Thursday, April 30, 2009

World Poetry for El día de los niños

I love that National Poetry Month ends on the celebration of El día de los niños/El día de los libros (Children's Day/Book Day). Also known simply as Día, it’s all about advocating literacy for children of all linguistic and cultural backgrounds, culminating every year on April 30.

Poet and writer Pat Mora has authored a brand new picture book commemorating Día: Fiesta!: Celebrate Children's Day/Book Day; Celebremos El día de los niños/El día de los libros (Rayo, 2009). Booklist reviewer Andrew Medlar wrote, “How very appropriate that the first trade book about Children’s Day/Book Day should be enthusiastically penned by the founder of this holiday, celebrated annually since 1996 on April 30, the same date as Mexico’s Day of the Child. This call to arms for connecting kids and books exhorts everyone to read and have fun in whatever language and locale they choose.”

Backmatter includes ideas and suggestions for celebrating Día in your community. Plus, you’ll find tips at Pat's Web site, at ALSC headquarters and at the Texas Library Association web site.

And if you’re looking for poetry to celebrate world cultures, I’d like to make a plug for a book I mentioned earlier this month (a 2009 White Ravens list book), and just got my hands on (thank you, Dani). Yes, it comes from New Zealand, but it makes a completely unique contribution and is worth the hunt. It’s My Village; Rhymes from Around the World collected by Danielle Wright (Wellington, NZ: Gecko Press, 2008).

Not only does Wright include simple folk rhymes from a variety of countries (New Zealand, China, Australia, Norway, Ireland, Tonga, Jamaica, Japan, Zimbabwe, Fiji, Indonesia, Denmark, Iran, Germany, Samoa, Switzerland, Russia, Brazil, France, Holland, Iceland, and India), but she includes the poem in three versions (when applicable): in the original language and the native alphabet, the transliterated version in the Roman alphabet of English, and also in English. That’s a grand slam!

Here’s one fun example from RUSSIA:

Hush You Mice
from Russia

Hush you mice! a cat is near us,
He can see us, he can hear us.
--What if he is on a diet?—
Even then you should be quiet!

Wright, Danielle (Ed). 2008. My Village; Rhymes from Around the World. Wellington, NZ: Gecko Press, p. 40-41.

Plus, the English versions are quite charming and musical, don’t you think? That’s not an easy feat when translating multiple languages, as well as in conveying the terse verse of nursery rhymes. Impressive! The illustrations by Mique Moriuchi add so much appeal (see a sample on the Web site) with colorful tissue paper collages.

GOOD NEWS: if you just cannot get your own copy of this book, Wright keeps a rich Web site with an extensive collection of “International Nursery Rhymes” organized in general by the continents: Europe, Asia, the Americas, the Pacific and Africa. Lots of good stuff here, too. Happy Día!

Image credits:;

Posting (not poem) by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2009. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

More Poems for Your Pockets

Tomorrow is “Poem in Your Pocket Day,” the second national celebration urging us to keep poems handy and ready to read and share at a moment’s notice. What a great idea! And what a great title for a collection of poetry—and for a sequel.

Poet and anthologist Bobbi Katz, has just such a gem out this spring with More Pocket Poems (Dutton, 2009) illustrated by Deborah Zemke. It’s a follow up to her popular Pocket Poems (Dutton, 2004) illustrated by Marilyn Hafner, and an equally appealing compilation of classic and contemporary poems.

A spacious Table of Contents sets the stage for introducing the 44 poems contained in this inviting picture book anthology. You’ll find old friends by Emily Dickinson and Ogden Nash excerpted to their crystalline core alongside newbies like Jorge Torres. Nice cultural mix, too.

I particularly like how the poetry begins with spring (and a “pocket” poem) and then proceeds through the calendar year; so you can start tomorrow and keep going throughout the months and seasons ahead, poem by poem. What a fun way to capitalize on the enthusiasm for National Poetry Month, too.

The art by Deborah Zemke is so appealing with watercolor images focusing on children at play. It’s reminiscent of Arnold Lobel’s illustrations for Jack Prelutsky’s classic Random House Book of Poetry, with scenes and cartoons kids that play across the pages telling small visual stories.

The first poem in the collection sets the stage—and I have permission from Bobbi herself to share it here.

Put the World in Your Pocket
by Bobbi Katz

Pockets are nifty
for holding a quarter,
for holding a key,
or for holding a shell.
But the world is full of many more things
that don’t fit in pockets so very well:
You can’t put spring in a pocket—
not summer,
not winter,
not fall.
How could you pocket a giggle?
An elephant won’t fit at all!
Yet you can carry a sunset,
people, the sea, or a home
neatly tucked inside a pocket
when they’re tucked inside a poem.

Used with permission, copyright Bobbi Katz 2009
Katz, Bobbi. 2009. More Pocket Poems. Ill. by Deborah Zemke. New York: Dutton, p.1.

Kids will love this musical and memorizable assortment of poems. They’re particularly short and pithy and great for performing, especially with movement or simple props (quarter, key, shell). In the final “Note” at the back of the book Katz hopes that kids will “recognize bits of themselves and their world captured and made manifest by brief poems” and I believe the answer will be an enthusiastic, “YES!”

Image credit:

Posting (not poem) by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2009. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Wild Animals from Britain

One of my favorite things about blogging has been the opportunity to connect with fellow poetry lovers and poets so easily. (Thanks, readers!) Recently, this has been particularly true on an international scale—as I “meet” people who live in other countries from Canada to New Zealand and beyond.

Graham Denton is one wonderful example. I have really come to appreciate this poet and anthologist’s work as well as his enthusiasm for young people and their poetry. I’ve just read his latest book, Wild! Rhymes That Roar, co-edited with poet James Carter, published this spring. It’s a fun, handy paperback anthology of animal poems by a great variety of British poets (and at least 2 Americans!) who are probably household names across the ocean. (You know how I enjoy discovering new poets and poets-new-to-me!)

The poets in this anthology include editors James Carter and Graham Denton as well as June Crebbin, Gerard Benson, Judith Nicholls, Joan Poulson, Marian Swinger, Libby Houston, Sue Cowling, Eric Finney, Tony Mitton, Pie Corbett, Robert Scotellaro, Coral Rumble, Nick Toczek, Ann Bonner, Moira Andrew, David Harmer, Patricia Leighton, Roger Stevens, Mary Green, Gina Douthwaite, Jan Dean, Celia Gentles, Cynthia Rider, Mike Johnson, Matt Simpson, Clare Bevan, John Rice, Carol Coiffait, Kate Williams, Wes Magee, Jean Kenward, and our very own Rebecca Kai Dotlich and Jack Prelutsky.

There are about 60 poems in 6 categories, including:
  • Green Things
  • Minibeasts
  • Amazing Mammals
  • Winged Things
  • Wild ‘n’ Wet
  • Reptiles and Amphibians
The poetry runs the gamut from silly to serious in short, descriptive rhymes that are ideal for reading aloud. There’s even a nice variety of forms including several concrete or shape poems, LOTS of haiku, and PLENTY of rhyming poems. I also enjoyed the Britishisms sprinkled throughout the poetry like “colour,” “pyjamas,” and “Mum” as well as references to “hedgerows” and less familiar trees and such. I think kids will have fun encountering these bits in the poem’s contexts, too.

