Poetry Friday: How to Write a Poem

In the past two weeks, this book has done good work in the world. (Okay, in all fairness…has helped ME do good work in the world!)

I’m a once-a-week Reading Specialist at each of the three sites of our community resource center’s after school program. The first week of May, we had a whole-group read aloud and then in small groups, folded zines that would be the container for our own poems, which we would write the following week.

My young friends and I have a ritual for reading picture books. We examine the dust jacket, opening the book wide to see if the cover illustration spans the entire cover (our favorite), or if there’s an important nugget from the book on the back cover. In the case of How to Read a Poem, there is this nugget that we watched for as we read:

“The words have been waiting to slide down your pencil.”

Next, I lift the dust jacket so we can see if the cover illustration is the same. (Our favorites have a different cover illustration!) Then, we examine the end papers, which, for How to Read a Poem, show the alphabet, and which were the source of a lively discussion:

Me: Melissa Sweet chose the alphabet for the endpapers. These letters are everything you need to make the words for your poems!

Child 1: There’s no A!

Me: I noticed that. I wonder why she…

Child 2: There’s the A! It’s really big!

And then, just like the best optical illusions, the A showed itself to all of us. Now I can’t unsee it!

Before I began reading at one site, one of my youngest friends asked, “But what IS poetry?” After praising him for his insightful question, I quoted Kwame’s back matter. He quotes a third grader’s response to this very question:

“Poetry is an egg with a horse inside it.”

This led to a discussion about what makes poetry poetry: it gets to break rules, it doesn’t have to make the kind of sense we expect, it’s short, and yes it sometimes rhymes and has a form like haiku or acrostic or limerick, but mostly it gets to be whatever it wants to be.

Kwame’s book reinforces these ideas (and Melissa Sweet’s illustrations are just as much a poem as his words). His poem-text hits the notes of wonder, listening to the world, using imagination, playing with words (“…a cotton candy cavalcade of sounds”), accessing both joy and sorrow, and becoming “a voice with spunk.” The book ends with the invitation, “Now show us what you’ve found.”

Here is some of what we found this week:

“Inspiration is everywhere
you just need to look.”

“Lonch youere self to the
MOON with your jet pack
of ceativeaty.”

“Star bright
in the air
let my dreams
fall down
to my hands.”

“There is magic falling
all around us growing tall
roped into our life
like how forks
are roped to food
open your door
and let in the wind
let it go in and out”

“alligators eat
the sun”

“flower birds
sing rain”

“the pizza
is made of

So. Much. Fun.

Here’s wishing you joyful poetry writing!

Robyn has the Mother’s Day edition of Poetry Friday at Life on the Deckle Edge. Happy Mother’s Day to all the men and women and non-binaries who nurture small humans, fur babies, gardens, and the world.

My Powerful Hair

My Powerful Hair
by Carole Lindstrom
illustrated by Steph Littlebird
Abrams Books, 2023
review copy from the public library

Once upon a time, I wrote a book about the power of read aloud. One of the stories in that book was about the time when I read aloud The Watsons Go To Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis. Our exploration of Byron’s new “conk” hairstyle led to a whole class share time of hair products and tools, with the highlight being my Sikh student and his mother educating us about the role of uncut hair in their religion. It was one of the most powerful moments in my teaching career.

There are now lots of books exploring hair and identity, the newest being My Powerful Hair. This book is important AND it is beautifully written and illustrated. Don’t miss the endpapers. Don’t ignore the Author’s Note and definitely don’t shy away from the shameful history of Indian boarding schools. Don’t neglect to share with your children/students that both the author and illustrator are Indigenous creators. Don’t miss this book.

Twenty Questions

Twenty Questions
by Mac Barnett
illustrated by Christian Robinson
Penguin Random House, 2023
review copy from the public library

While we’re on the subject of questions (see previous post), you need this book in your classroom and/or life.

The text of this book is, indeed, composed of twenty questions. (I counted.) The first is very literal. You can use it to teach the word literal: “How many animals can you see in this picture?” The next question lets the reader know that this will not be a (boring) literal book: “How many animals can you not see in this one, because they’re hiding from the tiger?” It gets more and more creative (inferential, opinion based) from there, one of my favorites being “Which of these children is dreaming of peaches?”

This is a book that will invite conversation and story telling. This is a book that will invite creative question-asking. It might even invite collage-making along with creative question-asking. Let’s get started!

The Tree and the River

The Tree and the River
by Aaron Becker
Penguin Random House, 2023
review copy from the public library
Full disclosure: I am NOT the Mary Lee to whom the book is dedicated!

This is a GORGEOUS wordless picture book. If it feels like Becker is painting from life, it might be because, according to the back flap,

“To prepare for the illustrations he first constructed a scale model of the book’s rolling landscape, which he then transformed with clay and wood over many months.”

