mado, Michio. 1992. The Animals: Selected Poems. New York: Margaret K. McElderry.

Isn’t that strange and wonderful to imagine? All the world’s creatures dreaming different dreams…

Each poem in the book appears in both Japanese and English, making it an excellent example of bilingual poetry. Since both the English and the Japanese versions of the poem are presented, it is possible to experiment with reading the lines as if they were written for two voices. Find a guest speaker able to read Japanese. The guest can read the poem in Japanese, followed by a second volunteer reading in English. Then BOTH readers read their versions simultaneously, in both Japanese and English. Just be sure to encourage the readers to pause at the end of each line and start the next line together. It may take a bit of practice, but it can be quite a powerful listening and language experience. Children who speak a language other than English may want to try translating one of their favorite English poems and orchestrating a read aloud in both their languages.

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Friday, April 13, 2007

It's Lee Bennett Hopkins' Birthday

Wear something with pockets today, and put some miscellaneous item (like keys, a coin, a paperclip, etc.) in your pocket. Reach into your pocket and slowly bring that item out. Then share the following poem by today’s birthday poet, Lee Bennett Hopkins.

by Lee Bennett Hopkins

A rusty door key,
A part of a tool,
A dead bee I was saving
to take into school;

A crust of pizza,
Sand from the short,
A piece of lead pipe,
An old apple core;

My library card,
A small model rocket—

I guess


from Me, Myself, and I (1995)

Invite the children to reach into their pockets, pull out something they can share and tell the story behind it or write a poem about it.

Lee Bennett Hopkins may be the most prolific poetry anthologist of all, with over 100 books of poetry to his credit as both an anthologist and as a writer. Hopkins has also nurtured many new talents in poetry, commissioning up-and-coming poets to write poems for anthologies he compiles.

A few of his most popular titles include Good Books, Good Times (HarperTrophy, 2000), Opening Days: Sports Poems (Harcourt, 1996), School Supplies: A Book of Poems (Simon & Schuster, 1996), My America: A Poetry Atlas of the United States (Simon & Schuster, 2000) and Days to Celebrate: A Full Year of Poetry, People, Holidays, History, Fascinating Facts, and More (HarperCollins, 2005) Teachers and librarians find Hopkins’ work helpful because so many of his anthologies are organized around themes or topics that lend themselves to teaching school subject areas. For example, Hand in Hand: An American History through Poetry (Simon & Schuster, 1994) offers a chronological view of American history through poetry. Or try Hopkins’ collection, Spectacular Science (Simon & Schuster, 1999) which includes science-related poems by writers from Carl Sandburg to Rebecca Kai Dotlich.

Hopkins has also authored biographical and autobiographical writings. Two books about his own life and work include Writing Bug (Richard C. Owens, 1993) and Been To Yesterdays: Poems Of A Life (Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press, 1995) told through poems. Two collections about poets and poetry teaching include Pass the Poetry Please (HarperCollins, 1986) and Pauses; Autobiographical Reflections of 101 Creators of Children’s Books (HarperCollins, 1995).

Called the “The Johnny Appleseed of contemporary children’s poetry,” Lee Bennett Hopkins established two major awards to encourage recognition of poetry for young people: the annual Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award for a single volume of poetry, and the Lee Bennett Hopkins Promising Poet Award, presented every three years by the International Reading Association to a new poet with two or fewer poetry books published.

One of my favorite Lee-isms is this one: Avoid the “DAM approach” to poetry = Don't force kids to DISSECT, ANALYZE OR MEMORIZE poetry. Not that children aren’t capable of thinking critically or remembering favorites, but our baggage about forcing certain expectations can get in the way of children’s experiences with poetry. Amen!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Happy Birthday, Gary Soto

Today is poet Gary Soto's birthday. Dip into Soto’s poetry for young people with the poem, “Ode To My Library” from Neighborhood Odes (Harcourt, 1992) which is almost a short story it shares so many details about a small town library. Its description of the physical space of the library mentions the rooms, the books, the globe, the maps, the fish tank, the pencil sharpener, etc. Another wonderful collection of Soto’s poetry is Canto Familiar (Harcourt, 1995) which includes 25 poems dealing with experiences of Mexican American children growing up in the United States. These poems are written with lively voices that beg to be read aloud.

