Thursday, August 28, 2008

Poem for an historic moment

Did you watch Barack Obama accept the Democratic nomination for President last night? It was quite a moment in history to watch this young, African American Senator speak to an audience of some 80,000+ in Denver about his vision for the future. Of course we must make a poem connection! I think this excerpt from a lovely, long poem by Carole Boston Weatherford is perfect. It’s from her poetic homage to African American history, Remember the Bridge (2002), and is the end poem in this striking picture book collection illustrated with amazing iconic photographs and images.

I Am the Bridge (excerpt)
by Carole Boston Weatherford

The poem begins:

The bridge is men and women,
famous and unknown,
leaving paths of memories,
timeless stepping stones.
I follow in the shadows
of heroes without names
and keep the faith of elders
who lean on hickory canes.

And ends with:

The river to tomorrow
is as long as it is wide;
the bridge will get me over,
see me to the other side.
The past is the foundation,
the future the next span.
We’ll bridge the mighty river;
brothers, sisters, hand in hand.

Weatherford, Carole Boston. 2002. Remember the Bridge: Poems of a People. New York: Philomel, p. 50.

Each poem in this collection is a gem and I’ve highlighted two others in the past:
April 26, 2007 Marilyn Nelson’s birthday
*Pair Marilyn Nelson’s Carver: A Life In Poems (Front Street, 2001) with Carole Boston Weatherford’s Remember the Bridge (Philomel, 2002).
Dec. 1, 2006 Rosa Parks Day
*In honor of Rosa Parks Day, share “Rosa Parks” by Carole Boston Weatherford from Remember the Bridge (Philomel, 2002).

And check out Carole's Web site, too! You may remember that her book, Birmingham, 1963 won the Lee Bennett Hopkins award last year. She has a new 2008 book, Becoming Billie Holiday that I'll be reviewing shortly (I loved it!).

For more Poetry Friday fun, go to Charlotte's Library.

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

J. Pat Lewis’s principles and renga

In keeping with my back-to-school theme, I’m tickled to showcase a brand spankin’ new villanelle by friend and marvel, J. Patrick Lewis (used with his permission). Enjoy the clever wordplay that so often characterizes Pat’s poetry.

The Principle of the Principal
by J. Patrick Lewis

What does she do at Elementary School?

That lady who’s in charge of everything.

The principle of Principals is cool.

Dilemmas, whether great or minuscule,

She handles like a yo-yo on a string.

Now what she does at Elementary School

Is make sure yellow buses get their fuel

And listen to complaints that teachers bring

With principle. The Principal is cool.

She hopes to curb the stress and ridicule

Of standard tests that kids endure each spring

(Required of her Elementary School).

But she must make exceptions to the rule

To juggle at this Elementary Ring-

Ling Brothers Circus. Principals are cool.

To swim, you stick your toe into the pool.

To Principal, make every kid a king.

That’s what she does at Elementary School:

A Principal with principles is cool.

Pat also has a new book out this year (one of several, I’m betting), Birds on a Wire, a fascinating collection of renga (the ancient form of linked) poems in collaboration with Paul Janeczko. It’s a game-like poetic form that kids may enjoy exploring, because one writer pens a verse to which another poet responds, back and forth, linking first and last lines, but not all necessarily connected in content—if that description makes sense. It’s clever, fun, and surprising and in this case, weaves a story/description of a small town through multiple details both concrete and abstract (with lovely watercolor scenes provided by the talented Gary Lippincott). Here’s one excerpt that makes a nice “school” connection for me today:

behind their teacher
a line of first-graders

each clutching a new book

crossing at the WALK sign

make way for readers

From: Lewis, J. Patrick, and Janeczko, Paul B. 2008. Birds on a Wire. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press.

The Booklist STARRED review calls it a “meditative meander about a timeless town… both insightful and visceral, (a book) that demands and rewards multiple readings, viewings, and contemplations." Check it out!

Join the Poetry Friday Round Up at Read. Imagine. Talk. See you there!

Picture credit: Amazon;
Pictured: Mary Jane Patterson, first woman principal of Dunbar High School, Washington, DC, 1860’s

Thursday, August 14, 2008

New Reviews: Back to School with Rovetch, Ashman, and Elliot

In my neck of the woods, it’s time to head back to school. It’s still 98 degrees here in Texas, but for many kids, summer is already over! So, let’s take a look at three new poetry books that are kid-friendly collections with poetic forms that kids are sure to imitate. Strong on rhyme and humor, with odd or interesting illustrations, these are worth checking out.

There Was a Man Who Loved a Rat; And Other Vile Little Poems by Gerda Rovetch

This slim collection is very repetitive, with many rhymes beginning “There Was a Man” which kids will enjoy imitating and riffing on. Much in the spirit of Edward Lear, with humorous ink drawings on paper plates (paper plates!) by the poet’s daughter, Lissa Rovetch, here’s a sampling:

There was a man in Abilene
who loved a little lima bean.

He kept it in a velvet bag

and only took it out to brag.

