In my never-ending effort to reduce the stacks of New Yorkers and The Horn Book tucked away in various corners of my house, I’ve started purging. It’s a slow process. I can’t just toss these compact containers of wisdom and goodness. So I skim the table of contents, scan a review or two, succumb to Newbery acceptance speeches from years gone by. This is how I stumbled upon a short piece by Jane Yolen recalling her correspondence with Nancy Willard. Their collection of poetry, Among Angels, was the result of this “rather delicious correspondence.” (The Horn Book, March/April 2009, p. 162)
Willard’s Newbery winning book, A Visit to William Blake’s Inn (Harcourt Brace, 1981) was published the year my son was born. And although I read to him from the day we came home from the hospital, William Blake’s Inn didn’t capture my attention until several years later when I went back to school to get my teaching certificate. Of course I loved it immediately and have shared it with students ever since. (My favorite poem, “Two Sunflowers Move Into the Yellow Room,” seems particularly poignant today.) Still, I’m embarrassed to confess that I wasn’t aware of Willard’s poetry for adults until I read Yolen’s piece earlier this week.
After spending just a few hours reading what Willard poems are available online, I’m in awe of her keen observation, metaphor, and wisdom. My favorite so far is “In the Salt Marsh.” Unfortunately, I can’t find the printed text to share, but here is a video version.
Jane’s reminiscence also inspired me to create this found poem:
Angels send poems poetry holding light watching shadows like cascading rain a tale of sublime love.
Let’s all send poems of sublime love to the people of Ukraine today. And then be sure to visit Tricia Stohr-Hunt for the Poetry Friday Roundup.
Once again, I’m down to the wire meeting Michelle Heidenrich Barnes’s ditty challenge. This month, Jane Yolen challenged Michelle’s readers to “Write a poem in which reading and or writing is featured in the form of a septercet.” How hard could that be?
As it turns out, I had a very hard time figuring out my way into this poem. How to narrow down a lifetime of reading and writing? Then, this line, from “Do-Re-Mi” and The Sound of Music came into my head: “Let’s start at the very beginning…” Suddenly, I was on my grandmother’s lap and she was reading Jack the Giant Killer, by Harold Lentz, to me. This book belonged to my uncle when he was little, and it was a favorite of mine and my cousins because of its fabulous pop-up scenes.
Here is a draft of the septercet inspired by this book.
“Sail Away to Fairyland”
Nestled on my grandma’s lap, she opens a book and I’m sailing off to fairyland.
A magic castle rises, princess slumbering within, the prince arrives to wake her.
Turn the page. Red Riding Hood knocks on Grandma’s door. Beware! A devious wolf awaits.
One story ends, another begins. “Fee, fi, fo, fum,” hums a hungry, fearsome giant.
Just in time, Jack saves the day, rescues friends from a sad fate. But Giant, enraged, gives chase,
lumbering down the beanstalk. Will Jack get away? He grabs an axe, chops with all his might. Tales now told, the book is closed.
You know how this story ends. Happily ever after.
Welcome to the Poetry Friday Roundup! I’m so glad you stopped by. You’re in for a real treat! Not only will you find links to other Poetry Friday posts, I’m thrilled to share poems and illustrations from Grumbles From the Town: Mother-Goose Voices With a Twist (WordSong, 2016), Jane Yolen and Rebecca Kai Dotlich’s hot-off-the-press companion volume to Grumbles From the Forest (WordSong, 2013), with illustrations by Angela Matteson. I was lucky enough to receive an F&G (folded and gathered) of this book when I was at The Highlights Foundation’s workshop, “The Craft and Heart of Writing Poetry for Children” with Rebecca Kai Dotlich and Georgia Heard.
These poems, that “remix old songs anew,” have broad appeal. Jane and Rebecca chose fourteen favorite nursery rhymes and gave voices to objects, (Jack’s plum), real or imagined secondary characters (Old King Cole’s daughter), or let the main character speak for him or herself (the Queen of Hearts). Young readers will love the playful nature of these poems. Older readers will appreciate the wordplay, such as learning that the dog from “Hey Diddle Diddle” always “hated playing second fiddle.” Some of the poems, such as “Not Another Fall,” explore the backstory of the original rhyme. What was Humpty Dumpty doing on that wall in the first place?
