Posts Tagged National Poetry Month

Book List: Just Right Poetry for Middle-Graders

It’s National Poetry Month!  What better way to celebrate than to explore some of the great poetry books available for readers ages 8-12?  As you read poetry this month or anytime, remember that poets tune in to the sounds of feeling and the feelings of sound. Please READ  POEMS ALOUD to fully enjoy them.

Here are some appealing collections by single poets:

Marilyn Singer in Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reverso Poems, ingeniously turns familiar fairy tales like Snow White and Cinderella upside down in poems that you can  read forward and backward for opposite meanings! Her other books in reverso form are Follow Follow (featuring more tales like The Little Mermaid and The Tortoise and the Hare) and Echo Echo, based on Greek myths. All three are illustrated by Josee Masee.

Patrick Lewis’s Everything is a Poem: The Best of J. Patrick Lewis, Illustrated by Maria Cristina Pritelli, earns its title. It includes a range of poems written our third Children’s Poet Laureate. Subjects include animals, people, reading, sports (some of the best baseball poems I’ve read–take that, Casey at the Bat!), riddles, and funny epitaphs.

In Animal Poems, Valerie Worth captures the uniqueness of animals ranging from bear to porcupine to mole to jellyfish in brief but rich free-verse word pictures.  Stunning paper-cut animal illustrations by Steve Jenkins accompany the poems.

Joyce Sidman is our premier nature poet for children.  Her extraordinary books explore the natural world with vivid poems in various forms, based on solid science. Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature’s Survivors depicts animals that have adapted around the world and are definitely not endangered. See also her other titles , including her Caldecott Honor Winner Song of the Water Boatman and Winter Bees 

A good way to discover new poems and poets you love is to browse through anthologies with a variety of poets and poems. 
In Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets, Kwame Alexander, Chris Coldly and Mary Wentworth have written poems in homage  to great poets past and present who have inspired them., reflecting their styles and ideas.  The subjects include  Maya Angelou, Basho, e.e.cummings, Emily Dickinson, Walter Dean Myers, Pablo Neruda , Mary Olver, Rumi, and even Chief Dan George.  A joyful book with bold illustrations by Ekua Holmes.

Poet Naomi Shihab Nye is also a superb anthologist with a special interest in poems from less familiar voices.  See The Space Between our Footsteps: Poems and Paintings from the Middle East, and This Same Sky: A Collection of Poems from around the WorldShe also compiled a collection of poems written by her students in poetry-in-the-schools classes over the years: Salting the Ocean: 100 poems by Young Poets. 

More and more novels in verse are appearing, most of them for at adult readers.
A wonderful exception is Kwame Alexander’s be-bop and free verse Newbery Award winner The Crossover. Here’s what Publisher’s Weeklyhad to say in its review of the book: “The poems dodge and weave with the speed of a point guard driving for the basket, mixing basketball action with vocabulary-themed poems, newspaper clippings, and Josh’s sincere first-person accounts that swing from moments of swagger-worth triumph to profound pain.” A page turner, even if you’re not especially a sports fan.  See also the other books in his Crossover series: Booked and Rebound.

Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate is a spare, quieter free-verse novel published in 2007 that still resonates in the present moment. This touching story of a young Sudanese war refugee trying to find his way in America is told through his own eyes and voice.

Middle Graders love humor.  Here are some books that take pitch-perfect aim at the middle-grade funny bone.

I’m loving Chris Harris’s I’m Just no Good at Rhyming and other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grownups.  Of course he is good at rhyming, but kids will find the title poem hilarious.

Caleb Brown is also a humor treasure, especially his Hypnotize a Tiger: Poems about Just about Everything.  See also The Ghostly Carousel: Delightfully Frightful Poems.  He has a new book coming out in June, Up Verses Down: Poems, Paintings, and Serious Nonsense.

Douglas Florian is  best known for his slightly younger books of clever word-play and paintings.  But he has two big books of humor: Poem Depot, Aisles of Smiles and Laugh-eteria. He has also collaborated with  J. Patrick Lewis in the wildly clever Poem-Mobiles: Crazy Car Poems.

