Friday, August 14, 2009

Capstone poetry

I feel like I must be the last person on the planet to discover that Capstone Press has a whole series of poetry books designed to feature subject matter content. Cool! I've long been a fan of linking poetry and nonfiction. Here's what I wrote in my book, Poetry Aloud Here,

"Pairing nonfiction and poetry may seem like an unlikely partnership at first, but these two different genres can complement one another by showing children how writers approach the same topic in very different and distinctive ways. In addition, children will see that you can learn a lot of information from BOTH a poem and a work of nonfiction.... Poems can also serve to initiate a topic or enrich and extend it. The length is less intimidating to children overwhelmed by longer prose and streams of new vocabulary. Although poetry may also present new words and concepts, this shorter appearance provides a motivating advantage.... Look for poetry anthologies organized by subject matter, when possible, since they help make the content connection obvious.

Poetry breaks across the curriculum can serve to:
• Jumpstart or introduce a lesson or topic
• Provide examples of terminology or concepts
• Provide a transition between activities
• Provide a stretching (poetry) break
• Provide closure
• Extend the topic further"

Capstone has collaborated with the up-and-coming poet Laura Purdie Salas to create an emerging series of poetry books that focus on a variety of appealing and curriculum-worthy topics for kids including these in 2009:

Always Got My Feet: Poems about Transportation
A Fuzzy-Fast Blur: Poems about Pets
Lettuce Introduce You: Poems about Food
Chatter, Sing, Roar, Buzz: Poems about the Rain Forest, the book I have in hand.

Two things grab you as soon as you open this picture book-- it's highly visual with full color, full page (sometimes double-page) photographs for every poem and secondly, the design showcases the poems equally effectively in a large, appealing font spread nicely across the page. Eye catching and easy to read. Add to that, the photos are well chosen and well matched to the poems (although the image focus could be a bit sharper IMO) and the poems manage to be both clearly descriptive and well written and representative of a variety of poetic forms.

This collection focuses on the rain forest with 16 poems about the wildlife, the landscape, the people, the crops, etc. It's teacher-friendly, while still having appeal for reading (and performing) out loud or sharing during poetry time-- as well as in science lessons. Kids will love reading about the stealth of the jaguar, the slow life of the sloth, the tired lemur and capybara mamas, the playfulness of chimps and bearded pigs, the "small can be powerful" message from the leaf-cutter ant, as well as encountering poison blue frogs and cuddly tent bats, among other topics. [Combine this book with Francisco X. Alarcón's Animals Poems of the Iguazú / Animalario del Iguazú (Children’s Book Press, 2008) for a double dose of rain forest perspectives.] The diversity of rain forests is enticingly introduced here-- I just wish they had included a map to locate the sites referenced in the poems. Overall, this example collection convinces me that Capstone and Laura are definitely on to something. Here's just a taste:

Treetop Scientist
by Laura Purdie Salas

My lab is high among the trees
I scramble up and down with ease
I climb to work, and this is why:
I'm doing science in the sky

Boots are sturdy, helmet's tough
I'm in the field, I'm living rough
I dangle free, enjoy the breeze
Because I'm high among the trees

Salas, Laura Purdie. 2009. Chatter, Sing, Roar, Buzz; Poems about the Rain Forest. Mankato, MN: Capstone Press, p. 20.

Finally, I love how this book connects further with nonfiction by modeling the attributes of quality nonfiction in providing helpful backmatter: a section entitled "The Language of Poetry" that explains poetry terms and forms relevant in this collection (e.g., "diamonte"-- describing the form and noting which poems in this particular book are diamonte poems), a "Glossary" of unusual vocabulary found in the poems (e.g., "liana" [lee AHN uh]-- a thick vine of the rainforest), "Read More" with recommendations of related books, "Internet Sites" with a "Facthound" that will "fetch" the relevant sites from the Capstone site, an "Index of Poems," and in small print, photo credits and a note to parents, teachers, and librarians. I for one really appreciate the backmatter in books. These tools make the book even more versatile for a variety of purposes and audiences.

Each picture book is designed to be at a reading level for first-to-second graders. The Capstone brochure indicates the "interest level" at preK-2, but I would argue that these would be interesting to kids beyond second grade, too. That's the terrific thing about poetry, IMO, it is so much LESS age-bound than other genres, especially when you read a good poem aloud. Who can say what age a poem was intended for? It's for ME!

Capstone's backlist titles from this "A+ Series" include (from 2008):
And Then There Were Eight: Poems about Space
Do Buses Eat Kids?: Poems About School

Flashy, Clashy, and Oh-So-Splashy: Poems about Color

Seed Sower, Hat Thrower: Poems about Weather
Shrinking Days, Frosty Nights: Poems about Fall
Tiny Dreams, Sprouting Tall: Poems about the United States

I want to look for these titles next, don't you?

FYI: Laura blogged about the writing process for these 10 poetry collections. Check it out!

Join the rest of the Poetry Friday gathering hosted by Andromeda Jazmon today at A Wrung Sponge.

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

Image credit:


Heidi Mordhorst said...

Hi, Sylvia--
Glad you like "Stanza Means Room"--it's been around for two whole years with nowhere to go, and now it can set up house in a whole poetry village!

I linked to an old post of yours about Eve Merriam, one of my poetry heroines. Also largely out of print, I imagine...

See you in November!

Liz in Ink said...

Yea, Laura, and thanks Sylvia!!!

Mary Lee said...

What a great series! Gotta find it!

laurasalas said...

Hey, Sylvia--thanks! I'm so glad you liked it. I thought the look of these books overall was fantastic. The designer did a great job. But the focus/printing/paper quality seemed somehow lower in the rain forest one than in ANY of the others (which is a shame because the images themselves are so striking). I hope you get a chance to see some of the others.

By the way, if you have any interest in how these came about, I blogged about the very different writing process for these 10 books here: And in that post, I have links to the individual posts I did for each title, sharing some of the particular joys and challenges.


Sylvia Vardell said...

Hi, Heidi,
Love the "poetry village" image! And thanks for the link. I love Eve Merriam's work, too-- and her life was pretty inspiring, too. See you in November!

Sylvia Vardell said...

Hello, Liz and Mary Lee,
Thank you both for stopping by! Always love to connect with you--

Sylvia Vardell said...

How fun to have you stop by! And thanks for the added info. I linked to your Web site, but just didn't have a moment to dig deeper-- I apologize, and appreciate the behind-the-scenes info. I'll add that now. And I will definitely be looking for the rest of the series! Kudos to you!

Isariya said...

Hi Dr Vardell,
I'm your former student at TWU. I'm glad that I've found your blog. It's very informative. (Actually I've been reading your blog for a while.) I'd find this series to read for my two sons for sure. Your blog is very inspiring for me to get my hands on poems. Thank you.

Isariya Locke

Joyce said...

Laura, wonderful to see this highlight of your work! Thanks, Sylvia.

laurasalas said...

No apologies necessary, of course, Sylvia! Blogging is so time-consuming:>) Thanks for sharing the link.

Sylvia Vardell said...

Hi, Isariya,
How fun to hear from you again! I remember you and hope you are well. Thanks for your kind words and wishes. Keep me posted on your activities, too-- especially when it comes to poetry!