Poetry Friday: Monumental Verses by J. Patrick Lewis


Earlier this week, I took part in Nonfiction 10-for-10, a celebration of nonfiction books for kids. I struggled to narrow my list down to 10 titles, but decided to leave this book off when it occurred to me I could share it today.

When I was a kid, I loved arranging furniture in my dollhouse. As I got a little older, I filled notebooks with house plans and furniture arrangements. And while I did think about becoming an interior decorator, I never really considered becoming an architect. I’m not sure why, but I suspect it had something to do with my less than stellar math skills. So when I discovered Monumental Verses (2005), by J. Patrick Lewis, the latent architect inside of me was thrilled.

A bow to all who hoist the spirit high

And carve imagination into stone

By fire and forge, thrown hugely to the sky.

Whether they be well-or little-known,

The buildings in this picture book cement

A thought: No matter who the builders were,

They gave to time a timeless monument–

A human star-chitcture signature.

I cannot say what others make of this,

The mystery of Stonehenge, a Taj Mahal,

And yet I know how much the world would miss

Majesty at a glance if they should fall.

This book is for the curious at heart,

Startled at sights they seldom get to see

Or even dream of-science born of art,

Such works of genius these were meant to be.

Fourteen poems and gorgeous photographs celebrate architectural wonders from around the world. Lewis’s uses a number of poetic forms to describe wonders of the Empire State Building, Easter Island, the Arc de Triomphe, and more. Playful shape poems bring the pyramids, the Great Wall of China and Stonehenge to life. Vital statistics regarding when each structure was built, where it’s located, the architect (if known), and an amazing physical fact are included. An Epilogue offers writing advice to budding poets.

We have used this book with 5th graders as a mentor text. Engagement is high because students are fascinated by these incredible feats of design and engineering. After reading, they chose a well-known building or monument that interests them. Research is done, and once they’ve collected their facts, they write their own poetic tributes. A project like this doesn’t have to be terribly time consuming, and it covers a number of CC Standards. Lewis’s rich vocabulary addresses  Reading Literature standard 5.4, “Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in text, including figurative language such as metaphors and similes.” Writing their own poems allows student to “Integrate information from several texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably,” (RI.5.9) as well as “Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development and organizations are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.” (W.5.4)

A book like this can pique a student’s curiosity about the man-made wonders of the world. It might even inspire them to become an architect!

You can learn more about J. Patrick Lewis on his website and find additional ideas for using Monumental Verses with your students here.

Don’t forget to visit Sheri Doyle’s blog for other Poetry Friday posts!

12 thoughts on “Poetry Friday: Monumental Verses by J. Patrick Lewis

  1. Thanks so much for your kindness and generosity in featuring Monumental Verses today. National Geographic’s photos evoke the poems as well as any illustrations could. I’m delighted to know the book might be useful to your students.


  2. Oh, I’m so intrigued and must pick up this book now.
    Love this idea: “And carve imagination into stone
    By fire and forge, thrown hugely to the sky…”
    What an interesting observation you make about your own interest in house plans and design, but then not thinking of becoming an architect.


    • Those lines are beautiful, aren’t they? As for being an architect, I didn’t really have any idea how you became an architect. Clearly, if I’d wanted to be one badly enough, I would have figured it out. In any case, I love my teaching life! Thanks for hosting the round up!


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