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.

Interview and Giveaway with Molly Burnham, author of TEDDY MARS: ALMOST A WORLD RECORD BREAKER

 

I am THRILLED to have debut middle-grade author Molly Burnham on our blog.  In fact, you might say I could set the WORLD RECORD in thrillsy-ness because Molly is the author of TEDDY MARS: ALMOST A WORLD RECORD BREAKER!

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Teddy is determined to set a world record, no matter what it takes!  What world record do you think you could conquer?  Do you have a favorite world record?  Did you do any unusual research for this book?

Teddy is the kid I wish I had been: persistent, determined, and obsessed. I’m certain I don’t have the qualities required to break a record on my own. Although one friend suggested I break the record for sleeping in a sweater for the most days in a row (I do sleep in a sweater all winter because I’m always cold).

Really, I’d like to do a community event-it’s part of my punk ethic-something where a group needs to chip in. I do better with loads of people around (this is true for many parts of my life except writing). So I think it would be a record for the largest group to pick up trash, or paint a mural, or create a park, or paint a school, or build a library.

I have to say, I don’t have a favorite record. I really appreciate the creativity of everyone who breaks a record. There are definitely records that don’t appeal to me as much, like having the most Twitter followers. It just doesn’t seem as amazing as running in flippers, or eating jellybeans with chopsticks.

Some of Teddy’s ideas are pretty outlandish – including a scheme involving pigeons and POOP.  Where did you get these ideas?  Did you have to go through a lot of ideas to get to the gems?

First off, I try to hang out with kids as much as possible. They are geniuses and they are hilarious. They remind me of all the creative ways we might approach life. Second off, I keep my eyes open for moments of funniness in everyone (including myself) like the fart scene with all the relatives. That came because my husband and I seem to fart a lot lately. (I definitely didn’t farted as much when I was a kid.) I thought it would be even funnier to have a whole family of grown-ups farting.  Because what’s funnier than that? And, yes, sometimes I go through a lot of ideas to find the best one. I often sketch these out in drawings instead of writing them down, because the book is very slapstick humor, and pictures help me with that.

Molly as a totally terrific seafaring kid!

Molly as a totally terrific seafaring kid!

When/how did the idea for Teddy first come to you?  Did the situation or the character come first?

Aspects of the story had been swirling in my brain for some time. I had taught third grade and was struck by how the students still loved The Guinness Book of World Records, and how much I had loved it as a kid. So I was interested in writing about a kid who loved the book. I also thought a lot about siblings and about feeling seen by your family. That came from my experience as a child, as well as with my children who sometimes do not feel like I see them, or understand them.

The first sentence came out of me like a satisfying burp. One day I was writing in my kitchen, at the time we had a cat and an enclosed cat box, and I thought, what if a kid liked climbing into a cat box? Right away Teddy started speaking, and he wouldn’t let go. After that, it was up to me to follow him and the rest of the characters around until the story was written.

Teddy has many siblings, including a little brother known as THE DESTRUCTOR, who is always ruining Teddy’s plans.  Did you come from a large family?  As a writer, was it hard to portray these dynamics/manage all the characters?  Do you use charts, index cards, Scrivener?

I come from a small family, just an older sister. I do have a number of friends from large families, and my husband has quite a few siblings. I found in talking with them that the emotions are very similar in whatever family size you’re from, but how much attention is paid to you changes with the amount of children. Although, I would say, as a child of the 1970’s, I don’t think parents paid a lot of attention to us no matter how small the family. But I’ll be curious how my kids reflect on their childhood. Most of the characters are little bits of me, or people I know, and then a lot of imagination.

I start writing by hand in notebooks. I keep those around and scribble in them. I love sticky notes for writing notes to myself, but I don’t carefully post them on a bulletin board. I don’t even own a bulletin board. I just make piles on my desk. Mostly my rule about writing is to not have any rules.  I have to embrace the chaos in my own life. Sometimes I write all day, sometimes my kids are sick, sometimes I have to go to the dentist, sometimes I get up at five in the morning, and sometimes I stay up late. I really don’t have any rules. (I tried Scrivener, but it’s too organized for me).

I do have a treadmill desk, and I walk when I’m writing. But when I’m editing I sit. Or else I feel like I’ll throw up.

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Author Molly Burnham – NOT throwing up

 

Teddy has some fabulous tips on how to set a world record.  What are your tips for writing a FUNNY book?

