Thursday, November 04, 2010

Marilyn Singer and First Food Fight This Fall

First Food Fight This Fall: And Other School Poems, written by Marilyn Singer and illustrated by Sachiko Yoshikawa, follows a group of children as they learn and grow over the course of a school year. These poems are written in the children's voices and fairly sing about the highs and lows of school.

Here's what Marilyn had to say about this title.
FIRST FOOD FIGHT THIS FALL started off as one poem, the final one in the book, "Last, First," which I had hoped would be a picture book unto itself. My brilliant editor, Meredith Mundy, suggested instead that I write a whole series of poems about kids in a particular class. A lot more work, but a truly interesting direction, I thought.

I wanted to create different characters, but the book needed more than that--an arc for each one. I'm big on hope and positive self-development, but not on sentimentality, so I strove to make the characters' development--and the poems--more organic, more in keeping with how I felt kids would grow and how THEY would express those positive changes.

I used several poetry forms in this book--haiku, cinquain, triolet, a variety of other rhyme schemes, and free verse, assigning those forms to particular characters, the way I imagined them speaking. Narrative poetry is, to me, about "inner speech" more than actual speech--it is poetic, it has metaphors and the like, but it should not sound forced. It should sound like the person speaking and not the poet. A third-grader may be more internally poetic, but he or she is still not going to use huge vocabulary words or highly sophisticated philosophy unless he or she is some savant and, none of those were in the third grade class found in FIRST FOOD FIGHT THIS FALL.
The poem that sparked this particular project is a celebration of those last days of school and first days of summer. All the children in the class have a voice in this closing poem. Here are the first stanzas of the last and first sections of "Last, First."
Last hurry-up bell,
Last pledge to the flag.
Last big words to spell.
Last wild game of tag.
First chance to sleep late.
First day it's too warm.
First do-nothing date.
First great thunderstorm!
For me, it's the arc of personal development that I love in reading the poems here. Marilyn's writing ensures that we see how these kids grow and change over the course of the year. While the children consider everything from gym to art to cleaning erasers, it's what they have to say about poetry that moves me. Here's what Laksmi says at the beginning of the year.
What I Think of Poetry
by Laksmi

Poetry makes me
sleepy: lullaby words in
a warm, quiet room
Here's what she and Kwan thought a bit later in the year.
When Ms. Mundy Read Us A Poem
by Laksmi & Kwan

I fell asleep as
usual. Only this time
I dreamed of flowers.

On the
grayest fall day,
all the maples outside
were bare, but in our room cherry
trees bloomed.
Laksmi discovers the beauty of poetry while in Ms. Mundy's class, and when I read her changing perspective I have to wonder why. What did Ms. Mundy do to change her mind? What can teachers do to help children discover poetry? How might we use First Food Fight This Fall in this endeavor? I'd love to hear your ideas about sharing poetry with children. Won't you share?

All poems ©Marilyn Singer. All rights reserved.


  1. Just having read Mirror Mirror, which is one of the most clever books that I have read, I am looking forward to Singer's latest.

  2. I can't wait to see this! It would be fascinating to pair it with LOVE THAT DOG. Jack changes his mind about poetry, too.

  3. Cheers to Marilyn Singer! Her poems get kids hooked on poetry. Thanks for sharing news of her latest book.