Monday, April 04, 2011

Poetry in the Classroom - Crazy for Insects

Do you suffer from entomophobia or insectophobia? If so, then this post for you! There is no better way to overcome your fear of the little critters than to look over some amazing images and read a bit of poetry about them! (Well, okay, actually holding a cockroach, walking stick, or beetle in your hand might help, but my blog just doesn't have that power--yet!)

Let's start with a favorite poem from Insectlopedia, a collection of poems written and illustrated by Douglas Florian.
Photo used under Creative Commons from Chaval Brasil
The Praying Mantis
by Douglas Florian

Upon a twig
I sit and pray
For something big
To wend my way:
A caterpillar,
Or bee--
I swallow them

Poem ©Douglas Florian. All rights reserved.
I have long been a fan of Florian's poems and artwork. The poems are often irreverent and play upon words in unusual and sometimes surprising ways. They are accompanied by vibrant watercolors that enhance the subtext of the poems. For example, the illustration of the mantis shows it affixed to a branch feeding on a moth. On that branch is a prayer book. It's a clever piece and utterly delightful.

Here's what Douglas had to say about his writing and artwork in this book.
In INSECTLOPEDIA I primed brown bags with white gesso, then painted insects on those bags with watercolors, using a very fine sable brush. Afterward I cut and pasted and flipped and flopped pieces of those pictures and added medieval lettering. I love to give a shape to a poem if it makes sense. My poem about a sawfish is in the shape of a saw. My inchworm poem arches like an inchworm.

Excerpted from Embracing the Child: Meet Douglas Florian.

There are 21 poems and illustrations in this book, 19 of them about insects and two about spiders. Readers will find poems about the caterpillar, dragonfly, army ants, walkingstick, hornet, termites, crickets and more in this collection.

Since I've already shared one praying mantis poem, let's look at another. This one comes from the wickedly funny book The Little Buggers: Insect & Spider Poems, written by J. Patrick Lewis and illustrated by Victoria Chess.
Photo used under Creative Commons from pdulichney
The Praying Mantis Waits
by J. Patrick Lewis

Waiting motionless for hours,
Concentrating all her powers,
She sat upon a bed of flowers--
Begonias red and yellow.

Love happened by--a handsome mate!--
Her heart began to palpitate.
She kissed him--it was their first date--
Then ate the pesky fellow.

Poem ©J. Patrick Lewis. All rights reserved.
Ah, true love. There is more romance in this collection in The Marriage of the Spider and the Fly, though as you can imagine, it doesn't end well. You'll also find poems about the rhinoceros beetle, yellow jacket, damselfly, termite, ants, and more. They are all good fun with a hint of realism as the poems are descriptive and hint at careful observation.

Want the poop on a dung beetle? Check out this poem in Hey There, Stink Bug!, written by Leslie Bulion and illustrated by Leslie Evans.
Photo used under Creative Commons from Arno & Louise
Dung Beetle
by Leslie Bulion

Hard-working scarab
sculpts a tasty ball for grub
Beetle rock and roll
saves the world from dancing
knee-deep in elephant doo.

Poem ©Leslie Bulion. All rights reserved.
The terrific thing about the poems in this collection is that they are accompanied by factual information. Here's an excerpt about the dung beetle.
Dung beetles belong to a family of wide-bodied beetles called scarab beetles. Scarabs are often very colorful.

Dung beetles eat chunks of animal manure, called dung. Some dung beetles pat the dung into balls. They kick-roll the balls away and may even take them underground. Dung beetles are quite a clean-up crew!
Bulion's collection contains 19 poems, a helpful glossary of scientific terms, poetry notes that describe the form of the poems (Dung Beetle is a tanka), and suggestions for additional resources. You'll find lots of hard science in this one.

For a different take on bugs, particularly those you may find in your garden, I am quite fond of Oddhopper Opera: A Bug's Garden of Verses , written and illustrated by Kurt Cyrus. This collection provides an unusual view of the garden and its inhabitants in all their (sometimes disgusting) glory. Here's Cyrus' view of the dung beetle.
Photo used under Creative Commons from dolorix
Bugs are digging--scoop it out.
Move it, boys, let's hack it out!
Front feet, back feet, scrape it out.
        Dig we must.
        Excuse our dust.
Black muck, brown muck, mix it up.
Watch it, boys, it's breaking up!
Punch it! Pat it! Patch it up!
        Bless my soul--
        It's time to roll.
Dung balls rolling--move 'em out!

Poem ©Kurt Cyrus. All rights reserved.
Readers will find all manner of oddhoppers (bees, beetles, crickets, fleas, etc.) in this one. There's a beetle on his back (kicking to right himself), a snake in the grass, katydids, a walking stick, stinkbug and, more. The rhythm of the text, the cadence that propels you forward, the hidden jokes in the illustrations--all artfully combine to make this thoroughly enjoyable.

These poetry collections are but a few of the sources out there for looking at insects in a different way. In addition to poetry, here are some links you might want to visit.
  • Check out the Insects Index and Entomology Unit at Exploring Nature Educational Resource. The author has degrees in Botany, Zoology and Anatomy, Physiology and Biomedical Illustration, so the resources are not only grounded in good science, but are beautifully illustrated.
  • Orkin may be a pest control company, but they have some terrific teacher resources.
  • Yucky Roach World provides interesting facts and insights into the life of a roach and roach anatomy.
  • Try some Fun and Games from the Amateur Entomologists' Society.
  • If you would like to add live insects to your classroom collection, the University of Kentucky Department of Entomology has some advice on Classroom Mascots. You'll also find good information at Using Live Insects in Elementary Classrooms.
  • BugGuide.Net is an online community of naturalists who enjoy learning about and sharing our observations of insects, spiders, and other related creatures. You'll find lots of guide pages and photographs.
  • At Bugscope, students get to control a scanning electron microscope to view insects like never before.
  • has some amazing photos and interesting facts about insects.
Do you have any buggy poetry you love? How about resources for studying entomology in your classroom? If so, please share! I would love to hear your suggestions.


  1. The Florian is a fun "who am I?" poem, and the J.P.L. could be used as a song! Love those creepy mantises.

  2. So happy to be in such entomollustrious company.
    Thank you, Tricia!
    Leslie Bulion

  3. Paul Fleischman's Joyful Noise is one of my all-time favorite poetry collections and it's all about bugs! It's antiphonal poetry, so listening to a good audio version or having two people (who've rehearsed) read it make for the best effect.

  4. Yes! And a Newbery winner! I can't believe I forgot it. Thanks for the reminder.

  5. Tricia,

    I think your Poetry in the Classroom posts for National Poetry Month have been terrific. What a great idea! I hope teachers will take advantage of them.

    I've been having major problems with Blogger. It's really set me back with my plans for National Poetry Month. It's been so frustrating!

    I'm not sure why I'm experiencing problems when so many other bloggers aren't.