Thursday, April 14, 2011

Poetry in the Classroom - Amazing Acrostics

On my regular travels through classrooms I have noticed that students are often asked to write acrostic poems. Sometimes I see their names or the topic they are studying as the spine of their poems. Too often these acrostic studies are merely lists of descriptive words or phrases. Poetry they are not. I think good acrostic poems are hard to write. To inspire students in their acrostic writing you need strong mentor texts they can use as models. The books that follow provide outstanding examples of acrostics that work.
Spring: An Alphabet Acrostic, written by Steven Schnur and illustrated by Leslie Evans, is a collection of 26 acrostics from April to zenith. The poems each serve as a complete thought about the subject and are crafted exquisitely with what seem to be just the right words. Here are a few examples.
After days of
Rain, the last
Ice and snow finally
Leave the earth.

Egrets, ducks and
Geese nest in the marsh
Grass, waiting for their
Shells to hatch.

Nestled under the
Eaves, a
Song-filled ark of
Twigs and grass.

Poems ©Steven Schnur. All rights reserved.
You'll also find poems for the words buds, calf, dawn, frog, grass, hopscotch, infant, jungle, kites, ladder, May, outside, parade, quintuplets, raft, seeds, twilight, umpire, Venus, wheat, Xing, and young.

All four books in this series are equally strong and beautifully illustrated. You can view some of Evans' illustrations in the series, as well as read some of the poems they accompany at the Picture Book Directory of Children's Illustration. Using Google Book Search you can also view samples from Summer: An Alphabet Acrostic, Autumn: An Alphabet Acrostic, and Winter: An Alphabet Acrostic.
African Acrostics: A Word in Edgeways, written by Avis Harley with photographs by Deborah Noyes, begins this way.
ACROSTIC (uh-Kros-tik)

Welcome, all poets--both new
Or well versed. Non-rhymers or
Rhymers! Come,
Dive in headfirst!

Inviting all writers--
Now you're just the right age.

Explore the acrostic that rides
Down the page.
Get a word you
Enjoy and would like to define.
Write it down vertically
And fill in each line.
Your name is a very good way to begin.
Surprise yourself. Find that poem within!

Poem ©Avis Harley. All rights reserved.
Now that you've been introduced to the notion of a "word in edgeways," I doubt you'll ever look at an acrostic in the same way. In fact, Harley pushes the boundaries of the form and does more than write simple acrostics. Let's skip to the endnotes for a moment where readers will find descriptions and examples of the many forms found in this collection, such as the double acrostic, multiple acrostic, cross acrostic, and more.

The text contains 18 poems, each accompanied by a gorgeous photograph of the animal described. The photographer, Deborah Noyes, provides stunning views of each creature and provides a note at the end of the text describing her experiences capturing them. Also included are a series of brief Nature Notes on each animal. Poems cover the crocodile, rhino, kudu, lion, hornbill, elephant, stork, zebra, giraffe, buffalo, ostrich, African wildcat, lioness, bonobo, impala, hippo, bat-eared fox, and leopard. Here's one of my favorites.
A Croc Acrostic


Poem ©Avis Harley. All rights reserved.
The poems in this book are deftly created. The words spelled out vertically range from single words (herald, lying, poppet, outstanding) to phrases (wild stripes, cloud friends, fatherly advice, beauty in the beast). The double acrostics, quintuple acrostic (yes, that's FIVE words), and concrete acrostic deserve some special attention. The patterns that exist within them never get in the way of the poem itself, and finding them is a bit of a surprise. In a word, this is a stunning collection.
Silver Seeds, written by Paul Paolilli and Dan Brewer with paintings by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher, is a collection of 15 nature poems using the acrostic form. The verses are ordered to follow a young boy and girl through the day, beginning with dawn and ending with night. In between they encounter sun, shadow, hills, trees, leaves (though the word is leaf), a bee, butterfly, hummingbird, clouds, fog, rain, the moon, and stars. Here is the poem that gives the book it's title.
Silver seeds
Tossed in the air
And planted in the sky,
Reaching out of the darkness
Sprouting wonder.

Poem ©Paul Paolilli and Dan Brewer. All rights reserved.
The poems in the collection are economical and evocative. The metaphors so carefully selected are spot-on.

Now that you've had a chance to think a bit about this form, here are some resources you may find helpful.
Have I missed a good book of acrostic poetry? If so, please let me know. I'd love it include it here.

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