“A Neighbor Gossips to the Gardener “Not Another Fall” about the Humpty Brothers”
Grumbles From the Town also includes the texts of the original nursery rhymes, and I appreciated the fascinating end notes about the origin of each rhyme. The roots of some rhymes have been lost to history, but in most cases the background includes stories that are always interesting, if not always child-friendly.
This collection is a must-have for all elementary classrooms. Students of all ages will enjoy exploring point-of-view through these poems, and the opportunities for children to write their own nursery rhymes “with a twist” are endless! In addition, the possibilities for lessons about vocabulary and word choice abound. But the best reason for sharing this book with children is that these poems are fun to read and full of humor. Thank you, Jane, Rebecca, and Angela for so generously sharing your work today!
Children’s first reading experiences are usually through picture books, and for this reason, people have fond memories of them and are passionate about their favorites. Because of the role picture books play in introducing the magic of reading to children, they are worth celebrating.
Picture Book 10 for 10 is the brainchild of Cathy Mere of Reflect & Refine: Building a Learning Community and Mandy Robeck of Enjoy and Embrace Learning. During this annual event, now in its sixth year, teachers, librarians, and book lovers create lists of 10 essential picture books. Cathy and Mandy collect and share these lists, and everyone is richer because of their efforts. Be sure to visit their blogs to see their lists, and check out dozens of Picture Book 10 for 10 lists here. Thank you, Cathy and Mandy, for organizing this celebration of picture book love.
Many children are introduced to picture books through collections of nursery rhymes. The rhythm of poetry is soothing and the rhymes give kids the foundation they need to become independent readers. But most importantly, reading nursery rhymes and poetry to children is fun.
Creating this list was quite a challenge, as there are many, many beautiful poetry picture books available these days. For any one of the poets listed below, there are one or two or ten other books that are just as worthy of inclusion on this list.
1.Bookspeak: Poems about Books, by Laura Purdie Salas, illustrated by Josée Bisaillon(Clarion Books, 2011)
What could be better than a collection of poems celebrating books? Laura Purdie Salas gives voice to all parts of books, including the cover, index, and the end. You can watch the trailer for Bookspeak, listen to Laura read two poems, and read the teacher’s guide here.
2. Red Sings From the Treetops: A Year in Colors by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2009)
Joyce Sidman is one of my favorite poets, and I love Pamela Zagarenski’s whimsical style, so this book was a shoe-in for this list. I have written about it before here.
3. Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems, selected by Paul B. Janeczko, illustrated by MelissaSweet (Candlewick Press, 2014)
This award-winning anthology, illustrated with whimsical perfection by Melissa Sweet, includes poems celebrating each season and is not to be missed. Julie Roach, writing in School Library Journal described Sweet’s illustrations this way: “Colors and shapes with willowy details expertly blur or bring bits of the images into focus to create a magical sense of place, time, and beauty.”
4. A World of Wonders: Geographic Travels in Verse and Rhyme, by J. Patrick Lewis, pictures by Alison Jay (Dial Books for Young Readers, 2002)
5. Forest Has a Song, by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, illustrated by Robbin Gourley (Clarion Books, 2013)
Amy Ludwig VanDerwater turns her keen poet’s eye to the forest landscape throughout the year. Gourley’s delicate watercolors are the perfect complement to VanDerwater’s evocative poems.
6. On the Wing: Bird Poems and Paintings by Douglas Florian (Harcourt, 1996)
Douglas Florian’s sophisticated humor and word play make his poetry perfect choices for any elementary classroom. Find out more about Florian and his other poetry collections here.
7. What’s for Dinner? Quirky, Squirmy Poems from the Animal World, by Katherine B. Hauth, illustrated by David Clark (Charlesbridge, 2011)
This NSTA/CBC Outstanding Science Trade Book is chock-full of hilarious poems about the very serious subject of how animals capture their prey. Hauth includes factual information about each animal, as well as a list of suggested reading. David Clark’s cartoon-like illustrations add to the humor.
8. Bug Off! Creepy, Crawly Poems, by Jane Yolen, photographs by Jason Stemple (WordSong, 2012)
Jane Yolen is one of my favorite authors of all time. In fact, my 2013 Picture Book 10 for 10 post was devoted to her work. Yolen has published many volumes of poetry, but her collaborations with her photographer son, Jason Stemple, are my favorites. Stemple’s photographs are full of incredible details, and Yolen’s poetry captures the “beauty and mystery” of “these tiny living beings.” (From Yolen’s author’s note.)
