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I posted this information on Twitter the moment it was announced and followed up on Facebook, but forgot that I should also feature the news on my blog—oh the woes of managing multiple social media platforms! So, in case you haven’t heard, it was announced at the recent conference of the National Council of Teachers of English that Marilyn Singer is the next recipient of the NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children.
The NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children This award for poetry for children is given by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) every two years to a poet for her or his entire body of work in writing poetry for children. NCTE established its Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children in 1977 to honor a living American poet for his or her lifetime achievement in works for children aged three to thirteen years. The award was given annually until 1982, at which time it was decided that the award would be given every three years. In 2008 the Poetry Committee updated the criteria and changed the time frame to every other year. The National Council of Teachers of English strives to recognize and foster excellence in children’s poetry by encouraging its publication and by exploring ways to acquaint teachers and children with poetry through such means as publications, programs, and displays. As one means of accomplishing this goal, NCTE established its Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children to honor a poet for his or her aggregate work. Nearly twenty leading poets have since been recognized. Be sure to check out Renee La Tulippe's fantastic "Spotlight on NCTE Poets" serieshere. Each recipient has met the following criteria:
NCTE Poetry Award Criteria Literary merit (art and craft of aggregate work) • Imagination • Authenticity of voice • Evidence of a strong persona • Universality; timelessness Poet’s contributions • Aggregate work • Evident potential for growth and evolution in terms of craft • Excellence Evolution of the poet’s work • Technical and artistic development as evidenced in the poetry • Evidence of risk, change, and artistic stamina • Evidence of different styles and modes of expression Appeal to children • Evidence of childlike quality; yet poem’s potential for stirring fresh insights and feelings should be apparent. Although the appeal to children of a poet’s work is an important consideration, the art and craft must be the primary criterion for evaluation.
Recipients of the NCTE Poetry Award
2015 Marilyn Singer 2013 Joyce Sidman 2011 J. Patrick Lewis 2009 Lee Bennett Hopkins 2006 Nikki Grimes 2003 Mary Ann Hoberman 2000 X. J. Kennedy 1997 Eloise Greenfield 1994 Barbara Esbensen 1991 Valerie Worth 1988 Arnold Adoff 1985 Lilian Moore 1982 John Ciardi 1981 Eve Merriam 1980 Myra Cohn Livingston 1979 Karla Kuskin 1978 Aileen Fisher 1977 David McCord
About Marilyn Singer and her poetry In my book, Poetry People: A Practical Guide to Children’s Poets, I featured this info about Marilyn and her work (which I have updated a bit here):
Marilyn Singer was born on October 3, 1948, in New York and grew up and went to college there, too. She started out as a high school English teacher but soon moved to writing full time. While visiting the Brooklyn Botanic Garden one day, she began to write about insect characters that she had created when she was eight years old. With her husband’s encouragement, she joined a writer’s critique group and soon published her first book, The Dog Who Insisted He Wasn’t (Dutton 1976). Now a prolific author of nearly 100 children’s books, Singer has created poetry, fairly tales, picture books, novels, mysteries and nonfiction on a variety of topics. Her work has been recognized as an IRA Children’s Choice book, ALA Best Book for Young Adults, NCTE Notable Trade Book in Language Arts, Reading Rainbow selection, New York Times Best Children's Book, School Library Journal Best Book, etc.
Singer enjoys animals, nature, hiking, the theater, independent and avant-garde films, tap dancing, singing, Japanese flower arranging, meditation, gardening, and computer adventure games. Her diverse and far-ranging interests are often reflected in the rich variety of her writing.
From her first book about a beloved subject, dogs, she has created several others children enjoy. Marilyn Singer’s work may be best characterized by its diversity, from the distinctive poetic formats found in the poems for each month in Turtle in July to her creation of the original, ingenious “reverso” poem showcased in Mirror, Mirror as well as Follow, Follow (both available as excellent audiobooks, too!). Her wide-ranging topics include dogs, animals, science, monsters, Presidents, and nonsense. In fact, pairing her poetry with her nonfiction on a similar topic can be an interesting way to show children how one writer can try different writing styles. Share the poems from It’s Hard To Read A Map With A Beagle On Your Lap (Holt 1993) or Every Day's a Dog's Day: A Year in Poems (Dial 2012) alongside the informative A Dog's Gotta Do What a Dog's Gotta Do: Dogs at Work (Holt 2000) or How to Talk to Your Dog (HarperTrophy 2003) by Jean Craighead George.
Nature is the dominant theme in her poetry collections, Turtle in July (Macmillan 1989) and Fireflies at Midnight (Atheneum 2003)—which make an excellent “text set” for teaching. In these two parallel works, Singer mimics the rhythms and sounds of the animals she portrays. Each poem begs to be read aloud, perhaps with simple motions or a costume cap portraying the frog, the robin, the turtle, etc. I would also add more recent works to this category including A Full Moon is Rising (Lee & Low, 2011) and A Strange Place to Call Home: The World’s Most Dangerous Habitats and the Animals That Call Them Home, among others.
Marilyn Singer has authored three other poetry collections that make a powerful environmental (text) set. Each is a lovely narrow size (9 X 5) illustrated with elegant minimalist India ink paintings on rice paper by Meilo So.
*Footprints on the Roof: Poems About the Earth (Knopf 2002) *How to Cross a Pond: Poems About Water (Knopf 2003) *Central Heating: Poems About Fire and Warmth (Knopf 2005) These free verse poems are gems of description and imagery and may inspire young writers to look for the elements of earth, water, and fire that surround them in their everyday lives. Partner this set with Joan Bransfield Graham’s books of concrete poetry, Splish Splash (Houghton Mifflin 2001) and Flicker Flash (Houghton Mifflin 2003) to inspire children to create their own visual representations of earth, water, or fire.
For humor and nonsense, seek out Singer’s poetry books, Creature Carnival (Hyperion, 2004) and its companion book, Monster Museum (Hyperion, 2001). Children may be surprised to find that poems can be about Godzilla, vampires, Bigfoot and other creepy characters. Accompanied by gleefully gruesome cartoon illustrations by Gus Grimly, these fun poems are full of wordplay and absurdity. Don’t be surprised if these collections inspire imitations. Have a set of Halloween “monster” masks handy for children to wear during the “creature feature” read aloud. Conclude with poems from Douglas Florian’s Monster Motel (Harcourt 1993) or Bobbi Katz’s Monsterologist (Sterling, 2009).
Family is the focus for two other Marilyn Singer collections, In My Tent (Macmillan, 1992) and Family Reunion (Atheneum 1994). These poems about family campouts and reunions show children that even common everyday life experiences can also be the subject of poetry. They can also be fun for reading aloud during family programs and events. Pair them with Kristine O’Connell George’s collection, Toasting Marshmallows: Camping Poems (Clarion 2001) or Nikki Grimes’ Hopscotch Love: A Family Treasury of Love Poems (Lothrop, Lee & Shepard 1999). Plan a poetry picnic for sharing these and other family poems outside spread out on a tablecloth or under a big tent.
Because Singer is so prolific, it is possible to pair many of her works (poem book and poem book, poetry with nonfiction, poetry and fiction) for added impact. Children can see how an author’s ideas spill over beyond a single book and in many different directions. Whether reading her “geography” poems in Monday on the Mississippi (Holt 2005) or her poems from the perspectives of two young girls, All We Needed to Say: Poems About School from Tanya and Sophie (Atheneum 1996), an in-depth study of one featured poet can be helpful for aspiring young writers. Simply through examining Marilyn Singer’s body of work, children can begin to see how a poet’s thinking takes shape.
The Poetry of Marilyn Singer Here’s a nearly complete list of all of Marilyn’s poetry for young people. (Please let me know if I have missed any.)
Singer, Marilyn. 1976. The Dog Who Insisted He Wasn’t. New York: Dutton.
Singer, Marilyn. 1989. Turtle in July. New York: Macmillan.
Singer, Marilyn. 1992. In My Tent. New York: Macmillan.
Singer, Marilyn. 1993. It’s Hard to Read a Map with a Beagle on Your Lap. New York: Holt.
Singer, Marilyn. 1994. Family Reunion. New York: Atheneum.
Singer, Marilyn. 1996. All We Needed to Say: Poems about School from Tanya and Sophie. New York: Atheneum.
Singer, Marilyn. 2000. A Dog’s Gotta Do What a Dog’s Gotta Do: Dogs at Work. New York: Holt.
Singer, Marilyn. 2001. Monster Museum. New York: Hyperion.
Singer, Marilyn. 2002. Footprints on the Roof: Poems about the Earth. New York: Knopf.
Singer, Marilyn. 2003. Fireflies at Midnight. New York: Atheneum.
Singer, Marilyn. 2003. How to Cross a Pond: Poems about Water. New York: Knopf.
Singer, Marilyn. 2004. Creature Carnival. New York: Hyperion.
Singer, Marilyn. 2005. Central Heating: Poems about Fire and Warmth. New York: Knopf.
Singer, Marilyn. 2005. Monday on the Mississippi. New York: Henry Holt.
Singer, Marilyn. 2008. First Food Fight This Fall. New York: Sterling.
Singer, Marilyn. 2008. Shoe Bop! New York: Dutton.
Singer, Marilyn. 2010. Mirror, Mirror. New York: Dutton.
Singer, Marilyn. 2011. A Full Moon is Rising. New York: Lee & Low.
Singer, Marilyn. 2011. A Stick Is an Excellent Thing. New York: Clarion.
Singer, Marilyn. 2011. Twosomes: Love Poems from the Animal Kingdom. New York: Knopf.
Singer, Marilyn. 2012. A Strange Place to Call Home: The World’s Most Dangerous Habitats and the Animals That Call Them Home. San Francisco: Chronicle.
Singer, Marilyn. 2012. The Boy Who Cried Alien. New York: Hyperion.
Singer, Marilyn. 2012. The Superheroes Employment Agency. New York: Clarion.
Singer, Marilyn, 2012. Every Day's a Dog's Day: A Year in Poems. New York: Dial.
Singer, Marilyn. 2013. Follow, Follow: A Book of Reverso Poems. New York: Penguin.
Singer, Marilyn. 2013. Rutherford B., Who Was He?: Poems About Our Presidents. New York: Disney-Hyperion.
In addition, many of Marilyn’s poems are featured in anthologies of poetry. I’m so proud to say her lovely poems are part of our Poetry Friday Anthologyseries, too. Plus, if all that weren’t enough, Marilyn is also a tremendous advocate for poetry for young people and initiated the Poetry Blast (along with Barbara Genco)featuring poets reading their works aloud at the annual conference of the American Library Association more than a dozen years ago. It was that event that inspired me to launch a parallel event featuring poets reading their poetry in the Poetry Round Up at the annual conference of the Texas Library Association that has now featured more than 50 poets who write for young people. The ripples of her influence are far and wide and her work continues to touch readers of all ages!
Now head on over to These 4 Corners where Paul is hosting this week's Poetry Friday this week!
At my house tomorrow it is Nicklaus Day (St. Nicholas Day) and we celebrate with stockings and treats—a fun preview of the Christmas celebrations to come. It’s a perfect moment to celebrate a new book from Lee Bennett Hopkins, Manger (Eerdmans, 2014). Beginning with gorgeous endpapers, we journey through fifteen beautiful double-page spreads each featuring a lyrical poem from an animal’s perspective about the arrival of Jesus as a baby in the manger. Beautiful pictures, beautiful poetry, beautiful moments to savor. And it’s not just an artful, contemplative book, it’s also very child-friendly, perfect for sharing with a little one on your lap or with a group of kids sitting around you on the floor.
As a gift to you, here is my free mini-guide for Manger for sharing this special book with the children in your life. 1. There are fourteen different animals presented in this book:
endpapers featuring the animal characters +
This just begs for dramatic interpretation, beginning with making, finding (online), and recording animal noises and pictures. Or gather or create simple puppets or masks for each of these creatures (with paper bags or paper plates) to use as you read each animal poem aloud. You can also find coloring pages here or use the animals featured on the end pages of the book. Then read each poem aloud using the animal sounds to start or end the reading—inviting the kids to make those sounds with you. Use your animal puppets or mask to “tell” the poem, too. Then display the animal pages or puppets along with the book. (For younger children, you may also have to explain what a "manger" is and what it looks like.)
final poem/excerpt in the book
Older children may enjoy creating their own poems that add animals to this mix. What other animals might be present in this barn setting? Hint: there are a few animals pictured in the endpapers and in the illustrations that are NOT represented with their own poems. See if the kids can figure out which ones (e.g., rabbit) and challenge them to create a poem for that animal. How might each of those animals react to a baby’s birth or to this special night? What unique animal attributes might be incorporated into the poem? Point out to your young writers that some of the poems in Manger rhyme and some do not, so they can experiment with creating their poems rhyming or free verse. In addition, note that the final poem in the book is an excerpt from a traditional Christmas carol. So, that’s another approach to try—looking at familiar Christmas songs that include animals and choosing a stanza or stanzas as stand-alone poems.
Finally, link this book with others that feature Christmas poetry, expecially Mary’s Song, also by Lee Bennett Hopkins. Here’s a sampling of poetry books about Christmas from my book, The Poetry Teacher’s Book of Lists:
Aigner-Clark, Julie. 2001. Baby Santa’s Christmas Joy! A Celebration of the Holiday Spirit in Poetry, Photography, and Music. New York: Hyperion.
Alarcón, Francisco X. 2001. Iguanas in the Snow and Other Winter Poems/ Iguanas en la Nieve y Otros Poemas de Invierno. San Francisco, CA: Children’s Book Press.
Angelou, Maya. 2008. Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem. New York: Schwartz & Wade.
Bennett, Jill. 2003. Poems for Christmas. New York: Scholastic.
Bronson, Linda. 2002. Sleigh Bells and Snowflakes: A Celebration of Christmas. New York: Henry Holt.
Bunting, Eve and Leonid Gore. 2000. Who was Born this Special Day? New York: Atheneum.
Causley, Charles. 2000. Bring in the Holly. London: Frances Lincoln.