The animals depicted also reflect appealing diversity from the exotic eel, oyster, axolotl, lobster, crocodile, komodo dragon to the more typical bear, monkey, elephant, bee, mosquito, cockroach, crow, and spider. Playful pen and ink sketches accompany some of the poems, but kids will certainly enjoy researching more images and information about many of these animals—and drawing their own pictures to go with the poems. With a rockin’ hamster (or guinea pig?) on a psychedelic red-yellow-blue starburst cover, it has immediate visual appeal that is matched by the potpourri of poetry inside. Here’s just one sampling from poet and co-anthologist, Graham Denton himself.

Mynah Problems
by Graham Denton

The mynah bird
has quite a gimmick-
you’ll find that there’s
no finer mimic.
I’ve heard, if taught,
one of these birds
can learn up to
a hundred words.
But, as it mocks the
things it hears,
be careful what goes
in its ears;
a mynah’s quick
to pick up speech
you likely didn’t
mean to teach,
which they then go
about repeating…
and make you wish they’d
stick to tweeting.

Carter, James and Denton, Graham. 2009. Wild! Rhymes That Roar. Ill. by Jane Eccles. London: Macmillan, p. 52.

Image credit:

Posting (not poem) by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2009. All rights reserved.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Amiri & Odette in Love

This is another fantastic poem-in-a-picture-book by Walter Dean Myers in the tradition of Patrol: An American Soldier in Vietnam (which I loved), a gritty, story-poem suitable for tween and teen readers. In this case, however, Myers has created a love story rooted in the “Swan Lake” ballet story. Cool, huh?

Myers provides a fascinating introductory “HOW I CAME TO WRITE THIS POEM” that considers the cultural roots of the folk story, the grace and drama of the ballet, and the violence and power of Tchaikovsky’s musical score. He sets the story in the red brick Swan Lake Projects in the city “teeming with life, alive with the everpresent promise of youth.”

The story unfolds in four “Acts” beginning with the Prince’s mother cautioning her son about the city’s violence and pleading with him to settle down. In a Romeo-Juliet “meet-sweet,” Amiri is in his element, playing basketball, when he spies the dancing Odette, and it’s love at first sight. She warns him of the spell she’s under, “I’m forever bound in shadow/ A prisoner to my pain.” If he proclaims his love to her and her alone, she’ll be saved. He eagerly does so and invites her to his party…

“Odette!” HE CALLS.


She pulls him with a stunning glance
Across the crowded floor.
Until kiss-close they begin the dance
That will flame his heart once more.
They dance like mist on water,
As light as summer breeze.
He touches her waist—she kisses his cheek.
Her eyes begin to tease.
They dance like salsa angels.
They cling like summer vines.
He begs for more—
she moves away.


Myers, Walter Dean. 2009. Amiri & Odette: A Love Story. Ill. by Javaka Steptoe. New York: Scholastic.

Unfortunately, it’s Odette’s evil twin and “O muffle the drum and mute the horn/ From love’s demise, despair is born!” In a positively Shakespearean conclusion, Amiri fights and defeats the evil Big Red (a drug dealer) and the lovers are reunited “Where joy lives in spite of sorrow/ And gladness now denies tomorrow.”

The book flap calls Amiri & Odette “part rap and rhapsody”—Amen! This lyrical telling is fast-paced and musical, with beautiful phrasing:

“A pane-shattering scream.
A scream-scattering pain”

And Javaka Steptoe’s art is the perfect complement, dark and textured, suggestive of a cityscape mural, with its painted-on-cinder-blocks illustrations. In an ARTIST’S NOTE at the end he shares that the “images are rendered with acrylic paint on slabs of asphalt” and he has “embellished the collages with candy wrappers, gold plated and 14k jewelry, newspaper, plastic bags and other items to give them a three-dimensional quality.” Add to this the use of white text on the dark backgrounds, with occasional juxtaposition of colored text, ALL CAPS, and syncopated spacing and indenting, and the words splay graffiti-like across the gravelly art. The overall effect is graphic and compelling and may inspire teen artists to create their own found art using available resources.

In the ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS, Walter Dean Myers notes the many dancers who have “demonstrated that the classical arts could be brought into the urban arena to great effect” and I believe his new interpretation of Swan Lake (in Amiri & Odette) is a significant contribution to this tradition. I can definitely envision teen groups or troupes performing this as a choral reading, rap, pantomime, or dance—complete with mural backdrops created by peers. It’s an inspiring homage to the classic poetic and balletic story tradition—made fresh and new for young audiences.

Image credit:

Posting (not poem) by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2009. All rights reserved.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Stampede to School Poetry

I’m a big, big fan of poetry about school. I’ve found that the topic is nearly irresistible to kids and that makes sense, since school is the “workplace” of childhood and they spend most of their waking hours there. So, I’m happy to announce there is a wonderful new addition to the school poetry oeuvre, Laura Purdie Salas’s Stampede, Poems to Celebrate the Wild Side of School, illustrated by Steven Salerno.

This is a large, riotous picture book collection of 18 poems, most appearing on vibrant double-page spreads with spot-on emotional truths for young children—such as the fear of getting lost, feeling too ugly for school pictures, too scared to answer questions, too angry for words, or being embarrassed in front of the class. There are also several energetic and playful poems that take us to the playground, the cafeteria, the jungle gym, the mud puddle, and home. It’s a satisfying whole worth reading and rereading aloud and LOUD.

Added to all this is the unique wrinkle that Salas brings to personifying the kid characters in each poem. Each is given an animal persona, as child-bees swarm, child-hogs stomp in mud, child-ducklings stay in line, and child-elephants stampede away. So clever and apt! Steven Salerno’s exuberant colors and caricatures take these characters and provide dynamic energy and humor.

Our very youngest listeners will enjoy guessing the animal and hearing the poem; while older readers will certainly want to create more kid caricatures incorporating animal attributes alongside child activities. A running gazelle-child? An ambling, book-absorbed snail-child? A distractible moth-child? This clever juxtaposition of child behaviors and animal attributes is a thoroughly engaging premise in every poem and a terrific springboard for drawing, pantomiming, word-coining, and more poetry writing.

Here’s my favorite since it captures a recurring dream that I have (and I think I share with many others).

New Mouse
by Laura Purdie Salas

Go left, then right.
Wrong turns, dead ends.
Can’t find my class.
I’ve got no friends.

Each hallway is
a hallway clone.
Can’t find my way
around alone.

A thousand halls,
a thousand ways,
I’m lost inside
this new-school maze.

Salas, Laura Purdie. 2009. Stampede! Poems to Celebrate the Wild Side of School! Ill. by Steven Salerno. New York: Clarion, p. 4-5.

Isn’t that combination of mouse in a maze with feeling lost in a new school just perfect? Every way you turn, there’s an unfamiliar door or hallway and you feel like a helpless mouse lost in a maze! This one works with echo reading, where kids repeat each line, as you read each line, one at a time. Try accelerating the pace as you move toward the end of the poem for added frantic effect!

Salas experiments with a variety of forms and rhythms, ALL strong on regular rhyme schemes, although with creative word placements. She even includes a rhyming acrostic poem (D U C K L I N G S) that kids will enjoy and will enjoy imitating. Each poem begs for a dynamic read aloud and is ideal for choral reading in various groupings. Read them through once and I’m sure kids will suggest their own performance strategies. The poems are so rich in rhyme and rhythm, as well as visual and kinesthetic details, that performing them will happen naturally!

