Thursday, February 25, 2010

Poetry Podcasts and Poem Audiofiles

I’m tickled to share news of a new venture in poetry promotion: I’ve created my first podcast! I’ve been wanting to try that for awhile and finally gave it a shot. Thanks to Terry Borzumato-Greenberg at Holiday House who invited me to create something for their Web site and jump-started my learning process. You’ll find two free downloadable audiofiles at the Holiday House web site. I share ideas about how to use two of their books with kids, read excerpts aloud, as well as provide tips on using poetry with kids, in general.

Poetry Podcasts
*Alice Low's The Fastest Game on Two Feet and Other Poems About How Sports Began (Holiday House, 2009) Podcast here

*Dian Curtis Regan’s poetry-focused picture book Barnyard Slam (Holiday House, 2009) Podcast here

I’m a big fan of introducing kids to the audio qualities of poetry and have written about that before—particularly about seeking out audiobook versions of poetry like the amazing Jazz by Walter Dean Myers (our first Odyssey audiobook award winner). But there are also free audiofiles of poetry available on the web—more and more as time goes on. Here are some of the major sites:

The Academy of American Poets
Audio archives alongside extensive biographical information and selected poetry

The Poetry Magazine
Audio recordings of many major poets reading their works, as well as interviews with and speeches

Poets and Writers
Offers multimedia slideshows, videos, and podcasts of all kinds of poetry-related material

The Library of Congress Poetry and Literature Center
An archive of recordings of over 2000 adult poets reading their own work

Just One More Book
Clever coffee shop podcast recordings of hundreds of booktalks and interviews

Amateur recordings of books in the public domain including some poetry

Favorite Poem Project
Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky’s project to have average citizens audiotape their favorite poems

Poetry Speaks
I’ve been meaning to post about the Poetry Speaks web site since I learned about it late last year—still being beta-tested. The Sourcebooks people who brought us Poetry Speaks, Hip Hop Speaks to Children, My Hippo has the Hiccups, The Tree that Time Built, and the upcoming Poetry Speaks; Who I Am (for middle school) are making audiofiles of poetry readings available (like the CDs that accompany each of their books), as well as the opportunity to download our own poem readings. Cool!

Poets whose Web sites feature audio recordings of their poetry:
Kristine O’Connell George
Janet S. Wong
Nikki Grimes
Joyce Sidman
Jack Prelutsky
Shel Silverstein

ACTIVITY: If audio announcements are made at your school or library, include the oral reading of a poem by the poet (downloaded) or by a child or adult volunteer on a daily or weekly basis. And of course with the simplest equipment you can encourage kids to record themselves reading their own poetry (or favorite poems) to share with friends and family.

Just for fun, here's a glimpse from Alice Low's clever and informative collection of sports-themed poems, The Fastest Game on Two Feet, featured in my podcast. It's an excerpt from the poem "Sonja Henie, Girl in White" about the Norwegian figure skater who revolutionized the sport in the 1920's-- in honor of last night's beautiful performances by Olympic figure skaters from Korea, Japan, Canada-- and the U.S.

Sonja Henie, Girl in White (p. 20)

by Alice Low

She started winning championships

When she was only eight.

When she was ten she won again.

Oh, how that girl could skate!

She practiced seven hours a day

And studied ballet, too,

And fused ballet with skating

In a style that was new.

There isn't room to list

The countless titles that she won.

The Worlds, ten times, Olympics, three.
And still she wasn't done.

For more Poetry Friday fun go to Check it Out today.

Posting (not poem) by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2010. All rights reserved.
Image credit: amazon; holiday house;;

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Poetry Buzz

I’ve been running across some poetry news nuggets here and there that I thought I would gather and share here. Just FYI; just for fun.

Poetry is an app
Did you see the latest from It’s about a new poetry “app” for the iPhone and iPod Touch and it sounds extremely cool. (And I don't even have a fancy phone!) Here’s the lowdown:

“ is proud to announce the launch of the Poem Flow app for the iPhone and iPod Touch, developed in creative collaboration with TextTelevision... A veritable box of light with words and thought in fluid motion, Poem Flow is an entirely new way to experience poetry on a handheld screen. In Portrait view, each poem is presented in its traditional format; turned to Landscape, the poem literally flows over the screen.

Each day, a new poem becomes available to app subscribers, while those from previous days remain on the device, building the equivalent of an ever-expanding anthology of the best-loved poems in the English language. Historical trivia and contextual information, compiled by, are provided for each daily poem.”

