Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Poetry A-Z: Day 30 ... Celebrations

I can't believe it's that last day of April. As usual, after 29 days of poetry goodness I have a laundry list of things I wish I'd done differently, topics I wish I'd covered, and books I know I missed. So how does one cap off a month filled with poetry? I've decided to do it with a bit of celebration.

CELEBRATION - the action of marking one's pleasure at an important event or occasion by engaging in enjoyable, typically social, activity

Days to Celebrate: A Full Year of Poetry, People, Holidays, History, Fascinating Facts, and More, written and edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins and illustrated by Stephen Alcorn, is an enormous collection of filled-to-the-brim facts by month accompanied by carefully selected poems. Each month of the year is highlighted with a double-page calendar spread in which each  box on the calendar includes one or more noteworthy events (birthdays, historical happenings, holidays, etc.) for that date. At the top of each double-page spread is a fact box listing the origin of the month's name and information on the flower, birthstone and zodiac sign for the month. Along the bottom readers will find a quote by an individual with a highlighted birthday and a report of some weather extreme that occurred during the month. 

Since we're wrapping up April, here are some of the tidbits you'll find for the month of May.
Mother's Day - 2nd Sunday 
Memorial Day - 4th Monday 
The name for May haas a mixed history. Some say it stems from Maia, the goddess of growth, while others maintain the month was named to pay tribute to the Majores, or Maiores, the older branch of the Roman Senate. The number of days has varied from twenty-two to thirty to today's thirty-one. 
Weather Report - On May 17, 1979, the temperature dipped to 12 degrees at the Mauna Kea Observatory, establishing an all-time record low for Hawaii.
For each of the poems in the monthly sections you'll find a bit of informational text about the person, holiday, or event. Here's what you'll find on p. 49.
May 17, 2000:
Sue, a dinosaur, is exhibited in Chicago, Illinois
In South Dakota in 1990 Sue Hendrickson discovered bone fossils that later were assembled into the largest, most complete skeleton ever found of the Tyrannosaurus rex, a dinosaur that lived more than 67 million years ago.
     In 1997, at an auction, the Field Museum of Chicago, Illinois, offered the highest price for the bones, more than $8 million.
     After three years of laboriously putting Sue back together, she went on exhibit in the Field Museum.
And here's the poem for this event.

Fossil Finds
by Rebecca Kai Dotlich

No skin,
no scale,
no ancient moan—
her legacy is strictly

One of my favorite poems in the book is on p. 104 and is part of the December section.

December 21: First day of winter

I Heard a Bird Sing
by Oliver Herford

I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December
A magical thing
And sweet to remember:
"We are nearer to Spring
Than we were in September,"
I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December.

World Rat Day: Poems About Real Holidays You've Never Heard Of, written by J. Patrick Lewis and illustrated by Anna Raff, is a collection of 22 poems about holidays you won't believe actually exist, but they do! There are poems here for Dragon Appreciation Day (January 16), National Hippo Day (February 15), Worm Day (March 15), Firefly Day (April 10), Limerick Day (May 12),—which if I'm not mistaken is Edward Lear's birthday—and many more! While all of the poems and nearly all of these holidays are devoted to animals, I'm find I'm quite partial to the notion of Chocolate-Covered Anything Day (December 16), though the notion of chocolate-covered ants is a bit revolting!. Here are two of my favorite poems.

January 16 - Dragon Appreciation Day


At every meal, bow your head, fold your wings, and say, “Graze.”
Wait till someone screams, “Let’s heat!”
Don’t talk with people in your mouth.
Never blow on your soup. That only makes it hotter.
Don’t smoke.
Never remove a hare from your food.
Play with your food, but don’t let it run around screaming.
Chew your food. Once.

March 15 - Worm Day

Take my advice:
For your own good,
Stay away from
The Robin 'hood.

Poems © 2013 J. Patrick Lewis. All rights reserved.

You can learn a bit more about this book and the wonderful illustrations in the video below.

Sadly, this is it for April 2013 and Poetry A-Z. I hope I've fittingly ended this month-long feast of poetry. Now go on into May and continue to celebrate the goodness that is poetry. Thanks so much for joining me.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Poetry A-Z: Day 29 ... Gardens

My son and I spent Saturday morning in the community garden on campus pulling weeds. Growing weeds seems to be my forte, while growing vegetables ... NOT SO MUCH! My garden partner and I have planted radishes, broccoli, two kinds of basil, squash, and sunflowers. We're waiting a bit to put in the tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers. I do love fresh vegetables, so pulling weeds will be tedious and highly annoying, but I have to keep reminding myself of all the good things that will come in the end.

Given my recent experiences, this seems like a particularly appropriate time to write about poetry in the garden.

Oddhopper Opera: A Bug's Garden of Verses, written and illustrated by Kurt Cyrus, is a collection of poems that provides an unusual view of the garden and its inhabitants in all their (sometimes disgusting) glory. It begins:
Once upon a garden rotten,
Twice forlorn and half forgotten . . .

Drip--drip--cold and wet.
Winter isn't over yet.

Drip--drip--soaking, sopping
Always dripping, never stopping.

Drip--drip--sound of thunder
Wakes a weevil way down under.

Drip--drip--burrow deep.
Wait for spring. Go back to sleep.
When the temperature rises, all manner of oddhoppers (bees, beetles, crickets, fleas, etc.) come out of the woodwork! There's a beetle on his back (kicking to right himself), a snake in the grass, katydids, a walking stick, stinkbug and, more. Here's one that always makes me smile and makes listeners wrinkle their noses in delight.
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!
The rhythm of the text, the cadence that propels you forward, the hidden jokes in the illustrations--all artfully combine to make this one thoroughly enjoyable book. Perhaps most of all I like that Oddhopper Opera is a handsome invitation for young readers to explore the world of the garden and its inhabitants on their own time, while getting down and dirty with some real live bugs.

