Friday, February 29, 2008

Fun Facts about Names Day with J. Patrick Lewis

If you’ve read my blog before, you know I’m a big fan of the work of economist-turned-poet J. Patrick Lewis. I featured his poem “First Men On The Moon” in July 06, and “Necessary Gardens” in honor of Library Week in 07, and “Chocolate-Covered Ants” last Halloween. The man has a gift for the quick quip as well as the thoughtful phrase. He experiments widely with poetic form and is prolific in authoring incredibly varied poetry collections. Here’s a brief excerpt about him from my recent book, Poetry People:

J. Patrick Lewis and his twin brother were born on May 5, 1942 in Gary, Indiana. Lewis earned his bachelor’s degree at St. Joseph's College in Indiana, his master’s degree from Indiana University, and his Ph.D. in economics from The Ohio State University. While working on his doctorate, he became an International Research and Exchanges Fellow, and he and his family spent a year in the former USSR. Later, he and his family participated in cultural exchanges, and they returned to Moscow and St. Petersburg for ten shorter visits. For over twenty years, Lewis taught Economics at Otterbein College in Westerville, Ohio, retiring in 1998. While teaching, he published widely in academic journals, newspapers, and magazines on the topic of economics.

Lewis then turned to writing children’s poetry and took three years to study the craft of poetry on his own. His first book of poems for children, A Hippopotamusn’t, was published in 1990 and he has followed with nearly fifty more children’s books since then, most of which are poetry. Lewis’s poetry has been recognized by several American Library Association Notable Children’s Book citations, among other honors. Lewis is married and has five children. He is also a contributor of children's book reviews for the New York Times and a frequent speaker at schools and conferences.

I’m honored to share an original poem Pat wrote in celebration of FUN FACTS WITH NAMES DAY coming up next week on March 5. The poem will be featured in his upcoming collection, Countdown To Summer: A Poem for Every Day of the School Year (i.e., 180 poems), published by Little, Brown, 2009.

Fun Facts about Names Day March 5
“Old Names, New Names”
Used with permission

Alice Springs was once called Sturt,

Australia. New names never hurt.

Peking, China, then Beiping,

Changed one letter—now Beijing!

Paris (born Lutetia, France)

Could go back? Non, not a chance.

Delhi, India rightly claims

Half a dozen previous names.

In Turkey, Istanbul I hope’ll

Not be called Constantinople

Like before, or else become

Once again Byzantium.

Tokyo, Japan was Edo,

Which they took a vote to veto.

Used to call Regina (Sask.)

Pile o’ Bones (you had to ask?).

Names are like a brand new dress.

First you want it to impress,

When it wears out after while,

You can choose a different style.

What a fun poem to read aloud with kids-- with a map in hand, locating each place. And if you have OLD maps on hand, you may find some of these previous place names, too. Follow up with Dennis Lee’s classic poem, “A Home Like a Hiccup,” from The Ice Cream Store (HarperCollins, 1991) which begins

If I'd been born in a different place,
With a different body, a different face,
And different parents and kids to chase--
I might have a home like a hiccup:

Like Minsk! or Omsk! or Tomsk! or Bratsk!
Like Orsk or Kansk! like Kirsk or Murmansk!
Or Lutsk, Irkutsk, Yakutsk, Zadonsk,
Or even Pskov or Moskva!

Invite the children to locate the poem places on a map or mark the places that they were born or have lived. For more geography-based poems, look for Pat’s books, A World of Wonders: Geographic Travels in Verse and Rhyme (Dial Books 2002), Monumental Verses (National Geographic 2005), and Castles, Old Stone Poems (Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press 2006) co-authored with Rebecca Kai Dotlich. Then link these gems with Got Geography! selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins (Greenwillow 2006) or Diane Siebert’s Tour America : A Journey Through Poems And Art (Chronicle Books 2006). Post a world map and locate the settings for each poem. Encourage children to find or create poems for places on the map that are not yet in the books.

For more poetry, go to the Poetry Friday Round Up hosted by Kelly Fineman.

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Friday, February 22, 2008

Joyce Sidman wins Cybils… again

Congratulations to Joyce Sidman who has won the Cybils award for poetry for young people, for This Is Just To Say; Poems Of Apology And Forgiveness (Hougton Mifflin). It is a collection of poems of apology and forgiveness in the voices of a classroom of children. (I wrote about it earlier since I chose it as one of the best of 2007: It’s funny, poignant, and true, with Sidman’s trademark gift for the craft of poetry in an amazing variety of poetic forms.) It is also an honor book for this year’s Lee Bennett Hopkins Award for Children’s Poetry. Sidman won the Hopkins award two years ago for Song of the Water Boatman and Other Pond Poems (Houghton Mifflin). Sidman also won last year’s first ever Cybils Bloggers’ prize for children’s poetry for Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow (Houghton Mifflin) which was also one of my picks for the best of 2006. She is piling up the prizes fast!