Younger middle-grade fans of Shel Silverstein are in for a treat with his posthumously published book of spoonerisms  Runny Babbit: A Billy Sook.

What about middle-graders who would not only like to read poetry but to write their own?  Of course the best way to learn to write is to read and write and write some more.  But the following books may give young writers some encouragement and inspiration:

Kathi Appelt, Poems from Homeroom : A Writer’s Place to Start

Ralph FletcherPoetry Matters: Writing a Poem from the Inside Out and Writer’s Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You.

Paul B. Janeczko, A Kick in the Head: An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms

Ted Kooser, The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets.

 

 

Readers, the hardest part about compiling this list was choosing from all the possibilities!  Please use the comments to add poetry titles you think or know from experience middle-graders would love.  Then let’s all get to our bookshelves, independent bookstore, or local library and celebrate National Poetry Month!

Pocket Poetry for the Poetry Deficient

I, the World’s Worst Poetry Spokesperson, invite you to celebrate Poem in Your Pocket Day 2017 on April 27th. If you aren’t familiar with the event, the experts from the Academy of American Poets have an excellent explanation and links to downloadable pocket poems at their website.

Poetry reminds me to keep an open mind about things. It reminds me to give things I may not seem to like an honest chance. It reminds me the best horizons are the ones which expand the experiences. Put a poem in your pocket and a smile on your face for this special day.

In celebration, I like to rehash this personal poetry story for Pocket Poetry Day.

Back in sophomore honors English, my teacher, Mrs. Goheen, gave us the assignment of memorizing and reciting a poem in front of the class. I was not a huge fan of poetry to begin with, even though this IS getting better as I mature, so this was an assignment akin to flossing and brushing the dog’s teeth. When I saw poetry in books, the words got fuzzy and began to dance around in a deadly vortex. I readily admit now there are several poems and poets I really like: Shel Silverstein, Jack Prelutsky, Greg Pincus, Poe, Frost, etc.

Well, anyway, completely true to my young academic form, I forgot all about the memorization assignment until late evening the night before we are to be thrown to the wolves. I searched frantically through our home bookshelf, listening to the “I told you so’s” from my dear mother and the taunting coming from my brothers. All in the Hays House went to bed that night thinking old Mike was toast in the morning when English class rolled around.

I sat in class the next morning waiting to be called to the gallows. When my name was finally called, I could feel Mrs. Goheen anticipating my impending epic failure like a hawk eyeing a lone field mouse in the pasture. Honestly, I was probably the last over the cut line to get into honors English. I was a seat filler, a butt in the seat. The dumbest kid in the smart group. And, let me tell you, being a decent athlete did not help me one bit with the “honors” class teachers.

So, there I am, standing in front of the class trying not to make eye contact with anyone. I cracked my knuckles and cleared my throat for a little slapstick comic relief, took my best Shakespearean stance, and began…

The Duck
by Ogden Nash
Behold the duck.
It does not cluck.
A cluck it lacks.
It quacks.
It is specially fond
Of a puddle or pond.
When it dines or sups,
It bottoms ups.

I can’t remember what grade I received on the project. The audience seemed entertained and Mrs. Goheen unexpectedly seemed satisfied with the selection.(Note: She saw me as a dumb jock up at this point in our relationship, and I didn’t really do anything to convince her otherwise until my late year cutting-edge, incisive book report on a Bob Dylan biography.). I am sure it was probably a B+. I do recall Mrs. Goheen asking why I picked that particular poem. I lied. I told her it was my favorite poem. But in all reality, the poem fit when written on my tennis shoe. You know, just in case I got stage fright.

It’s probably fitting “The Duck” became my favorite poem and, to date, the only poem I have burned to memory. In its 30-word entirety!

Thank you, Ogden Nash.

Do you have your own personal version “The Duck”? A poem that holds a special place for you.

What poem do you carry around in your pocket and in your heart?

Please share in the comments and/or write a one-line poem to celebrate the day. 

