Monthly Archives: April 2013

Themed Third Thursday: Poetry Edition

Well, April is apparently National Poetry Month, so instead of the Jon Scieszka feature I was planning (which will just come later!), you get poetry books! One year when I was  a fifth grade teacher, we did a Poetry Café once a quarter. Each child either wrote or selected a published poem to perform for their classmates and parents, and we had refreshments afterward in the classroom. It was great fun! Here are a few books of poetry and poems that I had in my classroom back in the day that are still great to share with kids!

Where the Sidewalk Ends: 30th Anniversary Special Edition, by Shel Silverstein (2004): While my favorite Shel Silverstein poem is “Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out” (which is in this volume), “Almost Perfect” from A Light in the Attic is a close second. Illustrated in the author’s signature style, some of the poems almost require the image for the poem to be clear, but many of the silly rhymes are meant to tickle the funny bones of children of all ages and are great for read-alouds as well. Not every poem is strictly proper or particularly school-appropriate, but the books as a whole are great reading material for children who need some encouragement to enjoy poetry.

It’s Raining Pigs and Noodles, by Jack Prelutsky, drawings by James Stevenson (2005): Intended for all elementary ages, these silly poems play with language and are great for young readers just getting into poetry (although some of the vocabulary is pretty advanced). This duo also composed A Pizza the Size of the Sun and The New Kid on the Block. While I personally prefer Silverstein, these relatively slim volumes drew the attention of many readers in my classrooms over the years!

Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices, by Paul Fleischman, illustrated by Eric Beddows (2004): Originally published in time to receive the 1989 Newbery Medal, this book of poetry is meant to be read aloud! Some of my students chose a choral reading from this book to perform with a friend, and they require extensive practice for young readers. I would often perform the “Whirligig Beetles” poem (they’re all about bugs!) aloud with a willing volunteer as an example, and it really is harder than it seems like it ought to be! Great for shared reading for increased fluency, this is just one of several similar books by the author, including I Am Phoenix: Poems for Two Voices and Big Talk: Poems for Four Voices.

Love that Dog, by Sharon Creech (2001): In this novel, Jack, a boy in Miss Stretchberry’s class, uses his class journal to express his distaste for reading and writing poetry…ironically, in free verse. Through assigned poetry readings and writings, Jack discovers that poetry might not just be for girls, particularly when he reads Walter Dean Myers’ “Love that Boy,” which inspires him to open up his feelings in a tribute poem entitled “Love that Dog” about his family dog that was killed by a car. Perfect for middle to upper elementary readers, this is a novel way to introduce a reluctant student to poetry (or just to use in a classroom as an example of reading responses, free verse, and inspiration from other texts). (I used this in a small reading group with fifth graders when I was teaching. After sharing this book with my group, I ordered a couple additional Creech titles for my classroom, Heartbeat and Granny Torrelli Makes Soup, that were also good reads for different reasons.)

Locomotion, by Jacqueline Woodson (2005): Eleven-year-old Lonnie Collins Motion (aka, Locomotion) has been in foster care since he and his sister lost their parents in a fire when he was just seven. While he is taking part in a poetry unit in class, he begins to find his voice and a way to express all his tough emotions though poetry. I happened upon this book after reading Love that Dog, and there are clear similarities, but this book deals with even more serious topics and is therefore even more heartbreaking and meaningful. Due to the depth of the topics and the need for extensive reading between the lines, I suggest this book for upper elementary and middle school readers. (Although a newer edition of this book is available, I prefer the 2005 paperback cover!)

Okay, it’s clear I prefer funny, rhyming poetry, so does anyone out there have suggestions for elementary readers who prefer beautiful, lyrical poetry or simple haiku or even limericks? I’d love to hear about some of your favorite childhood poetry collections!

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The Trouble With Elephants, by Chris Riddell

The Trouble With Elephants, by Chris Riddell
(1988, Lippincott)

A little girl shares the trouble with elephants in this picture book for an elephant lover like my GirlChild (who turns five today)!

The book opens with a picture of a somewhat disgruntled little girl with her arms wrapped around her stuffed elephant and the words, “The trouble with elephants is…” From that page on, the little girl remains disgruntled, but the elephant appears as a full-size elephant that goes with her everywhere! The troubles with elephants are all things that would be true if the elephant in question was real, like spilling the bathwater, taking all the sheets and snoring, and being bad at hide-and-seek. Some of the troubles are written out in the text, but many of them are just shown or hinted at in the illustrations (such as blocking the sun when you’re lying out on the beach together and being a bad choice for the other end of the see-saw). The very last page says that the real trouble is “you can’t help but love them” and shows the little girl giving her stuffed elephant a kiss on the cheek.

Despite the fact that this book was published 25 years ago, the illustrations are charming and timeless. A little girl in red patent leather shoes, baggy tights, and a bobbed haircut would not look out of place now, and the only things that might have hinted to me that this was an older book were the knitted tea cozy with a pom-pom and the toast rack on their breakfast table. (Then again, this book was published in the UK by an author/illustrator who was born in South Africa and raised in England, so the tea cozy and toast rack might just be an international thing… Do people still use toast racks?!) The illustrations show the elephant (or elephants in some pictures) doing silly things like sliding down the banister or trying to ride a bike (and failing when the bike collapses). The faces of both the little girl and the elephant are particularly expressive despite their relatively simple features, so it’s easy to interpret their emotions (which is a good thing for young readers who need the hint).

GirlChild’s Reactions: This being a book about elephants, GirlChild LOVES it. That, and she likes the way some of the humor is told through the pictures (as she can’t yet read but is good at sensing the ridiculous). She says her favorite part is the “you can’t help but love them” part. Since some of the pictures are pretty busy, she has found new things to examine each time she’s had us read this one!

Additional titles:

(YA fantasy series)

   (Not for kids, but it looks hilarious!)

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