Friday, December 11, 2009

Favorites of 2009

The year is drawing to a close and although I’m scrambling to finish my semester, I thought I’d pause to gather a list of some of my favorite poetry books of the year. I think it’s been a great year for poetry for young people with a tremendous variety of subject matter and format and heaps of quality and innovation. I wrote about trends I observed this year on David Harrison’s blog (featured last week), and about the organizing thread of TIME in many poetry books this year. Today, I’ll offer my list of 18 of my favorite poetry books for young people this year-- the most unique, most distinctive, most appealing books of poetry, in my opinion. As a group, they offer a mini-library of what’s new and great about poetry for kids: in form, in format, in look, in impact, in humor, in emotional power, etc. I’ve blogged about most of these previously, as well as many other terrific titles and I’d love to hear about other people’s favorites. Here you go…

Argueta, Jorge. 2009. Sopa de frijoles/ Bean Soup. Ill. by Rafael Yockteng. Toronto, ON: Groundwood.
*It’s bilingual (Spanish/English), it’s a recipe, it’s poetry plus cooking full of metaphors and similes and beans

Burg, Ann. 2009. All the Broken Pieces. Scholastic.
*Spare, moving verse novel about a boy wrestling with his identity as a Vietnamese child growing up in the US post war

Florian, Douglas. 2009. Dinothesaurus. New York: Simon & Schuster.
*Classic Florian wordplay and information-rich poems about dinosaurs and delectable dinosaur names

Franco, Betsy. 2009. Curious Collection of Cats. Ill. by Michael Wertz. San Francisco, CA: Tricycle Press.
*Clever concrete poems about cats and their idiosyncrasies envisioned in popsicle colored art

Frost, Helen. 2009. Crossing Stones. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
*Four teens’ lives interweave against a backdrop of WWI, influenza, and women’s emerging roles and rights

Hoberman, Mary Ann and Winston, Linda. 2009. The Tree That Time Built; A Celebration of Nature, Science, and Imagination. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks.
*Fascinating exploration of the parallel ways scientists and poets observe and understand the natural world

Hopkins, Lee Bennett. 2009. City I Love. Ill. by Marcellus Hall. New York: Abrams.
*Poems can be about cities, too, and here is a playful cityscape of sights, sounds, and smells from cities around the world

Hopkins, Lee Bennett. 2009. Sky Magic. Ill. by Mariusz Stawarski. New York: Dutton.
*Color-drenched collection of day-to-night poems perfect for breakfast table or bedtime sharing or in between

Hughes, Langston. 2009. My People. Ill. by Charles R Smith Jr. New York: Simon & Schuster.
*A nearly theatrical re-interpretation of the classic Langston Hughes poem through Smith’s bold sepia-toned photography

Katz, Bobbi. 2009. The Monsterologist; A Memoir in Rhyme. New York: Sterling.
*Ingenious scrapbook design and moveable art showcase clever poems about monsters and the evil genius who knows them best

Lewis, J. Patrick. 2009. The House. Illus. by Roberto Innocenti. Minneapolis, MN: Creative Editions.
*Brilliant combination of sensitive, insightful poetry and exquisite fine art tells the story of one house across the centuries

Mordhorst, Heidi. 2009. Pumpkin Butterfly; Poems from the Other Side of Nature. Honesdale PA: Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press.
*Subtle, lilting nature poems from Fall to Summer full of metaphor and imagery

Rosen, Michael J. 2009. The Cuckoo’s Haiku and Other Birding Poems. Ill. by Stan Fellows. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick.
*Who knew haiku could be so gorgeous, informative and inspiring? Birds, seasons, and illustrations all come together beautifully.

Ruddell, Deborah. 2009. A Whiff of Pine, A Hint of Skunk. New York: Simon & Schuster.
*Forest life across the seasons in funny-to-contemplative poems

Salas, Laura. 2009. Stampede! Poems to Celebrate the Wild Side of School! New York: Clarion.
*Life at school portrayed through children personified as wild animals, a perfect parallel

Schertle, Alice. 2009. Button Up! Wrinkled Rhymes. Ill. by Petra Mathers. New York: Harcourt.
*Smart, engaging “mask” poems personify articles of clothing

Sidman, Joyce. 2009. Red Sings From Treetops; A Year in Colors. Ill. by Pamela Zagarenski. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
*Personified colors and color words lead us through the seasons of nature in elegant, evocative poetry

Zimmer, Tracie Vaughn. 2009. Steady Hands: Poems About Work. New York: Clarion.
*Thoughtful, descriptive poems about jobs and careers, from the usual to the unique

As award committees deliberate about their choices, as teachers select books to read aloud with kids, as librarians develop their book collections, as parents and grandparents shop for their children, I hope they’ll all include POETRY on their wishlists. There are so many wonderful works worthy of consideration and sure to hold up in repeated readings over and over again. Just $200 (app.) would buy this entire collection of my recommended list (for example) of the best poetry of 2009, a fabulous year’s worth of reading for all ages—adults included!