INTERVIEW Lee was also kind enough to answer a few questions for me. He also shared the photo here and notes: "This photo is with my younger brother, Donald, visiting Santa Claus in a Newark, NJ department store. The photo is reproduced in LEE BENNETT HOPKINS: A CHILDREN'S POET by Amy Strong (Franklin Watts, 2003)."
What are some of your most vivid memories of this holiday from your childhood?
My younger sister, younger brother and I grew up with a single-parent mother after my father left us. We never had much money but we saved to buy each other what gifts we could afford. I remember one year I saved to buy my mother a musical powder box from Woolworth's five-and-ten-cent store-- our Tiffany's! I brought it home. Mother was scrubbing the floor. I almost slipped. As I caught myself the music began to tinkle through the bag. I wanted to die. I so wanted this to be the biggest surprise for her. Mother pretended she didn't hear it, but I knew she did. Funny -- a powder box memory-- a gift to a hard-working woman who did what she could to make us happy.
Did any of these memories inform the creation of this book (Manger)? How?
We always had a manger at Christmas. Shockingly we had an over-abundance of manger figures! At one time Mama worked at Woolworth's in Newark, NJ. I describe the scene in my first novel, Mama (Boyds Mills Press) and how so many figures appeared including eighteen Wise Men. In essence I was a young fence.
What are your favorite Christmas holiday traditions that you continue today?
Christmas present has become lush and love-filled. Our house is decorated to the hilt. It is a time when we hold a large gala, a special evening with family and friends each December. Songs are sung, poems are shared, and prose about Christmas is read. This year Manger will be read; afterwards "Away in a Manger" will be sung by all.
What do you wish for Christmas poetry future? There is so much traditional Christmas poetry: words in favorite songs; words in favorite hymns. It is a time for "Sleigh Bells," hope for a "White Christmas," and warm thoughts of a "Silent Night,' an "O Holy Night." This year, many children will be introduced to new poetry via Manger by some of our top poets writing today including Marilyn Nelson, X. J. Kennedy and Joan Bransfield Graham. A special guest will be Jude Mandell who will read her poem "Curious Cat" from the book. With the publication of Mary’s Song and Manger, you have quite a lovely duo. Are there any plans for more poetry focused on the nativity or Christmas?
I hope so. I am working on a manuscript about the Magi as well as more Christmas poetry presents for the future.
Merry Christmas to all of you who celebrate this special time. And happy holidays to everyone enjoying this season of giving.
Now join the rest of the Poetry Friday crew over at Anastasia's place. See you there!
Just a few weeks ago, I was at the YALSA Symposium in Austin TX-- such a great event. I was lucky to gather a fantastic panel of poets and authors (Janet Wong, KA Holt, Michael Salinger, Sara Holbrook, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, and Jacqueline Woodson) all talking about their work and reading and performing excerpts. I was able to videotape a few nuggets to share with you here. Enjoy!
K A (Kari) Holt talking about her new novel in verse, Rhyme Schemer
Jacqueline Woodson reads an excerpt from Brown Girl Dreaming
Guadalupe Garcia McCall shares her poem, "The Cafe," from The Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School.
Sara Holbrook and Michael Salinger read from More Than Friends (by Sara Holbrook and Allan Wolf) [an excerpt]
There will be another YALSA Symposium next year and it will be held in Portland, OR in 2015. The focus will expand to include literature, programming AND youth services. Should be fun! Add a Comment
Last week I was at the NCTE conference (so fun!) presenting alongside Janet Wong and Eileen and Jerry Spinelli on the topic of kindness. Here's a tiny glimpse of our session-- a video of Eileen reading her original poem, "Get a Life" from The Poetry Friday Anthology (K-5).It's perfect for this crazy Black Friday, too.
And here is the text of the poem: Get a Life by Eileen Spinelli There are books to read. And birds to feed. And awesome facts for learning. There are yards to weed. And friends in need. And dreams to set us yearning. There are trails to hike. And films to like. And stories made for swapping. What I mean to say in this poem today is there’s more to life than shopping! And here are the Take 5! activitiesthat accompany this poem: 1. Prior to sharing the poem, jot numbers on a piece of paper or list on the board (1, 2, 3, etc.) as if you are making a to-do list. Then read the poem aloud, pausing for a moment after each line.
2. Share the poem again, inviting students to join in on the final two lines (isthere’s more to life than / shopping!) while you read the rest aloud.
3. For discussion: What are some of your favorite activities to do during holiday breaks?
4. Lead students in considering how repeating key words and phrases, particularly at the beginning of each line (There are; And), helps build a poem and can add to the distinctive rhythm of the lines. Then read the poem out loud together again, listening for the patterns. 5. Link this poem with another thoughtful poem by Eileen Spinelli, “Today” (4th Grade, Week 29, page 215 in The Poetry Friday Anthology).Add a Comment
While attending the NCTE conference, I’ll also be participating in the annual “Master Class” coordinated by the Children’s Literature Assembly of NCTE (such a great organization). The focus is poetry across the curriculum and I’m responsible for the social studies area. I’ll be sharing sample poems, teaching tips, and activity suggestions. Sharing poetry in the context of social studies is a natural given the topics that make up this content area. The National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) Curriculum Standards quickly reveal the poem connection possibilities with Thematic Strands that focus on culture, people, places, identity, government, technology, society, and civic ideals.Here are the bare bones of my presentation. (We were charged to come up with only 5 examples in each category-- because I would have shared way more than 5, if possible!)
CLA Master Class: Poetry Across the Curriculum
SOCIAL STUDIES AND POETRY
5 GREAT SOCIAL STUDIES POETRY BOOKS
Corcoran, Jill. Ed. 2012. Dare to Dream… Change the World. San Diego, CA: Kane Miller.
Engle, Margarita. 2008. The Surrender Tree. New York: Holt.
Hopkins, Lee Bennett. 2008. America at War. New York: McElderry.
Myers, Walter Dean. 2011. We are America; A Tribute from the Heart. Ill. by Christopher Myers. New York: HarperCollins.
Singer, Marilyn. 2013. Rutherford B., Who Was He?: Poems About Our Presidents. New York: Disney-Hyperion.
5 SOCIAL STUDIES-TEACHING TIPS
Talk about “Today’s Document” at the National Archives (at Archives.gov).
Create “found” poetry from news articles.
Examine facsimiles of primary source documents (at Jackdaw.com).
Use Google Maps to locate places you’re reading about.
Look for “Ten Poetry Collections for Social Studies Not to Be Missed” in Poetry Aloud Here (Vardell, 2014) as well as lists of poetry collections organized by topics such as Presidents’ Day, women’s history, U.S. history, world history, war and peace, plus multicultural and international poetry booklists in The Poetry Teacher’s Book of Lists(Vardell, 2012).
Others will be presenting parallel examples in the areas of math, science, arts, games & sports.
Learn more about the Children’s Literature Assembly here.
PLUS: Of course I’m absolutely thrilled that our book for middle school, The Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School, was selected as a Poetry Notable by the NCTE Excellence in Poetry Committee. Here’s that link.
There will also be a BUNCH of poets in attendance at the conference and I hope to cross paths with many of them including: Irene Latham, Laura Purdie Salas, Mary Lee Hahn, Jacqueline Jules, Sara Holbrook, Michael Salinger, Heidi Mordhorst, J Pat Lewis, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, Georgia Heard, Rebecca Dotlich, Paul B Janeczko, Pat Mora, Linda Kulp, Jane Yolen, Heidi Stemple, Leslie Bulion, Rene Saldana, Eileen Spinelli, Joseph Bruchac, and George Ella Lyon. What fun, right?! I hope to share photos afterward.
And finally, they’ll be announcing the next winner of the NCTE Poetry Award at the conference too! Stay tuned.
I’m off to the annual conference of the National Council of Teachers of English and looking forward to presenting (twice!). My first session is “Sharing Random Books of Kindness: The Power of Story” alongside Eileen Spinelli, Jerry Spinelli, and Janet Wong.
We’ll be talking about all kinds of books related to the theme of kindness—including poetry, of course. Here are some of the resources I’ve gathered on our topic.
PROFESSIONAL RESOURCE BOOKS
Ferrucci, Piero. 2007. The Power of Kindness: The Unexpected Benefits of Leading a Compassionate Life. Tarcher.
Goldman, Carrie. 2012. Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear. HarperOne.
Laminack, Lester and Wadsworth, Reba. 2012. Bullying Hurts: Teaching Kindness Through Read Alouds and Guided Conversations. Heinemann.
Mah, Ronald. 2013. Getting Beyond Bullying and Exclusion, PreK-5: Empowering Children in Inclusive Classrooms. Skyhorse Publishing.
Pearson, Ferial. 2014. Secret Kindness Agents: How Small Acts of Kindness Really Can Change the World. WriteLife.
Rice, Judith Ann. 2013. The Kindness Curriculum: Stop Bullying Before It Starts. Redleaf Press.
Rue, Nancy. 2014. So Not Okay: An Honest Look at Bullying from the Bystander (Mean Girl Makeover series). Nelson.
And there are some excellent web resources on teaching kindness and compassion too.
I’ll also be participating in the annual “Master Class” coordinated by the Children’s Literature Assembly of NCTE (such a great organization). That session is focused entirely on poetry! I'll post more details about that tomorrow.
Our program title: Keepin’ it Real: Sharing Poetry with Tweens and Teens
Session Description: What is true and relevant in providing meaningful connections between students and poetry? As they are poised between childhood and adulthood, we seek out poems that are fresh and authentic, along with approaches that are engaging and interactive. This session will feature a diverse panel of published poets talking about their poetry, their process, and their inspiration, as well as the educator perspective on sharing poetry using the latest media and technology for promoting involvement and participation.
Of course we’ll be featuring our middle school anthology of poetry, The Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School, with 110 poems by 71 poets for grades 6, 7, and 8, along with “Take 5” activities for every poem. We're so proud that this book was selected as a Poetry Notable book by NCTE. Here are a few tips from the book:
Poem Read-Aloud Strategies
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.
Useprops 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.
Try usingmedia 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.
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.
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.
We also connect poetry with a lot of technology—so appealing to young readers. Here are a few of my favorite websites that we use in the Take 5 activities to introduce or extend the poems.
Winter has blown in this week, even in Texas, and the temperatures have dropped significantly. What happens to the bees in temperatures like these? Ask Joyce Sidman! Her new book, Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold was just published and it’s a beautiful look at how a variety of plants and animals of the north cope with winter weather. If you’re familiar with Joyce’s work, this new book is parallel to three of her others that examine creatures in a designated ecosystem—through lyrical poetry, informative prose paragraphs, and evocative illustrations:
Sidman, Joyce. 2005. Song of the Water Boatman and Other Pond Poems. Ill. By Beckie Prange. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Sidman, Joyce. 2006. Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow. Ill. by Beth Krommes. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Sidman, Joyce. 2010. Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night. Ill. by Rick Allen. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
And now with FOUR STARRED REVIEWS already:
Sidman, Joyce. 2014. Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold. Ill. by Rick Allen. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
I was lucky enough to create a readers’ guide for this book that you’ll find here (along with Common Core skill connections).
Just to whet your appetite, here are a few excerpts from the guide.
Set the stage
Before exploring this book, talk with students about winter and how they experience this season. Ask: Is it cold where we live? Is there snow or ice? Or is it a warm place with mild weather? What animals and insects do you notice in your communities and neighborhoods and what do those creatures do during the winter? Explain that in Winter Bees, the poet Joyce Sidman explores what winter is like for a dozen plants and animals of the north through poetry and prose paragraphs.
Notice that the illustrator Rick Allen has featured the red fox in nearly all of the illustrations, even when other animals and plants are the focus of the poem. Can you spot the fox? Rick Allen uses prints to create the art for these illustrations, particularly linoleum cuts and wood engravings. Students may enjoy trying their own printmaking with simple potato prints (carving simple designs into a half potato with adult supervision) or cardboard prints (cutting corrugated cardboard into simple shapes). Or even simpler—try making paper snowflakes with blank white paper folded multiple times and then snipped and shaped with scissors.
Students can work with a partner or in a small group to create a “found” poem about a winter animal. They can choose a favorite animal from Winter Bees, read the prose paragraph provided, and then choose their favorite words or phrases from the paragraph and rearrange them into a “found” poem of their own. Remind students that poems don’t have to rhyme.
Make a list of the dozen plants and animals featured in this book. Students can then investigate which of these are found in their own communities and what winter is like for them in their region. Add animals that are unique to your own area and research images of them at sources like Animals.NationalGeographic.com or videos on YouTube. Challenge students to research and write their own nonfiction prose paragraphs about a selected plant or animal in winter similar to those Sidman provides in Winter Bees.
And there are discussion questions for each individual poem too. Here are a few examples.
1. “Snake’s Lullaby”
What is a lullaby? Why might this poem be titled a “lullaby”? Notice how the poet uses rhyme and rhythm to suggest the song-like qualities of a lullaby. Why is it important for snakes to sleep in winter?
2.“Big Brown Moose”
In this persona poem, the poet is writing as if she were the moose. How do you know that? Which lines and words signal that point of view? Notice how she also coins new words (like “slumberous”) to describe the moose. What might “slumberous” mean in this context?
Why do you think this whole book of poetry is titled after this particular poem? What do you learn about bees in winter here? Why is that so central to this whole book?
What animals live “under ice” in this poem? Why is the poem not named after them in this case? In this poem, the poet repeats from one stanza to the next. Can you find each repeated line (beginning with “made of ripped chips and thrashing twigs”)? Use the glossary to help you understand the pantoum form, if needed.
5.“What Do the Trees Know?”
Why did the poet include this poem about trees, instead of featuring another animal? What roles do trees play in the animal world? Why does the poet title this poem with a question? Notice that the poet repeats that title question line twice in the poem. Why do you think she does that?
Which is your favorite animal depicted in this book? Which is your favorite poem? Why? Are these the same (poem+animal) or different? What did you learn about animals in winter that especially surprised you? What do you like to do in winter to help you “survive” and thrive during this season?
I write a regular column on poetry for Book Links magazine and every now and then they double-up and feature it in Booklist Online, too. This is one of those times! My November article, "Classroom Connections: Exploring Science with Poetry" appears in the print issue of Book Links and online at Booklist here.
