When I first saw this book on a shelf in the library I thought it was going to be about a dog, which is a natural assumption to make I think. A dog does play a role in the narrative, but the story is really about a boy's relationship with (and discovery of) poetry. It is a fabulous book, a powerful book, a sometimes funny book, and I think readers of all ages will appreciate it.Love that Dog
HarperCollins, 2001, 978-0060292874
Jack is in Miss Stretchberry’s class and he is not happy because she is expecting her students to write a poem. Everyone knows that girls write poems. It is a girly kind of thing to do. After claiming that his “Brain’s empty,” Jack finally condescends to write a poem about a blue car speeding down a road. He is rather put out when his teacher comments on how something is missing in his poem. If Robert Frost can leave his poems incomplete why can’t he?
Miss Stretchberry then asks Jack to write a poem about a pet. Jack does not have a pet anymore and he does not want to write about the dog that he had. We can sense that doing so will be painful for Jack, and yet the boy does end up writing a description of how the yellow dog became a member of his family; how they got him from the animal shelter and saved him from being euthanized, which is what happens to the shelter dogs that are not adopted. Miss Stretchberry asks Jack if she can type up his poem about the yellow dog and share it with the class. He decides that she can if she wants to, though she cannot put her name on the piece.
Next Miss Stretchberry introduces Jack and his classmates to concrete poems and these he likes a lot. In fact he even tries to create one called My Yellow Dog
, and he arranges the words so that they look like a picture of dog on the page. Miss Stretchberry asks if she can type up his poem again and this time Jack is willing to let her put his name on it, which is a new development.
Inspired by a poem that he loves that was written by Walter Dean Myers, Jack writes another poem about his dog Sky, and in it he captures the joy the dog brings into his life. It is a poem from the heart and Jack cannot help feeling pleased when his teacher shares it with the class again.
When Miss Stretchberry suggests that Jack should write to Walter Dean Myers, Jack is appalled. Why would a famous writer like hearing from a kid? Surely he would prefer to hear from a teacher “who uses big words / and knows how / to spell / and / to type.” In the end Jack writes the letter, with many apologies to Walter Dean Myers for taking up his time. Jack even invites the writer to come to his school.
As he waits to hear from Walter Dean Myers, Jack’s journey into the world of poetry progresses. He starts learning how to type and finally he writes (and then types up) a poem about what happened to Sky, though he is not sure about putting his name on it.
This remarkable book takes us through a school year with a boy called Jack. As the months go by we see how this boy, who wants nothing to do with poetry at first, starts to appreciate the way words in poems can capture moments and feelings in a fresh and different way. Slowly, like a flower opening, he tries writing his own poems. By the time we leave Jack, with his memories of Sky, he is a very different child, and we, as witnesses to his journey of exploration, can celebrate the changes that have taken place in him.
Children often feel very overwhelmed when they see all the problems in their world. Stories about wars, environmental disasters, famines, political conflicts, and social upheavals fill newspapers, news broadcasts, and social media. There is so much wrong out there that they often think that there is nothing that they can do that will have an impact on so much chaos. The truth of the matter is that every little effort that makes the world safer, kinder, and cleaner is a step in the right direction.
Today's picture book shows how some children bring about change for the better in their own little world, and that change, though its impact is not global, is still vital and precious.Pond
Simon and Schuster, 2016, 978-1-4814-4735-5
One cold winter day Matt is out walking when he comes to a place that he and his friends call “the Pit.” It is usually just an open space in the woods that is full of trash, but on this day he sees that a stream of water is bubbling its way out of the ground. Matt looks around and realizes that this neglected place was once a pond and he makes a decision. He is going to bring the pond back.
Matt tells his sister Katie and his best friend Pablo about his discovery, and asks them if they are willing to help him clean the place up. Both agree and the very next weekend the three young people get to work. They pick up all the junk and trash and, with Pablo’s father’s help, take it all to the dump. Then they move rocks to create a dam.
As the days go by and winter softens into spring, the pond starts to fill up. In the summer the children spend time by the water until they are driven off my biting insects and summer storms. Then Matt’s dad decides to help the children work on an old row boat so that it is seaworthy once again. Together they work at patching holes, sanding rough wood, and nailing down boards. The boat is named Dragonfly, and when the children take it out on the water it floats.
