Friday, May 1, 2009

Bibliography for Poetry Break Resources


Florian, Douglas. 1994. "The caterpillar." Beast feast: Poems and paintings. San Diego, CA: Voyager Books. 34.
Gottfried, Maya. 2005. Good dog. Robert Rahway Zakanitch, painter. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Greenfield, Eloise. 1986. “Way down in the music.” An anthology of black literature. Dorothy S. Strickland, ed. New York: Bantum Books. 3.
Grimes, Nikki. 2002. Bronx masquerade. New York: Dial Books. 27.
Hemphill, Stephanie. 2007. Your own, Sylvia: A verse portrait of Sylvia Plath. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 2, 114, 247.
Hopkins, Lee Bennett. 1986. The sea is calling me. Walter Gaffney-Kessell, illus. San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. 6-9, 12-16, 26, 30.
Jacinto, Antonio. 1992. "The rhythm of the tomtom." This same sky: A collection of poems from around the world. Naomi Shihab Nye, selector. Don Burness, trans. New York: Four Winds Press. 163.
Janeczko, Paul B. 2001. Dirty laundry pile: Poems in different voices. Melissa Sweet, illus. U.S.: HarperCollinsPublishers.
Kuskin, Karen. 1980. Moments: Poems about the seasons. Lee Bennett Hopkins, selector. Michael Hague, illus. NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. 38.
Livingston, Myra Cohn. 1982. “Poor.” Knock at a star: A child’s introduction to poetry. X. J. and Dorothy M. Kennedy, eds. Karen Ann Weinhaus, illus. Boston: Little, Brown and Company. 23.
Myers, Walter Dean. 2006. Jazz. Christopher Myers, illus. New York: Holiday House.
Ramon, Angel. 1999. “Things I would miss about the desert”. When the rain sings: Poems by young native Americans. National Museum of the American Indian. Smithsonian Institution. 43.
Smith, Hope Anita. 2003. The way the door closes. Shane W. Evans, illus. NY: Henry Holt and Company. 33.
Sones, Sonya. 2006. What my mother doesn’t know. New York: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers.
__ __ 2007. What my girlfriend doesn’t know. New York: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers.
Viorst, Judith. 1981. If I were in charge of the world and other worries: Poems for children and their parents. Lynne Cherry, illus. NY: Aladdin Books. 36-37.
Volavkova, Hana. 1993. . . . I never saw another butterfly . . .: Children’s drawings and poems from Terezin concentration camp, 1942 - 1944. New York: Schocken Books.
Yolen, Jane. 2009. A mirror to nature: Poems about reflection. Jason Stemple, photographs. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong. 14.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Missing the Desert

Time for a Poetry Break!
POETRY CHOICE: POETRY BY CHILDREN—Post a Poetry BREAK with a poem of your choice written by a child OR a Poetry BOOK REVIEW on a poetry book of poems written by children of your choice.

Ramon, Angel. 1999. “Things I would miss about the desert.” When the rain sings: Poems by young native Americans. Lee Francis, ed. National Museum of the American Indian. Smithsonian Institution. 43.

Poetry Break: Use this poem as an introduction for a science or social studies lesson. When the students study biomes, this poem would introduce deserts. When the students study the American Indian, this poem could be an introduction since it was written by a young Native American.

First give the students an Anticipation Guide (AG). The statements on the AG should reflect the poem, whether using it as a science or social studies lesson. This AG should contain only a couple of True/False statements. A more lengthy AG would be used when the lesson and textbook reading begins.


_____ True _____ False There are a variety of birds and animals that live in the desert.
_____ True _____ False Animals and birds survive well in the desert.

Social Studies

_____ True _____ False American Indians lived in the desert.
_____ True _____ False American Indians survived well in the desert.
_____ True _____ False Reservations are located in the desert.

Information about Anticipation Guides:

Purpose for Using Anticipation Guides
Anticipation guides serve two primary purposes:
· Elicit students’ prior knowledge of the topic of the text.
· Set a purpose for reading. (Students read to gather evidence that will either confirm their initial beliefs or cause them to rethink those beliefs.)

How to Use Anticipation Guides

1. Choose a text. (This strategy works well with most expository texts. It works particularly well with texts that present ideas that are somewhat controversial to the readers.)

2. Write several statements that focus on the topic of the text. Next to each statement, provide a place for students to indicate whether they agree or disagree with the statements.
Tips for writing statements:
· Write statements that focus on the information in the text that you want your students to think about.
· Write statements that students can react to without having read the text.
· Write statements for which information can be identified in the text that supports and/or opposes each statement.
· Write statements that challenge students’ beliefs (Duffelmeyer, 1994).
· Write statements that are general rather than specific (Duffelmeyer, 1994).

The focus for critical thinking in the poem is for science and the fact that all the animals mentioned are found in the desert. For social studies, it is a question of whether Native Americans lived in the desert. The appeal of the poem for students is its emotion and the fact that is was written by an eighth grade girl from the Tohono O’odham tribe.

After the students complete the anticipation guide, show the poetry book, When the Rain Sings: Poems by Young Native Americans. Tell the students the poems were written by young people from different American Indian tribes. Read the poem once. Discuss the students’ ideas on the AG. Explain to the students that the young person was writing her poem from personal experience.

Things I Would Miss About the Desert

The good things that I would miss
are the birds,
the owls, the hawks,
the eagles, the wolves, the cactus,
the chollas
the desert tortoise, the cool breeze,
the desert storms
when the ground is all wet.
I like to hear the coyotes at night
or to go out and sit in the desert
when these is a full moon.

by Angel Ramon (Tohono O’odham)

Extension: Follow with a required textbook lesson in science or social studies using an Anticipation Guide.

Science: Have students work in pairs to research deserts and develop a PowerPoint presentation about their findings.

Social Studies: Have students work in pairs to research several Native American tribes. Next, instruct them to choose one of the tribes and design a Native American dress or costume in any fashion they choose: sewing with cloth, drawing, painting, using various kinds of paper, etc.
Ramon, Angel. 1999. “Things I would miss about the desert”. When the rain sings: Poems by young native Americans. National Museum of the American Indian. Smithsonian Institution. 43.
P. S. All of this is geared towards a TEKS-based lesson. What I would really want to do is have the students read these Native American young people's original poems and then have my students use their imaginations to write poems based on their own personal cultures!

Time for a Poetry Break!

POETRY BOOK REVIEW: JANECZKO-- A poetry collection compiled by Paul Janeczko

Janeczko, Paul B. 2001. Dirty laundry pile: Poems in different voices. Melissa Sweet, illus. U.S.: HarperCollinsPublishers.

Dirty Laundry Pile: Poems in Different Voices is a collection of twenty-seven mask poems written by a wide variety of poets who write for children. The poems were selected by Paul B. Janeczko. In his introduction he states, “I collected the poems in this book because I love reading poems written in the voice of an object or an animal, as if that thing or creature were speaking to me” (Janeczko 2001, Introduction). The voices in the collection stand out; they appeal to children. Each poem is a personified object: scarecrow, snowflake, washing machine, broom, a crayon and more. The idea that an object feels or has emotions might very well be fascinating to children.
On a side note, I checked out this book of poetry from the junior high library where I am the librarian. As I was reading the poems in the book, I found a sticky note attached to a page that presents the poem, ”The Vacuum Cleaner’s Revenge” by Patricia Hubbell (p.14). I was pleasantly surprised, because the student whose name was written on the note was a former student of mine, and reminded me of the poetry project we did in class. She had chosen this particular poem for her project.

The Vacuum Cleaner’s Revenge
By Patricia Hubbell

I munch, I crunch.
I zoom. I roar.

I clatter-clack
Across the floor.

I swallow twigs.
I slurp dead bugs.

I suck the cat hair
From the rugs.

My stomach full
Of dirt and dust

I gulp another
Pizza crust.

