Welcome to Poetropia, an arena for discussion about children's poetry, specially designed for my graduate Special Topics (LS 5903 Section 22) at Texas Woman's University. Please feel free to visit as often as you like and to give me your reactions to my reactions of the poems and poetry collections I'll share here throughout the Spring 2007 semester. Thank you for your visit. You can leave the door ajar for the next visitor as you leave. Happy reading!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Poetry Break Three: Unusual poem form ("Shape" or "Concrete" poem).

Poetry Break Three: Unusual poem form (Shape or Concrete Poem).

Graham, Joan Bransfield. Illus. by Steve Scott. (1994). “Popsicle.” In Splish Splash. New York: Ticknor & Fields. ISBN 0618111239.

Splish Splash is an incredible book full of shape poems about water in its many forms, from something thing so inventive as a sprinkler to ice cubes floating in a glass. The simple, colorful illustrations make the perfect background for these creative “concrete” poems.

Reviews of Splish Splash (per Amazon.com):

School Library Journal: Kindergarten-Grade 3-A colorful collection of poems about water and the particular ways children may come in contact with it- from ocean waves; to rain, hail, and dew; to steam and ice. Bold, graphic artwork expands upon the concrete form of the poetry….An enjoyable introduction to poetry that will also be a boon to teachers taking a whole-language approach to science units. A fun and useful purchase.

Kirkus: Graham uses simple phrases and images, displaying both a fine ear and a lively imagination, inviting readers to enjoy the sound of the words as well as their sense…Without sacrificing legibility, Scott seamlessly incorporates the text into the design…he sticks to a flat, graphic style with large areas of bright single colors, plenty of empty space, and sharp contrasts to give the illusion of depth. An outstanding collaboration between poet and visual artist. (Poetry. 7-10)

Awards for Splish Splash:
71 Top Books of the Century (Nonfiction) Instructor Magazine
School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
NCTE Notable Trade Book in the Language Arts

And Now…


p op sicl e
p op sicl e
t i c k l e
tongue fun
lick sicle
stick sicle
p l e a s e
don’t run
drip sicle
slip sicle
melt, melt
t r i c k y
stop sicle
plop sicle
hand all

What a terrific and fun way to introduce young children to poetry.
While the poem doesn’t have any regular rhyme scheme, the repetition of “-icle” in the words shows freedom and invention and the echo of sticky, tricky and tickle all help to make the "ick" sound like a popsicle stick, holding the poem together. It shows that even a stream of silly, fun words is poetry, too!

Shape poems like this one and the other creative poems in Splish Splash are the perfect way to get children invested in their own poetry. A poem like this could introduce a discussion about things children like and they could be asked to write their own poems in the shapes of whatever they want!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Poetry Book Review Two: A Collection of Color

Poetry Book Two: A Collection of Color

Greenfield, Eloise. Illustrated by Jan Spivey Gilchrist. (2003). Honey, I Love. New York: HarperCollins/Amistad. ISBN 0060091231.

Honey, I Love is a little girl’s ode to everything she loves, spanning the endearing characteristics of her cousin to hot summer pass-times, from her uncle’s car to her mama’s soft skin. This book is a journey of the senses experienced through the point of view of a young girl of color.

The language is simple—the words themselves accessible, but woven together so intricately and deliberately that it is impossible not to relate to the girl’s experiences even if we don’t share the same memories. The rhyme scheme and meter are consistent throughout with the exception of every second stanza, at which point the line is essentially repeated and left hanging as the next stanza starts anew. Her use of “Honey, let me tell you” is the one thing that grounds this poem in the perspective of color and it is repeated often adding just enough punctuation to draw out the perfect amount of realistic emotion.

Since the actual text of the book is one long poem, I include it here:

I love
I love a lot of things,
a whole lot of things

My cousin comes to visit
and you know he’s from the South
‘cause every word he says
just kind of slides out of his mouth

I like the way
he whistles
and I like the way
he walks

But honey, let me tell you that
I LOVE the way he talks
I love the way my cousin talks

The day is hot and icky
and the sun sticks to my skin
Mr. Davis turns the hose on,
everybody jumps right in
The water stings my stomach
and I feel so nice and cool

Honey, let me tell you
that I LOVE a flying pool
I love to feel a flying pool

Renee comes out to play
and brings her doll without a dress
I make a dress with paper
and that doll sure looks a mess

We laugh so loud and long and hard
the doll falls to the ground
Honey, let me tell you that
I LOVE the laughing sound
I love to make the laughing sound

My uncle’s car is crowded
and there’s lots of food to eat
We’re going down the country
where the church folks like to meet