Poem Flow is a free download and includes 20 great poems and a full week of poem-of-the-day. Readers can subscribe to 3 months of poems (100) for $0.99, or a full year (365) for $2.99. A portion of the proceeds support the Academy of American Poets programs, including”

“Can Children’s Poetry Matter?”
Poet J. Patrick Lewis has published an intriguing article, “Can Children’s Poetry Matter?” in Hunger Mountain, the VCFA Journal of the Arts. It’s so provocative and beautifully written. Here’s just one nugget:

Poetry is the tunnel at the end of the light; prose, bent out of shape; the idiom of djinns; the sound of silence…amplified. Poetry predates books, predates the alphabet, and once we graduated from humming, it was the first vehicle to bring music to our ears. What are nursery rhymes if not the irresistible echoes of the siren songs of ancient whimsy?

And I loved Sue Corbin’s response, too: “Children are poetry. Their language is poetry. Their wonder of the world is poetry. If children’s poetry doesn’t matter, then children don’t matter. And sadly that’s the reality in some peoples’ worlds. Test scores matter. AYP matters.”

New Poetry Resource Book
Richie Partington has a new book out, I Second that Emotion: Sharing Children’s and Young Adult Poetry: a 21stCentury Resource Guide for Teachers and Librarians published by LC Source. It sounds terrific—and we know Richie’s reviews are always right on. Here’s the blurb on his new book:

"I Second That Emotion is an entertaining guide for teachers and librarians who want to really bring poetry to young people. The author provides a series of steps for becoming an expert on children's and young adult poetry, and a great variety of ideas on sharing poetry with young people all year long. Included are extensive appendices, including listings of books of poetry currently used in summer reading programs; an exploration of how poetry is incorporated into various states' standards; poetry resources for preschoolers; and information on over 500 American and British authors of poetry books for children and young adults."

I ran into some difficulties using the Web site, so found the 800 number more helpful. Call toll-free: 1-800-873-3043.

Guest Poet: Hope Anita Smith
The fantastic librarian Roxanne Feldman recently posted the following on one of my favorite listservs (and gave permission to share it here): "We had the great pleasure of having Hope Anita Smith (The Way a Door Closes, Keeping the Night Watch, and Mother Poems) conduct poetry workshops for our 7th and 8th grade students. The six workshops (with three different contents) were simply fabulous and inspiring. For anyone who wishes to have a generous, inspiring, and effective poetry workshop leader, definitely contact her." Roxane posted an open thank-you letter to her on her Fairrosa Cyber Library site too.

FYI: Hope has been part of my Poetry Round Up held annually at the Texas Library Association conference and was a terrific presenter, so I add my whole-hearted endorsement. I would also like to make a plug for inviting poets in general to do school visits—many enjoy them, indeed count on them, but so often schools gravitate only to fiction authors, with an occasional poet speaker during April (National Poetry Month). But poets write year round and make inspiring speakers any time! Most have web sites (see the links here on my blog) and would love to hear from you! (BTW, the line up of poets for my 2010 Poetry Round Up includes: Laura Purdie Salas, Leslie Bulion, Pat Mora, Jen Bryant, Robert Weinstock, and Douglas Florian. If you’re planning to come to San Antonio for TLA, please join us: Thursday, April 15, 2010, 10:15am. We always have a great time!

Children’s Poet Laureate
Another interesting post written by Neal Whitman at Short Poem (on Feb. 1), shared by Paula Morrow on CHILD_LIT (and posted here with permission) about the post of Children’s Poet Laureate. What a sweet compliment to Charles Ghigna (Father Goose)—who will also be presenting at the annual Fay Kaigler Children’s Literature Festival at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg April 7-9. I’ll be there, too, plugging the latest and greatest poetry for kids. It’s time again for the next Children’s Poet Laureate to be chosen, so stay tuned for that news—which should be out in October.

Knit Your Own Poem
I ran across this craziness: a “Knit Your Own Poem” link courtesy of Great Britain’s Poetry Society! You can input the words of a poem which will magically appear in individually knitted letters—way cool! Those clever Brits!

Posting (not poem) by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2010. All rights reserved.
Image credit:;;poetrysociety,hungermountain

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy VDay and love from Pat Mora

In honor of the day of love, I’m celebrating Dizzy in Your Eyes; Poems About Love, Pat Mora’s new collection of poetry (Knopf, 2010). Don’t miss this innovative anthology of nearly 50 poems about all kinds of love, a chocolate box of many flavors and forms of poems (clerihew, tercet, list, dialogue, blank verse, tanka, letter poem, pantoum, sestina, villanelle, sonnet, cinquain, anaphora, haiku, acrostic, triolet, blues, couplet, lyric, ode, and song) with brief notes on each form in the “wrapper.”

