Friday, August 09, 2019

Remembering Lee

We lost a legend this week: Lee Bennett Hopkins. This giant of a poet, poetry anthologist, and poetry advocate has had such an impact on the world of children's literature and on me, personally. I want to take a moment to honor his work and celebrate the amazing catalog of his beautiful books and his influence on the poetry community. But I also want to say how grateful to have known him, his twinkle, his toughness, and his encyclopedic knowledge. Thank you, Lee, for sharing your gifts with us.

Lee Bennett Hopkins
(from Poetry People, 2007)
Lee Bennett Hopkins was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, on April 13, 1938 and passed away on August 8, 2019. He grew up in Newark, New Jersey, and graduated from Newark State Teachers College, now called Kean College in New Jersey. As a child, he read comic books and movie magazines until a teacher inspired him to love reading and theater. 
Hopkins worked as a writer, an editor, and as a curriculum specialist and then became a full-time writer and poetry anthologist in the 1970’s. He has been awarded an honorary doctorate from Kean College and the University of Southern Mississippi Medallion for "outstanding contributions to the field of children's literature.” His work has been recognized on countless Notable and best book lists. Called the “The Johnny Appleseed of contemporary children’s poetry,” Hopkins established two major awards to encourage recognition of poetry for young people: the annual Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award for a single volume of poetry, and the Lee Bennett Hopkins Promising Poet Award, presented every three years by the International Reading Association to a new poet with two or fewer poetry books published. More recently, he also established the SCBWI Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award administered every three years and “recognizes and encourages the publication of an excellent book of poetry or anthology for children and/or young adults.

There are several anthologists who have established excellent reputations for compiling numerous high quality collections of poetry for children. Lee Bennett Hopkins may be the most prolific of all, with over 100 books of poetry to his credit as both an anthologist and as a writer. In fact, he was awarded a Guinness World Record for the most anthologies of poetry for young people. (One of my students, Beth Enochs, pursued this award for Lee!) Lee Bennett Hopkins has also nurtured many new talents in poetry, commissioning up-and-coming poets to write poems for anthologies he compiles. A few of his most popular titles include Good Books, Good Times (HarperTrophy 2000), Spectacular Science: A Book of Poems (Simon & Schuster 1999), Opening Days: Sports Poems (Harcourt 1996), School Supplies: A Book of Poems (Simon & Schuster 1996), My America: A Poetry Atlas of the United States (Simon & Schuster 2000) and Days to Celebrate: A Full Year of Poetry, People, Holidays, History, Fascinating Facts, and More (HarperCollins 2005) Indeed, as children pore over the dozens of Hopkins anthologies available, they may be inspired to create their own anthologies and even “commission” poems by their favorite friend poets.
Hopkins’ work can be an ideal jumping off point for launching a celebration of poetry with one of his collections about books, reading, language or writing. Good Books, Good Times (HarperTrophy 1990) is one popular example. What teacher, parent, or librarian doesn’t relish emphasizing the joys of reading for children who are still learning the process? This thematic collection is organized around that topic, and it includes Hopkins’ own oft-shared poem “Good Books, Good Times.” Other parallel Hopkins anthologies include Good Rhymes, Good Times (HarperTrophy 2000) and Wonderful Words: Poems About Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening (Simon & Schuster 2004). Also look for Mary Perrotta Rich’s compilation of the bookmark poems composed in celebration of National Children’s Book Week each year and gathered in the collection, Book Poems: Poems from National Children’s Book Week, 1959-1998 (Children’s Book Council, 1998). Children may want to create their own bookmarks with their favorite or original poem about books and reading on them. 
Teachers and librarians find Hopkins’ work helpful because so many of his anthologies are organized around themes or topics that lend themselves to teaching school subject areas. For example, Hand in Hand: An American History through Poetry (Simon & Schuster 1994) offers a chronological view of American history through poetry. Combine this with the individual experience found in Joyce Carol Thomas’s, I Have Heard of a Land ( HarperCollins 1995) or one family’s history in Ann Turner’s Mississippi Mud (HarperCollins 1997). Or try Hopkins’ collection, Spectacular Science (Simon & Schuster 1999) which includes science-related poems by writers from Carl Sandburg to Rebecca Kai Dotlich. Children will appreciate both the contextualized vocabulary and the clear imagery found in poems like “What is Science?” by Dotlich. Marvelous Math (Simon & Schuster 1997) includes math-related poems by an assortment of poets, like “Take a Number” by Mary O’Neill. These poems can help clarify terms and concepts, as well as add fun and enrichment to math lessons or tutoring.
We can also pair Hopkins’ thematic collections with fiction or nonfiction books on the same topic for added breadth. For example, link Hopkins’ anthology, It’s About Time (Simon & Schuster 1993) with Kathryn Lasky’s picture book biography, The Man Who Made Time Travel (Farrar, Straus & Giroux 2003). Children can study how time is measured by scientists versus poets or assemble a collection of various timepieces and measurement devices along with their favorite “time for poetry” poems. 
Lee Bennett Hopkins has also authored biographical and autobiographical writings. Two books about his own life and work include Writing Bug (Richard C. Owens 1993) and Been To Yesterdays: Poems Of A Life (Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press 1995) told through poems. Two collections about poets and poetry teaching include Pass the Poetry Please (HarperCollins 1986) and Pauses; Autobiographical Reflections of 101 Creators of Children’s Books (HarperCollins 1995). His advice to adults who share poetry with children is simple, but powerful: "Don't dissect poetry, enjoy it … everyday! There shouldn't be a day without poetry --it fits into every area of the curriculum, every area of life.”