I’m looking out the window
at the cows and trees outside
Honey, let me tell you that
I LOVE to take a ride
I love to take a family ride

My mama’s on the sofa
sewing buttons on my coat
I go and sit beside her,
I’m through playing with my boat

I hold her arm and kiss it
‘cause it feels so soft and warm
Honey, let me tell you
I LOVE my mama’s arm
I love to kiss my mama’s arm

It’s not so late at night,
but still I’m lying in my bed
I guess I need my rest,
at least that’s what my mama said

She told me not to cry
‘cause she don’t want to hear a peep
Honey, let me tell you
I DON’T love to go to sleep
I do not love to go to sleep

But I love
I love a lot of things,
a whole lot of things

And honey,
I love ME, too.

The illustrations—vibrant, brilliant watercolors—playfully illustrate the poem with a mixture of reality and dreamy fanfare of imagination,
the bright colors and muted textures echo the sing-song qualities of the poem itself.

This book is an impressive piece as it delicately reveals a young African-American perspective of certain symbols held dear while at the same time keeping an uplifting balance of reality and imagination. It would be the perfect book to use to introduce young children not only to poetry but also to the music of life’s many cultures. It could introduce a discussion about each child’s own personal culture as well as the specific symbols and anchors each child sees as important—they could list the things they “love” and be encouraged to write a poem about them. In an older classroom, the book could be used to discuss the African-American culture depicted in the book’s images.

Reviews of Honey, I love (per Amazon.com):

School Library Journal: “Kindergarten-Grade 3-First published in 1978, Greenfield's warm flowing verse will find a welcome new audience in this newly illustrated 25th-anniversary edition…The words beg to be read aloud, as when the narrator's cousin from the South comes to visit, and she says, "I like the way he whistles and I like the way he walks/But honey, let me tell you that I LOVE the way he talks-." Gilchrist's shimmery watercolor illustrations of a beaming African-American child lend a different feel than Diane and Leo Dillon's contemplative charcoal drawings, and may appeal to younger children.”

Booklist: “PreS-Gr. 2. Published originally as a poem in the compilation Honey, I Love, and Other Love Poems (1978), this warm verse gets new life in picture book version enhanced by Gilchrist's down-home illustrations…The poetry has a charming cadence: "I hold her arm and kiss it / 'cause it feels so soft and warm / Honey, let me tell you that / I LOVE my mama's arm / I love to kiss my mama's arm." The picture that illustrates that verse is particularly nice. The watercolor art, which features children who look as if they could be living down the block, will draw readers close.”

The Boston Globe: “Abounds with that special tenderness surrounding the everyday experiences in a child's life. These poems beg to be read aloud.”

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Poetry Break Two: An NCTE award winning poet

Poetry Break Two: An NCTE award winning poet.

Greenfield, Eloise. (1991). “Fambly Time.” In Night on Neighborhood Street. New York: Dial. ISBN 0803707770.

Night on Neighborhood Street is a collection of poems about things that go on at night time in the city. It starts out as the sun is setting, with a group of children playing sidewalk games; then moves to a little boy with the blues; Juma gets one more bedtime hug; a new baby who has slept all day wakes to cry and is rocked; Tonya’s and her friends are joined in a slumber party by Tonya’s mom; Buddy dreams about dancing in front of a roaring crowd; a church’s congregation sings; Nerissa tells her parents bedtime jokes; Lawanda tries to convince her daddy that she’s old enough to walk from the car to the front door by herself (but secretly, she’s half asleep). But not all the poems are happy moments. There’s also one about the local “seller” (dealer) from whom all the children run—back to their safe homes; then there’s the community meeting which gets heated; and the house “With the Wooden Windows” which is rumored to harbor ghosts; and poor Darnell who sits up, wide awake in his bed, afraid of every “tap! creak! squeak!”; and finally, little Karen who “lets her sister be the mama evenings when Mama’s at work.” The poems—echoed by the chalk/pastel illustrations—imply these scenes are as seen through African American eyes, but these captured moments should be easily understood by many other cultures.

Reviews of Night on Neighborhood Street(per Amazon.com):

School Library Journal: Grade 1-4-- Warm shades of blues, greens, and lavenders as well as the characters' gently, glowing shades of browns perfectly capture Night on Neighborhood Street…warm, triumphant book that will be wonderful to share with a group or in a more cozy situation.

Kirkus: Greenfield's poems have a peaceful tone that is perfectly matched in Gilchrist's gentle, dreamy paintings, where brown skins glow with a warm light against soft-focus backgrounds of shadowed walls and deep, starry sky. A winning combination.

