Friday, April 10, 2020

A Kick in the Head: An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms by Paul Janeczko (Module 6; Book 1)

A Kick in the Head: An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms Review by Elaine Alexander

Janeczko, Paul B., and Christopher Raschka. A Kick in the Head: an Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick, 2009. ISBN: 0763606626

This illustrated collection features twenty-nine different forms of poetry by multiple popular writers in the genre. Not only does this book highlight the various formats and demonstrate the challenges of adhering to the rules, it also show how writers can creatively bend the rules within this art form in unique and clever ways.

While this book can serve as an excellent classroom resource to explain many different poetic forms, it also has strong appeal for upper elementary school students because a majority of the poems are humorous and make learning the structures an enjoyable, lighthearted experience. The selection of poems range from silly and whimsical, with an occasional more serious tone struck, such as the poem denoting the Vietnam Memorial. Overall, the language invites readers to have fun with words by playing within the rules and structures of different poetic expressions. One example is the Kristine O'Connell George's senryu that recounts a fresh new school year, with a "fossil...[of]...last June's cheese sandwich" (16) still tucked inside the student's backpack. Not only does the insertion of an old cheese sandwich make the senryu rather comical, but it also shows emerging writers that the format doesn't have to be serious in content. As long as it is be written in the 5-7-5 syllable structure and is about human nature, it counts as poetry!

This concept of playing with words and format is solidified in the introduction of this multi-author collection that prepares the reader for what they might find by suggesting that the rules of poetry are precisely what makes the art form more challenging and fun. Janeczko also points out that while the rules exist to provide structure and challenge, that a poet is not "a slave to every aspect...[and can]...break the rules and have fun doing so" (8). Instruction is suggested for making the most out of the experience in reading the book, to focus first on the poems, then on the explanation of the poetic form, before returning to the poem again for full enjoyment and comprehension. An example of how the format is bent for the sake of art is in Steven Herrick's limerick about a limerick called "Steven". Instead of strictly adhering to the rhyming structure of "aabba" the poet stops the rhyming sequence on the third line of the limerick in order to play up the comical message of the poem and emphasize how silly it is to have a limerick named Steven (Herrick 21). By breaking the rhyming structure, the poet shifts the emphasis on the silliness of the content, breaking the rules in favor of frivolity.

There are thoughtful teaching details throughout the layout. Each page of this collection has an instructive drawing at the top that tells what poetic form is being presented, along with a physical representation of the lines and meter. For example, on the page representing haiku, the corner drawing has three lines of flowers, each line representing the structure with a flower to indicate the individual syllables. This approach can help different types of learners, such as supporting visual learners by helping to reinforce how to count the syllables for a successful haiku. Further instruction is given regarding rhyming schemes. An explanation of the poetic form is at the bottom of each page. In addition, there is a progression in the difficulty level in the collection. The collection begins with the smallest poetic forms, the couplet, gradually moving into more complicated poetic forms, before ending on the most challenging form in the book, a pantoum. This layout would make the text an amazing classroom reference, with students moving through the book, continuing to be challenged by each new poetic form. Building in complexity over time is a sure method to help students embrace the formats and gain the confidence to try them out for themselves.

Use & Highlight Poem
Limericks are a fun form of poetry for kids to try their hand at. First, they are supposed to be humorous, so that makes them appealing. Second, the rhyming structure and rhythm of the format makes for a challenge that is perfect for beginning poets. Young writers can play with the format and ease into writing poems of their own, since they are light-hearted and meant to be fun.

For my highlight poem, I would choose the section that includes Edward Lear and Steven Herrick's limericks because it is such a great example of how to follow the format precisely and how to break the rules and grow as a poet. I would have the students read both examples and try their hand at modeling both the perfect representation of the limerick, with the aabba rhyming scheme, as well as an attempt similar to Herrick's, that bends the rules in favor of frivolity.


There was an Old Lady whose folly
Induced her to sit in a holly;
Whereupon, by a thorn
Her dress being torn,
She quickly became melancholy.

Edward Lear

There once was a limerick called Steven
whose rhyme scheme was very uneven
it didn't make sense
it wasn't funny
and who'd call a limerick Steven anyway?

Steven Herrick

Walking on Earth & Touching the Sky: Poetry and Prose by Lakota Youth at Red Cloud Indian School (Module 6; Book 2)

Walking on Earth & Touching the Sky Edited by Timothy P. McLaughlin Review done by Elaine Alexander

McLaughlin, Timothy P., S. D. Nelson, and Joseph Marshall. Walking on Earth & Touching the Sky: Poetry and Prose by Lakota Youth at Red Cloud Indian School. New York: Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2012. ISBN: 9781419701795

A powerful collection of poems by students at the Lakota Youth at the Red Cloud Indian School, this book reveals the unique perspective of Native Lakota children, as they express their connections to the natural world, their culture and utilize poetry and prose to make sense of the larger world around them.

Although this collection of poems highlights Lakota students at the Red Cloud Indian School, many of the selections hold universal appeal since the selections from these young writers seek to honor nature, question the tragedies and truths of hardships and poverty, and seek to understand their place in the world. While some poems touch on innocence and reverence for the natural world and spiritual connectedness, others are raw and demonstrate the darkness of extreme poverty, drug use and death, as well as racism and ancestral loss. At times, this collection is difficult to read. The poems encompass the burden of generations of hardship and pain. Other times, there is such beauty and richness in the language that the reader truly feels the reverence the Lakota have for their tribe, their land, and the importance of preserving their way of life.