9. Turtle in July, by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney (Macmillan, 1989)
Marilyn Singer is the 2015 winner of the NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Childrenand has long been one of my favorite poets. You can read a previous post about Marilyn’s poetry here. This collection, filled with Jerry Pinkney’s stunning illustrations, is a must-have for any elementary classroom.
10. Creatures of the Earth, Sea, and Sky, by Georgia Heard, drawings by Jennifer Owings Dewey (WordSong, 1992)
Georgia Heard has written that “poets find poems in hundreds of different places” (Awakening the Heart: Exploring Poetry in Elementary and Middle School, Heinemann: 1999), and in this wonderful collection, which has long been a staple in my classroom, she has found poems throughout the animal kingdom. Dewey’s detailed, realistic drawings add to the beauty of this book.
I’ve had birds on my mind this week because of an idea I hatched at the Highlights Foundation last week. One of Rebecca Kai Dotlich’s many wise pieces of advice was to research your topic. So I’ve been reading about birds, listening to birds, and watching for them whenever I’m outside. In fact, I almost drove off the road on Monday because of this bird:
I’m pretty sure this is a vulture, which are quite common where I live, but I have never seen one poised like this. After I pulled over to take this picture, I sat and watched this display. The bird stayed poised on this branch for at least five more minutes. Unfortunately, I had an appointment, so I couldn’t watch any longer.
Rebecca also suggested reading poems about the topic you’re writing about, so I’ve been reading as many bird poems as I can find. One of my favorite collections is Jane Yolen and Jason Stemple’s gorgeous book, An Egret’s Day (WordSong, 2010). Yolen’s poetry follows egrets through their day and is accompanied by factual paragraphs about the poem’s topic. Stunning photographs by Jason Stemple, Yolen’s son, accompanies each poem, and gives readers a chance to observe these graceful birds up close.
Here’s a poem from this beautiful book:
“Egret in Flight”
by Jane Yolen
She’s an arrow From a bow.
We watch in wonder
Origami neck is folded.
All that we can do?
Read the rest of the poem here (It’s about 1/3 of the way down the page).
I hope you have a chance to behold a beautiful bird or two today. There is always beautiful poetry to behold on Poetry Friday, so be sure to head over to Renee LaTulippe’s blog, No Water River, for the Poetry Friday Round Up.
When my son was a baby, he had an ear infection almost non-stop from the time he was six months old until just before he had tubes put in his ears six months later. Needless to say, we spent a lot of time at the pediatrician’s office. There were always stacks of picture books in the waiting room, and one day, A House is a House for Me (Viking, 1978), by Mary Ann Hoberman was on top of the pile, just waiting for us. It quickly became one of our favorites.
Now Jane Yolen, Heidi E.Y. Stemple, and Melissa Sweet have teamed up to create a book about homes that is every bit as wonderful as Hoberman’s classic. You Nest Here With Me (Boyds Mills Press, 2015) begins with a “little nestling,” carrying a copy of You Nest Here With Me being flown into bed by her mother. As the poem unfolds, we learn that “Pigeons nest on concrete ledges” while “Catbirds nest in greening hedges” but the mother always assures the child that “you nest here with me.”
Song birds, shore birds, birds of prey, and more are introduced through the gentle rhymes of Yolen and Stemple’s text. Readers will want to linger over Sweet’s inviting watercolor and collage illustrations. An author’s note explains that David Stemple, Jane’s late husband and Heidi’s father, was a “serious bird watcher.” This dedication clearly rubbed off, for their love of birds is present on every page.
Factual information about all the birds in the book is included, and there is a scavenger hunt of sorts included in the illustrations. Four kinds of birds are depicted in cozy nests, but not mentioned in the text. Children will have fun finding these favorite species tucked in with other familiar and some unfamiliar birds.
I would read this to Kindergarten and first grade students, but most of all I would love to share it with a toddler or preschooler nestled on my lap.
Thank you to Stacey, Tara, Dana, Betsy, Anna, and Beth for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each day during the month of March and on Tuesdays throughout the year. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.
Last night’s #readingjoy Twitter chat, led by Jennifer Seravallo, got me thinking about read alouds. Much has been written about the importance of parents reading aloud to children from the very start and making read alouds part of every classroom routine. I agree with every bit of this advice. I read to my own children from the day we came home from the hospital, and we never skipped read aloud time in my classroom. But I’ve also come to realize the importance of read alouds in my intervention lessons.
