Friday, April 15, 2011

Poetry in the Classroom - Family Poems

Family has been much on my mind lately. I feel the distance and time that separates us acutely sometimes. These days I just feel too far away. Until we're together again, I'm reading poems about mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers. Here are a few books that I find particularly appealing.
In Daddy's Arms I Am Tall: African Americans Celebrating Fathers is a collection put together by Lee & Low Books and illustrated by Javaka Steptoe. It opens with an Ashanti proverb that says "When you follow in the path of your father you learn to walk like him." The poems in this book are a moving tribute to fathers and grandfathers and the ways in which they shape our lives. One of my favorite poems was contributed by the illustrator.


You drew pictures of life
with your words.
I listened and ate these words you said
to grow up strong.
Like the trees, I grew,
branches, leaves, flowers, and then the fruit.

I became the words I ate in you.
For better or worse
the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

Poem ©Javaka Steptoe. All rights reserved.
At the Lee & Low site for the book you'll find book talks, a video interview with the illustrator, an activity idea, and a teacher's guide.
Fathers, Mothers, Sisters, Brothers: A Collection of Family Poems, written by Mary Ann Hoberman and illustrated by Marylin Hafner, contains 30 poems about any relative you can imagine, from the traditional nuclear family members to step-parents and siblings, cousins, and more. Here's one I love. (I don't have a little sister, but a big sister. I'm sure she probably had thoughts like these!)
The Little Sister Store

When my silly little sister
Knocks my blocks down on the floor,
I tell her I will sell her
At the little sister store.

She knows I'm only joking,
That there isn't such a shop;
But even though she knows it--
As least it makes her stop!

Poem ©Mary Ann Hoberman. All rights reserved.
Emma Dilemma: Big Sister Poems, written by Kristine O'Connell George and illustrated by Nancy Carpenter, highlights the relationship between big sister Jessica and Emma, her little dilemma (sister!). Their relationship is funny, annoying, caring and oh so complex. Just what a relationship between sisters should be. Here's the poem that gives the book its title.
Emma Dilemma

Sometimes Dad
calls my little sister
Emma Dilemma.

Dad says
a dilemma is
an interesting problem.

I know Dad's joking
but sometimes
Emma is my dilemma.

Poem ©Kristine O'Connell George. All rights reserved.
Relatively Speaking: Poems About Family, written by Ralph Fletcher with drawings by Walter Lyon Krudop, is a collection of 42 poems that together provide a loving picture of a family as they move through the year waiting on the arrival of a new baby. Told by a young boy, they are funny and poignant. Here are two that express the range of emotions in the collection.
My Brother's Girlfriend

She's amazingly cute but
what could she possible see
in a kid like my brother?

They stop over the house
on the coldest winter day,
two hickeys on her neck.

Mosquitos are awful bad

this time of year
, I tell her
and she makes a face at me.

The Scar

I'm playing war
with six of my friends,
using sticks for guns

arguing over who's dead
who's only wounded
who can die the best

when the door opens
and Grandpa walks out
wearing no shirt.

We see the scar
on his back. He got it
in a real war.

Nobody says anything
but after he passes by
we start a different game.

Poems ©Ralph Fletcher. All rights reserved.
Mother Poems, written and illustrated by Hope Anita Smith, is a book that packs an emotional punch, introducing readers to a young girl who clearly adores her mother, and then loses her much too soon. What follows is the story of her journey through the stages of grief and healing. The sense of loss and longing in this collection is overwhelming. Here's an example.
Q and A

I never thought to ask my mother
what I was like when I was a baby.
Did I laugh a lot?
Was I fussy?
Did I have a favorite toy?
What was my first word?
When did I roll over? Crawl? Walk?
Did I ever like carrots?
Mothers give us our stories,
at least the beginning.
My mother left before she got a chance to
give me mine,
and I forgot to ask.
God should have made me smarter.
I am remembering less and less about my mother
and wanting to know more and more about me.

Poem ©Hope Anita Smith. All rights reserved.
You can read a few more poems from the book and hear Hope talk about in this NPR interview.

Here are some additional resources for thinking and teaching about family.
Do you have a favorite book of poetry about family? Or a lesson you love to teach? Please let me know so I can include it here.

1 comment:

  1. I remember you introducing us to that Ralph Fletcher collection -- it's a hoot.