Gary Soto’s collection, A Fire in My Hands (Harcourt, expanded edition 2006), includes rich, descriptive poems as well as the short author insights that are offered at the beginning of each poem, so helpful to budding poets. For middle school students, Soto has created a set of poems woven together to tell a story about a friendship between two boys, Fearless Fernie: Hanging Out with Fernie & Me (Putnam 2002) and a sequel, Worlds Apart: Fernie and Me (Putnam 2005), with his usual blend of humor and humiliation.

It’s a challenge to choose just one example to share, but this is one of my favorites because of it’s open-ended non-ending. So, what happened?

by Gary Soto

I once tried to steal from Charlie’s Market.
I stood at a tier of thirteen kinds of candy,
And I closed my hand around a Baby Ruth,
Then opened it very quickly
Because it was wrong. I was a boy,
No brighter than the penny
In my pocket. I closed my hand around
The candy again, then opened it.
God would know, my mother would know,
And certainly Charlie who was leaning his elbows
On the glass counter. I didn’t see him watching.
My small eyes stared at the candy,
First temptation of the greedy tooth.
My hand opened and closed around the Baby Ruth
Several more times. I kept thinking
All I have to do is pick it up
And it’ll be mine.

from: Poetry After Lunch: Poems to Read Aloud edited by Edward E. Wilson and Joyce A. Carroll (Absey & Co., 1997).

Now there’s a poem to discuss with young people!

Soto is also well known for his engaging picture books such as Chato’s Kitchen (Putnam, 1995) and its “Chato” sequels and the Christmas story, Too Many Tamales (Putnam, 1993), as well as middle grade novels and short stories including his ground-breaking Baseball in April (Harcourt, 1990) and the appealing The Skirt (Yearling, 1994), plus his contemporary young adult novels, such as Taking Sides (Harcourt, 1991) and The Afterlife (Harcourt, 2003). He has also produced the film “The Pool Party” based on his short novel for young people, as well as written the libretto for an opera entitled “Nerd-landia” and a play for young people called “Novio Boy.” I continue to watch for new Soto gems; his work offers both a much needed Latino voice as well as writing that is often startling in its imagery and phrasing.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Poems for Quartets (and Duets)

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.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Poetry for Humane Day

Today is Humane Day commemorating the founding of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) in 1866. The ASPCA urges us to wear orange today in support of our pets and their humane treatment. Jane Yolen often writes poetry about animals in compilations such as Alphabestiary: Animal Poems from A to Z (Boyds Mills Press 1994), The Originals: Animals That Time Forgot (Philomel Books 1998), Sea Watch (Putnam 1996), Least Things: Poems about Small Natures (Boyds Mills Press 2003), and Raining Cats and Dogs (Harcourt 1993). She has three collections of poetry about birds, in particular: Bird Watch (Philomel 1990), Wild Wings (Boyds Mills Press 2002), and Fine Feathered Friends (Boyds Mills 2004).

Animals populate the poetry of many of my favorite poets including:
*Marilyn Singer’s It’s Hard To Read A Map With A Beagle On Your Lap (Holt 1993), Turtle in July (Macmillan, 1989) and Fireflies at Midnight (Atheneum 2003)
*Joyce Sidman’s The World According to Dog: Poems and Teen Voices (Houghton Mifflin, 2003)
*Kristine O’Connell George’s Little Dog Poems (Clarion 1999) and it’s sequel, Little Dog and Duncan (Clarion 2002) and Hummingbird Nest: A Journal of Poems (Harcourt 2004)
*Douglas Florian’s Bow Wow Meow Meow; It’s Rhyming Cats and Dogs (Harcourt 2003) and his MANY other animal collections
*and many, many others

In fact, once you start looking, you’ll find that the topic of animals is nearly ubiquitous in children’s poetry and is the focus of many poems and collections. There are even whole anthologies of animal poetry such as Jack Prelutsky’s The Beauty of the Beast (Knopf, 1997).