Join the rest of the Poetry Friday crowd hosted by Random Noodling.

Posting (not poem) by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2009. All rights reserved.

Image credit: gh3dda

Friday, December 04, 2009

2009 Trends and More

Thanks to all of you who read and commented in my Dear One contest. Congratulations, Marilyn Hollinshead, Mary Lee Hahn, Susan Taylor Brown, Dianne White, Jo Ann Macken, Tricia Stohr-Hunt, Karla Schmidt, Linda Kulp, Steven Withrow, Kelly Fineman, Bruce Black, and Kristy Dempsey. (I need your mailing addresses, Mary Lee and Jo Ann. Just email me at svardell at twu dot edu) That project was such a labor of love. If you have a special person or occasion you want to celebrate, invite people to contribute a verse or poem and then compile them and “publish” them in a simple book. It is sure to be a hit-- I speak from experience!

I would also like to plug the organization that prompted this collection: the National Council of Teachers of English. You don’t have to be an English teacher to be a part of this group—it includes teachers at all levels and in many areas, as well as librarians, publishers, writers, and others. Literature is at the heart of this organization and I’ve found it a happy professional home for 30 years. I’ve had the opportunity to serve on many committees, including the NCTE Poetry Award committee and Orbis Pictus Award committee, and been involved in the Children’s Literature Assembly (a sub-group of NCTE) which decides the Notables list every year, hosts an author breakfast at every conference, and leads a post-conference workshop annually. So, there are many opportunities to serve and I urge you to seek them out. It’s one of the most accessible organizations I know. Come to the 100th NCTE anniversary conference next November in Orlando. It’s sure to be BIG! Consider submitting a proposal for a session—those proposals are due in January (2010).

Finally, I’m honored to be featured on poet David Harrison’s blog today. He invited me to write a short article for his blog, so I mused about the trends I observed looking back over this year’s poetry for young people. Check it out.

Perhaps the biggest trend that struck me this year was the notion of time passing as a unifying thread (or major focus) for many of this year’s poetry collections. In some books, like Joyce Sidman’s beautiful Red Sings From Treetops; A Year in Colors or J. Patrick Lewis's The House, it’s clearly explicit, day by day, season by season, as the poems are ABOUT the passing of time. In other collections, it’s the organizing framework, like the spring-to-winter motif of A Whiff of Pine, A Hint of Skunk by Deborah Ruddell or More Pocket Poems by Bobbi Katz or the day-to-night layout of Lee Bennett Hopkins’s Sky Magic or Laura Purdie Salas’s Stampede! Poems to Celebrate the Wild Side of School.

Has this always been the case and I just missed it? I have a feeling that may be true… but whatever the case, I like it. It feels very satisfying to travel through time through poetry and I can imagine the school connections are very apparent to teachers and librarians who want a poem to fit the season or the moment. Very practical! And yet in each of these collections, it doesn’t feel obvious or pedantic. And what a great challenge for kids—to collaborate in creating their own anthology organized in some time-based way. Let’s see what they come up with! Meanwhile, here’s my list of the 2009 poetry for kids that is built upon the passing of time.

Time Passing Poems
  • Fehler, Gene. 2009. Change-up; Baseball Poems. Ill. by Donald Wu. New York: Clarion.
  • Harrison, David. 2009. Vacation, We’re Going to the Ocean! Ill. by Rob Shepperson. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press.
  • Hoberman, Mary Ann and Winston, Linda. 2009. The Tree That Time Built; A Celebration of Nature, Science, and Imagination. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks.
  • Hopkins, Lee Bennett. 2009. City I Love. Ill. by Marcellus Hall. New York: Abrams.
  • Hopkins, Lee Bennett. 2009. Sky Magic. Ill. by Mariusz Stawarski. New York: Dutton.
  • Katz, Bobbi. 2009. More Pocket Poems. Ill. by Deborah Zemke. New York: Dutton.
  • Lewis, J. Patrick. 2009. Countdown to Summer: A Poem for Every Day of the School Year. Ill. by Ethan Long. New York: Little Brown.
  • Lewis, J. Patrick. 2009. The House. Illus. by Roberto Innocenti. Minneapolis, MN: Creative Editions.
  • Mordhorst, Heidi. 2009. Pumpkin Butterfly; Poems from the Other Side of Nature. Honesdale PA: Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press.
  • Ruddell, Deborah. 2009. A Whiff of Pine, A Hint of Skunk. New York: Simon & Schuster.
  • Salas, Laura. 2009. Stampede! Poems to Celebrate the Wild Side of School. New York: Clarion.
  • Shahan, Sherry. 2009. Fiesta!; A Celebration of Latino Festivals. Ill. by Paula Barragan. Atlanta, GA: August House.
  • Sidman, Joyce. 2009. Red Sings From Treetops; A Year in Colors. Ill. by Pamela Zagarenski. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  • Zimmer, Tracie Vaughn. 2009. Steady Hands: Poems About Work. New York: Clarion.
Did I miss any?