Rovetch, Gerda. 2008. There Was a Man Who Loved a Rat; And Other Vile Little Poems. New York: Philomel.

Of course, being from Texas, this poem particularly appeals to me (since Abilene is a Texas town). But I can also see using this limerick-like quatrain form with kids, as they try their hands at creating nonsense poems. Put a lima bean in a small velvet (jewelry) bag and present it mysteriously before reading the poem aloud.

M is for Mischief; An A to Z of Naughty Children by Linda Ashman

I wrote about another new book by Linda Ashman earlier this summer (June 20), Stella, Unleashed; Notes from the Doghouse (Sterling, 2008), and amazingly Ashman has a second poetry book out this year. M is for Mischief is an ABC book that provides a poem for a child named for each letter of the alphabet. It’s illustrated by Nancy Carpenter with inventive images that are suggestive of the rambunctious Eloise. Each poem is boxed in a color square, with cartoon kids cavorting across the pages. Here’s my favorite example:

Vile Vern

by Linda Ashman

Look at Vern: he’s always venting.

Vicious temper, unrelenting.

Vern’s explosions, most volcanic,

Put his victims in a panic.

Aimed his venom at a snake.

Vexed the viper.

Vern’s mistake.

Ashman, Linda. 2008. M is for Mischief; An A to Z of Naughty Children. New York: Dutton.

There’s a long tradition of rhymes and verses about “bad” kids including X. J. Kennedy’s wonderful/horrible “Brats” collections. And of course kids may enjoy seeking out other ABC books that use first names as their structure—like A my name is Alice, Alice to Zinnia, etc.

On the Farm
by David Elliott

For our very youngest poetry fans, On the Farm is a delightful collection of animal poems with a fun, modern feel. I have to admit that the wonderful woodcut and watercolor illustrations by Holly Meade completely captivate me and pump up the volume on these simple rhymes. The large scale (poems in a big font, images oversized) makes the book ideal for group sharing and reading aloud. And kids will learn the poems quickly and join in. Just try one:

The Rooster
by David Elliott

Crows and struts.

He’s got feathers!

He’s got guts!

Oh, the rooster

struts and crows.

What’s he thinking?

No one knows.

Elliott, David. 2008. On the Farm. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick.

This Elliott and Meade collaboration reminds me of the large image, oversized picture books of Flora McDonnell, particularly I Love Animals (Candlewick, 1996) a perfect companion to this book. Or look for the classic Big Red Barn by Margaret Wise Brown or Mother Goose collections of animal rhymes. And of course young children will love making animal noises and animal movements to accompany the read aloud.

For more Poetry Friday poetry, go to Big A Little A-- thanks for hosting, Kelly!

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Sunday, August 10, 2008


I’m always eager to find poetry from the voices of indigenous poets. Thus, I was so pleased to see poems by Māori poets in the wonderful Kiwi collection of poetry for young people from New Zealand, Poetry Pudding. Here’s one that just begs to be read aloud. It's a poem that captures the Māori legend of Māui fishing up Te Ika (the North Island). I think children of any culture would love the musicality of these lines.

Maui Chant

by Dorothy Wharehoka

had a magic fish hook
with his foster brothers
paddled out to sea
in his waka. Hei!

took his magic fish hook
swung it round his head
threw it in the sea
said his karakia. Hei!

pulled his magic fish hook
tugged his magic fish hook
heaved his magic fish hook
Te Ika Nui. Hei!

Argante, Jenny. Ed. 2007.
Poetry Pudding; A Delicious Collection of Rhyme and Wit. Ill. by Debbie Tipuna. Auckland, NZ: Reed Publishing, p. 105.

Poetry Pudding
includes a sprinkling of small black and white illustrations that do not distract from the poems. And there’s a fun font and placement of words on the page, usually centered on the page with generous margins, creating an inviting look and feel. It also includes a table of contents, index of poets, and index of first lines—always helpful. All in all, I’m so glad I sought out this collection all the way from New Zealand. It’s reassuring and exhilarating to connect with others who value poetry for young people!

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Saturday, August 09, 2008

POETRY PUDDING/Poems about Poetry

I love poems about poetry and found a wonderful example in Poetry Pudding, the 2007 prize winning anthology of New Zealand’s major poets writing for young people. Here it is:


by Riemke Ensing

In the poet’s house all the windows
are open, even at night. How else
could the moon leave her caress

and light the lamp of language.

How else could the ‘Queen of the Night’ draw

her seductive scent through nightmares

and turn dream into smiles.

Owls call and small creatures scuttle to safety

under the wardrobe. A moth flies in
and settles on a still warm lampshade,
glad to be out of the nip in the air. A breeze
slips in to dance with the dust for a while.
By morning both will have gone, leaving
a charmed trace. That’s how stories are made.
A tender dazzling of stars passing over the dark
and needing a window as lighthouse
for poets.

Argante, Jenny. Ed. 2007. Poetry Pudding; A Delicious Collection of Rhyme and Wit. Ill. by Debbie Tipuna. Auckland, NZ: Reed Publishing, p. 168.