There is clearly a youthful point of view and voice, but the poems reference love of parents, friends, family, pets—acknowledging the depth of feeling in many relationships and at many stages of life. (“Old Love” about an uncle’s mourning his wife’s passing is especially beautiful and poignant.) Besides the variety of forms and voices, many poems also incorporate Spanish words, always in a clear and musical context that adds another layer of sweetness. “Ode to Teachers” is particularly special to me and appears twice, once in English, once in Spanish.

I predict these poems will really resonate with young readers in middle school through high school, although older elementary school age readers will enjoy and understand the poems, too. There is great sensitivity and heart, without being explicit or scintillating (read: safe for school libraries), yet the emotions are often intense and authentic. And the look of the book is so accessible and inviting. The “psychedelic” cover in black/white/red circles and swirls is crazy-fun and a parallel grayscale geometric design of patterned circles and stripes decorates the book throughout giving it a strong, graphic impact. In fact, there is no poetry on the pages on the left side throughout the book—every poem begins only on the pages on the right-hand side—which I think kids will love. Plus they’re placed perfectly on the page, in an inviting font in this small trim size (5x7) volume. Congrats to the book designer for these judicious and effective choices!

Finally, I think the kids will also enjoy performing many of these poems, particularly since the voices and points of view are so strong and varied—that would come alive when read aloud. “Doubts,” for example, is constructed with a series of questions, which would be so powerful read aloud with a different person reading/reciting each question, beginning:

Doubts, p. 11
By Pat Mora

What if guys think I can’t kiss because I can think?

What if I ask her out and she laughs?

Believe it or not, that poem reminds me a bit of Shel Silverstein’s poem “Whatif” that I’ve used with many, many groups of kids for reading aloud and it always gives me gooesbumps (and the kids respond strongly too) when hearing the different “worry” lines voiced by the kids who FEEL those worries. Powerful stuff!

I’d also like to showcase one whole sample poem to give you a feel for Mora’s fine walk between romance and reality, love and heartache. (Plus the title of the book comes from this quartet.) Here’s her haiku series on love. She writes in the accompanying note, “Since haiku traditionally contain a seasonal reference, I decided to use the four seasons as the settings for four haiku that chronicle a relationship.”

Love Haiku
By Pat Mora

Everything’s in love.
Birds, butterflies, and now me,
dizzy in your eyes.


Love blooms in hot nights.
Under stars, hand-in-hand strolls.
Kisses like star sparks.


Now I walk alone.

Did autumn wind cool our love?

No hugs warm me now.


Snow, advise my heart.
White whisper, “Friends. Books. Patience.
Bright new year’s coming.”

Mora, Pat. 2010. Dizzy in Your Eyes; Poems About Love. Knopf, p. 123.

This is a lovely collection about love, about relationships of all kinds, with a variety of poetic forms (and notes) to guide aspiring poets. It’s gentle and reflective, without being overly sweet, realistic and descriptive, without being overly graphic, and completely captivating. Great “occasional” poetry, too-- perfect for Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and other occasions —the final poem, “My Song” would even be perfect for a graduation or commencement ceremony.

FYI: Be sure to look for Pat's previous collection of poetry for young people, My Own True Name: New And Selected Poems For Young Adults, which has one of my favorite poems about learning English, "Elena."
Posting (not poem) by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2010. All rights reserved.
Image credit:

Monday, February 08, 2010

LBH Award Announced

I’m excited to announce the 2010 winner of the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award:

Button Up by Alice Schertle (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009) illustrated by Petra Mathers

This picture book collection contains 15 “mask” poems told from the point of view of children’s clothing, from shoelaces to T-shirts to galoshes. Each clever poem references a child’s name, like “Jack’s soccer jersey” giving it added personality. Pithy watercolor illustrations by Petra Mathers depict each “child” as a different animal adding humor and whimsy to each poem’s double-page spread. Schertle is a poet’s poet, crafting poems in a variety of forms (quatrains, tercets, and more) with distinctive rhythms and musical rhymes. Getting dressed (in the morning, in the rain, in the winter, for a game, or at play) is a BIG DEAL to the young child and these lyrical poems tap into that experience—with all the sensory qualities and emotional resonance that a young child experiences. Kids will love reading them out loud, pantomiming the motions, and creating clothes + poems displays.

