Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Time to Countdown to Summer

I am already starting to think about summer and daydream about what I want to do (and not do!). It’s the perfect moment to highlight a new book coming from the always wonderful J. Patrick Lewis: Countdown to Summer: A Poem for Every Day of the School Year due out this fall.

This potpourri of poetry runs the gamut from serious to silly, from thoughtful to topical, for every conceivable occasion and just for fun. There are 180 poems and I love how they are numbered beginning with #180 and counting down to #1 (“School’s Out!”) with a big black dot encircling each number on every page. Kids will love this actual counting down of the school year (and most school years are about 180 days long). I didn’t actually map each poem day to the corresponding day/month (Poem #180 to Sept. 5, for example), since the start of school varies across the country. However, as a former classroom teacher, it seemed to me that the poems jived nicely with holiday and seasonal happenings across the calendar year. That is such a fun construct. Go, Pat!

The poems themselves also represent an amazing menu—which is key if you are sharing a poem every day BY THE SAME POET. If anyone can pull off this breadth and depth, it’s our buddy Pat. Not only does he tackle a plethora of topics, but the poetic forms are extremely varied, too—the perfect springboard for mini poetry lessons that grow organically out of poem sharing. Riddles, limericks, haiku, acrostics, rhyming narratives, free verse, list poems, rebus poems, concrete poetry, and on and on.

You know how I collect poems about libraries and librarians and I hit the jackpot here with FOUR, count ‘em, four wonderful libro-poems. (And there are even more book-related poems than these.) Save them all for next year’s National Library Week.

#174 The Librarian
#116 Library Fine
#89 New York Public Library
#66 The Hippopotabus (A Book-Boat)

Here’s just a sample to whet your appetite:

#66 The Hippopotabus
(A Book-Boat)
by J. Patrick Lewis

A bookmobile, extremely large,
A floating minibus
That travels like a steaming barge
Of hippopotamus,

Holds fables, facts, tiptoe tall tales,
Bookshelves of derring-do,
And poetry that never fails
To hippnotize the crew.

Turn any page. First port of call
“We’ve reached,” says Book-Boat’s Admiral,
“The town of MAYBESO,

“Whose lovely tribe, the BRARIANS,
Keepers of verbs and nouns,
Will introduce you to WORDGRRRS,
The literary hounds.

“So this trip promises to be
A bonbon bon voyage to sea
By Hippopotabus!”

Lewis, J. Patrick. 2009. Countdown to Summer: A Poem for Every Day of the School Year. Ill. by Ethan Long. New York: Little, Brown.

I love the idea of a BOAT of books and I think kids would have fun envisioning this, drawing it, and perhaps constructing one! It also reminds me of Margriet Ruur’s book, My Librarian is a Camel (Boyds Mills Press, 2005), a terrific nonfiction picture book about all kinds of unorthodox libraries all around the world (including actual book boats). The wordplay (“wordplayfulariousness”) in this poem is also fun and kids will enjoy picking up on that and coining their own words like “the town of MAYBESO.”

In fact, the learning and activity connections for these poems just bubble up with a multitude of possibilities. For example, #98 “A Monthly Calendar” is a visual way to represent all the months poetically and could be a great bulletin board or door sign. Or the poems could serve as an addition to the morning announcements made at many schools every day. Start reading the poems out loud every day and the kids will have plenty of ideas of their own.

Finally, let me not neglect to mention the LOOK of the book. Illustrator Ethan Long has provided pen and ink cartoons for every single page and it gives the book visual verve and energy and makes it even more browsable. The bug-eyed characters and mini-comic-stories move across the bottom third or quarter of each page (and beyond) in appealing ways that complement the poems perfectly. I know the book will be published in hardback (which is great for a longer shelf life), but I loved the flippable newsprint paper format of my ARC which felt so handy, friendly, and bendable.

I’ve been working on my own long-term poem-a-day project, so I know what a challenge it is to create this kind of comprehensive anthology. Lee Bennett Hopkins’ has a terrific companion resource, Days to Celebrate: A Full Year of Poetry, People, Holidays, History, Fascinating Facts, and More (Greenwillow, 2005), along with many, many other holiday and school topic-based collections that teachers (especially) will also find helpful. These could form the perfect framework for regular poem sharing—and then you can build upon this by seeking even more poetry books to link with these, day by day.

Posting (not poem) copyright Sylvia M. Vardell 2009


laurasalas said...

OK, soon I'm going to need an entire Hippopotabus just to hold Pat's poetry books! This sounds like another winner.

Sigh...back to the library to put this one on advance reserve:>)

Thanks, Sylvia!

Sylvia Vardell said...

Yes, I know, I know.

I've been booktalking poetry at workshops and this one in particular has been a BIG DRAW! I predict big things!