Saturday, April 07, 2007

Happy Birthday, Alice Schertle

Today is poet and picture book author Alice Schertle’s birthday. Alice Schertle (rhymes with “turtle”) has created an impressive body of work including over two dozen picture books, often told in rhyme, as well as the “Cathy and Company” picture book series for young children, and poetry collections known for their graceful use of language and often tongue-in-cheek sense of humor. She writes about animals, memories, childhood, and about the writing process itself. Schertle also provides masterful examples of many different forms of poetry from nursery rhymes to free verse, from haiku to parodies. One of her most current works is We (Lee & Low, 2007), a lyrical picture book poem on the unlikely topic of human evolution. With amazing diorama-like collage illustrations by Kenneth Addison, it’s as if an omniscient eye is explaining all of human history in broad, poetic strokes. A few excerpts:

Here and there we stopped to build a house
and plant a seed and make a fish hook and a water jug
and to die and be born

We harnessed the speed of horses
the patience of oxen
the endurance of camels
the strength of elephants


We made elevators and park benches and four-poster beds and
donuts and bicycle pumps and umbrellas and
baseball bats and saxophones and backpacks and
mouse pads and hang gliders

And the book concludes with archaeologists returning to our African beginnings to study our bones and our history. Striking and thoughtful, perfect for a dramatic read aloud, and sure to offend anti-evolutionists!

In her first poetry book, How Now, Brown Cow? (Browndeer 1994), Schertle created a clever collection of 15 poems capturing the “cow’s-eye” view of the world, many with a wry sense of humor. She plays with the words “cow” and “moo” in the poems, and with familiar phrases such as “the grass is greener” “til the cows come home,” and “driving” the cows to great effect. The poem, “Taradiddle” takes the nursery rhyme, “Hey, Diddle Diddle” to the next hilarious level. For a fun connection to this single poem, look for Mini Grey’s book, The Adventures of the Dish and the Spoon (Knopf 2006). Schertle also adapted English versions of Spanish rhymes for young children in ¡Pío Peep!: Traditional Spanish Nursery Rhymes by Alma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy (HarperCollins 2003). Younger children may enjoy Schertle’s poem collection, Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear (HarperCollins 2003) with charming rhymes that describe the lives of much loved teddy bears.

For cat lovers, Schertle has created I Am the Cat (Lothrop, Lee & Shepard 1999). This collection alternates narrative poems with haiku in describing different qualities of cats and kittens. Combine this with Jack Prelutsky’s haiku collection, If Not for the Cat (Greenwillow 2004) or contrast the cat perspective with the dog lover’s point of view in Kristine O’Connell George’s Little Dog Poems (Clarion 1999) and it’s sequel, Little Dog and Duncan (Clarion 2002). Stage a mock debate comparing dogs and cats as preferred pets, with children using these poems as examples of their pet’s best qualities. Children may also enjoy voting for the “cutest” kitten or puppy on the Web.

Look for more about Alice Schertle and her poetry in my upcoming book, POETRY PEOPLE; A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO CHILDREN'S POETS (Libraries Unlimited, June, 2007)


Elaine Magliaro said...


Thanks for this great post!

I love the poetry of Alice Schertle. Unfortunately, some of her wonderful poetry books are now out of print. HOW NOW BROWN COW is a wonderful collection. I also liked her books ADVICE FOR A FROG and A LUCKY THING, which was beautifully illustrated by Wendell Minor.

I look forward to the publication of your book POETRY PEOPLE.

Sylvia Vardell said...

Thanks for the post. I'm a big fan of Alice's. A LUCKY THING has one of my favorite poems about writing, in general. I have also decided to continue posting about wonderful poetry books-- in print or not. I catch some flack for that on a regular basis, but I know you join me in mourning the passing of too many terrific poetry titles that are gone before their time!

Sylvia Vardell said...

Poet and friend Rebecca Kai Dotlich asked me to post this:

Alice Schertle; rhymes with turtle :) pens poetry anointed with magic. How pleased I was to see your tribute to Alice and her work. Happy (belated) birthday, Alice!

Elaine Magliaro said...


Some excellent children's poetry books may be out of print--but they can still be found in school and public libraries. Many can also be purchased from online booksellers. I have gotten lots of poetry books written by Lilian Moore, Myra Cohn Livingston, and Karla Kuskin that way.

I am saddened by the short publishing life of many fine children's poetry books. I am also saddened that so many books written by recipients of the NCTE Poetry Award are out of print. Only one book by David McCord is still in print!

Check out Wild Rose Reader. My Poem of the Day #9 is dedicated to you.