Thursday, November 27, 2008

More on LBH and the 2009 NCTE Poetry Award

What do these people have in common?
Nikki Grimes, Mary Ann Hoberman, X. J. Kennedy, Eloise Greenfield, Barbara Esbensen, Valerie Worth, Arnold Adoff, Lilian Moore, John Ciardi, Eve Merriam, Myra Cohn Livingston, Karla Kuskin, Aileen Fisher, and David McCord…

Each has received the National Council of Teachers of English Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children. Now it’s time to add the name of LEE BENNETT HOPKINS to that distinguished roster!

In 1977, NCTE established this award to honor a living American poet or anthologist for his or her lifetime achievement in works for children ages 3–13. The award was given annually until 1982, at which time it was decided that the award would be given every three years. NCTE wanted to recognize and foster excellence in children's poetry by encouraging its publication and by exploring ways to acquaint teachers and children with poetry through such means as publications, programs, and displays. As one means of accomplishing this goal, NCTE established its Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children to honor a poet for his or her aggregate work. The “aggregate work” of Lee Bennett Hopkins has been tremendous in both breadth and depth, as both poet and anthologist. Let’s consider just a few highlights of his extensive contribution.

There are several anthologists who have established excellent reputations for compiling numerous high quality collections of poetry for children. Lee Bennett Hopkins may be the most prolific of all, with over 100 books of poetry to his credit as both an anthologist and as a writer since 1969. 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), Spectacular Science: A Book of Poems (Simon & Schuster 1999), 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).

Curriculum Connections
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, and Spectacular Science (Simon & Schuster 1999) includes science-related poems by writers from Carl Sandburg to Rebecca Kai Dotlich. He has also created an ongoing series of “I Can Read” collections of poetry that are perfect for young children who are beginning to read on their own.

Autobiographical Works
Lee Bennett Hopkins has also authored autobiographical writings. Two books about his own life and work include Writing Bug (Richard C. Owens 1993), part of a fun series that features single titles on 35 different authors, and Been To Yesterdays: Poems Of A Life (Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press 1995) told through poems.

Lee Establishes Two Poetry Awards
Called the “The Johnny Appleseed of contemporary children’s poetry,” 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 (which was first awarded in 1992 to Sing to the Sun by Ashley Bryan (HarperCollins), 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. This award was first given in 1995 to Deborah Chandra for Rich Lizard And Other Poems (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). Other winners have included Kristine O’Connell George, Craig Crist-Evans, and Lindsay Lee Johnson. I’ve blogged about the most recent recipients of both these awards in the past and try to keep you posted on the latest recipient each year.

Frequent Speaker
Lee is often a regular presence on the conference circuit and has spoken at countless schools and libraries, too. He was at last year’s NCTE Poetry Blast in New York, for example, and I was tickled pink to bring him to Texas for our own Poetry Round Up at the annual conference of the Texas Library Association. His readings are always fun, moving, and inspiring and he motivates his audience to want to get on board and share poetry with the kids in their lives.

Professional Resource Books
Lee Bennett Hopkins has also been a major writer of professional books on poetry and literature for children. These include several gems such as Pass the Poetry Please (HarperCollins 1972, 1986, 1998), Books Are by People (1969), More Books by More People: Interviews with Sixty-Five Authors of Books for Children (1974), Do You Know What Day Tomorrow Is?: A Teacher's Almanac (1975), and Pauses; Autobiographical Reflections of 101 Creators of Children’s Books (HarperCollins 1995). He also wrote regular columns on poetry for Creative Classroom magazine and Teaching K-8. He was also kind enough to read and promote my own professional resource books (Poetry Aloud Here; Poetry People), offering poems and essays and endorsements. He’s as generous as he is prolific!

Award Presentation Coming
Lee will receive his NCTE award next November at the 99th NCTE Annual Convention to be held in Philadelphia in November 19-24, 2009. Mark your calendars now for Sat., Nov. 21—I think that’s when Lee will be formally presented the award at the Books for Children Luncheon. In the mean time, congratulations, Lee!

Poetry Friday is hosted by Lisa Chellman this week. Happy Thanksgiving, all!

Picture credit:

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

I plan a more complete "tribute" to new NCTE Poetry Award winner, Lee Bennett Hopkins, very soon, but in the mean time, here is a gem to share. Lee has fielded questions about "why poetry?" so many times in his four-plus decades of working in schools he’s penned the following. Enjoy-- and let poetry into your lives!