Night on Neighborhood Street was also named a 1992 Coretta Scott King Award Honor book (for both author and illustrator)

And Now…

Fambly Time

When the Robinsons gather
Just before bed
The kids in pajamas
The homework’s been read
It’s time for the family
To have some fun
“It’s fambly time!”
Says the littlest one

They come from work
They come from play
They get together
At the end of the day
For singing and guessing
And games of rhyme
For jokes and jacks
And pantomime
And the little one calls it
“Fambly time!”

Another great poem for beginning poetry readers! It has a definite and reliable rhythm and rhyme scheme, sounding almost like a chant—a call for the whole family to come celebrate being together. The words are easy to understand and relate to. There are several instances of repetition—consonance/assonance (“singing and guessing”), alliteration (jokes and jacks—the k sound of which might also be seen as consonance) and the repetition of “They” in the first three lines of the second stanza. But beyond the sound of the poem, the meaning of the words, the content, the feeling, is what will make children love this poem. Through the loneliness and hardship of some of the rest of the poems, the Robinsons' “Fambly Time” restores the belief in optimism. It sends the message that no matter where you live, how little you have or how busy you are, getting together at the end of the day—even just for a few minutes—with the people you love can be the glue to holding a “Fambly” together.

This poem moves me personally because when I lived with my grandparents in a house with no electricity, no telephone and no running water (on a mountain in the Middle of Nowhere, Arkansas—population 315), at the end of a long day spent weeding the garden, watering the plants, bringing in firewood, burning the trash, pulling rocks out of the mountainside for rock pathways and flower gardens and finally, doing homework, my grandparents, my sister and I would either pile into their big king-sized bed and read poetry, play games, and eat popcorn. Or, we would huddle around the wood-burning stove and sing songs as Grandma played her autoharp, Grumps played the mandolin, I played the spoons and we all four sang old bluegrass songs and hymnals—sipping spiced cider between numbers. We weren’t the traditional family, but we all knew it was those moments spent together at the end of the day that made us able to handle any hardship we might face.

This poem could be used to open a discussion about night in each individual child’s neighborhood. The children could be encouraged to talk about the sounds they hear at night or the experiences they have—and then to write a poem about them. Or morning, or afternoon for that matter. It could also be used by older children to discuss the difference between some of the people’s experiences—not everyone has the privilege of having “Fambly Time” every night.

The illustrations in this book (including the cover) are soft, colorful and beautifully “lit.” In even the grimmest poem, the pictures make the book seem somehow safe. Perhaps this makes those scary situations “normal” and “just a part of life.” If so, this may encourage children to write poetry about their own every day experiences.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Poetry Book Review One: Lee Bennett Hopkins

Poetry Book Review One: A Lee Bennett Hopkins Collection

Hopkins, Lee Bennett. (1995). Been to Yesterdays. Honesdale, PA: Boyds Mills Press. ISBN 1563974673.

Been To Yesterdays is not just a random collection of good poems by Lee Bennett Hopkins, but rather a group of poems that come together to tell a story. The book’s cover has a black and white picture of a smiling young boy and the inside cover flaps (both front and back) have the same Rockwell-esque pictures of a smiling happy family of five, a grandmother, a happy mother holding a frilly-dressed baby and a young girl next to a tinsel-laden Christmas tree. Just looking at the cover and flaps, one might assume this is a book of light, happy poems.

And the collection does start out that way as a family of five pose for a photographer. Even the move from Pennsylvania to New Jersey (to live with Grandma) seems like an adventure. But when the family gets there, the narrator—young Lee Bennett Hopkins himself—is faced with some very foreign things and ideas as we are show through each untitled poem.

Over the fifty pages, the reader is taken on a first-hand journey, allowed to live vicariously through the young boy’s eyes as he is faced with such complicated issues as relocation, wealth/poverty, racism, the power and consequence of words, domestic discord and ultimately divorce, being the child of a single parent and yearning for a father, parental unemployment, loss of a cherished grandmother, making do with very little, alcoholism and finally hope for a bright and different future.

Lee Bennett Hopkins accomplishes this task with such a simplicity and lack of melodrama that it makes these issues seem surmountable without minimizing their painful impact—without being didactive or condescending and in words/structures that are easily accessible to children. There are many poems with one word lines and one word stanzas that might remind the reader of the iterative pattern of a child’s speech.

The inside illustrations (done by Charlene Rendeiro) are simply shaded thick line drawings reminiscent of Dick Tracy-esque comics—giving the book a sense of time, the fifties, and in their minimalism remind us of the narrator’s young age.