Happy Poem In Your Pocket Day to one and all!

Poetry gives us a different lens through which to view and/or try to explain the world around us.

National Poetry Month: Making Poetry WOW!

April is National Poetry Month, and today’s post is all about poetry!

There are many perceptions of poetry these days, and one of them is that it’s boring.

As a young child, I listened to my parents read poetry by Carl Sandberg and James Whitcomb Riley. As a young adult, I found Emily Dickinson and Elizabeth Barrett Browning and read them to myself. The classical poetry canon many of us grew up with is lovely, but there are so many different kinds of learners and we need to try to reach more of them. Wouldn’t it be great to help them find the wow of poetry? One way to do that is to explore a varied collection of poetry forms for the varied collection of readers we all want to ignite.

Here are just a few ways you can help kids explore poetry. You might even make poets of some of them!

Novels in verse can be particularly interesting for Middle Grade readers (I have found them to be fearless about trying something new, myself), but also for those readers who are developing their stamina and excitement about reading in general. Synopses are from IndieBound unless otherwise noted.

The Crossover, by Kwame Alexander, 2015 Newbery Medal, 2015 Coretta Scott King Honor

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‘With a bolt of lightning on my kicks . . .The court is SIZZLING. My sweat is DRIZZLING. Stop all that quivering. Cuz tonight I’m delivering, ‘ announces dread-locked, 12-year old Josh Bell. He and his twin brother Jordan are awesome on the court. But Josh has more than basketball in his blood, he’s got mad beats, too, that tell his family’s story in verse, in this fast and furious middle grade novel of family and brotherhood from Kwame Alexander (“He Said, She Said” 2013).

Diamond Willow, 2009 Bank Street Children’s Best Book of the Year and Salt: A Story of Friendship in a Time of War, a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2013 , both by Helen Frost

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Twelve-year-old Willow would rather blend in than stick out. But she still wants to be seen for who she is. She wants her parents to notice that she is growing up. She wants her best friend to like her better than she likes a certain boy. She wants, more than anything, to mush the dogs out to her grandparents’house, by herself, with Roxy in the lead. But sometimes when it’s just you, one mistake can have frightening consequences . . . And when Willow stumbles, it takes a surprising group of friends to help her make things right again.

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Anikwa and James, twelve years old in 1812, spend their days fishing, trapping, and exploring together in the forests of the Indiana Territory. To Anikwa and his family, members of the Miami tribe, this land has been home for centuries. As traders, James’s family has ties to the Miami community as well as to the American soldiers in the fort. Now tensions are rising—the British and American armies prepare to meet at Fort Wayne for a crucial battle, and Native Americans from surrounding tribes gather in Kekionga to protect their homeland. After trading stops and precious commodities, like salt, are withheld, the fort comes under siege, and war ravages the land. James and Anikwa, like everyone around them, must decide where their deepest loyalties lie. Can their families—and their friendship—survive?

May B and Blue Birds, both by Carolyn Starr Rose

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May is helping out on a neighbor’s Kansas prairie homestead—just until Christmas, says Pa. She wants to contribute, but it’s hard to be separated from her family by 15 long, unfamiliar miles. Then the unthinkable happens: May is abandoned. Trapped in a tiny snow-covered sod house, isolated from family and neighbors, May must prepare for the oncoming winter. While fighting to survive, May’s memories of her struggles with reading at school come back to haunt her. But she’s determined to find her way home again. Caroline Starr Rose’s fast-paced novel, written in beautiful and riveting verse, gives readers a strong new heroine to love.

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It’s 1587 and twelve-year-old Alis has made the long journey with her parents from England to help settle the New World, the land christened Virginia in honor of the Queen. And Alis couldn’t be happier. While the streets of London were crowded and dirty, this new land, with its trees and birds and sky, calls to Alis. Here she feels free. But the land, the island Roanoke, is also inhabited by the Roanoke tribe and tensions between them and the English are running high, soon turning deadly.
Amid the strife, Alis meets and befriends Kimi, a Roanoke girl about her age. Though the two don’t even speak the same language, these girls form a special bond as close as sisters, willing to risk everything for the other. Finally, Alis must make an impossible choice when her family resolves to leave the island and bloodshed behind.

Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson
National Book Award, 2015 Newbery Honor, 2015 Coretta Scott King Award, 2015 Sibert Honor, 2015 Claudia Lewis Award for Older Readers

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Jacqueline Woodson, one of today’s finest writers, tells the moving story of her childhood in mesmerizing verse.
Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become.

Picture books of science-themed poetry are another wonderful way to connect with readers. Picture book treatments may seem simplistic but they are one of the best ways to grab a reader of any age in the shortest possible time. There are many new ones being released all the time, but here are just a few. I wish there had been books like these when I was a budding science enthusiast!

Step Gently Out and Sweep Up the Sun, both by Helen Frost with photographs by Rick Lieder

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What would happen if you walked very, very quietly and looked ever so carefully at the natural world outside? You might see a cricket leap, a moth spread her wings, or a spider step across a silken web. In simple, evocative language, Helen Frost offers a hint at the many tiny creatures around us. And in astonishing close-up photographs, Rick Lieder captures the glint of a katydid’s eye, the glow of a firefly, and many more living wonders just awaiting discovery. Fascinating facts about all the creatures pictured may be found at the end.

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Baby robins, pen-beaked in their nest. Mallards winging to a new clime. Whether chickadees or cardinals, sparrows or starlings, here are commonly seen birds in their natural settings, captured in photographs of rare beauty and grace. In perfect synchrony, a lyrical narrative evokes images of play and flight, perseverance and trust.At the end, readers will find profiles of the featured species. 

An Egret’s Day, by Jane Yolen, photographs by Jason Stemple
National Outdoor Book Awards Honor book

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Poems and photographs take readers up close to observe the daily life of the extraordinary Great Egret. A Great Egret rarely rests. This majestic bird, with its big feet, even bigger beak, and breathtaking lacy wings, is a treat to watch. With his camera, photographer Jason Stemple takes us close to these magnificent creatures to witness their physical–and quirky–beauty as well as their daily habits and behavior–soaring, hunting, preening, nesting–which most of us never get a chance to see. Meanwhile, celebrated poet Jane Yolen offers her keen observations in carefully-crafted poetry that is at once whimsical, thoughtful, and thought provoking. Interesting facts about the bird accompany each poem.

Insectlopedia, by Douglas Florian

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The windows are open and bugs are everywhere!

Spectacular Science: A Book of Poems, by Lee Bennett Hopkins, illustrated by Virginia Halstead

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Showing that science is not a dry subject at all–rather it’s a way of looking at the world–these poems, by poets both beloved and new, cover a wide array of topics, including tools of science, weather, seeds, animals, and the processes of freezing. Full-color illustrations.

The Beauty of the Beast: Poems from the Animal Kingdom, edited by Jack Preultsky, illustrated by Meilo So

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Culled by Jack Prelutsky from the works of more than 100 highly acclaimed poets of the twentieth century, here is a poetic parade of the animal kingdom that ranges from the lowly earthworm to the majestic whale and just about every creature in between. Some of the poems are playful and funny; others are insightful and thoughtful–but all are brief and fun to read aloud. Whether by Ogden Nash or Seamus Heaney, William Carlos Williams or Marianne Moore, the striking images of each poem are captured in the deft brushstrokes, sure sense of color, and lyrical compositions of Meilo So, a brilliant young watercolorist.

Fanciful and funny poems are the ones we turn to most often to capture kids’ imaginations, and they exist in abundance. Here are just a few which have delighted the Middle Grade students I’ve taught.

Once I Ate a Pie, by Patricia MacLachlan and Emily MacLachlan Charest, illustrated by Katy Schneider (this is one of a series featuring animal images and poetry)

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It’s a dog’s life!  Every dog has a tail to wag . . . and a tale to tell. Patricia MacLachlan and Emily MacLachlan Charest asked a collection of canines to speak up—and so they do, in words, barks, and yips. Captured here are accounts of happy days filled with squeaky toys, good smells, plenty of naps, and the very important jobs they do for the people they love to love.

