Friday, October 29, 2010

October Book Links poetry

Before October is over, I want to plug this month’s issue of Book Links and three poetry pieces. My colleague, Dean Schneider featured poetry in his regular column, “Dean’s List,” entitled “Live a While with These Poems” and he does a lovely job focusing on a few new titles that I also loved including Wicked Girls by Stephanie Hemphill, an amazing novel-in-verse set during the Salem witch trials, Poetry Speaks Who I Am, a fantastic anthology with audio CD for middle school, a feminist-poem-history, Firefly Letters, by the always-terrific Margarita Engle, and several others. Be sure to check it out.

My own “Everyday Poetry” column focused on the social studies theme of the October issue by looking at “Making Poetry Movies”—creating digital “movie” trailers for poetry books with a historical bent. I’ve been exploring this area quite a bit in the last year and many of my students have been trying this option as a project in my classes (and I’ve shared some of their innovative trailers for poetry books here before). So, here are a few nuts and bolts from my latest column:

I love movies.
One of my favorite parts is watching the “sneak previews,” the mini-movies that make you want to see more movies. Now teachers and librarians are using this concept to promote books and reading by creating “homemade” book “trailers.” Author Pamela Lowell shared her “Five Easy Steps to Making a Great Book Trailer” in VOYA (February 2010), including 1) study examples, 2) tell a story, 3) use royalty-free images and music, 4) choose the right movie-making tool, and 5) preview and launch. First, sample other book trailers at sites such as YouTube,,,; or The variety is tremendous, but most are very short (1 minute long) and incorporate book covers and bibliographic information, especially the book’s title and author’s name, as well as images, music, sound effects, and voiceover commentary. Easy-to-use moviemaking software includes Windows Movie Maker (for PCs), iMovie (for Macs) or, for example. Free images can be found at, Free; and Creative and music selections and sound effects are available at Partners In, Brainy, or Open Music Those are the basics. 

But what I find especially interesting is the application of this new approach to the promotion of poetry, in particular. Brevity, imagery, musicality, voice—these are all powerful characteristics that poetry offers in abundance. A well-made trailer can serve to capitalize on these qualities and become almost poetic itself with the artful combining of words, images, and sound. We can create these for high-tech “booktalking” to motivate reading of poetry or students can create their own trailers as responses to their favorite poetry books—which will, in turn, inspire other kids to want to read those books. (This is also an excellent vehicle for reinforcing copyright awareness in selecting text, images, sounds, and music.)

Trailers are an innovative tool for promoting books and a natural pairing with poetry. On top of that, the potential for impact on social studies learning is also important in making history come to life. The times, people, and places of the past can be difficult for young people to grasp and seem abstract, remote, and irrelevant. The power of the history-poetry-trailer is to provide a window into that past through choice words, images, and sound.

Several recent poetry books provide that entry point, including poem picture books highlighting a single poem such as Langston Hughes’s My People re-interpreted by Coretta Scott King award winning Charles R. Smith or the picture book anthology, Amazing Faces, compiled by Lee Bennett Hopkins and illustrated by Chris Soentpiet. Students could use the cover of either book as a jumping off point for photographing the faces of friends, peers, neighbors, etc. to echo the community theme of each book. Other Hopkins poetry books including City I Love, America at War, and Behind the Museum Door also lend themselves to social studies instruction and media adaptation. Students might select a single poem to highlight as exemplary or try to capture the essence of the book through excerpted phrases, moving images, and appropriate music.

The people of the past have also been depicted in biographical poetry books that lend themselves to video adaptations. Students can research historical photos and portraits, dress up as the subject themselves, or seek out evocative images or clips that convey the period:
Twelve Rounds to Glory: The Story of Muhammad Ali and Black Jack; The Ballad of Jack Johnson both by Charles R. Smith, Jr.
Becoming Billie Holiday and Before John Was a Jazz Giant: A Song of John Coltrane both by Carole Boston Weatherford
The Poet Slave of Cuba, The Surrender Tree, The Firefly Letters, and the upcoming Hurricane Dancers all by Margarita Engle