A tiresome life—
All work, no play—

I think I’ll swallow you today! (p. 14)

The idea that a vacuum cleaner can think is a very whimsical notion. The imagination breeds kids’ imaginations, which is a step to enhancing their thinking process. Needless to say, I am leaving the sticky note in the book!
A nice aspect is that some of these poems allude to kids’ actions and how they treat the things in their lives. For example, “The Red Gloves” speaks of gloves that have been left behind in the playground by a child. It begins with “Hey, you forgot us!” (p.17). Leaving items behind is a typical occurrence in a young person’s life. The poems allow kids to make connections.
Most of the poems are written in free verse, but there are a couple of poems that contain rhyming lines. One is “Grandpa Bear’s Lullaby” by Jane Yolen; the first stanza is written as: “The night is long/ But fur is deep/ You will be warm/ In winter sleep (p. 30). Another rhyming poem is “The Cow’s Complaint” by Alice Scheril, containing end rhyme and a bit of internal rhyme.

The Cow’s Complaint

How unkind to keep me here
When, over there, the grass is greener.
Tender blades-so far, so near-
How unkind to keep me here!
Through this fence they make me peer
At sweeter stems; what could be meaner?
How unkind to keep me here
When, over there, the grass is greener. (p. 33)

A shape poem, “The Mosquito’s Song,” by Peggy B Leavitt (p. 24), is included in the collection. The words are actually in the shape of a mosquito and at the end, they narrow down into its needle-shaped proboscis. However, the poem is not scientific, but humorous, as are all the poems. Lighthearted and fun, the poems make me wonder how a poet generates a poem about something such as bacteria! But John Collis did in his poem, “Job Satisfaction,” a poem about a bacterium who lurks and lies in wait in food to make a person sick: “I snuggle into people’s food/ I lie in wait—I lurk” (p. 23).
The illustrations, by Melissa Sweet, assist the poem’s speaker. They are bright and colorful, and concretely representative of each poem. If the poem is about a broom, she paints a broom, as in “Broom” by Tony Johnston (p. 11); if the poem is about crayons, she paints a box of crayons (“Crayon Dance” by April Halprin Wayland, p.15), and so on.
The mix of topics is well blended. Janeczko chooses from all areas of life: nature, as in “Winter Wind” by Judith Pachl (p. 2); household items, as in “Washing Machine” by Bobby Katz (p. 9); wild animals, such as “Hippopotamus” by Ronald Wallace (p. 35); and domestic animals, such as “The Prayer of the Cat” by Carmen Bernos e Gasziold (p. 27). Children recognize and are familiar with these subject matters; they encounter some of the items everyday.
I believe this poetry would enhance any children’s collection. As the poems are read aloud, I foresee smiling and giggling, and a rolling of the eyes in some instances. What I also envision is children begging, “Read it again!”

Janeczko, Paul B. 2001. Dirty laundry pile: Poems in different voices. Melissa Sweet, illus. U.S.: HarperCollinsPublishers. Introduction, 2, 9, 11, 14, 15, 23-24, 27, 30, 33, 35.

Saturday, April 18, 2009


POETRY BREAK: SERIOUS--- A serious poem about a difficult or sensitive subject in children’s or teens’ lives

Livingston, Myra Cohn. 1982. “Poor.” Knock at a star: A child’s introduction to poetry. X. J. and Dorothy M. Kennedy, eds. Karen Ann Weinhaus, illus. Boston: Little, Brown and Company. 23.

In the deep cold of winter nights, when I go to bed, I think about all the homeless people who do not have a warm place to sleep, especially the children. Or I think about families who are living in their cars. Where do they bathe? How do they brush their teeth? I was told during education courses not to eat in front of students in the classroom because you never know if a child has eaten or not. Sometimes, as teachers, we don’t realize the serious situations our students are experiencing. The following poem, “Poor,” written by Myra Cohn Livingston is possibly told from the perspective of a child who is poor. Some children do not know any other way of life, but when a child from a financially poor family becomes a teen, he becomes aware of what others around him have and begins to feel outcast. Teens should be aware of the poor conditions in and outside of their communities. This poem could be an introduction to a current event study in social studies or health.

by Myra Cohn Livingston

I heard of poor.
It means hungry, no food,
No shoes, no place to live.
Nothing good.

It means winter nights
And being cold.
It is lonely, alone,
Feeling old.

Poor is a tired face.
Poor is thin.
Poor is standing outside
Looking in.

Poetry Break: Before reading the poem, pass out a graphic map that contains the title, “Poverty,” and the last line of each stanza of the poem. Pair the students and ask them to associate the phrases nothing good, feeling old, and looking in with the word "poverty," and to write their responses. Ask for volunteers to share their responses. Then introduce the poetry book, the author, and the poem. As usual, give students time to respond. See if any of them thought of the things mentioned in the poem. Ask for a volunteer to read the poem a second time as the idea of poverty soaks in.

Extension Activity: Have the students plan a library day to locate books about poverty to read more about the problem. (Be sure to scope these out in advance). Back in the classroom, create boxes of items to give to the poor. Find a local community organization that distributes goods to the poor. For example, in our community, VISTO provides a program called Backpack Buddies. The members fill up backpacks with nutritious snacks for children to take home over the weekend. Have the children bring one snack item and one item such as a bar of soap to class. Either create a food box, or fill a backpack (obtained in advance from the organization or donated by the teacher).

Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Dog

POETRY BOOK REVIEW: NEW BOOK-- A new, favorite book of poetry for children or teens published since 2005

Gottfried, Maya. 2005. Good dog. Robert Rahway Zakanitch, painter. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Good Dog by Maya Gottfried is a dog lover’s book. Sixteen poems characterize some of the world’s most popular dogs people own as pets. In fact, the dogs represented in Good Dog are the dogs one sees most often that look like their owners! Each poem is written in the voice of a particular dog. The voice of the dog is true to its character. Accompanying the poems are paintings of dogs. Whimsical, but true to life, Robert Rahway Zakanitch captures the essence of each dog. In the paintings, each dog is set against a very dark, blackish background. The dogs look directly at the reader as they sit, roll, or pant; each with a doleful look on their faces. My best analysis of these paintings is that the dogs are just downright cute!

The humor and sweetness depicted in the poems and the paintings are appealing to children. The first poem is filled with commands to a white, good-natured Westie, sitting attentively on the adjacent page: “Sit / Stay / Fetch / Heel “(Gottfried 2005, p. 1). Turn the page and a stout-bodied chow is the one giving commands, “Listen up! / It’s time to go. / Get the leash. / Let’s hit the road” (p. 2). In the chow’s poem, he tells us that he has a bone to pick with a Chihuahua. That same Chihuahua appears a few pages later talking about chasing that big dog! (p. 7). Featured after the chow is a Pekingese whose poem is a memo to his owner saying how sorry he is about the accident on the piano, the hair on the suit, and the chewed up shoes (p. 5). The nice touch in the paintings is that the breed of the dog is identified within the painting; for example, below the portrait of the Pekingese, the word, “Pekingese” is painted.

The poems match the paintings. In fact, if the poems and paintings were mixed topsy-turvy, I believe they could be matched back up. None of the poems have an “official” title; the title (the breed of the dog) is written in the painting.

There is rhyme in some of the poems, (the “chow” poem), but the poems are written mainly in free verse. There are instances of onomatopoeia in the Pomeranian poem; dog sounds that children love, “A dog must GRRR! And ARF! And WOOF!” (p.11). Alliteration appears in the same poem – “powder puff” (p. 11) – the Pomeranian is certainly a powder puff. In his painted portrait, the little, round dog is exaggeratedly fat; a circle of orange fluff.
My favorite poem is the Maltese’s “wedding vow” poem.

Do you take this dog to be your friend?
Will you see her through tangles and mats?
Through dog days and kennel stays?
Do you promise to put down your book
when she sits upon your lap?
And be faithful to her, and her alone?
As long as you both shall live?

I do. (p. 15)

It’s an excellent commentary on the commitment required between dog owner and pet, and simply imaginative in its composition.