This is Alice Schertle’s first LBH award and it is long overdue! Her work is consistently wonderful and I’ve blogged about it in the past (April 7, 2007 includes a “birthday” profile of Schertle). Congratulations, Alice!

Three honor books were also chosen (listed in alphabetical order):

A Curious Collection of Cats by Betsy Franco (Tricycle Press, 2009) illustrated by Michael Wertz
*This gorgeous collection of concrete poetry has spot-on perfect, popsicle-colored illustrations in graphic cat portraits, perfectly paired with poems that capture cat moments, cat quirks, and kitty cat personalities. The shape and rhythm of Franco’s feline-focused poems are varied and engaging, equally fun for visualizing or reading aloud—quite an achievement.

Crossing Stones by Helen Frost (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2009)
*Frost has outdone herself with this richly textured historical novel in verse set during World War I and blending the voices of 4 main characters (2 boys, 2 girls) struggling with issues of patriotism/pacifism and feminism and family roles in poems built “stone” by “stone” in Frost’s own variation of “cupped-hand sonnets.” [Look for more about Frost and her work in the next issue of Book Links!]

Tree that Time Built; A Celebration of Nature, Science, and Imagination selected by Mary Ann Hoberman and Linda Winston (Sourcebooks, 2009)
*Hoberman and Winston remind us of what a great anthology can do—by gathering poems around a distinctive theme, breathing new life into classics, commissioning new original gems, and providing an infrastructure of helpful notes and resources that tie it all together. Who knew poets and scientists had so much in common? (And there’s a terrific CD with audio tracks of 44 poems and notes read by the poets themselves.)

For more information about the award, initiated by Lee Bennett Hopkins himself in 1993, and currently sponsored by the Pennsylvania Center for the Book at Pennsylvania State University, look here. From the Web site: The Lee Bennett Hopkins Award is presented annually to an American poet or anthologist for the most outstanding new book of children's poetry published in the previous calendar year. Since its inception in 1993, the winning poet or anthologist has received a handsome plaque and a $500 honorarium made possible by Mr. Hopkins. In 2008, the honorarium was raised to $1000. The award will be presented in Pennsylvania on Friday, April 16.

I was fortunate enough to serve on this year’s committee and would like to thank my fellow judges for their hard work and thoughtful discussions, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Janice Dysart, and Carol Sibley. Thanks also go to the terrific crew in Pennsylvania who guided us and coordinated this effort, including Dustin Brackbill, Steven Herb, Karla Schmidt, and Caroline Wermuth.

Congratulations to these poets—and thanks to every poet for a bumper crop of terrific poetry to read, discuss, and enjoy this year!

Posting (not poem) by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2010. All rights reserved.

Image credit:;;;

Friday, February 05, 2010

Big World of Poetry

In my most recent “Everyday Poetry” column for Book Links magazine, “The Big World of Poetry,” I take a look at poetry for young people that is published OUTSIDE the U.S. We have such riches in the poets and poetry of the U.S., that sometimes we forget to cast a wider net for the fresh perspectives available in Canada, Great Britain, Australia, and poems in translation from Central and South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia.

Across the globe, poetry’s roots go very deep, from Greek epics like “The Odyssey” to the holy writings from the Bible, the Koran, and Hindu holy books also written in verse. More than 3,000 years of songs of praise exist among the Arab, African, and Asian peoples. Many poetic forms have their beginnings in the Italian petrarchin sonnet, Icelandic epics, Japanese haiku, and the French villanelle. We’ve been “borrowing” poetry for kids from across the ocean since the days of William Blake (Songs of Innocence, 1789), Edward Lear (“The Owl and the Pussycat,” 1871), Robert Louis Stevenson (A Child’s Garden of Verses, 1885) and A. A. Milne (Now We Are Six, 1927).

Once one begins looking for poetry from countries outside the U.S., it is sometimes surprising how many collections turn up. Just north of our border, look for the work of Canadian poets like Dennis Lee, Pamela Porter, Jo Ellen Bogart, Sheree Fitch, Robert Heidbreder, Loris Lesynski, Jean Little, William New, Sean O’Huigin, and anthologists David Booth and Jen Hamilton. I fell in love with Carolyn Beck’s recent picture book collection about a cow’s life in Buttercup’s Lovely Day and feature the work of JonArno Lawson alongside my article. He has already been gathering awards with his works, Black Stars in a White Night Sky, Inside Out: Children's Poets Discuss Their Work, and A Voweller’s Bestiary.