I wrote about this “poems about poetry” topic earlier this year, in my Feb. 15 posting and in my January column in Book Links. It might be fun to pull more international and multicultural examples of such poems and compare and contrast them all, like:
  • “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)
  • “The Bridge” by Kaissar Afif, translated by Mansour Ajami, from The Space Between Our Footsteps: Poems and Paintings From the Middle East collected by Naomi Shihab Nye (Four Winds Press, 1992)
And look for Eve Merriam’s poems about poetry such as “Where is a Poem?” from There is No Rhyme for Silver, “How to Eat a Poem” from A Sky Full of Poems, and “’I,’ Says the Poem” also from A Sky Full of Poems. These gems are often included in general poetry anthologies and are wonderful examples to introduce a poetry lesson or label the poetry book area.

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Friday, August 08, 2008


As the Summer Olympics begin on this auspicious date, 08/08/08, our attention is focused across the globe. I thought it might be appropriate to spend a moment on an international poem collection, Poetry Pudding, from New Zealand. I first found out about this gem from a CHILD_LIT listserv posting this spring. The Storylines Children’s Literature Trust selects an annual list of New Zealand’s notable books for children chosen by a panel of children’s literature professionals including past and present members of the Storylines management committee, all of whom have a wealth of experience and knowledge in the field of children’s literature. Many have served as judges for the New Zealand Post Book Awards (and its previous incarnations) and the LIANZA children’s book awards.

The list (launched in 1999) comprises 10 books in each of four categories – picture books, junior and young adult fiction and nonfiction. These books represent the very best books for young people published in New Zealand during the previous year (2007).

Of course I peruse every “best” list for the inclusion of poetry, thus I was so pleased to find one title in the “Young Adult Fiction” category:
Poetry Pudding: A Delicious Collection of Rhyme and Wit edited by Jenny Argante, illustrated by Debbie Tipuna, published by Reed, now Raupo Publishing

I immediately went online to get myself a copy which was a bit more challenging than I expected, of course. Eventually, I ordered it through Raupo directly and was so excited to get my very own copy from across the planet. (I LOVE seeking out poetry from countries outside the U.S., particularly when it’s in English.)

Poetry Pudding did not disappoint. Its small trim size (roughly 4.5 x 6.5 inches) is fun and handy, easy to tote and tuck into a bookbag, purse, or pocket, and it contains over 100 poems from 44 contributors from some of New Zealand’s best and most interesting poets: Cliff Fell, David Hill, Jack Ross, James Brown, Paula Green, Jessica Le Bas, James Norcliffe, and many others. In her introduction, Jenny Argante explains that her aim was to collect poems by “Kiwi poets for Kiwi kids” organized around the alphabet, A to Z, but it didn’t quite work out. She writes, “In poetry… where you start from is not as important as where you end up” (p. 11). Love that line! The selections represent an amazing range, including poems by Maori poets. I found it impossible to select just one example, so I’ll be posting my favorites over the next three days, just for fun. Here are three gems to show the contrast in tone, style, and form in this excellent anthology.

Keeping the Peace
by Lee Dowrick


is hard to keep

if you’re a lion
at heart.

You will need to know

when not to roar.

when to stay in your den,

and how

to lie quietly


a tempting lamb.

p. 45

by Philippa Werry




frozen peas

frozen beans




jelly! toffee!




pasta and


corn chips!


pink iced buns!

chocolate! cheesecake!






ice cream!

Hey, just a minute,
what’s all this?

Who’s been writing

on my shopping list???

p. 114-115

The Long-Wait Queue
by Tracey Bingham

High I.Q.

Low I.Q.

We all still queue

in the long-wait queue.

In the bus queue

the tip-top queue
the lunch queue
the chip-shop queue.

In the grocery queue

the bank queue

the library queue
the endless queue.

High I.Q.

Low I.Q.

We all still queue

in the long-wait queue…

p. 143

Argante, Jenny. Ed. 2007. Poetry Pudding; A Delicious Collection of Rhyme and Wit. Ill. by Debbie Tipuna. Auckland, NZ: Reed Publishing.

I have extensive listings of international poetry for young people in my April 30, 2007 posting. And of course the shining star in this area is Naomi Shihab Nye, who has gathered gorgeous anthologies of poetry by voices around the world, including:
This Same Sky: A Collection of Poems from Around the World (Four Winds Press, 1992)
The Tree is Older Than You Are: A Bilingual Gathering of Poems and Stories from Mexico (Simon & Schuster, 1995)
The Space Between Our Footsteps: Poems and Paintings From the Middle East (Simon & Schuster, 1998) [adapted as The Flag of Childhood: Poems from the Middle East (Aladdin, 2002)]

Poetry Friday is hosted by my former student, Becky Laney, this week at Becky's Book Reviews. Go, Becky!

P.S. My apologies for being AWOL last Friday. I was being checked by the SpamBlocking police at Blogspot and finally passed muster! :-)

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