Children will laugh as they read the poems, or if someone reads the poems to them; more so if they have a dog that is the same breed as the ones in the book. Overall, the poems speak of all things dog: tricks, dog-walking and leashes, chasing sticks, chewing, chasing cats. I like the allusion to James Herriot, or James Alfred Wight, who wrote All Things Great and Small in the tribute by Zakanitch to his daughter, Amelia. He writes, “I’d like to thank my daughter, Amelia, whose love and compassion for dogs (and all creatures great and small) were a real inspiration during the making of this book” (p. dedication). This poetry book would be a great poetry break for a lesson to introduce James Herriot and his works.


Gottfried, Maya. 2005. Good dog. Robert Rahway Zakanitch, painter. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. Dedication, 1,2, 5, 7, 11, 15.

Thursday, April 9, 2009


Time for a Poetry Break!

POETRY CHOICE: NEWER BOOK—Post a Poetry BREAK with a poem of your choice published in 2008/2009 OR a Poetry BOOK REVIEW on a poetry book of your choice published in 2008/2009

Yolen, Jane. 2009. A mirror to nature: Poems about reflection. Jason Stemple, photographs. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong. 14.

Students must study the cycle of animals according to the science TEKS:
(5.6)Science concepts. The student knows that some change occurs in cycles. The student is expected to:
(C) describe and compare life cycles of plants and animals.

This TEK is for fifth grade, but the same TEK is found in grades three to four as well. The poem, Jaws X 2 X 80, published in 2009 by Jane Yolen in A Mirror to Nature: Poems about Reflection, would fit nicely with a study of alligators, or an animal unit that includes alligators.

Jaws X 2 X 80

of jaws,
I stay out
of the river.

One pair’s
a scare,
the other --
full shiver.

One pair
is real
and one
a reflection.

But I’ll never
give either
a closer

by Jane Yolen

Poetry Break: Show the poetry book and the photograph of the alligator. Read the poem aloud twice. Since the premise of the poem is reflection, ask for four volunteers and have those students stand facing each other. Have a student in one pair read the first stanza, (while facing the other student), then the second student read the second stanza. The second pair should read the third and fourth stanzas in the same fashion.
Try this a couple of times and then ask for another group of four volunteers and repeat. By the time the students all possibly volunteer and read the poem aloud, most of them will know the poem! Be sure to read the footnote aloud to the students about the alligator’s teeth: “The American alligator has between seventy and eighty teeth. When one falls out, another grows in its place” (14).

Extension activity: take the students to the computer lab to view a video about alligators on the Animal Planet website, for example, The Pet Psychic: Chester the Gator, and The Pet Psychic: Pop the Alligator, On the same site, there are other videos of various animals presented in Jane Yolen’s poetry book. The lesson could continue by pairing the poems with the videos. Swimming with Raccoons, (p. 10), might be paired with the Animal Planet video, The Orphan Racoon,


"Chester the gator." Animal planet videos: The pet psychic. (accessed April 4, 2009.

"Orphan raccoon." Animal planet videos: The pet psychic. (accessed April 4, 2009.

"Pop the alligator." Animal planet videos: Pop the alligator. (accessed April 4, 2009).

Yolen, Jane. 2009. A mirror to nature: Poems about reflection. Jason Stemple, photographs. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong. 10, 14.

A fri ca, A fri ca, A fri ca

Time for a Poetry Break!

POETRY BREAK: REFRAIN-- A poem with a refrain or chorus (and indicate refrain)

Jacinto, Antonio. 1992. “The rhythm of the tomtom.” Don Burness, trans. This same sky: A collection of poems from around the world. Naomi Shihab Nye, selector. New York: Four Winds
Press. 163.

I believe young adults in junior high can understand the underlying emotion in this poem of loyalty and love for country, "The Rhythm of the TomTom" by Antonio Jacinto. The poem sets a serious tone when read aloud. It is a translation into English from Angola, which is located in Southern Africa, bordering the South Atlantic Ocean, between Namibia and Democratic Republic of the Congo (CIA Factbook). The poem creates a solemn mood as each refrain is read. The refrains vary: “nor in my skin” “in my heart” “in the way that I think” “within you, for you, Africa” and “Africa.”

The Rhythm of the TomTom

The rhythm of the tomtom does not beat in my blood
Nor in my skin
Nor in my skin
The rhythm of the tomtom beats in my heart
In my heart
In my heart
The rhythm of the tomtom does not beat in my blood
Nor in my skin
Nor in my skin
The rhythm of the tomtom beats especially
In the way that I think
In the way that I think
I think Africa, I feel Africa, I proclaim Africa
I hate in Africa
I love in Africa
And I am Africa
The rhythm of the tomtom beats especially
In the way that I think
In the way that I think
I think Africa, I feel Africa, I proclaim Africa
And I become silent
Within you, for you, Africa
Within you, for you, Africa
A fri ca
A fri ca
A fri ca
by Antonio Jacinto

Poetry Break: Beforehand, solicit enough large plastic coffee containers for each student. Have each student make his own tomtom drum according to the following instructions or simply use the plastic coffee container with the lid intact.

Balloon Tom-Tommaterials:
Juice can, oatmeal box, potato chip can, or other such container 2 large balloons. 2 heavy rubber bands, 2 pencils with erasers.
1. open both ends of the container for the drum body
2. cut small end off the balloons, this is the drum skin
3. stretch the closed end of the balloon over the drum body
4. hold balloon in place with the rubber band, smoothing out the wrinkles
5. repeat 1-4 for the other end
6. use the pencil as the drum stick

The Mudcat Café.

Beforehand, print the refrains in large letters on poster board or construction paper, and provide copies of the poem for the students. Introduce the poem and describe the poetry book, This Same Sky: a Collection of Poems from around the World, poems collected by Naomi Shihab Nye. Talk about the author of the poem, Antonio Jacinto, and explain that the poem, a cry of loyalty to his country, is a translation. Read the poem once. Pause. Read the poem a second time, more slowly. Emphasize the last three lines and read them slowly, with a beat.

Divide the students into two groups. When reading the poem again, instruct one group of students to read the refrains while the other group of students provides a matching beat on their makeshift tomtom drums. The refrain “Nor in my skin” is four slow beats; the refrain, “In my heart” is three slower beats, and refrain, “In the way that I think” is six fast beats. Have all students recite the last three lines with voices loud in unision. The students may have to practice a few times. Have the student groups switch roles and repeat the process.

Extended Activity: Pair with the book Over a Thousand Hills I Walk With You, by Hanna Jansen and Elizabeth D. Crawford. Obtain an audio reading of the book, and play it for the students. This is about a young girl’s family and their murders during the Rwandan genocide. (The book is also a translation from German into English). Have the students watch the PBS video about Rwanda in April 1994 and follow the activities provided.
"Ghosts of Rwanda." Frontline. (accessed April 4, 2009).
Jacinto, Antonio. 1992. "The rhythm of the tomtom." Don Burness, trans. This same sky: A collection of poems from around the world. Naomi Shihab Nye, selector. New York: Four Winds Press. 163.
"Make your own drums." The mudcat cafe. (accessed April 4, 2009).
"The world factbook: Angola." CIA Factbook. (accessed April 4, 2009).
Tom Tom Drum Charm Vintage. Google Images.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Sylvia Plath

POETRY CHOICE: BIOGRAPHICAL POETRY—Post a Poetry BREAK with a biographical poem of your choice OR a Poetry BOOK REVIEW on a biographical poetry book of your choice

Your Own, Sylvia: A Verse Portrait of Sylvia Plath, written by Stephanie Hemphill, was published in 2007 by Alfred A. Knopf in New York. Hemphill carries the reader on a biographical journey from Plath’s birth in October 27, 1932 to events that occurred after Plath’s suicide in 1963. To appreciate the verse novel fully, one must read Hemphill’s letter to her readers in the back. She writes about discovering a love for Sylvia Plath when she first heard “Edge” as a young girl of fifteen. To rediscover Plath, Hemphill chose a line a day of Plath’s poetry and wrote a response to the line in her journal in poetic form. Hemphill recounts this activity, “I tried to channel Sylvia, as well as the younger me reacting to Plath for the first time” (Hemphill 2007, p. 247). The remembrance of her reaction to Plath’s poetry as an influential teen of fifteen solidifies this verse novel as one for young adults today.

The YA verse novel lends itself to high school and mature junior high students. Hemphill does not hold back in describing Plath’s many relationships with family, friends, and lovers, particularly the death of Plath’s father when she was eight and the doomed marriage to fellow poet, Ted Hughes. Hemphill emphasizes her verse poetry is a work of fiction, her imagination channeling Plath. Through this endeavor, she creates a haunting work that breathes as much angst as many of Plath’s poems. She not only channels Plath, but she also, through her poetry, gives voice to those in Plath’s life, such as Plath’s mother, Aurelia.

Students will appreciate the creative venue for reading a biography. Instead of a dry, many-paged account of Plath’s live, they receive first-person conjecture in verse form of the various people who touched Plath’s lives, for good and bad. Found at the bottom of the page, at the end of each poem, is commentary of the true events reflected in the verse. An example is the second poem in the book. It encloses Hemphill’s musings of the thoughts of Plath’s mother, Aurelia, at the advent of Plath’s birth.

Dearest Darling, First Born

Aurelia Plath, Sylvia’s mother
October 27, 1932

Child of sea and sand,
your face is mine
but you will be tall
with the dark eyes of your father.

When you cry
I will rock you and rhyme you,
feed you milk of my breast,
give you my diligence, my contract of love.

Big beautiful Sivvy,
we are alone in this hospital.
Grow accustomed
to the antiseptic white.

My baby, my duty,
I will rear you right.
Give you everything, buttons off my shirt.
You will be what I cannot. (p. 2)

The phrasing in this poem foreshadows the rest. Phrases such as “antiseptic white” and “contract of love” preview the verses that follow. By no means though, does Hemphill “copy” Plath; she honors Plath’s life and talent. She delivers the verse using her own unique style, sometimes abstract, sometimes straightforward. Furthermore, each poem is a biographical reflection of an individual or event in Plath’s life.

Hemphill uses poetic devices throughout. For example, she pens these metaphoric lines to describe the Hughes’s version of meeting Plath: I may be black panther / but she draws blood / swirls whiskey-headed / around the dance floor / dizzy on my poetry (p. 114). Many of the events in Plath’s life, depicted through Hemphill’s verse, are heartrending; some are humorous, others controversial. Hemphill includes poems that focus on Plath’s preoccupation with her father’s death, which occurred when she was eight, and verse that presumes Plath’s mindset before committing suicide. The verse is presented realistically, but tastefully. Students gain a strong grasp of who Plath was through Hemphill’s poetic verse, maybe even more so than through Plath’s poetry, which might prove difficult to follow for some young adults.

Hemphill, Stephanie. 2007. Your own, Sylvia: A verse portrait of Sylvia Plath. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 2, 114, 247.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

I Never Saw Another Butterfly

Module 4
POETRY BOOK REVIEW: CURRICULUM CONNECTION-- A book of poetry for children or teens ideally suited to science, math, or social studies instruction and published since 1995

When I taught The Dairy of Anne Frank, published posthumously by Otto Frank, Anne's father, I presented a question to my eighth grade students for consideration during the study. “If you were facing death, would you approach life with despair or hope for the future?” The children who wrote poems and created art in the Terezin Concentration Camp, as they waited for eventual death during the Holocaust, gave future generations a glimpse of their hope. However, not all the poetry in the anthology, . . . I never saw another butterfly . . . , edited by Hana Volavkova, is a picture of hope. Some of the poems speak of burden and tears. However, the inspiration gleaned from these children’s poetry has been a tender gift for later generations.

As the title indicates, the compilation of poems and art, published by Schocken Books in New York, was produced by children from 1942 to 1944 while they were housed in the Terezin Concentration Camp. This particular edition was expanded by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, which prefaces the edition with a note giving background information about the camp itself, and the children who resided there, along with a description of the Holocaust Museum (Volavkova 1993, p vii -ix).

A foreward, written by Chaim Potok, follows (p. xi). He writes about the history of Terezin, a small town in Czechoslovakia. Once a town of approximately 8,000, inhabited mostly by soldiers, Terezin dwindled to 3,700 people in 1941. During the late 1930s and early 1940s, German troops invaded and the town became a ghetto, part of a German protectorate, and was then renamed Theresienstadt. Ironically, the town was used to present Germany in a favorable light to the outside world. In addition, German military leaders allowed reporters to come in at one point during the World War II era to tour the camp. These reporters witnessed a beautifully kept town, run by prominent Jewish businessmen and artisans, when in fact, it was a holding camp for men, women, and children, most of whom were sent to Auschwitz to die.

The anthology contains an afterword by Vacalv Havel who, as a young adult, experienced shame when he watched his Jewish classmates being denied basic human rights. When he reads these Jewish children’s poems now from an adult’s perspective, he says this about their suffering, “They are full of longing for a world different from the miserable life they led, a longing for games and freedom, for gentleness and beauty. Death, which was so close, appears only between the lines” (p. 104).

The book contains a chronology beginning in 1939, and ending in 1945, when Terezin was liberated by the Soviet Army. The last page speaks of the children: “A total of around 15,000 children under the age of 15 passed through Terezin. Of these, around 100 came back” (pp. 105-106).

Distinctive drawings accompany the freestyle poems. At the back of the book are two separate catalogs for the drawings and poems. Each entry gives biographical information about the artists, and the authors of the poems, if known, and the medium of the art. Five of the poems belong to Franta Bass. “He was born in Brno on September 4, 1930. He was deported to Terezin on December 2, 1941, and died in Auschwitz on October 28, 1944” (p. 96). This young man spent his teenage years in the camp. His poem, “The Garden” is one that helps students comprehend the reality of death during the Holocaust for children of any age.

The Garden
by Franta Bass

A little garden,
Fragrant and full of roses,
The path is narrow
And a little boy walks along it.

A little boy, a sweet boy,
Like that growing blossom.
When the blossom comes to bloom,
The little boy will be no more. (p. 70)

Bass had no illusions about his plight, or the fate of other children in the camp. However, his poetry reveals his strength. In his poem, “I Am A Jew,” he writes, “Even though I am suppressed,/ I will always come back to life.” (p. 57).

The combination of these poems and drawings speak to young people today. The poetry reveals the inner thoughts of a younger generation that helps connect emotions heightened by extreme circumstances to the anxiety young people experience now in their generation. Did my eighth grade students understand the underlying meaning of every poem in the book? No, but they felt the passion, the anger, and the fear of these young writers who were facing death. The poetry of these children and teenagers helped my students realize that human emotion spans the ages and is shared, regardless of what is experienced. Even more, my eighth grade students saw the Holocaust in a deeper light through the despair, and in the hope found in the poetry. Both despair and hope are revealed in “Homesick” by an unidentified author: “But no one must give up! / The world turns and times change. / Yet we all hope the time will come / When we’ll go home again, (p. 47).

. . . I never saw another butterfly . . . should be shared with students during a study of the Holocaust. They will learn the meaning of “poignancy” as the poetry helps them perceive a significant time in history that influences our lives today.

Volavkova, Hana. 1993. . . . I never saw another butterfly . . .: Children’s Drawings and Poems from Terezin Concentration Camp, 1942 - 1944. NY: Schocken Books. vii-ix, xi, 57, 70, 96, 1-4-106.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Spring by Karla Kuskin

Module 4 POETRY BREAK: SPRING-- A poem about the season of spring, spring holidays or spring events

Karla Kuskin

I’m shouting
I’m singing
I’m swinging through trees
I’m winging skyhigh
With the buzzing black bees.
I’m the sun
I’m the moon
I’m the dew on the rose.
I’m a rabbit
Whose habit
Is twitching his nose.
I’m lively
I’m lovely
I’m kicking my heels.
I’m crying “Come dance”
To the fresh water eels.
I’m racing through meadows
Without any coat
I’m a gamboling lamb
I’m a light leaping goat
I’m a bud
I’m a bloom
I’m a dove on the wing.
I’m running on rooftops
And welcoming spring!

Kuskin, Karla. 1980. Moments: Poems about the seasons. Hopkins, Lee Bennett, selector. Michael Hague, illus. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. 38.

Poetry Break - use a blank white board or hang a large sheet of paper on the wall that several students can write on. Draw a circle map (thinking maps are required in our school). On strips of paper, write the lines of the poem that contain the contraction,” I’m” and a student’s name. Put the strips of paper in a watering can.

Without revealing the title of the poem, read the poem aloud to the children. Ask the children what word is repeated several times. Read the poem a second time so they can hear the repeated contraction, “I’m.” Draw the strips of paper from the watering can one at a time. As each strip of paper is drawn, have the student whose name is on the paper, write the “I’m” line from the poem in the circle map. After everyone has written his or her “I’m” line in the circle map, challenge the students to guess who “I’m” is. Discuss how “racing through the meadows” or “running on the rooftops” reflects spring. Explain the significance of the watering can (to water trees and flowers as they bud out and bloom in spring). Could the actions in the poem reflect other seasons and how?

For an extension activity, tie the poem to science class and a discussion of the seasons. Have the students work in groups and use circle maps they draw to think of other events and things that describe spring. Continue to create circle maps for the remaining seasons: summer, autumn, and winter.

§112.4. Science, Grade 2.
7D observe, measure, and record changes in weather, the night sky, and seasons.

Friday, March 6, 2009

What My Mother and Girlfriend Do Not Know!

Module 3
POETRY BOOK REVIEW: VERSE NOVEL-- A free verse novel for young adults published since 1995

Sones, Sonya. 2006. What my mother doesn’t know. New York: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers.
­­__ __ 2007. What my girlfriend doesn’t know. New York: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers.

Teens are attracted to the verse novels, What My Mother Doesn’t Know and What My Girlfriend Doesn't Know, by Sonya Sones, and rightly so. The storyline is engaging; the verse style allows the reading of the novel to flow smoothly from one page to the next, and the first-person insight into the protagonists’ thoughts seal the connection between fiction and reality. How do I know? I once was a teenager, and I now observe them everyday! Granted, the verse novel might not appeal to the science fiction enthusiast, or the fantasy fanatic, but those young people who are seeking identity through their hopes and dreams in realistic fiction will pick up these novels and not want to put them down.
Sones takes a specifically framed time in two teenager’s lives, and strings the day in and day out events together with one thread that travels throughout the books from beginning to end. This is how the smooth flowing read comes into play, and how Sones entices the reader into not putting down the book. The thread does not stop at the first book, What My Mother Doesn’t Know, but continues in the sequel, What My Girlfriend Doesn’t Know. The thread appears in the form of verse, the new rage in poetry for young adults.
How does this thread entwine and enthrall teens? They see themselves in the characters. They understand how it feels to be made fun of; they cringe when Sophie falls for the geek; they cheer when underdog Murphy gets the girl; they suffer when friends turn on friends. Inner thoughts spoken aloud from the pages beguile them: thoughts of sexuality, thoughts of acceptance, thoughts of embarrassment
Recognizable themes draw these young people, some pessimistic, some affirmative. When standard, positive themes are compromised; for example, when “a friend is a friend through thick and thin” changes to “friends are sometimes fickle,” emotions surface. Almost all teens experience the loss of or rejection by a friend; they relate to Sophie when her best friends snub her because she falls for the loser in What My Mother Doesn’t Know. The loser, Robin Murphy, protagonist in What My Girlfriend Doesn’t Know, maintains the major theme, “Be true to yourself.
Every aspect of plot found in prose: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution, is imbedded in the verse. The verse itself is unique. Every page is a poem, and every page is pleasingly poetic. Sometimes the poems rhyme, and most of the time, they don’t. The titles of the poems on each page are an extension of the previous poem’s subject matter. For example, in What My Girlfriend Doesn’t Know, the verse reads as so:

Sophie Rubs My Back

“You okay?” she asks.

And that’s when I notice
that her face has gone whiter
than the snow,

that her lips
are a thin, straight line,
and her eyes are blinking back tears.

So I pull myself together
and do my best stoner impression:
“Whoa . . . dude,” I say. “That was cold.”

And when Sophie laughs at my pun,
the ache between my shoulders
disappears. (Sones 27).

The title on the next page is “Then We Get on a Roll” (Sones 28). The verse continues smoothly throughout, each poem of verse supplements the previous.
What My Mother Doesn’t Know garnished several awards. The list can be found on Sones’s website, Interestingly, it was also cited as one of the most challenged books in 2004 and 2005 by the American Library Association, which is also listed on Sones’s website. Granted, there are mature themes and images of sexuality, enough to fuel the imagination of a young adult, but the episodes are delicately written, and do not cross boundaries into graphic offensiveness. The selections might be best located in junior high or high school, which goes to reason since the protagonists are high school students. Other characters involved are even older and in college.
I recommend both novels; the first, What My Mother Doesn’t Know, should be read first to understand the premise of the second novel, and is the shorter of the two. They both end triumphantly. In What My Mother Doesn’t Know, Sophie chooses to follow her heart. And in What My Girlfriend Doesn’t Know, in spite of a big dose of teen-aged angst, Murphy morphs from the geek who has been bullied most of his life, into a self-assured young man who gets the girl.

Sones, Sonya. 2006. What my mother doesn’t know. New York: Simon and Schuster Books for

Young Readers.

­­__ __ 2007. What my girlfriend doesn’t know. New York: Simon and Schuster Books for

Young Readers. 27-28.

Sones, Sonya. 2009. Honors for what my mother doesn’t know. (accessed March 6,


The Labourer

The country of Mauritius
Module 3
POETRY CHOICE: POETRY THAT DOES NOT RHYME—Post a Poetry BREAK with a poem of your choice that does not rhyme OR a Poetry BOOK REVIEW on a poetry book of unrhymed poetry of your choice

The Labourer

The labourer is back from the field
when sunset dies away from the sky
opening the way to darkness.

The labourer is back from the field
with his huge tiredness
hanging on his shoulders.

Night finds him sleeping
under a blanket of boredom.

Life starting at dawn,
ending at dusk.

He prays for courage.
May his bit of food
not slip from his plate.

Toolsy Daby

This poetry break takes a more serious tone. Use this poem with high school students to begin a study of The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. The poem is a wonderful introduction to the hardships faced by the sharecroppers in the novel, but adds an element of multiculturalism since the poem is found in a poetry collection from around the world, compiled by Naomi Shihab Nye.

Give a copy of the poem to a student who is a strong reader beforehand so he or she can practice reading the poem with feeling and emphasis. After the student reads the poem, pull down a map of the world and let the students find the country of Mauritius.

Extension Lesson: The poem and the novel combined helps young adults realize that sorrow and hard times span centuries and cultures. A quote from Wikipedia provides insight: “Set during the Great Depression, the novel focuses on a poor family of sharecroppers, the Joads, driven from their home by drought, economic hardship, and changes in the agriculture industry” ( As the students read the novel, have them do a research project focusing on themes garnished from the following information:

Steinbeck had unusual difficulty devising a title for his novel. "The Grapes of Wrath", suggested by his wife, Carol Steinbeck, was deemed more suitable than anything the author could come up with. The title is a reference to some lyrics from "The Battle Hymn of the Republic", by Julia Ward Howe: [. . . ]. These lyrics refer, in turn, to the biblical passage Revelation 14:19-20, an apocalyptic appeal to divine justice and deliverance from oppression in the final judgment. (

Tie in the poem by including research of Mauritius with emphasis on why the author, Toolsy Daby, wrote the poem. What might the country of Mauritius be like? Have the students create a Power Point featuring one aspect of their research:

Ø The story behind the title, The Grapes of Wrath
Ø Revelations: the scripture concerning the grapes of wrath
Ø The Battle Hymn of the Republic
Ø The country of Mauritius
Ø Sharecroppers and Sharecropping
File:LocationMauritius.png. 2009. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.