As the months go by the pond offers Matt and his friends and family members all kinds of seasonal joys, and it also gives animals a place to call home.
This wonderful book takes us through the seasons with a boy who, thanks to his imagination and hard work, is able to bring back a gift of nature that was lost. A neighborhood pond might seem like a small thing, but the special moments it gives Matt and his friends are precious. As they watch the pond grow and flourish, the children in the story grow to appreciate that sometimes the little things can become big things.
Children who think that they are too small or too young to make a difference in the world will surely be empowered by this tale. They will see that they, like Matt, can bring about change for the better if they really want to.
November is national Native American Heritage Month and a good time to seek out, share, and celebrate poetry by and Native American writers. In fact, check out the recent Presidential Proclamation that beautifully describes why this is such an important celebration. I'm so pleased to feature a poem by Debbie Reese in honor of Native American Heritage Month. Debbie is a fellow academic who keeps the rich and informative blog, American Indians in Children's Literature. She is Pueblo Indian, tribally enrolled at Nambe Pueblo in New Mexico and her poem, "Making Bread," describes a beautiful family and Pueblo tradition complete with Tewa words (and a helpful pronunciation guide).
For more poetry by Native American writers, look for these poetry collections.
Native American Poetry For Young People
Voices from Native American or Indian tribes and traditions offer poetry in many forms. Here is a selection of these poetry books for young people.
Begay, Shonto. 1995. Navajo; Visions and Voices Across the Mesa. New York: Scholastic.
Bruchac, Joseph. 1996. Between Earth and Sky. San Diego: Harcourt Brace.
Bruchac, Joseph. 1996. The Circle of Thanks. Mahwah, NJ: Bridgewater Books.
Bruchac, Joseph. 1995. The Earth Under Sky Bear's Feet: Native American Poems of the Land. New York: Philomel.
Bruchac, Joseph. 1996. Four Ancestors: Stories, Songs, and Poems from Native North America. Mahwah, NJ: Bridgewater Books.
Bruchac, Joseph. 1992. Thirteen Moons on Turtle’s Back: A Native American Year of Moons. New York: Philomel.
Carvell, Marlene. 2005. Sweetgrass Basket. New York: Dutton.
Castillo, Ana. 2000. My Daughter, My Son, the Eagle, the Dove: An Aztec Chant. New York: Dutton.
Francis, Lee. 1999. When The Rain Sings: Poems by Young Native Americans. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Geis, Jacqueline. 1992. Where the Buffalo Roam. Nashville, TN: Ideals Children's Books.
Hirschfelder, A. and Singer, B. Eds. 1992. Rising Voices: Writings of Young Native Americans. New York: Scribner’s.
Littlechild, George. 1993. This Land Is My Land. San Francisco, CA: Children’s Book Press.
McLaughlin, Timothy. Ed. 2012. Walking on Earth and Touching the Sky; Poetry and Prose by Lakota Youth at Red Cloud Indian School. New York: Abrams.
Ochoa, Annette Piña, Betsy Franco, And Traci L. Gourdine. Ed. 2003. Night Is Gone, Day Is Still Coming; Stories and Poems by American Indian Teens and Young Adults. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.
Slapin, Beverly, And Doris Seale. Eds. 1998. Through Indian Eyes: The Native American Experience in Books for Children. Berkeley, CA: Oyate.
Sneve, Virginia. D. H. Ed. 1989. Dancing Teepees: Poems of American Indian Youth. New York: Holiday House.
Swamp, C. J. 1995. Giving Thanks; A Native American Good Morning Message. New York: Lee & Low.
Swann, B. 1998. Touching the Distance: Native American Riddle-Poems. San Diego, CA: Browndeer Press/Harcourt Brace.
Have you seen the November issue of ALA's BOOK LINKS magazine? It's always such a helpful resource for teachers, librarians, and parents and this issue has a STEM focus. I was lucky enough to do an interview with the lovely Jeannine Atkins for this issue. Jeannine's work explores many aspects of science with a particular focus on the true stories of real women of science. Her latest book published this year, FINDING WONDERS, is about THREE women in history who followed their passion for science-- even from childhood.