I wish I could answer this question better than to say I read a lot of funny books. Then I keep them close to me so that whenever I get serious (which can happen rather more easily than I’d like) I open one of those books and read a passage and then remember I’m writing a funny book and revise with that in mind. Right now I have a Junie B. Jones book on my desk and Emily Jenkins’ book Toys Go Out. I also watch funny TV shows.

 What’s next for you?

There are two more Teddy Mars books coming out. The second book, Teddy Mars Almost a Winner, is with Trevor Spencer (the extraordinary illustrator) right now. And I’m working on the third book. I have lots of other stories I’d like to offer the world. But Teddy Mars is my priority right now.

Thanks, Molly!  If you have a world-record contender in your life who would like a copy of TEDDY MARS: ALMOST A WORLD RECORD BREAKER, leave a comment about what world record YOU’D like to break!

Meet Carol Weston, author of Ava and Taco Cat

Welcome Carol Weston, author of the new novel AVA AND TACO CAT. On top of her middle grade novel writing career, Weston is also the “Dear Carol” advice columnist at Girls’ Life Magazine and a prodigious letter writer to The New York Times (40 published and counting). She’s here to discuss palindromes, Judy Blume and where she got the inspiration for Ava’s hometown.

Carol Weston, author of Ava and Taco Cat

Carol Weston, author of Ava and Taco Cat

Why kids’ books?
Back in college, when I studied French and Spanish literature, I dreamed of being a writer, but I didn’t imagine that I’d find my voice while impersonating a fifth grader. And yet I am so happy that after numerous magazine articles and books for teens and adults, I started writing for children. When my own daughters were little, I wrote a series about Melanie Martin and her brother Matt the Brat, and now I tell the tales of Ava Wren and her sister Pip and their word-nerd parents. Melanie lived in Manhattan; Ava lives in Misty Oaks.

Why Misty Oaks?
For 21 years, I’ve been the Dear Carol advice columnist at Girls’ Life Magazine. About five years ago, I received a snail mail letter and I remember noticing that the return address was “Misty Oaks.” Misty Oaks! It is evocative, isn’t it? Somehow a seed was planted. When I’m overwhelmed with my real life, I tell my husband, “I’m going to Misty Oaks,” then head into our daughter Emme’s room–now our guest room–and I wrestle with the latest manuscript. Fiction writing is hard work but oddly calming too.

Did you say Emme?
Yes! Emme is our second daughter. It’s not Emma or Emily; it’s Emme. When she was ten and grownups misheard her name, I’d sometimes hear her say, “It’s E-M-M-E. It’s a palindrome.” Maybe that planted a seed too! Note: Emme is now a grownup herself and she’s an important reader for me. I’m about to hand her the third Ava book, AVA XOX, to get her notes and input. It’s wonderfully lucky to have trusted family members read a manuscript before my “real” editors. Emme gives me great feedback and knows she can say, “This page doesn’t work” and that I will still love her to pieces.

Ava and Taco Cat

Ava and Taco Cat

What can you tell us about the new book?
In AVA AND TACO CAT (note the palindrome!), fifth grade Ava really really wants a cat, but when she and Pip sneak into the rescue center, complications begin. Ava becomes obsessed with her new pet, and her semi-neglected best friend Maybelle ends up making a new friend. This is hard on Ava (as it is on so many kids that age). To distract herself, Ava starts collaborating with Pip on a picturebook about fish. Ava rhymes and Pip draws, and they have high hopes that it will get published. But nope, nothing is that easy and there are lots of twists and turns before things work out.

Things work out?
Hey, it’s a kids’ book! One of my favorite things about writing for kids is that it’s not like a Shakespeare play where you almost expect corpses to litter the stage at the end. No way. Lots of page-turning adventures, but when you are reading a book for kids, spoiler alert, things usually do turn out okay.

Even for their picturebook?
Oh no! Alphabet Fish does not go the distance. Nor should it. Truth told, I found a similarly fishy manuscript in an old file in my filing cabinet –so maybe I did aspire to write for kids sooner than I’d remembered. But without telling you much more, let me say that when Ava finally starts to write about a subject closer to her heart, the story she tells finds a much wider audience. Including one person who–oops, I’d better stop before I spill too much!

Carol Weston and kids meet Judy Blume

Carol Weston and kids meet Judy Blume

Is there one living children’s book author you admire?
There are many! But Judy Blume is right up there. Here’s a photo of her with me back when my girls were… girls.

 

 

 

 

 

Want more Carol? Here she is with her cat talking about Ava and her cat.

Andrea Pyros is the author of My Year of Epic Rock, a middle grade novel about friends, crushes, food allergies, and a rock band named The EpiPens.