FYI: The Cybils, a loose acronym for Children's and YA Bloggers' Literary Awards, began with nominations open to absolutely anyone. Then five nominating committee members (including yours truly) read the nominated books (with different committees in ten categories, from poetry to fiction to nonfiction to graphic novels). This is the second year of the administration of the award.

Sidman is one of my favorites, so I’ve posted about her work often—about her wonderful dog poetry [The World According to Dog: Poems and Teen Voices (Houghton Mifflin, 2003) and Meow Ruff: A Story in Concrete Poetry (Houghton Mifflin, 2006)], about her reading at the ALSC Poetry Jam in June (in DC) and the NCTE Poetry Blast in November (in New York), and about her downloadable bookmark book poem, “This Book," for National Children’s Book Week.

Here’s a brief excerpt about her from my own resource book on children’s poets, Poetry People:
“Joyce Sidman was born on born June 4, 1956, in Hartford, Connecticut. She is the middle sister of three, and spent summers at camp in Maine. From an early age, she felt motivated to write, and started writing as far back as elementary school. She discovered poetry in high school, encouraged by a sympathetic teacher. She earned her bachelor’s degree in German from Wesleyan University in Connecticut, and a teaching certificate at Macalester College in Minnesota. Joyce lives in Wayzata, Minnesota, with her husband and two sons, near the edge of a large woodland. When she isn't writing, she enjoys teaching via week-long poetry-writing residences in the schools. Her hobbies include gardening, identifying birds, insects and frogs, and reading and baking cookies."

This year’s prize winner, This is to Say, is a gem for reading aloud with multiple voices, much like this year’s Newbery winner (Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!)-- only set in a modern classroom “village.” Here is just a taste:

to Anthony
Some Reasons Why

Why must we work so hard,
and always be the best?

Parents say:
hard work builds character.
I say:
too much hard work means no laughter.

Parents say:
only the best get ahead.
I say:
everyone’s good at something.

Parents say:
daydreaming is just an excuse for laziness.
I say:
they just never learned how to write a poem.

by Tenzin
(writing for Anthony’s mother, who said he was being ridiculous)

Follow up with more poem collections about kids in classrooms like:
Cheng, Andrea. 2008. Where the Steps Were. Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press.
Frost, Helen. 2004. Spinning Through the Universe. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
Paraskevas, Betty. 1995. Gracie Graves and the Kids from Room 402. San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace.
Singer, Marilyn. 1996. All We Needed to Say: Poems about School from Tanya and Sophie. New York: Atheneum.

And for YA:
Alexander, Elizabeth and Nelson, Marilyn. 2007. Miss Crandall’s School for Young Ladies and Little Misses of Color. Wordsong.
Glenn, Mel. 1982. Class Dismissed! High School Poems. New York: Clarion Books.
___. 1997. The Taking of Room 114: A Hostage Drama in Poems. New York: Lodestar Books/Dutton.
___. 1996. Who Killed Mr. Chippendale? New York: Lodestar Books/Dutton.
Grimes, Nikki. 2002. Bronx Masquerade. New York: Dial Books.
Koertge, Ron. 2001. The Brimstone Journals. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick.

Catch the rest of the Poetry Friday round up at Big A, little a.

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Friday, February 15, 2008

Pairing and Comparing Poems

In my regular “Everyday Poetry” column for Book Links magazine, I wrote about pairing and comparing poetry in the most recent (January, 2008) issue. It’s entitled “Pairing Poems Across Cultures” and here’s a brief excerpt:

Seeking out the poetry of parallel cultures enables children to see firsthand both the sameness and the differences that make the human landscape so dynamic and fascinating. Poets of color are using the language, experiences, and images of their cultures in ways that are fresh and powerful. The special succinctness of poetry is also appealing, and powerful points about prejudice, identity, and cultural conflict can be made in very few words.

Sharing poems in pairs can help children to engage their critical thinking skills by comparing the topics, themes, points of view, or language of the two poems. Selecting poems that reflect cultural details adds an additional layer of meaning and interest. Of course, reading and enjoying the poem for its own sake is the first step. Responding, comparing, and analyzing often follow naturally when children read, hear, and recite poetry together. Repeated readings could incorporate choral reading arrangements and child participation.
Here is one sample poem pairing:

Compare Poems about Poetry
• “Wish” by Linda Sue Park, from Tap Dancing on the Roof; Sijo Poems (Clarion, 2007)
• “A Blank White Page” by Francisco X. Alarcón, from Iguanas in the Snow and Other Winter Poems / Iguanas en la Nieve y Otros Poemas de Invierno (Children’s Book Press, 2001)


by Linda Sue Park

For someone to read a poem
again, and again, and then,

having lifted it from page
to brain-- the easy part--

cradle it on the longer trek
from brain all the way to heart.