It starts off:
As literacy expert Bernice Cullinan (1995) reminds us, “Scientists observe with a clear eye, record their observations in precise, descriptive language, and craft their expressions. Poets do the same thing.” Maximizing that reciprocal relationship between how scientists observe and describe the world and how poets do so presents a unique opportunity for us as we work with children. But where do we begin? Select a science-themed poem, read it aloud, then work with students to identify all the sensory words and descriptions (sights, sounds, smells, textures, tastes). Then select a news article on the same science topic and identify the descriptors in that piece. Work together to create a simple Venn diagram showing how poets and scientists overlap in their use of language to record and report their observations. Sandy Buczynski and Kristin Fontichiaro suggest, “For the many educators who feel comfortable using literature in the classroom but are timid about their science expertise, using books to build a bridge to science can yield impressive results for teaching and learning” (2013). How can you make science more accessible and "friendly"? Try a short science poem, of course!
It then includes an annotated list of poetry for life science and earth science.Here's the short version of the list with a few additional titles:
Blackaby, Susan. Nest, Nook & Cranny
Bulion, Leslie. At the Sea Floor Café: Odd Ocean Critter Poems
Bulion, Leslie. Hey There, Stink Bug!
Coombs, Kate. Water Sings Blue: Ocean Poems
Florian, Douglas. Dinothesaurus
Florian, Douglas. UnBEElievables: Honeybee Poems and Paintings
Sidman, Joyce. Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold
Singer, Marilyn. A Strange Place to Call Home
Spinelli, Eileen. Polar Bear, Arctic Hare: Poems of the Frozen North
VanDerwater, Amy Ludwig. Forest Has a Song
Wolf, Allan. The Blood-Hungry Spleen and Other Poems about Our Parts
Wong, Janet. Once Upon a Tiger:New Beginnings for Endangered Animals
Yolen, Jane. Birds of a Feather
Yolen, Jane. Bug Off! Creepy Crawly Poems
Yolen, Jane. Least Things: Poems about Small Natures
Earth & Space Science
Bruchac, Joseph. The Earth under Sky Bear’s Feet: Native American Poems of the Land
Bruchac, Joseph. Thirteen Moons on Turtle’s Back: A Native American Year of Moons
Florian, Douglas. Comets, Stars, the Moon, and Mars
Lewis, J. Patrick. Galileo’s Universe
Salas, Laura Purdie. Water Can Be
Salas, Laura Purdie. And Then There Were Eight: Poems about Space
Salas, Laura Purdie. Seed Sower, Hat Thrower: Poems about Weather
Singer, Marilyn. Footprints on the Roof: Poems about the Earth
Singer, Marilyn. How to Cross a Pond: Poems about Water
There are also suggested activities (along with the Common Core State Standards identified for each):
Science activities Hands-on activities can make combining science and poetry fun and experiential and science experts encourage kids to become engaged by “doing” science. A science-themed poem can be a launching pad for such active learning. Here are just a few examples:
Discuss the role of weather reporting in current events and how it helps us keep up with changes in weather from day to day. Talk about the recognizable weather patterns that are described in the poems of Laura Purdie Salas in Seed Sower, Hat Thrower: Poems about Weather such as humidity, clouds, thunder, lightning, and rain. Challenge students to describe today’s weather and how it may have changed from yesterday. Record temperatures and weather for 5 straight days to look for patterns and contrast with weather reports online or on television.
Talk about the steps we might follow in inventing or making something new: gathering materials, consulting books, looking things up online. What kinds of things can students imagine creating? Refer to Wikihow.com, a multilingual how-to site for ideas. Use sample poems like “Tinker Time” (from PFAS) or selections from Eureka! Poems about Inventors by Joyce Sidman to promote creative thinking.
Collaborate to create a quick glog, a digital interactive poster (using Glogster.com), pulling together images and key words from a science-themed poem in a new visual representation of the poem’s topic. Show students the choices of text, fonts, color, graphics, and even animation, if possible, while you input those items and create the finished product together.
Use the details in the poem “Go Fly a Kite” (in PFAS) to talk about factors that influence kites in flight: pressure, streaming, breezes, lift, and drag. Check out NASA’s “Beginner’s Guide to Aerodynamics” for help, available here: GRC.NASA.gov/WWW/K-12/airplane/bga.html Contrast this with poems about bird flight found in Jane Yolen’s Birds of a Feather or The Cuckoo’s Haiku and Other Birding Poems by Michael J. Rosen.
Share moon-themed poems (such as “Queen of Night” in PFAS or selections from Comets, Stars, the Moon, and Mars by Douglas Florian) to talk about what we know about the Moon, beginning with attributes of the Moon and then considering tides, seasons, and the observable appearance of the Moon over time during its phases. Consult the NASA web site: SolarSystem.NASA.gov/planets/profile.cfm?Object=Moon
Use poems to jumpstart a discussion of Earth's renewable resources, including air, plants, water, and animals; and nonrenewable resources such as coal, oil, and natural gas; and the importance of conservation. Consider “Solar Power” (in PFAS) or selections from Water Sings Blue: Ocean Poems; Footprints on the Roof: Poems about the Earth, or How to Cross a Pond: Poems about Water. Work together to find more information on using the sun as a source of electricity at SolarEnergy.org/answers-younger-kids
Talk about how scientists use a variety of tools to collect information and conduct investigations. In studying the human body, one measure of overall health is pulse rate. Demonstrate how to take a pulse and compare results while resting or exercising after sharing “Moving for 5 Minutes Straight” (from PFAS) or selections from The Blood-Hungry Spleen and Other Poems about Our Parts by Allan Wolf.
And here are a few suggested resources that were not included in the article OR online, an extra bonus!
Websites for science fun The discussion of science topics nearly always leads to exploration (of objects, of the world, of technology) and fortunately there are many excellent online resources that can provide helpful guidance and encourage discovery and playfulness. They offer many ideas for follow up activities to accompany a poem for five minutes of science fun. Many of the science activities listed in the “Take 5” activities for each poem in The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science, for example, suggest websites to match specific poems to expand science learning. Here are just a few favorites.
Teaching resources In addition, as we connect poetry and science, it can be helpful to know about resources that provide background for building science understanding. This select list focuses on science teaching with children and includes blogs, websites, videos, and more.
And of course there are even more resources and 200+ science-themed poems in The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science. Get your copy now, if you haven't already! We're so proud to earn the "NSTA Recommends" status for our book from the National Science Teachers Association, too!
We’re breaking weather records for warm days here in Texas with the temperature hitting 90 degree today. Ugh. We’re all ready for cooler Fall weather here, especially with Halloween and November right around the corner. So, to get in the spirit, I thought I’d share alist of poems about superstitions, beliefs, luck, magic, dreams, and nightmares from my book, The Poetry Teacher’s Book of Lists. I’ve even updated the list to add a few recent titles. Enjoy! Poetry Books about Superstitions, Beliefs, Luck, Magic, Dreams, and Nightmares Many works of poetry promote a sense of wonder. These titles focus especially on the world of superstitions, beliefs, luck, magic, dreams and nightmares-- all interpreted in a variety of ways. Alarcón, Francisco X. 2005. Poems to Dream Together/ Poemas para Sonar Juntos. New York: Lee & Low.
Berry, James. 1991. Isn’t My Name Magical?: Sister and Brother Poems. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Clayton, Dallas. 2012. Make Magic! Do Good! Somerville, MA: Candlewick.
Corcoran, Jill. Ed. 2012. Dare to Dream… Change the World. San Diego, CA: Kane Miller.
Congratulations to Jacqueline Woodson whose book, Brown Girl Dreaming, was just named a finalist for the National Book Award. You know how much I love this book and already featured Jacqueline in a Poet to Poet interview with Carole Boston Weatherford. But did I mention that I also find it so intriguing that a memoir-in-verse is getting all this recognition? I think that’s wonderful! And I loved how Jacqueline said, “This is how memory comes to me -- In small moments with all of this white space around them.” That seems to be true for many poets and I thought it might be interesting to gather a list of other memoirs told in poem or verse form.
For example, have you seen Marilyn Nelson’s latest book, How I Discovered Poetry? It’s a memoir in 50 sonnets! And it’s a perfect partner to Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming in its exploration of family, identity, racism, and writing. Don’t miss it! Plus, I hear that Margarita Engle will be publishing her own memoir in verse next year (2015). Can’t wait!
It’s also interesting to explore how memoir is adapted for other poetic perspectives. Naomi Shihab Nye wove autobiographical poems and passages alongside science-themed entries in her evocative, Honeybee (Greenwillow, 2008). Carole Boston Weatherford created a fictional verse memoir to tell the first-person life story of the legendary jazz singer Billie Holiday in Becoming Billie Holiday (Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press, 2008).
And for a comic twist, look for Bobbi Katz’s engaging, mock memoir with the most beautiful retro cover and scrapbook-like interior perfect for Halloween sharing, The Monsterologist; A Memoir in Rhyme (Sterling, 2009). Or for younger readers, another mock memoir presented as if written in a student notebook by Gary Crew, Troy Thompson’s Excellent Peotry [sic] (Kane/Miller, 2003). Hilarious!
And any look at memoir merits a discussion of biography, autobiography, and history captured through poetry. For example, J. Patrick Lewis and Jane Yolen create a vivid biography in poems for artist Marc Chagall in Self Portrait with Seven Fingers: A Life of Marc Chagall in Verse (Creative Editions, 2011). Gorgeous Chagall art included!
Writers Guadalupe Garcia McCall and Thanhha Lai wrote award-winning novels in verse that were largely autobiographical and truly compelling:
Guadalupe Garcia McCall's Under the Mesquite (Lee & Low, 2011).
Thanhha Lai's Inside Out and Back Again (HarperCollins, 2011).
And let’s not neglect novels in verse that are grounded in true stories and historical events like:
Allan Wolf's The Watch That Ends the Night; Voices from the Titanic (Candlewick, 2011)
In honor of Teen Read Week (Oct. 12-18), I’d like to promote this year’s selection of poetry for young adults. As usual, I find that about a third of each year’s list of poetry published for young people targets the teen audience and most of those are novels in verse. That’s true once again this year. I would also add that you’ll find some of the most risk-taking and inventive writing here, by a diverse crop of writers, too. I’ve written about many of the titles below in previous postings, but here’s a round up of all the teen poetry this year, as far as I know. And of course, many of the poetry books that target children (ages 0-12) are also eminently suitable for tweens and teens. That’s one of the things I love about poetry, in particular, that poetry is so little age-bound or limited by grade level or readability. So be sure to look at ALL the poetry published for young people available here. 1.Alexander, Kwame. 2014. The Crossover. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Twin 12 year old boy protagonists love playing basketball and are growing up-- and maybe apart-- as they cope with middle school, girls, and the expectations of their parents. Teacher’s guide here. 2.Brown, Skila. 2014. Caminar. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.
*Set in Guatemala in 1981 when conflicts between Communist soldiers and guerilla fighters were at a crossroads, the love of a mother for her son is a beautiful thread throughout this powerful story of war, courage, and survival. Poet to Poet interview here. 3.Crowe, Chris. 2014. Death Coming Up the Hill. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
*It's a historical novel in verse about a teenage boy who is navigating high school, first love, and parental conflict during the Vietnam War and it highlights issues of conflict, resistance, and racism. It's built entirely upon haiku poems with a total of 16,592 syllables, one syllable as a tribute to each soldier's death in 1968 during the Vietnam War, the year with the highest casualties during the war. Poet to Poet interview here. 4.Engle, Margarita. 2014. Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
*From the young “silver people” whose backbreaking labor built the Panama Canal to the denizens of the endangered rain forest itself, this novel in verse tells the story of one of the largest and most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken. Teacher’s guide here. 5.Frank, Lucy. 2014. Two Girls Staring at the Ceiling. New York: Schwartz & Wade.
*“This novel-in-verse—at once literary and emotionally gripping—follows the unfolding friendship between two very different teenage girls who share a hospital room and an illness." 6.Heppermann, Christine. 2013. Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty. New York: HarperCollins/Greenwillow.
*”In fifty poems, Christine Heppermann confronts society head on. Using fairy tale characters and tropes, Poisoned Apples explores how girls are taught to think about themselves, their bodies, and their friends. The poems range from contemporary retellings to first-person accounts set within the original tales, and from deadly funny to deadly serious.” 7.High, Linda Oatman. 2014. Otherwise. Costa Mesa, CA: Saddleback.
*A love story set “in a near-future United States, unisex gender presentation becomes mandated by law.” 8.High, Linda Oatman. 2014. Teeny Little Grief Machines. Costa Mesa, CA: Saddleback.
*“When her semi-friends start bullying her… Lexi can't handle school any more. Lexi breaks down and the new counselor calls in the hospital - Lexi has a rehabilitating stay in the mental health ward. Suddenly, she is reborn.” 9.Holt, K. A. 2014. Rhyme Schemer. San Francisco: Chronicle.
*”Rhyme Schemer is a touching and hilarious middle-grade novel in verse about one seventh grader's journey from bully-er to bully-ee, as he learns about friendship, family, and the influence that words can have on people's lives.” 10.Hopkins, Ellen. 2014. Rumble. New York: Margaret K. McElderry/Simon & Schuster.
*“Rumble explores bullying and suicide in a story that explores the worth of forgiveness and reconciliation.” 11.Kuderick, Madeleine. 2014. Kiss of Broken Glass. New York: HarperTeen.
*“When fifteen-year-old Kenna is found cutting herself in the school bathroom, she is sent to a facility for a mandatory psychiatric watch. There Kenna meets other kids like her—her roommate, Donya, who's there for her fifth time; the birdlike Skylar; and Jag, a boy cute enough to make her forget her problems . . . for a moment.” 12.Lewis, J. Patrick and Lyon, George Ella. 2014. Voices from the March: Washington, D.C., 1963. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press.
*This poetry collection focuses specifically on the march on Washington, D.C. on August 28, 1963, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. Six fictional characters tell their tales on this historic day in cycles of linked of poems alongside the perspectives of historic figures and other march participants for a rich tapestry of multiple points of view.” Teacher’s Guide here. 13.Nagai, Mariko. 2014. Dust of Eden. Chicago: Whitman.