The Dragons are Singing Tonight, by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Peter Sis

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Prelutsky and Sis…bring to life so many sorts of dragons: the large, the small, the ferocious, the technological, the gentle, the ominous, and the disconsolate.(from Booklist)

Don’t Bump the Glump and Runny Babbitt, both by Shel Silverstein

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It’s a zoo in here!

Have you ever . . .

Seen a Gritchen in your kitchen?
Dared to dance with the One-Legged Zantz?
Declined to dine with the Glub-Toothed Sline?

You haven’t? Well then, step inside—but only if you are ready to be amazed, tickled, astonished and entertained by this most unusual bestiary of silly and scary creatures.

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Welcome to the world of Runny Babbit and his friends Toe Jurtle, Skertie Gunk, Rirty Dat, Dungry Hog, Snerry Jake, and many others who speak a topsy-turvy language all their own.

Oh, Theodore! Guinea Pig Poems, by Susan Katz, illustrated by Stacey Schuett

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Come meet Theodore: a plump, fuzzy guinea pig with a big appetite, a lot to say, and a personality all his own. As you, and his new owner, get to know him, you’ll find out what he eats and how he speaks. You’ll also discover the work involved in caring for a pet: feeding, cleaning, and taking him out for exercise. But it hardly seems like work once your pet becomes your best friend.
With the popularity of guinea pigs as family and classroom pets, Theodore’s antics are sure to ring true to many readers. And for those who haven’t had a guinea pig of their own, these short, funny, and accessible poems will create a vivid first impression.

In addition to reading poetry, one way to understand it is to dig into its different forms for yourself by writing some! Here are a few books to get you started exploring different styles of poetry with students.

A Kick in the Head: An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms, by Paul B. Janeczko, illustrated by Chris Raschka

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In this splendid and playful volume — second of a trilogy — an acclaimed creative team presents examples of twenty-nine poetic forms, demonstrating not only the (sometimes bendable) rules of poetry, but also the spirit that brings these forms to life. Featuring poems from the likes of Eleanor Farjeon (aubade), X. J. Kennedy (elegy), Ogden Nash (couplet), Liz Rosenberg (pantoum), and William Shakespeare, the sonnet king himself, A Kick in the Head perfectly illustrates Robert Frost’s maxim that poetry without rules is like a tennis match without a net.

R is for Rhyme : A Poetry Alphabet, by Judy Young, illustrated by Victor Juhasz

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From acrostics to ballads to meter and metaphor, enjoy this collection of poems that illustrate poetic tools, terms, and techniques. Each term and technique is demonstrated.

Read a Rhyme, Write a Rhyme, by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Meilo So

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Prelutsky has invented a method he calls ‘poemstarts’ to help children get started in writing poetry. He provides several introductory lines of a simple poem and then offers some open-ended suggestions for its completion. In this thematically organized collection, Prelutsky offers ten poemstarts on different popular themes, complemented by three short poems on the same subject by different authors.

Need more help with ideas to share the wow of poetry with students? Here are some resources for teachers.

http://www.readwritethink.org/classroom-resources/calendar-activities/april-national-poetry-month-20478.html

http://teacher.scholastic.com/poetry/
http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/lesson-plan/national-poetry-month-activities
http://www.readingrockets.org/calendar/poetry
http://ettcweb.lr.k12.nj.us/forms/newpoem.htm

Happy reading, happy writing, and happy National Poetry Month!

In fourth grade, Valerie Stein touched an ancient artifact from an archaeological dig. Though she never got to travel the world in search of buried treasure, she ended up journeying to new and exciting places between the pages of books. Now she spends her time researching history, in museums and libraries, which is like archaeology but without the dirt. Valerie’s book, The Best of It: A Journal of Life, Love and Dying, was published in 2009. Both her current work and an upcoming middle grade series are historical fiction set in Washington State. Valerie is proprietor of Homeostasis Press and blogs at the Best of It.