And here's a list of several of her books, including her book on writing:
Atkins, Jeannine. 1999. A Name on the Quilt: A Story of Remembrance. Atheneum.
Atkins, Jeannine. 2003. Wings and Rockets: The Story of Women in Air and Space. Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
Atkins, Jeannine. 2005. How High Can We Climb?: The Story of Women Explorers. Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
Atkins, Jeannine. 2012. Anne Hutchinson’s Way. CreateSpace.
Atkins, Jeannine. 2012. Mary Anning and the Sea Dragon. Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
Atkins, Jeannine. 2013. Get Set! Swim! Lee & Low.
Atkins, Jeannine. 2013. Views from a Window Seat: Thoughts on Writing and Life. CreateSpace.
Atkins, Jeannine. 2015. Little Woman in Blue: A Novel of May Alcott. She Writes Press.
Atkins, Jeannine. 2016. Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science. Atheneum/Simon & Schuster.
Atkins, Jeannine. 2017. Stone Mirrors: The Sculpture and Silence of Edmonia Lewis. Simon & Schuster.
Atkins, Jeannine. Borrowed Names; Poems About Laura Ingalls Wilder, Madam C. J. Walker, Marie Curie, and Their Daughters.
Atkins, Jeannine. Girls Who Looked Under Rocks: The Lives of Six Pioneeering Naturalists.
And in case you can't access the link, here are a few excerpts.
TALKING WITH JEANNINE ATKINS
A friend told me recently that research has found that girls decide science is not for them by second grade. (See: http://policystudies.org/when-do-girls-give-up-on-math-and-science-its-all-over-sooner-than-you-think/) New England author and poet Jeannine Atkins is determined to change those perceptions and has created multiple books that put girls and women at the heart of science exploration, technological innovation, ingenious engineering, and mathematical inquiry (STEM!). Jeannine Atkins’s recent novel in verse, Finding Wonders, is one fantastic example of this with its depiction of three women in history whose passion for math, astronomy, paleontology, botany, and more is evident already in their young childhoods. In addition, Atkins’ books such as How High Can We Climb?: The Story of Women Explorers, Girls Who Looked Under Rocks: The Lives of Six Pioneering Naturalists, Mary Anning and the Sea Dragon, Wings and Rockets: The Story of Women in Air and Space, Borrowed Names reveal a real passion for science, history, and biography, particularly in mining the untold stories of girls and women who ventured into these male-dominated fields long before Gloria Steinem (or even Elizabeth Cady Stanton) advocated for women’s rights and roles. Using careful research, thoughtful storytelling, lyrical language, and powerful portraits, Atkins honors real women in history whose lives and contributions deserve to be shared and celebrated with young readers of today. “What’s lost is found again.” Here she answers a handful of questions about poetry, science, feminism, biography, and the importance of fathers as models and encouragers. You may also enjoy her introspective book, Views from a Window Seat: Thoughts on Writing and Life.
SV: Can you describe the role poetry played in your childhood? When and how did you first discover a love for science, too?
JA: I grew up in a small New England town where I could wander in the woods, bicycle down back roads, and walk to the library. There wasn’t what we’d call a lot to do. In other words, it was a sort of golden age of childhood. In the attic of our old house, I found musty primers that I used to give my dolls lessons and memorized some poems. All these years later, some lines remain with me.
Poetry, science, and play blurred together. I cracked open rocks, made lists of birds and flowers, and collaborated with my brother on experiments using old glass cigar tubes as test tubes, but no one ever suggested I become a scientist. That’s okay. I lost most of my interest in science when cloud formations and maps of the earth’s core got swapped for abstractions. Who knows if anything would have been different if I was aware of women scientists, but I want to help today’s children know more possibilities.
SV: How would you characterize the relationship between science and poetry, between being a scientist and being a poet?
JA: Poetry hints, explores, and doesn’t pounce onto certainty. Science is like that, too. For each question solved, another rises. Both poets and scientists may look closely at the world, make mistakes, try again, and wonder.
SV: You quote Maria Mitchell as saying, “Science needs women” and you clearly celebrate the achievements of girls and women in science in your writing. Where does this feminist perspective come from?
