Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Dogs and Cats, Cats and Dogs - Books and Poetry

I've been reading books for the Cybils for several weeks. I should be writing a review for Steve Jenkin's book Dogs and Cats right now, but my mind has wandered into "perfect pair" territory. When Elaine Started Wild Rose Reader back in April, she outlined her hopes for the blog. One was to write features called "A Perfect Pair," where she would discuss two books with a common storyline or theme. This is a wonderful idea, particularly when one book in the pair is poetry.

I have a hard time convincing my students (some preservice teachers, some experienced teachers) to use the genre of poetry in the classroom. I wish it wasn't such a struggle, but it is. Perhaps by pairing poetry with other books, teachers can see the value in integrating more poetry into their instruction.

So, back to Dogs and Cats. I am crazy about the work Steve Jenkins does. I am always amazed at the depth he is able to create with his cut and torn paper collage creations. This book is told in two halves/directions, with the dog side and cat side offering parallel information (history, physical characteristics, etc.). They meet in the middle with the question "Friends or enemies?" Brief passages of informational text are accompanied by Jenkins' signature illustrations. Silhouettes of dogs and cats with interesting bits of information appear in the other animal's section, encouraging readers to think about the comparisons between animals. There is a lot of great information here in a book that is fun to peruse.

There are a number of poetry books that would make good partners for Jenkins' book. Here are a few of my favorites.
  • I Am the Dog I Am the Cat by Donald Hall - This free verse poem alternates between the voice of a rottweiler and the voice of a tabby cat.
  • Meow Ruff: A Story in Concrete Poetry by Joyce Sidman - A dog and cat are trapped under a picnic table in a rainstorm. Since much of the verse forms the images on the page, readers will enjoy searching for the buried verses while reading the story.
  • Raining Cats and Dogs by Jane Yolen - Similar in format to Dogs and Cats, this book can be read from both directions. Tired of poems about dogs? Flip the book over and read about cats. (This one's out of print, so check your local library for a copy.)
In addition to these poems, there is a terrific picture book that would also pair nicely with Jenkins' book.
  • Cool Cat, Hot Dog by Sandy Turner - Appearing on facing pages, the cat and dog in this story argue over who is the superior animal.
Have I missed a good dog and cat/cat and dog book of poetry or picture book? Please let me know and I'll add it to this list.


  1. Tricia: Great post. But I'm curious. Why the resistance to poetry in the classroom? Can you give more details about the reasons the teachers give for NOT doing it?

  2. Tricia,

    I have a whole bin of "perfect pair" books I've been meaning to review for Wild Rose Reader--and the Florian and Jenkins books are among them. I just haven't gotten around to writing about most of the books yet.

    We spend two weeks on poetry in the children's literature course that I teach. For their final project, my students have to compile a themed poetry anthology with thirty poems. They select a topic (weather, seasons, nature, the ocean/marine animals, reptiles and amphibians, mammals, insects, space, feelings, family, holidays, etc.) and then search through at least seven books for poems on their subject. They can't include more than two poems by any one author. They're also required to select a variety of poetry.
    The project opens many of my students' eyes to the wealth of poetry that is there just waiting for them to find...if they will take the time and effort.

    In addition to pairing poetry books with other books, I sometimes used to look for a special poem or two to share in conjunction with the reading of a picture book, nonfiction book, or chapter book.

    I think too many kids have had bad poetry experiences in school with teachers who never developed an appreciation for the genre themselves. I've even met children's librarians who have admitted to me that they don't personally care for poetry. It appears that Newbery Award committees rarely consider poetry books as worthy of a medal.

    If I can hook just a few people on children's poetry through my blog, I'll be happy!

  3. Tricia,

    I only have time right now to list poetry books.


    - Dog Poems by Dave Crawley
    - Little Dog Poems & Little Dog and Duncan by Kristine O'Connell George
    - The World According to Dog: Poems and Teen Voices by Joyce Sidman
    - It's About Dogs by Tony Johnston
    - Good Dog by Maya Gottfried


    - Cat Poems by Dave Cawley
    - Cat, What Is That? by Tony Johnston
    - So, What's It Like to Be a Cat? by Karla Kuskin
    - I Am the Cat by Alice Schertle
    - Cats Vanish Slowly by Ruth Tiller
    - Cat Poems selected by Myra Cohn Livingston
    - Cata Are Cats compiled by Nancy Larrick

    The last few cat books may be out of print now. Cat, What is That? and So, What's It Like to Be a Cat are picture books written in verse.

  4. Sara,
    I think Elaine hit the nail on the head. Many of my undergrads come in with a real dislike for poetry, largely because of experiences in school.

    I also think that with the push for teaching kids how to read and later focus on reading comprehension that teachers don't look beyond the basal read for examples, or simply don't feel that poetry qualifies as "reading material."

    Much in the way that Elaine encourages students to compile a poetry anthology on a particular topic, I share poems, in a variety of forms, for each major topic we study as a means to show how valuable poetry can be as an instructional resource. This is why I include poems and poetry books in my thematic lists.

  5. I love DOGKU by Andrew Clements. It's a story about a dog written in haiku! Very clever!