    I Heard it From Alice Zucchini: Poems About the Garden, written by Juanita Havill and illustrated by Christine Davenier, is a collection of poems by turns both whimsical and scientific, Juanita's first poetry book (though far from her first published work!) is a magical collection about growing things. Here's the poem that opens the book.
    When I Grow Up

    In the still chill of a winter night
    seeds on the gardener's bench
    rattle their packets
    with chattering.

    "When I grow up,
    I'm going to be . . . "

    "The biggest watermelon."
    "Greenest spinach."
    "Toughest kale."
    "A rutabaga round as the world."
    "An everywhere zucchini vine."
    "Cornstalk so tall I touch the sky."

    Little seeds
    with big plans,
    chittering, chattering,
    except for one,
    not a murmur from his packet.

    Hey, little seed,
    what about you?
    What will you be
    when you grow up?

    In the still chill of the winter night:
    "I'm going to be FIRST!"

    And the radish is right.

    Poem © Juanita Havill. All rights reserved.
    Given that seeds and plants "talk" in this collection, readers will find all manner of garden gossip, and what fun it is! However, I'm still quite fond of this very simple poem.

    Plant seeds early in the spring
    when the ground is warm,
    two inches deep in well-tilled soil
    where they'll be safe from harm.

    Let the sun and rain pour down.
    Be careful where you hoe.
    A miracle is taking place:
    Seeds split and start to grow.

    Poem © Juanita Havill. All rights reserved.
    Juanita followed this book of poetry with Grow: A Novel in Verse. It is the story of Kate Sibley, a twelve-year old girl and Berneetha, a teacher who decides to plant a community garden on a vacant lot that has long been neglected and is strewn with trash. While folks at first just watch Kate and Berneetha work in the garden, soon they join in to help. Just as the garden begins to take shape, Randall Conn, the owner of the lot dies, and troubles ensue when his son decides to turn the lot into a parking garage. Will the garden survive?

    The story is deftly told in a series of poems that allows readers to watch both the characters and the garden grow. But more importantly, readers really get to know these characters inside and out. They are well drawn and utterly human. Here's an excerpt from the poem "About Berneetha."
    She does things:
    sizzling, stirring,
    zapping, rocking,
    purring, jumping,
    dancing things.
    With Berneetha
    everything happens
    big time
    even the quiet things
    like sitting still
    and staring at frost
    on the window in winter
    or counting cricket chirps
    when the summer sun sets (p. 13)
    Here's another excerpt, this time from the poem "Harlan's Favorite Flower."
    Once he asked Berneetha
    how a whole plant
    can sprout and grow and flower
    all from a sliver of seed.
    What was it
    in that seed
    that made it grow
    in the dirt
    and bloom yellow, white,
    purple, orange, maroon,
    like a conjure man had spoken
    a spell over it?

    Berneetha said
    we all start as seeds--
    each of us different,
    each of us beautiful. (pp. 58-59)

    Poems © Juanita Havill. All rights reserved.
    In Our Backyard Garden, written by Eileen Spinelli and illustrated by Marcy Ramsey - Set in the garden and around garden events, this is a collection of poems all about family that is filled with love and laughs.

    September's sun
    falls golden
    on the garden.
    A butterfly
    wings past
    my baby brother.
    Grandad picks
    the last of
    the zucchini.
    Grandmother cuts
    a last bouquet
    of mint.
    Aunt Sissy and I
    take one last
    hammock ride
    to places we have
    read about
    in books.

    Poem © Eileen Spinelli. All rights reserved.

    That's it for today. See you tomorrow for another mystery post and a wrap-up. Where has April gone?!

    Sunday, April 28, 2013

    Poetry A-Z: Day 28 ... School Days

    As my friends in K-12 schools finish up the last 9 weeks of the school year and begin testing like mad, things here are winding down. Classes here have officially come to an end, but we still have finals and I have LOADS of grading ahead of me. As I work to wrap up the spring semester and plan for summer school, I'm thinking a lot about the academic year. This cycle of school days puts me in mind of some wonderful books of poetry about school.

    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. What's most interesting is that readers will see how the kids grow and change over the course of the year. Here are two poems that show this growth.
    The Class I Hate
    by Fumi

    A-tisket, a-tasket,
    don't wanna shoot a basket,
    or join a baseball team,
    or walk the balance beam.
    Would I care to climb a rope,
    run, or tumble? One word: nope!
    I don't even like to swim.
    Guess what class I hate.
    It's gym!

    The Class I Love
    by Fumi

    Hickory, dickory, dock,
    hurry up, hurry up, clock!
    I want the time to pass
    so I can get to class.
    Here's the crazy thing:
    I can cha-cha, rumba, swing,
    do merengue, salsa, too.
    There's no dance that I can't do.
    Yes, I know what I once said.
    But now I love, love, LOVE Phys. Ed.!

    Poems ©Marilyn Singer. All rights reserved.

    Dear Mr. Rosenwald, written by Carol Boston Weatherford and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, is a collection of poems that tell the story of how one community came together to build a new school--a Rosenwald School. Imagine attending a school where wind sweeps through cracks in the walls, rain drips from the ceiling, and indoor heating and plumbing are noticeably absent. It may seem unbelievable, but for many African American children attending segregated schools, these conditions (and often worse) were the reality in public education.