*"'We lived under a sky so blue in Idaho right near the towns of Hunt and Eden but we were not welcomed there.' In early 1942, thirteen-year-old Mina Masako Tagawa and her Japanese-American family are sent from their home in Seattle to an internment camp in Idaho. What do you do when your home country treats you like an enemy?" Poet to Poet interview here. 14.Pattou, Edith. 2014. Ghosting. Skyscape.
*”On a hot summer night in a midwestern town, a high school teenage prank goes horrifically awry. Alcohol, guns, and a dare. Within minutes, as events collide, innocents becomes victims—with tragic outcomes altering lives forever, a grisly and unfortunate scenario all too familiar from current real-life headlines.” 15.Phillips, Linda. 2014. Crazy. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
*Laura is a typical fifteen-year-old growing up in the 1960s, navigating her way through classes, friendships, and even a new romance. But she’s carrying around a secret: her mother is suffering from a mental illness.” 16.Winters, Ben H. 2014. Literally Disturbed #3: More Tales to Keep You Up at Night. New York: Penguin/Price Stern Sloan.
*”Ben H. Winters continues to scare readers in this collection of 30 creepy rhyming stories about the things that haunt your nightmares!” 17.Woodson, Jacqueline. 2014. Brown Girl Dreaming. New York: Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin. *Woodson’s poetic memoir reflects her dual upbringing in her extended family in South Carolina and in New York City, growing up African American in the 1960’s and 1970’s, experiencing difficulty with reading, but a passion for words, stories, and writing. Poet to Poet interview here. 18.Yolen, Jane. 2014. Sister Fox’s Field Guide to the WritingLife. Papaveria Press.
*”Jane Yolen brings us this delightful new collection of poems on the art and craft of writing. Sometimes whimsical, often amusing, and always a wonder and a delight.” 19.Nelson, Marilyn. 2014. How I Discovered Poetry. Ill. by Hadley Hooper. New York: Dial.
*”Looking back on her childhood in the 1950s, Newbery Honor winner and National Book Award finalist Marilyn Nelson tells the story of her development as an artist and young woman through fifty eye-opening poems.” Be sure to seek out all these intriguing, diverse works and buy them now, plus multiple copies for your library. And if I missed any YA titles, please let me know!
Of course I hope you'll look for last year's book, The Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School, a NCTE Poetry Notable, with poems by 70+ poets and "Take 5" mini-lessons for every poem. And check out the other poetry books published in recent years-- you'll find new links to comprehensive lists in the sidebar of this blog.
Here's another installment in my "Poet to Poet" series of interviews between poets who write for young people. This time, Helen Frost interviews Chris Crowe about his new book just published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Death Coming Up the Hill. It's a historical novel in verse about a teenage boy who is navigating high school, first love, and parental conflict during the Vietnam War and it highlights issues of conflict, resistance, and racism. It's built entirely upon haiku poems with a total of 16,592 syllables, one syllable as a tribute to each soldier's death in 1968 during the Vietnam War, the year with the highest casualties during the war. Isn't that astonishing all by itself? Here's the opening entry for this compelling book:
Week Fifteen: 204
There's something tidy
in seventeen syllables,
a haiku neatness
that leaves craters of
meaning between the lines but
what matters most. I
don't have the time or the space
to write more, so I'll
write what needs to be
remembered and leave it to
you to fill in the
gaps if you feel like
it. In 1968,
sixteen thousand five
American soldiers died
in Vietnam, and
one syllable to each soul
as I record my
own losses suffered
in 1968, a
year like no other.
As I'm sure you know, Helen Frosthas created a body of poetry for young people that has already garnered several of the most prestigious literary awards, including a Printz honor for Keesha's House. In her carefully crafted novels in poems, she even invents new poetic forms and uses existing forms in very creative ways. That impressive repertoire includes: Keesha's House, Spinning through the Universe (Room 214: A Year in Poems), The Braid, Diamond Willow, Crossing Stones, Hidden, Salt, and the poem picture books, Step Gently Out and Monarch and Milkweed.
Chris Crowe is a fellow professor like myself, but has also authored books for young people, including the historical novel, Mississippi Trial, 1955 and a companion book of nonfiction, Getting Away with Murder: The True Story of the Emmett Till Case, as well as the picture book, Just as Good: How Larry Doby Changed America's Game and many professional books. His new book, Death Coming Up the Hill is his first venture into publishing poetry and it's an interesting story about how this story and this form emerged.
Chris, before I ask my three questions, could you give a little background about your work in general terms, and talk a little about what was new territory for you in Death Coming Up the Hill?
My work for YA readers has been primarily historical, so 1968 is nothing new for me; however, this book is less focused on African American and/or civil rights history than some of my other books. What is new is writing in verse. I never aspired to write a novel in verse, and I've never considered myself any kind of poet (though I do claim the title of being the best Bad poet in my English department). I do admire poetry and poets because poetry is such a demanding and exacting art form, a form I've never felt that I had any particular talent for.
I have to say that you do exhibit considerable talent for poetry in this book. Sorry if it makes you lose your Best Bad Poet status. I'd like to ask a personal question regarding the historical background of the book. I remember the late 60's and early 70's as such an important time. Could you share some of your memories of those years, particularly in relation to the war in Vietnam and the peace movement?
I was a high school freshman in Tempe, Arizona, during the 1967-68 school year, so I have some memories of that era, but let's face it, I was a freshman, a knucklehead who was only vaguely aware of what was happening in the wider world. But in those days, even an out-of-touch knucklehead knew about Vietnam. The evening news almost always had some segment relating to the war or protests about the war, and some of my older brothers' friends got drafted---or enlisted---and were shipped over to Vietnam. In the summer of 1969, I landed a job digging sprinkler trenches for a new hotel going up in Tempe, and the other guy working there had recently returned from 'Nam. He was the first person I'd ever met who had really been there, fighting in the jungles, dealing with Army bureaucracy, fearing for his life every day. He had plenty of stories to tell---and this was after all the news of the My Lai Massacre broke---and he gave me a first-hand education about the war. But even with that, I was still pretty much a self-absorbed teenager who didn't pay a lot of attention to national and world events. The peace movement was a different story. My dad was a patriotic, flag-waving WWII veteran, and he was firmly "My country, right or wrong." He couldn't abide hippies, peaceniks, or anyone who protested the war. My siblings and I all knew where he stood when it came to student protests and/or anti-war protests.
Thanks, Chris. I'd love to talk with you in greater depth about that sometime, but there are two other things I'd like to touch on here. I loved the relationship between Ashe and Angela, refreshingly straight-forward, not angst-filled, yet still so authentic as a high school romance. Can you say something about that, and, if you like, relate it to your own life experience?
I was no Romeo in high school, but my first big crush unfolded as quickly as Ashe and Angela's. Some of my friends were much more experienced with girlfriends, and I never saw or heard that finding a girl required a very long or complicated courtship. I suppose what's most different about Angela and Ashe's relationship is that they turn out to be such soul mates. I see that as the luck of the draw or Fate or whatever it is that lines up such compatible matches. BTW, I met my wife in my 10th grade English class, and we started dating the next year. That kind of early and long-term relationship might have skewed the way I portrayed the relationship between A and A.
Thanks, Chris. I think that's a good relationship for YA readers to see in a book.
My last question is about the form you discovered that helped you tell the story. In your endnotes, you describe how the number 17 shapes the story--it's not at all arbitrary, and beautifully executed. I know how challenging that must have been. What did you discover about language as you worked so extensively in such a precise book-length form based on the traditional syllable count of haiku?
I discovered that language is complicated and various. Writing in haiku stanzas sometimes felt like writing with handcuffs on, especially when I had to make revisions to a key word or line. But in others ways, the narrow confines of 5-7-5 felt freeing and expansive. Once I settled into a routine of composing in fixed chunks, some creative gear clicked into place, and my writing really flowed. But that flow required me to pay careful attention to words, to rely on my trusty Roget's International Thesaurus, and to consider word choice more scrupulously than I have ever before. I also learned, because my editor demanded it, that I had to be consistent in my use of syllable count, that I could not cite poetic license when it was convenient---for example, counting 'camera' as a two-syllable word instead of three. This language demanded my full attention.
Again, I'd love to talk with you in more depth about this sometime. For now, let me just say that, like you, I have come to love editors and copyeditors who are willing to engage in syllable-counting, and hold us to the rules we set for ourselves.
Thanks, Sylvia, for initiating this conversation, and thank you, Chris, for these thoughtful responses to my questions, and for your beautiful and important book.
Sylvia: Thank you, Helen and Chris, for engaging in this fascinating conversation and for all your work for young people.
Now treat yourself to a stop at Jama's Alphabet Soup for our Poetry Friday gathering. See you there!
This time last week, I was attending the ALSC Institute in Oakland, California. It was a great event, well-organized by Nina Lindsay and her team, and full of super-librarians full of energy and enthusiasm and a bunch of great author talks. I was honored to present alongside the fabulous Janet Wong, Susan Blackaby, Alma Flor Ada, Isabelle Campoy, and Margarita Engle. Here are a few nuggets from our presentations on The Science of Poetry. Enjoy!
First up, we're so thrilled to be featured on the ALSC Blog. Thank you, Jill Hutchison, for your wonderful summary of our Thursday session here and to Karen Choy, for your lovely write up at the ALSC Blog here.
Alma Flor Ada, Susan Blackaby, Janet Wong, Isabelle Campoy
Margarita Engle, Susan Blackaby, Janet Wong
And here are a few short video clips of our poets reading their poetry aloud-- always a treat.
From The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science
From The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science
We also had heaps of bananas (to go with a banana poem) and heaps of giveaway cards and books like these (with downloadable printables available at PomeloBooks.com).
The next biennial ALSC Institute will be held in 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. Can't wait!
YALSA, the young adult arm of ALA is having its YALSA Institute in November in Austin and I'll be there too presenting alongside: K. A. Holt, Sara Holbrook, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Michael Salinger, Janet Wong, and Jacqueline Woodson. What a line up, right?! Come on by for our presentation on Sun., Nov. 16.
Congratulations to Jacqueline Woodson who just made the “2014 Longlist for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature” (again!) with her new book, Brown Girl Dreaming. Jacqueline was also kind enough to participate in my ongoing “Poet to Poet” interview series, too.
Jacqueline Woodson is the award winning author of many amazing novels for young adults (Miracle’s Boys, Hush, If You Come Softly) and for the middle grades (Last Summer with Maizon, Feathers) and picture books for children (The Other Side, Each Kindness, Coming on Home Soon, Show Way) and so many more including previous works that interweave poetry like Locomotion.
Carole Boston Weatherford
The lovely Carole Boston Weatherford is my poet interviewer. She is the author of many, many books of poetry and other genres including: The Sound that Jazz Makes, Sidewalk Chalk; Poems of the City, Remember the Bridge: Poems of a People, Dear Mr. Rosenwald, Birmingham, 1963, Becoming Billie Holiday, and many more. She is also the recipient of many awards including theLee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award and Lion and the Unicorn Award Honorfor Excellence in North AmericanPoetry for Birmingham, 1963. Here she asksJacqueline three great questions about Brown Girl Dreaming.
Carole: Why did you choose poetry for your memoir?
Jacqueline: This is how memory comes to me -- In small moments with all of this white space around them. I didn't think this memoir could be told any other way. It felt like it would be untrue to the story to try to write a straight narrative out of lyrical memory. Also, I felt this way best expressed what I was trying to say -- that words have always been coming to me, that I've always been trying to hold on to them, set them free, floating onto the pages. This form shows them floating, shows the words moving slowly across, down, over the page.
Carole: You allude to Langston Hughes in BGD. What other poets influenced you?
Jacqueline: There've been so many since my first encounter with Langston Hughes -- Gwendolyn Brooks, Maya Angelou, Nikki Giovanni was HUGE for me, Countee Cullen's INCIDENT, was a poem that haunted me and made me think about living as an African American in the United States. So many poets influenced me both politically and artistically.
Carole: How did the oral tradition contribute to your development as a writer?
Jacqueline: I think the fact that my family was always telling stories really helped me believe I could tell stories even if I couldn't read or write. Also, the history they held onto that wasn't written down, that was past down from generation to generation really gave me a strong sense of myself in the world and of the people who came before me. I love the fact that even though as enslaved people we weren't allowed to learn to read and write, that didn't stop us from telling our stories. That's amazing to me. And that really gave me a lot of faith in my own ability to tell stories.
Carole concludes: Although our upbringings were different there are some coincidences: a Caroline and a gardening printers in the family, storytelling kin, rural roots, handmade first books about nature (butterflies and trees), begging to wear afros, and birthdays a day apart (mine is Feb. 13). Because my father was a printer, I kind of consider publishing the family business. Do you think your grandfather’s career in printing in any way emboldened or destined you to seek publication?
And Jacqueline responds:
Huh -- I hadn't thought of that -- But yes, the fact that there were always words in some form in our lives, words became a part of me.
Thank you both for sharing so openly in my mutual admiration society!
The September issue of Book Links (companion to ALA's Booklist magazine) is out now and includes my article, "Poetry and Social Justice." I was honored to include an interview with poets, George Ella Lyon and J. Patrick Lewis, as well as their editor, Rebecca Davis, about their new book, Voices from the March. Here are several excerpts from the article and the interview, as well as some "extra" material, FYI.
Poetry and Social Justice: Honoring All Voices It’s been fifty years since the signing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, when discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin became against the law. It may be difficult for children today to imagine a world where such discrimination was a common practice, but it is important that we recognize the ongoing effects of such prejudice and pause to celebrate the progress we’ve made as a nation. That’s where literature can be especially powerful in capturing the pain of the past, the fight for justice, and our hopes for the future.
In my experiences working with children, I have found they are usually very aware of issues of justice and fair play, albeit in an often-narrow context. Ask them if they’ve ever stood at a store counter and watched all the grownups get attention while they wait and wait and wait, too shy or afraid to speak up. Or challenge them to think of a time at school or on the playground when they saw someone get picked on and they stood by and said nothing. We’ve probably all had an experience where we witnessed some level of injustice and were unsure or hesitant to respond. This can be a beginning point for a discussion of how justice on a societal scale evolves—and how our individual actions can contribute to the problem or to the solution.
