Friday, December 29, 2006

Best Poetry for Children in 2006

As we end the year of 2006, I’m thinking back over my favorite moments (my son’s graduation from high school, trips to Japan and China), favorite movies (“Babel,” “Inside Man”) and favorite poetry books for kids. Fortunately, there have been many lovely books of poetry published for young people in 2006. Here’s my list, along with very brief annotations. I'm tickled to see such a variety of works by new and favorite poets-- picture book collections, nature themes, humorous verse, historical poem-stories, a poem biography, poems for the very young, all accompanied by the work of many distinctive illustrators. Each is a gem. You may have other favorite poetry books of your own. Either way, stock up with new titles, double up with multiple copies, and speak up sharing poems with kids you care about every day. Resolve to move poetry up your priority list for 2007. The kids in your life will be richer for it-- and so will you!

1. Brown, Calef. Flamingos on the Roof. Houghton Mifflin.
*Zany, syncopated story-poems are accompanied by crazy, cock-eyed story-paintings about all kinds of make-believe creatures

2. Bulion, Leslie. Hey There, Stink Bug! Ill. by Leslie Evans. Charlesbridge.
*The insect world comes to life through poems and facts, with a fun focus on the gross and gruesome

3. Engle, Margarita. The Poet Slave of Cuba: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano. Ill. by Sean Qualls. Henry Holt.
*The life of nineteenth-century Cuban slave Juan Francisco Manzano is portrayed in vivid free verse from multiple points of view

4. Florian, Douglas. Handsprings. Harcourt.
*Rhyming poems about the colors, sounds, and feelings associated with spring are accompanied by watercolor paintings that energetically capture the mood of the season

5. Frost, Helen. The Braid. Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
*The intertwining poem tale of two sisters surviving hardships as Scottish refugees/immigrants in the 1850’s

6. Greenfield, Eloise. The Friendly Four. Ill. by Jan Spivey Gilchrist. HarperCollins.
*Read aloud poems for multiple voices depict four African American neighborhood children (two boys, two girls) who develop a friendship over a summer

7. Katz, Bobbi. Once Around the Sun. Ill. by LeUyen Pham. Harcourt.
*A-poem-a-month shows city life from the child’s point of view combined with lively, energetic scenic illustrations of a diverse community

8. Larios, Julie. Yellow Elephant: A Bright Bestiary. Ill. by Julie Paschkis. Harcourt.
*A kind of BROWN BEAR, BROWN BEAR book of read aloud color-animal poems full of metaphor and description

9. Lewis, J. Patrick and Dotlich, Rebecca Kai. Castles: Old Stone Poems. Ill. by Dan Burr. Boyds Mills Press.
*A beautiful collection of paintings and poems of historic castles around the world

10. Lewis, J. Patrick. Blackbeard, the Pirate King. National Geographic.
*With classic pirate illustrations by Pyle and Wyeth, as well as modern incarnations, the fascinating life of Edward Teach is captured in poems, facts, and endnotes

11. Myers, Walter Dean. Jazz. Ill. by Christopher Myers. Holiday House.
*A celebration of jazz music and history and a tribute to New Orleans captured with vivid and participatory language

12. Rex, Adam. Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich. Harcourt.
*Rex has written and illustrated an irresistible collection of monster poems told with verve and humor

13. Shannon, George. Busy in the Garden. Ill. by Sam Williams. Greenwillow.
*These rollicking rhymes and riddles about garden life engage even the very youngest children

14. Sidman, Joyce. Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow. Houghton Mifflin.
*Exquisite riddle rhyme pairs explore the plants and animals of the meadow along with informative prose paragraphs and a glossary

15. Siebert, Diane. Tour America: A Journey Through Poems and Art. Chronicle Books.
*Tour the U.S. through descriptive, rhyming poems and mixed media art

16. Weatherford, Carole Boston. Dear Mr. Rosenwald. Ill. by R. Gregory Christie. Scholastic.
*The true story-in-poems about a small, Southern African American community that builds its own school in the 1920s

Friday, December 22, 2006

Christmas Poetry Plus

My nearly-grown-up children are home for the holidays and I’ve had fun reading some favorite poems out loud to them. My 23 year-old daughter said it made her want to cuddle up on my lap and fall asleep—shades of childhood bedtimes! And there are so many wonderful poetry collections to share this time of year. Valerie Worth departed from her “small poem” format with the poetry book, At Christmastime, a large picture book with full page woodcut illustrations by Antonio Frasconi. Another picture book collection worth finding is Nikki Grimes’ Under the Christmas Tree, illustrated by Kadir Nelson, a real gem. Lee Bennett Hopkins offers two wonderful “I Can Read” poetry collections, Christmas Presents and Hanukkah Lights. And there are beautiful multicultural poem-song anthologies to share including Lulu Delacre’s Las Navidades: Popular Christmas Songs from Latin America, Ashley Bryan’s illustrated version of Langston Hughes’ Carol of the Brown King: Nativity Poems, and Hold Christmas In Your Heart: African American Songs, Poems, and Stories for the Holidays selected by Cheryl Willis Hudson.

Ready to laugh? Look for Jack Prelutsky’s It’s Christmas or Alan Katz’s Where Did They Hide My Presents? Or for poems that are more generally winter-themed, look for Francisco X. Alarcon’s Iguanas in the Snow/ Iguanas en la nieve, Douglas Florian’s Winter Eyes, or Anna Grossnickle Hines’s poetry book, Winter Lights: A Season in Poems & Quilts, each beautifully and distinctively illustrated.

Just for fun, share this “Christmas” poem below, reading it antiphonally, with two groups of children reading alternating lines. It’s from an older anthology, More Poetry for Holidays, collected by Nancy Larrick.

Day Before Christmas
by Marchette Chute

We have been helping with the cake
And licking out the pan,
And wrapping up our packages
As neatly as we can.
And we have hung our stockings up
Beside the open grate.
And now there’s nothing more to do

Happy holidays in poetry!

Friday, December 15, 2006

Sun, not snow, poem

Where I live, we don’t have a “white” Christmas with a snowy landscape. It’s Texas and it’s generally sunny with brown lawns and near 80 degrees tomorrow! So, although I enjoy traditional Christmas rhymes and songs about our “winter wonderland,” we have to acknowledge that there are many places that don’t look like a Currier and Ives lithograph this time of year. So I’m always on the lookout for poems that feature the holiday with a twist. Here’s one of my favorites from Lee Bennett Hopkins’ anthology, Ring Out, Wild Bells.

by Frank Asch

If sunlight fell like snowflakes,
gleaming yellow and so bright,
we could build a sunman,
we could have a sunball fight,
we could watch the sunflakes
drifting in the sky.
We could go sleighing
in the middle of July
through sundrifts and sunbanks,
we could ride a sunmobile,
and we could touch sunflakes--
I wonder how they’d feel.

from Ring Out, Wild Bells
collected by Lee Bennett Hopkins

*Just for fun, read the poem aloud and invite children to chime in on the word, “sun” wherever it appears in the poem—- to emphasize the contrast between the “sun” words and the usual “snow” images.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Night Before Christmas

It’s that time of year again; time to hear or recite the classic poem attributed to Clement C. Moore, "A Visit from St. Nicholas,” more popularly known as “The Night Before Christmas,” which first debuted in a New York newspaper in 1823. I have to admit that I loved this poem as a child, memorized it easily, and recited it with relish for many years. It had the breathless appeal of a campfire story, with the zest of a cheer or chant. As an adult, I learned that Moore may not have written the poem at all and that it was first attributed to “Anonymous.” It has also undergone extensive editing, with the names of the reindeer often changed ("Dunder" vs. "Donner"). One of my favorite picture book renditions of the first version of the poem (complete with Author’s Note) is Matt Tavares’ ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, strikingly illustrated in black and white, ala Chris Van Allsburg (although James Marshall’s cartoon version is pretty darn great, too!).

Over the years, this poem has appeared in picture book form many times over, illustrated by dozens of illustrators, from Arthur Rackham and Tasha Tudor to Jan Brett and Mary Engelbreit. I have collected many of these versions, looking for the most unusual variants of spin-offs I can find, from pop up to coloring book, Care Bear or Rugrat, and of course The Night Before Christmas, in Texas, That Is by Leon Harris. And apparently, I am not the only one who enjoys finding parodies of the poem. I found nearly 20 other versions from “An Ernest Hemingway Christmas” (from The New Yorker archives) to two versions of “A Star Trek Christmas” at

Other authors and illustrators have taken the poem’s “formula” and transferred it to Halloween (The Fright Before Christmas by Judy Sierra), or spun a Christmas version with feminist commentary (A Visit From St. Nicholas To a Liberated Household by Judith Viorst), or infused it with cultural diversity (look for the Black Santa in 'Twas the Night B’Fore Christmas; An African-American Version by Melodye Rosales), or created a visual poem puzzle (Can You See What I See? Night Before Christmas by Walter Wick). One new version that appeared this year is A Soldier’s Night Before Christmas by Trish Holland and Christine Ford, illustrated by John Manders. Here, “Sergeant McClaus” delivers unexpected gifts to soldiers sleeping among Blackhawks and Humvees in a desert setting. Although this Golden Book may not win any literary prizes, this version may be just what many families need this Christmas, with its closing refrain, “Happy Christmas, brave soldiers! May peace come to all.”

The poem may take many forms, from playful to serious, but it seems to have staying power with its musical rhyme and hopeful message. It’s certainly firmly entrenched in popular culture! Look for your favorite version to share or challenge children to create their own renditions. And of course, seek out poems that capture other holiday or seasonal celebrations, too.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Rosa Parks Day

On Dec. 1, 1955, Rosa Parks, an African American seamstress, defied the law by refusing to give up her seat to a white man aboard a Montgomery, Alabama, city bus. Parks was arrested, sparking a year-long boycott of the buses by blacks that rippled across the country to change attitudes and laws. Although I grew up hearing that she was tired and simply wanted to stay seated after a long day of work, in recent years I have come to learn that she made a conscious decision to protest by staying put. Learn more about this story from Nikki Giovanni’s picture book, Rosa (Holt, 2005) illustrated by Bryan Collier. Herself a poet, Giovanni has created a moving narrative tribute to Rosa Parks, as an individual and as a force for change in America. Collier’s watercolor-and-collage illustrations depict Parks as an inspiring force that radiates golden light. The book won both a Caldecott honor distinction and Coretta Scott King medal.

Then follow up with three poem tributes. First share, two poems about Rosa Parks, one by Carole Boston Weatherford in Remember the Bridge (Philomel, 2002), and another by J. Patrick Lewis,"The Many and the Few" in Lives; Poems About Famous Americans selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins (HarperCollins, 1999). Then, reach back for the classic poem by Countee Cullen, “Incident,” a vivid picture of racism that begins, “Once riding in old Baltimore.” Here, sadly, an eight-year-old child experiences bigotry on the bus firsthand. The Cullen poem can be found in many anthologies including a picture book collection compiled by Wade Hudson for younger readers, Pass It On: African American Poetry for Children, illustrated by Floyd Cooper (Scholastic, 1993) or for older readers, I, Too, Sing America: Three Centuries of African American Poetry, selected by Catherine Clinton, illustrated by Stephen Alcorn (Houghton Miffflin, 1998). Discuss the person, the story, and the poems with children. Who are the change agents of today?

Friday, November 24, 2006

National Book Award + Poetry Connection

Last week the National Book Award was announced and M. T. Anderson won in the Young People’s Literature category for his historical novel, The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume One: The Pox Party (Candlewick Press, 2006). I had the chance to hear Anderson speak (he goes by “Tobin Anderson”) last weekend at the NCTE conference and found him to be so intelligent and articulate— and YOUNG. He spoke about the research behind this award winning novel and his strong desire to get the language right— true to the period, but still engaging for young adult readers. This was wonderful prep for me, since I had not yet read the book. I have now finished it and have come away very impressed with this powerful story of an African American boy raised by a house of philosophers who experiment on him and his mother in increasingly bizarre and brutal ways— all against a backdrop of our country’s uncertain struggle to be an independent nation.

In some ways, this novel reminded me of Marilyn Nelson’s stunning poetry book, Fortune's Bones: The Manumission Requiem (Handprint 2004), the story of an 18th century African American slave whose skeleton is preserved for anatomical study. Here, she presents six poems told from differing points of view about the man, his life, and his times. Together, these books offer young adults a riveting look at the place of the Black man during a painful time in our history. Discussions about the intersection of race, science, and politics in both these accounts should be interesting-- along with a consideration of the authors' amazing use of language in each book.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Nikki Grimes receives NCTE Poetry Award

Greetings from Nashville, Tennessee, where I am attending the annual convention of the National Council of Teachers of English. I just realized I’ve been coming to this conference for 25 years! Geeze, that’s a long time! This is one of my favorite events, bringing together teachers, authors, publishers, and all kinds of lovers of books. I’ve been involved in this organization in many different capacities over the years, particularly within the Children’s Literature Assembly, a sub-group of NCTE—that’s an especially wonderful and dedicated group of people. At this year’s conference, I have the privilege of co-chairing the committee that bestows the Excellence in Poetry for Children award. We officially presented the award to Nikki Grimes, the fourteenth recipient of the honor, at the Books for Children luncheon yesterday. Nearly 500 people were in attendance, including two dozen OTHER authors and poets—quite an auspicious occasion. Nikki spoke briefly sharing her thoughts about poetry, what it is, what it does, and wove together readings of some of her poems from WHAT IS GOODBYE, WHEN DADDY PRAYS, and her newest book-length poem, WELCOME, PRECIOUS. It was a lovely, thoughtful speech that ended with her becoming quite emotional as she thanked everyone for the encouragement for “following my heart.” It was a very honest, moving moment.

In addition, there was also a conference session on Friday during which Nikki had the opportunity to speak at greater length. We kicked off the session by having members of the Poetry Award committee (Yours truly, Peggy Oxley, Dan Woolsey, Janet Wong, and Gail Wesson Spivey—Jan Kristo and Georgia Heard were not able to attend) read aloud some of their favorite Nikki Grimes poems, inviting the audience to join in on the oral reading in various ways. We shared “Snow” from A POCKET FULL OF POEMS, “Attendance by Tyrone Bittings” from BRONX MASQUERADE, “Coke-bottle Brown” from MEET DANITRA BROWN, the title poem from A DIME A DOZEN, and "Photograph ~ Poem for Two Voices” from WHAT IS GOODBYE? What fun! And what a lovely way to show the breadth and variety of Nikki’s work in both style and format. Then Nikki spoke for nearly an hour and kept the crowd in the palm of her hand the whole time. She wove together bits of autobiography, personal commentary, and life wisdom along with readings of poems from many, many of her works. It was a gem of a speech, beautifully prepared and delivered. Here is one of the nuggets that I particularly noted, “Poetry is portable… it can be carried in the hip pocket of the mind.”

If you haven’t checked out the poetry of Nikki Grimes, it’s time to do so. The poem below will help you get started; “At the Library” appears on the Poetry Award bookmark that was created for the occasion by NCTE. Enjoy!

At the Library
by Nikki Grimes

I flip the pages of a book and slip inside,
Where crystal seas await and pirates hide.
I find a paradise where birds can talk,
Where children fly and trees prefer to walk.
Sometimes I end up on a city street.
I recognize the brownskin girl I meet.
She's skinny, but she’s strong, and brave, and wise.
I smile because I see me in her eyes.

from IT'S RAINING LAUGHTER. New York: Dial, 1997.

Check out Nikki’s “meaty” web site for more about her and her work:

Thursday, November 09, 2006

National Children's Book Week

Get ready for National Children’s Book Week, coming Nov. 13-19. This tradition of celebrating and promoting children and their books goes back 85 years and is sponsored by the Children’s Book Council The Council provides posters and other promotional materials featuring art by a different children’s book illustrator every year. In addition, they commission an original poem about books and reading to use on the Book Week bookmark. One of my favorite poem anthologies is a collection of these bookmark poems:

Rich, Mary Perrotta, ed. 1998. Book Poems: Poems from National Children’s Book Week, 1959-1998. New York: Children’s Book Council.

Poets have been writing about the power of reading and books for generations. I collect book-poems and have a box full now! I tried to decide which ONE poem about reading and books was my favorite… but I couldn’t. So, here are seven of my favorites. Share one-a-day for every day of National Children’s Book Week. Enjoy!

“Books Fall Open”
by David McCord
From: ALL DAY LONG (Little Brown 1966)

“Don't Read This Book, Whatever You Do!”
by Kalli Dakos

“Good Books, Good Times”
by Lee Bennett Hopkins
From: GOOD BOOKS, GOOD TIMES! (HarperTrophy 2000)

“The List”
by Naomi Shihab Nye
From: A MAZE ME; POEMS FOR GIRLS (Greenwillow 2005)

“The First Book”
by Rita Dove

“This Book”
by Joyce Sidman
From her web site

“Read… Think… Dream”
by J. Patrick Lewis

Friday, November 03, 2006

Happy Birthday, Emily

Today is my daughter’s 23rd birthday and I am thinking back with great fondness on her slow arrival, her cranky babyhood, her effervescent toddlerhood, her drama-filled childhood, her diligent adolescence, her adventurous college-hood, and all the magical moments in between. Happy birthday, Emily. Here is my poem-gift to you today— one of my personal favorites. For an extra treat, you can hear Robert Frost himself read this poem on the web site of the Academy of American Poets ( at:

The Road Not Taken
by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Monday, October 23, 2006

International School Library Day

Today is International School Library Day, a good day to celebrate the role of libraries in our schools. Professor Stephen Krashen, national expert on reading and language learning, noted that “Library quality, both in terms of better staffing and better collections, is related to reading achievement.” Kids who have access to books become better readers. But not every school has a library—in this country and around the world. The International Board on Books for Young People works to promote books and reading globally ( and our U.S. section supports those efforts ( For example, our section donated $15,000 to tsunami relief efforts last year to bring books and rebuild libraries in that stricken area. I also recently learned about another organization committed to building libraries for children around the world, Room to Read ( And you may know of other similar initiatives. Next time you’re at a school library (on election day, perhaps?), take a moment to appreciate what you may have in your community and see what you can do to help out. Even donating money for one new book or magazine subscription is appreciated. And to celebrate the power of libraries in children’s lives, here’s a special poem:

by Valerie Worth

No need even
To take out
A book: only
Go inside
And savor
The heady
Dry breath of
Ink and paper,
Or stand and
Listen to the
Silent twitter
Of a billion
Tiny busy
Black words.

From All the Small Poems and Fourteen More. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1994, p. 163.

For more poems about libraries, check out my article, “A place for poetry: Celebrating the library in poetry” in the most recent issue of Children and Libraries published by the American Library Association.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Teen Read Week Oct. 15-21

Coming up next week is national Teen Read Week established by the American Library Association in 1998 with the purpose of encouraging teens to:
* Make time to read for the fun of it
* Use their local library to discover their interests
* Get reading materials and participate in events at their school or public library

This year’s theme is “Get Active @ Your Library” and there is a rich resource of information on the ALA web site:

In 2003, the theme for the week was “Slammin @ your library” with a focus on poetry for teens. Lots of helpful information about YA poetry is archived on that site:

Meanwhile, here’s a poem ABOUT teenagers by Pat Mora, one of my favorites. It's from the parent perspective, so it really speaks to me just now (as the parent of two young adults).

By Pat Mora

One day they disappear
into their rooms.
Doors and lips shut
and we become strangers
in our own home.

I pace the hall, hear whispers,
A code I knew but can’t remember
Mouthed by mouths I taught to speak.

Years later the door opens.
I see faces I once held,
Open as sunflowers in my hands. I see
Familiar skin now stretched on long bodies
That move past me
Almost like pearls

The poem can be found in Echoes: Great Poets Inspiring Young Writers and online at:
ALSO: Pat Mora has a wonderful YA poetry collection entitled, My Own True Name: New and Selected Poems for Young Adults worth checking out.

Don’t fall prey to “ephebiphobia,” the fear of teenagers! Share a poem with a teen you love or smile and say “hi” to the teens you pass next week.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Autumn Leaves poem

Fall is here and the signs are all around us, even here in Texas. I saw that this week’s cover of The New Yorker magazine spoofs the “natural” hues of Vermont’s changing leaves—suggesting they are actually painted on for the tourists. But I love the gold and red hues that appear in the trees as the weather gets cooler. Here’s an older poem that captures this transition beautifully.

Autumn Leaves
by Leland B. Jacobs

1      Green leaves,
2      Yellow leaves,
3      Red leaves, and brown,
ALL   Falling,
ALL   Falling,
ALL   Blanketing the town.
4      Oak leaves,
5      Maple leaves,
6      Apple leaves, and pear,
ALL   Falling,
ALL   Whispering,
ALL   “Autumn’s in the air!”
7      Big leaves,
8      Little leaves,
9      Pointed leaves, and round,
ALL   Falling,
ALL   Nestling,
ALL   Carpeting the ground.

from: Jacobs, Leland B. 1993. Just Around the Corner: Poems about the Seasons. New York: Henry Holt.

*I've suggested a format for reading the poem aloud with a group of 9 or more. Invite 9 volunteers to read single lines (labeled 1 through 9) and then everyone chimes in on the lines marked "ALL." Practice once and then read and perform with gusto. For added impact, add gesturing (falling), whispering, and leaf cut outs or real fall leaves!

*Use this poem in conjunction with Lois Ehlert’s fantastic picture book, Leaf Man (Harcourt, 2005) and take a walk, look for fallen leaves, and create your own leaf people.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

First Children's Poet Laureate announced

Last night, Wed., Sept. 27, Jack Prelutsky was announced as the first Children’s Poet Laureate during the Pegasus Awards ceremony established by the Poetry Foundation. A gathering of poetry-loving guests (including yours truly) was there to honor and celebrate this momentous landmark in the world of poetry for young people. The evening included a lovely cocktail reception, followed by an elegant dinner all held in the imposing Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park in Chicago. Prelutsky was clearly moved to be honored in this way and talked briefly about his poetry writing and acknowledged the publishers, editors, booksellers, teachers, librarians, professors and others who had supported and promoted his work over the years. He even acknowledged the contribution of the various illustrators whose work has complemented his poems so perfectly over the years and grew especially emotional in his tribute to artist friends now gone: Arnold Lobel, Garth Williams, and Ted Rand. He then read five of his poems aloud tracing his unique career path along with humorous story asides for each, including:

“The Solitary Spatuloon” from his latest book, BEHOLD THE BOLD UMBRELLAPHANT

“You Can’t Make Me Eat That” from IT’S RAINING PIGS AND NOODLES

“Be Glad Your Nose Is on Your Face” from THE NEW KID ON THE BLOCK

“Don’t Ever Sieze a Weasel by the Tail” form his first solo work, THE GOPHER IN THE GARDEN (now out of print), but republished in ZOO DOINGS

He closed with an original Shakespearean sonnet that he penned for the occasion entitled, “Sonnet for September 27” (which should be posted on very soon).

It was lovely to see poetry for children take center stage this evening. Kudos to the Poetry Foundation for making children’s poetry a priority. The Children’s Poet Laureate receives a check for $25,000 and a lovely medallion featuring the cartoon Pegasus characterized by James Thurber encircled with the words “Children’s Poet Laureate” on one side and the opening line of an Emily Dickinson poem on the other side, “Permit a child to join.” The Children’s Poet Laureate will serve as a consultant to the Foundation for a two year period and will give at least two public readings during his/her tenure. I hope this will be the first of many steps in seeing poetry written for young people receive the recognition it richly deserves.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Poetry around the world

I’m in China this week for a conference and it’s been a wonderful experience. It’s made me think about the role of poetry in various cultures, both in its oral and written forms. One conference speaker closed his remarks with a poem (in Mongolian) and another featured session considered the best children’s books from around the world, over a dozen of which were poetry books (in multiple languages). The only poetry book on the list that is available in English is entitled Something Beginning With P: New Poems from Irish Poets. I was able to look at a copy at the conference and it’s on my “buy this” list as soon as I return home. Other poetry books honored came from:

Croatia (Djecje oci),
Greece (Piimata gia paidia),
Malaysia (Semerbak puisi: Kumpulan puisi kanak-kanak),
Portugal (Palavra que voa)
Russia (Bulagam shigirler)
Spain (O pais de amarnos)
Ukraine (Vsio naoborot)
Venezuela (Chamario: Libro de rimas para ninos)
Brazil (Cambalhota)
Estonia (See, kes lustib)
Lithuania (Kas kiemely daros)
Poland (Bialy niedzwiedz: Czarna krowa)

(Please forgive the lack of diacritical marks unique to each language and appropriate for each book title cited.) What an amazing list this is, isnt’ it? And if you work with children who are native speakers of these languages, what an opportunity to seek out new, current books of poetry selected as being one of the best their country has to offer. I only wish I could read each one in its original language. Meanwhile, if internationalism interests you, please check out the excellent organization, the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) which holds an annual World Congress every two years in different parts of the world. The next event will be in Denmark in 2008. And the national section of IBBY in the United States is USBBY. (Yours truly is President of USBBY this year!) USBBY also holds a biennial regional conference highlighting international children’s literature. Our next event is scheduled for Tucson, Arizona in November, 2007.

World peace through children’s poetry!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Poems and commas

You’ve probably heard about the new children’s book by Lynne Truss (based on her adult book by the same name), Eats, Shoots & Leaves (Putnam 2006). It’s a clever picture book treatment of the difference a comma makes in everyday written language. Two pictures are juxtaposed in each double-page spread, one featuring an illustration of the sentence’s meaning WITH the comma and one WITHOUT. The cartoon drawings are simple, engaging, and usually humorous.

As soon as I saw this book, I was reminded of Kalli Dakos’ poem, “Call the Periods/Call the Commas” from If Your Not Here, Please Raise Your Hand; Poems About School (Simon & Schuster, 1990). It’s a gem for any English lesson and may lead to an interesting discussion of the place of punctuation in poetry.

Call the Periods
Call the Commas

By Kalli Dakos

Call the doctors Call the nurses Give me a breath of
air I’ve been reading all your stories but the periods
aren’t there Call the policemen Call the traffic guards
Give me a STOP sign quick Your sentences are running
when they need a walking stick Call the commas Call
the question marks Give me a single clue Tell me
where to breathe with a punctuation mark or two

Of course you have to read it aloud—and all in one breath! ☺

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Aileen Fisher's birthday

Aileen Fisher was born this day, September 9, in Iron River, Michigan and died in 2002 at age 96. She received her bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1927 from the University of Missouri. She lived in Boulder, Colorado all of her adult life and her interests included woodworking, hiking, and mountain climbing. During her career she worked as director of the Women’s National Journalistic Register in Chicago from 1928-31; a research assistant for the Labor Bureau of the Middle West in Chicago, 1931-32, and then as a freelance writer beginning in 1932.

She was an award-winning author of over one hundred children’s books, including poetry, plays, short stories, picture books and biographies. Aileen Fisher was the second winner of the NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children in 1978.

For a more recent compilation of some of Fisher’s most popular poems, look for I Heard a Bluebird Sing (Boyds Mills Press 2002). This volume features 41 Fisher poems chosen by children, along with excerpts of interviews with and articles by Fisher about her life and her work. Her simplicity and directness shine through these poems, often reflecting a childlike point of view about the natural world. Here’s one lovely example of Aileen Fisher’s special voice.

Open House
by Aileen Fisher

If I were a tree
I'd want to see
a bird with a song
on a branch of me.

I'd want a quick
little squirrel to run
up and down
and around, for fun.

I'd want the cub
of a bear to call,
and a porcupine, big,
and a tree toad, small.

I'd want a katydid
out of sight
on one of my leaves
to sing at night.

And down by my roots
I'd want a mouse
with six little mouselings
in her house.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

New: Reissues of two favorites by Mora and Soto

Two of my favorite collections of poetry for young people have been reissued this year in slightly new formats. Pat Mora’s collection, Confeti (with one t), has now been published in Spanish. I loved this picture book collection of poems with its lively orange-hued illustrations when it first appeared 10 years ago. Living in Texas, I look for poetry that has particular relevance here in my backyard and many of Mora’s poems capture life in the southwest with such freshness. In addition, she often naturally integrates Spanish words into her poems which is inviting for Spanish speaking children and instructional for children not fluent in Spanish. In the previous edition of Confetti (with two t’s), she included a glossary of the Spanish words. In this new edition, ALL the poems are in Spanish. It’s a bit of a shock to realize it has taken 10 years for this Spanish edition to emerge, but thank goodness it’s finally here! Same format, same illustrations, but a new translation just right for Spanish speakers and readers.

Gary Soto’s collection, A Fire in My Hands, has also been one that I’ve often promoted widely since its original publication in 1992. I like its rich, descriptive poems as well as the short author insights that are offered at the beginning of each poem. As a former teacher, I’m always looking for books that include information for aspiring writers. Soto does that here. In this new reissue, there are also 10 new poems (with a paragraph on where the idea for each of these poems came from, too), as well as an introduction by Soto and a Q&A interview with Soto at the end. Like Mora, Soto conveys many details about growing up Mexican American, but this time in California. He also uses a handful of Spanish words here and there in his poems which I enjoy. The context provides meaning, and the words provide flavor.

Don’t miss these two old gems made new again!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Poetry and Hurricane Katrina

Today is the one year anniversary of the hurricane that devastated New Orleans, southern Mississippi, and other parts of the Gulf Coast. I heard on the news this morning that 70,000 New Orleans residents have set up permanent residence in my north Texas area. I can’t imagine what a traumatic experience all this upheaval has been for them. I’ve been to New Orleans myself many times (since it’s only an 8 hour drive away) and have returned twice since Katrina hit there. The devastation—even a year later—was incredible. Many ninth ward neighborhoods are still a stroganoff of houses, cars, trees, and debris. People’s HOMES. And the city itself is still operating at half capacity. A vibrant, fun-loving city like New Orleans brought to its knees—it’s ankles, even. So sad. How do we share these experiences with children? How do we capture what we are all feeling? One poem by Janet Wong comes pretty close to conveying the differing emotions and perspectives that have bubbled to the surface. Janet was kind enough to write this as a poem for my book, POETRY ALOUD HERE! SHARING POETRY WITH CHILDREN IN THE LIBRARY (ALA, 2006) and it’s featured there alongside a moving and inspiring essay that she wrote. Meanwhile, as a tribute to the children of Katrina, here is the poem itself.

Coin Drive
by Janet S. Wong

There’s a coin drive going on at our school
for children hurt by the hurricane.
Teacher says, “Handful of dimes is fine.
But only give if you want to share.”

Momma says, “Those people should have known.
Should have done more than they did to get out.”
Poppa says, “Look how those people stole.
Criminals. Animals, them. Their kind.”

I saw the pictures, too, myself.

People with nothing, no cars, for sure.
Swollen old ladies could barely walk.
Crazy boys with stolen guns,
but also daddies grabbing bread.

I saw the pictures, too, myself.

So many bodies floating, dead.
Waiting, water creeping up,
up past neck, past mouth, past eyes.
How long did they wait for help?

I feel proud for the fifty cents
I put today in the coin drive jar.
I feel proud that I can say:
I saw the pictures for myself.

This poem and a few others are featured on Janet’s excellent web site:

Other books of poetry by Janet Wong:
Behind the Wheel: Poems about Driving
Good Luck Gold and Other Poems
Knock on Wood: Poems about Superstitions
Minn and Jake
Night Garden: Poems from the World of Dreams
The Rainbow Hand: Poems about Mothers and Children
A Suitcase of Seaweed, and Other Poems

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Poetry and girlpower

On Aug. 26, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, guaranteeing women the right to vote, was declared in effect. Girlpower! Look for poetry collections that showcase girls, women, and their contributions and potential. Women’s History Month is in March, but we can share poems that celebrate girls any day! Here’s one of my favorites which also happens to be a gem of a mini-biography:

Harriet Tubman
by Eloise Greenfield

Harriet Tubman didn't take no stuff
Wasn't scared of nothing neither
Didn't come in this world to be no slave
And wasn't going to stay one either

"Farewell!" she sang to her friends one night
She was mighty sad to leave 'em
But she ran away that dark, hot night
Ran looking for her freedom

She ran to the woods and she ran through the woods
With the slave catcher right behind her
And she kept on going till she got to the North
Where those mean men couldn't find her

Nineteen times she went back South
To get three hundred others
She ran for her freedom nineteen times
To save black sisters and brothers

Harriet Tubman didn't take no stuff
Wasn't scared of nothing neither
Didn't come in this world to be no slave
And didn't stay one either
And didn't stay one either

from Honey, I Love and Other Love Poems by Eloise Greenfield

You’ll find many other poems to showcase and inspire girls in these collections:

Bush, Timothy. 2000. Ferocious Girls, Steamroller Boys, and Other Poems in Between. New York: Orchard Books.
Glaser, Isabel Joshlin, comp. 1995. Dreams of Glory: Poems Starring Girls. New York: Atheneum.
Paul, A. W. 1999. All by Herself: 14 Girls Who Made a Difference: Poems. San Diego, CA: Browndeer/Harcourt Brace.
Philip, Neil, comp. 2000. It’s a Woman’s World: A Century of Women’s Voices in Poetry. New York: Dutton.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Posting poetry

Here’s a tidbit that I picked up from a teacher that I think is a wonderful way to promote poetry. Post poems in places children stand, stare, and wait. In her classroom she posted a poem on the wall above the pencil sharpener. Whenever kids sharpened their pencils, they stood idly and read a poem. Ingenious! (Are there still pencil sharpeners on classroom walls?!) I started to think of other places throughout the school where children stand and have a moment to read a poem.
* at the water fountain
* on doors
* on lockers
* at entrances
Can you think of other places? This kind of incidental sharing of poetry is a lovely, gentle way of making poems a part of children’s everyday lives. In addition, once this practice is established, kids could take over choosing favorite poems to post on a rotating basis. They could copy their favorites (for handwriting practice), create an original illustration to accompany the poem (for an art activity), or even share their own original poems. They might even have creative ideas for WHERE to post poems. And when it’s time to take down a poem and replace it with a new one, the “old” poems can be compiled in a class anthology to revisit in book form. Surrounding children with poetry in these incidental ways shows children we value poetry as an everyday part of life. We know children are learning from us and from their surroundings every minute. Why not maximize their absorption with their environment by infusing poetry in subtle, yet powerful ways?

Saturday, August 19, 2006


Ralph Fletcher has written a new collection of poetry that expresses the sadness many children feel when they have to move to a new place. In addition, the poems are loosely connected one to another to reveal the grieving process of separating from the familiar and slowly establishing new roots in a new place. Although each poem can stand alone, each has even greater impact when read as a story narrative. The poems are grounded in familiar moments and images (a new bike, an old sweatshirt) that become metaphors for deeper feelings. Small watercolor illustrations by Jennifer Emery add just the right touch throughout the book, a small window into the moment. The poems are written in free verse, but their structure, rhythm, and layout craft an easy readability that is inviting and accessible. Here’s one example:

Defrosting the Freezer

One container of spaghetti sauce
Grandma made before she died.

Two old pieces of wedding cake
you couldn’t pay me to eat.

Three snowballs from last winter
slightly deformed, no longer fluffy.

Four small flounder from the time
Grandpa took me deep-sea fishing.

Everything coated with a thick
white layer of sadness.

Published by Wordsong (2006), the poetry imprint of Boyds Mills Press, this collection is a reassuring voice for children who are dealing with one of life’s most challenging transitions.

P.S. Ralph Fletcher is also the author of many helpful books for adults who work with children on writing, including A WRITER'S NOTEBOOK, CRAFT LESSONS, POETRY MATTERS, and many more.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Poetry about teachers

The topic of the teacher has also been the focus of many poems. Douglas Florian’s “My Monster” poem from BING BANG BOING is one of my favorite “teacher” poems, one that requires a sense of humor on the part of teachers. Another poem, “But I Have Mr. Cratzbarg“ by Kalli Dakos found in DON'T READ THIS BOOK, WHATEVER YOU DO! is a lovely tribute to that special teacher. I’ve used the poem below many times at teacher workshops, inviting the participants to join in on the line "Mrs. Fuller does.” It’s from a small collection of wry poems from the teacher’s point of view entitled HIDE YOUR EX-LAX UNDER THE WHEATIES by Cheryl Miller Thurston (Cottonwood Press, CO).

Miss Lee and Mrs. Fuller
by Cheryl Miller Thurston

Miss Lee's rows are straight
and her cabinets are dusted.
Her blotter is fresh
and her shades are adjusted.
She always has staples
and Elmer's and tissues.
She never misplaces
a pass that she issues.

Mrs. Fuller does.

Miss Lee's books have covers;
she hasn't lost any.
Her milk money forms
come out right to the penny.
Her class in assemblies
is quite in control.
She never miscounts
or forgets to take roll.

Mrs. Fuller does.

Miss Lee has a gradebook that's neat,
not a smear.
Her lesson plan book
is complete for the year.
Her duties for playground
or lunch never tire her.
She never has principals
trying to fire her.

Mrs. Fuller does.

Miss Lee sees no value
in things that don't fit.
Her warmest remarks
run to "Quiet" and "Sit."
She never sparks passion,
excitement or dreams-
She never sees minds that are
bursting their seams.

Mrs. Fuller does.

OK, so it’s a little bit corny, but I agree with the focus on children over protocol, particularly in this test-driven age. Teachers who put children first are worth celebrating in poetry!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Poems about school

Here in Texas, most public schools are starting again this week. Although temperatures still soar above 100, kids are back at their desks starting a new year. To commemorate this moment, here’s one of my favorite back-to-school poems.

By Prince Redcloud

Close the barbecue.
Close the sun.
Close the home-run games we won.
Close the picnic.
Close the pool.
Close the summer.
Open school.

From THE SKY IS FULL OF SONG. Selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins. Harper & Row, 1983

This poem lends itself to several different read aloud techniques. Kids can just join in on the repeated word “close” or alternate reading every other line in two groups, with everyone joining in on the final line. Or individual volunteers can read individual lines solo, with everyone joining in on the final line for added effect.

School is one of my favorite poetry topics to share with kids since it’s where they spend so much of their waking hours. School experiences are so important to them. And there are so many fun collections of school poetry to share. Look for:

Dakos, Kalli. (1990). If you're not here, please raise your hand; Poems about school. New York: Simon and Schuster (and others by Dakos).

Harrison, David L. (1993). Somebody catch my homework. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong Boyds Mills Press.

Hopkins, Lee Bennett. Editor. (1996). School supplies: A book of poems. Simon and Schuster.

Kennedy, Dorothy M. Editor. (1993). I thought I'd take my rat to school: Poems for September to June. New York: Little Brown and Company.

Paraskevas, Betty. (1995). Gracie Graves and the kids from Room 402. San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace and Company.

Shields, Carol Diggory. (1995). Lunch money and other poems about school. New York: Dutton (and others by Shields).

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Poetry portfolio

There’s nothing quite like seeing the rough drafts of a published poem. The finished product we read in a book seems so perfect that it’s hard to imagine the writer ever struggling with e word and phrase. This is particularly true for children who think adults never make mistakes in their writing. Showing them drafts of writing (including your own) is a very eye-opening experience for them. Showing them drafts of a published poem can open up a whole world. The Children’s Literature Research Collections held at the Kerlan Collection of the University of Minnesota offer a unique resource for sharing poetry with children: a portfolio of materials donated by NCTE Poetry Award winner, Barbara Esbensen. The Barbara Esbensen Poetry Portfolio is multi-media learning tool that uses the work of Barbara Esbensen to highlight her versatility as a writer, poet and storyteller. The kit is appropriate for grades 2 through 8 and includes lessons, biographical information, supporting documents, and overhead transparencies of manuscript pages and galleys of Esbensen’s writing. This can be invaluable for helping children understand the process of writing and publishing poetry. Aspiring writers, in particular, will find this “behind-the-scenes” view fascinating.

Barbara Esbensen Poetry Portfolio

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Poetry BY children

My son leaves for college this week and we are excited for him as he begins this new adventure, but I sure am going to miss him, too. In honor of this event in our family, here’s a poem written by a teenage boy that touches my mother’s heart.

By Richard Furst
Grade 10

I walked through the empty kitchen
to the door,
to leave the warmth of home
for the bitter-cold anxiety of
a Monday at school.
Ducking the old dogwood outside,
I heard a familiar call,
and turned to see my mother
waving me off to school,
sending me a small fire
to keep my heart a little warmer.


Several poets who have worked in schools, libraries, and with other youth projects have gathered and edited collections of poetry written by children of all ages. Collections such as SALTING THE OCEAN edited by Naomi Shihab Nye (2000) or TEN-SECOND RAINSHOWERS (1996) and SOFT HAY WILL CATCH YOU (2004) both edited by Sanford Lyne are beautiful books full of unsentimental and authentic young voices. For children who aspire to be writers or who may find personal poetry writing a helpful release, these books are an invitation to see oneself as a writer, to see children as capable of poetic expression, too. Here are a few notable collections of poems BY kids:

Franco, Betsy. 2001. YOU HEAR ME?: POEMS AND WRITING BY TEENAGE BOYS. Candlewick.
Lyne, Sanford. 1996. TEN SECOND RAIN SHOWERS; POEMS BY YOUNG PEOPLE. Simon & Schuster.
Lyne, Sanford. 2004. SOFT HAY WILL CATCH YOU: POEMS BY YOUNG PEOPLE. Simon & Schuster.
Nye, Naomi Shihab. 2000. SALTING THE OCEAN; 100 POEMS BY YOUNG POETS. Greenwillow.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Baking cookies and poems

I heard in the news this week that it is so hot this summer a woman in New Hampshire actually baked cookies on the dashboard of her car! She placed two trays of cookie dough on the dashboard of her car while the outside temperature was in the high 90’s, but the temperature inside the car was around 200 degrees. Voila! Fresh baked cookies. She said that an extra benefit was how wonderful her car smelled afterward.

I was reminded of a fun poem I have often used with kids entitled, "Nutty Chocolate Cookies” by Pauline Watson. This is an actual recipe turned into a poem that has a strong rhythm, rhyme, and easy to follow sequence. Kids love to join in on the read aloud. In fact, I have found that you can even SING the poem to the tune of the old folk song, “She’ll be comin’ ‘round the mountain,” if you’re feeling really adventurous. (More on singing poems another time!) You’ll find the recipe-poem “Nutty Chocolate Cookies” in the wonderful resource book, THE POETRY BREAK, by Caroline Feller Bauer. I highly recommend her book for a multitude of creative ways to present poems to children.

So… find the poem, gather the ingredients, sing the poem, mix the cookies, and then bake them on the dashboard of your car! Eat the cookies and enjoy the poem all over again. What a fun summer memory that would be for kids.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

The Poetry Foundation

Are you familiar with the Poetry Foundation? If you know poetry for adults, I’m sure you know of their work. They publish POETRY magazine and are committed to fostering a “vigorous presence for poetry in our culture.” Don’t you love that mission? You may have heard of the enormous Lilly grant that morphed the Modern Poetry Association, founded in 1941, into the Poetry Foundation of today. And their web site is a meaty resource of information. In particular, they are creating a lovely CHILDREN’S area that bridges classic and contemporary poetry for young people.

Currently, it includes a growing list of “Feature” articles on a variety of topics, a helpful “Essentials” poetry booklist, a regular “Book Pick” poetry book review, and a mini-archive of full text poems for children. This month’s “Book Pick” (by yours truly) features a lovely anthology by the new U.S. Poet Laureate, Donald Hall (also author of the Caldecott award book, OX CART MAN). It’s almost a history of poetry for children, with its chronological collection of American poems and art—but still very accessible for kids today. Check it out.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

August poem to read aloud

Just for fun—here is a poem for a hot August day.


In August, when the days are hot,
I like to find a shady spot,
And hardly move a single bit--
And sit--
And sit--
And sit--
And sit!

By Anonymous
Hopkins, Lee Bennett, comp. 1983. THE SKY IS FULL OF SONG. New York: Harper & Row.

This poem lends itself to several different read aloud strategies. First, write the words “and sit” on four index cards numbering them from 1 to 4. Ask for volunteers in the audience, one per card. Then as you read the poem out loud, the four seated volunteers each read their part (“and sit”) right where they are seated, one after the other (1, 2, 3, 4). (Practice once with the four volunteers before reading it with the whole group, if needed.) Read it again and again with four different volunteers each time, if interest is strong.

Next, incorporate motions or movement—sitting. Break the audience into four groups, invite them to stand as you read the poem, and then point to each group to sit as you read the phrase “and sit” each time.

Then, read it again and invite them to join in with you in the reading (and sitting). (Kids will often join in even before they’re invited which is a good sign that your poem reading is engaging!)

If you are feeling really brave, this poem can even be read in a round or canon. Divide the group in two, each group reads the whole poem, but the second group begins after the first group finishes the first line—much like singing “row, row, row, your boat” in a round. It takes some practice, so you may have to do this several times before everyone gets the hang of it, but it’s a lot of fun. You might even try incorporating the sitting action along with the group reading for lots of laughter!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Kids' #1 Favorite Poem

As we look for poems we think children will enjoy, it helps to know a little about what research has found about children’s poetry choices. In several studies of young people’s responses to poetry (Terry, 1974; Fisher & Natarella, 1982; Kutiper & Wilson, 1993), there were fairly consistent results. Their findings:
*Narrative poems that tell a story were the most popular form of poetry
*Free verse or haiku were the least popular forms of poetry
*Students preferred poems with strong sound patterns, rhyme, and rhythm
*Children preferred humorous poetry, poetry about familiar experiences, and animal poetry
*Younger students preferred contemporary poems

Although these are helpful guidelines for selecting poems, they are not absolutes. Children enjoy many forms of poetry, including free verse and haiku, for example, but generally when they have had some broader exposure to poetry. There is also no guarantee that every humorous, narrative poem about animals will be a hit with every group of children. Also most studies in the past are based on a limited exposure to poetry over a brief period of time (e.g., 50 poems read in 6 weeks time). If we share more poems more often, we will probably find more variety in their choices. As we get to know children, we can also seek out more variety to suit their different tastes and interests. So, what was the number one choice of children in these previous studies? It’s this poem by award winning poet and scholar John Ciardi.

Mummy Slept Late and Daddy Fixed Breakfast

Daddy fixed the breakfast.
He made us each a waffle.
It looked like gravel pudding.
It tasted something awful.

“Ha, ha,” he said, “I’ll try again.
This time I’ll get it right.”
But what I got was in between
Bituminous and anthracite.

“A little too well done? Oh well,
I’ll have to start all over.”
THAT time what landed on my plate
Looked like a manhole cover.

I tried to cut it with a fork:
The fork gave off a spark.
I tried a knife and twisted it
Into a question mark.

I tried it with a hack-saw.
I tried it with a torch.
It didn’t even make a dent.
It didn’t even scorch.

The next time Dad gets breakfast
When Mommy’s sleeping late,
I think I’ll skip the waffles,
I’d sooner eat the plate!

by John Ciardi

From YOU READ TO ME, I'LL READ TO YOU. Philadelphia: Lippincott. Reprinted. New York: HarperTrophy, 1987.