I left the classroom seven years ago to become our school’s literacy specialist. Because I work in a small district, this role includes many duties. One of these is working with tier 3 students. The children I work with are our youngest, most at-risk students who are typically non-readers when we begin working together. One of the biggest challenges they face is understanding why they should bother with reading at all. Usually this is because reading isn’t a priority at home. I meet with their parents to discuss the importance of reading to and with their children. I also give them pamphlets and links to websites with tips and information about how to make reading part of their routine at home. I send books home that children can keep. And yet, they still don’t read at home.
By the time these children arrive in my room, they’re convinced that I’m going to torture them. So I start by chatting with them about their pets, hobbies, and places they like to visit, just to break the ice. Once they are comfortable, I start asking about favorite books or subjects. Then I bring out my secret weapon. A book. I offer it as something I like, not as something I think they should like. Usually they ask for their own copy by the end of the week.
One of my first students was a first grade boy with a host of issues. (He was diagnosed with Autism during the time I worked with him.) He had no interest in anything other than Legos and hated school because he had to leave his Legos at home. He knew most of the letters and sounds, but didn’t know how to pull them apart or put them together to make words. For some reason, he took a shine to Emily Gravett’s Orange Pear Apple Bear (Simon & Schuster, 2007). I must have read that book to him a hundred times. Soon, he was reading it with me. And before long, he was reading lots of other books, too.
Another boy was adamant that he hated letters and wouldn’t learn to read. I told him that was his choice but that I was going to read to him. His “breakthrough book” was in fact a poem from Jane Yolen and Andrew Fusek Peter’s excellent collection Here’s a Little Poem: A First Book of Poetry (Candlewick, 2007). Peter’s own poem, “The No-No Bird,” introduced this child to a boy who liked the word “no” as much as he did. Maybe it was this flash of recognition that finally brought him around. Or maybe it was simply the fact that he could read the word “no.”
Last year I had a student who was so shy and quiet he barely spoke above a whisper. To break the ice, I began reading Kate DiCamillo’s Mercy Watson to the Rescue (Candlewick, 2005). He loved Mercy and her silly antics! Soon he was reading with me, asking questions, and thinking of further adventures for Mercy. Over the course of the year, we read every Mercy Watson book we could get our hands on. My heart was filled with joy at the look on his face when I presented him with his own copy of Mercy Watson at the end of the school year.
Do I know what it was about each of these books that made them the right books for these children? No. What I do know is that each child heard or saw something in them that made him happy. Something in these books helped him feel connected to another person and let him know he wasn’t alone. And that is, after all, why we read.
Chris Lehman recently invited teachers to join him in an online poetry workshop, TeacherPoets. He also invited people to respond to the question “Why poetry?” Many smart, insightful responses have been shared here. How to answer this question without restating what so many have already contributed? I decided to read through a few of my favorite poetry resources and create a found poem (some lines are slightly altered to work in the sequence).
Feel in touch with that universal rhythm.
Lift the veil from the hidden beauty of the world;
Find the mystery in everyday things and objects.
Rekindle a latent sense of wonder.
Have a good eye and a sharp ear.
Find your own voice.
Discover the perfect word for your purpose.
Use fresh imagery that rattles the senses and
Some wordplay that makes it sparkle.
Group them together in a shape or rhythmical structure.
The breathings of your heart.
And words are nets to capture
The secrets you didn’t know you were keeping.
Here are the authors and sources of these lines, in order:
Lillian Morrison, Seeing the Blue Between: Advice and Inspiration for Young Poets, compiled by Paul B. Janeczko; Candlewick Press, 2003
Last spring, during a poetry writing unit, a 5th grade student asked me to read a poem she had written. “I’d love to,” I told her as she handed me her notebook with pride. I knew this girl to be a good student and a strong reader, so I was quite surprised to read what she had written. It was mostly about pickles, but her poem was full of forced rhymes and then no rhymes. I told her that her love of pickles was coming through loud and clear. Then I asked her about some of the more questionable rhymes.
“What do smelly feet have to do with sweet pickles?” I wondered
“Nothing, but sweet and feet rhyme,” she said matter-of-factly.
“I wonder if there are any other words that rhyme with sweet that have more to do with pickles than feet.”
“Probably, but today I just feel silly and want to write a silly poem.”
“Fair enough. Let’s look at it again tomorrow and see if you still feel that way. Writers often see their work differently after a day or two,” I said.
She wasn’t convinced, and she didn’t change the poem.