Looking at history For example, these anthologies gathered by Lee Bennett Hopkins provide a panorama of U.S. history that offers a helpful context for framing discussion or can serve as reference tools for understanding key events in our country’s history.
Hopkins, Lee Bennett. 2000. My America: A Poetry Atlas of the United States.New York: Simon & Schuster.
Hopkins, Lee Bennett. 2008. America at War. New York: McElderry.
Hopkins, Lee Bennett. Ed. 1994. Hand in Hand: An American History through Poetry. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Hopkins, Lee Bennett. Ed. 1999. Lives: Poems about Famous Americans. New York: HarperCollins.
Hopkins, Lee Bennett. Ed. 2002. Home to Me: Poems Across America. New York: Orchard.
In addition, other comprehensive collections of poetry use the span of U.S. history to shape the selection and arrangement of poetry, including:
Meltzer, Milton. Ed. 2003. Hour of Freedom: American History in Poetry. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press.
Robb, Laura. Ed. 1997. Music and Drum: Voices of War and Peace, Hope and Dreams. New York: Philomel Books.
Siebert, Diane. 2006. Tour America: A Journey through Poems and Art. San Francisco: Chronicle.
Singer, Marilyn. 2013. Rutherford B., Who Was He?: Poems About Our Presidents. Ill. by John Hendrix. New York: Disney-Hyperion.
Whipple, Laura. Ed. 1994. Celebrating America: A Collection of Poems and Images of the American Spirit. New York: Philomel.
Invite students to work together to locate poems from any of these collections that address justice issues. They can read their selected poem aloud to the group and identify the issue as they perceive it, citing language from the poem to support their case. Make a chalkboard chart of these various issues (racial discrimination, gender discrimination, poverty, etc.) and note where each poem fits. Talk about how the poet approaches the topic using point of view, past or present time, specific examples, and so on.
Older students may be able to dig deeper into poetry that presents conflicts of the past. Collaborate with the history or social studies teacher to discuss poems from these works and place them in context on a historical timeline. Talk about how people of various backgrounds were treated, what role gender played in their struggles, and how they were able to prevail and be heard.
Alexander, Elizabeth and Nelson, Marilyn. 2007. Miss Crandall’s School for Young Ladies and Little Misses of Color. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong.
Bernier-Grand, Carmen T. 2004. César: Si, se puede! Yes, We Can! New York: Marshall Cavendish.
Engle, Margarita. 2006. The Poet Slave of Cuba: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano. New York: Henry Holt and Co.
Engle, Margarita. 2010. The Firefly Letters; A Suffragette's Journey to Cuba. Henry Holt.
Engle, Margarita. 2013. The Lightning Dreamer. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Engle, Margarita. 2014. Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Littlechild, George. 1993. This Land Is My Land. San Francisco, CA: Children’s Book Press.
McKissack, Patricia. 2011. Never Forgotten. Ill. by Leo and Diane Dillon. New York: Schwartz & Wade.
Nelson, Marilyn. 2009. Sweethearts of Rhythm; The Story of the Greatest All-Girl Swing Band in the World. New York: Dial.
Rampersad, Arnold and Blount, Marcellus (Eds). 2013. Poetry for Young People: African American Poetry (reissued, reillustrated). Ill. by Karen Barbour. New York: Sterling.
Weatherford, Carole Boston. 2002. Remember the Bridge: Poems of a People. New York: Philomel.
Connecting past and present
It is also important to point out that justice issues are not just in our past, but remain with us even now. Explore how people today experience injustice or empowerment in these poetry selections.
Ada, Alma Flor and Isabel F. Campoy. 2013. Yes! We Are Latinos. Ill. by David Diaz. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge.
Katz, Bobbi. 2000. We the People. New York: Greenwillow.
Myers, Walter Dean. 2011. We are America; A Tribute from the Heart. Ill. by Christopher Myers. New York: HarperCollins.
Wong, Janet. 2012. Declaration of Interdependence: Poems for an Election Year. PoetrySuitcase.
Invite students to find news articles that address a social justice issue and encourage them to create “black out” poems by drawing through all unwanted words in their news articles with a thick, black marker, so that the remaining words create a “justice” poem.
One Book: One Study It can also be meaningful to dig collectively into one book that addresses this timely topic. One powerful example worthy of group study is Voices from the March: Washington, D.C., 1963 by J. Patrick Lewis and George Ella Lyon. This poetry collection focuses specifically on the march on Washington, D.C. on August 28, 1963, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. Six fictional characters tell their tales on this historic day in cycles of linked of poems alongside the perspectives of historic figures and other march participants for a rich tapestry of multiple points of view. The authors and editor of this new work were kind enough to respond to several interview questions that provide helpful insight into the creation of this book and into the events that shaped the authors’ perspectives. The responses below are from George Ella Lyon (GEL), J. Patrick Lewis (JPL), and editor Rebecca Davis (RD).
BL: Where did the idea for this book come from? How did you decide to focus on the march of August 28, 1963, in particular?
George Ella Lyon
GEL: First, I wanted to write a book about Mary Travers, activist-singer of the folk group Peter, Paul and Mary. For many reasons, that impulse morphed into writing about Mary and Odetta and Joan Baez singing at the March on Washington. My idea was that I could explore how they became powerful young women who whose lives and voices intersected that day. For various reasons, that project didn’t take hold, but through my research I became fascinated with the March itself. I imagined something for older readers, a sprawling, multi-voiced book. Because I’m first of all a poet, and because the intensity of poetry fits the intensity of the day, I began writing poems. What happened was that on March 1st I flew to California to speak at The Charlotte S. Huck Literature Festival at the University of Redlands. Pat Lewis, whom I’d met briefly before, was also on the program, too, and we had a great time talking. As we were leaving for the airport, Pat asked if I wanted to collaborate on a collection of poems, perhaps focusing on famous women. I was thrilled with this possibility, but after I got home it occurred to me to suggest the March as our subject since I was already working in that direction. Typical of Pat, he took off with this idea and drafted five poems in the week between coming home from California’s job and traveling to another one in Boston. (Having already written several books connected with the Civil Rights movement, Pat had done much of the research that I was just beginning.)
BL: How did you decide who would write which poems on which topics from which points of view?
J. Patrick Lewis
GEL: We didn’t. We just let it unfold. I don’t think we ever discussed parceling out the poems.
JPL: Our respective visions carried us through. And not surprisingly, we found that we had not repeated each other’s evocations of our fictional “voices.”
GEL: When Rebecca (Davis, the editor) began working with us, we gained a third (gifted and tireless) eye who could look at the whole and help us see what worked, what was missing, and what we could do to make our vision more compelling.
BL to Rebecca Davis, Editor: What was your role in facilitating this project?
RD: I fell in love with this manuscript the first time I read it. As I read it, I kept finding myself involuntarily saying out loud "Wow" after this poem or that poem. It contained *so* many powerful poems.
I suggested to Pat and George Ella that they take some of the characters and develop their personal stories a bit further in the course of the manuscript, so that readers would see the impact that the experience of being part of the March had on these characters. I thought this might make what was already a personal and powerful manuscript even more personal and immediate.
In the final book, six of the characters have cycles of poems (ranging from four to eight poems each) that are braided amongst the chorus of voices in the manuscript. As the editor, I edited individual poems and also looked for balance in the collection as a whole. Part of the magic in this collection is in the many voices and points of view that it captures. The six characters--we've been referring to them as soloists in the chorus--couldn't take over the book; their individual melodies needed to blend in and harmonize with the whole.
It seemed to me, too, that an introduction was needed to help put the poems into historical perspective for young readers, and that it would be good to have back matter that would help readers sort the fact from the fiction in the story. We decided that it made sense to organize the back matter as a "Guide to the Voices," providing information about the historical figures who appear and/or are mentioned in the poems (under the heading "Historical Voices") and also listing the fictional characters (under the heading "Imagined Voices").
BL: What is the connection between poetry and social justice?
GEL: Poetry is spirit expressed in body: rhythm, sensation, thought, song. So while a lyric poem may be intimate, a heart-cry, it can also be addressed to the community. This happens especially in times of collective tragedy. I think of the poems posted near Ground Zero after 9/11. They were deeply personal, but they called out to be shared, to express trauma and grief and assure poets and readers that we are not alone. To claim a voice is in itself a form of activism.
JPL: I like to think that we are bearing witness, albeit in absentia, to Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Dream” speech and all that it entails.
CLASSROOM CONNECTIONS Setting the Scene Help students visualize the setting for the historic march on August 28, 1963, by showing images of Washington, D.C., especially the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument and the Reflecting Pool in between the two. Look for the stunning picture book, Capital, by Lynn Curlee (Atheneum, 2003) or use images from online sources such as Washington.org, NationalMall.org, NPS.gov, or Google Maps.
Readers Theater and Voice Because Voices from the March: Washington, D.C., 1963 is rich with the perspectives of multiple characters, it begs to be performed “readers theater” style with individual students taking on a persona and reading those poems aloud as that character. Wearing a simple sign with their character’s name can be helpful and if simple props are available (hats, necklace, necktie, etc.) those can be fun visual aids, too. For an even more ambitious presentation, display a slideshow of images as a backdrop for the reading (and student volunteers can research images from that time period or that suit their characters; e.g., Lena Horne, Joan Baez, Coretta Scott King, Rosa Parks, Marian Anderson, Charlton Heston, Malcolm X all attended the march!) Record their readings using VoiceThread. Or look for audio and/or video recordings of performances and speeches from the march. For example, you can listen to (and watch) Dr. Martin Luther’s King speech at multiple locations, including YouTube.
Voices from the March: Washington, D.C., 1963 features these main parts: SIX SOLOISTS, fictional characters with multiple poems throughout the book
Annie Ross, a student at Spelman College for Women in Georgia
Raymond Jarvis, educated but unemployed, from Texas
Renée Newsome, a high school sophomore in Washington, D.C.
Dan Cantrell, a high school junior in Georgia
Emma Wallace, farm hand from Iowa
Ruby May Hollingsworth, a first grader from Arkansas
With many other characters popping up in other poems such as “Among the Marchers” and in many individual poems
HISTORIC FIGURES, a group of “real people” that became known as the “Big Six”
A. Philip Randolph
Whitney Moore Young Jr.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
+ Bayard Rustin, the March’s chief organizer of the march
Hearing actual voices reading can assist in discussing the title of the book and the concept of “voice” in poetry. Who is speaking? Whose point of view is represented? Why is it so important to be heard? How are the concepts of justice and voice linked? Connect this book with other works of poetry told from multiple perspectives such as Karen Hesse’s Witness (Scholastic, 2001) or Walter Dean Myers’ Here in Harlem (Holiday House, 2004). How would these works be different if told from a single point of view?
Music, Poetry and Form
Like poetry, music can play a pivotal role in expressing the dreams and hopes people have. Several specific songs are referenced in Voices from the March (e.g.,“Creed (Song),” “Pigs are Flyin’ (Song),” “Anthem for Rosa Parks,” “Ballad for Martin Luther King, Jr.”) and many musicians and performers were present at the march. Talk about how music influences movements, uniting people, rallying enthusiasm, sharing disappointments. Consult these resources to study the role of music throughout our history. Talk about what kinds of songs today capture students’ current concerns and hopes for the future.
Carawan, Candie and Guy. 1990. Sing for Freedom: The Story of the Civil Rights Movement Through Its Songs. Bethlehem, Pennsylvania: A Sing Out Publication.
Cohn, Amy L. Ed. 1993. From Sea to Shining Sea: A Treasury of American Folklore and Folk Songs. New York: Scholastic.
Rappaport, Doreen. 2006. Nobody Gonna Turn Me 'Round: Stories and Songs of the Civil Rights Movement. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.
Stotts, Stuart. 2010. We Shall Overcome: A Song that Changed the World. Ill. by Terrance Cummings. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
This can also lead to a discussion of form in self-expression. Why does one person write a poem and another person writes a song and yet another person writes a news article or speech? What forms can students identify in the works of poetry they have consulted (free verse, anthems, ballads, shape poems, protest poetry, etc.) and which “speak” to them most deeply?
Other Related Works of Poetry
Link with other works of poetry that also address justice issues. For example, the poetry of Langston Hughes is mentioned in Voices from the March. Encourage students to seek out examples of his work such as his anthology, The Dream Keeper (Knopf, 2007), or picture book versions of single poems such as I, Too, Am America, illustrated by Bryan Collier (Simon & Schuster, 2012). Older students can explore the compelling poetry gathered by Gail Bush and Randy Meyer in Indivisible: Poems for Social Justice (Norwood House, 2013). Plus, Voices from the March co-author, J. Patrick Lewis has also authored additional poetry collections on this topic including:
Lewis, J. Patrick. 2013. When Thunder Comes: Poems for Civil Rights Leaders. San Francisco: Chronicle.
Lewis, J. Patrick. 2000. Freedom like Sunlight: Praisesongs for Black Americans. Mankato, MN: Creative Editions.
Lewis, J. Patrick. 2005. Heroes and She-roes: Poems of Amazing and Everyday Heroes. New York: Dial Books For Young Readers.
Lewis, J. Patrick. 2005. Vherses: A Celebration of Outstanding Women. Mankato: Creative Editions.
The Years 1963-1964 For a completely different approach, we might also dig deeply into the years of this historic civil rights victory (1963-1964), with a cross-genre approach. All of these various works (in addition to Voices from the March) focus on this pivotal time.
Curtis, Christopher P. 1998. The Watsons Go to Birmingham 1963. Hudson, MA: Pathways Publishing.
Evans, Shane W. 2012. We March. New York City: Roaring Book Press.
Levinson, Cynthia. 2012. We've Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children's March. Atlanta, GA: Peachtree.
Rubin, Susan Goldman. 2014. Freedom Summer: The 1964 Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi. New York: Holiday House.
Wiles, Deborah. 2001. Freedom Summer. Ill. by Jerome Lagarrigue. New York City: Simon & Schuster.
Williams-Garcia, Rita. 2010. One Crazy Summer. New York City: HarperCollins.
Talk about what we glean from the language and art of a picture book, from the characters and story of a novel, from the facts and details in a work of nonfiction, and from the language and emotions of poetry, of course.