At first, the story might seem like a tale of environmental destruction/dystopian future with a bit of a rainbow (literally) at the end. But look closely. Go back to the title page, to the first illustration. Look closely. You might see a different kind of long-term hope. For our planet. For humanity.

Yoshi, Sea Turtle Genius

Yoshi, Sea Turtle Genius: A True Story About an Amazing Swimmer
by Lynne Cox
illustrated by Richard Jones
Penguin Random House, 2023
review copy from the public library

Lynne Cox is one of my sheroes. She herself is an amazing swimmer, breaking records for long-distance swimming in difficult water without a wetsuit — most notably, swimming to Antarctica! If SHE thinks Yoshi is an amazing swimmer, Yoshi must be an amazing swimmer.

Yoshi is a loggerhead turtle. She hatched on a beach in Australia, then survived and grew in the Indian Ocean for five years before being snagged by a fishing net off the coast of South Africa. She was rescued by a fisherman, then placed in an aquarium, where she lived for over 20 years. After conditioning and training, and with a tracker attached to her shell, Yoshi was released back into the wild as an adult loggerhead. She first swam north, up the coast of Africa, then she turned around and swam south and then east, all the way to Australia, mating along the way and laying her eggs on the very beach where she (likely) hatched herself.

Amazing, right? Plus, this book is beautifully written and gorgeously illustrated. It has just the right amount of text for a read aloud, and I can bet there will be passionate conversations about the consequences of pollution, the pros and cons of zoos and aquariums, and the absolute genius of Yoshi.

In Between

In Between by April Pulley Sayre with Jeff Sayre
Simon and Schuster, 2023
review copy from the public library

It’s been a minute since this blog has been anything except Poetry Friday, but last week I sat down with the March/April issue of The Horn Book and the Columbus Metropolitan Library app. As I read reviews, I reserved titles. The bounty has begun to come in, and I’ve got LOTS of great new books to share.

We’ll start with In Between. This is April’s last book. But even as a last, it is also an in between. An in between for her readers as well as for her husband and co-author, Jeff. In the dedication, April wrote, “For anyone walking the uncertain path between endings and new beginnings.” That would be all of us, all the time, right?

April’s photographs in this book are more stunning than usual, and paired perfectly with her words. She reassures us that it is perfectly normal to be in between, and although we (and the animals) are feeling awkward and not at all ready for what comes next, we “Grow stronger.”

And although “Paws may pause. Eyes may stare.” we’ll be okay, because, “…it’s only an in between.”

I can’t wait to read and discuss this book with my Kids Club kids!

Poetry Friday: The Original Verse Novel?

When my friend from undergraduate honors English sent this book to me for my birthday, she gave me the out to trade it in for something I really wanted to read. I found out later that it was one of those gifts that you give someone because it’s what YOU want. I assumed she also had a copy and that we’d be reading it together to revisit our freshman year of college. Nope. I was on my own and I decided to go for it.

It’s a hefty volume with an extensive introduction and translator’s note, but when I looked at the table of contents and saw that it contains 24 “books” (or chapters) it occurred to me that I could “eat this elephant one bite at a time.” I divided the introduction/translator’s note into seven chunks and over the course of January, I reread this classic!

If you’ve never read THE ODYSSEY, I highly recommend this translation. The introduction itself is an education (or re-education if it’s been decades since your first read). Wilson prepared me so well for the ins and outs of each of the books that I did not need to skip to the endnotes as I read to clarify the action. (The endnotes contain a one-paragraph summary of each book, along with some clarifying information about characters, lineage, word definitions, and puns woven into the Greek that she attempted to replicate in her translation.)

In the translator’s note, Wilson elaborates on what makes her version different from others. She states, “THE ODYSSEY is a poem, and it needs to have a predictable and distinctive rhythm that can be easily heard when the text is read aloud.” She goes on, “I used iambic pentameter, because it is the conventional meter for regular English narrative verse…”

“Homer’s music is quite different from mine, but my translation sings to its own regular and distinctive beat.”

p.82 THE ODYSSEY by Homer, translated by Emily Wilson

In the translator’s note she also talks about word choice, length (hers has exactly the same number of lines as the original), staying true to the “Homeric style,” dealing with Homer’s repeated epithets, what it means to be a woman translating “a poem that is deeply invested in female fidelity and male dominance,” and her treatment of slavery and sexism…among other things. She states

“Throughout my work on this translation, I have thought hard about my different responsibilities: to the original text; to my readers; to the need to make sense; to the urge to question everything; to fiction, myth, and truth; to the demands of rhythm and the rumble of sound; to the feet that need to step in five carefully trotting paces, and the story that needs to canter on its way. I have been aware, constantly, of gaps and impossibilities in providing escort to Homer from archaic Greece to the contemporary anglophone world, as I have woven, unwoven, and woven up again the fabric of this complex web.”

p.90 THE ODYSSEY by Homer, translated by Emily Wilson

Doesn’t she make you want to read her version? Go for it. Savor it a bit at a time over the course of a month. It will stay with you forever.

