Friday, September 07, 2007

Happy birthday, Jack Prelutsky

Tomorrow is Jack Prelutsky’s birthday, so I’d like to send him a happy shout out and celebrate his life and work with a brief post.

He was born on September 8, 1940, in Brooklyn, New York. He attended Hunter College in Manhattan and worked as an opera singer, folk singer, truckdriver, photographer, plumber’s assistant, piano mover, cab driver, standup comedian, and more. He is married and lives in Seattle. He enjoys photography, carpentry, and creating games and "found object" sculpture and collages. He collects frog miniatures, art, and children’s poetry books of which he has over 5000.

Prelutsky has garnered many awards in his long career including citations as: New York Times Outstanding Book of the Year, School Library Journal Best of the Best Book, International Reading Association/Children's Book Council Children's Choice, Library of Congress Book of the Year, Parents' Choice Award, American Library Association Notable Children's Recording, an Association for Library Services to Children Notable Book and Booklist Editor's Choice, among others. In 2006, he was honored as the first Children’s Poet Laureate by the national Poetry Foundation which included a $25,000 prize. His combined works have sold over a million copies and been translated into many languages.

Jack Prelutsky is a prolific writer, with many collections of poetry to his credit, including enormously popular anthologies he has compiled of other poets’ works, such as The Random House Book of Poetry for Children (Random House 1983), Read-aloud Rhymes for the Very Young (Knopf 1986), The Beauty of the Beast (Knopf 1997), and The 20th Century Children's Poetry Treasury (Knopf 1999). In addition, there are many collections of his own popular poetry available including books organized around topics such as Tyrannosaurus was a Beast: Dinosaur Poems (Mulberry 1993) and The Dragons are Singing Tonight (HarperTrophy 1998). His holiday poems are also very appealing: It’s Halloween (HarperTrophy 1996), It’s Christmas (HarperTrophy 1995), It’s Thanksgiving (HarperTrophy 1996), and It’s Valentine’s Day (HarperTrophy 1996), also available in one single audio anthology from HarperChildrensAudio (2005). And for younger children, he created a kind of “American Mother Goose” with nursery rhymes that reference cities and places in the United States, rather than European sites such as “London Bridge” or “Banbury Cross” in his collections, Ride a Purple Pelican (Greenwillow 1986) and Beneath a Blue Umbrella (Greenwillow 1990).

Jack Prelutsky became established as a poetic dynamo with the publication of The New Kid on the Block in 1984, his best-selling collection of 100+ poems illustrated by cartoonist James Stevenson with understated comic genius on every page. With poems that are nearly childhood standards now, like “Homework! Oh, Homework!” and “Bleezer’s Ice Cream,” the music of Prelutsky’s verse is irresistible. Since the publication of New Kid, he rivals Shel Silverstein for name recognition in the field of children’s poetry. Equally popular companion books followed, including Something Big Has Been Here (1990), A Pizza the Size of the Sun (1996), and It’s Raining Pigs & Noodles (2000). A fifth installment is slated for publication in 2008: My Dog May Be a Genius.

Many of Prelutsky’s poems lend themselves to choral reading and poem performance in a variety of ways. For example, his poems with repeated lines or refrains provide a natural opportunity for group participation on the refrain. One of my favorite strategies for performing Prelutsky’s poetry is singing. Count the beats in the first line or two of the poem; then count the beats in the first line or two of the song to see if they match. Many of Jack Prelutsky’s poems, in particular, match song tunes, which may not be surprising when one remembers he was a singer and musician before turning to poetry. Try his poem “Allosaurus” (from Tyrannosaurus was a Beast: Dinosaur Poems), a poem describing the ferocious qualities of this dinosaur sung to the tune of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” It’s a hilarious juxtaposition of lyrics and tune. Challenge the children to match other of his dinosaur poems to song tunes.

by Jack Prelutsky

Allosaurus liked to bite,
its teeth were sharp as sabers,
it frequently, with great delight,
made mincemeat of its neighbors.

Allosaurus liked to hunt,
and when it caught its quarry,
it tore it open, back and front,
and never said, “I’m sorry!”

Allosaurus liked to eat,
and using teeth and talons,
it stuffed itself with tons of meat,
and guzzled blood by gallons.

Allosaurus liked to munch,
and kept from growing thinner
by gnawing an enormous lunch,
then rushing off to dinner.

From Tyrannosaurus Was a Beast
[Sung to the tune of “Row, row, row your boat”]

For more about Jack, his life, and his work, check out his new web site and look for Poetry People; A Practical Guide to Children's Poets (Libraries Unlimited, 2007).

P.S. As always, I'm glad to participate in the Friday Poetry Round Up, hosted this week by Semicolon. (Thanks!)

Picture credit:


Meghna said...

Oh, that was a wonderful dinosaur poem by Jack Prelutsky and I loved it!

Sylvia Vardell said...

Thanks for stopping by-- and for joining in the birthday celebration!

Anonymous said...