Related Websites And if you’re looking for additional online resources to help you study this period, this historic event, and social justice issues in our country, there are many helpful tools available. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/eyesontheprize/tguide/elem.html This PBS “Eyes on the Prize” site offers lesson plans with links to video and audio clips, primary sources and interactive sites.
Just for Fun In the poem, “Lessons” (p. 51) in Voices from the March: Washington, D.C., 1963, they wear rings that say “Let Freedom Ring.” Invite students to create their own rings that symbolize freedom to them using simple craft materials (like red, white, and blue construction paper or pipe cleaners).
Conclusion In Voices from the March, Lewis and Lyon offer several poems that look to the future (“The One and Only Malcolm X,” “August 28, 2013,” and “At Grandma Rascal’s Grave, January 19, 2015”). Challenge students to identify unresolved social justice issues that face us all now. How can we give those issues “voice” and make a difference for the future? Collaborate on a group poem that raises questions or paint a poem-picture of the future looking back to today and put that aside in a time capsule to revisit at a designated future date.
You'll also find more tips for teaching with this book in the Educator's Guide provided by Boyds Mills Press.
Image credits: ALA Book Links; Boyds Mills Press; VTNews.vt.edu; CivilRightsMuseum.org; library.howard.edu; GeorgeEllaLyon; JPatrickLewis;LeeBennettHopkins
It's time for another installment of my "Poet to Poet" series-- in which one poet interviews another poet about her/his new book. Today, Julie Larios (author of the marvelous Yellow Elephant and Imaginary Menagerie) asks Skila Brown three questions-- about her new book, Caminar, a novel in verse set in Guatemala, about her childhood memories, and about writing that inspires her.
JL: This question won't surprise you, Skila, because you know I struggle with it. You're drawn to both poetry and fiction, and your story Caminar (which is so well-written - and haunting)took the form of a verse novel. What do you think poetry can do to a reader, and what can fiction do, and what can the verse novel do that is distinct from either of these? SB: Fiction gets in your head. A good story feels real while you’re reading it. The people, the setting, the relationships—it can all suck you in, alter your mood, give you a new perspective, and build a bridge between you and somewhere you’ve never been. Not just a place, but also a kind of character you can suddenly empathize with. Fiction—good fiction—is difficult to read slowly. It’s like a delicious meal when you’re hungry, and you’re consciously trying to eat slower than you’d like.
Poetry, I think, feels like a beautiful mountain. You can enjoy it from so many different levels. But the more you climb, the more you work, the more you can see. It requires work on the reader’s part, work to shake off preconceptions, carefully consider new meanings and uses for words, and think about other possibilities. It’s often a jolt to your senses. It can be populated with images and descriptions that are real and vibrant and unique. It encourages lingering.
A verse novel can do both. It’s a versatile form that allows the reader to get sucked in to the story, rapidly turning the pages to find out what happens next. Or it provides the space and the weight for a pause, maybe an image or a metaphor that is so sharp the reader stays with that poem for a bit and savors it. Novels in verse allow the reader to choose how to digest the story, and, because of that, it can appeal to a wider audience.
JL: If given a wish now, as adults, we might wish for world peace or for our children to be healthy and happy - grand, important, sweeping wishes, full of fear and hope. But I'm interested in whether we can really capture what we were like as children. So I'd like you to do this: Close your eyes and pretend that it's your tenth birthday (plus or minus a year is fine) - you have a cake in front of you with candles on it, and if you blow those candles out with one breath, your wish will come true. Here comes a multi-part question: What do you wish for and why and how much do you want it and how much do you believe it will come true?
SB: So, Julie. I remember my tenth birthday very well. It happened to be the birthday in which I closed my eyes, made a wish, leaned over my cake to blow out my candles…and then promptly lit the edges of my hair on fire.
I smelled it before I felt it. In that tiny third of a second before the corner of my eyes filled with the flame and my ears filled with everyone shouting and telling me what to do, there was the smell. This terrible burning chemical odor that filled up my nostrils because I’d just spent hours the day before sitting in a chair, with little plastic curlers on my head, and enough chemicals to burn my eyes for a week. I’d gotten a perm.
I’d gotten a perm because I’d just moved into a new house and a new school and the kids in this school all did everything differently than the kids in the school I’d attended before. Suddenly the things about me that made third graders like me were the very things that made fourth graders hate me. I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. And maybe I thought my curl-less hair was part of the problem.
I don’t remember what my specific wish was that day, that second before my hair caught on fire. I’m sure it wasn’t a sweeping wish, like “Let people like me.” Or “Let me make friends.” But I think it was a ten-year old’s version of that. “I wish I’d get a Walkman just like Jenny’s.” or “I wish I’d get picked first tomorrow at recess.” Or “I wish we’d never play dodge ball again because it’s humiliating the way everyone aims for me, always me, only me.”
However I might have vocalized the wish, whatever specific thing I might have fixated on, the root of it was really that I wished I fit in. I wished people liked me. I probably spent a decade of my life wishing that wish, in some form. And yes, it came true, over and over again. I think that wish, like a lot of sweeping big wishes, falls in and out of True over the course of a life. I’ve had lots of friends, lots of good circles of support, lots of people who have loved me and love me still. But there have been many times I’ve felt lonely and unseen and without a shoulder to lean on.
I think it’s a rare kid who doesn’t wish for this very thing at some point in her life. But the luckiest of us will outgrow it. And instead of wishing for “people to like me”, we’ll wish instead to find the village that is our own.
JL: Do you remember a book you read (as an adult or as a child) where you finished it and said, "That's what I'd like to do - I'd like to be able to write like that"? What book was it, and what made you feel that? (Give me details!)
SB: Oh, I love it when that happens. It happens to me a lot, actually. Jandy Nelson’s The Sky is Everywhere is the first book I remember reading, closing the book, and then immediately opening it back up to page one and starting again. The book made me ache. I remember thinking I wanted to write a story that makes people ache.
Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens gave me instant writer-envy. I’m a huge fan of satire. And I’m a very opinionated person when it comes to social, moral, and political issues. I hope to one day be able to tell a story that’s both entertaining but also squirm-inducing, just like that one.
David Levithan’s The Lover’s Dictionary is another book that made me green. I really love stories that are told in an unusual form. Many times I think unusual forms get in the way of the story, but sometimes they are the perfect complement. And the story is all the richer. * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * Thank you, Julie and Skila (pronounced Sky- luh) for sharing so personally and generously! Be sure to check out their sites and blogs at Julie Larios (A Drift Record) and Skila Brown(full of photos and quotes) and don't miss Caminar, a very compelling story of war and childhood, family and honor.
Meanwhile, head on over to Jone's place for more Poetry Friday fun. Check it out!
As we "crossover" from summer to back-to-school, I want to encourage you to put Crossover, a novel in verse by Kwame Alexanderon your must-share list for the new school year-- particularly if you work with kids in 4th - 8th grade. It's such a fresh story with twin 12 year old boy protagonists who love playing basketball and are growing up-- and maybe apart-- as they cope with middle school, girls, and the expectations of their parents. The poems are full of energy and propel the story forward energetically. But I especially loved the picture of family life that comes across as each boy is trying to carve out his own identity, their dad (a former pro basketball player himself) is a hilarious character with a big story arc of his own, and their mom is the school's vice principal-- more savvy than they give her credit for. The family dynamics are lively and authentic and the picture of life at school rings true too. I'm calling it part Love That Dog meets The Watsons Go to Birmingham meets Slam. <!--[if gte mso 9]>Normal0falsefalsefalseEN-USJAX-NONE<![endif]--> Here are just a few nuggets from the Readers' Guide I developed for the book and you'll find the whole guide here.
1. As students read or listen to this verse novel,encourage them to visualize each of the main characters and talk about what they look like and how they talk and act. Work together to draw character sketches or find magazine or web-based images that look like these characters:
Jordan (JB) Bell
Josh (“Filthy McNasty”) Bell
Dad: Chuck Bell (“Da Man”), a former professional basketball player
Mom: Dr. Crystal Stanley-Bell, the assistant principal at the boys’ school (Reggie Lewis Junior High)
Talk about how the twins are alike and how they are different. For example, Jordan (JB) and Josh (“Filthy McNasty”) are identical twins, but JB shaves his head bald and plays shooting guard and Josh has shoulder length dreadlocks (at first) and plays forward. It is usually Josh’s point of view we see as the story unfolds.
5. Several of the poems in this novel lend themselves to readers theater performance, so that students can get a sense of the characters’ voices. The following poems offer text in two parts: plain text and italicized text for two volunteers or two groups to read aloud in turn.
“The game is tied” p. 36
“Mom doesn’t like us eating out” pp. 41-42
“The inside of Mom and Dad’s bedroom closet” pp. 44-47
“Dad Takes Us to Krispy Kreme and Tells Us His Favorite Story (Again)” pp. 63-65
“Mom calls me into the kitchen” pp. 96-98
“Phone Conversation (I Sub for JB)” pp. 106-109
“Suspension” pp. 138-141
“I run into Dad’s room” pp. 165-167
“School’s Out” pp. 188-189
“Santa Claus Stops By” pp. 207-209
“Questions” pp. 210-211
7. The author also introduces crucial vocabulary terms through twelve key poemspresented at critical intervals throughout the book.
“cross-o-ver” p. 29
“ca-lam-i-ty” p. 38-39
“pa-tel-la ten-di-ni-tis” pp. 48-49
“pul-chri-tu-di-nous” p. 55
“hy-per-ten-sion” p. 76
“i-ron-ic” p. 104
“tip-ping point” pp. 118-119
“chur-lish” pp. 142-143
“pro-fuse-ly” p. 154
“es-tranged” p. 187
“my-o-car-di-al in-farc-tion” p. 201-202
“star-less” p. 229
Talk with students about how the poet uses the usual dictionary format in presenting the vocabulary term: the word is shown in syllables, with a pronunciation guide, the part of speech is indicated, and the poem provides a kind of definition along with examples of the meaning of the word (using the phrase “as in:”). Working together, look up some of these words in a dictionary (or online) and compare your findings with the vocabulary poem. Challenge students to write their own “vocabulary” poems for a new word they encounter in the book using Alexander’s “formula.”
Plus, the Readers Guide pinpoints:
poems in rap,
incorporates the power of nicknames,
connects with YouTube videos of sports and music figures in the book,
looks at the role of rules in the novel,
showcases various forms and types of poetry that are included,
The next Poetry Blast will be held at the annual conference of the American Library Association in Las Vegas on Sunday, June 29 (3:00-4:30pm) in the PopTop Stage of the Convention Center. It's a fantastic event hosted by Barbara Genco and Marilyn Singer and I have never missed it-- until now. :-( Unfortunately/fortunately, I have a conflict this year (and am receiving an award at the same time), so I won't be able to report on it as I usually do. But I thought I might post a little plug here anyway featuring the names and works of the poets who will be presenting there. Poets: Joan Bransfield Graham Nikki Grimes Kenn Nesbitt Kari Anne Holt Marilyn Nelson Emily Jiang Jacqueline Woodson Alan Katz Margarita Engle Marilyn Singer Selected books by the 2014 Poetry Blast poets As I pulled together a list of poetry books by these ten poets, it totaled nearly 100 books! So, this list is just a partial listing of their works. 1.Alexander, Elizabeth and Nelson, Marilyn. 2007. Miss Crandall’s School for Young Ladies and Little Misses of Color. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong. 2.Engle, Margaret. 2006. The Poet Slave of Cuba: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano. New York: Holt. 3.Engle, Margarita. 2008. The Surrender Tree. New York: Holt. 4.Engle, Margarita. 2009. Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba. New York: Holt. 5.Engle, Margarita. 2010. The Firefly Letters; A Suffragette's Journey to Cuba. New York: Henry Holt. 6.Engle, Margarita. 2011. Hurricane Dancers; The First Caribbean Pirate Shipwreck. New York: Henry Holt. 7.Engle, Margarita. 2012. The Wild Book. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
8.Engle, Margarita. 2014. Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
10.Graham, Joan B. 2014. The Poem That Will Not End: Fun With Poetic Forms and Voices. Two Lions.
11.Graham, Joan Bransfield. 1994. Splish Splash. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. 12.Graham, Joan Bransfield. 1999. Flicker Flash. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. 13.Grimes, Nikki. 2000. Shoe Magic. New York: Orchard. 14.Grimes, Nikki. 2000. Stepping out with Grandma Mac. New York: Simon & Schuster. 15.Grimes, Nikki. 2001. A Pocketful of Poems. New York: Clarion. 16.Grimes, Nikki. 2002. Bronx Masquerade. New York: Dial. 17.Grimes, Nikki. 2002. Danitra Brown Leaves Town. New York: HarperCollins. 18.Grimes, Nikki. 2004. What is Goodbye? New York: Jump at the Sun/Hyperion. 19.Grimes, Nikki. 2005. Danitra Brown, Class Clown. New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard. 20.Grimes, Nikki. 2005. Dark Sons. New York: Hyperion. 21.Grimes, Nikki. 2006. Thanks a Million. New York: Amistad. 22.Grimes, Nikki. 2007. When Gorilla Goes Walking. New York: Orchard. 23.Grimes, Nikki. 2011. Planet Middle School. New York: Bloomsbury.
24.Grimes, Nikki. 2014. Poems in the Attic. New York: Lee & Low.
25.Holt, K. A. 2014. Rhyme Schemer. San Francisco: Chronicle.
26.Jiang, Emily. 2014. Summoning the Phoenix: Poems and Prose About Chinese Musical Instruments. Ill. by April Chu. New York: Shen's Books/Lee & Low.