Speaking of blog postings. Check out Susan Marie Swanson’s interview on a lovely parenting blog, The Artful Parent. It’s great to see poetry crossover into other places whenever possible. Enjoy!

Join the Poetry Friday crew hosted by Elaine Magliaro at Wild Rose Reader today.

Posting (not poem) by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2009. All rights reserved.
Image credit:;;

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Be thankful for poetry parties

It’s my last post to showcase our Dear One contest—inviting you to comment about your favorite NCTE Poetry Award winners and win a chance to receive a fee copy of the book of poems commissioned especially for poet and anthologist Lee Bennett Hopkins, the 2009 recipient of that award. In case you missed it, check out my postings from the last 5 days for more info on the award, Lee, and his tribute book. (And congrats to previous posters, Marilyn Hollinshead and Mary Lee Hahn who have won their very own free copies. Contact me please at svardell at twu dot edu.)

And while we’re celebrating his receiving the award at our fabulous Poetry Party at the NCTE conference on Nov. 20, I’ll plug a clever picture storybook all about performing poetry, Barnyard Slam by Dian Curtis Regan, illustrated in playful watercolor cartoons by Paul Meisel (Holiday House, 2009). For fans of Click Clack Moo (and all the sequels), here’s what happens when a barn full of talking animals get together to share poetry out loud at their very own Poetry Party. It’s full of groan-worthy puns, as well as heaps of dialogue that is perfect for readers theater performance. “Yo Mama” Goose is the host and Charley Horse, Bovina Cow, Hog, Duck, Lamb, and a reluctant Turkey all take their turns sharing riffs on classic poems and other nonsense. It’s sure to inspire classroom imitations with more kids creating more animal parodies or staging re-enactments of this animal slam.

Posting (not poem) by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2009. All rights reserved.
Image credit: HolidayHouse

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Thanks for Stephen Alcorn

One more day to highlight the NCTE Poetry Award and invite comments about your favorite award winners and their works. The fifteen recipients have included:

David M
cCord, Aileen Fisher, Karla Kuskin, Myra Cohn Livingston, Eve Merriam, John Ciardi, Lilian Moore, Arnold Adoff, Valerie Worth, Barbara Esbensen, Eloise Greenfield, X. J. Kennedy, Mary Ann Hoberman, Nikki Grimes, and now Lee Bennett Hopkins.

Two people will be chosen from today's commenters to receive a free copy of Dear One, the poem anthology created in honor of Lee Bennett Hopkins' receiving the NCTE Poetry Award on Nov. 20. Yesterday's winners are Dianne White and Susan Taylor Brown.

In the mean time, I would also like to showcase the work of the fabulous illustrator, Stephen Alcorn, who so generously donated the front and back cover art for Dear One. He has collaborated on five poetry collections with Lee Bennett Hopkins, including:
  • America at War
  • My America: A Poetry Atlas of the United States
  • Days to Celebrate: A Full Year of Poetry, People, Holidays, History, Fascinating Facts, and More
  • Home to Me: Poems Across America
  • Hoofbeats, Claws, and Rippled Fins: Creature Poems
As well as illustrated poem anthologies compiled by Catherine Clinton:
  • A Poem of Her Own: Voices of American Women Yesterday and Today
  • I, Too, Sing America: Three Centuries of African American Poetry
His bold and graphic art gives each of these books an even greater impact, both visually and emotionally. And the same thing applies to Dear One, our tribute anthology for Lee. Stephen's art pulled the whole thing together and gave it a unity and dignity for which we are all very grateful.

I'd pa
rticularly like to highlight his recent work, A Gift of Days; The Greatest Words to Live By (Simon & Schuster, 2009), a gorgeous book that celebrates "visionaries and heroes from all walks of life" featuring quotes for every single day of the year alongside graphic portraits of many of the individuals quoted in the book. Read more about it on Stephen's web site here. I'm a big fan of quotes and use them in my teaching all the time. Here is a fresh resource that integrates the well known with the fresh and surprising, from Martin Luther King, Jr. to Madonna-- a true gem for teachers and quote-lovers of all kinds!

Posting c Sylvia Vardell 2009. All rights reserved.