Here’s just ONE poem in honor of the day that turns the tables and juxtaposes human and animal attributes.

Do Zebras Dream of Polka Dots?
By Dennis Carson

Do fish get thirsty?
Do porcupines dance?
Do frogs get warts
when they’re touched by human hands?

Do possums get insomnia?
Do alligators burp?
If a bird knew all the words
would he do more than chirp?

Does a crow ever rooster?
Is a chicken ever wild?
Is a piglet ever told
you’re as messy as a child?

Does a lion ever whisper?
Are hyenas ever sad?
Does a duck ever back quack
when he’s talking to his dad?

Do porpoises get seasick?
Do turtles ever run?
Do monkeys ever play on children bars
when they want to have some fun?

Do zebras dream of polka dots?
Do owls sometimes not know>
Do roadrunners ever walk
or maybe jog real slow?

Do lightning bugs thunder?
Do june bugs come in May?
Do centipedes get sore legs?
Can anybody say?

Are beavers ever lazy?
Are birds out on a limb?
Do snakes get the willies
when people stare at them?

Do giraffes get soar throats?
Do bats get scared in caves?
Do pack rats ever throw out
all that stuff that they have saved?

I wonder what to do.
I just ran out of questions.
I wonder will you help me?
Have you got some good suggestions?

From: Koss, Amy Goldman. 1987. Where Fish Go in Winter and Answers to Other Great Mysteries. Los Angeles, CA: Price Stern Sloan.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Poetry in Audio Form

If you want to hear how poetry should SOUND, there is no better source than hearing the poets themselves read their poems aloud. And we’re fortunate to have more and more access to the recorded poem through iTunes, audioclips, CDs and tapes, and more.

The two major publishers of audiobooks for young people, Listening Library and Recorded Books offer several choices, such as Jack Prelutsky and Kalli Dakos, for example. And publishers such as HarperCollins (Harper Children’s Audio) and Scholastic (including Weston Woods) often publish audiobook versions of print books they produce, including Shel Silverstein reading his work aloud. The Caedmon Records imprint, now a part of HarperAudio, has a long history of issuing excellent recordings of poetry, including classic works by the likes of A.A. Milne. Audio Bookshelf offers the Newbery medal poetry book, Joyful Noise as well as works by Ashley Bryan. Live Oak Media’s audiopoetry selections include Javaka Steptoe’s anthology In Daddy’s Arms I am Tall as well as John Updike’s A Child’s Calendar. In recent years, many publishers offer free promotional CDs featuring poems and poets from current works available at conferences or via the publishing company itself.

It is also possible to access some audiofiles of poetry read aloud and available on the Internet. For example,, a major provider of audiobooks via downloadable files offers a handful of children’s poetry books such as Paul Fleischman’s Joyful Noise. Other poetry-related web sites include audiofiles among their links, such as the audio archives of The Academy of American Poets. The Poetry Magazine web site is also rich in audio. Of particular note is this site’s emphasis on providing audio recordings of many major poets reading their own works aloud as well as interviews with and speeches by many different poets. This does not include children’s poets, but it is an inspiring example.

And more and more children’s poets are making audio recordings of themselves reading their own poetry available on their personal web sites. For example, Kristine O’Connell George reads aloud over a dozen of her poems, in her “Poetry Aloud” link accessible via simple free software such as RealAudio or Windows Media.

One recently published anthology that features an audio component is Poetry Speaks to Children, edited by Elise Paschen. It includes an audio CD of many of the poets featured in the book reading their own work including Roald Dahl, Robert Frost, Gwendolyn Brooks, Ogden Nash, Billy Collins, Nikki Giovanni and X.J. Kennedy. Thus, children can read the poem and follow along as they listen to the poet read the poem aloud, an ideal combination of multimodal sources for learning to read and comprehending the poem. Pages and tracks are readily marked and matched, making it easy for independent use by children. And the poems include a pleasing mix of classic and contemporary gems. One of my graduate students shared it with her son and reported, “My nine-year-old loves the CD from the poetry anthology. I'm not sure my skeptical little one really believed poets are real people until he listened to some of that recording and heard actual poets reading actual poems they'd written.” (Thanks for sharing, Beth Enochs!)

