Thursday, November 11, 2010

Marilyn Singer and Turtle in July/Fireflies at Midnight

So Turtle in July is the book that introduced me to Marilyn Singer. In the late 80s when I was teaching a unit on animal adaptations I decided I wanted to share some animal poems with my students. While browsing in a local bookstore I stumble upon Turtle in July. This collection of nature poems includes poems that pair animals with the months of the year as well as four seasonal poems focused on the bullhead (a type of catfish). The poems on hibernation (timber rattlesnake) and migration (Canada goose) sold me on the book and turned me into a fan. I've been looking for and reading Marilyn's poetry and nonfiction ever since!

Here's what Marilyn had to say about these titles.

I've mentioned that TURTLE IN JULY began as a prose picture book about a grandmother and grandson walking around, looking at animals, and that it never worked. I was at pond in the Japanese garden at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden when I saw a turtle and heard its voice in my head telling me how good it felt to be in cool water during that hot day in July. I really loved the idea of getting under the shell of that turtle, as it were, and wondered if I could get into the skin of other animals as well. To do that, I spent quite a bit of time at parks, zoos, wild places, observing, as well as researching. Sometimes (usually when no one was looking), I tried to make sounds or move like those animals as well.

I did the same thing for FIREFLIES AT MIDNIGHT. TURTLE features animals during different months/seasons; FIREFLIES at different hours of the day. I have always loved fireflies--I used to catch them when I was a kid and put them in a jar, then let them go--but I think the first poem I actually wrote for this book might have been "Frog." I've written a lot of frog poems. I'm very attracted to these amphibians, though I'm not sure why. My husband and I have a house in Connecticut and frogs rule the night there with their calls. All of the animals in TURTLE are in the same general locale, but for FIREFLIES, I was thinking even more specifically of critters I've seen near that pond in Connecticut.

I want to share two wonderful things regarding these two books. The first is that an elementary school class set "Beavers in November" from TURTLE to music and performed it for me. What a delight! The second is that I writer I idolize, Susan Cooper, was handed FIREFLIES at a conference. I stood there as she looked through the book, then pointed to "Spider" and said, "Very good poem." I grinned like a fool!

Here's a favorite poem from each book.
Canada Goose
(from Turtle in July)

Did I tell you?
I should tell you
Going home
We're going home
Are you coming?
Yes, you're coming
Going home
We're going home
How the sun will warm each feather
How the wind will make us fly
Follow me -- I'll be your leader
As we flap across the sky
Are you ready?
I am ready
Going home
We're going home
Is it time now?
It is time now
October's happened
And we're going home

(from Fireflies at Midnight)

I, crayfish,
no day fish
no way fish
at all
Nosy otter, watch its jaws
Careless wader, watch my claws
Spend each morning
lying soundless
under stones
Spend each evening
shredding stems
picking bones
If you teach poetry writing, you can use Fireflies at Midnight to teach about personification. Learn more by reading the article Personification by Lee Bennett Hopkins.

You can find a nice review of Fireflies at Midnight with some classroom suggestions at the blog written by Emily Cox.

All poems ©Marilyn Singer. All rights reserved.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, TURTLE IN JULY was the first Marilyn Singer book I ever read too! When I began teaching fifth grade in the early 90s, it was one of the very first poetry books I purchased. Thank you for this peek behind the scenes about how Marilyn gets "into their skins" and thereby, ours.