Thursday, April 28, 2011

Poetry in the Classroom - Diggin' on Dinosaurs

What is it about dinosaurs that so captures the attention of children? Is it their size? The mystery? Or perhaps it's the fact that every time a new skeleton, nest, or coprolite is unearthed we learn something new. So, in celebration of our longstanding fascination with dinosaurs, here are some poetic connections.
Dinothesaurus: Prehistoric Poems and Paintings, written and illustrated by Douglas Florian, is a collection of 20 poems chock full of information about dinosaurs. Each double page spread contains an illustration and a poem. The illustrations were done with gouache, collage, colored pencils, stencils, dinosaur dust, and rubber stamps on primed brown paper bags and are full of interesting little tidbits. For example, the pages for the poem Iguanodon has a female dinosaur (Iguano-Donna) who is wearing bracelets and a pearl necklace. Before, during, and after reading the accompanying poems they beg to be looked over carefully. The poems themselves are laced with puns, word play, and made-up words. A pronunciation guide for each dinosaur name and the name’s meaning are included below each title. Here's an example.
Pterosaurs TERR-oh-sawrs (winged lizards) The pterrifying pterosaurs Flew ptours the ptime of dinosaurs. With widespread wings and pteeth pto ptear, The pterrorized the pteeming air. They were not ptame. They were ptenacious-- From the Ptriassic Pto the Cretaceous. Poem ©Douglas Florian. All rights reserved.
You can check out some of the artwork and read additional poems from the book at Florian Cafe. Tyrannosaurus Was a Beast, written by Jack Prelutsky and illustrated by Arnold Lobel, is a collection of 14 poems that tantalizingly trip off the tongue. They are humorous and full of rhythm and rhyme. The table of contents includes a thumbnail of each dinosaur next to the dinosaur's name, time period it lived in, where it came from, and its size. Along with each poem is an illustration of the dinosaur, a pronunciation guide, and meaning of the name.
Brachiosaurus Brak-ee-uh-sawr-us "Arm Lizard" Brachiosaurus had little to do but stand with its head in the treetops and chew, it nibbled the leaves that were tender and green, it was a perpetual eating machine. Brachiosaurus was truly immense, its vacuous mind was uncluttered by sense, it hadn't the need to be clever and wise, no beast dared to bother a being its size. Brachiosaurus was clumsy and slow, but then, there was nowhere it needed to go, if Brachiosaurus were living today, no doubt it would frequently be in the way. Poem ©Jack Prelutsky. All rights reserved.
This book was published in 1988, so you should be aware that most likely a few of the facts about these dinosaurs have changed since then. Though some of the poems may be dated, this does not change how much fun it is to read these aloud. Bone Poems, written by Jeff Moss and illustrated by Tom Leigh, is a collection of 42 poems inspired by the bones of dinosaurs and early mammals found at the American Museum of Natural History. Some of the titles are extraordinarily long, but they are funny and often a meaningful part of the poem. In some cases the titles ask a question or provide important information. The poems are all rhyming, many of them written in limerick form. Here are two examples.
What You Should Answer If Some Scientist Comes Up to You and Says, "What Do All Proboscideans Have in Common?" Noses Like hoses. Incorrect A dinosaur cheerfully winked, And said, "I will not be extinct! I'm too wise, I'm too clever, I'll be here forever!" (He wasn't as smart as he thinked.) Poems ©Jeff Moss. All rights reserved.
This one ends with answers to a dinosaur math quiz, an apology for pages 70-71, and a pronunciation guide. Dizzy Dinosaurs: Silly Dino Poems, selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins and illustrated by Barry Gott, is a collection of poems in which dinosaurs are the main characters in the kinds of everyday activities children engage in, such as eating lunch, playing at recess, riding the bus, and more. Since this is part of the I Can Read series, the vocabulary, structure of the poems, and use of rhyme are intended to support beginning readers. The book opens with a table of contents and section on how to say dinosaur names.
School Rules No chomping No romping No treading on tails No clawing No climbing No gnawing your nails No roaring No soaring No sharpening teeth No stamping No stalking Small friends to eat These are rules All dinos must follow They keep school safe-- So no one gets swallowed! Poem ©Sarah Hansen. All rights reserved.
You can read several poems from this book on the blogs of contributing poets. At the blog of Laura Purdie Salas you'll find the poem Acrocanthosaurus. At the blog of Linda Kulp you'll find the poem Saltopus. You can also browse inside the book at the Harper Collins web site. Dinosaur Poems, compiled by John Foster and illustrated by Korky Paul, is a collection of 21 humorous poems about dinosaurs that engage in human activities, often with dire results. Contributions come from a variety of poets, though you may not recognize many of them since this is an Oxford University Press publication.
Companion I have an allosaurus And I take him everywhere, And really I can't understand Why people stop and stare. He's loving, kind and gentle, He wouldn't hurt a soul, Unless of course you laughed at him-- And then he'd eat you whole! Poem ©Clive Webster. All rights reserved.
You'll find poems about dinosaurs singing in the chorus, eating the fridge, having a party, stuck in the bath, grinding up bones, and much more. Dinosaur Dances, written by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Bruce Degen, contains 17 poems about dinosaurs dancing the night away. You'll find dinosaurs waltzing, square dancing, doing ballet, hula, and more. The words and rhymes in these poems create a rhythmic beat that mimics the dances they are describing. Here is the title poem.
Dinosaur Dances When the lights went low Over prehistoric plains, And the music beat In rhythm with the rains, All the mud and ooze Showed the scientist remains Of a prehistoric party. Here's Tyrannosaurus Dancing on his toes. Here is Stegosaurus In a ballet pose. And with airy Pterodactyls Anything goes At a prehistoric party. Brontosaurus sits And waits this number out. But here's Allosaurus Doing "Twist and Shout" And seven little Coelurosaurs Hopping all about At the prehistoric party "Goodness gracious, It's Cretaceous Party time again!" Poem ©Jane Yolen. All rights reserved.
All of the poems from this book have been set to music. You can list to an excerpt of the poem Ms A Hulas at Lui Collins web site. Dinosaurs, selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins and illustrated by Murray Tinkelman, is a collection of 18 poems that pays homage to dinosaurs in museums and in our dreams. In that respect, this one has a very different feel than many of the other books in this set that focus on the beasts themselves, whether described as animals or creatures with human qualities.
Dreamscape A giant came into my dream And thundered to and fro. As thunder-lizards often do He traveled high and low. He shook the hills and mountaintops And spilled the seven seas. He drank eleven rivers, He ate a hundred trees. But even thunder-giants sleep-- He wandered off to find his bed. I didn't notice where he went, I simply, quickly, woke instead! Poem ©Lillian M. Fisher. All rights reserved.
You'll find poems here by Bobbi Katz, Patricia Hubbell, Valerie Worth, Myra Cohn Livingston, and others. This title was selected as an NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book in 1988. There are a HUGE number of dinosaur resources on the web. Here are a few of my favorites. Okay, if I don't stop now I'll keep on going! If I've missed a great dinosaur poetry book or web site, please let me know.


  1. Several of these are new to me--thanks, Tricia! I'll check them out.

    And Can You Dig It, by Robert Weinstock, has some great dinosaur and caveman poems (his goal was NOT scientific accuracy:>) It's a really fun read!

  2. Here's another example of dino poems. Author wrote 'em and his son illustrated them. The dino-rhymes are fact-packed and as accurate as possible...without sacrificing the fun factor.