If equipment and access is available, providing children these audio experiences is a powerful component in their exposure to poetry. It helps them hear the sounds of the words, rhythm of the lines, and expression of the reader in a way that makes the poem come alive. And although you can provide that as an adult model, hearing the poet read her/his original work is a unique and memorable experience for adults, too. It’s worth the extra effort in seeking out and is the next best thing to hosting an author/poet visit in person!

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Joyce Carol Thomas and SHOUTING!

I am celebrating Easter Sunday today and I found the perfect poetry book to share: Shouting! by Joyce Carol Thomas, a poetic celebration of faith, worship, and celebration, illustrated with vibrant color and energy by Annie Lee (Hyperion, 2007). Here’s just a taste:

Mama was dressed for Sunday

White lace on her collar
And crinkled lace on her sleeves
Sprinkle light in her hug
Then dance rhythms in our hearts
Throbbing spring evergreen

Mama was ready for Sunday


I can still see my mama’s shout
I can still hear a myriad of
African musicians playing
On our souls, on our heartstrings
And we, still spirit-touched in
Our modern dance, move

Onward, upward, reaching
‘Til we’re tracing back through time
The same steps, that same familiar…


An author’s note provides background on Thomas’s thoughts in writing this book, tracing the joy of religious expression from African dance to Sunday worship to modern hip hop. Thomas’s words brought back vivid memories for me of witnessing the ebullient dancing of friends and acquaintances while living in Zimbabwe many years ago—like a full body expression of a rousing musical chorus! (And thank you to Jo Anna Patton for the gift of this book.)

Joyce Carol Thomas has penned noteworthy poetry and plays for adults, fiction for young adults, as well as poetry collections for children that capture and celebrate African American culture in ways that help all readers acknowledge their roots. Two favorites are Brown Honey in Broomwheat Tea (HarperCollins, 1993) and Gingerbread Days (HarperCollins, 1995), both beautifully illustrated by Floyd Cooper. In the poems in Crowning Glory (HarperCollins 2002), Thomas honors the African American traditions of braids, cornrows, dreadlocks, ribbons, and scarves in adorning the head and hair. She narrows her focus to mothers and daughters, with her poetry book, A Mother's Heart, A Daughter's Love: Poems for Us to Share (HarperCollins 2001), full of poems designed to be read alone, together in a duet, or as a call and response. For younger children, Joyce Thomas has compiled the pleasing collection, Hush Songs: African American Lullabies (Hyperion 2000), featuring ten songs including lyrics, music, and introductions. She has also authored picture books, board books, and retellings of folktales collected by Zora Neale Hurston. Her lyrical language and focus on family, identity, and culture is distinctive and engaging.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Happy Birthday, Alice Schertle

Today is poet and picture book author Alice Schertle’s birthday. Alice Schertle (rhymes with “turtle”) has created an impressive body of work including over two dozen picture books, often told in rhyme, as well as the “Cathy and Company” picture book series for young children, and poetry collections known for their graceful use of language and often tongue-in-cheek sense of humor. She writes about animals, memories, childhood, and about the writing process itself. Schertle also provides masterful examples of many different forms of poetry from nursery rhymes to free verse, from haiku to parodies. One of her most current works is We (Lee & Low, 2007), a lyrical picture book poem on the unlikely topic of human evolution. With amazing diorama-like collage illustrations by Kenneth Addison, it’s as if an omniscient eye is explaining all of human history in broad, poetic strokes. A few excerpts:

Here and there we stopped to build a house
and plant a seed and make a fish hook and a water jug
and to die and be born

We harnessed the speed of horses
the patience of oxen
the endurance of camels
the strength of elephants


We made elevators and park benches and four-poster beds and
donuts and bicycle pumps and umbrellas and
baseball bats and saxophones and backpacks and
mouse pads and hang gliders

And the book concludes with archaeologists returning to our African beginnings to study our bones and our history. Striking and thoughtful, perfect for a dramatic read aloud, and sure to offend anti-evolutionists!

