The Power of Poetry: Books Between, Episode 21

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The Power of poetry

Episode Transcript:

I will straight up tell you that I was slow to appreciate poetry in the way it really deserves. I was always a voracious reader even as a kid, but I rarely ever picked up any poetry when left to my own devices.  I guess I always thought of it as a complicated puzzle or containing some secret message that I was just too obtuse to figure out.  I even had this ridiculous idea that all poetry was romantic.  Yeah – I know – WRONG!

So, I have been on a mission lately to shed my own misconceptions and make SURE that I am not passing those along to my own children or my own students. It is still very much a work in progress for me, but I thought today I’d share with you a few ideas about how to include more poetry in the lives of your kids – not only during National Poetry Month, but all year long.

Rethinking Poetry

First off, I think that rethinking reading poetry is the biggest step. Helping kids understand that poetry can be about ANYTHING (not just love) is a major step. The best way to to do this? Start by reading lots of varieties of poetry with them. I know we are all pressed for time, but reading a short poem every day (or even start with every week!) would take less than a minute and can often be done in those “gap times” like waiting in the hallway or waiting for the bus to arrive. (And later on, I’ll share with you some places to get those poems.)  Also, I used to think that as a teacher, I would have to hammer the heck out of a poem and make sure my students had yanked that thing apart and knew the theme, the rhyme pattern, the symbols, the point of view of the author and on and on and on until… well, it just wasn’t enjoyable anymore. For me or my students!

The event that recently cemented for me the fact that teaching poetry doesn’t have to be like that was Laura Shovan’s live Facebook Event hosted by The Nerdy Book Club. It was called “It’s National Poetry Month: Let’s Teach Poetry!” and you can find an archive of that event through their facebook page and I’ll also include a direct link to it in our show transcript. So anyway – Laura Shovan is a poet-in-the-schools for the Maryland State Arts Council’s Artist-in-Education program and the author of the novel in verse The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary. In this video, she walks through how to teach the poem “Weather” by Eve Merriam. The whole thing is worth checking out, but I just wanted to share with you a few highlights:

  • Read the poem aloud and ask students what THEY notice, what stands out to them, what got them thinking or feeling. And every time I have done this over the past week, my students will catch aspects of the poem I would never have considered.  I love the advice of having students take the conversational lead.
  • Reinforce the vocabulary of poetry naturally through the conversation around the poems, rather than a separate stand alone lesson. Incorporating terms like “couplet” and “stanza” into the discussion can save time and solidify their meaning for kids.
  • The idea of poetry as layers – layers of sound, of story, of point of view. And how reading a poem several times allows you (and your kids!) to discover more within those multiple readings.

And Laura Shovan makes this wonderful analogy of a poem as a waterfall – some students are going to want to jump into the water and experience it with all their senses, some are science minded and might want to take samples to examine and pick apart under a microscope, and some students want to stand back admire the beauty of that waterfall with awe and wonder.  And all of those responses are are just fine. And we don’t have to do every single one of them every time we read a poem together. If you want to learn more, check out Laura’s website at www.LauraShovan.com

Page to Stage

Another fantastic resource that links reading and writing poetry is Kwame Alexander’s Page-to-Stage Writing Workshop. And I highly recommend this if you want to harness the power of poetry to boost the level of writing excitement with your kids. This is a teacher’s guide that will get your kids writing, publishing, and presenting their poetry – and the best part is that it’s not JUST another book on teaching poetry. It includes videos of Kwame Alexander – both for teachers and for your students to watch. And if you’ve ever had the chance to hear him speak, you know the energy he brings. It’s like having a Newbery-Award winning author right in your classroom giving you a mini-lesson on poetry. Actually it’s not LIKE that, it actually IS that! Absolutely check that out!

I’ll close by quoting a bit from Kylene Beers’ forward of Page-to-Stage, “Poetry – what I’ll call the neglected genre – draws us into ourselves as it simultaneously lets us give back to the world a fresh understanding , a new vision, a re-vision of one moment. Kwame puts it better when he explains that poetry lets us ‘write our own journeys, find our own voices.’”

Fabulous Poetry Books & Novels in Verse

In this part of the show, I chat about books centered around a theme and of course this week is all about fantastic poetry books, anthologies, and novels in verse for middle grade readers. And – since National Poem in Your Pocket Day is Thursday, April 27th – this will give you some awesome options for you and your students to tuck in those pockets.

POETRY BOOKS

In this part of the show, I chat about books centered around a theme and of course this week is all about fantastic poetry books, anthologies, and novels in verse for middle grade readers. And – since National Poem in Your Pocket Day is Thursday, April 27th – this will give you some awesome options for you and your students to tuck in those pockets.

Bravo! Poems About Amazing Hispanics by author Margarita Engle with illustrations by Rafael Lopez. I really love this book – the drawings are fantastic and bold and each poem is from the point of view of the person being featured so it really feels personal.

One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance the latest by Nikki Grimes which is a collection of her original poetry interspersed with classic poetry of the Harlem Renaissance. Grimes is amazing – just go ahead and get all the Nikki Grimes – you can’t go wrong with her work!

Speaking of can’t go wrong poets, Kwame Alexander has two new poetry picture book collections out.  The first is called Animal Ark: Celebrating our Wild World in Poetry and Pictures and features photographs of endangered species. This one good for young readers as well as older kids. Then he’s also collaborated with some other poets  (Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth along with artist Ekua Holmes to put together a beautiful collection of poems celebrating poets called Out of Wonder.

Another poet to look for is  Lee Bennett Hopkins – his work is simply outstanding. I love his general collections but his themed books are really cool. Check out My America: A Poetry Atlas of the United States – a collection of fifty poems celebrating various regions in the country. Or Marvelous Math – a collection of math themed poems, or Spectacular Science – a book full of poems on all sorts of science topics. What is cool about these books is that if you have them on hand, you can easily flip and find a poem that relates to a subject you are studying in class. A poetry break during Math or Science?  Yes, please!

And if you are looking for something clever and funny, take a look at Keep a Pocket in Your Poem by J. Patrick Lewis. They take classic poems and pair them with a parody poem. So for example, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is paired with “Stopping by Fridge on a Hungry Evening” . It’s cute, funny, and may even inspire some of your kids to give a parody poem a try!
And if you want to enjoy some excellent poetry with a jazzy, hip hop flair – please, please go snag a copy of Hip Hop Speaks to Children: a celebration of poetry with a beat. It’s edited by Nikki Giovanni and includes a CD with many of the authors reading their poems – including Eloise Greenfield, Gary Soto, Langston Hughes, James Berry – and so, so many more. A couple things I really loved – one, they make the explicit connection between music, lyrics, and poetry and include lots of poems that we might originally view simply as songs.  Like “Rapper’s Delight”! And Queen Latifah’s “Ladies First”! It’s so, so good! And secondly, some of the tracks include the authors introducing their poem and giving you a little background. For instance, before Pedro Pietri reads “Love Poem for My People”, I was really stuck by how he mentioned that he wrote it many years ago and is STILL working on it.  Powerful, powerful messages for kids – you definitely want this one on hand!

Novels in verse

Well, you can’t talk about novels in verse without mentioning the amazing Sharon Creech. There are of course Love That Dog  and Hate That Cat – perennial classics in any classroom or library. But, I want to give a plug for her latest novel, called Moo. It’s the story of twelve -year-old Reena and her seven-year-old brother, Luke who are suddenly uprooted from their life in New York City and wind up moving to very rural Maine, and reluctantly trying to bond with a super ornery cow. There were certain aspects that reminded me a bit of Home of the Brave. I think those two would make a great novel-in-verse pairing.

And of course, I would be remiss If I didn’t mention Kwame Alexander’s two novels in verse – The Crossover and Booked. I feel like I have gushed so much about those two books on this podcast and how much students love them that I am almost risking overdoing it. So, you already know they are amazing, right?

Also previously mentioned on the podcast, but definitely need to be included on this list are Ellie Terry’s Forget Me Not, which is a novel that is half verse / half prose from two points of view.  If you want to know more about that novel, I went into more depth in the last show which was Episode 20.  And in Episode #8, I featuring Laura Shovan’s The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary, which is fantastic not only for the story but because it has dozens of poetry prompts right in the back. LOVE it!

Another author that writes poetry for kids across a wide range of ages is Nikki Grimes. I already mentioned her picture book work, but her novels Words With Wings and Garvey’s Choice are phenomenal. And accessible to kids who might find the brief poems and open space of each page really appealing. They are quick but powerful reads. A short poem, a short story, can pack a lot of punch.

And of course, Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming and her earlier book Locomotion and so many others are written with such passion and love that they stay with you, long, long after you’ve set aside those books.

A couple novels in verse that I haven’t read yet but have been bubbling up are The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney and Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai. I keep bumping into rave reviews and reflections on these two books – argh – I think I just need to take a reading sabbatical and work through my To Be Read pile. Wouldn’t that be nice?  

Well – I could go on and on – and I know I’ve missed a lot on this list, but I do need to cut myself off at some point. But, that leaves the door open for YOU!  What poetry books or novels in verse are your favorites and why do you love them? I’ll open some threads on our various social media sites and let’s continue the conversation there!

Thank You

Okay  – that wraps up our show this week.  If you have topic or a book you think we should cover, please let us know. You can email me at booksbetween@gmail.com or message me on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.

Thanks again for joining me this week. You can get a full transcript of this show and all of our previous episodes at AlltheWonders.com including links to every book and every resource I talked about today. And, if you’re enjoying the show and finding some value in what you hear, please help others find us too by telling a friend, sharing on social media, or leaving a subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher.

Thanks again and see you in two weeks!  Bye!

About the Author

Corrina Allen

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Corrina Allen is a 5th grade teacher in Central New York. She hosts Books Between, a bi-weekly podcast to help teachers, librarians, and parents connect children between 8 and 12 to books they’ll love. You can connect with Corrina on Twitter at @corrinaaallen or Instagram at @Corrina_Allen.

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