Nye, Naomi Shihab. 1992. This same sky: A collection of poems from around the world. New
York: Four Winds Press. 176.

The grapes of wrath. March 2009. Wikipedia. com. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. (accessed March 5, 2009).

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Sometimes Poems by Judith Viorst

The text in the small textbox is hard to read; however, a typed version is located below. The poem was printed on two pages, with this section at the bottom of the page, emphasizing "short and fat." The following page in the poetry book reflected "tall and skinny!"

Module 3

POETRY BREAK: UNUSUAL FORM-- A poem written in an unusual poem form (and identify the form)

Viorst, Judith. 1981. If I were in charge of the world and other worries: Poems for children and their parents. Lynne Cherry, illus. NY: Aladdin Books. 36-37.

Sometimes Poems

Sometimes poems are
Short and fat
And have a
Double Chin


And squashed one flat.

This unusual poem, titled Sometimes Poems, by Judith Viorst, is a free style poem, the poem itself personified, first with a double chin, then sporting a tall, skinny, pencil-thin shape. It is whimsical and funny, with an unexpected ending, especially where text is concerned. It could be considered a shape poem. This poem would be great to use to surprise children with its shape and ending. It is a “must see” visual poem.

In junior high, use this poem as a poetry break to present the many faces of poetry to introduce a poetry unit. For junior high students, “poetry unit” has a dry connotation. This poem, however, would help them understand that poetry is not dry, can be fun, and can be written in many forms.

Do not read the poem first, but pass out a “fat,” or thicker pencil than a number 2 to every student. Direct the students to use an ink pen and carve (or simply write) each word from the second stanza onto the pencil, beginning at the top of the pencil. Call out each word one at a time. It might not be possible to write every word on one pencil, but this would create anticipation. After the activity, read the poem aloud, slowly emphasizing the last few lines. Before reading the very last line, be prepared to sit down hard in a chair on a whoopee cushion! After laughing, pass out a copy of the poem to each student and project the poem onto an overhead screen so they can actually see the poem written on paper. Then discuss the many faces of poetry and talk about Judith Viorst and other modern-day poets. Explain that poetry does not have to be “dry.”

For an extension activity, introduce poetry terms, pointing out the personification of the poem itself in Sometimes Poems, along with the imagery. Instruct the students to create their own version of personified items and write a free-style or shape poem about the item. Challenge them to transfer their poems to a concrete form, as they did with the pencil. Spread out a large number of poetry books and ask the students to browse them for unusual poems.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Jazz by Walter Dean Myers

Time for a Poetry Book Review!

Poetry for Children and Young Adults
Texas Woman’s University
Professor: Dr. Sylvia Vardell

Module 2: POETRY BOOK REVIEW: MULTICULTURAL-- A book of poetry for children or teens by a poet (or poets) of color published since 1995

Jazz, by Walter Dean Myers, makes your feet tap and your fingers snap. Myers’s poetry is filled with scenarios reflecting revolving themes of triumph and despair molded by music. With the focus on jazz, and an intermingling of blues, the voices of the instruments are the stars of Jazz. The trumpet, the bass fiddle, the drums, the tinkling keys on the piano - they allow the music to shine through the poetry. The illustrations, by Myers’s son, Christopher Myers, portray the characters that give voice to the instruments.

The rich and vivid illustrations make you want to touch them lightly with your fingertips and then gently rub your hands over them. They are filled with bold and brilliant colors depicting African Americans bigger than life. The backdrop colors of primary red and yellow, colors of deep purple, royal blue, and burgundy permit the musicians to jump out as each page is turned. Myers created the illustrations using black ink on acetate and placing it over acrylic. One musician per page is all it takes to shout out the rhythm of the poem. However, marching bands and dancers grace several pages.

The imaginative renderings fit perfectly with each poem. The poetry of music emanates from the elongated fingers of the musicians. The first poem, “Jazz” features a man listening deeply to the sound in his head, and a drummer with his muscled back facing away from the reader. Turning the pages reveals musicians; some dressed in military uniforms playing oversized stringed instruments and horns, and classily dressed men and women. Their attire is reminiscent of pictures I’ve seen of Billie Holiday, of “Lady Sings the Blues” fame. The mood and feel throughout is nightclub swing.

One might ask how an individual from another culture can fully experience what the poet wants to project. My reply is to read the poems, because music speaks to all people. It’s possible when people not of the African American culture read the poems, or those not familiar with jazz; the feel, the cadence, or the intonation might escape them to some degree. I would suggest reading the poems aloud; envisioning Nat King Cole’s or Johnny Mathis’s deep, resonating voices articulating each line.

However, I understand about feeling timid reading these wonderful poems to students. When I read “America’s Music” aloud, I didn't feel I orally interpreted the poem the way Myers intended it to be read. But the story and message behind the poem is unmistakable. Although my reading didn’t sound as soulful as others could have read it, there is no doubt the poem is about pride in the role of jazz in America. The following poem, “Oh, Miss Kitty” rolls off the tongue. The imagery of the fiery ceiling in two of the lines creates a visual sight, and the interjections of “Tickle them ivories, boy!” and “What that saxophone man doing?” gives the poem a strong beat.

The variations in the fonts make for lively readings, although certain young people might find some of the text difficult to read. Ideally, the poems will be read aloud. The words are fast moving, and in deference to the poems, grooving! Unconventional rhyme patterns are found in most of the poems, but it seems that the story each poem tells is its strength. The first poem is the window into the others as it speaks of jazz, love, rhythm, heart, and soul. The next poem asks Louie why he plays so sweet. This can be none other than Louie Armstrong. The timeline provided in the back of the book confirms it. A glossary of jazz terms assists the reader, describing words used in the poems; for example, Chops: Technical ability. “Man, his breath is bad, but he’s got some good chops!”

The lively mood changes at “Good-Bye To Old Bob Johnson” to a somber one rightly so because it’s a funeral; the poem is a dirge. Turning the page to the poem’s ending, and faster moving pace, (it evens reads “Faster”) reveals a celebration for Bob Johnson. Everybody’s dancing for Bob!

“Twenty-Finger Jack" appears adjacent to a soulful looking man who hands, shown on the piano keys, give the impression of twenty fingers. The first stanza goes like this:

Well, the walls are shaking,
and the ceiling’s coming down
‘Cause twenty-finger Jack
has just come back to town
The keyboard’s jumping,
and the music’s going round
and round
If he had any sense,
he left it in the lost-and-found
He here go
Be ba boodie, be ba boodie, boo
Be ba boodie, be ba ba ba, boodie, boo

Myers not only writes, “Be ba boodie,” but he also pens the poem “Be-Bop.” What stands out in this particular poem is the onomatopoeia. The star of this poem is the saxophone that Myers calls, “. . . the ax that I’m grinding / And the melody I’m finding.” The melody of the ax resides in these lines, “Goes screa——min’, / goes screaming, / goes screa——screa—screamin’ / to the moon!” The expression on the face of the saxophone player on the next page says it all.

Towards the end of the book are the poems of “Three Voices,” personified words that match and accompany the instruments depicted, not revealing if it’s the musicians or the instruments feeling the call of the sound. Three Voices: bass, piano, and horn are metaphorically tied together as “Three souls on fire.”

Myers poetry book, Jazz, celebrating the history of jazz and blues in America is poetry to be enjoyed by any age, but young adults might understand the poems better than children; there are some mature themes; for example, sultry love between a man and a woman, or Miss Kitty loving the piano man, a “slitty-eyed gangster.” The poetry is born from the roots of jazz, and this is the celebration that young people should know about.


