Saturday, June 30, 2007

ALA Poetry Jam and Blast

Sorry to be AWOL so long, but I’ve been traveling as well as finishing a big book project. Let me fill you in on my travels, first! Like many in the children’s literature biz, I was lucky enough to attend the annual conference of the American Library Association in Washington DC. One of my favorite things was the poetry jam I hosted on Saturday, Spreading the Word with a Children’s Poetry Jam. The session was sponsored by the ALSC Education Committee, and was designed to celebrate the oral quality of poetry for children with a poetry jam led by five major poets in the field: Betsy Franco, David Harrison, Jack Prelutsky, Joyce Sidman and Marilyn Singer. The poets were delightful, reading from their own works in a back-and-forth jam of poems, connecting poems spontaneously from poet to poet and back again. From topics such as dogs to insects to the grotesque to the humorous to poems for two readers, these varied voices were a lively mix of styles and poems.

Then the audience was invited to "jam" along with their favorite poems from a selection provided. (I had tiny “poetry jam jars” as “handouts” with a poem inside each jar—ready to be read aloud.) Finally, the featured poets also spoke briefly sharing advice about promoting reading and writing poetry with children. The room was full, the energy was high, and the poetry was fun. We provided an opportunity to hear poets read their own work (always a treat!) and a model for jamming that children of all ages could try. Special thanks to my five fabulous poets and to these publishing representatives: Tracy Bloom, Random House; Lisa DiSarro, Houghton Mifflin; Michelle Fadlalla, Simon & Schuster; Nancy Hogan, Boyds Mills Press for bringing the poets to DC.

Then on Monday night, I attended the fourth annual ALSC Poetry Blast, a concert of poets reading their own work. What an amazing evening listening to Andrew Clements, Betsy Franco, John Grandits, Eloise Greenfield, Lee Bennett Hopkins, Alan Katz, Walter Dean Myers, Alice Schertle, Marilyn Singer, Carole Boston Weatherford, and Tracie Vaughn Zimmer (who shared a new poem about a very hip librarian). Congratulations to uber-librarian Barbara Genco and super-poet Marilyn Singer for putting this together once again. Be sure to look for the Blast again next year or come to the Texas Library Association conference next April 17, 2008 in Dallas where I’ll be hosting the fourth annual Poetry Round Up, inspired by the very first ALSC blast. Or take this idea and plan your own poetry reading event!

Picture credit: This is where I bought the (clean) tiny jam jars for the poems and the poetry jam.

Friday, June 15, 2007

A Poem for Father’s Day

Father’s Day is coming up, so I dug around for a favorite poem about dads. Right away I thought of my favorite collection of dadly poems for kids, In Daddy's Arms I Am Tall: African Americans Celebrating Fathers (New York: Lee & Low, 1997). I can’t believe it has been a decade since that book was published! The beautiful, textured collages of Javaka Steptoe (son of author/illustrator, John Steptoe, Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters, another favorite of mine) won him a Coretta Scott King Illustrator award for his very first picture book. And the compilation of poems by a variety of African American poets is fresh and appealing—across cultures, across ages, across generations. Here’s one of my personal favorites.

Artist to Artist
by Davida Adedjouma

I write books, now, because my father wanted
to be an artist when he grew up & he was good
at it, too. Drew people with meat on their bones
in flesh-colored tones from my 64-colors box
of crayons. But
every night - & sometimes even weekends & holidays -
he dressed in the blue uniform & black shoes
of many other fathers who also weren't doctors or lawyers,
teachers or preachers, & rode the 10:00 p.m. bus
to the downtown post office. Sorted mail by zip code -
60620, 60621, 60622. He sorted mail all night &
into the day because we had bills to pay. For 30 years
my father rode the bus feeling black and blue. He
never drew and his degrees in art & education sat
hardening on a shelf along with his oils
& acrylics. But
along with his gapped teeth, his bow legs & and his first name
with an A at the end, he gave me the urge to create
characters with meat on their bones, in flesh-colored tones
written in words as vivid as a 64-colors box of crayons.
I write, he drew. Daddy, thank you!
& now that you're
retired ...
... what do you want to be?

Picture credit: Lee and Low Books

Friday, June 08, 2007

Happy Birthday, Judy Sierra

Today is Judy Sierra’s birthday: librarian, puppeteer, author, poet, and speaker. In Sharron McElmeel’s profile of Sierra we learn that Judy took to poetry like a fish to water. Her mother reminisced about “two-year-old Judy going to her doctor and reciting a Robert Louis Stevenson poem for him. Sierra herself said, "As a child, I was a great fan of Dr. Seuss and Wanda Gag and shared my parents' enthusiasm for Ogden Nash, Cole Porter, and Gilbert and Sullivan." Her father paid her a dollar for every poem she learned by heart. She memorized poems by many poets, including Lewis Carroll and T.S. Eliot. Second-grade reports were written in rhyme.”

Many of her works for children are rhyming picture books that bridge the worlds of poetry and folklore, with a strong dash of humor. She enjoys parodying or spoofing classic children’s rhymes from Mother Goose to “The Night Before Christmas” to “The Lady Who Swallowed a Fly.” Sierra has a knack for creating rhymes and rhyming text that are musical and song-like, often injecting a bit of wordplay a well. Look for:

Schoolyard Rhymes: Kids' Own Rhymes for Rope Skipping, Hand Clapping, Ball Bouncing, and Just Plain Fun
Wild About Books

Counting Crocodiles

Antarctic Antics
(which was also animated by Weston Woods)
'Twas the Fright Before Christmas

There's a Zoo in Room 22

Thelonius Monster's Sky-High Fly-Pie

Good Night, Dinosaurs

Monster Goose

Sierra worked as a librarian, toured with her own puppet theater, and earned a Ph.D. in Folklore and Mythology Studies from UCLA. Besides her work for children, she has also authored professional books and storytelling and folklore collections for librarians and teachers, including:

The Flannel Board Storytelling Book
part of the Oryx Multicultural Folktale Series
Multicultural Folktales: Stories to Tell Young Children

Nursery Tales Around the World

Fantastic Theater: Puppets and Plays for Young Performers and Young Audiences

Children's Traditional Games

Can You Guess My Name?: Traditional Tales Around the World

Storytellers Research Guide

Mother Goose's Playhouse

Picture credit: