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.


Amy L said...

If you had to recommend one poetry book that is a must-have in a 6th grade lang. arts/soc. studies classroom what would you recommend? Thank you!

Sylvia Vardell said...

1 book only? That's hard. Perhaps BING BANG BOING by Douglas Florian, if you want a collection you KNOW they will respond to with laughter. Or perhaps HEART TO HEART collected by Jan Greenberg, if you want a collection that will merit serious discussion and reflection.