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!


  1. Tricia,

    One behalf of the children's poetry community I would like to thank you for this month-long immersion in poetry. I've learned a lot from it and have ordered from the library vats of the books you've highlighted, including a ton of Carol Boston Weatherford. I will order more in the future. Thank you again for your hard, hard work. Thanks again.

    Your friend,

  2. Oh, the Fumi poems are very me! P.E. went from stinky to sterling depending on what we did. So many of these resonate, especially the moans about "Homework, O, homework" - and DEAR MR. ROSENWALD is especially lovely. S is for splendid.