Why Poetry?

by Lee Bennett Hopkins

Why poetry?


Why sunsets?

Why trees?

Why birds?

Why seas?

Why you?

Why me?

Why friends?

Why families?

Why laugh?

Why cry?

Why hello?

Why good-bye?

Why poetry?

That’s why!

Reprinted by permission of Curtis-Brown, NY, NY

Picture credit:

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Lee Bennett Hopkins to receive NCTE Poetry Award

Hot off the press!
Lee Bennett Hopkins will be the next recipient of the National Council of Teachers of English Poetry Award to be presented in November, 2009. It was just announced at the Books for Children luncheon yesterday at this year's NCTE convention in San Antonio. I'll write more on this and all things poetry from the convention shortly...

Meanwhile, congratulations, Lee. This is such a well deserved honor. Has anyone done more for the field of poetry for children than he has? As poet, anthologist, speaker, and poetry advocate extraordinaire? I don't think so!

Picture credit: Photo by Charles Egita from

Friday, November 14, 2008

From Louise in Maine

Last year (2007), I had the good fortune of participating in a wonderful poetry panel at the annual American Library Association conference in Washington, D.C. One of my favorite parts was the poetry jam at the end when we provided poems tucked into tiny jam jars for session participants to read on a volunteer basis, connecting poems in spontaneous ways with each other. Well, lo and behold, a children’s librarian from Maine was in that audience, and she has taken our idea and run with it! Here’s an inspiring report from Louise Capizzo, Children's Librarian, Falmouth Memorial Library in Falmouth, Maine.

As soon as I returned from ALA that summer, I initiated a poetry moment at a summer rec. program for grades k-2 where I tell stories each summer. Using an old pickle jar I labeled, "Poetry Moment,” I took a few minutes during each session to share a poem. The kids loved the ceremony of me reaching into my bag, pulling out the jar and twisting it open. I used a variety of poems, mostly by Dennis Lee, Jack Prelutsky, Joyce Sidman, some by Valerie Worth. A book that was very popular (I had to get my own copy from is Ed Young's High on a Hill: Chinese Riddles. They LOVE trying to guess what he is describing in those few poetic sentences. This year marked my third year going to the rec. program. The children who had moved into grade 3 lobbied for me to read to them again. And, do you want to know why? They wanted the Poetry Moments! Honest!

I had such a good time with tremendous feedback from teachers and the high school students who help out that I encouraged my husband, John, to try it at his place of employment. He is a cook at a day care center in Portland, Maine. He is the only male at that center. I will describe the program I set up.

Once a week, the same day each week, at lunchtime John places a jar on every classroom’s lunch tray. The jar has his picture on it holding one of the jars. Inside the jar is a poem that John has selected. A different poem each week. The classroom teachers have been instructed to read the poem while children are eating so that they can relate the whole poetry experience with the food so that they connect the poem with John. When all the food and dishes are placed on the trays to go back to the kitchen, the poetry jar goes along too. I don't think children are exposed to poetry very often, especially the very young. I felt that since John was the only male in the whole building, the children might be more receptive to liking poetry, if it came from someone they love because they love his food. All the classrooms, from the youngest to the 5 year olds will all be getting a poem. On the day the jars go out, John will also have a copy of the poem up in the kitchen so children walking thru on their way home can share the poem once again their parents. He's excited, the teachers are excited, and I am too.

Today was the first day John sent his poetry jars around to the classrooms. It was a big hit. One of the classrooms memorized the poem and after lunch, came down to his kitchen and recited the poem to him, complete with hand motions. The poem is "Way down south where the bananas grow, a flea stepped on an elephant's toe..."

My husband has been passing out a poem a week to his day care kids with great success. Then, while he was on vacation the classroom wrote John a poem because they missed his weekly poetry jars.

A Poem For John

John in the kitchen

John in the hall

We love John

He's the best cook of all!

John in the kitchen

John in a swirl
We think John's
The best cook in the world!

John in the kitchen

John in the cellar,

We think John's

A most wonderful feller!

Isn’t Louise’s story terrific? I love how it takes poetry into all kinds of places in unexpected ways and with such instantaneous results! Go, Louise!