I’ve featured school poems and lists of school poetry books before (so feel free to search previous postings via the “school” label), and I think this is a fresh and unique addition to that body of work. Laura also held a virtual launch party for Stampede on Facebook-- which was a first for me-- and still has info there, FYI. And just to whet your appetite: Laura has written a totally wonderful new, unpublished school poem that will appear alongside my “Everyday Poetry” column in Book Links in September. Thank you, Laura!

Image credit:

Posting (not poem) by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2009. All rights reserved.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Color poetry from Mexico/South Africa

Just a month ago I was in Bologna, soaking up my first Book Fair and looking for poetry gems from around the world. And I struck gold with the White Ravens list produced by the International Youth Library. I posted about it in my March 27 entry, “Poetry from around the world.” I found Jorge Luján’s Oh, los colores! (Oh, the colors!) published in Mexico in 2007. Then when I returned, I learned that Groundwood Books (in Canada) had published a bilingual edition in 2008 with accompanying English translations alongside the Spanish poems. It's now titled Colors! Colores! and was translated by John Oliver Simon and Rebecca Parfitt.

The white background for the cover and each double-page spread is a perfect blank foil for the lyrical, nearly abstract watercolor paintings that suggest as much as they reveal. They’re almost evocative of cave paintings, particularly with the repeated image of the small, angular antelope on every page.

The poems are short, metaphorical or personifying nuggets for 11 colors from beige to blue, pink, yellow, green, orange, red, brown, violet, black, ending with white. Here’s the first one.

by the tide,
fell asleep on the sand.

El beige
se durmió en la arena
de tanto que lo arrulla
la marea.

Luján, Jorge. 2008. Colors! Colores! Translated by John Oliver Simon and Rebecca Parfitt. Ill. by Piet Grobler. Toronto: Groundwood.

Jorge Luján and Piet Grobler are two of their countries’ best-known creators of children’s books, hailing from Mexico and South Africa, respectively. We have so many talented authors, illustrators, and poets here in the U.S., it's easy to forget that other countries also have their own rich body of literature and notable book creators. I was not familiar with Luján and Grobler until seeing this book at the fair, but I’m a fan now!

For more poetry about color and colors, look for:
Adoff, Arnold. 1982. All the Colors of the Race. New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard.
Adoff, Arnold. 1973. Black is Brown is Tan. New York: Harper & Row.
Iyengar, Malathi Michelle. 2009. Tan to Tamarind: Poems About the Color Brown. Illus. by Jamel Akib. San Francisco, CA: Children’s Book Press.
Mora, Pat. 1996. Confetti: Poems for Children. New York: Lee & Low.
O’Neill, Mary. 1989. Hailstones and Halibut Bones: Adventures in Color. New York: Doubleday.
Orozco, Jose-Luis, comp. 1994. De Colores and Other Latin-American Folk Songs for Children. New York: Dutton.
Sidman, Joyce. 2009. Red Sings From Treetops; A Year in Colors. Ill. by Pamela Zagarenski. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Yolen, Jane. 2000. Color Me a Rhyme: Nature Poems for Young People. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press.

Image credit:

Posting (not poem) by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2009. All rights reserved.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Looks like Loose Leashes

I’m a dog person and a photography buff, so finding this new collection of dog poetry, Loose Leashes, illustrated with photographs was especially fun. This is a “first” book for both the poet, Amy Schmidt, and the illustrator, her husband, Ron Schmidt. It’s a picture book collection of 16 poems (plus a bonus poem on the back cover), with each poem presented in its own double-page spread. The poem appears on a solid color page on the left, with the clever color dog photo-portrait on the right (except for “The Battle of the Bone” which features dueling dogs on each side of the center fold). The book’s designer also deserves a nod, because the choices of color, font, and layout are equally appealing AND sophisticated, not an easy tightrope to walk.

The poems and pictures are pure fun, with 16 different dogs (and breeds) showcased in a variety of human-like activities, from driving to skating to reading to surfing to sledding. But they’re also depicted bathing, sleeping, and swimming in more dog-like poses. Still, in each photograph and poem, the personification is deadpan clever, with a stop-motion sense of personality. Each poem also includes a tiny name in parentheses in the bottom left-hand corner. I really wanted to know if these were the REAL names of these doggies. If not, they’re quite witty—as in the dueling Chihuahuas, Pip and Squeak.

The poems offer a fun variety of poetic forms, including quatrains, tercets, haiku, list poems, question poems, and even a limerick! An impressive debut effort. Here’s my favorite:

and the Demise of His Eyes
by Amy Schmidt

There once was a dog that could read
With amazing page-turning speed.
People thought it an act,
But it was a fact—
This dog was an uncommon breed.

One evening a strange thing occurred.
While reading, his sight became blurred.
He squinted his eyes
But was sadly surprised
To see lines blurred, word into word.

A vet claimed, “Your dog is all right.
Just weak eyes affecting his sight.”
The dog got new glasses,
Began taking classes,
And now he is learning to write!


Schmidt, Amy. 2009. Loose Leashes. Ill. by Ron Schmidt. New York: Random House.

Loose Leashes is reminiscent of the work of William Wegman and communicates the same love for the canine species, beginning with the “furry” endpages front and back. A final component is the inclusion of “Furry Facts” on each featured dog, noting favorite songs, pet peeves and secret facts for each subject— continuing the sense of nonsense. (I had wished for a bit more info about the dogs, their names, and their breeds, but that may be just me.) A photo of a bright red fire hydrant opens and closes the book, too. Wink. Wink.

There are many other puppy poetry books to connect with this one (and I’ve posted that list before), so I would suggest that kids share photographs and stories about their own dogs-- and consider posing them in human-like activities (with parental permission and guidance) to inspire further creative writing and photography. It’s irresistible! (I put a tiny sombrero on my son’s little Yorkie just last night!)

If you haven’t already done so, join the Poetry Friday sharing at Lisa Chellman’s blog at Under the Covers.

Image credit:

Posting (not poem) by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2009. All rights reserved.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Poem definitions

Here’s something different:
a poetry collection presented as a sly dictionary of 51 challenging vocabulary words with clever poem definitions. From “aggregate” to “gregarious” to “lugubrious” to “refute” to “wistful,” poet and teacher Michael Salinger personifies each word in ways that suggest attributes and defining characteristics—making the word memorable and visual for kids (especially tweens and teens) who want to expand their word knowledge.

A table of contents (with the part of speech for each word designated) lists all the featured words, and an introduction by the author provides a bit of overall context. The small (5 X 7) trim size is appealingly pocket-sized and cartoonist Sam Henderson offers doodly pen and ink elliptical people for many of the poems.

Each poem begins with the vocabulary word in bold and then includes a description or list that gives the highlighted word a personality all its own. They're light on rhyme, but strong on structure, and built upon personification. Many of the poems end with a pair of clever end lines with a twist or surprise. A one-line straight definition of each word appears at the bottom of the page in small print. Here’s one example:

Obsolete is absolutely useless
although in the past
he was reasonably handy

time—it kept on ticking and he
just never bothered to adapt
so now he gets passed over

sits in the corner collecting dust

his colors are fading

his chrome has started to rust

but don’t feel too bad for obsolete

his future is not completely bleak
as long as he keeps hanging on

eventually he’ll become an antique.

[obsolete: no longer useful; outmoded]

Salinger, Michael. 2009. Well Defined; Vocabulary in Rhyme. Ill. by Sam Henderson. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press, 46.

I think it would be fun to use this as an example for a class project with kids working alone or in pairs on a designated word, creating vocab-poems that can then be combined in a class book. Challenge them to cover the alphabet with words from A to Z. What a great way to prepare or review for vocabulary tests or the SAT or ACT exams!

Image credit:

Posting (not poem) by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2009. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day poetry

Today is Earth Day, so I thought it would be appropriate to consider a collection of poetry that celebrates the earth and its creatures. It’s not hard to do, since so many poets have chosen this topic over the years. Poetry for children, in particular, celebrates the animal world over and over again.

One new poetry book worth sharing is Deborah Ruddell’s picture book poem collection, A Whiff of Pine, A Hint of Skunk, illustrated by Joan Rankin. It’s a playful look at the forest and its wildlife through the seasons of the year in 22 poems that run the gamut from light and punny to thoughtful and contemplative. A helpful table of contents lays it all out, from the opening, “Eau de Forest: A Woodsy Cologne” to “Woodchuck’s Wake-up Morning.” Many are from the point of view of the animal—an instant mini-lesson for young people—and the sense of SMELL (“a hint of skunk!”) is almost pungent throughout, another great opportunity to guide kids in sensory description.

The illustrations by South African artist Joan Rankin bring the book to life beginning with the end pages showing ALL the creatures from the poems gathered in a forest setting. Kids will love checking the scene for each animal before or after reading the poetry. The watercolor scenes are strategically positioned on each page and reflect a pleasing assortment of size and placement that adds visual variety. She also manages to add a lightness to the overall tone of the book, particularly in the facial expressions of the animals (and children) pictured.

The collection is strong on visual appeal, as well as in regular rhyme and inviting imagery. The poems lend themselves nicely to reading aloud and choral reading, too. Here’s just one sample poem. Three groups (or 3 pairs or 3 volunteers) could present this poem with each group reading two lines in succession. Group 1 reads the first two lines, Group 2 reads the third and fourth lines, and Group 3 reads the final two lines. Try it!

Spring Welcome
by Deborah Ruddell

A million arms in woody sleeves

wave a zillion brand-new leaves,
inviting wrens to be their guests,

the orioles to build their nests,
and calling all the chickadees

to stay and raise their families.

Ruddell, Deborah. 2009. A Whiff of Pine, A Hint of Skunk. Illustrated by Joan Rankin. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Check out Deborah’s Web site for more info, particularly for audio clips of poems from her last book, Today at the Bluebird Café, available for download. They’re particularly fun since they’re read aloud in children’s voices—by two of her granddaughters!

For another look at the seasons of the year through animals and wildlife, look for one of my all-time favorite poetry collections by Marilyn Singer, Turtle in July, illustrated by the incomparable Jerry Pinkney (Macmillan, 1989). Invite the kids to gather or write their own “calendar” of animal and nature poems to reflect their own eco-setting.

Here are just a handful of other collections of nature-themed poetry:
*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.
*Nicholls, Judith. 2003. The Sun in Me: Poems About the Planet. Barefoot Books.
*Yolen, Jane. 2000. Color Me a Rhyme: Nature Poems for Young People. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press.

Image credit:

Posting (not poem) by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2009. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

In the soup

I have another Latino poetry collection to share-- this one has the added advantage of being bilingual in English and Spanish: Jorge Argueta’s Sopa de frijoles/ Bean Soup, illustrated by Rafael Yockteng.

This book really snuck up on me and I just have to share it with everyone. It’s a long segmented poem spread out across 14 pages of text (always on the left) accompanied by rectangular paintings framed in white (always on the right hand side). This pleasing, predictable format makes it easy to read either or both the Spanish and English poems (with the Spanish poem placed immediately above the English poem—a subtle thing I really appreciated). The paper is thick and creamy and the little boy pictured in every scene is an engaging “everyboy.”

Add to this the fact that this is truly a recipe with instructions for cooking. All contained in a poem full of metaphors and similes. Here’s just a “taste.” (I’ll post both the Spanish and the English version for this page of the poem.)

El aguita hierve y canta.*
Los frijolitos bailan unos

con otros.

El aguita se ha vuelto

morena como el color

de la Madra Tierra.

Tu casa

está olorosa
como la tierra

en las primeras

lluvias de invierno.

+ + +

The water boils and sings.*
The beans dance
The water has turned brown

the color of Mother Earth.

Your house

smells wonderful

like the earth

after the first

winter rains.

Argueta, Jorge. 2009. Sopa de frijoles/ Bean Soup. Ill. by Rafael Yockteng. Toronto, ON: Groundwood.

*A note at the beginning of the book alerts us to the fact that “all stages of the recipe that are marked * require the participation or supervision of an adult.” Smart move! Very essential for safety when cooking with kids and completely unobtrusive to the poem.

I love that Argueta has written BOTH the Spanish (first) and the English versions of the poetry. It is SUCH a challenge to capture the music and magic of poetry in ANY language, much less in TWO languages, but he clearly has a gift for it and knows his own intentions better than anyone in providing the translation.

I was familiar with Salvadoran poet Jorge Argueta’s previous poetry book, A Movie in My Pillow/Una película en mi almohada (Children’s Book Press, 2001) which I really enjoyed. But I didn’t realize that he has also authored another collection in the interim that I have missed:

Talking with Mother Earth/Hablando con Madre Tierra (Groundwood, 2006)
[Have you noticed how many smart and wonderful poetry books Groundwood publishes? Particularly from many countries around the world?]

And for more Latino poetry about food and foods, look for:
Ada, Alma Flor. 1997. Gathering the Sun. New York: Lothrop, Lee, and Shepard.
Alarcón, Francisco X. 1997. Laughing Tomatoes and Other Spring Poems/Jitomates Risuenos y Otros Poemas de Primavera. San Francisco, CA: Children’s Book Press.
Mora, Pat. 1998. Delicious Hullabaloo/Pachanga Deliciosa. Houston, TX: Pinata Books.
Mora, Pat. 2007. Yum! Mmmm! Que Rico!: America's Sproutings. New York: Lee & Low.

And of course, you absolutely, positively HAVE to make bean soup after reading this book. You can almost smell and taste it as you read the poetry and the directions are amazingly clear and easy to follow. The book flap calls bean soup “comfort food for many”—a good reminder and a worthwhile discussion to have with kids as they experience it firsthand.

Image credit:

Posting (not poem) by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2009. All rights reserved.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Fiesta poetry

More catching up...

I’d like to introduce a new book that features Latino traditions in poetry and prose:
Sherry Shahan’s Fiesta!; A Celebration of Latino Festivals, illustrated by Paula Barragán

Although Sherry is not Hispanic, her simple month-by-month rhymes celebrating Latin American traditions are perfectly matched with the art of Paula Barragán, from Ecuador. The cut paper art reminiscent of papel picado, in layers of earth colors, creates a lively folkart backdrop for each double-page spread, from January (Enero) to December (Deciembre). A poem and paragraph combine nicely to describe a major festival or fiesta celebrated in various parts of Latin America, from Cinco de Mayo to Inti Raymi (an Incan new year’s event). The English and Spanish names for the months are spread across the end pages and then placed prominently with each poem.

Backmatter includes further expository information about each month’s celebration, as well as a pronunciation guide for the month names in Spanish. What fun for kids and classes learning the months of the year, as well as learning about the world’s cultures. Here’s one sample:

Día de los Muertos

Boys and girls giggle behind masks:




Pulling on strings brings sugary skeletons alive,

a boogaloo of be-bopping bones.

A loving celebration of the old ones.

Shahan, Sherry. 2009. Fiesta!; A Celebration of Latino Festivals. Illustrated by Paula Barragan. Atlanta, GA: August House.

Shahan and Barragán have collaborated on two other bilingual picture books, Spicy Hot Colors and Cool Cats Counting (a book about numbers). I’m not familiar with those two, but I am eager to check them out after seeing this effort.

And for more poetry about Latino celebrations, look for these collections:
Delacre, Lulu. 2004. Arrorró Mi Niño: Latino Lullabies and Gentle Games. New York:
Lee & Low Books.
Delacre, Lulu, comp. 1992. Arroz con Leche: Popular Songs and Rhymes from Latin America. New York: Scholastic.
Delacre, Lulu, comp. 1992. Las Navidades: Popular Christmas Songs from Latin America. New York: Scholastic.
Mora, Pat. 1996. Confetti: Poems for Children. New York: Lee & Low Books.
Orozco, José Luis, comp. 1994. De Colores and Other Latin-American Folk Songs for Children. New York: Dutton.
Orozco, José Luis. 2002. Diez Deditos: Ten Little Fingers and Other Play Rhymes and Action Songs from Latin America. New York: Dutton.
Orozco, José Luis.1994. Fiestas: A Year of Latin American Songs of Celebration. New York: Dutton.

And don’t miss Paula Barragán’s collaboration with poet Pat Mora, particularly appropriate with Mother’s Day around the corner:
Mora, Pat. 2001. Love to Mama: A Tribute to Mothers. Illustrated by Paula Barragán. New York: Lee & Low Books.

Image credit:

Posting (not poem) by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2009. All rights reserved.

Getting behind

Well, it's official. I am absolutely, positively swamped and have gotten behind in my postings. I apologize to readers and poetry fans, but the end-of-the-semester crunch is here. I hope to catch up soon. Thanks for your patience!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Not-poetry by poets

More catching up...

Poets are writers, first and foremost, I know that, but still I’m surprised when I find fiction or nonfiction books by the poets I love. I’m seeing several this spring, with more to come, I’m sure.
  • Verse novelist Sonya Sones has a new picture book written with her husband Bennett Tramer, illustrated by Chris Raschka entitled Violet and Winston (Dial), sweet (autobiographical) tales of a friendship between a duck and a swan.
  • Nikki Grimes has a new easy reader chapter book that is sure to please transitioning readers, Make Way for Dyamonde Daniel, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie (Putnam).
  • I think the upcoming picture book, The First Dog by J. Patrick Lewis (with Beth Zappitello) illustrated by Tim Bowers (Sleeping Bear Press) is not-poetry, and perfectly timed!
  • John Grandits has a new picture book coming out, The Travel Game, illustrated by R. W. Alley (Clarion).
  • I just read Jane Yolen’s lovely historical picture book, My Uncle Emily, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter (Philomel) about Emily Dickinson’s relationship with a special nephew.
  • I featured the wonderful Rebecca Kai Dotlich’s picture book, Bella & Bean, in my online Poetry Month Guide for Simon & Schuster that I mentioned previously. It’s ALMOST poetry in that it’s about two friends, one of them a poet who struggles with finding time to think and write, while still being a good friend.
Today, I’d like to mention Mary Ann Hoberman’s forthcoming novel for middle grade readers, Strawberry Hill (Little, Brown). It’s a Penderwicks-style novel, neither cynical nor sentimental, about a year in the life of a girl growing up during the Depression. Allie is 10 and has just moved into a new home on Strawberry Hill. Hoberman chronicles her year of adjustment, as Allie goes to a new school, makes friends, and tries new things. It’s a family story in the best sense of the word, with incidents and anecdotes about life in a well-adjusted family, in a neighborhood peopled with a variety of personalities.

It’s a very gentle historical novel that captures a sense of the period and the financial difficulties facing nearly everyone in one way or another (and feeling very relevant once again). I loved the tiny details that suggest life in the 30’s, particularly regarding how the kids entertained themselves (calling out to play, having tea parties with dolls, cutting out paper dolls, etc.). I grew up on Betsy-Tacy and the like, so this feels like a familiar throw-back to such girl books. Fans of the American Girl novels will love Strawberry Hill.

Hoberman makes the formula fresh with a clear, fresh first-person point of view that knows and sees just what a ten year old would experience. Plus, each chapter is ever-so-brief in just 4-5 great read-aloud pages that nearly stand alone as story vignettes. There is also genuine tension in the plot as a friend-of-a-friend makes a disparaging comment about her being Jewish. Religion is a running thread throughout the story and leads to Allie’s gradual revelation about how we choose and keep friends. Here’s just a taste.

Chapter 20 begins:

“The night before school started, I couldn’t fall asleep for a long time. I kept worrying about what was going to happen, whether some kids would be mean to me, whether I would make any friends. I had seen Center School from the outside, but I had never been inside it. It was three stories high and made out of dark red brick, just like my old school. But it had a high fence all around it and it was in a different kind of neighborhood. Instead of houses like in New Haven, there were stores and gas stations and some old boarded-up buildings. It looked a little scary.

The next morning I woke up really early. My mother came into my room, still in her nightgown. She asked me how I was feeling. I said I wasn’t exactly sure.

‘I understand,’ she said. ‘You’re feeling apprehensive. It’s only natural to feel a little apprehensive on the first day at a new school.’

I had never heard that word before, but it sounded just right. I repeated it to myself as I started to get dressed: ap-pre-hen-sive. I got out my writing folder and added it to the list on my word animals page: appreHENsive. I had already collected some others: COWard; DOGged; sCATter; BULLet; sPIGot; scalLION.”

Hoberman, Mary Ann. 2009. Strawberry Hill. New York: Little, Brown, p. 109-100.

I love how poets inject some word awareness even in their fiction writing! Don’t miss this junior novel from Children’s Poet Laureate Mary Ann Hoberman. The ARC indicates there will be illustrations sprinkled through the book at regular intervals. The strawberry vine decoration in the top corner of every new chapter adds sweet visual interest and I love that novels have returned to the custom of illustrations throughout. I remember poring over pictures like that in my childhood reading, a way to pause and think about the story and imagine what the characters are up to. I hope today’s readers will do the same with Allie, Mimi, Martha, and all the rest.

And of course, follow up with sharing some of Mary Ann’s poetry, especially:
Hoberman, Mary Ann. 1991. Fathers, Mothers, Sisters, Brothers: A Collection of Family Poems. Boston: Joy Street Books.
Hoberman, Mary Ann. 1998. The Llama Who Had No Pajama: 100 Favorite Poems. San Diego: Harcourt.
Hoberman, Mary Ann. 2009. All Kinds of Families. New York: Little, Brown.
+plus her “you read to me, I’ll read to you” story-poem collections.

Image credit:

Posting (not poem) by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2009. All rights reserved.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Zombies in poetry

I hope you’ll indulge my compulsive need to go back and fill in the dates that I have not posted, for future reference…

First, I’m going back to review a 2008 poetry book that I just discovered: Zombie Haiku by Ryan Mecum (How Books, 2008). Yes, you read that correctly: Zombie. Haiku. The title alone caught my eye, then I saw the gruesome cover, then I got my own copy and read it. Whoa.

First, this is clearly for YA (young adults), in my opinion. It’s for fans of zombie lore—of which there are many—who love the blood, guts, and gore. My 20-year-old son and his friends cannot get enough of this horror sub-genre, thank you director George Romero, although I have not been able to make it through an entire movie yet (I am a big scaredy cat!). The graphic poem-story and the (mock) blood-splattered pages are also quite compelling and perhaps a bit too horrifying for younger readers (or the squeamish, like me). That said, this book will be a BIG hit with teens who:
• say they don’t like to read
• say they don’t like poetry, in particular
• but love horror movies and zombies, especially

In fact, I had to buy a second copy of the book because my son took my first copy when he visited last weekend! (And that almost NEVER happens, despite my decade long quest to find reading that will tempt him.) I rest my case.

Now, for the content.

The premise is that zombies are taking over the world (since that is nearly ALWAYS the premise) and this journal has turned up. Apparently, in the beginning, a young man keeps a journal of haiku poetry celebrating his observations of nature and love. These sweet haiku quickly turn to anxious thoughts and then recount the horror that is taking place all around him. Once he is bitten and “turns” (about a third of the way through the book), the tidy, even hand-lettered poems turn into scratchy writing that scrawls unevenly across the pages—still haiku, but the zombie has taken over the poetry writing.

However, a survivor (til the end) pens final narrative thoughts in blue ink at the beginning and ending of the book, overlaying the haiku, giving us a bit of info about what is happening. (He took the journal out of the hand of the zombie’s severed arm.) OK, maybe I should alert you that even this review is not for the faint of heart!

This is really a kind of verse novel in that the haiku weaves together to tell a story. What a clever idea! And the structure of the haiku serves the story well, with its staccato rhythm, telegraphing details and moments. The visual content of the book is an amazing complement to the story-haiku. It’s small trim size (about 4 x 6) and parchment look, complete with faux smudges and string tying it up suggest a handwritten book. (Way to go, publisher How Books!) Black and white Polaroid-style snapshots of various horrible zombie moments (clearly staged, but more disturbing than goofy) appear periodically along with heaps of (ostensible) blood splatters and bodily fluids—ick. Some poems are typed on scraps and taped to the journal (although that’s never explained and I wondered how and where a zombie typed and printed poetry) along with handfuls of hair and duct tape. Are you getting the idea? The whole effect is really crazy compelling and creepy.

This is not my cup of tea. But I totally GET how it will be for lots of edgy readers and I really admire the concept and execution. I found the beginning completely absorbing and was hanging in there as the new-zombie “protagonist” turned and searched for (brain) food. But I have to say it wore thin for me. The last half of the book is just more zombies seeking more victims with the last of the normal human populations succumbing one by one (seniors in nursing homes, kids in tree houses—on and on). I really wanted SOMEONE to prevail, but I believe that is a central tenet of zombie-lore—that no one survives.

At any rate, I found black humor in the macabre haiku, as in these verses as he turns into a zombie and transitions from remembering home, to realizing home and family means food.

I remember home,
and I remember my mom

and her meaty thighs.

I can remember
good food that Mom used to make.
I bet Mom tastes good.

Walking down the streets,

I just barely remember
how to find her house.

[BTW, things don’t end well for Mom.]
Mecum, Ryan. 2008. Zombie Haiku. Cincinnati, OH: How Books, p.35.

A “zombie” photo of the author at the end of the book and a short post-zombie bio indicates this is/was Ryan Mecum’s first published work. Apparently he “was” also a Presbyterian youth pastor before becoming a zombie! (As a pastor’s wife, I find that completely hysterical!) Look for his next poetry collection due later this year: Vampire Haiku. Seriously. This guy is a genius!

Image credit:

Posting (not poem) by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2009. All rights reserved.

Friday, April 17, 2009

A spring manga-ish poetry mash up

Ivy in Bloom written by Vanita Oelschlager and illustrated by by Kristin Blackwood (Vanitabooks, 2009)

I happened upon this book at the ALA Midwinter conference and just got the published copy in the mail this week (after poring over the galleys earlier). It’s a poetry book published by a small press focused on books for kids ages 4-8. Vanita Books are authored and published by Vanita Oelschlager and all profits are donated to charitable organizations. An impressive venture!

But I was particularly struck by the concept for and execution of this particular title. Essentially, it’s a “mash up” of lines from famous works of fiction and poetry by classic writers. The lines are loosely woven together to express a young girl’s feelings about the coming of spring. Each line or phrase serves as a kind of caption for double-page spreads of winter-into-springtime scenes. What a clever idea! Use a line from Wordsworth here, Dickinson there, and Whitman and Milne, and voila, a picture book emerges. I wish I had thought of that! But kids (particularly older kids and teens) might find that a compelling notion for creating their own “mash ups” of classic lines, “double, double, toil and trouble… a poem lovely as a tree… quoth the raven, nevermore…”

Next, the art is an interesting counterpoint to these classic lines. Blackwood (the illustrator) notes the “mash up” of artistic techniques she employed. She begins with traditional linoleum block prints in black ink. Then those images are digitized and watercolor layers are added via computer. The overall effect is very graphic with a strong, nearly overpowering black line throughout the art. I liked that it made the book less “sweet” and more dramatic. I thought the art had a nearly “manga” look with its young girl protagonist with huge eyes and long flowing black hair. If this were a slide show or short film instead of a picture book, I would say this is ready-made for tweens and teens!

Finally, the icing on the cake, is a “bibliography” section of six pages with thumbnails of each previous picture accompanied by the full text of the poem from which the lines are derived—with the selected lines in green. A note about the poet is also included. LOVE THAT! It does reveal some rather idiosyncratic choices in mining the words and phrases for the picture book text, but that might lead to an interesting discussion with kids, too.

All in all, it’s a real departure for a poem picture book—weaving together an homage to classic poetry to celebrate the season of spring with art that is quirky and inviting. Check it out!

Obviously, there isn’t a single poem to highlight as an example, but this sample page is my favorite. (It feels very Robert Frost meets Mary Azarian!)

Oelschlager, Vanita. 2009. Ivy in Bloom. Ill. by Kristin Blackwood. Akron, OH: Vanitabooks.

Join the whole Poetry Friday crowd at my former student and current colleague’s amazing blog, Beck’s Book Reviews.


Posting (not poem) by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2009. All rights reserved.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Dinothesaurus by Douglas Florian

Dinothesaurus is getting reviewed everywhere (4 stars, so far!) because… well, because it’s by Douglas Florian and because IT’S ABOUT DINOSAURS! But it also happens to be truly terrific. First of all, the whole idea of poetry about dinosaur NAMES is so dead-on perfect (hurray Mike Shoulders!). Even kids who are not dinosaur fanatics, love the long, crazy, complicated names for dinosaurs. So, we end up with a great book about dinosaurs, as well as a fun book of wordplay poetry. (Even the bookflap blurb is a dinosaur poem!)

You learn about 18 different dinosaurs in 18 double-page spreads because Florian is so gifted at injecting facts into his fun and pun-filled poems, including a pronunciation guide for each dinosaur name, along with the name’s meaning. And there are unexpected dino-choices like the troodon, minim, and micropachycephalosaurus—see what I mean about those tongue-pleasing names? Opening and closing poems provide bookend context about dinosaur eras and possible causes for their demise.

