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!