Myers, Walter Dean. 2006. Jazz. Christopher Myers, illus. NY: Holiday House.

The Caterpillar by Douglas Florian

Time for a Poetry Break!

Poetry for Children and Young Adults
Texas Woman’s University
Professor: Dr. Sylvia Vardell

Module 2: POETRY CHOICE: DOUGLAS FLORIAN—Post a Poetry BREAK with a Douglas Florian poem of your choice OR a Poetry BOOK REVIEW on a poetry book by Douglas Florian of your choice.

Douglas Florian’s poem, “The Caterpillar” from the book Beast Feast: Poems and Paintings, would make a nice poetry break and introduction for second grade students who, according to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), must study insects. (See TEKS below). Bring the poem to the classroom during springtime and bring in a box of tender green leaves that have been eaten by a caterpillar, ideally with the caterpillars! Or bring a leaf for each student to hold that has visibly been eaten by a caterpillar.

Read the poem and show the painting that accompanies the poem. (A hole has been eaten from the center of the leaf as the caterpillar travels around and around!)

The Caterpillar
By Douglas Florian

The caterpillar’s not a cat.
It’s very small
And short and fat,
And with those beady little eyes
Will never win a beauty prize.
The caterpillar’s brain is small -
It only knows to eat and crawl.
But for this creepy bug don’t cry,
It soon will be a butterfly.

Have the children create a human caterpillar by holding on to each other’s shoulders or waists and weaving around the room while they repeat each line of the poem. The small space between each student would represent the joints of the caterpillar. Explain to the children the different colors of caterpillars and how the colors indicate the butterfly that will be produced.

Extension lesson. If possible, plan a field trip to a butterfly farm during the larva stage before the butterflies hatch. Or plan a virtual field trip on the Internet. Here is an example of one that I registered for: There are several other virtual field trips available. Prepare a lesson that has the children match the caterpillars to the butterflies.

After the field trip, have the students plant a butterfly garden near the school's playground (with permission from the principal!) Bring in several lantana plants for the children to plant. The garden should be in bloom at the end of August for the beginning of the next school year.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________ TEKS: January 5, 2009 – Proposed Recommendations for the Science TEKS, Grades K-5 Page 15 of 28 (10) Organisms and environments. The student knows that organisms resemble their parents and have structures and processes that help them survive within their environments.
(C) investigate and record some of the unique stages that insects undergo during their life cycle.
End of Grade 2

Virtual Butterfly Field Trip


Butterflies: "Unblocking the mystery of the metamorphosis." 2006. E-field trips. (accessed February 20, 2009).

Florian, Douglas. 1994. "The caterpillar." Beast feast: Poems and paintings. San Diego, CA.: Voyager Books. 34.

(Picture of butterfly from my personal collection taken at Clark's Garden in Mineral Wells, Texas, summer 2007).

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Way Down in the Music by Eloise Greenfield

I just love when it's time for a poetry break!

Blog posted for:
Poetry for Children and Young Adults
Texas Woman's University
Instructor: Dr. Sylvia Vardell

Module 2
POETRY BREAK: NCTE AWARD POET- A poem written by an NCTE Award winning poet

As I was weeding and assessing the 811 Dewey section of the junior high library a week ago, I ran across a small-sized anthology of black literature. When I opened it, I found the poem “Way Down in the Music” written by Eloise Greenfield; it was presented first (Strickland 1986, p. 3). Since I was looking for books to feature for Black History Month and a poetry break poem, I hit the jackpot. This little book, Listen Children, could serve double-duty! I could display the anthology and use the poem for a poetry break for the eighth grade classes.

The poem was perfect for our eighth graders whose excitement had been building all week in anticipation of the Valentine’s Dance on Friday, February 13! What sweetened the find is that Eloise Greenfield is an award winner; she won the NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children in 1997. The poem, “Way Down in the Music” is featured in her poetry book Honey, I Love and Other Love Poems, published in 1978.

By Eloise Greenfield

I get way down in the music
Down inside the music
I let it wake me
take me
Spin me around and make me
Uh-get down

Inside the sound of the Jackson Five
Into the tune of Earth, Wind and Fire
Down in the bass where the beat comes from
Down in the horn and down in the drum
I get down
I get down

I get way down in the music
Down inside the music
I let it wake me
take me
Spin me around and shake me
I get down, down
I get down

I read the poem to one of the eighth grade classes that had come to the library to read. I explained that I was dedicating the poem to them for the Valentine’s Dance. The poem prompted a discussion about Michael Jackson and his song, Smooth Criminal. This impromptu poetry break worked like a charm. After announcements, it’s hard for students to settle back down to read with only three minutes left of class. This was a perfect moment to read a poem!

For a formal poetry break using this poem, obtain a copy of Greenfield’s poetry book, Honey, I Love and Other Love Poems, which includes this poem. Bring maracas to class and shake them to get the students’ attention before reading the poem. Read the poem once, show the book of poetry, and explain that Greenfield is an award-winning poet. Tell the students that Greenfield has been writing poems for over thirty years, that she continues to write poetry, and the poem “Way Down in the Music, was written in 1978. Provide information from a brief biography about Greenfield from Eduplace -

For the second reading, instruct the students to shout “take me” after reading “I let it wake me.” Have the students chant the ending of each stanza together, “Uh-get down,” at the end of the first stanza, “I get down / I get down” at the end of the second stanza, and “I get down, down / I get down” at the end of the third stanza (with as much soul as they can muster!). Try this at least a couple of times. Have a student volunteer shake the maracas at the end of the poem where it reads, “Spin me around and shake me” and then have the students shout the last two lines. After the readings, ask the students if they know who Michael Jackson and Earth, Wind, and Fire are and discuss popular music of the 1970s and their music in the millennium. Which musicians would they immortalize in a poem?

For an extended lesson, pair the poem with the short story, “The Kid Nobody Could Handle” by Kurt Vonnegut:

"The main character of the story is George Helmholtz. He lives in a small town with his wife, is the head of the music department at the local high school and the director of the band. He is the most important person in the story because he is the only one, not psychiatrists, and foster parents, to make a difference in Jim’s life. Throughout the story, George is determined and hopeful, lonely, and fixated with the beauty of music" (
The poem would introduce a literature lesson. Before reading and studying the short story, explain that Kurt Vonnegut and Eloise Greenfield are from the same era or generation. Lead students to compare the tone of the poem and the short story. Do they believe Greenfield's poem and Vonnegut's short story is enhanced by music?

(“The Kid Nobody Could Handle” is found in the Glencoe Literature textbook. The short story is a selection on the 8th grade Scope and Sequence for Literature at Gainesville Junior High.)


Google Image: Maracas. The Kaye way. (accessed February 19, 2009).

Greenfield, Eloise. 1986. “Way down in the music.” An anthology of black literature. Dorothy S. Strickland, ed. NY: Bantum Books. 3.

Image: Cover of Honey, I love and other love poems. 2009. (accessed February 19, 2009).

"Kid nobody could handle". Planet papers.
(accessed February 19, 2009).

“Meet the author: Eloise Greenfield.” Houghton Mifflin Reading. Education Place. (accessed February 19, 2009).

Friday, February 6, 2009


Time for a Poetry Break!

Module 1, Poetry Break 2

by Diondra Jordan

If I stood on tiptoe
reached up and sculpted
mountains from clouds
would you laugh out loud?

If I dipped my brush in starlight
painted a ribbon of night
on your windowsill
would you still laugh?

If I drew you adrift
in a pen and ink sea
in a raging storm
would you laugh at me?

If I planted watercolor roses
in your garden
would you laugh then?
Or would you breathe deep
to sample their scent?
I wonder.

Bronx Masquerade, by Nikki Grimes, is an amazing novel about eighteen different teenagers of various ethnicities, each with their own distinctive voices, created by Grimes. She is a powerful, master crafter in writing with imagery and realism. The novel is an excellent demonstration of voice, one of the six traits of writing instruction important to students as they write in preparation for TAKS testing.