Image credit: Amazon, AlcornGallery

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanks for Pumpkin Butterfly

It was lovely to catch up with poet Heidi Mordhorst at last week's Poetry Party and NCTE conference. Not only did she have a wonderful poem in our Dear One collection for Lee Bennett Hopkins, but she came to the session and spoke briefly, too, representing so many of the "new" poets whom Lee has mentored in recent years. (If you'd like to be eligible to receive a free copy of Dear One, just post a comment here about your favorite NCTE Award poet or poetry collection. Two winners will be chosen at random each day. Today’s winners are Jo Ann Macken and Tricia Stohr-Hunt. Please email me at svardell at twu dot edu with your mailing information.)

Heidi has a new collection of her own poetry out this fall and I'd like to toot her horn a bit, because it's one of my favorites out this year. It's Pumpkin Butterfly; Poems from the Other Side of Nature, a collection of "nature" poems that begin with fall, so it's perfect to buy and share right now and to follow the ongoing rhythm of the school year for kids. There are 23 poems in a variety of poetic forms and structures, many in free verse that is lilting and rhythmic. Her poems celebrate fall leaves and compost, squirrels and raccoons, ice and snow, sore throats and jumping shadows, fresh fruit and cherry blossoms, thunderous skies and nighttime dark. There's even a terrific tribute to Charles Darwin's "guest list" for a "garden party."

Her use of language is lovely, full of metaphor and sensory moments. Kids will surely respond to the specificity of her examples and details-- evoking vivid images and emotions. Watercolor illustrations by Jenny Reynish create an inviting backdrop for the poetry, suggesting a tiny bit of action without overwhelming or derailing the poem.

Here's just one example, a poem that turns the tables on children's usual fears of the dark and personifies night in interesting ways.

Night Luck

by Heidi Mordhorst

Night is deep in a dark box

deep in a cushion of down

nestled in tissue

tied with ribbons

Night is asleep in the dark

Night wakes with curious paws

wakes in a furry fog

wrestles the tissue

nibbles the ribbons

Night is awake in the dark

Night tumbles in velvet directions

tumbles along to your bed

sniffing your wishes

wagging your worries

Night is a friend in the dark

Mordhorst, Heidi. 2009. Pumpkin Butterfly; Poems from the Other Side of Nature. Honesdale PA: Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press, p. 20.

The poem has a gentle repetition of key words-- especially in the last line of each stanza. Invite kids to join in on those lines (in bold) and talk with them about how they might personify "night" or draw a picture together with chalk on black paper to illustrate the poem.

For more poetry thoughts, join the Poetry Friday gathering hosted by my TWU-bud, Becky at Becky’s Book Reviews.

Posting (not poem) by Sylvia M. Vardell c 2009. All rights reserved.

Image credit:

Thursday, November 26, 2009

More thanks for poetry

One more day in our "thanks for great poets" thread. Today's winners of free copies of Dear One, a festschrift of poems and anecdotes celebrating Lee Bennett Hopkins are Karla Schmidt and Linda at Write Time (please email me with your preferred mailing address). Feel free to comment about him and all fifteen NCTE Poetry Award winners here. Two more lucky winners will be announced tomorrow drawn from this week's commenters.

And as we gather across the country to celebrate Thanksgiving, a new picture (not poetry) book just arrived by poet Pat Mora that I wanted to share. It's Gracias * Thanks, illustrated with colorful folk arty scenes by John Parra. Mora presents a very straightforward and inviting litany of things for which to be thankful, totally from a child's perspective and in a child-like voice, full of the details that kids notice and celebrate-- in both Spanish and English. The charm is in the perfect phrasing of each note of thanks which follows the pattern of "For..., thanks," beginning with:

Por el sol que me despierta y no permite que siga durmiendo por años y años, y que me crezca una larga barba blanca, gracias.
For the sun that wakes me up so I don't sleep for years and years and grow a long, white beard, thanks.

And continues with

Por mi hermanito, que la lanzó su puré de chícaros a mi hermana y me hizo reír tanto que me caí de la silla, gracias.
For my little brother, who threw mashed peas at my sister and made me laugh so hard
I fell off my chair, thanks.

And ends with

Por el grillo Escondido que nos canta una serenata antes de dormir, gracias!
For the cricket hiding when he serenades us to sleep, thanks!

(Lee and Low, 2009)

It's sweet and poignant, but not afraid to make us laugh, and walks the line of sentiment beautifully. This will be a terrific read aloud for Thanksgiving and any day, to be followed by a round-the-table sharing of other things to notice and appreciate. Happy Thanksgiving!

P.S. Look for Pat Mora's upcoming book of poetry, Dizzy in Your Eyes, coming in 2010 (from Random House/Knopf).

Posting (not poem) by Sylvia M. Vardell c 2009. All rights reserved.
Image credit:;

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Celebrating NCTE Award Poets Again

Congratulations, Steven Withrow and Kelly Fineman, our first winners of our free “Dear One” giveaway. (Please email me your preferred mailing address.) Two more lucky winners will be chosen from today's commenters. So weigh in on your favorite NCTE Award poets here. In the mean time, guess what?

