It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?


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.

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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.

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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.”

Be sure to visit Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee at Unleashing Readers to find out what other people have been reading lately. Thanks, Jen and Kellee, for hosting!

Slice 29 of 31: The Tree that Time Built for Poetry Friday


Mary Ann Hoberman is one of my favorite poets. I read A House is a House for Me to my children countless times, and my students love the You Read to Me, I’ ll Read to You series. But somehow I missed The Tree that Time Built (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2009). This anthology, selected by Hoberman and cultural anthropologist Linda Winston, is a “celebration of nature, science, and imagination.” It is a beautiful book: poems are centered on cream-colored pages and line drawings by Barbara Fortin add just the right amount of accent. The poems are organized thematically and notes throughout the book add information about the poets, their craft, and poetic forms. A glossary is included, as well as a list of suggested reading. There is even a CD of selected poems being read by Hoberman, Winston, and others!


I was particularly struck by this poem:

You And I

Only one I in the whole wide world

And millions and millions of you,

But every you is an I to itself

And I am a you to you, too!

But if I am a you and you are an I

And the opposite also is true,

It makes us both the same somehow

Yet splits us each in two.

It’s more and more mysterious,

The more I think it through:

Every you everywhere in the world is an I;

Every I in the world is a you!

by Mary Ann Hoberman

The fifth graders I’ve been working with (more about that here) are fascinated by alliteration. This poem is a perfect example of alliteration’s close cousin, assonance, which they are not familiar with. It also gets to the heart of poetry. When I asked the students the other day why we were reading and studying poetry, I was met by a lot of blank stares. But one brave soul timidly raised her had and said something to the effect of “It let’s us know what people feel.” I told her I agreed with her one hundred percent. “You and I” helps us see that we have more in common than we think, feelings and all.

I wish you all a wonderful Poetry Friday!

Mary Lee (who wrote a much more extensive review of this book here) has the round up at A Year of Reading. Be sure to stop by to read more poetry posts. Thank you also to Stacey and Ruth at Two Writing Teachers for hosting this Slice of Life Challenge!