27.Katz, Alan. 2001. Take Me Out of the Bathtub and Other Silly Dilly Songs. New York: McElderry. 28.Katz, Alan. 2008. Oops. New York: McElderry. 29.Katz, Alan. 2008. Smelly Locker; Silly Dilly School Songs. New York: Simon & Schuster. 30.Katz, Alan. 2011. Mosquitoes Are Ruining My Summer! And Other Silly Dilly Camp Songs. New York: McElderry. 31.Katz, Alan. 2011. Poems I Wrote When No One Was Looking. Ill. by Ed Koren. New York: Simon & Schuster. 32.Nelson, Marilyn. 2001. Carver: A Life in Poems. Asheville, NC: Front Street. 33.Nelson, Marilyn. 2004. Fortune's Bones: The Manumission Requiem. Asheville, NC: Front Street. 34.Nelson, Marilyn. 2005. A Wreath for Emmett Till. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. 35.Nelson, Marilyn. 2008. The Freedom Business. Asheville, NC: Front Street. 36.Nelson, Marilyn. 2009. Sweethearts of Rhythm; The Story of the Greatest All-Girl Swing Band in the World. Ill. by Jerry Pinkney. NY: Dial.
37.Nelson, Marilyn. 2014. How I Discovered Poetry. Ill. by Hadley Hooper. New York: Dial.
38.Nesbitt, Kenn. 2004. When the Teacher Isn't Looking. Minnetonka, MN: Meadowbrook Press. 39.Nesbitt, Kenn. 2007. Revenge of the Lunch Ladies. Minnetonka, MN: Meadowbrook Press. 40.Nesbitt, Kenn. 2009. My Hippo Has the Hiccups with CD: And Other Poems I Totally Made Up. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks. 41.Nesbitt, Kenn. 2010. The Tighty Whitey Spider: And More Wacky Animal Poems I Totally Made Up. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks. 42.Singer, Marilyn, 2012. Every Day's a Dog's Day: A Year in Poems. New York: Dial. 43.Singer, Marilyn. 2001. Monster Museum. New York: Hyperion. 44.Singer, Marilyn. 2002. Footprints on the Roof: Poems about the Earth. New York: Knopf. 45.Singer, Marilyn. 2003. Fireflies at Midnight. New York: Atheneum. 46.Singer, Marilyn. 2003. How to Cross a Pond: Poems about Water. New York: Knopf. 47.Singer, Marilyn. 2004. Creature Carnival. New York: Hyperion. 48.Singer, Marilyn. 2005. Central Heating: Poems about Fire and Warmth. New York: Knopf. 49.Singer, Marilyn. 2005. Monday on the Mississippi. New York: Henry Holt. 50.Singer, Marilyn. 2008. First Food Fight This Fall. New York: Sterling. 51.Singer, Marilyn. 2010. Mirror, Mirror. New York: Dutton. 52.Singer, Marilyn. 2011. A Full Moon is Rising. Lee & Low. 53.Singer, Marilyn. 2011. A Stick Is an Excellent Thing. Ill. by LeUyen Pham. New York: Clarion. 54.Singer, Marilyn. 2011. Twosomes: Love Poems from the Animal Kingdom. New York: Knopf. 55.Singer, Marilyn. 2012. A Strange Place to Call Home: The World’s Most Dangerous Habitats and the Animals That Call Them Home. San Francisco: Chronicle. 56.Singer, Marilyn. 2012. The Boy Who Cried Alien. Ill. by Brian Biggs. New York: Hyperion. 57.Singer, Marilyn. 2012. The Superheroes Employment Agency. Ill. by Noah Z. Jones. New York: Clarion. 58.Singer, Marilyn. 2013. Follow, Follow. New York: Dial. 59.Woodson, Jacqueline. 2003. Locomotion. New York: Putnam. 60. Woodson, Jacqueline. 2014. Brown Girl Dreaming. New York: Penguin. Now let's join the group celebrating Poetry Friday over at Buffy's Blog!Add a Comment
Celebrating the 4th of July evokes thoughts of summer vacation, family time, fireflies and fireworks, etc. Here is a sampling of poetry books on these topics and more (taken from my book, The Poetry Teacher's Book of Lists).
Poetry Books for the Fourth of July
Ada, Alma Flor. 1997. Gathering the Sun. New York: Lothrop, Lee, & Shepard.
Alarcón, Francisco X. 1998. From the Bellybutton of the Moon and Other Summer Poems/Del Ombligo de la Luna y Otros Poemas de Verano. San Francisco: Children’s Book Press.
Appelt, Kathi. 2004. My Father’s Summers: A Daughter’s Memoirs. New York: Henry Holt.
Argueta, Jorge. 2012. Guacamole; Un poema para cocinar/ A Cooking Poem. Ill. by Margarita Sada. Toronto: Groundwood.
Bates, Katharine Lee. 2003. America the Beautiful. Ill. by Wendell Minor. New York: Putnam.
Borden, Louise. 2002. America Is—New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books.
Bryan, Ashley. 1992. Sing to the Sun. New York: HarperCollins.
As you've probably heard, the great Walter Dean Myers passed away recently and his impressive and significant body of work has been recognized far and wide-- as it should be. His mastery of every genre was amazing and I would like to take a moment to highlight his POETRY for young people, in particular. I was fortunate enough to feature him in my "Poetry Round Up" at the annual conference of the Texas Library Association in 2005. Hearing a poet read his/her own work aloud is the ultimate treat and Walter's reading was such a perfect example. His deep, resonant voice sticks with you. Perhaps because of his own struggle with spoken speech, his pacing in his poetry is so thoughtful and meaningful. Just look at these many, wonderful examples.
POETRY + PHOTOGRAPHY Although much of Walter's work is poetic and rhythmic, I believe his poetry first emerged in Brown Angels which paired his words with his collection of antique photographs of children. More followed with Glorious Angels and Angel to Angel, a beautiful trilogy.
Then, Here in Harlem built on this photo-poem format to create a multi-voice poetry collection-- perfect for YA. (Do NOT miss the audiobook adaptation of this book, but more on that later!)
Then came the stunning picture poetry books that showcase Walter's poetry alongside the powerful art created by his son, Christopher Myers, especially Harlem, Jazz, and We Are America.
POETRY BY WALTER DEAN MYERS
Myers, Walter Dean. 1993. Brown Angels: An Album of Pictures and Verse. New York: HarperCollins.
Myers, Walter Dean. 1995. Glorious Angels: A Celebration of Children. New York: HarperCollins.
Here in Harlem
Myers, Walter Dean. 1997. Harlem: A Poem. New York: Scholastic.
Myers, Walter Dean. 1998. Angel to Angel. New York: HarperCollins.
Myers, Walter Dean. 2003. Blues Journey. New York: Holiday House.
Myers, Walter Dean. 2004. Here in Harlem: Poems in Many Voices. New York: Holiday House.
Myers, Walter Dean. 2006. Jazz. Ill. by Christopher Myers. New York: Holiday House.
Myers, Walter Dean. 2009. Amiri and Odette: A Love Story. Ill. by Javaka Steptoe. New York: Scholastic.
We Are America
Myers, Walter Dean. 2009. Looking Like Me. Ill. by Chrisopher Myers. New York: Egmont.
Myers, Walter Dean. 2011. We are America: A Tribute from the Heart. Ill. by Christopher Myers. New York: HarperCollins.
I think a fitting tribute to the wonderful Walter Dean Myers can be found in his own work. Here's "Good-bye to Old Bob Johnson" from Jazz, based on the traditional New Orleans funeral parade. Find the Odyssey winning audiobook adaptation of this book and listen to this heartbreakingly beautiful version of this poem, complete with musical soundtrack. RIP, Walter Dean Myers. Thank you for sharing your gifts with us.
from Jazz by Walter Dean Myers
For more poetry moments this Poetry Friday, head over to Linda's place at WriteTime.
During my recent trip to Las Vegas for the American Library Association conference, I stopped by the ALA Bookstore to look for the latest installment of The Newbery & Caldecott Awards: A Guide to the Medal and Honor Books (2014 Edition) just published by ALA. Why?
Because I wrote the opening essay for this guide!
I was so honored to be invited to contribute that essay-- the only such piece in a book that focuses on thoroughly describing each of the award and honor books for these two prestigious awards. It's been 25 years since Paul Fleischman's book Joyful Noise won that Newbery award, so I focused on what has been happening in the publishing of poetry for children since then. Here are selected excerpts from that essay:
Painting the Poetry Landscape: Twenty-Five Years of Poetry for Young People
By Sylvia M. Vardell
It is hard to believe that 25 years have passed since Paul Fleischman’s book, Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices was published and then won the Newbery medal in 1989. Kirkus Reviews called it, “A splendid collection of poems in many moods…. (noting) Vivid language, strong images, and the masterful use of two voices in musical duet make this an excellent choice for reading aloud.” This gem of poems for choral reading went on to be included in School Library Journal’s list of “100 Best Books of the Century,” too.It seems like a good moment to pause and examine where poetry for young people has been in the intervening years.
The last 25 years have given us a whole new generation of poets writing for young people including Douglas Florian, Bobbi Katz, Joyce Sidman, J. Patrick Lewis, Kristine O’Connell George, Janet Wong, Pat Mora, David L. Harrison, Helen Frost, Nikki Grimes, Margarita Engle, Jen Bryant, Laura Purdie Salas, and many more who have emerged since the publication of Joyful Noise. We have seen the addition of new awards for poetry for children established by Lee Bennett Hopkins for poetry books in 1993 and for new poets in 1995, by Bank Street College (the Claudia Lewis Poetry Award in 1998), and by the Poetry Foundation (the Children’s Poet Laureate in 2006). The Association of Library Service to Children (ALSC) began featuring the annual Poetry Blast with poets reading from their works at the ALA annual conference in 2004 and the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) initiated the annual “Poetry Notables for Children” list in 2006 The celebration of National Poetry Month (in April) has caught on in schools and libraries across the country since it was initiated in 1996. We have seen the rise of the novel in verse and the fall of the multi-poet anthology. Now poets have websites full of kid-friendly resources, many blogs and books showcase weekly “Poetry Friday” sharing, and the CYBILS award celebrates poetry (among other categories) selected by children’s literature-focused bloggers. Plus poetry for children now makes its appearance as downloadable audiofiles and as e-books and apps for cell phones and e-tablets.
But first, let’s examine our poetry past. (For a “Timeline of the History of Children’s Poetry” look for The Poetry Teacher’s Book of Lists.).... The works of these great names are still worth reading and sharing. In fact, these poets are new names for any child who has not yet encountered their poetry. In fact, poetry has a special advantage in achieving timelessness—consider “A Visit from St. Nicholas” also known as "The Night Before Christmas" first published anonymously in 1823 and generally attributed to Clement Clark Moore. It is widely considered the best-known American poem of all time. Poetry has “legs” and can often maintain its appeal across several generations. Let’s consider some of the major poetry milestones along the way over the last 25 years.
Humor found a home in the poetry of newcomer Douglas Florian with the publication of his first book of poems for children, Monster Motel in 1993. Like Karla Kuskin or Shel Silverstein, Florian created the illustrations that accompany his poems, via paintings and collages. Many excellent and popular Florian picture book poetry collections followed about animals and the natural world, as well as his longer collections of pun-filled humorous poetry, Bing Bang Boing (1994) and Laugheteria (1999), illustrated with pen and ink sketches.... Both poets excel in the use of puns and wordplay, like Jack Prelutsky and Shel Silverstein before them, and laid the groundwork for other humorous poets that followed later such as Adam Rex,Robert Weinstock, Jon Agee, Bob Raczca, Brod Bagert, Alan Katz, Susan Katz, Carol Diggory Shields, and Kalli Dakos.
Poets from many cultures
A new wave of poets from parallel cultures within the United States began writing and publishing poetry for young people in the 1990s. Although poetry by the likes of Langston Hughes, Nikki Giovanni, Gwendolyn Brooks, Lucille Clifton and others had been available to young readers for many years, this decade brought an emergence of a rainbow of names whose entire writing careers now focused on a young audience....
These beautiful and groundbreaking works heralded the arrival of many more distinctive poetic voices from the cultures in the U.S. and beyond including Charles R. Smith Jr., Carole Boston Weatherford, Hope Anita Smith, Joyce LeeWong, and Guadalupe Garcia McCall. Margarita Engle burst onto the scene only seven years ago and has already garnered multiple Pura Belpre recognitions and a Newbery honor distinction for her novel in verse, The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba's Struggle for Freedom.Her work is a unique amalgamation of spare and powerful free verse, unheralded historical subjects, vividly realized settings, and multiple points of view. She fuses history, poetry, and biography to tell authentic stories taken from Cuba’s rich past.
Novels in verse
The novel in verse form emerged as a very strong poetry trend with great appeal to young readers during the 1990s. Although it had been around for awhile (some say as far back as Homer’s Odyssey), one could argue that Karen Hesse’s Out of the Dust (1997) put the verse novel on the poetry map in a big way as it won the Newbery medal. At the time, Publishers’ Weekly called it a “novel, written in stanza form,” School Library Journal described it as “prose-poetry,” and Kirkus labeled it a “poem/novel” as Hesse paints a heart-breaking picture of life during the Dust Bowl years.... One might even argue that the 2013 Newbery winner, The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, was a work of poetry. Either way, it’s a tender story beautifully rendered, spare and thoughtful, written by a gorilla of a writer. Other poets who have created novels in verse well suited to the tween audience include Jen Bryant, Andrea Cheng, Helen Frost, Nikki Grimes, Eileen Spinelli, Robert Paul Weston, and Tracie Vaughn Zimmer. The best verse novels are built on poems that are often lovely stand-alone works of art. A narrative unfolds poem by poem, frequently with multiple points of view and in colloquial language. This format is wooing many middle grade children both to poetry and to reading in general—a promising trend.
During this first decade of the 2000s, Joyce Sidman entered the poetry scene garnering many awards for her work culminating in a Newbery honor for the third in her eco-poetry trilogy, Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night(2010), which followed Song of the Water Boatman and Other Pond Poems (2005) and Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow (2006). Booklist reviewer Hazel Rochman noted that Sidman “combines lyrical poetry and compelling art with science concepts” and Margaret Bush (School Library Journal) observed that Sidman’s work “invites lingering enjoyment for nature and poetry fans.” Joyce Sidman is also the most recent recipient of the NCTE Excellence in Poetry Award for her entire body of work.
Most of the major awards that recognize poetry for young people were also established within the last 25 years. One exception: The National Council of Teachers of English Award for Excellence in Poetry was first founded in 1977 and presented to 17 poets thus far, many of whom are profiled at NoWaterRiver.com. Next, an award for an emerging poet, the Lee Bennett Hopkins/International Reading Association Promising Poet Award was established in 1995 and recipients have included Deborah Chandra, Kristine O’Connell George, Craig Crist-Evans, Lindsay Lee Johnson, Joyce Lee Wong, Gregory Neri, and Guadalupe Garcia McCall.