Although there is some rhyme and some rhythm, most of the poems do not have a predictable rhyme scheme or meter which seems to echo the reality and the transitory feeling of the poet’s childhood stories. The first few poems tend to rhyme more consistently, but then when the family starts to fall apart, the tendency wanes. The rhyming and rhythm that does happen so intermittently serves as an anchor—reminding us that it is a poem—as if the child who is speaking is grasping at anything he can in order to cling to some hope that everything will be alright. Then, as the boy begins to hope again, the rhyming comes back.

The first poem to indicate that this book is not going to be about a happy-go-lucky family is the one found on page 13:

a lady
smiled at me
and said
to Mama:

“What a good lookin’
young’un you got there.
What bright-eyed eyes.
What sleek brown hair.
God must’ve
given them
special on him.


Mama didn’t answer.
She didn’t return
the lady’s kind smile.

She tugged me away
down the toy aisle.

“Their skin’s
so dark.”
I said.

“They’re niggers,”
Mama answered.
“That’s what they’re called.
You’ll see
a lot
of niggers
here in this town.”


It didn’t sound
so good
when Mama said it—
when the lady’s smile
a sadlike frown.

Her face
a sadness
of a kind
I just couldn’t
seem to erase
from my mind.

That afternoon
alone with Grandma
I told her
I saw two niggers.

she asked.

“This afternoon
when Mama
took me to

Nigger’s not
a good word
to choose.
Call them
is a better word
to use.

can be tricky.
Some words
can hurt
when you
blurt ‘em out.
undue sorrow.
undue pain.
Don’t go
usin’ that
word again.”

I thought
about what
Grandma said
all night long
as I lay
in bed—

the word


my brain—

I learned
a lesson
from Grandma
about words

some words
are right
some are
too strong

still others—


After his parents have divorced, one short, simple poem (page 39) embodies the young narrator’s conflict between hope and transition:

“Uncle Ron”
“Uncle Chad”
“Uncle Brad”—

One of
these days
one of these
will become
a real

A ray of hope filters through the dark times and comes through an unpredictable source… school (page 45):

do you
want to be
when you grow up?”
asked my teacher,
Miss Ethel K. Tway.

Down the rows
the kids called out:

“A cop.”
“A nurse.”
“A soldier.”
“A sailor.”
“A scientist.”
“A firefighter.”

When she got to me
I said.

“A writer.”

Louis laughed

“A writer!”
he said.
“What a crazy thing
to want to be!”

“I don’t think
that’s funny, Louis,”
said Miss Tway.
“Everyone’s entitled
to sound
their own voice.
a writer is a
fine life-choice.”

That special moment
on that
red-letter day
I fell madly
in love
Miss Ethel K. Tway.

The final poem (page 62) is full of hope and light as the boy now has a new focus—his own future, of which he is in control and in which all the stories of his youth will serve as fodder for his art (he shows this by calling back to symbols from other poems in the book):

this world
a whole lot

grow up
a writer.
write about
some things
I know—

how to bunt
how to throw…

a Christmas wish
a butter dish…

a teddy bear
an empty chair…

the love I have inside


this world
a whole lot

I grow up

Although the format and linguistic simplicity of this book would be a great way to introduce poetry to children, the topics of its content might not be a very edible appetizer. Still, to more seasoned child poetry readers, this is a delectable morsel, ripe with emotion and thought.

Reviews of Been to Yesterdays (per Amazon.com):

School Library Journal: “Grade 5 Up-This autobiographical cycle of poems is a rare gift, a careful exploration of one life that illumines the lives of all who read it…The spare elegance of the poems is matched by a spare, clean book design-the words are surrounded by white space and a few pen-and-ink sketches. Like Cynthia Rylant's Waiting to Waltz (Bradbury, 1984), this book offers rich biography in a clear, poetic form. Readers will rejoice that Hopkins decided ‘To/make/this world/a whole lot/brighter/when/I grow up/I'll/be/a/writer.’”

Booklist: “Hopkins distills the experience of his middle-grade years into 28 poems of poignant clarity, achieving in very few words what many prose authors take chapters to tell. Hopkins transforms bleak events into crystalline moments, concluding with his resolve as a 13-year-old to "make the world a whole lot brighter" by becoming a writer. Good reading and an excellent, unconventional choice for teachers doing units on poetry and autobiography.”

Awards for Been to Yesterdays:

1995 School Library Journal Best Books of the Year
1996 Notable Children’s Trade Books in the Field of Social Studies
1996 ALA/YALSA Best Books for Young Adults
1996 Christopher Award
1996 Books for the Teen Age (New York Public Library)
1996 Golden Kite Award Honor Book

Poetry book reviewed by Joelie Key-Tissot February 1, 2007