In her first poetry book, How Now, Brown Cow? (Browndeer 1994), Schertle created a clever collection of 15 poems capturing the “cow’s-eye” view of the world, many with a wry sense of humor. She plays with the words “cow” and “moo” in the poems, and with familiar phrases such as “the grass is greener” “til the cows come home,” and “driving” the cows to great effect. The poem, “Taradiddle” takes the nursery rhyme, “Hey, Diddle Diddle” to the next hilarious level. For a fun connection to this single poem, look for Mini Grey’s book, The Adventures of the Dish and the Spoon (Knopf 2006). Schertle also adapted English versions of Spanish rhymes for young children in ¡Pío Peep!: Traditional Spanish Nursery Rhymes by Alma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy (HarperCollins 2003). Younger children may enjoy Schertle’s poem collection, Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear (HarperCollins 2003) with charming rhymes that describe the lives of much loved teddy bears.

For cat lovers, Schertle has created I Am the Cat (Lothrop, Lee & Shepard 1999). This collection alternates narrative poems with haiku in describing different qualities of cats and kittens. Combine this with Jack Prelutsky’s haiku collection, If Not for the Cat (Greenwillow 2004) or contrast the cat perspective with the dog lover’s point of view in Kristine O’Connell George’s Little Dog Poems (Clarion 1999) and it’s sequel, Little Dog and Duncan (Clarion 2002). Stage a mock debate comparing dogs and cats as preferred pets, with children using these poems as examples of their pet’s best qualities. Children may also enjoy voting for the “cutest” kitten or puppy on the Web.

Look for more about Alice Schertle and her poetry in my upcoming book, POETRY PEOPLE; A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO CHILDREN'S POETS (Libraries Unlimited, June, 2007)

Friday, April 06, 2007

The Arctic in poetry

Is it still cold and snowy where you live just now? Spring has come in spurts here, but we’re still having a few chilly days and nights. It’s a good moment to stop and recognize the date on which Robert Peary and his team including Matthew Henson, Ootah, Egigingwah, Seegloo and Ooqueah, are said to have reached the geographic North Pole in 1909. Peary claimed to have been the first, although this has been subject to ongoing debate. Kids may enjoy digging into this controversy or reading more about the Arctic. Here are some of my favorite children’s (nonfiction) books on this topic:

Curlee, Lynn. 1998. Into the Ice: The Story of Arctic Explorations. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Ekoomiak, Normee. 1992. Arctic Memories. Holt.
Hoyt-Goldsmith, Diane. 1994. Arctic Hunter. Photographs by Lawrence Migdale. Holiday House.
Kusugak, Michael Arvaarluk. 2005. My Arctic 1, 2, 3. North York, Ontario: Annick Press, Limited.
Pandell, Karen. 1993. Land of Dark, Land of Light: The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Dutton.

And can you believe there’s poetry about the Arctic, too? Eileen Spinelli has written an engaging picture book collection, Polar Bear, Arctic Hare; Poems of the Frozen North, illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes, with a focus on the plant and animal life of the region. Here’s a sampling:

Arctic Nursery Rhyme
by Eileen Spinelli

Arctic tundra,
Arctic tundra,
How does your garden grow?
With lupine seeds
And fireweeds
And bearberries all in a row.

From: Spinelli, Eileen. 2007. Polar Bear, Arctic Hare; Poems of the Frozen North. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press, p. 12.

For more poetry about geography, exploration, and ice and snow, look for:
Hopkins, Lee Bennett. Compiler. 2006. Got Geography! New York: Greenwillow.
Lewis, J. Patrick. 2001. A Burst of Firsts. New York: Dial.
Lewis, J. Patrick. 2002. A World of Wonders: Geographic Travels in Verse and Rhyme. New York: Dial Books.
Sierra, Judy. 1998. Antarctic Antics: A Book of Penguin Poems. New York: Gulliver Books.
Yolen, Jane. comp. 1997. Once Upon Ice and Other Frozen Poems. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press.