The sense of historical time and place is strong in Linda Ashman’s Come to the Castle, J. Patrick Lewis’ The House, and Lewis’s collaboration with Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Castles: Old Stone Poems. For older students, many excellent novels in verse capture a vivid sense of history:
The Year of Goodbyes; A True Story of Friendship, Family and Farewells by featured poet Debbie Levy (set in Germany, 1938)
Three Rivers Rising by Jame Richards (set in the Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania, 1888-1889)
Wicked Girls; A Novel of the Salem Witch Trials by Stephanie Hemphill
Crossing Stones (WWI) and The Braid (Scotland and the Nova Scotia, 1850) both by Helen Frost
Ringside 1925; Views From the Scopes Trial and Kaleidoscope Eyes (summer, 1968) both by Jen Bryant

Poetry books are the perfect source material for digital video treatment because they are particularly evocative in their use of images, language, and even sound. When it comes to social studies this medium offers a way for young people to picture the past through the lens of the poet providing an experience that leads young people to the past and back to the book.

Once again, my column is accompanied by a new, original, unpublished poem. This time Debbie Levy shares her poem challenge, “Monumental Message” set against the backdrop of the Lincoln Memorial. Be sure to check it out and look for her latest poetry-history work, The Year of Goodbyes; A True Story of Friendship, Family and Farewells and accompanying interactive Posiealbum Project site.

Posting (not poem) by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2010. All rights reserved.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Poetry Tidbits

The Texas Bluebonnet Award Master List was just announced for 2010-2011 and it includes TWO recent works of poetry:
  • Amazing Faces compiled by Lee Bennett Hopkins
  • Mirror, Mirror by Marilyn Singer
Congratulations, Lee and Marilyn, and the Bluebonnet committee. It’s always great to see poetry titles included on “mainstream” reading lists.

I’m honored to be “profiled” on poet, author, and literacy advocate Pat Mora’s blog, ShareBookJoy (on October 14). She is focusing on CREATIVITY and it was a treat to consider this topic in my own work. She has a wonderful new resource book out, ZING! Seven Creativity Practices for Educators and Students. It’s full of her wisdom and insight, as well as practical steps for exploring one’s own creative urges.

I have two poetry presentations coming up that I’d like to invite you to (if you’re coming to the YALSA Symposium or the NCTE conference). I’ll be at the biennial YALSA Symposium in Albuquerque (Nov. 5-7) with a wonderful panel of poets that includes Jen Bryant, Ann Burg, Margarita Engle, Betsy Franco, Pat Mora, and April Halprin Wayland. We’re trying something different for this audience of teen services librarians—I’ve planned a series of “interview” questions that poets will answer (like “If you were to pair your poetry with music, what music would you choose?”) and then we’ll have time for a “Poetry Improv” exercise where the poets will share poems in response to prompts (i.e., “No one gets me” or “My current Facebook status”). It should be fun! 

My session at NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) in Orlando (Nov. 19) includes two fellow poetry bloggers (Tricia Stohr-Hunt and Elaine Magliaro) and 4 poets: Lee Bennett Hopkins, Pat Mora, Jame Richards (her FIRST time!), and Marilyn Singer. We three bloggers will be featuring the poets on our blogs for 2 weeks before the conference, inviting reader participation. Then we’ll share the results as well as other strategies for using technology to connect kids with poets and poetry. Finally, we’ll share the conference highlights on our blogs afterward, as well. It’s a new model for conference presentations that I’m excited about and extends the conference for people who can’t be there.

Finally, I’d also like to plug a new project that my students and I have created to promote the #1 award for young adult literature: the Printz award. It’s a blog devoted entirely to digital trailers featuring only the Printz award and honor books. (So far that includes several works of poetry: A Wreath for Emmett Till by Marilyn Nelson, Keesha’s House by Helen Frost, Heart to Heart: New Poems Inspired by Twentieth Century American Art compiled by Jan Greenberg, True Believer by Virginia Euwer Wolff—although only the Frost book has a movie trailer posted thus far.) Although these are amateur productions, we hope they will lead more people to read and share the Printz books. Enjoy:

Posting (not poem) by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2010. All rights reserved.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Joyce Sidman at the Kerlan

I’ve been honored to spend a week at my alma mater (I earned my PhD at the University of Minnesota in 1983) studying at the Kerlan Collection funded by a Marilyn Hollinshead Fellowship. What a treat! (And what gorgeous fall foliage this year!) The Kerlan is one of the world's great children's literature research collections and includes books, original manuscripts, artwork, galleys, correspondence, and color proofs for more than 12,000 children’s books. I have been studying the work of poet Joyce Sidman, who also happens to live in the Twin Cities area. So, not only did I get a private peek into the process of creating several of her wonderful poetry books, but I had a chance to visit with her and chat with her about her work. (Thank you so much, Joyce!)