    Weatherford's book begins with the poem 1921: One-Room School. Here is an excerpt.
    My teacher, Miss Mays, said,
    You can't judge a school
    by the building. When the roof leaks,
    she calls us vessels of learning.
    When the floor creaks, she says
    knowledge is a solid foundation.
    From the very beginning, the heart, the dreams, and yearning of people longing to be educated comes through. As told by Ovella, a young girl in the community, we meet dedicated people who put their blood and sweat into backbreaking work that doesn't earn a decent living, and then see them spend that money for the good of the community. We see families and communities at work, at home and church, coming together for the common good. You see, Rosenwald schools were only partially funded through grants from the rural school building program. The balance came from the community. This meant that hard-working, poor folks needed to raise money, acquire land and build that school. The poem New School Rally ends with these words.
    Everyone in church stood, clapping.
    How on earth will poor people
    find money to give away?
    How indeed? In the poem Taking Root, we learn that the church gives an acre of land for the new school. In the poems Box Party and Passing the Plate, we learn about the ways in which people worked and sacrificed to raise money. Finally, the seeds of hope begin to grow, as Blueprints for the school are presented. Soon building materials are acquired, a roof is raised, second-hand materials arrive, a playground is built, and a school is born. Every time I read this book, I'm all choked up by the time I get to 1922: White Oak School. It begins this way.
    Uncle Bo cut the ribbon at the doorway
    and we marched into the new school,
    proud as can be. The place sparkled.
    The poem that lends its title to the book is the final piece. Ovella completes her first lesson, writing a letter to the man who helped make this new school a reality.

    This is a moving and powerful book. I have highlighted the beauty of the language, but cannot fail to mention that the gouache and colored pencil illustrations by R. Gregory Christie remarkably capture and extend the emotion of the poetry.

    I Thought I'd Take My Rat to School: Poems for September to June, selected by Dorothy Kennedy and Illustrated by Abby Carter, contains 57 poems that describe the range of experiences children have in school, from classroom pets, to school supplies, recess, mean kids, and more. Poems in this volume are written by Gary Soto, Bobbi Katz, Judith Viorst, Karla Kuskin, Eve Merriam, and many others. There are at least three different poems on the topic of homework. Here is an excerpt from each one.
    by Russell Hoban

    Homework sits on top of Sunday, squashing Sunday flat.
    Homework has the smell of Monday, homework's very fat.
    Heave books and piles of paper, answers I don't know.
    Sunday evening's almost finished, now I'm going to go

    Homework! Oh, Homework!
    by Jack Prelutsky

    Homework! Oh, Homework!
    I hate you! You stink!
    I wish I could wash you
    away in the sink,
    if only a bomb
    would explode you to bits.
    Homework! Oh, Homework!
    You're giving me fits.

    by Jane Yolen

    What is it about homework
    That makes me want to write
    My Great Aunt Myrt to thank her for
    The sweater that's too tight?
    This is an entertaining collection of poems with many gems that are sure to please students.

    School Supplies: A Book of Poems, selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins and illustrated by Renée Flower, contains 16 poems about the school paraphernalia we simply can't do without. If you have kids who get excited about pencils, paperclips, crayons, and other such schoolroom tools, then this book will grab them with its artwork and its poetry. For the aspiring writer in your class, there are poems about new notebooks, writer's notebooks, and lots of writing utensils. For the kids who lean towards illustrated writing, there are poems on crayons and Popsicle sticks and glue. There is a homework poem in this one too. Here is an excerpt.

    by Barbara Juster Esbensen

    It rustles it
    shifts with no wind
    in the room to
    move it
    the blank white
    needs your attention.

    Stampede!: Poems to Celebrate the Wild Side of School, written by Laura Purdie  Salas and illustrated by Steven Salerno, is a collection of poems that recognizes and celebrates the ways kids mimic the behaviors of animals. The poems are funny, clever, and clearly recognize the ups and downs of being a kid. Here is one of my favorites.
    I'm one quiet fox.
    My desk is my den,
    with quizzes, smooth rocks, and
    a note from a friend.

    I tuck deep inside
    the hollowed-out wood
    to make me feel safe when I'm
    not understood.

    Poem ©Laura Purdie Salas. All rights reserved.

    The Bug in the Teacher's Coffee: And Other School Poems, written by Kalli Dakos and illustrated by Mike Reed, is an I Can Read Book designed to introduce poetry to children learning to read independently. The mask poems in this book are short, rhymed, and full of bouncy fun. Here are two poems from this book.

    Monkey Bars

    Rightside up,
    and upside down,
    Back and forth,
    And all around,
    The kids
    are making monkey sounds!


    Schools Get Hungry Too

    I'd like a bowl
    Of ruler stew,
    A pencil sandwich,
    And some glue.

    Some purple paint,
    I'd like to drink,
    And for dessert,
    A classroom sink.
    Poems © Kalli Dakos. All rights reserved.

    Lunch Box Mail and Other Poems, written and illustrated by Jenny Whitehead is a collection of 38 poems, most of them about school. While not all the poems are about school, they do cover a wonderful mix of subjects and use a variety poetic forms. They are playful and fun to read aloud. Here are the first two poems from the book, which provide contrasting views of school.

    The 1st Day of School

    Brand-new crayons and
          unchipped chalk
    Brand-new haircut,
          spotless smock.
    Brand-new rules—
          "No running, please."
    Brand-new pair of
          nervous knees.
    Brand-new faces,
          unclogged glue.
    Brand-new hamster,
          shiny shoes.
    Brand-new teacher,
          classroom fun.
    Brand-new school year's
          just begun.

    The 179th Day of School

    Broken crayons and
          mop-head hair.
    Scuffed-up shoes and
          squeaky chair.
    Dried-up paste,
          chewed, leaky pens.
    Dusty chalkboard,
          lifelong friends.
    One inch taller,
          bigger brain.
    Well-worn books,
          old grape-juice stain.
    Paper airplanes,
          classroom cheer.
    School is done and
          summer's here!

    Poem © Jenny Whitehead. All rights reserved.

    That's it for today. See you tomorrow for another mystery post!