It’s a terrific example of a humorous, narrative poem that tells a story (although with a bit of a stereotype of the roles of moms and dads perhaps more common when the poem was first published in 1962). It has a strong, regular rhythm that begs to be read aloud and word choice that is second to none. Many of Ciardi’s smart and wry poems have a similar tone, paving the way for Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky who follow.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

War and poetry

Have you seen the news lately? It’s sad and scary to see the multiple conflicts occurring around the world. The ongoing American military presence in Iraq and now the heightened violence in Israel and Lebanon, for example, touch the lives of children, too—both there and here. Poets throughout the ages have chronicled experiences of war or captured the emotions we find difficult to express at such times. Even poetry for young people has tackled such tough topics. Here’s one example poem from Lee Bennett Hopkins’ anthology HAND IN HAND: AN AMERICAN HISTORY THROUGH POETRY (Simon & Schuster, 1994):

The Last Good War-- and Afterward

We saved enough tinfoil
To wrap the entire world,
Said the Pledge of Allegiance,
Read a chapter of the Bible each day,
And even prayed . . . at school.
Then we turned our radios on,
Went to the movies . . . saw newsreels
And learned to hate
Whole nations of people
We would have to learn
To love again, later.

by Isabel Joshlin Glaser

Poems such as this help us gain some perspective, or express difficult emotions, or simply pause to breathe and reflect. In times of trauma and grief, we often turn to a favorite poem or song for reassurance. Their words help us cope. Several collections of poetry for young people look at war from both historical and contemporary perspectives. Some even offer the young person’s point of view. Although we all enjoy poetry that is humorous or nonsensical, serious poetry has a place in our lives, too, particularly when life gets serious. Children feel the same way, so consider offering them this outlet alongside the usual lighter fare. Here are a few outstanding collections that include poems about war:

Crist-Evans, Craig. 1999. MOON OVER TENNESSEE: A BOY’S CIVIL WAR JOURNAL. Houghton Mifflin.
Katz, Bobbi. 2000. WE THE PEOPLE: POEMS. Greenwillow.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

July is National Park and Recreation Month

Our family has always enjoyed the summer road trip. Somehow the memories of loud and restless children fussing in the car fade and the fun of shared exploration and discovery linger. (Thank goodness!) And on our trips we always look for national parks or historical sites to see along the way. There are 58 official National Parks in the U.S. with Yellowstone National Park established as the world's first truly national park In 1872. And of course many states and communities have their own parks and preserves. Since July is NATIONAL PARK AND RECREATION MONTH, it’s a good time to seek out poetry that celebrates nature. Whether you enjoy road trips and national parks, or adventures at summer camp, or simply leisure time at a picnic or barbecue, there are many poems that focus on the wonders of the natural world. Here are a few thematic collections that are wonderful examples to share:



George, Kristine O’Connell. 2001. TOASTING MARSHMALLOWS: CAMPING POEMS. New York: Clarion.

Nicholls, Judith. 2003. THE SUN IN ME; POEMS ABOUT THE PLANET. Cambridge, MA: Barefoot Books.

Singer, Marilyn. 2002. FOOTPRINTS ON THE ROOF: POEMS ABOUT THE EARTH. New York: Knopf.

Find your favorite nature poem and take it along to read as your theme poem for your car trip or as a break on your picnic or just to share outside with kids you care about.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Resource books: DR. ALPHABET

I’m always looking for new ideas for breaking down negative attitudes or apathy toward poetry. Sometimes helping people CREATE spontaneous poetry is just the ticket. I’m especially a fan of “found” poetry-- creating poems (or poem drafts) from unlikely sources like newspaper articles, billboards, and other “environmental” print. One of my favorite resources for this approach is Dave Morice’s book, THE ADVENTURES OF DR. ALPHABET; 104 UNUSUAL WAYS TO WRITE POETRY IN THE CLASSROOM AND THE COMMUNITY. Much of his work has actually been in bringing poetry to senior citizen centers—with amazing results. But his creative ideas work with people of all ages. One warning however: his approach is often unorthodox; for example, he encourages people to write poems on physical surfaces like mirrors or chopsticks! His fresh, often off-the-wall perspective encourages us to be playful with language, to experiment with fresh phrasing, to look for poems in unlikely places. Here is just a sampling of the 104 poem-making activities you’ll find in this book:
• Alphabet music code poem
• Autumn leaf poems
• One-rhyme poem
• Poetry checkers
• Poetry mazes
• Poetry poker
• Postage stamp poems
• Rolodex poems
• Thumb book poem
• Tiny book quatrains
• Train of thought poem
• Trictionary poem
• Wonderverse
• And many more

Morice, D. 1996. THE ADVENTURES OF DR. ALPHABET. New York: Teachers and Writers Collaborative.

And if you like DR. ALPHABET, look for Dave Morice’s POETRY COMICS: AN ANIMATED ANTHOLOGY, a kind of graphic novel approach to classic poems.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006


I can’t decide which I enjoy more, Calef Brown’s zany, syncopated story-poems or the crazy, cock-eyed story-paintings that accompany his poetry. In this new collection of “poems and paintings” he invites us into his slightly askew worldview in which cats tango, dogs wear plaid, and people routinely have blue skin or blue hair. And his wordplay and strong rhythms build poems that stand on their own two (three or four) feet. My current favorite has got to be this one (picture the half caterpillar, half alligator creature in the illustration):

Allicatter Gatorpillar

Allicatter Gatorpillar
chews a leaf,
shows his teeth.
Allicatter Gatorpillar
sings a song,
then he’s gone.
Allicatter Gatorpillar
by and by,
my oh my!
Allibutter Gatorfly!

by Calef Brown

I had the privilege of hearing Calef perform this and others of his poems at the Poetry Round Up at the Texas Library Association conference in April, as well as at the Poetry Blast at the American Library Association conference in June (mark your calendars and plan to attend both of these annual events next year). His dry, deadpan delivery was a hilarious surprise. Look for more from Calef Brown and share FLAMINGOS (Houghton Mifflin, 2006) with children of all ages—out loud for the fun of the words-- and show the illustrations to inspire both your poets AND your artists.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Multicultural poetry

Looking for fresh voices in poetry for young people? Multicultural poetry is experiencing a surge of publication in recent years and it’s about time! Although the works of Langston Hughes, for example, have appeared in many anthologies, poets like Angela Johnson, Pat Mora, Janet Wong, and Jaime Adoff are still new names to many readers. A quick survey of recent poetry titles will turn up at least 35 major poets of color writing for children today, representing most of the major micro-cultures within the United States. And more and more international poetry is even finding its way into libraries and classrooms in the U.S., as well. Seeking out the poetry of parallel cultures that reflects many diverse viewpoints enables us to show children firsthand both the sameness and the differences which make the human landscape so dynamic and fascinating. Poets of color are using the language, experiences, and images of their cultures in ways that are fresh and powerful. The special succinctness of poetry is also an appealing introduction into culture for young people. Sometimes powerful points about prejudice, identity, and cultural conflict can be made in a very few words. In addition, we can also rediscover our universality in the words and feelings of poems which often cross cultural boundaries. Look for the wonderful poetry of Nikki Grimes, Arnold Adoff, Eloise Greenfield, Gary Soto, Francisco Alarcon, Jose-Luis Orozco, Michio Mado, Joy Harjo, Naomi Shihab Nye, among many others!

For more info, check out my article in the ALA online journal, VERSED:

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Poetry and props

Another fun way to make poetry come alive for children is to share poems with props. When we have an object to show or share that corresponds with the poem, it can make the poem more concrete for kids. They can see it, touch it, and experience a piece of the poem more directly. Plus, it just heightens interest and adds a bit of variety. A TWU student shares this example of how it might work.

“My son Jeff had the idea this spring to yank a rubber snake out of his back pocket when he got to the last verse of Judith Viorst's ‘Mother Doesn't Want a Dog’ during his school's Spring Poetry Extravaganza:

Mother doesn't want a dog.
She's making a mistake.
Because, more than a dog, I think
She will not want this snake!

Needless to say, it brought down the house, because somehow, speaking and hearing the words gave him and his classmates a sense of ownership of the poem, which of course made him more confident when he said it.”

Having the snake gave Jeff a “comfort object” that helped him feel more confident speaking in front of a group. It also added interest and surprise and gave his audience a memorable moment.

Poet Janet Wong uses a similar approach with her “poetry suitcase.” She has gathered an assortment of objects and realia that connect with some of her poems (e.g., a toy turtle, a play telephone). She asks children to choose an object, and then shares the poem that “corresponds” with that object and explains the connection. She encourages children to do the same—choose favorite poems, find related objects, and use them as props when sharing the poem. For kids who are still kinesthetic learners, sharing props means “touching” the poem!