Carol has this week’s Poetry Friday roundup.

Poetry Friday: Rhyming Fairy Tales

My work so far as the Kids Club Reading Specialist has been very peripheral, very fragmented. I’m at each site weekly, and I’ve met with students one-on-one or in small groups every other week…if we’re lucky and their parents don’t pick them up in the middle of a lesson or before we even get started.

I’m not complaining, but I AM looking forward to next week when schools are closed for two days following Martin Luther King, Jr. Day for a Professional Development Day and a Records Day. On Tuesday and Wednesday, 24 students will participate in all-day Kids Club, and I’ll have the opportunity to work with them as a whole group!

Tuesday will be Fairy Tale Day. We’ll start with TELLING STORIES WRONG by Gianni Rodari. This is the story of a grandfather who just can’t seem to tell the story of Little Red Riding Hood the way it’s supposed to be told. Clever readers will be able to figure out why. This book doesn’t rhyme, but it will lead us to others that do.

Next up, I’ll have some of the older students prepped to perform a poem from VERY SHORT FAIRY TALES TO READ TOGETHER by Mary Ann Hobermann. Then I’ll invite pairs of students to practice and perform a poem from one of the You Read To Me, I’ll Read To You books.

Finally, in the upcoming weeks when we’re back to the regular schedule, my read aloud with small groups and individuals will be…

…ENDLESSLY EVER AFTER: PICK YOUR PATH THE COUNTLESS FAIRY TALE ENDINGS by Laurel Snyder. This rhyming picture book is a tour de force of planning. I literally have no idea how she must have plotted this book so that the reader has SO many different paths to follow! And in RHYME, no less! I love that not all of the endings are happy and not all of the paths are long. Plus, Dan Santat’s illustrations are tons of fun! I can’t wait to explore this book with readers of all ages and see what they think. I’m not sure we’ll get much past read aloud in those sessions…and that’s just FINE!

This week’s Poetry Friday Roundup is hosted by Susan at Chicken Spaghetti.

And here’s the lowdown on the Poetry Sisters’ January Challenge: We chose the word TRANSFORMATION to guide our work throughout the year, and for January, we’re writing a CASCADE poem. The Cascade form takes every line from the first stanza of your poem and TRANSFORMS those lines into the final lines of each stanza thereafter. (The link helpfully creates a little form that shows you how easy this might be.) Beyond that, there are no additional rules. Long or short, free verse, sonnet, or sestina, find a way in which you can incorporate the idea (or word) transformation as you write. We’ll post our poems on the last Friday of the month (1/27/23). I hope you’ll join us!

Poetry Friday: Reconsidering Read Aloud…Again…Still

Hard to believe that it’s been TWENTY years since my book, Reconsidering Read-Aloud was published! And here I am, still a teacher (kinda-sorta) and still thinking about the power of the books I choose for read aloud.

As the reading specialist for an after school program, I no longer have a classroom of the same-aged students every day all day long. No more chapter book read alouds that span weeks/months with conversations that evolve as our experience with the book deepens.

Now I have K-5 students in small groups or one-on-one for 15-20 minutes once a week. I try to make sure I see every child at least once every two weeks. My lesson plans are required to address information standards, literature standards, and functional skills/fluency standards. These constraints have changed the way I choose my core read alouds.

I’m still learning, but here are some successes I’ve had, and my thinking around my choices.

I have established a pre-reading ritual for each read aloud. First we look at the front and back covers to see if the image spans across both covers. If there is a dust jacket, we check to see if the dust jacket image and the cover image are the same. Next, we look at the endpapers and think about the reasons behind this design element.

WAIT AND SEE by Helen Frost was my main read aloud in October. This book is an informational text that I’m calling “lyrical nonfiction.” It has photographic endpapers which, in the beginning, show a preying mantis hanging upside down on a spikey leaf with a light background. At the end, there is a preying mantis upright on a rounder leaf with a dark background. The conversations about the reasons behind these choices of images were fantastic! (Day/night, light/dark, colors, shapes, position, etc.) The photo-illustrations also prompted lots of conversation both during and after reading. We didn’t read the back matter, but I pointed out to every group that it was there to satisfy any curiosity you might have for more facts.

AUTUMNBLINGS by Douglas Florian and HALLOWEEN ABC by Eve Merriam were my backup literature choices. (I’d forgotten how dark Merriam’s poems are, but luckily kids are kind of into spooky, so it was all good.)

