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.


BethMooreSchool said...

Your post has inspired me! I'm digging out my FlipCam right now to start doing some book trailers!

laurasalas said...

I've loved it when you've shared student book trailers in the past, Sylvia. Always fun to see how people take one art form and interpret it into another!

Several new titles here I wasn't aware of--running to put Wicked Girls on reserve right now. Awesome title!

Thanks for the tips!