Friday, July 21, 2006

Check out: BOOK LINKS

If you’re not familiar with the ALA publication, BOOK LINKS, you need to check it out. It celebrated 15 years of publication with a special anniversary issue this month focused on “Celebrating the Classics.” There are short articles on 15 classics of fantasy, young adult literature, humor, historical fiction, and more, along with interviews with several authors who are “literary legends.” And of course they’ve included an article on 15 classics of children’s poetry (by yours truly!). BOOK LINKS is a reader friendly magazine, full of lots of color images of book covers and arranged in ways that are very practitioner friendly. Their mission is “Connecting Books, Libraries, and Classrooms” and they follow that faithfully with regular thematic bibliographies, behind-the-scenes stories, and author/illustrator interviews. Their web site includes additional links, content from some previous issues, and even guidelines for writing for BOOK LINKS. Check it out:

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Walking on the moon today

Today is the anniversary of the first human steps on the moon on July 20, 1969. I am old enough to remember getting up in the wee hours to watch the news coverage of this historic event (as a child visiting my uncle in California). We were groggy and amazed. On one of my favorite web sites, “Today’s Document from the National Archives” [] you can view the original flight plan for this Apollo 11 mission. And you can re-experience this event through J. Patrick Lewis’ poem, “First Men On The Moon” from his collection A BURST OF FIRSTS (Dial, 2001).

First Men On The Moon

“The Eagle has landed!”
Apollo 11 Commander Neil A. Armstrong

“A magnificent desolation!”
Air Force Colonel Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin, Jr.

July 20,1969

That afternoon in mid-July,
Two pilgrims watched from distant space
The Moon ballooning in the sky.
They rose to meet it face-to-face.

Their spidery spaceship Eagle dropped
Down gently on the lunar sand.
And when the module’s engines stopped,
Cold silence fell across the land.

The first man down the ladder, Neil,
Spoke words that we remember now—
“Small step for man…” It made us feel
As if we too were there somehow.

Then Neil planted the flag and Buzz
Collected lunar rocks and dust.
They hopped liked kangaroos because
Of gravity. Or wanderlust.

A quarter million miles away,
One small blue planet watched in awe.
And no one who was there that day
Will soon forget the Moon they saw.

By J. Patrick Lewis

Even with all the technological innovations that have occurred since 1969, it is pretty amazing to look at the night sky and imagine two men walking around on that shining, white orb. So many poems have been written about the moon—step outside tonight, look up at the moon, and see what happens.

[Moon image from: National Optical Astronomy Observatory/Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy/National Science Foundation]

Wednesday, July 19, 2006


Helen Frost has given us the Printz Honor book, KEESHA’S HOUSE, as well as SPINNING THROUGH THE UNIVERSE, and now outdoes herself with THE BRAID (FSG, 2006). She “braids” the intertwining tale of two sisters surviving hardships as Scottish refugees/immigrants in the 1850’s. Told through a poetic structure of her own invention derived from Celtic knots (and explained in helpful endnotes), the story unfolds in narrative poems in two voices alternating with brief praise poems and all connected through parallel beginning and ending lines. Although this is complicated to describe, the structure does not get in the way of one’s enjoyment, quite the contrary. The rhythm created by this juxtaposition of short poem/long poem; girl who stays/girl who goes keeps the reader turning the page. And the language and writing is exquisite:

The songs that enter children’s ears
carried across centuries of
love, stay with them, bringing comfort,
setting their feet dancing, coming
back to them when their own children
first look up and see them smiling
or hear them weeping as they rock,
strong boats upon a stormy sea.

Each sister emerges as a strong and individual character framed against a fascinating slice of history in two vivid settings. And each girl’s experience bridges the divide from girlhood to womanhood—thus this may be a book most appropriate for middle school readers and above. A new poem-story book not to be missed.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Poet web sites

One of the wonderful aspects of the Internet (besides blogging!) is having access to “inside” perspectives from writers themselves—when they are willing to go electronically public. And fortunately for us, many poets writing for young people maintain rich and lively web sites. Some of my favorites offer interesting biographical information, current booklists, AND ideas and strategies for connecting kids with poetry, even for promoting poetry writing. Plus, they have an appealing LOOK that engages kids. Some even offer opportunities for interaction and communication with the poet. There are book covers, photographs, and even audiofiles. These sites help budding poets see how poets live and work. Conversely, they can also help the poetry-phobic (teacher or librarian!) feel less intimidated about poetry. It seems so friendly on the web!
For starters, check these out:

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Jumping in on reading poetry aloud

One of my favorite things about poetry for children is how naturally participatory it is. Or perhaps I should say, how naturally children jump in and participate in reading poetry out loud when you share it with them. Scholar Lissa Paul reminds us that “The history of poetry written for children begins in oral tradition” (in THE NORTON ANTHOLOGY OF CHILDREN’S LITERATURE; THE TRADITIONS IN ENGLISH, 2005, p. 1132) and includes lullabies, baby songs, nursery verse, riddles and wordplay, playground verse, nonsense, and standard poetry collections. Choose a poem, read it out loud, then read it a second time and watch how the children join in, finish a line, or repeat a stanza spontaneously. I particularly like to look for poems that have a repeated word, phrase or line for children to claim as their own. It’s nearly scripted for you then! Some of my favorite examples are:

“Homework, Oh Homework” by Jack Prelutsky from THE NEW KID ON THE BLOCK.
“Things” by Eloise Greenfield from HONEY I LOVE AND OTHER POEMS.
“Look in a Book” by Ivy O. Eastwick in I LIKE IT HERE AT SCHOOL, compiled by Jack Prelutsky.
“If My Hand Didn’t Get So Tired” by Kalli Dakos from DON’T READ THIS BOOK WHATEVER YOU DO!
“The Boa” by Douglas Florian from BEAST FEAST.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Whom would you like to write like?

Yesterday, my daughter asked the thought-provoking question, "If you could write like any writer throughout history, who would that be?" It led to an interesting discussion about whether one would want to be a classic like Shakespeare (and would that sell today?) or contemporary (like Updike), a woman or a man, a financial success or a cult favorite, etc. Ultimately, I chose Emily Dickinson, a personal favorite and, of course, a poet. Oddly enough, as much as I love poetry, I have rarely aspired to WRITE poetry myself. But I would love to write (anything) with the economy, power, and surprise of her poetry. I admire her phrasing so much, the careful word choice, the very timeless feeling of her ponderings. And many of her works are accessible to children, even today. Here's one example, just as a reminder. I love this poem for so many reasons, not the least of which is its reminder of the power of the spoken word (poetry aloud!).

A word is dead
When it is said,
Some say.
I say it just
Begins to live
That day.

Emily Dickinson

as cited in A WORLD OF WORDS, AN ABC OF QUOTATIONS by Tobi Tobias and Peter Malone (Lothrop, 1998)

Friday, July 14, 2006

Getting started: POETRY ALOUD HERE!

Let's explore what's new in the field of poetry published for children and young adults. I'd like to begin with a bit of shameless self-promotion about my new book, POETRY ALOUD HERE. It's a practitioner's guide to sharing poetry with children (ages 5-12) in ways that are fun, meaningful and participatory. Chapter titles include:
Chapter 1: Why Make Poetry a Priority?
Chapter 2: Which Poets are Popular?
Chapter 3: What Poetry do Children Enjoy?
Chapter 4: How do you Promote Poetry?
Chapter 5: How do you Present Poetry to Children?
Chapter 6: What Happens After You Share the Poem?
Ten children's poets contributed original poems and essays, too, including: Pat Mora, Jack Prelutsky, Janet Wong, Douglas Florian, Lee Bennett Hopkins, Nikki Grimes, Brod Bagert, J. Patrick Lewis, Marilyn Singer and Naomi Shihab Nye.
It's published by the American Library Association (2006) and is available at:
Lee Bennett Hopkins said it "should be part of EVERY teacher/librarian's bookshelf."