Also from Canada, look for the terrific Kids Can Press “Visions in Poetry” series featuring “classic poems reinterpreted for today’s readers by outstanding contemporary artists.” Each poem, from “The Raven” to “Jabberwocky” to “Casey at the Bat” gets a sophisticated and engaging picture book treatment. Groundwood Books based in Canada also publishes intriguing international poetry, including translations of poetry from other languages. Most recently, look for the bilingual edition of Colors! Colores! by Mexican poet Jorge Luján, translated by John Oliver Simon and Rebecca Parfitt and illustrated by South African artist Piet Grobler. It’s an inviting picture book collection of one-color-per-poem works ala Hailstones & Halibut Bones. Another recent bilingual gem published by Groundwood is Jorge Argueta’s Sopa de frijoles/ Bean Soup, a recipe-in-a-poem.

Of course there are many terrific British poets and anthologists, too, including Michael Rosen, John Foster, Liz Brownlee, June Crebbin, Gerard Benson, Judith Nicholls, Joan Poulson, Marian Swinger, Libby Houston, Sue Cowling, Eric Finney, Tony Mitton, Pie Corbett, 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, Clare Bevan, John Rice, Carol Coiffait, Kate Williams, Wes Magee, Jean Kenward, and more.

For one current sampling, look for Graham Denton’s British Wild! Rhymes that Roar, co-edited with poet James Carter, an anthology of animal poems (oyster, axolotl, lobster, crocodile, cockroach, crow, and more) running the gamut from silly to serious, with fun “Britishisms” sprinkled throughout, like “pyjamas” and “Mum.” For our youngest, share Jane Yolen’s delightful collaboration with Brit Andrew Fusek Peters, Here’s a Little Poem: A Very First Book of Poetry, with a sequel coming soon. And for teens, introduce the moving anthology, Poems of Love and Longing edited by Viv Sayer. Also don’t miss Seamus Cashman’s amazing, Something Beginning with P: New Poems from Irish Poets or Dutch poet Ted van Lieshout’s Hou Van Mij (Love Me) which includes visual sonnets built from objects, rather than words.

And beyond Europe, kids will enjoy the Japanese/English poetry collections of Michio Mado. And there are several wonderful anthologies of poetry from the Caribbean compiled and written by by James Agard and Grace Nichols, James Berry, Lynn Joseph, and Monica Gunning that are lyrical and engaging. And these are just a drop in the poetry bucket!

Expose kids to poetry written BY KIDS around the world in River of Words (book edited by Pamela Michael), an eco-themed international writing contest or the Poem Express, an actual and virtual international festival of art and poetry BY kids.

More and more international poets are being published in the U.S. and translated into English. In some cases, we have to go to the original publisher abroad and pay extra for international shipping—but it’s worth it. Or challenge kids to create their own multi-lingual poetry collections by gathering poems from family and community members who hail from elsewhere. Remember, however, that poems that may have rhymed in German, for example, may no longer rhyme in the translated English version. Thus, translated poems may not be as rhythmic and musical as the rhyming, English poems children are more familiar with. And it’s always worth sharing international poems in their original language just to enjoy the sound and music of the poem, if you have a fluent reader of that language available. Thinking internationally opens up the world for our kids—and what better vehicle than poetry?

Speaking of JonArno Lawson, my column once again features an original unpublished poem for sharing, this time provided by Lawson, “The Tree and the Telephone Pole.” Check it out!

I’d also like to mention JonArno Lawson's latest book, Think Again (published by KCP Poetry, 2010), a slim volume of poetry destined for many middle school (and high school) library shelves and surreptitious boy-girl sharing. It’s built upon a series of 48 quatrain poems, almost story-like, in revealing the tenderness, angst, confusion, and exhilaration of fledgling first love. Black and white ink drawings by Julie Morstad “people” the book, suggesting the tentative sketching of a young artist doodling and journaling. Lawson’s clever wordplay and sometimes syncopated rhythms keep the poems from veering into sentimentality and make them open-ended enough to stand on their own as thoughtful and contemplative. Here’s one example:

My Needs

I need a little time to squander
A book to read

A place to wander

And puzzling quandaries I can ponder.

Lawson, JonArno. 2010. Think Again. Ill. By Julie Morstad. Toronto: Kids Can Press, p. 36.

Plan now for International Children's Book Day on April 2 by seeking and sharing a poem from outside the US with the kids you care about.

For more Poetry Friday fun, go to Great Kids Books hosted by Mary Ann.

Posting (not poem) by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2010. All rights reserved.

Image credit: Kids Can Press; ALA