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.