Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Riddle poems and Spot the Plot

I’m a big fan of riddles and love sharing them with kids. Riddles exercise those higher level thinking skills and stretch young minds to use logic, deduction, analysis, and problem solving skills. Plus, I’ll never forget when my son, age 4 (and now 21), first realized that riddles usually followed a regular formula: Pose a question, suggest attributes, offer clues, wait… and provide answer. Unfortunately, he didn’t realize that riddles also involve subtlety and indirectness—so he would pick an object in the room, describe it, and ask us what it was—all while staring at said object! It was hilarious!

Many poets have used the riddle format for creating clever and fascinating poems, too. Especially the brilliant J. Patrick Lewis. His latest contribution, Spot the Plot; A Riddle Book of Book Riddles (San Francisco: Chronicle, 2009), illustrated by Lynn Munsinger, is a terrific addition to this oeurve. It features a baker’s dozen collection of rhyming poems, each describing a much-loved classic work of children’s literature. (I won’t spoil it by listing those works—which are identified on the last page.)

Lewis’s clever use of language and wordplay is ever evident and the subtle humor is playful and fun. Double-page spreads highlight each poem against a story-like backdrop illustration provided by the talented creator of Tacky the Penguin, Lynn Munsinger. A boy in Sherlock Holmes attire and a girl in a trenchcoat skip through each poem-riddle looking for clues and participating in the visual story. So appealing and inviting. Even the bookflap content is a riddle poem! I asked Pat about his choices of poem forms and he shared this nugget:

“Prior to SPOT THE PLOT, I'd written four books of riddles on various themes. I love the form, the challenge of coming up with the obliquely perfect definition—telling the truth, but telling it slant. Riddles are inherently interactive, so they make great read-alouds at school visits. In SPOT THE PLOT, I was trying most often to tell the book riddle in as few words as possible, as in, “Her hair’s/The stairs.” Or, a new one, “This trail becomes/A trail of crumbs.” The fewer words, the better, that is, the cleverer, to my way of thinking. Just as often, though, I had to rely on a tercet or a quatrain to tell the tale, but with a hint of confusion, as in “Pre-teen plays/a starring role/as she surveys/ a rabbit hole.” But, you see, perhaps that “rabbit hole” gives too much away. Writing riddles, especially for children, which means making them all equally but not too perplexing, is damnably difficult.”

As usual, Pat makes it look easy and offers “book review” poems in a variety of poetic formats. Here’s just one that I know kids and grown ups alike will enjoy:

A magical telling,

a pig for the selling,

a spider is spelling

out words that amaze.

Do you know this spider,

this spiderweb writer?

The pig will delight her

the rest of her days.

From: Lewis, J. Patrick. 2009. Spot the Plot; A Riddle Book of Book Riddles. San Francisco: Chronicle.

I’m so struck by what a teaching tool this could also be for teachers searching for a fresh approach to book reports: challenging kids to describe their favorite books via riddle poems. And if you’re looking for more examples of riddle poems, here’s a list you may find helpful. (Please let me know of any others you know about.)

Poetry Books with Riddle Poems

  1. Calmenson, Stephanie. 2005. Kindergarten Kids: Riddles, Rebuses, Wiggles, Giggles, and More! New York: HarperCollins.
  1. Dotlich, Rebecca Kai. 2001. When Riddles come Rumbling: Poems to Ponder. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press.
  1. Ghigna, Charles. 1995. Riddle Rhymes. New York: Hyperion Books for Children.
  1. Lewis, J. Patrick. 2002. Arithmetickle. San Diego: Harcourt.
  1. Lewis, J. Patrick. 1996. Riddle-icious. New York: Knopf.
  1. Lewis, J. Patrick. 1998. Riddle-lightful. New York: Knopf.
  1. Lewis, J. Patrick. 2004. Scien-trickery: Riddles in Science. Orlando: Harcourt.
  1. Lewis, J. Patrick. 2009. Spot the Plot; A Riddle Book of Book Riddles. San Francisco: Chronicle.
  1. Livingston, Myra Cohn. 1990. My Head is Red, and other Riddle Rhymes. New York: Holiday House.
  1. Morrison, Lillian. 2006. Guess Again! Riddle Poems. Little Rock, AR: August House.
  1. Nims, Bonnie Larkin. 1992. Just Beyond Reach and other Riddle Poems. New York: Scholastic.
  1. Shannon, George. Busy in the Garden. New York: Greenwillow.
  1. Sidman, Joyce. Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  1. Spires, Elizabeth. 1999. Riddle Road: Puzzles in Poems and Pictures. New York: McElderry Books.
  1. Spires, Elizabeth. 1995. With one White Wing: Puzzles in Poems and Pictures. New York: McElderry Books.
  1. Swann, Brian. 1998. The House with No Door: African Riddle- Poems. San Diego: Harcourt.
  1. Swann, Brian. 1998. Touching the Distance: Native American Riddle-Poems. San Diego: Harcourt.
  1. Swenson, May. 1993. The Complete Poems to Solve. New York: Macmillan.

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

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Unknown said...

I love Riddle Poems and Pat is a master!
Thanks for for this wonderful post, jill

Sylvia Vardell said...

Thanks for stopping by, Jill!

laurasalas said...

Love Spot the Plot (and the new zeno, too!) and When Riddles Come Rumbling. Thanks for this list, Sylvia. There are a number of new-to-me titles on it I'll have to check out.

Henry Lawson Poems said...

Excellent list, i love riddles.