    Saturday, April 27, 2013

    Poetry A-Z: Day 27 ... Baseball

    It was Casey Stangel who said “You got to get twenty-seven outs to win.” Since today is the 27th, it seems like the perfect day to talk about two of my favorite things--baseball and poetry. (Okay, I have a LOT of favorite things, but today I'm focused on our national pastime.)

    Let's start with a poem.

    Analysis of Baseball
    by May Swenson

    It's about
    the ball,
    the bat,
    and the mitt.
    Ball hits
    bat, or it
    hits mitt.
    Bat doesn’t
    hit ball, bat
    meets it.
    Ball bounces
    off bat, flies
    air, or thuds
    ground (dud)
    or it
    fits mitt.

    Rules of the Game, written by Marjorie Maddox and illustrated by John Sandford, is a collection that is not only a technical examination of the rules of the game and jargon, but also one filled with an intense love for the game. How can you not love a book with a poem devoted to the infield fly rule? Here's the concluding poem from the book.

    Grand Slam

    Dreams brimming over,
    childhood stretched out in legs,
    this is the moment replayed on winter days
    when frost covers the field,
    when age steals away wishes.
    Glorious sleep that seeps back there
    to the glory of our baseball days.

    Poem  ©Marjorie Maddox. All rights reserved.

    Let me admit here and now that I'm in love with Kevin Boland (known to his baseball-playing buddies as Shakespeare). How could I not love a boy who loves two of my favorite things--baseball and poetry? How could I not appreciate a boy who writes things like this?

    Man, sonnets are hard: counting
    syllables in every line, trolling
    for rhymes (p.16).

    I said I wouldn't write anymore,
    but I take that back.

    When I got sick, I missed baseball.
    When I got well, I missed writing (p. 56).

    I'm still trying to slip in some inside
    rhyme, just a few things that chime
    a little but don't go bongbongbong
    at the end of every line (p. 61).

    I've got this pitcher figured out: slider,
    fastball, curve. Slider, fastball, curve.
    Like meter in a bad poem--no surprises (p. 113).

    (Excerpts from Shakespeare Bats Cleanup by Ron Koertge.)
    Shakespeare Bats Cleanup, written by Ron Koertge, is an emotional story told through poems laced with humor, angst, love, loss and of course, baseball. What's a boy to do when he's told he's sick and can't play the sport he loves? His father, who is a writer, hands him a marble composition notebook and and says, "You're gonna have a lot of time on your/hands. Maybe you'll feel like writing/something down."

    By the fourth poem in, Kevin has taken a book about poetry from the den and secreted it away to his room.
    It feels weird smuggling something about
    poetry up to my room like it's the new
    Penthouse (p. 5).
    As Kevin recovers from mono he writes about the death of his mother, girls, baseball, the past, and the struggles of a typical teenager. The poems take a variety of forms, including sonnet, couplet, free verse, elegy, pastoral, pantoum, and more.

    The sequel to Shakespeare Bats Cleanup is the book Shakespeare Makes the Playoffs. Kevin Boland struggles with his new girlfriend (who doesn't really know much about poetry), his new poetry gal pal (who totally gets his poetry obsession), his English class, his father's dating, the line between friendship and something more, and baseball. As with Shakespeare Bats Cleanup, I appreciate Kevin's take on writing, life and baseball. Here are a few of my favorite excerpts.
    I love my thesaurus. I like
    to think about all the words
    in there, cuddling up together
    or arguing. Montagues on
    one side, Capulets on the other.
    Synonyms and antonyms (p. 4).

    He calls rhyme a benevolent bully because it'll make a poet
    look hard for the right word and then maybe he finds
    an even better one (p. 11)!

    Sadness is a big dark bus
    with a schedule all its own.
    But when it pulls up and the door
    opens with a hiss, you pretty much
    have to get on (p.25).

    The sestina is almost impossible. I tried one once
    and after a couple of stanzas threw myself onto
    the nearest chaise and wept. Copiously (p. 80).

    All poems  ©Ron Koertge. Used with permission of Candlewick Press.

    Change-Up: Baseball Poems, written by Gene Fehler and illustrated by Donald Wu, is a collection of thirty-six poems in which the narrator describes his baseball-loving life. The collection begins in February with "Snow Baseball" and ends one year later with "Ballfield in February." In between there is anticipation, celebration, and a true reverence for the game. The fact that the narrator is a young boy who shares his love of the game with his family adds to the kid-appeal of this one. Here is one of my favorite poems.
    Fielder's Mitt

    On my shelf my mitt,
    stiff from winter's bench-
    warming cold,
    waits for spring,
    for mud-scuffed balls
    slapping past, taunting
    "Catch me if you can!"
    --a challenge
    that thaws my mitt
    for a chase
    through any mud-warmed
    in suddenly spring.

    Poem  ©Gene Fehler. All rights reserved.
    If you are interested in connecting this book to writing, you can download an activity sheet that encourages kids to write their own book of sports poetry.

    Fehler has also written a free verse novel entitled Beanball. Here's an excerpt from the poem that describes the defining event of the novel.

    Tim Burchard, umpire

    It’s the worst sound I’ve ever heard
    in all my years of umping.
    Oh, I’ve heard plenty of pitches hit a helmet.
    But this . . . this fastball, up and in.
    This one hit bone, right in the face.
    Not even a scream or grunt from the kid.
    He went down like he was shot.

    I know him.
    I’ve umped and reffed
    maybe a dozen of his games.
    Not just baseball—
    football and basketball, too.
    The kid’s a great athlete, a natural.
    That’s why it was such a shock to see him go down like that.

    The screams come from everywhere:
    bleachers, dugouts, infield, mound.
    Even from me.

    Luke "Wizard" Wallace's story is told by 28 different narrators. They include members of his Oak Grove baseball team, members of the Compton baseball team (the team Oak Grove was playing when Luke was hit), a number of Oak Grove High School students and teachers, members of Luke's family, a doctor and nurse at the hospital, and a number of other characters. There are many voices to keep track of at first, but they intertwine rather seamlessly to tell a most compelling story.

