Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Time for Winter Bees

Winter has blown in this week, even in Texas, and the temperatures have dropped significantly. What happens to the bees in temperatures like these? Ask Joyce Sidman! Her new book, Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold was just published and it’s a beautiful look at how a variety of plants and animals of the north cope with winter weather. If you’re familiar with Joyce’s work, this new book is parallel to three of her others that examine creatures in a designated ecosystem—through lyrical poetry, informative prose paragraphs, and evocative illustrations:
  • Sidman, Joyce. 2005. Song of the Water Boatman and Other Pond Poems. Ill. By Beckie Prange. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  • Sidman, Joyce. 2006. Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow. Ill. by Beth Krommes. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. 
  • Sidman, Joyce. 2010. Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night. Ill. by Rick Allen. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

And now with FOUR FIVE STARRED REVIEWS already:
Sidman, Joyce. 2014. Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold. Ill. by Rick Allen. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
I was lucky enough to create a readers’ guide for this book that you’ll find here (along with Common Core skill connections).
Winter Bees guide link here.
Just to whet your appetite, here are a few excerpts from the guide.
Set the stage
Before exploring this book, talk with students about winter and how they experience this season. Ask: Is it cold where we live? Is there snow or ice? Or is it a warm place with mild weather? What animals and insects do you notice in your communities and neighborhoods and what do those creatures do during the winter? Explain that in Winter Bees, the poet Joyce Sidman explores what winter is like for a dozen plants and animals of the north through poetry and prose paragraphs.

Notice that the illustrator Rick Allen has featured the red fox in nearly all of the illustrations, even when other animals and plants are the focus of the poem. Can you spot the fox? Rick Allen uses prints to create the art for these illustrations, particularly linoleum cuts and wood engravings. Students may enjoy trying their own printmaking with simple potato prints (carving simple designs into a half potato with adult supervision) or cardboard prints (cutting corrugated cardboard into simple shapes). Or even simpler—try making paper snowflakes with blank white paper folded multiple times and then snipped and shaped with scissors.

Students can work with a partner or in a small group to create a “found” poem about a winter animal. They can choose a favorite animal from Winter Bees, read the prose paragraph provided, and then choose their favorite words or phrases from the paragraph and rearrange them into a “found” poem of their own. Remind students that poems don’t have to rhyme.

Make a list of the dozen plants and animals featured in this book. Students can then investigate which of these are found in their own communities and what winter is like for them in their region. Add animals that are unique to your own area and research images of them at sources like or videos on YouTube. Challenge students to research and write their own nonfiction prose paragraphs about a selected plant or animal in winter similar to those Sidman provides in Winter Bees.

And there are discussion questions for each individual poem too. Here are a few examples.

1. “Snake’s Lullaby”
What is a lullaby? Why might this poem be titled a “lullaby”? Notice how the poet uses rhyme and rhythm to suggest the song-like qualities of a lullaby. Why is it important for snakes to sleep in winter?
2. “Big Brown Moose”
In this persona poem, the poet is writing as if she were the moose. How do you know that? Which lines and words signal that point of view? Notice how she also coins new words (like “slumberous”) to describe the moose. What might “slumberous” mean in this context?
3. “Winter Bees”
Why do you think this whole book of poetry is titled after this particular poem? What do you learn about bees in winter here? Why is that so central to this whole book?
4. “Under Ice”
What animals live “under ice” in this poem? Why is the poem not named after them in this case? In this poem, the poet repeats from one stanza to the next. Can you find each repeated line (beginning with “made of ripped chips and thrashing twigs”)? Use the glossary to help you understand the pantoum form, if needed.
5. “What Do the Trees Know?”
Why did the poet include this poem about trees, instead of featuring another animal? What roles do trees play in the animal world? Why does the poet title this poem with a question? Notice that the poet repeats that title question line twice in the poem. Why do you think she does that?

Wrap up
Which is your favorite animal depicted in this book? Which is your favorite poem? Why? Are these the same (poem+animal) or different? What did you learn about animals in winter that especially surprised you? What do you like to do in winter to help you “survive” and thrive during this season?
  • For more information about Joyce Sidman and her work, go to
  • This book is getting lots of buzz (get it, buzz!) and you’ll find a great article here.
  • And a radio interview with Joyce here.
  • More info at Laura Purdie Salas’s blog here.
  • And an in-depth interview with illustrator Rick Allen here


Now head on over to Keri Recommends for our Poetry Friday gathering this week.

Image credit:;HoughtonMifflinHarcourt;KenspeckleLetterPress;;wallpaper web;blendspace
Posting by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2014. All rights reserved.


skanny17 said...

Wonderful, Sylvia. I will be using these ideas AND sharing them with teachers I know and meet! I can't wait to hold this book. Sorry to miss you all at NCTE this year. It will make getting to next year's convention a high priority as I am feeling separation anxiety from NCTE already.
Janet Clare F.

laurasalas said...

What a lovely readers' guide, Sylvia. I didn't know you did that until Joyce mentioned it recently!

Sylvia Vardell said...

Thank you both. Yep, I love doing guides, Laura. It's fun thinking about how to help more people share more poetry!

Robyn Hood Black said...

Wow - must get my hands on this and share with teacher-daughter! Congrats to the amazing Joyce Sidman and Rick Allen.

And your activities are fantastic, Sylvia - thanks for sharing!

Charles Waters said...

Can't wait to read it, it's on order from the NY Public Library. Thanks for highlighting this book and that fine poet!

jama said...

Wow, this book is getting a lot of PF love today -- and well deserved I'm sure. Fabulous that you did a reader's guide, Sylvia. Thanks for sharing excerpts from it!

Donna Smith said...

Ok, 3 times now...guess this book is something I should check out.

Bridget Magee said...

Can't wait to get my hands on my copy of this book. Excellent review and readers' guide. =)

Mary Lee said...

Yup. Amazing book. And now, with amazing resources, too!!

Sylvia Vardell said...

Thanks, peeps. You guys are so sweet to stop by and take time to comment. I'm such a fan of YOUR work too. Glad we're unanimous in our enthusiasm for Joyce's new book. It's so beautiful and engaging on so many levels!