Monday, April 14, 2008

Poetry in the Classroom - Reaching for the Moon

I've always been a stargazer and long enamored of the heavens. When I was growing up, the gentleman who lived across the street had a telescope that I would often gaze through. I was allowed to sit outside late into the evening (never on a school night!) and watch the skies.

I loved exploring the solar system with kids when I was teaching, though I know many teachers who don't feel this way. They think the topic is too abstract and difficult to make "concrete." Not so! Not only does NASA provide a wealth of free resources, but there are many wonderful books (Seymour Simon's work comes to mind here) for use in the classroom. There are even some terrific poetry books on the subject.

Blast Off! Poems About Space, compiled by Lee Bennett Hopkins and illustrated by Melissa Sweet, is an easy to read anthology containing 20 poems by various poets, including Jane Yolen, Bobbi Katz, J. Patrick Lewis, Ashley Bryan, Lee Bennett Hopkins and others. Since this book is in an easy-reader format, the poems are accessible for young children. Here is an excerpt.
The Moon
by Lillian M. Fisher

The moon has no light
of its own.
It's cold and dark
and dead as stone,
But it catches light
from the burning sun
And shows itself
When each day is done.

Comets, Stars, the Moon, and Mars, written and illustrated by Douglas Florian, is a witty, stylish look at the solar system. With illustrations painted in gouache on brown paper bags, readers are treated to a visual feast that includes die-cut, circular peepholes that allow glimpses of heavenly bodies from adjacent pages. The poems are typical Florian, containing made up words, like super-dupiter and Jupiterrific, clever rhymes, and fanciful imagery. Here is an excerpt.
the moon

A NEW moon isn't really new,
It's merely somewhat dark to view.

A CRESCENT moon may seem to smile,
Gladly back after a while.

A HALF moon is half-dark, half light.
At sunset look due south to sight.

A FULL moon is a sight to see,
Circular in geometry.

After full, the moon will wane
Night by night, then start again.
The book ends with a galactic glossary that provides a bit of information on each body or topic covered, and also includes a selected bibliography for further reading.

Space Songs, written by Myra Cohn Livingston and illustrated by Leonard Everett Fisher, contains 13 poems that not only discuss the science of the heavens, but also express their vastness and just how astonishing they are. On black pages accompanied by paintings of the poem's topic, the solar system comes to life in word and image. Here is an excerpt.
              Moon remembers.

            Marooned in shadowed night,

          while powder plastered
        on her pockmarked face,
      scarred with craters,
    filled with waterless seas,

  she thinks back
to the Eagle,
  to the flight
    of men from Earth,
      of rocks sent back in space,
        and one
              in the Sea of Tranquility.
Together these three books provide a range of language-rich poems for use in teaching about the solar system. Imagine the fun you could have simply discussing the three poems shared here. All three poets wrote about the same body, yet came up with such different results. What might your young poets write? Try brainstorming some ideas for what they might like to write about the moon and compose a class poem. Then let them take these ideas even farther to write some of their own moon poetry.

For those of you looking for some additional materials for the study of space, check out these resources.


  1. Wow!!! Thank you. I'm just bookmarking this entry and planning to come back several times during the summer as I plan a space unit for next year. Thanks for the incredible work compiling this.

  2. I LOVE THIS POST! It's really gonna help me with something I need help with this summer (a volunteer library project).

    thanks, you rock.