    That's it for today. See you tomorrow with another mystery post!

    Friday, April 26, 2013

    Poetry A-Z: A is for Avian

    I'm a bit sad that I'm at the end of this alphabetic trip through poetry. I really struggled in my final choice, wavering between aquatic and avian for at least a week. However, on my daily walks to work I've been enjoying the heron, ducks, and geese every morning, so my feathered friends made the choice for me.

    Before I begin, I recommend you read Adam O'Riordan's piece entitled Why Are Poets So Fascinated With Birds?. Here's an excerpt.
    What is that draws poets to birds? And why have so many turned to them at critical points in their own writing? The collective nouns we all remember from childhood speak of language's innate fascination with all things avian: a murder of crows, a murmuration of starlings, a parliament of fowls. And it's no coincidence we afford them the most poetic collective nouns: right from the birth of literature birds have been present.
    AVIAN - of or relating to birds 

    Hummingbird Nest: A Journal of Poems, written by Kristine O'Connell George and illustrated by Barry Moser, is a collection of poems in which George describes a hummingbird's building of a nest in a potted ficus tree on her patio, as well as the hatching and growth of the baby birds. The poems in the book are accompanied by vibrant watercolors that exquisitely capture the world of the hummingbirds. Each one contains a date that allows readers to the see the progression of events. The poems themselves are moving and full of the emotion that comes with watching an amazing event like this unfold. An extensive author's note describes how she kept a hummingbird journal and the joy brought to the family by simply observing the birds over the course of two months. There is also information about hummingbirds, as well as a list of selected books for both younger and older readers.

    The book begins with the poem, Visitor.
    A spark, a glint,
       a glimpse
       of pixie tidbit.
    Bright flits, brisk zips,
       a green-gray blur,
       wings, zings, and whirr--

    I just heard
       a humming of bird.
    What follows are poems that describe the dive-bombing of the family by a bird very determined to protect it's territory, nest building, egg hatching, nestling care and growth, flight practice and the inevitable empty nest. Poems are written from the perspective of the observer, as well as the disgruntled dog and cat. ("I'm a prisoner--because of a bird. How absurd.") Visite George's web site to  read another poem from the book. You can also listen to her read a few of the poems.

    The Company of Crows: A Book of Poems, written by Marilyn Singer and illustrated by Linda Saport, is a collection of 23 poems in which crows are viewed from the perspective of crows, other birds, animals, and people. Here's one of my favorites.

    The Movie Critic

    Cemetery bird,
         there you are on the big screen
    always sitting on a tombstone
         before the ghouls start to drool.
    Or else you're in the desert,
         pecking at a jawbone
    where someone's dying of thirst
         or something even worse.
    You're on posts near ghostly castles,
    You're on gates by weird estates.
    You're the messenger of monsters
         on a foggy, haunted heath,
         as the creepy music blares.
    What about you always scares us,
         you daytime traveler with no talons,
         you comic dancer with no teeth?
    Tell me, how on earth did you get stuck
         as an image of bad luck?

    Poem ©Marilyn Singer. All rights reserved.

    The Robin Makes a Laughing Sound: A Birder's Journal, written and illustrated by Sallie Wolf and designed by Micah Bornstein, is a beautiful nature journal that includes poetry, sketches, watercolors and more. The scrapbook look and feel of this book has been created using by Wolf's actual sketches and drawings that have been manipulated in PhotoShop.  The Author's Note in the beginning describes how a teacher ignited Wolf's love and passion for bird-watching.

    Organized by season, the pages contain a wealth of information about bird watching, bird identification, and behavior.  Here's the journal entry and poem that give the book its title.

    March 26 - I saw a cardinal & a robin perched in the same young maple, both singing.

    The Robin Makes a Laughing Sound

    The robin makes a laughing sound.
    It makes me stop and look around
    to see just what the robin sees—
    fresh new leaves on twigs of trees,
    a strong high branch on which to rest,
    a safe, dry ledge to hold its nest.
    The robin makes a laughing sound.
    I stop. I always look around.

    Poem ©Sallie Wolf. All rights reserved.

    In the back matter of the book is a section entitled About My Journals, in which Wolf describes her journaling process and how it has evolved over time. There is also a section of Resources where readers can find additional information on birds and birdwatching.

    The Cuckoo's Haiku: and Other Birding Poems, written by Michael J. Rosen and illustrated by Stan Fellows, is a collection organized by season, beginning with spring. The spare form works well in these poems, highlighting each of the 24 bird species in delightful ways. The illustrations are elegant and nicely complement the text. Each double-page spread reads like a bider's journal, with notes scribbled on the pages. For example, the page for the Eastern Bluebird contains these notes.

    chestnut throat, breast, and flanks
    males are darker, bright blue
    bluebirds are thrushes, related to robins

    Here's the poem from the facing page.

    on a staff of wires
    blue notes inked from April skies
    truly, spring's first song

    The back matter for the book contains a section entitled Notes for Bird Watchers and Haiku Lovers. Here's what is written about the Eastern Bluebird.
    One of the earliest birds to appear in the spring, the eastern bluebird is often thought of as the harbinger of the season. Its son, truly, truly, is a soft, garbled series of notes typically sung while flying or feeding. Since groups of bluebirds often rest on power lines that cross meadows, I imagined the lines as a musical staff with these blue quarter notes that run across spring's blue skies.
    Poem and Text ©Michael J. Rosen. All rights reserved.

    On the Wing: Bird Poems and Paintings, written and illustrated by Douglas Florian, is a collection of art and poetry that examines 21 birds with witty word play and a keen sense of observation. Here's one of my favorite poems. It is accompanied by an illustration of the bird with wheels for legs.