One of my favorite components is the backmatter in this book, including the “Glossarysaurus” with an additional expository paragraph to accompany each poem, an annotated list of “Dinosaur Museums and Fossil Sites” and a “Selected Bibliography and Further Reading” list. These are usually features of a nonfiction book, so I am tickled to see these features in a (fact-filled) poetry book.

Florian’s poems are so rhythmic and regular that they are perfect for performing chorally with various groupings of kids. Here’s one example that is fun for echo reading. YOU read the first line, the kids echo the line, you read the next, they echo, line-by-line—an excellent strategy to use with young kids, non-readers, and English learners. Try it. It almost sounds like a chant or a yell for the playground.

steg-oh-SAW-rus (roof lizard)
by Douglas Florian

Dined on plants inside the forest.
Bony plates grew on its back,
Perhaps to guard it from attack.
Or to help identify
A Stegosaurus girl or guy.
Its brain was smaller than a plum.
Stegosaurus was quite DUMB.

Florian, Douglas. 2009. Dinothesaurus. New York: Simon & Schuster, p. 5.

And of course with Douglas Florian we get a double whammy with art that is distinctive and stands on its own (two or four) feet! (My “Everyday Poetry” column for Book Links magazine in July is about poets who are artists, namely DF!) He employs a wonderful variety of media, including watercolor, crayon, cut paper collage, and rubber stamps (and I am a rubber stamp FREAK, so I love that!). This combination of materials creates layered, textured illustrations that bear poring over for fun and tiny details. Kids may enjoy trying their own dino-collages to match.

For more details, check Florian’s own awesome blog, FlorianCafe.

Image credit:

Posting (not poem) by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2009. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

More Fun with Jon Agee

Do you love goofy tongue twisters, camp songs, and puns? I do! And so does Jon Agee, author of several picture books and wordplay books on palindromes, anagrams, spoonerisms, and more. He has now turned his attention to poetry, with Orangutan Tongs; Poems to Tangle Your Tongue, a collection of 34 poems that beg to be read aloud, sure to be accompanied by giggles and laughter.

The poem, “Two Tree Toads” begins “A three-toed tree toad tried to tie/ A two-toed tree toad’s shoe” and I was immediately reminded of Alvin Schwartz’s collection of folk rhymes, particularly “A tree toad loved a she-toad/ That lived up in a tree.” Then, I turned to “I Saw Esau on a seesaw. Esau, he saw Lee” which has echoes of Iona and Peter Opie’s folkrhyme collection, I Saw Esau, The Schoolchild’s Pocket Book (illustrated by Maurice Sendak). The two rhymes (and more) share that delicious nonsensical quality of rhymes that are fun to say (faster and faster), even if you don’t have any idea what it means! I could go on and on.

Then… I was studying the Index that Agee provides at the back of Orangutan Tongs and saw this note:

“Most of the poems in this book were inspired by classic English-language tongue twisters, which I gathered from a variety of sources, notably Alvin Schwartz’s A Twister of Twists, A Tangler of Tongues (1972).” EUREKA! I was so proud of myself! Agee has provided a menu of story rhymes that have the ring of playground chants—they seem like they’ve been around forever.

Add to this the accessibility of this collection—the font is a big, fat “primer” kind of print that is so friendly and easy to read. And each poem is set against an oversized watercolor picture with a scene of deadpan directness, the perfect foil for the nonsense poems. And now I want to make thank you notes out of this poem:

Thank You
by Jon Agee

I was thinking of thanking you,

as you can see,
I wanted to thank you

for thinking of me.
But now that I’ve thanked you,
I guess I am free
Of thinking of thanking you

thinking of me.

Agee, Jon. 2009. Orangutan Tongs; Poems to Tangle Your Tongue. New York: Disney-Hyperion, p. 43.

Isn’t that irresistible? Agee’s ear is perfectly tuned to the sing-song rhythm and quickening pace that makes such verses work. I dare you to read these silently. You can’t!

For more about folk and playground rhymes, here’s an excerpt from my book, Poetry Aloud Here:

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 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. For additional examples, 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).

Several comprehensive collections of folk poetry are available and very appealing to young audiences of all ages.
This medium helps validate children’s experiences, link oral and written modes of expression, and invite active, even physical participation (Vardell & Jacko, 2005). Children can collect other examples on audio or videotape and explore neighborhood, cultural, and linguistic variations (Vardell, Hadaway & Young, 2002). 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.

EXTRA BONUS: Listen to the song based on the title poem, "Orangutan Tongs" (via Jon’s Web site).

Image credit:

Posting (not poem) by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2009. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Time to Countdown to Summer

I am already starting to think about summer and daydream about what I want to do (and not do!). It’s the perfect moment to highlight a new book coming from the always wonderful J. Patrick Lewis: Countdown to Summer: A Poem for Every Day of the School Year due out this fall.

This potpourri of poetry runs the gamut from serious to silly, from thoughtful to topical, for every conceivable occasion and just for fun. There are 180 poems and I love how they are numbered beginning with #180 and counting down to #1 (“School’s Out!”) with a big black dot encircling each number on every page. Kids will love this actual counting down of the school year (and most school years are about 180 days long). I didn’t actually map each poem day to the corresponding day/month (Poem #180 to Sept. 5, for example), since the start of school varies across the country. However, as a former classroom teacher, it seemed to me that the poems jived nicely with holiday and seasonal happenings across the calendar year. That is such a fun construct. Go, Pat!

The poems themselves also represent an amazing menu—which is key if you are sharing a poem every day BY THE SAME POET. If anyone can pull off this breadth and depth, it’s our buddy Pat. Not only does he tackle a plethora of topics, but the poetic forms are extremely varied, too—the perfect springboard for mini poetry lessons that grow organically out of poem sharing. Riddles, limericks, haiku, acrostics, rhyming narratives, free verse, list poems, rebus poems, concrete poetry, and on and on.

You know how I collect poems about libraries and librarians and I hit the jackpot here with FOUR, count ‘em, four wonderful libro-poems. (And there are even more book-related poems than these.) Save them all for next year’s National Library Week.

#174 The Librarian
#116 Library Fine
#89 New York Public Library
#66 The Hippopotabus (A Book-Boat)

Here’s just a sample to whet your appetite:

#66 The Hippopotabus
(A Book-Boat)
by J. Patrick Lewis

A bookmobile, extremely large,
A floating minibus
That travels like a steaming barge
Of hippopotamus,

Holds fables, facts, tiptoe tall tales,
Bookshelves of derring-do,
And poetry that never fails
To hippnotize the crew.

Turn any page. First port of call
“We’ve reached,” says Book-Boat’s Admiral,
“The town of MAYBESO,

“Whose lovely tribe, the BRARIANS,
Keepers of verbs and nouns,
Will introduce you to WORDGRRRS,
The literary hounds.

“So this trip promises to be
A bonbon bon voyage to sea
By Hippopotabus!”

Lewis, J. Patrick. 2009. Countdown to Summer: A Poem for Every Day of the School Year. Ill. by Ethan Long. New York: Little, Brown.

I love the idea of a BOAT of books and I think kids would have fun envisioning this, drawing it, and perhaps constructing one! It also reminds me of Margriet Ruur’s book, My Librarian is a Camel (Boyds Mills Press, 2005), a terrific nonfiction picture book about all kinds of unorthodox libraries all around the world (including actual book boats). The wordplay (“wordplayfulariousness”) in this poem is also fun and kids will enjoy picking up on that and coining their own words like “the town of MAYBESO.”

