Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day poetry

Today is Earth Day, so I thought it would be appropriate to consider a collection of poetry that celebrates the earth and its creatures. It’s not hard to do, since so many poets have chosen this topic over the years. Poetry for children, in particular, celebrates the animal world over and over again.

One new poetry book worth sharing is Deborah Ruddell’s picture book poem collection, A Whiff of Pine, A Hint of Skunk, illustrated by Joan Rankin. It’s a playful look at the forest and its wildlife through the seasons of the year in 22 poems that run the gamut from light and punny to thoughtful and contemplative. A helpful table of contents lays it all out, from the opening, “Eau de Forest: A Woodsy Cologne” to “Woodchuck’s Wake-up Morning.” Many are from the point of view of the animal—an instant mini-lesson for young people—and the sense of SMELL (“a hint of skunk!”) is almost pungent throughout, another great opportunity to guide kids in sensory description.

The illustrations by South African artist Joan Rankin bring the book to life beginning with the end pages showing ALL the creatures from the poems gathered in a forest setting. Kids will love checking the scene for each animal before or after reading the poetry. The watercolor scenes are strategically positioned on each page and reflect a pleasing assortment of size and placement that adds visual variety. She also manages to add a lightness to the overall tone of the book, particularly in the facial expressions of the animals (and children) pictured.

The collection is strong on visual appeal, as well as in regular rhyme and inviting imagery. The poems lend themselves nicely to reading aloud and choral reading, too. Here’s just one sample poem. Three groups (or 3 pairs or 3 volunteers) could present this poem with each group reading two lines in succession. Group 1 reads the first two lines, Group 2 reads the third and fourth lines, and Group 3 reads the final two lines. Try it!

Spring Welcome
by Deborah Ruddell

A million arms in woody sleeves

wave a zillion brand-new leaves,
inviting wrens to be their guests,

the orioles to build their nests,
and calling all the chickadees

to stay and raise their families.

Ruddell, Deborah. 2009. A Whiff of Pine, A Hint of Skunk. Illustrated by Joan Rankin. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Check out Deborah’s Web site for more info, particularly for audio clips of poems from her last book, Today at the Bluebird Café, available for download. They’re particularly fun since they’re read aloud in children’s voices—by two of her granddaughters!

For another look at the seasons of the year through animals and wildlife, look for one of my all-time favorite poetry collections by Marilyn Singer, Turtle in July, illustrated by the incomparable Jerry Pinkney (Macmillan, 1989). Invite the kids to gather or write their own “calendar” of animal and nature poems to reflect their own eco-setting.

Here are just a handful of other collections of nature-themed poetry:
*Bruchac, Joseph. 1995. The Earth Under Sky Bear's Feet: Native American Poems of the Land. New York: Philomel Books.
*Brenner, Barbara. 1994. The Earth is Painted Green: A Garden of Poems about Our Planet. New York: Scholastic.
*Nicholls, Judith. 2003. The Sun in Me: Poems About the Planet. Barefoot Books.
*Yolen, Jane. 2000. Color Me a Rhyme: Nature Poems for Young People. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press.

Image credit:

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


Julie said...

Thanks for highlighting this book, Sylvia - I hadn't heard about it but will definitely check it out now. It isn't easy to evoke the sense of smell! And don't you just love endpapers that do as you say this book's endpapers do - show all the characters in the book? That or a much fun.

Carol Henson Keesee said...

I invite you to check out a new children's book called, The Angry Thunderstorm. A beautifully illustrated story of a child frightened by a thunderous storm who explains that the job he has to do requires powerful strength. Written in rhythm and rhyme, this book takes the storm from foe to friend and reassures children frightened by this phenomenon.

Deborah Ruddell said...

What a great feeling to open your blog today and see my very own book featured! Thanks so much for the lovely write-up, Sylvia.

Sylvia Vardell said...

Thanks for stopping by, ladies!

It's always fun to connect with you, Julie. And I agree, I LOVE maps in books, too. We need some more map-connected poetry, don't you agree?

Hi, Carol-- thanks for the book recommendation. I'll look for that soon.

And how lovely to hear from you, Deborah! Thanks for your fun book. FYI: I have added a link to your Web site under my listing of Poet Links! :-)

laurasalas said...

I really like Today at the Bluebird Cafe, so I can't wait to see Deborah's new collection. Thanks for featuring it!

Sylvia Vardell said...

You bet! Somehow I found the cover a bit off-putting, but everything else inside (poetry AND art) is just great!