As a reading teacher, I would use the poem, “If,” as a teaser before teaching the novel in a literature class, or as librarian, in promoting the novel on its merit alone. The character, Diondra Jordan, is the tallest girl in class - six feet. Her classmates call her The Jolly Green Giant, and she doesn’t play basketball, which is a shock to everyone else. She is an artist, not only with a brush painting a watercolor, but also with words; her poem has actually painted a picture. The poem could be used as a poetry break to introduce a number of extended lessons.

Literature - read the novel and examine imagery, or use the book at the beginning of a poetry unit (and establish Open Mike Friday, which is the backdrop of the book!)
Art - anyone of the verses of the poem, “If,” could be imaginatively depicted in several mediums: sculpting, watercolor, or pen.
Writing - use the book and each character’s poem to discuss voice and how to establish a personal style of writing through word choice
In the library - use the poem as a teaser, book-talk Bronx Masquerade, and then contrast the book to What My Mother Doesn’t Know and What My Girlfriend Doesn’t Know, by Sonya Sones, in regards to poetic styles
Health - use the novel for a study of the human condition during teenage years, discussing culture and shared experiences regardless of ethnicity

Another idea is to post the poem on a poetry blog on the library’s website. When introducing the poetry blog to students, read the poem from the blog to the students. Book talk the book, Bronx Masquerade, discuss the author, Nikki Grimes, and inform the students that the book is available for check out in the library. Ask a student volunteer to read the poem aloud from the blog posting.

For extension, instruct the students to log on to a computer and reply to the blog posting of the poetry and post their personal response to the poem. This activity would serve to teach the students about weblogs and give them an opportunity to participate.

Grimes, Nikki. 2002. Bronx masquerade. NY: Dial Books. 27.

Telling Tales

Time for a Poetry Break!

Module 1, Poetry Break 1

A poem about school, the library or books and reading:

Telling Tales
by Hope Anita Smith

The teacher said,

“Just for fun,
everyone make up a story
using your wildest imagination.”
I chewed on my eraser
for a long time before I
started to write
about a boy
just my age,
who wore pants that
covered his ankles
and shoes that didn’t
hurt his feet.
He lived in a
three-bedroom apartment
with his mom and dad.
And the heat worked.
And the water ran clear.
And when he heard
loud popping sounds at night
he knew that it must be
the Fourth of July.
Oh, yeah,
and he lived happily
ever after.

Although this poem, by Hope Anita Smith, is a series of poems about an African-American family going through difficult relationships, this particular poem is about a young boy in school who has been asked by his teacher to “make up a story using your wildest imagination.” If I only had a dime for the number of times teachers have actually spoken those words in a classroom, yes, I would be rich!

In our school, February is writing month, and all seventh and eighth students are required to write in every subject at least once each week. Teachers must “warm-up” and prepare their students and this poem would make a wonderful introduction to writing month. After presenting the poetry book and reading the poem, the teacher could ask the students to think about why the young man in the poem wrote about what he did. I would have them brainstorm for a few minutes. In advance, I would write the poem on a huge piece of paper with enough room for students to write a personal response to the poem. I would ask volunteers to write their responses beside the poem. Is the boy the writer? What does he mean about his pants covering his ankles and shoes that don’t hurt his feet? I would ask the students to ponder the last line, “and he lived happily ever after.” Can they imagine what this boy’s life might be like? Do they believe he lived happily ever after?

The extension exercise would be the actual writing assignments for the month of February. The poem would help the students open up their imaginations as they begin their essays and compositions and realize that drawing from personal experiences makes for interesting reading, and many times, easier writing.

Smith, Hope Anita and Shane W. Evans, illus. 2003. The way the door closes. NY: Henry Holt and Company. 33.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Review of The Sea is Calling Me by Lee Bennett Hopkins

The Sea is Calling Me, by Lee Bennet Hopkins is a compilation of twenty-one poems about the sea and its surroundings. Harcourt Brace Javanovich in San Diego, California published the anthology. Walter Gaffney-Kessell penned the two-color illustrations of light blue and soft black on a pallet of cream. Each poem’s subject is an observance through the eyes of children and young adults while spending time near the sea. Topics include the ocean, the seashore, lighthouses, seashells, and sandcastles.

The poems speak to our shared notions of biomes of seas and oceans. The poets’ voices convey familiar encounters felt by all who have witnessed the pull of the ocean surroundings. They achieve this phenomenon through imagery with such expressions as “the sound of the thunder when they break against rocks” (Fisher, p. 14), “Sea-weed sways and sways and swirls” (Lawrence, p.15), and “There’s that smell of the boats. / Sometimes you have to hold your nose / To keep it out, that smell;” (Livingston, p. 26).

The first poem, “Sea Shore Shanty”, by Bobbi Katz, sets the mood with this repeating line at the end of each of the three stanzas - “And nothing you really have to do” (Katz, p. 6). Spending time at the seashore conjures up languid and leisurely moments soaking up the atmosphere of ocean breezes, sand between the toes, birds calling, waves crashing, and magical creatures. This charming book of poems gives us all of that and is perfect for children of any age. Although the colorful cover features two elementary-aged children playing on the beach, the illustration for the first poem shows a young teen-aged boy, barefooted, hair blowing back, lounging in roll-up jeans on the railings of a porch as he pensively stares out over the beach. The muted blue highlights in the pencil drawings of the illustrations add a whimsical and appealing touch to each poem for all ages.

The second poem, "Until I Saw the Sea,” by Lilian Moore moves with a contemplative tone about the sea itself, expressing new discoveries about the sea in a line in each of the three stanzas: “I did not know,” “I never knew,” and “Nor did I know before” (Moore, p. 8). In contrast to this purposeful questioning in “Until I Saw the Sea,” is the following poem that advances jauntily in a finger-snapping, singsong fashion, “Sitting in the Sand,” (Kuskin, p. 9).

Alliteration and repetition thrive in these poems. My favorite is a tongue twister of names: “maggie and milly and molly and may” (cummings, p. 12). Found In “Song for a Surf-Rider,” by Sarah Van Alstyne Allen, is a wonderful extended metaphor that compares a horse to the sea (Allen, p.16).

Song for a Surf-Rider
by Sarah Van Alstyne Allen

I ride the horse that is the sea.
His mane of foam flows wild and free.
His eyes flash with an emerald fire.
His mighty heart will never tire.
His hoofbeats echo on the sand.
He quivers as I raise my hand.
We race together, the sea and I,
Under the watching summer sky
To where the magic islands lie.

It reminds me of Emily Dickinson’s poem, “I like to see it lap the miles” where she compares a horse to a train. Accompanying “Song for a Surf-Rider” is the illustration of a young surfer mastering a blue-tinted wave, the look on his face one of deadpan determination. In addition to attention-grabbing metaphors is the abundance of personification. It is not hard to imagine children being delighted by waves somersaulting, seashells whispering, and fiddler crabs playing sweet tunes.

What stands out in this collection of poems about the sea is the manner in which the mood weaves in and out, as each poem is presented. One poem is pensive, the next cheerful and brisk, and the next humorous and lighthearted. The last poem is ideal for the closing of a day at the beach, when all are sufficiently burnt by wind, salt-water and sand, the perfect ending to a perfect day. “Sunset Blues” is not light and happy, but fitting, a plaintive regret for the day’s end. “Guess they think / every sunset sky / is the world’s last day / and it makes them cry” (Kumin, p. 30). Regardless of this last note, I think the mixture of these poems would make a child who has never been to the beach want to go!

Hopkins, Lee Bennett and Walter Gaffney-Kessell, illus. 1986. The sea is calling me. San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace

Jovanovich. 6-9, 12-16, 26, 30.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Learning About Poetry Breaks

Hi, everyone! As I enter a new dimension with poetry in my TWU course, Poetry for Children, I will be recording my thoughts and assignments here. I look forward to presenting my ideas!