JA: Writing was a pleasure for me as a child, but in high school, my memories of Laura Ingalls Wilder and Louisa May Alcott faded under reading lists with just a few poems by Emily Dickinson and stories by Eudora Welty among bulky novels written by men. Curriculums have become more diverse, but women remain underrepresented in science. I like the thrill of the hunt to find what’s partly buried. And it’s another joy to introduce young readers to women who pursued their dreams. Reading can show us we’re never alone.
SV: What do you think biographical poetry might offer that a nonfiction prose biography might not?
JA: Biographies don’t always suggest the sense of a life in context, such as the sounds of waves, the slickness of rocks, or the scent of the night sky by the salt water where discoveries were made. Some fact-heavy nonfiction can give the wrong impression that everything has been discovered. Poetry’s compression, imagery, and omissions may create a sense of mystery that reflects the way nature keeps surprising us.
SV: You’ve authored several different books about girls and women and science—some in verse, some in prose. How do you decide which you are writing and which story must be told in verse?
JA: There’s often more blundering than choosing, or I work my way through the wrong form before finding one that’s better. I first wrote Borrowed Names as prose, but it seemed to grow more alive under my hands when I took out words. Sometimes nonfiction can seem too long. And sometimes poems may seem too short.
I loved writing small poems about how Jean-Henri Fabre got his children involved in his study of insects and the mathematical work of Florence Nightingale for The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science. A poem can be a window into a life. But for Finding Wonders I wanted to spend more time with my subjects. Verse narratives can be the perfect way to use poetry’s precision along with the wondering of “What happens next? And then?”
Writing the linked poems let me show what led to discoveries, as well as how girls devoted to science also cared about neighbors, families, religion, a friend’s choice in shoes, whether the chowder was hot, or other everyday concerns. Sure, science needs devotion, but even Marie Curie made time to bicycle with her daughters and tend a rose garden.
SV: Why do you think fathers are so important in the lives and stories of female scientists?
JA: It’s said that every father of a girl becomes a feminist. Maybe that’s wishful, but the fathers in the families shown in Finding Wonders wanted to share their passions, needed help with their work, and didn’t discriminate between daughters and sons. Even today, fathers are more likely than mothers to have science and engineering knowledge to pass on, and men who don’t have sons seem more likely to ask daughters to help them fix the car or plumbing, ensuring that girls feel competent with making measurements and using tools. Hurray for those dads!
1. Read Finding Wonders aloud as a class or group book selection. Select passages can even be read readers’ theater style with volunteers taking the parts of the main characters/subjects Maria Merian, Mary Anning, and Maria Mitchell, as well as their dads, moms, siblings, and friends. You serve as narrator reading the rest of the lines. Talk about each of these women and what she accomplished in her life. Then work together to add visuals so students can truly picture the era in which each of these women grew up and worked (Maria Sibylla Merian (1647–1717); Mary Anning (1799 -1847); Maria Mitchell (1818–1889). Check out the “Finding Wonders Timeline” at the author’s website. Collaborate to create a slideshow featuring these images and reading (and recording) a poem or two about each woman from Finding Wonders. Share during an Open House or Science Fair.
2. In Finding Wonders, Atkins makes it clear that each woman’s interest in science, math, or engineering is rooted in her childhood explorations, hobbies, and interests (e.g., painting outside, hunting and collecting, numbers and puzzles, stargazing, etc.) In many cases, each girl had several interests (in drawing or painting AND in studying nature, for example) that evolved into true scientific inquiry. Talk with students about their hobbies and interests and point out how these may offer STEM connections. Research possible career paths that might emerge from these interests using websites like SmithsonianEducation.org/Scientist/ or ScienceBuddies.org/science-fair-projects/science_careers.shtml or Discovere.org/discover-engineering/engineering-careers or CareerCornerstone.org/muscenters.htm Invite guest speakers (particularly women) who work in these fields to talk with students about their own STEM work and the roots of their interests too.
