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.


Mary Lee said...

What a beautiful tribute. I love this, "“The Johnny Appleseed of contemporary children’s poetry." So true. So very true.

You might be the Annie Appleseed of children's poetry, come to think of it... :-)

jama said...

Thanks so much for this loving, stellar tribute, Sylvia. What a legacy! Happy you mentioned Lee's "twinkle," which reminded me that one of the reasons he was so successful at what he did was because he never lost touch with the child within.

Liz Steinglass said...

Thank you for this wonderful tribute to his life and legacy. I see the covers of many of my favorite anthologies in these images. He gave so much to so many.

Sylvia Vardell said...

Thank you for your kind words. ("Annie Appleseed?" I'm not worthy!) I know we all feel such a loss at Lee's passing. But focusing on his work, his advocacy, and his mentorship helps me get through this. And what a legacy it is!

Charles Ghigna said...

Thank you, Sylvia, for this beautiful tribute to a beautiful soul! Lee lived and loved every minute of his glorious life and was gracious to share with others. He was an inspiration to us all and grateful to you for gathering us together in your anthology to honor and celebrate our DEAR ONE.

Catherine Flynn said...

Thank you for this touching tribute to Lee. I see so many favorite titles. We have truly lost a legend.

Kimberly Hutmacher said...

What a beautiful tribute. Thank you, Sylvia.

Michelle Heidenrich Barnes said...

A fantastic (and USEFUL) write-up, Sylvia! Lee will be missed, no doubt about it—especially that twinkle and his contagious laugh—but his anthologies will live on. I had no idea that a student of yours is the one who pursued his Guinness record! That's so cool. :)

Penny Parker Klostermann said...

Thanks for this tribute, Sylvia! I "met" Lee through Renee's blog and savored every interview they did. I always saved them for a time of day where I had no distractions and could hang on every word. He will be missed.

Kay said...

What a beautiful tribute to a poet's poet.