At the NCTE conference, I picked up a copy of an ARC (advance reader copy) of a new poetry collection from Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press. It’s a new “expanded edition” of their unique collection of poems by the NCTE Excellence in Poetry Award winners, Another Jar of Tiny Stars. The first Jar of Tiny Stars appeared in 1996 and was a unique attempt to gather a handful of poems for each of the award winners up to that time. This new edition goes even further, including ALL the recipients, even Lee himself! In addition, there are 5 poems by each poet presented and those poems were chosen BY CHILDREN as their favorites—isn’t that fun? In addition, there is a sketch of each poet, a quote from him/her, and a short biographical sketch (and an index). It’s a one-stop spot to sample the best of the best—and I look forward to the publication of this tremendous resource (as soon as the rights are all finalized, I believe).

Meanwhile, here’s one of the featured poems in the book by Lee—his anthem, really—originally written for the bookmark produced for the annual National Children’s Book Week celebration hosted by the Children’s Book Council every year. It’s great to cheer with kids in two groups using alternating lines (antiphonally!). Enjoy!

Good books.
Good times.
Good stories.

Good rhymes.
Good beginnings.

Good ends.
Good people.
Good friends.
Good fiction.

Good facts.

Good adventures.

Good acts.
Good stories.
Good rhymes.

Good books.

Good times.

Posting (not poem) by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2009. All rights reserved.

Image credit: SV, Stephen Alcorn

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Be thankful for our NCTE poets

Janet Wong (poet and project partner, pictured here at our Poetry Party with J. Patrick Lewis, Kristine O’Connell George, Elaine Magliaro and Rebecca Kai Dotlich) and I have a few extra copies of the special "festschrift" book of poetry in honor of Lee Bennett Hopkins winning the NCTE Excellence in Poetry Award. So... drumroll... we propose a mini-competition for giving away the last dozen copies. Here's the challenge:

In the COMMENTS area, list the name of a past NCTE Poetry Award winner whose work you are thankful for (and list a couple of favorite book or poem titles). [Look here, if you need help.] If you are thankful for more than one poet, enter multiple times! (No limit to your entries, but you can win only once.)

Two winners will be chosen AT RANDOM each day from now through the end of Thanksgiving weekend. I'll post daily from now through Sunday, so only comments each day will qualify for that day's giveaway. Clear?

To kick off our giveaway celebration, I'd like to share another Lee tribute poem. This offering is by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater whom I met at our wonderful Poetry Party. It's a quiet, thoughtful poem to honor Lee and his legacy. Thanks for sharing, Amy.

Private Party (for Lee)
by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater

In the Library of Congress
on a cold November night
poems tiptoed out of books
dressed up in black and white.

"Tonight we celebrate a man"
one poem raised a toast,
"to LBH, who makes us think
he loves us each the most.

He wrote us down for children
who've read us through the years.
Our words make families giggle
light dreams
dry lonely tears.

And so tonight
we thank you
our father
kind and clever
whose living breath
makes poems sing.

Through us
you'll live forever."

Posting (not poem) by Sylvia M. Vardell (c) 2009. All rights reserved.

Image credit: SV, Stephen Alcorn

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Hurray for Hopkins

I’ve been sitting on a secret for over six months and this weekend all was revealed at the NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) convention. Of course I’ve noted repeatedly that Lee Bennett Hopkins was the recipient of the 2009 NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children. He was officially presented that award at the Books for Children Luncheon at the conference on Saturday—to a standing ovation.

But I had not shared details about the session on Friday where Lee spoke and was “toasted and roasted” by a panel of poets including Jane Yolen, Janet Wong, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, J. Patrick Lewis, Georgia Heard, and Walter Dean Myers.


My indomitable collaborator, poet and author Janet Wong, lives an hour away, and volunteered to bring a veritable truckload of supplies to our session to create a bona fide party atmosphere! (Bless you, Janet!) So, we had two banquet tables decorated in purple (Lee’s signature color) filled to brimming with our poetry “props”-- cookies, muffins, and chocolates and champagne glasses and bubbly cider to toast and cheer Lee as he entered the room. We had printed purple napkins and helium-filled purple balloons. We had a boombox playing a custom-created riff on Cole Porter’s classic, “Brush up your Shakespeare” (redone for Hopkins) by the lovely poet Kristine O’Connell George, coming all the way from California for this event! And that was just for openers!

Each of the panel poets shared poems and stories about Lee, his impact, his process, his personality. We listened, we laughed, we celebrated. And there were another 10 poets in the audience who joined in, offering their poems and stories, including Carole Boston Weatherford, Eileen Spinelli, Heidi Mordhorst, Elaine Magliaro, Michele Krueger, Bobbi Katz, Sara Holbrook, John Grandits, Kristine O’Connell George, and Ralph Fletcher. (Am I forgetting anyone? I hope not!) (Thank you also to our publishers for their support of this session: Simon & Schuster, Little/Brown, Scholastic, Candlewick, and Boyds Mills Press.)