“A Blank White Page”
by Francisco X. Alarcón

A blank white page
is a meadow
after a snowfall
that a poem
hopes to cross

Look at how poets have captured the beauty of poetry itself and what a poem can be and do. Newbery Medalist Linda Sue Park explores the Korean poetic form of sijo to describe poetry’s impact, “from brain all the way to heart,” while Francisco X. Alarcón uses images of “a meadow / after a snowfall” to describe the page a poem is written upon. Children can try writing their own “definition” poems modeled on the sijo or free-verse format of these two examples. Next, create a “dictionary” anthology of all of their “defining” poems.

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Friday, February 08, 2008

A new poem (and book) for Valentine's Day

In honor of Valentine’s Day coming up next week, I’d like to feature a poem from Naomi Shihab Nye’s amazing new collection, Honeybee (Greenwillow, 2008). Her new anthology includes 82 poems, including many prose poems, on school, war, families, landscapes and bees… the connecting thread that buzzes through the poems with nectar and implication. There are many selections about words and books and libraries (one of my favorite poem topic that I have featured previously). She takes us along with her in her travels through Texas (her home state and mine) and Egypt and childhood and airports and beehives. It’s a striking variety of vignettes and anecdotes and observations all threaded through her unique poetic voice. Honeybee is political, personal, and powerful. I marked at least eight poems that I just had to keep in my “favorite poems” notebook. Here’s one small sampling about love and marriage from the point of view of a two year old!


Lyda Rose walked through our front door and said.
“Where is the sock monkey? I need him.” This surprised
me. She had never shown any interest in the sock mon-
key before.

We began digging in the tall basked where the stuffed animals

Lyda Rose said, “I am two and a half now, did you know
that? Where is he?”

We threw out the snake, the yellow bunnies, battered
bears, a strange small eagle wearing a blue T-shirt, a soft
camel, and the bird that makes a chickadee sound if you
press its belly.

Sock Monkey was buried at the bottom.

Lyda Rose clutched him to her chest. “My husband!” she
said, closing her eyes dreamily.

I was astonished. “Your husband? When did this happen?”

She spoke clearly and definitely. “I thought of him and
I married him in my mind.”

She ran around the dining room clutching her husband
tightly, singing the song of a chickadee trapped in a
human body.

“How great! I am happy for you both! I said,
following her.

She did not answer, lost in a newlywed’s swoon.

I said, “It is so nice that you love him now!”

And she stopped dancing, staring at me

“I didn’t say I love him! I said, he is my husband!” *

p. 79-80

Poignant, funny, unsentimental, crystal clear and child-sincere. What a gem!

And don’t forget to join the Poetry Friday Round Up at AmoXcalli.
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Friday, February 01, 2008

Happy birthday, Langston

Today is Langston Hughes birthday, Feb. 1, 1902. Boy, I love this man’s poetry. It speaks to me on so many levels and resonates with readers and listeners of all ages and cultures. His collection, The Dream Keeper and Other Poems, is a staple of my poetry library and I refer to it often. (I chose it as one of “Fifteen Classics of Contemporary Poetry for Children” in my Book Links article in 2006; 15, (6), 12-15.) In fact, it was just reissued in a 75th anniversary edition (as I noted Dec. 31, 2007, in My favorite poetry books of 2007.) As I pored over previous blog postings to be sure I didn’t repeat myself, I realized that I refer to Hughes and his work often!

I wrote about his moving “Poem” (I loved my friend./He went away from me) last Sept. 21, 2007, and mentioned his work in my July 24, 2006 posting on “Multicultural Poetry” and my April 14, 2007 posting on Dream Day and my April 17, 2007 posting on the tragedy at Virginia Tech. Last year (Jan. 24), we celebrated Coretta Scott King Illustrator honors for Poetry for Young People: Langston Hughes edited by David Roessel and Arnold Rampersad, illustrated by Benny Andrews (published by Sterling Publishing) and also highlighted Carol of the Brown King: Nativity Poems illustrated by Ashley Bryan (Dec. 22, 2006).

So, for a change, I’d like to pay tribute to Hughes’s life and work with a poem by someone else—Walter Dean Myers, a man who clearly stands on Langston Hughes’s shoulders. This poem is in the voice of a Harlem salesman and comes from Myers’s amazing multi-voiced photo-illustrated, Here in Harlem: Poems in Many Voices (Holiday House, 2004).

Jesse Craig, 38

by Walter Dean Myers

I knew Langston
Laughed with the man

In West Harlem
With me thinking

This is no Keats
No fair Shelley

This is Negro

Rice and collards
Down-home brother

He knew rivers
And rent-due blues

And what it meant
To poet Black

The Academy of American Poets is rich with additional information about Hughes and his work, including teaching resources and sample poems. There’s a wonderful audio clip from “The Voice of Langston Hughes” (by Folkways Records) of his reading of his poem, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” written in 1920, just after he graduated from high school! Additional audio (and more) can be found at the Langston Hughes Young Writers Project, including poems with musical accompaniment or translated into Spanish!

Thanks to Karen Edmisten for this week's Poetry Friday Round Up.

P.S. New: I’m honored to be linked to the Web site of Book Links as one of their new “Featured Blogs.”

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