Are you noticing the trend towards poetry? I figure poetry is one of the least represented genres in the classroom and so it will have the greatest representation in my work!

There were a couple of other books that made an appearance in October and November. I fell in love with CHESTER VAN CHIME WHO FORGOT HOW TO RHYME by Avery Monsen and tried it out with a variety of ages. Fourth and fifth graders had a ball with Chester. I was surprised that the younger students weren’t able to provide the missing rhymes. I filed that tidbit and will be doing some focused work on rhyming in the upcoming months. ON A GOLD BLOOMING DAY by Buffy Silverman was a great rhyming photographic book to pair with WAIT AND SEE. I waited until later in the fall to start working with my Kindergarteners. I wanted to meet them and read with them before I gave them their letter identification assessment, so I chose Z IS FOR MOOSE by Kelly Bingham. It has a different image on its dust jacket and its cover, and the story starts before the title page. It begins predictably, but then Moose causes chaos (which the Kinders loved!)

But the absolute best read aloud so far, the one that stood up to multiple readings with all ages, the one that kept surprising me all the way to the last reading, was 12 DAYS OF KINDNESS by Irene Latham. This book has everything! Cover and dust jacket are the same, but we had a chance to discuss the Big Idea that’s on the back of the book (“Kindness is a gift.”) The end papers are different illustrations and foreshadow the story that’s found in the illustrations, and the arc of that story (morning to night). The story begins in the illustrations before the title page. The text has repetition and rhyme and is cumulative. It can be sung to “The 12 Days of Christmas,” and I had one group of 3/4/5 girls who did just that! All the way through! So fun! Without being didactic, Irene Latham shows the reader that there are lots of small ways to be kind to those around us. There is much to discover about the way the illustrator (Junghwa Park) contrasts the new text on the left page of each spread and the cumulative text on the right page of each spread. The illustrations tell a story that doesn’t match the text, but rather extends the meaning of the text. There’s lots to infer about the characters in the illustration’s story, plus so many fun details! I didn’t notice the kisses in the last spread until one of the final readings! This is the book I’ll use as my gold standard in choosing all future read alouds!

Karen has this week’s Poetry Friday roundup at Karen Edmisten*.

Women’s History Gives Readers All Kinds of Role Models

by Alex Prud’homme
illustrations by Sarah Green
Calkins Creek, 2022
review copy provided by the publisher

“No one is born a great cook, one learns by doing.” Julia Child was tall and loud and eager to learn to be a good cook. She learned the importance of taking “time and care” in choosing the best ingredients (making friends with the butcher, baker, and cheese maker) and in creating her dishes. Most of all, she encouraged her students, her TV fans, and her cookbook readers to have fun! What a great role model! For more images and quotes, see this review at Jama’s Alphabet Soup.

by Suzanne Slade
illustrated by Sally Wern Comport
Calkins Creek, 2022
review copy provided by the publisher

Although she didn’t start school until she was eight, Mary fell in love with science first, and chemistry later. She broke through gender barriers to get a job at North American Aviation developing rocket fuels. She was given the job of developing the fuel that would take a rocket into space. After several failures, she succeeded, and the rest is history! Mary Sherman Morgan is a role model for following your passion.

by Kate Hannigan
illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon
Calkins Creek, 2022
review copy provided by the publisher

Did you watch the recent PBS version of AROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY DAYS? I was fascinated by their remake of Jules Verne’s story, and even more fascinated by the real-life story of two very different woman journalists, one outgoing and bold (Nellie Bly) and one quiet and reserved (Elizabeth Bisland) who raced to make it around the globe in just seventy-five days. Both had grand adventures and broke all kinds of stereotypes about what women could and should do.

by Beth Anderson
illustrated by Susan Reagan
Calkins Creek, 2022
review copy provided by the publisher

The men of Pepperell, MA took big actions in the fight for independence, but Prudence led the women of Pepperell in small actions that formed “a pattern of rebellion:” burning British tea and making their own with local herbs, spinning their own cloth rather than depending on British cloth, using maple syrup instead of British sugar. “Prudence could live with inconvenience and additional work. But she couldn’t live with unjust laws and stolen rights.” A role model attitude for our times. Prudence even rallied the women to catch a Tory spy crossing the bridge that led into Pepperell.

by Claudia Friddell
illustrated by Christopher Cyr
Calkins Creek, 2022
review copy provided by the publisher

This innovative biography in verse blends Clara Barton’s words with the words of the author. We’ve heard her called “The Angel of the Battlefield,” but this biography brings Barton’s heroic actions to life. This book would be a good one to pair with images of all of the aid organizations currently working on the ground in Ukraine and those helping refugees in Poland and elsewhere across Europe. Clara Barton is a role model for compassion and determination.