Eventually, I hope to share more of my research—I’m focusing on the poetry + science connection, in particular—but I’m not ready yet. However, as I reviewed my blog content, I realized that I have mentioned Joyce and her work (and her MANY awards) many times, but I haven’t featured her exclusively before. So here’s a little mini-unit on Joyce Sidman and her poetry. (And you can get more tips in my book, Poetry People, FYI.)

Joyce Sidman was born in Hartford, Connecticut, the middle sister of three, and spent her summers at a camp in Maine. From an early age, she felt motivated to write, and started writing as far back as elementary school. She discovered poetry in high school, encouraged by a sympathetic teacher. She earned her bachelor’s degree in German from Wesleyan University in Connecticut, and a teaching certificate at Macalester College in Minnesota. Joyce lives near the edge of a large woodland in Wayzata, Minnesota, with her husband (and has two grown sons). When she isn't writing, she enjoys teaching via week-long poetry-writing residences in the Minnesota schools.

Joyce Sidman's poetry has already garnered many awards including Horn Book Fanfare book, Voice of Youth Advocates Poetry Pick, Bulletin Blue Ribbon Book, Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, Cybils Award for poetry, Claudia Lewis Poetry Award, Caldecott honors, and more. Much of her poetry centers around the subject of the natural world and is marked by poetic innovation and an elegance of expression. She often weaves together scientific information alongside poetic descriptions (my focus area for my research project). Since 2000, her 10 books have changed the face of poetry for young people—and I don’t think that’s an overstatement! Let’s review:
  1. Sidman, Joyce. 2000. Just Us Two: Poems about Animal Dads. Ill. by Susan Swan. Brookfield, CT: Millbrook.
  2. Sidman, Joyce. 2002. Eureka! Poems about Inventors. Ill. by K. Bennett Chavez. Brookfield, CT: Millbrook.
  3. Sidman, Joyce. 2003. The World According to Dog: Poems and Teen Voices. Ill. by Doug Mindell. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  4. Sidman, Joyce. 2005. Song of the Water Boatman and Other Pond Poems. Ill. By Beckie Prange. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  5. Sidman, Joyce. 2006. Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow. Ill. by Beth Krommes. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  6. Sidman, Joyce. 2006. Meow Ruff: A Story in Concrete Poetry. Ill. by Michelle Berg. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  7. Sidman, Joyce. 2007. This is Just to Say: Poems of Apology and Forgiveness. Ill. by Pamela Zagarenski. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  8. Sidman, Joyce. 2009. Red Sings From Treetops; A Year in Colors. Ill. by Pamela Zagarenski. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  9. Sidman, Joyce. 2010. Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature’s Survivors. Ill. by Becky Prange. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  10. Sidman, Joyce. 2010. Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night. Ill. by Rick Allen. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Her web site is a rich resource of helpful information including readers’ guides for all her books, audio clips of her readings, digital trailers she created, a downloadable bookmark, many excellent links (including wonderful interviews on several other lovely blogs!) and much more. Be sure to check it out.

I had the opportunity to examine the files of notes, research, typescripts, dummies, and correspondence for several of her books and found it fascinating. Here are just a few nuggets of what I learned (from those materials and my interview):

*Joyce’s “overnight success” was over 10 years in the making and began with plenty of experimentation (stories, folktales, novels, picture books) and plenty of rejections (11 initial manuscripts were rejected by her current editor!)
*She spends a lot of her time in prewriting, making very few notes and jottings, moving almost immediately to writing and revising on a computer
*She revises poems even up to the very end in the proof pages*She pays close attention to placement of art/poem and to movement of the art and poetry across the book and to details of illustrations vis a vis the poem (and vice versa)
*Poem titles (and some book titles) get tweaked a long time (I counted 23 possible titles for her book, Butterfly Eyes!)
*Her poetry books reveal a close collaboration between poet and editor and often with the illustrator
*Her first book accepted for publication was Eureka
*Her next book (Fall 2011) is Swirl by Swirl (about spirals in nature) and is a gorgeous poetic picture book (not poetry collection) illustrated by Beth Krommes