    The Roadrunner

    The roadrunner darts
    Down dusty roads
    In search of insects,
    Lizards and toads.
    Past tumbleweeds
    It speeds for snakes,
    And catching them,
    Turns on the brakes.

    Poem ©Douglas Florian. All rights reserved.

    Jane Yolen and her son Jason Stemple have collaborated on a number of poetry books with birds as the subject. To get a feel for the depth and vibrancy of the images in these books, be sure to check out some of Jason's bird photos. Here's an overview of these books.
    Wild Wings: Poems for Young People - The first collaboration between Jane and her son focused on birds, this collection of 14 poems was inspired by the stunning photos.

    Fine Feathered Friends: Poems for Young People - The second book on birds in the Yolen-Stemple collaboration includes even more gorgeous photographs and inspired poems in a variety of forms.

    An Egret's Day - This third collection focuses exclusively on the egret. That neck! Those feet! Photos get up close and personal and allow readers to see this magnificent bird from every angle. Poems full of metaphor and keen observation tell us much about these birds. Also included is factual information. 
    Bird's of a Feather -  The most recent book in the bird collaboration, contains 14 poems in a variety of forms, each accompanied by a brief bit of informational text.
    One of the features I particularly like about the most recent book is the Foreword by ornithologist Dr. Donald Kroodsma. It begins this way.
    As an ornithologist and obsessed with the details in the daily lives of birds, I know these eagles and chickadees and kingfishers and the other fine birds in this book. But after absorbing the poems and photographs here, I'll never see these birds again in the same way.
    . . .
    Scientists collect numbers and study the details, but these poems and photographs give us another angle, reminding us that birds are far more than an accumulation of facts.
    Here's one of the poems.

    Terns Galore

    At the seaside, terns galore,
    One tern, one tern, one tern more.
    I tern. You tern.
    My turn to fly, tern,
    Overhead and high, tern.
    Underneath and 'bye tern.
    Why, tern, why turn?
    Turning terns are all returning,
    There upon the shore.

    Poem ©Jane Yolen. All rights reserved.

    Feathers: Poems About Birds, written by Eileen Spinelli and illustrated by Lisa McCue, is a playful collection of 27 short, rhyming poems. The back matter contains some "feathery facts" about each of birds described in the poems. My favorite poem EVER about a woodpecker is in this book. Here it is.

    Wake Up

    No rooster to wake us.
    We're not on a farm.
    But we have our very own
    feathered alarm.
    It drums before breakfast
    on shingle and pole.
    I think there's some rooster
    in woodpecker's soul.

    Poem ©Eileen Spinelli. All rights reserved.

    This topic is so big that there are MANY more children's poetry books I could name here. While I haven't been recommending adult books in these posts, I'll end this list with two poetry books you'll find worthwhile, despite the fact that there is a bit of overlap in the selection of poems.

    Bright Wings: An Illustrated Anthology of Poems About Birds, selected by Billy Collins and illustrated by David Allen Sibley - I adore this work for its inclusion of classic and contemporary poetry on birds as well as its scientifically accurate (and gorgeous) illustrations.

    On Wings of Song: Poems About Birds, selected by J. D. McClatchy -This is a huge anthology with every manner of bird, from hummingbird to albatross. You'll also find such poets as Dickinson, Plath, Poe, Keats, Yeats and many more.

    Finally, I highly recommend you read the poem Thirteen Ways of Looking: Poems About Birds, written in honor of the poem "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" by Wallace Stevens.

    That's it for A. See you tomorrow with a mystery post! (I'll admit that I'm a bit excited to have 4 open days to play with!)

    Thursday, April 25, 2013

    Poetry A-Z: B is for Biographical

    While I love poems about nature and the world around me, I find poems about real people and/or historical figures to be inspirational forms for sharing the stories about their lives and accomplishments. 

    BIOGRAPHICAL - of or pertaining to a person's life

    In perusing my bookshelves I realized that while I have many biographical poetry books, the books of one author first captured my attention.

    César: ¡, Se Puede! Yes We Can, written by Carmen Bernier-Grand and illustrated by David Diaz, is a biography of Chávez told in a series of 19 free verse poems. The back matter in this book is extensive and includes a section of notes, a glossary, a short synopsis of Chávez's life, a brief chronology, the author's sources, and a collection of Chávez's quotes. It is one of the most comprehensive and moving biographies of the man I have ever read. What is different about this work is that it does not shy away from the difficulties and injustices he faced in his life. Instead, his life story is told head on, shining a spotlight on the good and bad times. Here is one of my favorite poems from the book.

    Crooked Lines

    "God has written in exceedingly
    crooked lines."

    What made César follow
    Father McDonnell
    from camp to camp
    and Mass to Mass?

    What made Father McDonnell
    give César the teachings and prayers
    of Saint Francis of Assisi:
    "Lord, make me an instrument
    of your peace"?

    Why did a book about Saint Francis
    mention Mahatma Gandhi,
    a man of peace who won many battles
    against injustices in India?

    Why did César talk
    to Father McDonnell
    about his passion for peaceful change
    and the leadership hidden deep
    inside him?

    What made Father McDonnell
    send Fred Ross, from the
    Community Service Organization,
    to see César?

    God's crooked lines.

    The next biography Carmen tackled was Frida: ¡Viva la vida! Long Live Life!. In this book the poems are largely accompanied by the paintings of Frida Kahlo, though a few photographs of Frida are included. I knew nothing about Frida's personal life until I read this book. The 26 poems capture her strength in the face of adversity, her passion, and the poignant experiences that marked her life. Here is a poem describing an early event that shaped her life.

    Hummingbird Wings

    I am a wounded hummingbird
    caged in my room for nine months
    with polio, crippling polio.

    Warm towels soaked in walnut water
    ease the pain in my leg,
    a thin, drying twig.