3. What other women have been unheralded in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics? Work together to research more names worthy of exploration using books like Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World by Rachel Ignotofsky or Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women by Catherine Thimmesh or Amelia to Zora: Twenty-Six Women Who Changed the World by Cynthia Chin-Lee and websites such as Biography.com or FamousFemaleScientists.com or AMightyGirl.com. Students can choose a women scientist subject, then take notes or jot key words describing her and her contributions and examining what is known about her childhood, in particular. They can begin with the women featured in Atkins’s works: Maria Merian, Mary Anning, Maria Mitchell, Anna Comstock, Frances Hamerstrom, Rachel Carson, Miriam Rothschild, Jane Goodall, Jeanne Baret, Florence Baker, Annie Smith Peck, Josephine Peary, Arnarulunguaq, Elizabeth Casteret, Nicole Maxwell, Sylvia Earle, Junko Tabei, Kay Cottee, Sue Hendrickson, Ann Bancroft, Katharine Wright, Blanche Stuart Scott, Bessie Coleman, Amelia Earhart, Jackie Cochran, Jerrie Cobb, Shannon Lucid, Eileen Collins, Marguerite Perey, Florence Nightingale, and Marie Curie. Then challenge students to take those details and turn them into a free verse poem or biopoem and make a class poetry book of STEM women heroes for Women’s History Month in March, National Poetry Month in April, or for sharing any time. For more examples of poems about women in science, look for The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science.
I'm also happy to say that I'll be presenting with Jeannine and several other poets including Margarita Engle, Patricia Hruby Powell, and Janet Wong at the annual conference of the National Council of Teachers of English next week in Atlanta. If you're going to the conference, I hope you'll join us and if not, I'll try to post some nuggets from the conference later.
Meanwhile, join the Poetry Friday fun over at Jama's Alphabet Soup. She always throws the very best parties! See you there!
One of the wonderful things about reading books that were written at different moments in time is they tend to reflect the culture and conventions of the era in which they were written. Stories and poems can give us a glimpse into the past and help us to get a picture of what life was like then.
In today's poetry title readers will find poems that were written long ago and not so long ago, and in each one the poet describes an object of some kind. Children and adults alike are going to enjoy exploring this book.The death of the hat: A Brief history of poetry in 50 objects
Selected by Paul B. Janeczko
Illustrated by Chris Raschka
Candlewick Press, 2015, 978-0-7636-6963-8
For almost as long as humans have been writing, humans have been creating poetry. Throughout history men and women all over the world have been using poetry as a means to tell a story, describe something, capture a moment in time, or expound on an idea or feeling that interests them. Like music, art, and prose writing, poetry has evolved over the ages and when we look at poems from different eras we can see the trends, conventions, and fashions that were popular at that time.
In this very unique poetry collection Paul Janeczko explores how poets, over the ages, have described objects in their writings. The poems capture the flavor of the times in which they were written, thus making it possible for readers to get a sense of how styles and ways of expression changed over time.
We begin in the early Middle Ages with a poem about a bookworm. The poem describes how a moth ate a word. The poet feels that it is curious that such an insect could “swallow the word of a man.” Like a “thief in the dark” it takes something profound and is not “A whit the wiser” afterwards.
The Renaissance brings us the words of William Shakespeare and we are given a speech from Romeo and Juliet
. The excerpt is Mercutio’s speech about Queen Mab, who is a tiny fairy. In a chariot made of an empty hazelnut she travels across the faces of men while they sleep. Shakespeare’s contemporary, Ben Jonson, offer us a poem about the sun, and we read about how the sun breaks free of the bonds of winter, melting the ice on streams, and encouraging trees to dress their nakedness with “crisped heads.”
In the romantic period we find poems by Lord Byron, William Wordsworth, Lord Tennyson, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Here there are poems about the letter E, a mouse’s nest, an eagle, and snow-flakes.
The Victorian era brings us poems by Edgar Allen Poe, Walt Whitman and Emily Dickenson, among others. We can see how these writings were influenced by the creations of earlier centuries and then we can see how the writers of the modern period (from 1900 to 1945) took a very different path. Poets tried new forms and experimented with words. This experimentation, and the innovative path that went with it, has continued to the present day.
What is interesting about this book is that it can be enjoyed on many levels. Readers can simply enjoy the poems, dipping into the book at random, or they can explore the historical aspect of the collection.
An introduction at the beginning of the book provides readers with further information about the time periods that are mentioned in the text.