I’m obviously a big fan! And I’m clearly not alone. As the awards pile up, it now seems obvious that Joyce’s unique vision and voice is powerful and appealing. Her just-right-wording, succinct phrasing, subtle rhythms, and visual shaping of each poem all work together to craft poetry that is both descriptive and evocative. You can picture the subject vividly both visually and emotionally. I look forward to the next 10 books—and more!

Posting (not poem) by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2010. All rights reserved.

Image credit: Joyce Sidman, UofM Kerlan Collection

Monday, October 04, 2010

ICDL poetry for kids

I'm doing a bit of research and ran across a reference to digitized poetry books available through one of my favorite global resources in children's literature, the International Children's Digital Library. This is a unique repository of FREE full-text children's books from around the world. I've searched it before and shared it with my students, but oddly enough, I hadn't looked for POETRY books there til now. Silly me.

Here, you'll find two hundred plus examples of poetry for kids-- with the COMPLETE BOOK available online in its original language! That includes children's poetry in Serbian, Farsi, Spanish, English, Croatian, Dutch, Hungarian, German, Arabic, and Hebrew and more...

Plus, they have a new iPad app that links to over 4,000 titles of children's books in 54 languages representing 64 countries.

FYI, if this resource is new to you, let me share their "mission statement" with you:

The mission of the International Children’s Digital Library Foundation (ICDL Foundation) is to support the world’s children in becoming effective members of the global community – who exhibit tolerance and respect for diverse cultures, languages and ideas — by making the best in children’s literature available online free of charge. The Foundation pursues its vision by building a digital library of outstanding children’s books from around the world and supporting communities of children and adults in exploring and using this literature through innovative technology designed in close partnership with children for children.

Posting (not poem) by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2010. All rights reserved.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

”Packaging” Poetry around the World

Are you interested in the design of poetry books like I am? I am always intrigued by the choices made in illustration, typeface, spacing, paper, covers, and more. Even if I can’t read the words (as in this handful of poetry books that made the IBBY Honour List), I find it fascinating to see how poets, artists, designers, and publishers “package” poetry in their countries. So, here are my rather amateur on-the-spot photos of some distinctive poetry books for children from Haiti, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands, Ecuador, and Slovenia.

IBBY Honour List Poetry Selections

HAITI (French)
Roumain, Jacques
Jacques Roumain parie aux enfants
(Jacques Roumain talks to children)
Ill. Lyll-Martine René

Ní Ghlinn, Áine
Brionglóidi agus aistir eile
(Dreams and other journeys)
Ill. Carol Betera

ITALY (Italian)
Quarenghi, Giusi
E sulle case il cielo
(The sky above the
Ill. Chiara Carrer

MEXICO (Spanish)
Paso Fernando del
¡Hay naranjas y hay limones!
Pregones refranes y adivinz
as en verso
(There are oranges and lemons)
Ill. Josel

Gerlach, Eva
Het punt met mij is dat ik alles kan
(The issue for me is that I ca
n do everything)
Ill. Charlotte Vonk

Illustrated by Chamorro, Marco
Cielos descalzos (Barefoot skies)
Written by Wafi Salih

Ilustrated by Stepančič, Damijan
Majhnice in majnice.
Pesmi mnogih let za mnoge bralce

Buddings Songs, Maying Songs

Written by Tone Pavček

[For annotations of these title
s, see entry prior to this one. Just as a reminder: The IBBY Honour List is a biennial selection of outstanding, recently published books, honoring writers, illustrators and translators from IBBY member countries around the world. The first Honour List in 1956 was a selection of 15 entries from 12 countries. For the 2010 Honour List, 54 countries have sent 164 nominations in 44 different languages—with a total of 64 entries in the category of “writing,” 52 in the category of “illustration,” and 48 in the category of “translation.” This list provides a “welcome opportunity to study and review the production of children’s books” around the world—the best each country has to offer an international audience.]

Posting (not poem) by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2010. All rights reserved.