    I hide in the walnut wardrobe,
    put on a white sock,
    another on top,
    and another.
    Is the right leg as fat as the other?

    The cage opens.
    Now I have wings.

    As with César, the back matter in this book is also extensive and includes quotes from the letters and diary of Frida Kahlo, a short overview of Frida's life, a brief chronology, a glossary, the author's sources, and a section of notes.

    After writing about Frida Kahlo, it makes a great deal of sense that Carmen's next work would be about Diego River. Diego: Bigger Than Life follows the form of the first two biographies and is another exceptionally well-researched volume about the artist. This one contains a whopping 34 poems. The emotion that resonates in these poems is a testament to how well Carmen writes. I'll have to admit that there was little I liked about the man after reading this, but the connection between his passionate, controversial life and art is unmistakable. Here's a poem that describes his art.

    Brimming With Mexican Light

    As naturally as I breathe,
    I painted in grand scale the colors of Mexico—
    clearer, richer, more full of light than colors in Europe.

    As naturally as I speak,
    I painted in grand scale the music of Mexico
    in markets, crowds, festivals—
    Burning of the Judases, the Dance of the Deer.

    As naturally as I sweat,
    I painted in grand scale the workers of Mexico
    in fields, mines, streets—
    Indians carrying bundles of calla lilies.

    A million public walls
    wouldn't be enough
    to paint all the beauty of Mexico.

    All Poems ©Carmen Bernier-Grand. All rights reserved.

    These titles were followed by Alicia Alonso: Prima Ballerina, a poetic biography of the prima ballerina assoluta of Cuba, and Picasso: I the King, Yo el rey, a collection of 40 poems about the life of the artist.

    I have long had an interest in African American scientists and inventors, so finding Marilyn Nelson's book Carver: A Life in Poems was a revelation. Finally, here was the story of a remarkable man in language as inspiring as his life! Here is one of my favorite poems from the book.


    God's breath on a compound of silica,
    alumina, and various oxides—
    primarily iron—gave Adam life.
    There is a primal, almost mystical
    connection between humankind and clay,
    from the footed, bellied first receptacles
    to frescoed Renaissance cathedral walls.
    To Carver's eye, the muddy creek banks say
    Here, to be dug up, strained, and painted on,
    is loveliness the poorest can afford:
    azures, ochres . . . Scraps of discarded board
    are landscapes. Cabins undistinguished brown
    bloom like slaves freed to struggle toward self-worth.
    Beauty is commonplace, as cheap as dirt.

    Poems ©Marilyn Nelson. All rights reserved.

    Borrowed Names: Poems About Laura Ingalls Wilder, Madam C.J. Walker, Marie Curie, and Their Daughters, written by Jeannine Atkins, tells the story of three daughters moving from childhood to adulthood. Each of the three sections of the book begins with a bit of backstory about the mother and daughter and where their story in poems begins. The poems convey a real sense of person, and after reading them you feel you really know these women in an intimate way.

    Irene Curie's story begins with birth of her younger sister and follows with the untimely death of her father, living with grief, her mother's second Nobel medal, war, Irene's studies at the Sorbonne, working side-by-side with her mother, and more. Here' are excerpts from two of the Curie poems.

    from Without School Bells (p. 160-161)

    Irene can't worry about yawns or crushes.
    She needs to comprehend
    the laws of radiance, reflection, refraction.
    Every question and answer binds her
    to the one world her mother loves.

    from Paris (p. 185)

    Irene and  now work side by side, though Irene
    can't forget one of them
    keeps two Nobel Prizes in her bureau.

    Poems ©Jeannine Atkins. All rights reserved.

    As with the other stories in the book, Irene's ends with a section entitled Legacies, that tells of her life after her mother's death. The book ends with a timeline marking important events in the lives of the three mothers and daughters. A selected bibliography is also included.

    The Poet Slave of Cuba: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano, written by Margarita Engle and illustrated by Sean Qualls, is a novel-length biography written in verse that tells of the boyhood of a nineteenth-century Cuban slave who secretly learned to read and wrote poetry about beauty, despite the harshness of the world in which he lived. The poems are told from the perspectives of Juan himself, his parents, his owners (two different women), and others involved in his life. Here's an excerpt.

    Juan (p. 38-39)

    Even though I am not free
         there are things that I love
         in this world, this mansion, palace
         this strange home where I live
         even though it doesn't always feel exactly
         like living
         or home

    I love to sit in the central courtyard
         looking up a a ceiling of sky
         looking around at the fragrant garden
         of jasmine and tuberose
         looking down at the mosaics on the floor
         chips of tile swirled into stories
         of kings and castles
         jungles and beasts

    I love the singing fountain, ripening fruit trees
         a view of high balconies dancing in the wind
         the rhythm of archways and columns
         railings of wrought iron in  the shapes
         of black metal peacocks
         and angels playing harps
         I like to think that the angels are real
         the music mine

    I roam the vast rooms
         filled with paintings and statues
    I dance in the ballroom when no one is looking
    I try out the musical instruments
    I sit in the rocking chairs, swaying
         to my own secret song
         a silent moment
         of peace

    Poems ©Margarita Engle. All rights reserved.

    This is a heart-wrenching life story, beautifully told. As sad as parts of it are, there is hope here. Engle provides a historical note about Manzano in the back matter of the book. Here's an excerpt.
    Juan often said that he hoped to write a novel about his life. He never had the chance. In fact, strict censorship by the colonial Spanish government prevented all Cuban poets and novelists from writing verses or stories about slavery. 
    The life story of Juan Francisco Manzano is known only because some of his autobiographical notes were smuggled to England, where they were published by abolitionists who hoped to raise support for their cause.
    The historical note is followed by examples of Manzano's poetry, in Spanish and English translation.

    That's it for B. See you tomorrow for some A inspired poetry ponderings.