In fact, the learning and activity connections for these poems just bubble up with a multitude of possibilities. For example, #98 “A Monthly Calendar” is a visual way to represent all the months poetically and could be a great bulletin board or door sign. Or the poems could serve as an addition to the morning announcements made at many schools every day. Start reading the poems out loud every day and the kids will have plenty of ideas of their own.

Finally, let me not neglect to mention the LOOK of the book. Illustrator Ethan Long has provided pen and ink cartoons for every single page and it gives the book visual verve and energy and makes it even more browsable. The bug-eyed characters and mini-comic-stories move across the bottom third or quarter of each page (and beyond) in appealing ways that complement the poems perfectly. I know the book will be published in hardback (which is great for a longer shelf life), but I loved the flippable newsprint paper format of my ARC which felt so handy, friendly, and bendable.

I’ve been working on my own long-term poem-a-day project, so I know what a challenge it is to create this kind of comprehensive anthology. Lee Bennett Hopkins’ has a terrific companion resource, Days to Celebrate: A Full Year of Poetry, People, Holidays, History, Fascinating Facts, and More (Greenwillow, 2005), along with many, many other holiday and school topic-based collections that teachers (especially) will also find helpful. These could form the perfect framework for regular poem sharing—and then you can build upon this by seeking even more poetry books to link with these, day by day.

Posting (not poem) copyright Sylvia M. Vardell 2009

Monday, April 13, 2009

Happy birthday, Lee

I love “nonfiction” poetry—poems that tell true stories, so to speak, so I was eager to see Lee Bennett Hopkins’s new anthology, Incredible Inventions illustrated by Julia Sarcone-Roach (HarperCollins, 2009). And I was not disappointed. As the title suggests, the 16 poems feature a variety of inventions including jigsaw puzzles, blue jeans, roller coasters, drinking straws, basketball game, fig newtons, ferris wheels, the escalator, hair brushes, crayons, popsicles, band-aids, traffic signals, kitty litter, Velcro, and running shoes. Kid-friendly topics, for sure!

The featured poets include Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Joan Bransfield Graham, Drew Lamm, John Sullivan, Sandra Gilbert Brueg, Elizabeth Upton, Kristine O’Connell George, Constance Andrea Keremes, Ann Whitford Paul, J. Patrick Lewis, Alice Schertle, Marilyn Singer, Maria Fleming, Fran Haraway, and Lee himself. For me, there were several new names in this group. Very promising voices! Which one to share as a sample? I think kids will enjoy this tribute to their favorite garment: Blue jeans!

Ode to Blue Jeans
by Rebecca Kai Dotlich

See them strolling

in their jeans
from subway ads

to magazines.

Rock ‘n’ rollers.

Construction crews.
loves their blues.

Faded, torn,

shabby, new,
with cowboy boot

or tennis shoe,

ranchers, writers,
racers, teens,

the world’s in love

in love…

with JEANS.

Hopkins, Lee Bennett. (Comp.) 2009. Incredible Inventions. Illus. by Julia Sarcone-Roach. New York: HarperCollins, p.6.

This is a first book for the illustrator Julia Sarcone-Roach and her paintings for each poem are energetic and expansive, covering the page from edge to edge. The gorgeous blue painting for “The Ferris Wheel” is my favorite—it’s positively Van Gogh-ish!

You definitely need to check out the notes in the “Behind the Inventions” section along with the poems because here you get the factual background information that expands or confirms the details shared in each poem. Plus, I discovered that the poem inventions are presented in chronological order, with a fun cartoon timeline showing each item's origin dated from 1766 (jigsaw puzzles) to 1964 (running shoes).

For a related collection, look for Joyce Sidman’s book, Eureka! Poems About Inventors (Millbrook 2002), with sixteen poems describing a range of people who have created something new through imagination, investigation, and pure persistence, with subjects such as scientist Marie Curie and the inventor of the Frisbee. Link these poems with the fascinating profiles of incidental inventions in Charlotte Foltz Jones’ nonfiction books Mistakes That Worked (Doubleday 1994) and Accidents May Happen (Delacorte 1998) or Judith St. George’s humorous nonfiction picture book, So You Want to Be An Inventor? (Puffin 2005). Seek out J. Patrick Lewis’s poems about famous accomplishments in A Burst Of Firsts (Dial 2001) or the fun facts and factoids in the clever poems of The World’s Greatest: Poems (Chronicle, 2008) for another invention connection.

And for the record, on this day in history…
Lee Bennett Hopkins was born!
Happy birthday, Lee!

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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Family Poetry for Celebrating

If you’re spending time with family this weekend, Eloise Greenfield’s new poetry collection, Brothers and Sisters: Family Poems (Amistad/HarperCollins, 2009) is a lovely gem to share. This picture book anthology includes 25 poems arranged in three categories: “Brothers,” “Sisters,” and “Brothers and Sisters” with 7-9 poems in each section and this fun opening poem:
Brothers and Sisters

by Eloise Greenfield

Brothers and sisters

can be dear,

can be company,

can bring cheer,

can start arguments,

can make noise,
can cause tears,
can break toys,
can be few
or can be many,

make me wish

I didn’t have any.

Helpful, funny, and good one day,

next day, they get in my way.
Still, I think no matter what,

I’d rather have them
than not.

Greenfield, Eloise. 2009. Brothers and Sisters: Family Poems. Ill. by Jan Spivey Gilchrist. New York: Amistad/HarperCollins, p.5.

The poem topics run the gamut of authentic kid experiences from wrestling, playing, and laughing, to dealing with new siblings and rivalries, looking up and down to older and younger family members, growing up with teens, being mad and making up, relating to grandparents and aunts and uncles, older members looking back, and family fun, and making plans for the future. The first person child’s voice rings true through every poem, with half of them rhyming and half in free verse.

Greenfield’s frequent collaborator, Jan Spivey Gilchrist illustrates each page with watercolor paintings of kids and families in everyday situations. As I looked back over the images, I realized that they represent a range of African American faces and families—lovely and grounded—and the poems add details of names and moments—and still it all reflects and transcends race and culture to speak to all kinds of kids and families.

Pair this with Eloise Greenfield’s family-centered and classic FIRST poem collection Honey, I Love and Other Love Poems (HarperCollins 1978) or Nikki Grimes’ celebratory Hopscotch Love: A Family Treasury of Love Poems (Lothrop, Lee & Shepard 1999). Greenfield also teamed with her mother to create Childtimes: A Three-Generation Memoir, an autobiographical work that describes the childhood memories of Greenfield, her mother, and her maternal grandmother. Plan a poetry picnic for sharing these and other family poems outside spread out on a tablecloth.

In her poetry, Eloise Greenfield tries to involve children in their own worlds. In Night on Neighborhood Street (Dial 1991), Greenfield brings her young readers into the happenings around them examining the life of an urban community. The volume's seventeen poems show children in typical situations, including attending church and playing games with their families. Link this book with Carole Boston Weatherford’s collection, Sidewalk Chalk; Poems of the City (Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press 2001) with poems about the laundromat, local diner, city market, barbershop or Lilian Moore’s Mural on Second Avenue and Other City Poems (Candlewick 2005) which features poems about the city park, shop windows, skylines and bridges, and construction sites. Invite the children to list places they enjoy in their communities. What poems might they write to celebrate their favorite spots?

Remember Eloise again on May 17, coming soon, on her birthday.

Also note: National Library Week is April 12-18

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