In addition, a single book of poetry is recognized by three separate awards: the Lee Bennett Hopkins/Pennsylvania State University Award established in 1993, the Bank Street College of Education/Claudia Lewis Award established in 1998, and The Lion and the Unicorn Award for Excellence in North American Poetry established in 2005, each with a slightly different focus.
In 2006, the Poetry Foundation established the Children’s Poet Laureate to raise awareness of the fact that children have a natural receptivity to poetry and are its most appreciative audience, especially when poems are written specifically for them. Recipients thus far are Jack Prelutsky, 2006; Mary Ann Hoberman, 2008; J. Patrick Lewis, 2011 and Kenn Nesbitt, 2013.
Conclusion In just 25 years, the field of poetry for children has been transformed by new voices, new styles, and new formats. But those established names haven’t stopped creating either....Lee Bennett Hopkins, 2009 NCTE Poetry Award winner, continues to produce award-winning works of poetry such as his own City I Love (2009), as well as nearly 40 anthologies in the last 20 years, including Days to Celebrate: A Full Year of Poetry, People, Holidays, History, Fascinating Facts, and More(2005) and Sharing the Seasons (2010). He is even in the Guinness Book of World Records for creating the most children’s poetry anthologies ever!
Poetry as a form of literature has particular crossover appeal with poems easily readable for the young child, but still meaningful to us as we grow older. Poems like “The Night Before Christmas,” “Jabberwocky,” and “Dreams,” for example, speak to both children and teens and to all of us throughout our lives. Many of the first books published for children in English were works of poetry includingJohn Newbery’s collection of English rhymes, Mother Goose's Melody, or, Sonnets for the Cradle (circa 1765). And various Mother Goose collections have received Caldecott distinctions multiple times. In contemporary children’s book publishing, three of Shel Silverstein’s poetry collections are among the top 100 bestselling children’s book of all time: Where the Sidewalk Ends, A Light in the Attic, and Falling Up. Clearly, poetry has an important place in the world of literature for young people.
It’s exciting to see the genre of poetry grow and expand in all these different directions, exploring possibilities of poetic form, hybrids with other genres, and a creative use of design, visuals, and media. The key is in keeping our poetry collections varied, current, and in use. As Wilson and Kutiper reported (1994, 278), “one elementary school library media specialist noted an increase in poetry circulation after sharing a single poem with students each week as they entered the library.” With well-stocked shelves brimming with the poetry gems of the last 25 years and a bit of poetry promotion (in April and beyond), young people will find something to enjoy and cherish for a lifetime.
The bibliography for this essay includes 85 books of poetry for young people!
I'm so glad I got this opportunity to showcase the power of poetry for young readers and I hope they'll keep poetry on the radar the next time committees make decisions about Newbery and Caldecott awards!
Don't forget to visit Tabatha's place at The Opposite of Indifferencefor the rest of this week's Poetry Friday posts! And please come back here next week when Janet Wong and I will be hosting the Poetry Friday gathering. We have a big announcement to make!
Today is the perfect day to go public with our plans for our next installment in The Poetry Friday Anthology series! Drum roll…
The Poetry Friday Anthology for CELEBRATIONS!
We’ll be gathering poems related to more than 100 holidays (like Halloween and July 4th), occasions (like graduation and the first day of school), and odd and interesting events (like Left Handers Day or National Yo-Yo Day). Our audience will be young children and the librarians, teachers, and families who care for them. Once again, we’ll provide “Take 5” activities for every poem.
Plus, this time we’ll be experimenting with multiple formats, each containing separate poems that, together, will form the whole book:
*some poems in paperback
*some poems presented digitally
*some poems on Pocket Poems™ cards
Ready, set, write!
If you’re interested in contributing a poem, we’ll be sharing our guidelinesin September; you can email us after Sept. 1 at info@pomelobooks if you'd like to know more then.
Meanwhile, here’s just a sample of what we’re planning—a sample poem and Take 5!activities to accompany the poem. What’s the celebration? It’s National Dog Day! Coming up on August 26, we’ll be celebrating the 10thanniversary of this canine commemoration, first initiated in 2004 by the National Dog Day Foundation.
Hooray for Dogs!
by Janet Wong
who help us
when we’re lost
dogs we boss around
who don’t mind
dogs who sit and stay
and play fetch
with a ball
Pugs and poodles,
mutts and labs—
we love you,
drool and all!
SAMPLE Take 5! ACTIVITIES
1.Before reading this poem aloud, display some picture books about dogs or a stuffed animal dog as a backdrop or prop. Read the poem aloud slowly and pause briefly between each stanza.
2. Share the poem again and invite children to chime in on the word, “Hooray” with zest and enthusiasm while you read the rest of the poem aloud.
3. Talk about the story behind this celebration also known as International Dog Day and National Dog Appreciation Day and how dogs are helpers: working with police, assisting those with visual or other impairments, in drug detection, searching for lost people, and pulling victims from wreckage, for example. (FYI: NationalDogDay.com)
4. Pair this poem with this picture book:
When You Wander: A Search-and-Rescue Dog Storyby Margarita Engle and illustrated by Mary Morgan (Holt, 2013). Read the book aloud and talk about the recommended steps for what to do when lost.
5. Follow up by reading aloud more poems about dogs, such as selections from:
*Ashman, Linda. 2008. Stella, Unleashed. New York: Sterling.
*Florian, Douglas. 2003. Bow Wow Meow Meow. San Diego: Harcourt.
*Franco, Betsy. 2011. A Dazzling Display of Dogs. Berkeley, CA: Tricycle.
*Rosen, Michael J. 2011. The Hound Dog’s Haiku and Other Poems for Dog Lovers. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.
*Singer, Marilyn, 2012. Every Day's a Dog's Day: A Year in Poems. New York: Dial.
And don’t forget to check out our previous installments (each featuring previously unpublished poems and related Take 5! activities for every poem):
Now let us know what you’re up to on this Poetry Friday in the COMMENTS section below. We’ll be rounding up throughout the day.
Here's what our Poetry Friday party-goers are up to this week: First up is Buffy Silverman who has posted an original poem that appears in this month's Ladybug Magazine. Congratulations, Buffy! Check it out here. Laura has a poem from J. Patrick Lewis and George Ella Lyons' forthcoming collection, VOICES FROM THE MARCH ON WASHINGTON over at TeachingAuthors. Linda is featuring a poem from INNER CHIMES over at WriteTime. Monica has reviewed a rhyming picture book, BY WATER'S EDGE by Kay Barone, here.
Irene is sharing some of wonderful Walter Dean Myers's poems here.
It's time for another installment of my "Poet to Poet" series-- in which one poet interviews another poet about her/his new book. Today, Joyce Sidman asks Irene Latham three questions about her new book, Dear Wandering Wildebeest and Other Poems from the Water Hole.
Joyce Sidman is a Newbery honor author whose beautiful poetry often focuses on the natural world. Her ecological trilogy including Song of the Water Boatman, and Other Pond Poems,Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow, and Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night offers sensitive depictions of animal life in verse. The poems in This is Just to Say: Poems of Apology and Forgiveness have inspired children (and parents) to write their own apologies and Red Sings From Treetops; A Year in Colorsbrings the seasons to life through all the senses. Her latest book What the Heart Knows is an exquisite collection of laments, spells, chants, blessings, songs, and more. Here Joyce poses three questions for Irene Latham to consider with a particular focus on Irene's new book of poetry, Dear Wandering Wildebeest.
Joyce asks: The jacket copy for your wonderful new poetry book, Dear Wandering Wildebeest And Other Poems from the Water Hole mentions wildlife photographs from Kenya that inspired the book. Can you tell us more about the genesis of this project—what was it about this subject or these photographs that made you want to go forward? Irene responds: It wasn't just the photographs Greg du Toit captured – though they are amazing, and you can view them here – it was the story of how he struggled to capture the images. Because the lions were too shy to approach the water hole while du Toit was upright or even crouched on the shore, he made a daring move by submerging himself in the water hole. So, basically, he changed perspectives. And it worked! With only du Toit's head above the water, the lions came right to the water's edged and drank their fill, allowing him to get those amazing shots. And that's poetry. Changing perspectives is what poetry is all about. Looking at something differently. It filled me with a sense of freedom and kind of gave me permission to write about animals, even when the reigning wisdom about publishing poetry for kids in today's market is, no animals. Well, I love animals! And how amazing and unique is the African grassland ecosystem? The water hole gave me a focal point and a new perspective. Fortunately for me, my experience didn't result in three months in the hospital as it did for du Toit.
Joyce asks:In Wildebeest, you’ve used such a satisfying format: pairing poems with nonfiction notes. One of my favorite poems, “What Rhino Knows”, has an equally delightful and poetic nonfiction note. Can you talk a bit about the interplay between these two types of text and how you feel each contributes to the book as a whole?
Irene answers: This question makes me smile as you, Joyce, are the Queen of this format! And your collections are what made me fall in love with books that feature poetry and nonfiction notes. It's important to me to write a poem that's poetic, which means not throwing in every single thing I learn about the animal – only the facts and details that speak to me personally and lend themselves to poetic treatment using images and analogy and language. But that means leaving out a world of research! My hope is that the poems make a reader want to know more – and that's where the nonfiction note comes in. I tried to include information relevant to the poem as a way to expand the reader's experience and to instantly satisfy the reader's curiosity. The notes were actually the most frightening and difficult part of creating this collection – I'm so grateful to amazing editor Carol Hinz whose keen eye (and ear!) and expertise helped shape them.
Joyce says:I truly admire authors who can work in different genres. You are an adult poet, children’s poet, and middle grade novelist. Do these different kinds of writing come from different places in yourself?
Irene responds: Thank you! The joke around my house is that I've never met a genre I didn't like. It's kind of a hazard for a writing career – every book feels like starting over. But the world is so big and there's so much out there that interests me... and isn't the endless learning curve one of the most seductive and satisfying things about being a writer?
As to the whole where-it-comes-from part of the question, it's something I love to think about. It's one of life's mysteries, isn't it? For me, writing is spiritual practice, which is about one-ness with the world, and living in the now. I'm not really interested in separating out parts of myself in order to write. And I will admit to a preference for literature that is timeless and classic, with appeal to all ages. I join Lee Bennett Hopkins in championing this type of poetry.
One of the big aha moments for me on the journey to writing poetry for children was attending an SCBWI-sponsored poetry retreat with Rebecca Kai Dotlich (arranged by the amazing Robyn Hood Black) and discovering I don't have to be Shel Silverstein; I can write the way I write for adults – striving to create art and beauty-- except in a way that appeals to children. Sometimes I really struggle when editing my own work (and working with editors) to pull away from the wise, adult voice and to approach a subject with the more-innocent, world-as-wonder child's voice. I find that this is more a matter of choosing the right angle and analogy than worrying about elevated language. (You'll notice WILDEBEEST has lots of big words – and a glossary.) To what would the child-me compare the water hole? What moment in a lion's life is most interesting to the child-me? I still feel like a beginner, and I am so grateful for the warmth, grace, and enthusiasm of the Poetry Friday community. What wonderfully diverse and inspiring voices! I'm honored to be be a part of it.
Thanks so much, Joyce, for the thoughtful questions, and for being one of my poetic heroes. And Sylvia, your passion for poetry is changing the world! Thank you for including me on your blog. Happy day to both!
Sylvia says: THANK YOU BOTH for sharing your time and talents! And of course I'm proud as punch to feature poems by both Joyce and Irene in The Poetry Friday Anthology series that Janet (Wong) and I have compiled. :-)
One hundred years ago today, the first ship passed through the newly completed Panama Canal changing the route through the Americas forever. Although this was and is celebrated as a technological achievement, I wasn't aware of the cost in human lives and ecological impact till I read Margarita Engle's vivid and compelling novel in verse, Silver People. I was fortunate enough to read an early copy of the book and create an educator's guide for sharing the book with young readers. You can download the guide here. To whet your appetite, here are just a few components to explore.
To set the stage for reading this novel in verse, identify the time frame (1906-1914) for the story’s setting as well as the place and geographical location (Panama). Talk about what was going on in the world at this time (during Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency and prior to World War I) and locate Panama and the surrounding countries (particularly Cuba and Jamaica) on a map. Look for Bottle Alley, Lake Gatun, the Chagres River, the Gaillard Cut, and the island now known as Barro Colorado extensively studied by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. Look for historical photos and documents that help provide a context for understanding the building of the Panama Canal. One resource is a jackdaw of facsimiles of primary source documents available at Jackdaw.com, specifically this collection: “Panama Canal: Building the 8th Wonder of the World.” This includes many maps, blueprints, ship’s dockets, personal letters and telegrams, ledgers, health records, period postcards, etc.
As students read or listen to this novel in verse, encourage them to visualize each of the main characters and talk about what they look like, what country they are from, what language they speak, how they feel about these events, and what dreams or goals they each have. Work together to draw character sketches or find magazine or web-based images for these characters.
Mateo, from Cuba (our protagonist and a canal laborer who aspires to be an artist)
Anita, from Panama (an orphan and herb girl, sweetheart of Mateo)
Henry,from Jamaica (digger, friend of Mateo)
*John Stevens (Chief Engineer) p. 43
Old Maria (surrogate mother to Anita) p. 83
*Theodore Roosevelt (U.S. President) p. 95
Augusto(New York scientist and artist originally from Puerto Rico) p. 115-117
*George W. Goethals (Chief Engineer) p. 149
*Jackson Smith (Manager) p. 151
*Gertrude Beeks (Welfare Department) p. 163
*Harry Franck (Census Enumerator) p. 213
(*These characters are actual historical figures.)
Students could also each choose a favorite character and read aloud the poems from her/his perspective readers theater style.
Animals of the Panama Jungle
Each of the following animals is featured with a poem from its perspective.Students can choose one of these to prepare for oral reading, researching (online) images and sound effects to accompany their reading. One helpful resource is Animals.NationalGeographic.com