Friday, November 06, 2015

Book Links: Playing Tag with Science Poets

I just got my copy of the November issue of Book Links and I was so tickled to see that my usual poetry column was a featured article this time! Woo hoo! Thanks to the 15 poets who graciously collaborated with me to share favorite science poetry books. The title is Playing Tag with Science Poets" and these poets participated: Joyce Sidman, J. Patrick Lewis, Margarita Engle, Leslie Bulion, Jane Yolen, Marilyn Singer, Betsy Franco, Douglas Florian, Carole Gerber, Avis Harley, David L. Harrison, Lee Bennett Hopkins, and Michael J. Rosen.

Here's how the article begins:
I’ve made the case for connecting science and poetry many times in the last few years, focusing on how scientists and poets both observe the world closely and describe their observations in distinctive ways. I’ve pointed out the long poetry tradition of capturing the natural world through lyrical language. So this time I’m turning to the poets themselves. I asked 15 poets who write science-themed poetry to recommend one of their favorite recent collections of science-themed poetry by another poet. And none of them knew who was participating and which book others were choosing, so it was fun to see the tag team connections that emerged.

Poetry and science may seem at first glance to be strange companions, but they offer interesting connections for children who view all the world with wonder. They need both information and inspiration to understand what they see, hear, touch, and learn. As the great novelist Victor Hugo observed, “science is a ladder... poetry is a winged flight.” Surely we can provide both to the children we reach.

And then the poets get rolling:

Avis Harley tags J. Patrick Lewis
Avis Harley explores the natural world through collections such as Sea Stars: Saltwater Poems; The Monarch’s Progress: Poems with Wings, and African Acrostics; A Word in Edgeways, among others and she explores the natural world with a knack for crafting poems in distinctive forms, some of which she has invented herself! Here, Avis Harley salutes The National Geographic Book of Animal Poetry edited by J. Patrick Lewis: “National Geographic’s Book of Animal Poetry edited by J. Patrick Lewis, is a superb collection of 200 classic and contemporary poems, each paired with a spectacular photograph illustrating the beauty, wonder, and strangeness of the animal world.  There is a section on the writing of such poems, plus valuable resources, and four indexes to guide you to a favorite animal.  Poems and photos are humorous, serious, poignant, reflective, full of surprises: a truly gorgeous addition to your poetry shelf."

J. Patrick Lewis tags Leslie Bulion
Former Children’s Poet Laureate J. Patrick Lewis has produced many cross-curricular collections of poetry including several science-centric works like the insect poems in Face Bug: Poems as well as serving as anthologist for the two collections cited by others here. J. Patrick Lewis applauds Random Body Parts: Gross Anatomy Riddles in Verse by Leslie Bulion: “If what you’re after is a salmagundi of delightful poetry pieces, look no further than Leslie Bulion’s tour de force, an inventive mix of riddles, Shakespeare, and various verse forms. Elegant riddles are evoked in a limerick, a ballad stanza, a triolet, a double dactyl and more. Playfully fashioned from shades of Shakespeare, each riddle is accompanied by an explanation of the body part as a helpful clue. And all the verse forms are deftly described in End Notes. Random Body Parts is sure to challenge anatomy buffs of all ages.”

Leslie Bulion tags Laura Purdie Salas
Leslie Bulion studied oceanography and her science background comes through her poetry, including At the Sea Floor CafĂ©; Odd Ocean Critter Poems and Hey There, Stink Bug!, as well as this year’s Random Body Parts. When asked for her recommendation, she chose Water Can Be by Laura Purdie Salas: “I love the way the brilliant imagery in Laura Purdie Salas’s Water Can Be… invites me to linger on every single page. For example, “Picture catcher” transports my mind to wonderful water reflections I’ve seen, and when I read “Woodchuck warmer,” I wonder about those woodchucks tucked snug under snow in winter. Laura uses accessible, developmentally appropriate language to explain the science concepts behind each lyrical, rhythmic phrase in the back matter--perfect for young science poets!”

and it goes on...
(As soon as I see it online, I'll post the link, but it's currently only available to Booklist subscribers.)

And I end with suggestions of activities to consider (along with CCSS connections). Here's that chunk:

1. Play science poetry tag! Gather a selection of science-themed poetry books and encourage children to browse through them, sharing poems spontaneously with one another. Then, choose one poem to begin. Read it aloud and talk about it together. Then find another poem to link to it based on some connection between the two poems: another poem by the same the poet, another poem on the same topic (animals, nature, planets, etc.), or another poem from the same area of science (biology, astronomy, etc.). Share that poem aloud and discuss and compare. If time allows, keep going by “tagging” another poem.