We also had the best party favor ever, if I do say so myself! Everyone there received a brand new book of poetry published just for this event (in a limited run). This “festschrift” book featured original poems and anecdotes written by 61 poets, many friends and collaborators of Lee. Contributors included (appearing in reverse alphabetical order, just for fun):

Jane Yolen
Joyce Lee Wong
Janet Wong
Allan Wolf
Karen Winnick
Carole Boston Weatherford
April Halprin Wayland
Ann Wagner
Eileen Spinelli
Sonya Sones
Marilyn Singer
Joyce Sidman
Alice Schertle
Laura Purdie Salas
Joanne Ryder
Susan Pearson
Ann Whitford Paul
Linda Sue Park
Naomi Shihab Nye
Walter Dean Myers
Heidi Mordhorst
Pat Mora
Donna Marie Merritt
Jude Mandell
Elaine Drabik Magliaro
J. Patrick Lewis
JonArno Lawson
Julie Larios
Michele Krueger
X.J. Kennedy
Bobbi Katz
Alan Katz
Paul Janeczko
Sara Holbrook
Mary Ann Hoberman
Georgia Heard
Juanita Havill
David Harrison
Avis Harley
Lorie Ann Grover
Nikki Grimes
John Grandits
Joan Bransfield Graham
Charles Ghigna
Carole Gerber
Kristine O’Connell George
Helen Frost
Betsy Franco
Douglas Florian
Ralph Fletcher
Bob Falls
Emma D. Dryden
Rebecca Kai Dotlich
Graham Denton
Jill Corcoran
Leslie Bulion
Calef Brown
Brod Bagert
Kathi Appelt
Jaime Adoff
Arnold Adoff
(Thank you all so much, dear poets. Your copies will be coming in the mail soon, now that the project is no longer secret!)

When we first conceived this project, we hoped to gather a few of Lee’s poet friends to honor him with a small booklet of original poems. I thought it might be a small, stapled booklet that I’d Xerox at the office. Ha! This idea had a life of its own! Janet Wong and I gathered poet names and email addresses and approached NCTE for funding. We asked the amazing Stephen Alcorn, one of Lee’s frequent book illustrators, for art to accompany the project. (Thank you so much, Stephen. Everyone commented on your gorgeous cover!) Everywhere we turned, people said, “Yes!” Yes to poems, yes to anecdotes, yes to art, yes to funding! (Thank you, Debbie Zagorski and Jo Anna Wisniewski, for going to bat for us. Thank you, Ralph Fletcher and the NCTE Poetry Award Committee for all your support!)

All summer long, poems flowed in—poems of all kinds, of admiration, of appreciation, of celebration. And many more poets sent their best wishes, including Jack Prelutsky, Marilyn Nelson, Linda Ashman, Carol Diggory Shields, Jan Greenberg, Charles R. Smith, Jr., Kenn Nesbitt, Stephanie Hemphill, and Tracie Vaughn Zimmer. And we’re sure there are others who have worked with Lee whom we missed who would add their words of thanks and praise to this tribute. It’s been gratifying to see such a thriving community of children’s poets and humbling to observe the legacy of our much beloved Lee Bennett Hopkins.

Our Friday morning session was glorious, full of energy and poetry and admiration for Lee. I think all who were there felt that they had been part of something special. I heard lovely comments from people all weekend long and was so gratified that Lee—and poetry itself—had engendered such a “high” for conference-goers. Thank you all for sharing your words and your work. Thank you, Lee, for making it all possible!

Posting (not poem) by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2009. All rights reserved.
Image credit: SV, Stephen Alcorn

Friday, November 13, 2009

LBH at the Kerlan

Earlier this fall, I had the opportunity to return to my a
lma mater, the University of Minnesota, and spend a day at the fantastic Kerlan Collection (part of the Children’s Literature Research Collections, CLRC), one of the nation’s premiere special collections in the field of children’s literature. It houses thousands of manuscripts, galleys, art, correspondence and more surrounding the creation of at least a century’s worth of children’s books. I had spent many happy hours there as a graduate student and even done some research on the German writer and illustrator Wilhelm Busch, but I hadn’t been back in many years. What a treat it was to see their new building, complete with new spaces for display, study, and storage. The staff was lovely and helpful and I caught up with a Karen Nelson Hoyle, the marvelous curator of the Kerlan, too. (Thank you, all!)

