Here’s one more better-late-than-never report from the ALA conference in DC last month. I was lucky enough to have a proposal of my own accepted and led a presentation on Sunday morning (June 27) that included Children’s Poet Laureate Mary Ann Hoberman, Stephen Young, from the Poetry Foundation, and Amber Rose Johnson, a Rhode Island high school student and this year’s winner of the Poetry Out Loud competition sponsored by the Poetry Foundation. It was a great morning, if I do say so myself! It was entitled, “CELEBRATING THE SPOKEN WORD WITH POETRY FOR YOUNG PEOPLE” and here was our initial proposal:
Why make poetry a priority when our shelves are full of many choices and our days are full with many tasks? Scholar Lissa Paul makes a case thus, “The history of poetry written for children begins in oral tradition” (Zipes, 2005, p. 1132). It’s a rich tradition that has stood the test of time and nurtured us from nursery rhymes onwards. Poetry provides a shared experience bringing adults and children together by virtue of its oral dimension. Poetry for children begs to be heard; to be shared aloud and talked about, providing a social connection as well as a language experience.
Poetry forms a bridge from children’s oral language development to their first steps in reading and writing, helping children move forward in their literacy development. Indeed, author and literacy expert Mem Fox writes, "Rhymers will be readers; it's that simple. Experts in literacy and child development have discovered that if children know eight nursery rhymes by heart by the time they're four years old, they're usually among the best readers by the time they're eight" (2001, p. 85).
This session celebrates the oral quality of poetry for young people by showcasing the current Children’s Poet Laureate, Mary Ann Hoberman who will speak about her life, work, and creative process; inviting participants to join in on interactive reading aloud of children’s poetry using a variety of practical strategies, and concluding with a performance by teen winner(s) of the new Poetry Out Loud National Recitation Contest, a program for fostering confidence and public speaking. Session participants will learn about resources available for selecting and promoting poetry with young people (e.g., poetryfoundation.org; poetryoutloud.org), as well as experience first-hand the special magic of the spoken word in sharing poetry aloud.
And that’s exactly what we delivered. I kicked things off by talking briefly about the importance of sharing poetry aloud and inviting young people to join in and participating in that sharing. I used Mary Ann’s poetry to demonstrate 6 ways of “doing” poetry orally, from simply reading aloud to reading aloud in unison to joining in on the refrain to using two groups for back-and-forth reading to reading in a “round” to inviting individual volunteers to read single lines. I had created what I call a “magic book” of 6 of Mary Ann’s poems to demonstrate each strategy. This is a simple booklet made out of a single (8.5 x 11) sheet of paper- just fold, fold, cut, and refold. It’s the cleverest thing which I learned YEARS ago and kids love it. You can find directions at WikiHow and I’ll include a pdf of my page here.
Then the lovely, twinkly Mary Ann Hoberman spoke about her life, work, and the creative process. She shared fun childhood memories that made an indelible imprint on her love of the word, led us in performing more of her wonderful poems, and recited her favorite childhood poem from memory—“Seeing Things” by Eugene Field. It was such a treat and the audience was completely enthralled.
Just in case you’re not already familiar with her work, here’s my BRIEF introduction of her:
As a teenager, Mary Ann Hoberman wrote for her school newspaper and edited her high school yearbook. She received a bachelor’s degree in history from Smith College and earned her master’s degree in English Literature from Yale University thirty-five years later. In the mean time, she married and had four children and eventually five grandchildren. She and her husband have lived for nearly fifty years in a house that her husband designed in Greenwich, Connecticut.
She has taught writing and literature at all levels and co-founded and performed with a children’s theatre group. But when her first book, All My Shoes Come in Twos, was published in 1957, she turned her attention to writing for children. Mary Ann Hoberman’s poetry often targets our youngest audience with rhythm and repetition, such as her “read aloud” rhyming “stories,” in the You Read to Me, I'll Read to You series. Other inviting collections include The Llama Who Had No Pajama: 100 Favorite Poems (Harcourt 1998), Fathers, Mothers, Sisters, Brothers: A Collection of Family Poems (Little Brown 2001) and My Song is Beautiful: Poems and Pictures in Many Voices (Little Brown 1994). Her most recent anthology is The Tree That Time Built: A Celebration of Nature, Science, and Imagination (Sourcebooks, 2009), a beautiful blending of classic and contemporary poems woven together via vivid science connections.
Her work has received many citations including a National Book Award in 1983 for A House is a House for Me, the National Council of Teachers of English Excellence in Poetry for Children Award in 2003 for her entire body of work, and of course in 2008 the Poetry Foundation named her the Children’s Poet Laureate.
Then, it was time for Stephen Young, Program Director at the Poetry Foundation. He served as Senior Editor of Poetry magazine for many years before he became Program Director at the Poetry Foundation in 2003. He has co-edited several poetry histories and anthologies. As Program Director, he develops public events and runs the Poetry Out Loud National Recitation Contest for high school students. He spoke briefly about the value of poetry today, of sharing poetry person-to-person, and about the Poetry Out Loud competition, in particular. It’s a nation-wide competition for high school students that offers an opportunity to learn and perform poetry from memory and earn a $20,000 cash award. This year 325,000 young people participated and it's growing each year.
Finally, Amber Rose Johnson was up and I was SO EXCITED to have a young person as part of our panel—on poetry for young people! She won the 2010 Poetry Out Loud National Recitation Contest last April, competing against 325,000 high school students nationwide. In the fall, she'll be a senior at Classical High School in Providence, Rhode Island. She is active in state politics, and participates in Young Voices, a youth-led research and advocacy program. She’s this “slip” of a girl who is dynamic and charismatic and confident—an inspiration for anyone who’s worried about “today’s youth!” She spoke briefly about the process of the competition and her experiences and then concluded with her (winning) performance of “For My People” by Margaret Walker. Oh. My. Goodness. She used her voice, her face, and her whole body to bring those powerful words to life. It was the perfect way to conclude our session and the audience was swept away by her passion and belief. It was another wonderful poetry moment at ALA.
Posting (not poem) by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2010. All rights reserved.
Image credits: http://arts.ks.gov/pol/index.shtml;poetryfoundation.org;maryannhoberman.com