Sunday, April 26, 2009

Stampede to School Poetry

I’m a big, big fan of poetry about school. I’ve found that the topic is nearly irresistible to kids and that makes sense, since school is the “workplace” of childhood and they spend most of their waking hours there. So, I’m happy to announce there is a wonderful new addition to the school poetry oeuvre, Laura Purdie Salas’s Stampede, Poems to Celebrate the Wild Side of School, illustrated by Steven Salerno.

This is a large, riotous picture book collection of 18 poems, most appearing on vibrant double-page spreads with spot-on emotional truths for young children—such as the fear of getting lost, feeling too ugly for school pictures, too scared to answer questions, too angry for words, or being embarrassed in front of the class. There are also several energetic and playful poems that take us to the playground, the cafeteria, the jungle gym, the mud puddle, and home. It’s a satisfying whole worth reading and rereading aloud and LOUD.

Added to all this is the unique wrinkle that Salas brings to personifying the kid characters in each poem. Each is given an animal persona, as child-bees swarm, child-hogs stomp in mud, child-ducklings stay in line, and child-elephants stampede away. So clever and apt! Steven Salerno’s exuberant colors and caricatures take these characters and provide dynamic energy and humor.

Our very youngest listeners will enjoy guessing the animal and hearing the poem; while older readers will certainly want to create more kid caricatures incorporating animal attributes alongside child activities. A running gazelle-child? An ambling, book-absorbed snail-child? A distractible moth-child? This clever juxtaposition of child behaviors and animal attributes is a thoroughly engaging premise in every poem and a terrific springboard for drawing, pantomiming, word-coining, and more poetry writing.

Here’s my favorite since it captures a recurring dream that I have (and I think I share with many others).

New Mouse
by Laura Purdie Salas

Go left, then right.
Wrong turns, dead ends.
Can’t find my class.
I’ve got no friends.

Each hallway is
a hallway clone.
Can’t find my way
around alone.

A thousand halls,
a thousand ways,
I’m lost inside
this new-school maze.

Salas, Laura Purdie. 2009. Stampede! Poems to Celebrate the Wild Side of School! Ill. by Steven Salerno. New York: Clarion, p. 4-5.

Isn’t that combination of mouse in a maze with feeling lost in a new school just perfect? Every way you turn, there’s an unfamiliar door or hallway and you feel like a helpless mouse lost in a maze! This one works with echo reading, where kids repeat each line, as you read each line, one at a time. Try accelerating the pace as you move toward the end of the poem for added frantic effect!

Salas experiments with a variety of forms and rhythms, ALL strong on regular rhyme schemes, although with creative word placements. She even includes a rhyming acrostic poem (D U C K L I N G S) that kids will enjoy and will enjoy imitating. Each poem begs for a dynamic read aloud and is ideal for choral reading in various groupings. Read them through once and I’m sure kids will suggest their own performance strategies. The poems are so rich in rhyme and rhythm, as well as visual and kinesthetic details, that performing them will happen naturally!

I’ve featured school poems and lists of school poetry books before (so feel free to search previous postings via the “school” label), and I think this is a fresh and unique addition to that body of work. Laura also held a virtual launch party for Stampede on Facebook-- which was a first for me-- and still has info there, FYI. And just to whet your appetite: Laura has written a totally wonderful new, unpublished school poem that will appear alongside my “Everyday Poetry” column in Book Links in September. Thank you, Laura!

Image credit:

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


laurasalas said...

Oh, Sylvia, what a wonderful post to brighten up a not-so-hot day for me! Thank you. I'm so glad you like the book.

I hope kids and classrooms play with and enjoy the poems in all the ways you suggested!

(I also have links to Reader's Theater scripts and a teaching guide here:

Thanks, Sylvia. This is the loveliest review ever.

Sylvia Vardell said...

You are so welcome, Laura. Thanks for a fun, fresh, dynamic poetry collection for 2009!