My time was very limited, but I did want to dig a bit into the poetry-related holdings of the Kerlan. I chose to study one set of materials for one book—
City Talk, an unusual poetry anthology by Lee Bennett Hopkins. I say “unusual,” because I thought I knew Hopkins’s oeuvre fairly well—the breadth and variety of his collections published since the early 1970s. I also knew that he had been a teacher, editor, and frequent speaker in schools and libraries. What I didn’t know was that this had resulted in his publishing a book of poetry written BY children, based on a huge writing project he conducted in several schools across the country in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

There were 6 folders of materials related to this book and I went through each item in each folder carefully examining what they all revealed about the creation of this book. B
ecause I find the back-stories behind the creation of children’s books fascinating (how does the magician do that trick? I always marvel), I offer here a step-by-step examination of the available materials for one book. I think kids find this process interesting, too, and I believe it helps demystify the process a bit so they see that writers WORK to write the books kids love. Please join me in my research-walk through these snippets of how one book came to be.

The first file folder for
City Talk (labeled “M.F. 459”) contains a 5 page handwritten draft on a yellow pad, possibly of a preface for City Talk and a list of colleagues for an acknowledgements page. There is also a 44 page typescript, with corrections noted on it. I learn that the book is entitled City Talk, and is made up of cinquains written by 40+ children living in and around urban areas, writing through “the city’s seasons.” Hopkins writes, “It’s neither children writing for themselves nor for their peers; it is children writing freely for us all.”

The second folder contains another typescript, also with corrections, and this one is 50 pages long.

A third folder contains yet another corrected typescript, now 43 pages long, and carbon copies (carbon!) and photocopies of 6 page of miscellaneous front matter. Here, we learn that the cinquain poems are created by fourth to sixth graders from Detroit, Hartford, New York’s Harlem and other areas in and around cities. We also learn the cinquain is a “newly popularized form, a simple five-line verse originated here in America by Adelaide Crapsie (sic).”

In his draft of “
City Talk; An Introduction,” Hopkins writes, “In Carl Sandburg’s Cornhuskers, published in 1918, he wrote a poem about Adelaide Crapsey. One of the lines states, ‘I read your heart in a book.’ Small wonder that one of America’s greatest poets recognized the majesty of this woman. Born in Brooklyn Heights, New York, her short, tragic life produced a vehicle which lives on in the words and thoughts of youngsters who have helped to perpetuate her versatile and imaginative discovery.” This note is dated November 4, 1969.

Where are these “junior poets” now, I wonder? I note some of their names:
Rodney Starr, Lewis Jackson, Dougal Douglas, Renee Smalls, Deborah Dore, Miriam Gent, Leon Bowman, Hattie Lile from E
vanston, Illinois, Sandra Johnson, Willie Robinson, Maria Levant, Nancy Burns, Janet Binnie, Teresa Jastrzebski, Joe Donahue, Gretchen Winters, Peachie Moore, Marilyn Kruth and the whole crew from Wildwood, Pennsylvania.

If they were about 10 years old in about 1970, they’d be about 50 now, right? Do they remember having a poem published in a collection compiled by Lee Bennett Hopkins way back when?

In the next folder, I find a 67p. version of the typed pages including photocopies of the interleaved illustrations which are black and white photographs of kids playing in the city. They have a surprisingly contemporary feel. Kids are kids when it comes to sliding down slides and swinging a bat.

Woo hoo! The next folder includes 9 pages of a galley and a 47-page “page proof.” Here it really starts to look like a finished book. We have a print out of the pages as if they were ready to be bound. It’s crisp white paper and bold black print. We also have a table of contents, a revised introduction, and a list of the children by name who are depicted in the photographs (although the art is not included among these pages). The introduction is far more elaborated and goes on to describe the cinquain form (along with the previous tribute to creator Adelaide Crapsey), “The cinquain is a delicately-compressed, five-line, unrhyming stanza containing twenty-two syllables broken into a 2-4-6-8-2 pattern. The sophisticated reader may note that some of the poems in this volume do not entirely conform to this formula. I have intentionally permitted children to over-step the structured boundaries and some formal grammatical rules in order to encourage them to write. They have!”

Here we also see the page of acknowledgements of the teachers who helped gather the poems. My favorite nugget appears at the end of this acknowledgement page:

“We regret that a cinquain by each child who wrote one for the project could not appear on the pages of this collection. Special thanks to these silent poets.”

Silent poets.


In the last folder, we have a 10 p. page proof photocopy, corrected, and 16 pages of a corrected dummy. There is also some correspondence (10 pages) with the publisher. There are careful notes (5 pages) and lists and correspondence regarding tracking down and accounting for the permissions for each of these young poets. Even in 1969 this was important.

A letter from the Juvenile department reads, “Dear Mr. Hopkins: Please find enclosed the dead matter for
City Talk—manuscript, galleys, repros and blues—for your files.”

“Dead matter.”
Ouch. What a phrase. And yet here I am studying it some 40 years later!

