I’m off to the biennial conference of USBBY (the United States Board on Books for Young People)
—really a regional North American conference of IBBY (the International Board on Books for Young People). I love this event (and this organization) and have been going to this conference for about 20 years. It’s always so invigorating to hear from creators of children’s books from around the world and be actively reminded of our global connections through books and reading. This weekend’s conference features an amazing line up of speakers including: Pat Mora, Ashley Bryan, Katherine Paterson, Siobhan Parkinson, Peter Sis, Klaas Verplancke, Bryan Collier, Jacqueline Woodson, and Gregory Maguire.
There will also be a panel featuring authors Andrea Cheng, Louise May, Simone Elkeles, Ifeoma Onyefulu, and Sara Farizan, plus we’ll hear from Kang Woo-hyon, President of Nambook International Committee and Junko Yokota, Nami Concours Jury President, as well as the storytellers Dashdondog Jamba (all the way from Mongolia!) and our own IBBY legend, Anne Pellowski, plus many regional Missouri authors and illustrators. One of the highlights will be the Dorothy Briley Lecture which will be given by the passionate and effervescent Mem Fox. Having served on the committee that selected her as our speaker, I am particularly excited to see what she has to say—and how she says it!
And as an added bonus, the speakers at this event often stay and mingle and listen to other sessions too. We eat meals together and take coffee breaks together and it really becomes more like a book retreat, than a hurried conference.
I’m also lucky enough to be presenting one of the 16 breakout sessions on Sunday and of course I’m talking about…. Poetry!
This time, I’m focusing on poetry for middle school and featuring ways to engage readers at that challenging age in reading and performing poetry. I’m also happy to report that I’m sharing the stage with one of my favorite people, the poet David L. Harrison.
And here’s just a nugget of what I’ll be talking about. Our session theme is “PerformanceJoy”—to go along with the conference theme, “BookJoy,” and our session is entitled, “BookJoy for Middle School: Poetry in Many Voices” and here are some of my tips I’ll be sharing for targeting those (wonderful, but squirrelly) middle school students.
Take 5 Tips for Middle School
1. Take the lead, be the first to read the poem, and don’t be afraid to “ham it up.” Take the pressure off students by showing how the poem sounds, how words should be pronounced, how the meaning and emotion might be conveyed. Don’t ask them to do anything you wouldn’t do yourself.
2. Use props whenever possible to make a concrete connection to the poem, focus attention, and add a bit of fun. Choose something suggested by the poem. It’s even worth planning ahead to have a good prop ready beforehand. Students can then use the props too as they volunteer to join in on reading the poem, taking the focus off of them and giving the audience something specific to look at while listening—the poetry prop.
3. Try using media to add another dimension to the poetry experience. Look for digital images or videos relevant to the poem to display without sound as a backdrop while reading the poem aloud, or find music or sound effects suggested by the poem to underscore the meaning or mood as you read the poem aloud.
4. Offer choices as you invite students to join in on reading the poem aloud with you. They can choose a favorite line to chime in on or volunteer to read a line or stanza of their choice or ask a friend to join them in reading a portion aloud. The more say they have about how they participate in the poem reading, the more eager and comfortable they will be about volunteering.
5. Make connections between the poems and their lives and experiences, between one poem and another, and between poems and other genres like nonfiction, short stories, newspaper articles, and songs). We provide example questions and poem connections for each poem, but once you have established that pattern, be open to the connections the students themselves make first.
6. Be creative and use art, drama, and technology to present the poem and to engage students in participating in that presentation. Find relevant photos, draw quick Pictionary-style sketches, make word clouds, create graphic “novel” comic panels for poem lines, use American Sign Language for key words, pose in a dramatic “frozen” tableau, collaborate on a PowerPoint slide show, and so on. Look to share the poem in a way that is particularly meaningful for your students. Or better yet, let them show you!
I’ll also be highlighting some of my favorite poetry websites, poetry blogs, and poetry apps. And of course I’ll be talking about The Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School—highlighting especially some of our culturally and globally rich poems in that collection by Joy Acey, Janet Wong, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Margarita Engle, Julie Larios, and more.
If you’re in the St. Louis (MO) area, it’s not too late to join us! I hope to post pictures and video footage of the conference, if possible, so stay tuned.