2. Start with science photos. There are so many excellent sources of images for science study, from those in print books, of course, to online sources such as National Geographic (e.g.,;; Choose a subject that is of current relevance and interest (e.g., Mars, chimpanzees, bacteria) and peruse the available images (in print or online sources). Then, search through available poetry anthologies and see if you can find a poem to go with the image. It might be an explicit connection— a poem about the sun to go with an image of the sun—or it might be a more abstract connection, such as a poem about summer fun, day vs. night, or warmth and caring. Work together to create your own collaborative anthology of images and matching poems. 

3. Many of the science-themed poetry books mentioned here weave together poetry, prose, and art. Challenge children to work in trios to research a science topic of their choice. Then allow them to choose their role for the next step: who will write the explanatory prose paragraph? Who will write the poem? Who will create the accompanying illustration? Afterward, talk about each role and discuss which they find easiest or hardest and why. Invite them to challenge themselves by taking on one of the OTHER roles next time and talk about how each information source is valuable and unique: prose, poetry and art. 

Finally, the article also includes a comprehensive bibliography of science poetry books, too including all the books by these poets and "tagged" by them too. 

Click HERE for the link to the whole piece in BOOKLIST QUICK TIPS (March, 2016).

Science Poetry Scoop
And I have a science poetry project of my own (that includes many of these poets, of course) that I'm very excited about and will share more news about that on Dec. 1. Stay tuned! 

Meanwhile, join the Poetry Friday crew over at Write. Sketch. Repeat. hosted by Katya Czaja. See you there!


Janet Wong said...

Another great job, as usual--and so neat to see it as a Feature Article! Remarkable how it all worked out with poets choosing a book that managed to "tag" someone else's work. Reminds me of how much fun it was to have poets tag each other for the PoetryTagTime ebook and the P*TAG ebook too!

BJ Lee said...

Great article! I love these poets tagging each other!

Joy said...

Thank you for sharing what you could of this article. Congratulations on being the "cover" featured article. It is always fun to see poets at play and this is a great selection of children's poets and books. Let us know if the full article is ever available and I hope you try other topics for poetry tag among children's poets.
I'm married to an immunologist and so we have lots of fun discussions about the similarities between poetry and science.

Amy LV said...

What a blast...thank you tons for sharing this! I love your tag games and seeing these connections is fabulous. I'm married to a science teacher, and many of our conversations center around science and poetry are alike. And to see these poets tagging each other through science AND poetry is wonderful. Congratulations on the feature! xo

David Harrison said...

It's such a good idea, Sylvia. Thank you for thinking of it. I'm happy to be included.

laurasalas said...

This is amazing, as always, Sylvia. When I think of creating poetry-related materials for teachers, I often end up saying to myself, "Nope, Sylvia already has that covered!" You rock!

Unknown said...

Well-deserved congratulations! What an ambitious, comprehensive undertaking, so well engineered and beautifully executed (STEM meets humanities). God bless you! And please do, if you can, share the link when it becomes available. Thank you!

Linda B said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Linda B said...

I don't see Book Links anymore from school, so count on what's shared online, but this is marvelous, Sylvia. I've played poetry tag with students choosing poems, then connecting one to the next, then the next, but not like this. What a great idea. Congratulations for your feature article, too. Love the books that were shared so far.

Jeannine Atkins said...


Sylvia Vardell said...

Wow, so many lovely comments! Thank you all for your kind words and ongoing support. I really can't take ANY credit here-- it's the fun of watching poets at work. Wish I could post the whole thing-- and as soon as I see it online, I promise to add the link. Meanwhile, go have fun playing poetry tag!

Michelle Heidenrich Barnes said...

My husband, an astronomer, and I have been talking a lot lately about doing a book together. Science and the arts do go hand in hand, as unexpected as that may seem. Even I'm a bit startled when we come up with yet another reason how our occupations are alike, though by now you'd think I'd be used to it!

Sally Murphy said...

Agreat article SYlvia - fun to see how the poets have tagged each other, and excellent classroom ideas, too. I love your idea of Poetry Tag. A poet friend and I have a blog callde Poetry Tag, where we tag each other with words which then must be incorportaed into a new poem.

Mary Lee said...

So much to love about this post! The wheels are turning!!

Bridget Magee said...

So cool! Tag, you're IT! =)

Unknown said...

I just read through your article yesterday, Dr. Vardell! Loved it! I have selected several of the poetry books listed in it to add to our juvenile poetry collection. What a fun concept of having the different poets/authors tag each other.

Patrina (MLS, TWU '14)


SYLVIA: I received my copy of BOOKLINKS and, again, thank you for such wondrous poetry publicity. Having the cover-feature and lead article can do so much for the genre. Thanks also for including me and writing such nice things. You make me blush!
I hope the article reaches, as David McCord states,"farther than far".

Charles Waters said...

Sylvia, this is lovely, please do let us know when and where we can see the article in its full glory. This is so important, furthering the genre, helping people see how vital it is. Many thanks, and can't wait to hear about the big news in December!!!!!!