There’s also the first
copy of what really looks like a book, complete with illustrations and a cover, all in blue. It’s labeled “2nd blueprint” and now we would call that a blueline. It’s not yet bound and pages are out of order, but it feels like a book! Of course, after all this, I just had to find the finished book, which I bought (“used” on Amazon). It was published by Knopf in 1970 and has a smallish trim size (about 7 x 9) and the black and white photographs I noted appear throughout. It may seem dated at first glance, but the poems hold up, as do the photographs of kids at play or pensive—all reflecting timeless moments and thoughts that ring true now as they did then. As a teacher, I always liked to have a few books featuring children’s writing in my classroom library. I think it’s very empowering for kids to see that possibility. It’s also a great example of what you can produce yourself with kids, paper and a camera.

And here’s the finished book and a sampling of two of the kids’ cinquain poems from it:

Rain clouds
Think of the rain.

Rain looks blue and dark grey.

It splashes hard on sidewalks,
On me!

Robert Harding, Julesburg, Colorado

It’s fall.
Leaves falling
Breezes showing signs of
Winter. Things settle down for a

Long nap.

Myrna Campbell, New York, New York

Use the search function to see other postings about poetry by children. In previous entries, I’ve mentioned other collections by Naomi Nye, Betsy Franco, Sanford Lyne, and others.

* * * * *
And if you’re attending the upcoming convention of the National Council of Teachers of English in Philadelphia, please join us on Friday (Nov. 20) at session
A.18, for a “Poetry Party,” celebrating Lee Bennett Hopkins receiving the 2009 NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children. It will be Friday morning, 9:30-10:45am in Convention Center Room 201A on Level 2. Lee will be speaking, of course, and we’ll also have a crew of poets toasting and roasting him, including Jane Yolen, Janet Wong, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, J. Patrick Lewis, Georgia Heard, and Walter Dean Myers, among others. It is not-to-be-missed. In addition, Lee will officially receive his poetry award at the Books for Children luncheon on Saturday. If you can’t make the conference, look for the “Profile” article about Lee in the September 2009 (v. 87, n.1) issue of Language Arts by Janet Wong and Rebecca Kai Dotlich.

Look for more on the Poetry Friday front at Gottabook hosted by Gregory K.

Posting (not poem) by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2009. All rights reserved.

Image credit: SV at the CLRC

Friday, October 30, 2009

Birth of the Zeno

I’m on a JPat roll at the moment, happy to share news of another contribution of J. Patrick Lewis. He has invented a new poetic form, the zeno! Tricia scooped the news at The Miss Rumphius Effect earlier this week, but I think it bears repeating. I know teachers enjoy introducing the form of poetry to kids, as they model for children the different ways a poem can look and sound. And kids often enjoy this aspect of poetry too—approaching it as a puzzle to solve and understand. And I know poets themselves approach the form and structure of poetry with great intentionality and I’m always curious about why a certain choice is made. Well… drum roll… you can see Pat’s past as a professor of economics in the roots of his new poem form, the zeno. He describes it so:

"I've never invented a new verse form... until now… It was inspired by the mathematical "hailstone sequence," simply explained here…. I call the form a "zeno," so named for Zeno, the philosopher of paradoxes, especially the dichotomy paradox, according to which getting anywhere involves first getting half way there and then again halfway there, and so on ad infinitum. I'm dividing each line in half of the previous one. Here's my definition of a zeno: A 10-line verse form with a repeating syllable count of 8,4,2,1,4,2,1,4,2,1. The rhyme scheme is abcdefdghd. Naturally, I don't expect it to displace the sestina, villanelle, triolet, et al. But it would be grand if they all moved over one seat and made room for it.”

Here are a few examples to illustrate the form:

Nature’s Art Gallery

By J. Patrick Lewis

Wind’s paintbrush strokes in streaks the trees,

a miracle,



it knows without






Traveling by Armchair

By J. Patrick Lewis

You can take a trip by Greyhound,




ocean liner



I prefer a



I think kids will love it—the math of it and the brevity. I know they enjoy list poems and this form suggests a list, but requires a bit more thought and planning. I hope they’ll give it a go. In the mean time, for teachers (and kids) who are looking for other poets who specialize in experimentation with form, look for the work of Paul Janeczko (Poetry from A to Z: A Guide for Young Writers and A Kick in the Head: An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms) and Avis Harley (Fly with Poetry; An ABC of Poetry and Leap into Poetry: More ABCs of Poetry), among others.

And if you're interested in more poetry creation activities, check out poet David Harrison's blog. He is hosting a poetry writing contest each month based on a single word ("dirt" for October) with a chance to vote for your favorite-- and help select Hall of Fame winners, one per month. Next up, David will be posting the word for November on Monday.

Finally, it’s not too late to join the Poetry Friday round up hosted by Jennie at Biblio File.

Posting (not poem) by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2009. All rights reserved.

Image credit:;