P.S. Check Renee La Tulippe's website, NoWaterRiver, for fabulous video conversations between Lee and Renee about the world of poetry for children and major award (NCTE) winners.

For more sharing on this Poetry Friday, go to Nix the Comfort Zone.


Friday, August 02, 2019

EXTRA! EXTRA! Chris Baron and ALL OF ME

It's time for another installment in my "Extra! Extra!" series, inviting poets to share a poem that did NOT end up in their published book-- and provide a bit of backstory about the choice not to include that particular poem. It makes sense that not everything a writer produces ends up in the finished book and yet I'm surprised when it comes to poetry and poem collections or novels in verse. It seems like each poem would be a gem that must be included. And now that I'm seeing poems that have been omitted from finished collections, I'm even more intrigued! It's kind of like watching the "director's cut" of a movie-- with all the richness and detail that can offer. So, here we go with another example of wonderful poems that give us a bit of "extra" enjoyment of an already strong work. 

Here, Chris Baron talks about his new book, ALL OF ME, a moving novel in verse: 

"Ari has body-image issues. After a move across the country, his parents work selling and promoting his mother's paintings and sculptures. Ari's bohemian mother needs space to create, and his father is gone for long stretches of time on "sales" trips. Meanwhile, Ari makes new friends: Pick, the gamer; the artsy Jorge, and the troubled Lisa. He is also relentlessly bullied because he's overweight, but he can't tell his parents―they're simply not around enough to listen.

After an upsetting incident, Ari's mom suggests he go on a diet, and she gives him a book to help. But the book―and the diet―can’t fix everything. As Ari faces the demise of his parents' marriage, he also feels himself changing, both emotionally and physically. Here is a much-needed story about accepting the imperfect in oneself and in life."

Chris writes:

This poem, "First Kiss," was the poem that actually started my MG career--that's a story I usually share at book talks or signings--This poem first appeared in a different collection of poetry, but it captures the innocence and curiosity of the main character, Ari, really well.  In this poem, he is remembering  a first experience he had back when he lived in New York before moving to the Bay Area. In the end, the poem wasn't really needed for the overall story-but it holds a special place in my heart. 

First Kiss

Fat kids don’t have girlfriends.
Friends yes, but not kissing,
not even in third grade.
So imagine my surprise
when once, in the backseat 
of our 77’ Caddy,
on the drive home
from the 3rd grade birthday party,
Tonya, her quiet eyes in mine,
put her braid on my shoulder,
and kissed me, twice. 
The first kiss struck my nose,
then squarely she found my lips. 
The next day at school,
I spent hours staring 
out the window, my shoulder 
bending in memory of the braid.
My fingers pushed against my mouth,
trying to remember the cold
suddenness of her lips and breath
that made me.

In All Of Me, I desperately wanted to capture the beauty of the Bay Area setting, so there were many "snapshot" poems like this that simply melted away into other poems: (much better).

The Mountain

across the street
from the nursery
is soft green
and jagged granite,
spotted with dark green
trees that wind
all the way to Muir Woods.
One day, I think,
I want to go up there
into that mountain.
I wonder if I can do it.

Ari wants to be a cryptozoologist! He identifies so much with the creatures that are somehow outcasts--outliers in a world that demands normal.  There were many extra bigfoot (and other cryptid) poems that didn't make it in.  This one speaks to the legendary Bigfoot myths surrounding Central Park.

Mrs. Goldberg tells us
that world is filled
with stories about Bigfoot,
some creature halfway between
a distant relative or something else.

Once,
in Central Park,
on my walk home,
I saw something 
in the wide-armed branches
of an old Beech tree.
A shadow pulled itself 
into a too-high branch,
some unreachable height.
I stopped where the grass
becomes the street
and turned back,
the shadow swung down,
its arms twisting,
the head slightly
tilted, looking at me 
through evening sky. 
I looked at the path,
the dark shapes of trees
like rough curtains
drawing around me.
Still, I wanted to see it up close. 
I felt the calm and the fear
of anything being possible.

They say the smell of Bigfoot
is like rotting flesh, 
like a dog dying,
a gym locker. 
They say that Bigfoot has a cry 
that can silence the forest,
cut darkness in half.
They say that Bigfoot 
is usually kind
but can sometimes be cruel.

I am always looking for Bigfoot.
The impossible creature,
lost in time, 
either so afraid and always hiding,
or maybe brilliant and powerful,
able to hide in plain sight
even though

it's so immense.

Here is a photo of Chris and his kids when he took them to the Bay Area where the book takes place. 
Thank you, Chris, for sharing so generously and for creating this compelling and likable protagonist and sharing his poignant story. Don't miss this honest, heartbreaking and uplifting middle grade novel in verse about body image, family struggles, finding friendship, and self-discovery.

Now head on over to My Juicy Little Universe where Heidi is hosting our Poetry Friday gathering