Over the years, I’ve had plenty of students who were unwilling to revise their writing. It seems as if getting anything down on paper is torture enough. Then to have to make changes is just insulting. Part of me empathizes with them. I know it’s hard to get our thoughts down in the first place. But I also know how much better writing can be after the second or third revision.
I wish I’d had Jane Yolen’s article from the current issue of The Horn Book to share with my reluctant reviser. In it, Yolen muses over different forms her Caldecott-Award winning picture book, Owl Moon, might have taken. A sonnet? No, too short. What about as a rap? Definitely not. She states that “a writer has to make choices [about] how to tell a story. But when a writer finds the right voice, everything comes together.” (pg. 46)
Writers do make choices. But I feel that our students don’t really understand that this means more that just thinking of words that rhyme. As Yolen goes on to say, finding this voice for our writing takes “hard work, inspiration, even perspiration.” (pg. 50)
So why did my young poet short-change herself and her poem? In this case, I think she just needed more time. Time to build the habit of writing every day so being asked to write didn’t feel like punishment. Time to experience the joy of finding just the right word, the perfect expression of her feeling. Time to play with different versions of her poem to find out if silly really was the right tone. Sometimes we may get lucky and stumble onto the right form on our first try, as Yolen feels she did with Owl Moon. But in most cases, we need to sweat over our writing before sharing it. Only then can we sit back and have a pickle.
Thank you to everyone at Two Writing Teachers for hosting the Slice of Life every Tuesday. Be sure to stop by to read the hard work of many devoted writers.
More Jane Yolen, of course! After highlighting just 10 (well, maybe a few more than 10) picture books by one of the most prolific authors ever for Picture Book 10 for 10, I can’t stop reading (and rereading) books by Yolen.
One of her more recent volumes is a book of poetry, co-written with Rebecca Kai Dotlich. In Grumbles from the Forest: Fairy-Tale Voices with a Twist (Wordsong, An Imprint of Highlights, 2013; illustrated by Matt Mahurin), Yolen and Dotlich use fifteen well-known fairy tales as a spring board for pairs of poems that let the characters speak for themselves. Snow White has her say, as do Gretel and Goldilocks. There are also poems that give voice to supporting characters, such as the the Wicked Fairy from Sleeping Beauty, who admits she “should’ve read/that page on tips.” While some of the poems do have a humorous tone, others reveal the dark side of the fairy tale. Beauty’s isolation is tinged with sadness as she wonders “what sounds children/might have made/running across the marble halls…”
These poems are naturals for reading after reading the original tale. Anchor Standard 9 of the CCSS states that students will “analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to compare the approaches the authors take.” At many grade levels, students are expected to use fairy tales, myths, and legends for this purpose.
In a note to their readers, Yolen and Dotlich also urge their audience to “try writing a fairy tale poem yourself [and] make a little magic.” By “juggling different perspectives,” students will develop a deeper understanding of characters who, in many retellings, are often no more than stereotypes.
Of course, there are numerous versions of these tales that do adopt the point of view of a character who doesn’t usually have a voice. Since the huge success of The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, by Jon Scieszka (Viking Press, 1989; illustrated by Lane Smith) these “fractured fairy-tales” have become their own sub-genre. There are also other poets who have given a voice to favorite fairy tale characters. Marilyn Singer has written two books of reversos, pairs of poems which use the same words in reversed order to present the perspective of two different characters. Singer’s poems in Mirror, Mirror (Duttons Children’s Books, 2010; illustrated by Josee Masse) and Follow, Follow (Dial Books, 2013; also illustrated by Josee Masse) are similar to Yolen and Dotlich’s as they have humor but don’t shy away from the hard lessons these characters have learned. Masse amazingly repeats this feat in her illustrations.
Grumbles from the Forest and both of Singer’s books will be best understood by students in third grade and up. Why should they have all the fun? Mary Ann Hoberman’s You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You series has a collection devoted to fairly tales, Mother Goose, and Aesop’s fables that are perfect for sharing with younger readers.
Sadly, I’m no longer surprised when students arrive at school not knowing these classic stories. My library, though, is well-stocked with classic versions of these stories, as well as many of the fractured variety. I share them with students every chance I get. I believe Yolen is absolutely correct when she wrote in Touch Magic: Fantasy, Faerie and Folklore in the Literature of Childhood, (August House, 2000) “that culture begins in the cradle…to do without tales and stories and books is to lose humanity’s past, is to have no map for our future.”