    Wednesday, April 24, 2013

    Poetry A-Z: C is for Collaborative

    I love reading poetry, but I like it even better when it's read aloud. I like the sound of the rhyme, the feel of the meter, and the way words swim around inside my head before escaping from my lips. Poetry was spoken aloud long before it was written down. Since poetry comes to us today on the page, we often forget that. Poetry needs to be read AND heard. So open a book of poems and shout out a favorite poem. Better yet, grab a partner and try reading together.

    COLLABORATIVE - produced or conducted by two or more parties working together

    I am quite fond of all the books in Mary Ann Hoberman's You Read to Me, I'll Read to You series. Titles include:
    Told in two voices, these rhyming stories are meant to be read loud. Each story appears in three colors--one for the first voice/reader, another for the second voice/reader, and a third for when both voices read in unison. When I wanted to encourage my son to read aloud and wanted to introduce more poetry into his book diet, we started with the Very Short Fairy Tales. He's in middle school now, but I'll admit we still pull this one and Short Scary Tales off the shelf every so often. Here's an excerpt from Very Short Fairy Tales.

    The Three Bears

    I'm Goldilocks.
    I'm Baby Bear.
    What pretty fur!
    What pretty hair!
    Why are you here?
    You're in my bed.
    I'm in your bed?
    That's what I said.
    Why are you here?
    I lost my way.
    I found your house.
    And thought I'd stay.
    And then you ate
    My porridge up
    And drank my milk
    Right from my cup.

    Poem © Mary Ann Hoberman. All rights reserved.

    Messing Around on the Monkey Bars: And Other School Poems for Two Voices, written by Betsy Franco and illustrated by Jessie Hartland, is a collection of school poems that takes readers on a ride around the school and schoolyard, beginning with the school bus and ending with the final school bell. In between there are poems about lunch money, homework, recess, the library and more. In the author's note Franco says "Though these poems can be read silently and enjoyed by a single person, they are the most fun when read aloud by two people." This is followed by a graphic that shows what the voices look like. In the poem below, the plain font is Voice 1, the bold font is Voice 2, and the larger bold font is for both voices to speak at the same time.
    Messing Around on the Monkey Bars

    Time for recess!
    Here we are,

    messing around
    on the monkey bars!

    Hand over hand,
    fast or slow,

    calling to
    our friends below.

    Skipping two bars,
    skipping three,

    dangling down
    by just our knees.

    Swinging up
    above the ground,

    missing bars
    and tumbling down.

    Hooting, howling,
    here we are,

    messing around
    on the monkey bars!

    Poem ©Betsy Franco. All rights reserved.
    For information on how to use this book in the classroom you can download a teacher's guide for Franco's book.

    Seeds, Bees, Butterflies, and More!: Poems for Two Voices, written by Carole Gerber and illustrated by Eugene Yelchin, is a collection of 18 poems that explore nature close up. As these are poems for two voices, one person reads the lines on the left, while one reads the poems on the right. The parts are in different colors, making it easy to differentiate. Lines in the center of the page with letters in both colors are meant to be read simultaneously. The poems are a perfect blend of science and poetry, highlighting pollination, germination, seed dispersal, metamorphosis, and much more.  Here's an excerpt.

    We Can Fly
    Wheeee! I fly by helicoptering.
    I move by parachute.
    I took off from a maple tree
    inside my whirling suit.
    I launched my gentle journey
    from a dandelion’s head.
    I rotate as I travel.
    I choose to drift instead.
    Well, I’ve met gliders on my trips.
    And I’ve watched spinners spin.
    No matter how seeds fly around . . . 
    We’re carried by the wind.

    Poem © Carole Gerber. All rights reserved.

    Farmer's Garden: Rhymes for Two Voices, written by David Harrison and illustrated by Arden Johnson-Petrov, is a collection of poems in which Farmer's dog converses with some of the animals and plants he meets in the garden. The 15 poems are short, generally two-to-four lines per stanza, and are printed in two fonts that clearly show where the lines alternate between the two speakers. Here's an example.

    Beetle, Beetle,
    why so fast?

                                  Out of my way!
                                  I must get past!

    Beetle, Beetle,
    where do you run?

                                  Away from the lizard
                                  and out of the sun.

    Beetle, Beetle
    what will you do?

                                  I'll drink a drop
                                  of morning dew.

    Poem © David Harrison. All rights reserved.

    Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices, written by Paul Fleischman and illustrated by Eric Beddows, was the recipient of the 1989 Newbery Medal. The book begins in this way.
    The following poems were written to be read aloud by two readers at once, one taking the left-hand part, the other taking the right-hand part. The poems should be read from top to bottom, the two parts meshing in a musical duet. When both readers have lines at the same horizontal level, those lines are to be spoken simultaneously.
    From here, readers/speakers must jump right in. As a former member of a crew team, the poem Water Boatmen particularly appeals to me.
    Poem © Paul Fleischman. All rights reserved.

    All the poems in this book celebrate the lives of insects, from grasshoppers and honeybees to moths and fireflies. The poems are indeed joyous to recite.

    Big Talk: Poems for Four Voices, written by Paul Fleischman and illustrated by Beppe Giacobbe, takes the ideas presented in Joyful Noise and ramps up the volume (and chaos) to four voices. There is no particular theme to these poems, but they are fun and will appeal to a wide range of readers/speakers. In describing the book Fleischman said, "Families used to play games together and make music together. We did both all through my childhood. I wanted to give families something they could perform together—not in Carnegie Hall, but around the table." You can download an article about the book and learn more about how the poems were inspired. Instead of voices reading columns of information, readers this time find their parts on colored bars, reminiscent of reading music. Don't fret if you don't have this skill, as clear instructions for reading are included.

    That's it for C. See you tomorrow for some B inspired poetry ponderings.