For more Poetry Friday fun go to Yat-Yee Chong. Enjoy!

Picture credit: From Louise: “Here is my jar that represents my Poetry Moment. It isn't a pickle jar as I thought (the green top made me think it was) It is a Sunsweet Fat Free Lighter Bake Butter & Oil Replacement jar. Yes, Poetry is Fat Free!”

Monday, November 03, 2008

Hip Hop Today

I recently read on Publisher’s Weekly Children’s Bookshelf that the poetry collection, Hip Hop Speaks to Children (Sourcebooks/Jabberwocky), a collection of 51 songs and poems edited by Nikki Giovanni, is a huge hit. It’s #9 on the New York Times children’s picture book bestseller list with 30,000 copies already in print. And compiler Nikki Giovanni appeared on NPR’s “All Things Considered” last month to talk about it.

It’s been reviewed by many others already, with excellent commentary on the variety of poems, poets, illustrators, and voices represented. So… I’d like to focus on my favorite element: the AUDIO component-- the CD that accompanies the book. As a previous member of the Odyssey Award for Outstanding Audiobooks committee, I’m always seeking out quality audiobooks for young people, particularly poetry on audio. And here is a gem!

There are 36 (!) tracks, and each track is a stand-alone treat, moving from spoken word to music and lyrics back and forth in a varied and pleasing way. I would almost argue that one should begin with the audio alone first. There is nothing quite like hearing a poem read by the poet himself or herself. It etches itself into one's aural memory. Hearing the voice of Langston Hughes in an old recording of his own reading of his poetry is a window into time. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech is here, alongside a modern re-interpretation of it. A few tracks provide Nikki Giovanni's commentary on the history or context for a particular poem or song-- I almost wished for more of that. What an amazing archive of music and poetry history this is for this and future generations.

My only complaint is that the volume varies a bit, but that's partly due to the inclusion of aging clips from more technologically simple days (a Langston Hughes recording from the 40's, I think) and partly due to a variety of readers (some close to the mic and others farther), but only the purist would quibble.

The range of selections is tremendous and provides a window into African American poem history, the blurring of music and poetry, and the voices of color that have contributed to poetry for young people for over half a century. As we consider the potentiality of an African American President for our country, this collection could not come at a better time. It's a celebration of sound and song in poetry for young people of all ages, colors, and political parties. It holds up for listening to over and over again, an excellent sign for any work!

My favorite nugget is Oscar Brown, Jr.’s “Dat Dere” (Track 18, with a short intro by Giovanni on Track 17; pages 26-27). I wish I could import the audio track, but I'm stumped. But here is the NPR podcast interview with Giovanni. I wish all the poems in the book were available on the CD; I wish there were more poetry books for children on audio; I wish we had more audio recordings of more poets writing for young people. Audio + poetry = unforgettable! Thanks, Sourcebooks. Keep it up!

[The publisher, Sourcebooks, has plans for more anthologies for kids next fall; another Poetry Speaks to Children anthology, edited by Elise Paschen, for middle-school readers, and The Tree That Time Built, edited by Mary Ann Hoberman and Linda Winston, an anthology of poems celebrating science, nature and the environment, also for middle-school readers. Sounds wonderful! I hope there is a CD with each of these books, too.]

Picture credit:

Saturday, November 01, 2008

The Day After

Well, I had a wonderful time hosting Poetry Friday for the very first time and was thrilled to see 48 bloggers linked to my site yesterday—and to visit each one of their fascinating and varied blogs. I hope everyone had a fun, safe Halloween. And now it’s November! Eek! So much to do… but before I make my “to do” list, I’m tickled to have a wonderful day-after poem to share with you, with special permission from the poet, Lee Bennett Hopkins. It’s from his collection, Halloween Howls (HarperCollins, 2005).

1 A.M
by Lee Bennett Hopkins

No more reason







No more reason










Used by permission of Curtis Brown, Ltd. Copyright c 1993 by Lee Bennett Hopkins.

Isn’t that fun?
Now I’m wondering how many other “day after” poems I can find that capture the moments that follow big days, holidays, and other special events. Hmmm… there’s an interesting topic for a poetry collection! I can think of “Leftovers” by Jack Prelutsky about post-Thanksgiving turkey turkey turkey (from It’s Thanksgiving). Any others?

Picture credit: