Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Poetry Book Review #6, Love That Dog

Creech, Sharon. 2001. Love that dog. New York: HarperTrophy.

Reading this interesting book in this unique genre of verse novels has left me a little puzzled. On the one hand, I really enjoyed and appreciated the story of Jack and his poetry notebook and his dog. What educator among us doesn’t like the story of a kid who gets turned on about something he’s being taught in the classroom? On the other hand, it’s not the kind of poetry I’m used to reading. Some of it seemed like nothing more than short, choppy prose, like the entry from October 10, page 5 in my copy:

“You didn’t say before

that I had to tell why.

The wheelbarrow guy

didn’t tell why.”

That’s not to say that none of the main text of the poem contains poetic elements. There is repetition, like on October 4, page 4:

“Do you promise

not to read it

out loud?

Do you promise

not to put it

on the board?”

and part of the entry from October 24 on page 9 has nice rhythm and onomatopoeia:

“Some of the tiger sounds

are still in my ears

like drums


Of course, Jack does write some excellent poetry in response to his teacher’s requests, like his “Blue Car” poem, meant to be like William Carlos Williams’ “The Red Wheelbarrow:”

"So much depends


a blue car

spattered with mud

speeding down the road.”

This poem has great imagery, even if the reader has no idea what significance the blue car has to the boy yet. Jack says he doesn’t like it, but I think he is still struggling with understanding what poetry is. What he says about this in his entry on January 17, pages 22 & 23, is that “maybe the wheelbarrow poet was just making a picture with words and someone else—like maybe his teacher—typed it up and then people thought it was a poem because it looked like one typed up like that.” He doesn’t realize that making a picture with words, the right words, is poetry.

The story is entertaining and maybe a little inspiring. It has some good poetry in it. Perhaps the best part is that it’s told in very few words, which is a great boon to struggling readers who have a hard time with sheer volume of words in the traditional novel. I’m glad I read this book and I think I will try to recommend it to my students where it is appropriate.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Poetry Break #5 - Dizzy Wind

This week's poetry break is based on the poem "Dizzy Wind" by Lisa Westberg Peters. It's in her book Earthshake: Poems from the ground up, which is full of poems on other great earth science topics, like layers of the earth, lava, and glaciers. The poem has a somewhat concrete form, so it would be impossible to discusss it without showing here an image of the poem on the page in the book:

Setting the Stage: A copy of the poem will be displayed by a multi-media projector in front of the class, who will be seated on the floor. The librarian/teacher will have a globe as a visual aid.

Introduction: Review what students already know about the movement of the earth and the cardinal directions.

Inviting Participation: Point out the way the words in the poem move with the directions they mention. Ask students to hold their hands in front of them and swoop down on the word "south," left on the word "west," and so on.

Read the Poem: as written above

(Peters, Lisa Westberg. 2003. Dizzy wind. In Earthshake: Poems from the ground up, illus. by Cathie Felstead, 11. New York: Greenwillow Books.)

Extension: Use the globe to show how the earth spins. Let one student spin the globe slowly to the right (east) while another tries to track a straight line from the North Pole down. Show students how the "wind" (that is, the student's finger) ends up to the west of its original longitude.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Poetry Book Review #4 - Love to Mamá

Mora, Pat, ed. 2001. Love to Mamá. Illus. by Paula S. Barragán M. New York: Lee & Low.

This is a very high-quality book, containing poems by Liz Ann Báez Aguilar, Francisco X. Alarcón, Rane Arroyo, Mimi Chapra, Judith Ortiz Cofer, Rigoberto González, Carmen D. Lucca, Tony Medina, PatMora, Cristina Muñiz Mutchler, Daniel A. Olivas, Virgil Suárez, and Jennifer L. Trujillo. Some of these, such as Francisco Alarcón, Judith Ortiz Cofer, and, of course, Pat Mora were already familiar names to me. Still others, such as Rane Arroyo, Rigoberto González, and Tony Medina have published books of poetry that I had never encountered before. Others had published other genres before, and one poet included could not be called anything but new, as she is only 15 years old (Cristina Muñiz Mutchler).

In her introduction, Pat Mora describes her relationship with the maternal figures in her life and says these poems are intended to “share [the poets’] love for their mothers and grandmothers” and that all of them are “proud to be Latino writers.” These two messages are certainly clear and all of the included poems reinforce that purpose, whether they are simply nostalgic, overwhelmingly proud, or simply full of admiration.

The layout of the book, especially the illustrations, very much enhances the poetry contained in it. The pencil/cut paper/gouache illustrations by artist Paula S. Barragán M. are works of art in themselves, but the poetry and the illustrations really do compliment each other. For example, the poem “Palomita,” by Judith Ortiz Cofer reads as follows:


Wearing a sky-blue skirt

embroidered by an old woman

named Consuelo from a story

she told Mamia long time ago

on her island, a cuento

in gold, brown, and silver threads,

a shower of sunlight

falling like drops of gold on

a little golden girl

who turns into a silver dove

and flies around and around a blue sky

my mami is walking with me in the park.

Palomita, palomita, is the name

she calls me, her little dove

happy to be going anywhere with her,

flying like a bird around and around

my mami in her sky-blue skirt

made from an island story

The accompanying illustration is on a dark green background with cut-paper images of bright green leaves, evoking the park or the native island mentioned in the poem. Set on this background is a woman in a long skirt. Her head is small and seems far away, but her body gets larger and larger the further down the page it goes, which seems to me partly the way a little girl would see her mom, skirt up close, head far away, and partly a way to emphasize the significance of the skirt in the poem. The skirt has on it a sun, drops of gold, a dove, and clouds, as one might imagine Mami’s skirt to have from reading the poem. The colors aren’t exactly as described, but the artist has still captured the essence of the poem beautifully.

The poems all appear in a united font on either all-white pages or all-white sections of the pages, so as not to compete with Barragán’s vibrant images. This makes it easy for the eye to find and read the poems and makes for a very appealing visual design as well. I regret that Mora did not add to the other outstanding aspects of the layout of this book by including a table of contents, index, or other aids to finding poems. It does have a glossary, which is not only a nice addition but might be considered necessary because of the many Spanish words used in the poems.

Overall, this is a very enjoyable book that I would love to share with my students, albeit many of the poems are more suitable for the older children in my school, which serves PreK-5th grade. The following poem is my favorite, probably because my own daughter is being raised bilingual, and it also happens to span the greatest age range among my students:

“My Tongue is Like a Map”

Mami said yes, Abuelita sang sí.

They said, Two languages make you a rich man,

But words never paid for my penny candy.

Agua, water. Arroz, rice. Niño, me!

Arroz con leche, sang Abuelita

As my mami said, A is for Apple.

My ears were like a radio, so many stations.

Sometimes I would dream in English and Spanish.

I was a millionaire each time I said yes and sí.

- Rane Arroyo

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Poetry Break #3, "New Jacket"

This post was to be based on a poem by an NCTE Award for Poetry for Children recipient, so I chose a poem by Mary Ann Hoberman, who won that award in 2003. "New Jacket" appears in her book Fathers, Mothers, Sisters, Brothers: A Collection of Family Poems (see full citation at the end).

Setting the Stage: A copy of the poem (provided below) will be on chart paper in front of the class, who will be seated on the floor. A variety of nicer items of clothing will be placed appropriately as props.

Introduction: Ask students to share about a special dress or item of clothing they had to take really good care of. Older students can give a quote of something their mom or dad actually said about that item.

Read Poem:

"New Jacket" by Mary Ann Hoberman

I've got a new jacket.
I don't even care.
What good is a jacket
You can't even wear?

A not-everyday jacket

That's-not-for-play jacket

Do-as-I-say jacket

Just isn't fair.

It's yellow and red.
With a zigzag design.
They bought it for me
And they said it was mine.

A must-keep-it-neat jacket

Not-for-the-street jacket

Don't-you-look-sweet jacket

Isn't that fine?

I think that they bought it
Just so they could say
Go take off that jacket.
Don't wear it today.

A don't-get-it-messed jacket

Please-keep-it-pressed jacket

That-is-your-best jacket

Put it away.

(Hoberman, Mary Ann. 1991. New jacket. In Fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers: A collection of family poems, illus. by Marylin Hafner, 12. New York: Puffin Books.)

Inviting Participation:
This poem almost begs to be read by at least two people. For older students who are proficient readers, after reading the poem a couple of times aloud as a class, invite two individuals to read up front, one as the girl and one as the voice of the parent in italics.

For younger readers who aren't as proficient, I would invite a guest reader, such as their classroom teacher, to read the poem with me in the same way, one as the voice of the girl and the other as the voice of the parent. Prior to that during the initial run-throughs with the whole class, I'd teach them to all say "jacket" when I point to that word, so they can participate in the reading of the poem as well.

Extension: Ask students to share with a buddy a time when they disagreed about something with their parents.