The layout of the book is broken into seven sections that cover topics of self-expression that reflect the Native American experience, with particular focus on the Lakota Tribe. There are a mix of poems that cover the core values of the tribe, such as respect, courage, and connection to tribal traditions and the spiritual world. But, there are also poems that reflect the hardships that are so prevalently experienced by the Lakota, such as extreme poverty, substance abuse, and death. Still, throughout the book, each section is prefaced by both a beautiful piece of artwork by S.D. Nelson and accompanied by an introduction to help readers have a full understanding of the circumstances of how the poems were written, the ways of the Lakota people, and of the culture that they represent.

The quality of the poetry was refreshingly honest, with candor and frankness that belies the ages of the writers. Many of the poems and prose were packed with emotion, touching on the importance of spiritual or natural connections, or exploring the frustration of the darker sides of poverty and despair. All the selections reflected a thoughtfulness and deep awareness of the past and present, as though each child writer carried the traditions and words of their ancestors with them into the uncertain future. There was truly a duality in the works. I was keenly aware that each student had one step in the past and another walking toward the unknown. This duality was visceral. I often felt the confidence of the entire Lakota people in the connections with nature and the past, yet when the poems covered modern times, that is when those shades of darkness and uncertainty cropped up. The poems were tremendously moving, but heavy in subject matter and tone. This collection of student poetry serves as a perfect example of why "own voices" need to be represented in literature for children and teens.

Last, the collection ends with an important author's note from Timothy McLaughlin, who edited this collection of student poems. This note discusses how McLaughlin, a non-Native, worked with the students through a volunteer program and how the experience not only led to the formation of the book, but also to an extensive career teaching in Native communities. He describes the student's initial reactions to his presence at school, their skepticism on whether he would last on the reservation and his persistence in developing trust and engaging students in a way that coaxed such meaningful and vividly descriptive writing.

Use & Highlight Poem
My selection for a highlight poems is Still I Dream. There is something about this poem that makes me think of Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous speech, "I Have a Dream" and it encompasses the ability of people to hope against odds for something more. I would pair this poem with a brief history of the Lakota Tribe and the Pine Ridge Reservation to put the words into perspective. Students could try their own hand at writing a poem based on their own heritage, or perhaps on challenges they might have overcome or dreams that they held onto, even in the face of overwhelming odds. Despite the dark aspects of this book, there is equal parts of light and hope. The true lesson for students and young writers is to look for that hope and find a way to connect to it.

Still I Dream

There are people putting drugs in their bodies
and trash all over the ground.
But still I dream good dreams.
There are people dying.
But still I dream about the past and how happy we were.
People are starving and have no home.
But still I dream all of us are a family,
and we have food and a home to live in.
--Chanelle Douville

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold by Joyce Sidman and Rick Allen (Module 5; Book 3)

Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold Review by Elaine Alexander

Sidman, Joyce, and Rick Allen. Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2014. ISBN:9780547906508.

A single author collection of poems, this delightful book takes readers through a winter wonderland of nature as it highlights how different animals and wildlife -- from deciduous or evergreen trees to fox and moose -- survive in the northern winter months.

This book is a treat for children who love animals. Not only does it feature beautifully written poems, but each two page spread has stunning artwork, and is supported by a lengthy paragraph of fascinating facts. Beginning with a two page wordless spread showing a tree branch shedding its last fall leaves, as it reaches out into a snowy sky, the reader is immediately given the sense of the shift from fall to winter. Each poem moves through the timeline, pushing closer to spring and finally ending with the same branch extending out from the snow, with spring buds growing on the ends.

The poems make use of alliteration, evoking a sense of wonder about the mysteries of snowflakes or power of bees to work in a unified fashion to survive by cramming into a "sizzling ball" (Sidman 14) in their snug hive. As the reader moves through the poems and factual text -- as if they were walking alongside the playful fox out hunting -- they are treated to a sneak peak at busy beavers, the crafty escape of the vole, and the coordinated coexistence of ravens and wolves. The language sings the praises of nature, gives a nod to the way creatures adapt to weather the cold, and reminds us all that "winter doesn't last forever" (Sidman 25).

The layout echoes this push from the beginning frost to budding spring, alternating between animals or nature that evoke images of the sky, to beings found tucked beneath the earth or on its surface. The artwork reflects scenes that range from orange-browns associated with fall, to the snow whites and grays of winter, yet each page is visited by the splash of color of the orange fox that moves through the book, urging readers along their winter journey. Children will want to revisit the marvels of nature in this fascinating ode to the hardy animals that survive in harsh, northern climates.

Use & Highlight Poem
The highlight poem is Winter Bees which reflect the hive's reliance on teamwork to survive the harsh conditions of winter, as well as the protective measures they take to keep their queen safe. It would be fun to pair this poem with the construction of a mason bee hive. A simple and inexpensive hive could be constructed using an old coffee can and paper straws, or you could choose to swap paper straws for bamboo, for sturdier construction. If the house is constructed and placed out in late winter or early spring, near an early flowering bush, plant or tree, there would be ample time for a classroom to monitor the success of whether or not the readily made home was helpful in attracting pollinators.

Winter Bees

We are an ancient tribe,
a hardy scrum.
Born with eyelash legs
and tinsel wings,
we are nothing on our own.
Together, we are One.

We scaled a million blooms
to reap the summer's glow.
Now, in the merciless cold,
we share each morsel of heat,
each honeyed crumb.
We cram to a sizzling ball
to warm our queen, our heart, our home.

Alone, we would falter and drop,
a dot on the canvas of snow.
Together, we boil, we teem, we hum.

Deep in the winter hive,
we burn like a golden sun.

A Kick in the Head: An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms by Paul Janeczko (Module 6; Book 1)

A Kick in the Head: An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms Review by Elaine Alexander BIBLIOGRAPHY Janeczko, Paul B., and Christopher Raschka...