In observance of my first bloggiversary, I thought I’d post Children’s Poetry and the Cinderella Syndrome, which was the first thing I ever wrote for a blog. It was published in two parts at Blue Rose Girls on October 8th and 9th of 2006.
CHILDREN’S POETRY AND THE CINDERELLA SYNDROME
Poetry is the Cinderella—pre-fairy godmother—of children’s literature. It is often a neglected genre in the school curriculum. It is usually relegated to the servants’ quarters of education. Schools do not purchase multiple copies of poetry books for teachers to share and discuss with children in reading groups. Many teachers—and, sad to say, librarians—are unfamiliar with the names of some of our most accomplished children’s poets and their works. And most administrators consider poetry a frill, as literature to be shared with children—if shared at all—when there is that rare free moment in the school day.
Alas! Children’s poetry usually doesn’t get invited to the royal ball either. It is seldom honored with the “big” award. To my knowledge, just two poetry books have been recipients of the Newbery Medal since 1922: Nancy Willard’s A Visit to William Blake’s Inn in 1982 and Paul Fleischman’s Joyful Noise in 1989. Surely, there have been other poetry books published over the years worthy of acknowledgement. Am I mistaken to infer that the people who are most knowledgeable in the world of children’s literature also perceive poetry as a genre that is less important than fiction and other nonfiction? Why are there so few Prince Charmings willing to squire Cinderella Poetry around town unless she’s all dolled up for a special event? If I were Rodney Dangerfield, I might opine on the state of poetry for children: It don’t get no respect.
Furthermore, one is likely to find few poetry books written by authors other than Jack Prelutsky or Shel Silverstein on the shelves of chain bookstores. Me thinks children’s poetry is in need of a very aggressive fairy godmother! Well, I hope it will have a mentor with magical powers in the person of Jack Prelutsky himself. Prelutsky was recently named our first Children’s Poet Laureate by the Poetry Foundation. Maybe he will be able to wave a wand and do what no one has ever done before: Bring children’s poetry into the spotlight where it can shine and shimmer and have an abundance of positive attention bestowed upon it. Maybe he will raise the profile of poetry so it will no longer be treated like the stepchild of children’s literature.
I am a passionate proponent of children’s poetry. I want to spread the word about the importance of sharing ALL kinds of poetry with our children. Too often their exposure to the genre is limited to the humorous verse of Prelutsky and Silverstein. Kids love it! I like it, too. But we should lead our youth beyond the confines of this popular children’s poetry and introduce them to the works of our finest children’s poets—and to poetry that will challenge them, to poetry that will stretch their imaginations.
Two questions: Would anyone think it best to expose children to one type of fiction—just fantasy, perhaps? Would anyone espouse the practice of reading children picture books written by just one or two particular authors? Not anyone in his/her right literary mind! Yet, it seems there are few individuals lamenting our children’s limited exposure to poetry. This disheartens me. Let me explain why I feel as strongly as I do about this subject.
There are things I learned from my experience teaching in an elementary school for more than thirty years. Most children enjoy—and many even relish—poetry when it is read or recited by an adult who loves it. They delight in the rhythm, rhyme, and clever wordplay found in poems written by such masters of the genre as Mary Ann Hoberman, Karla Kuskin, Aileen Fisher, Lilian Moore, and David McCord. Most will also grow to appreciate poems that do not rhyme—poems written by authors like Arnold Adoff, Janet Wong, Eloise Greenfield, Joyce Sidman, Alice Schertle, Tony Johnston, and Kristine O’Connell George. Children can be so inspired by a poem they have heard that they will write an original poem as an artistic response. And when children are immersed in fine poetry, they begin to internalize poetic elements and to develop an understanding of and appreciation for figurative language, imagery, and metaphorical thinking.
Over the years, I witnessed how the reading and writing of poetry with my students helped them to reach inside themselves, to unlock original ideas and thoughts, and to find their own unique voices. There were times when I was awestruck by the poetry they created. Some of my second grade students even modeled their poems after the works of such esteemed authors as Myra Cohn Livingston, Valerie Worth, Barbara Juster Esbensen, Marilyn Singer, and Alfred Lord Tennyson. Poetry definitely enriched my classroom and the lives of my students. I know this not only from what I observed in the classroom—but from letters I received from parents and students at the end of each school year.
One June a mother wrote: “When Kate sits in our window and responds to the moon and stars by writing poetry, I glow with happiness.” Another mother wrote: “Thank you so much for helping Alex discover his ‘new eyes’ in your class. Your love of poetry and music enriched him…” In his letter, Sam said: “…And I love the poems you read to us.” Noah wrote: “When I read poetry, that encourages me to write poetry. Writing poetry gets my imagination going.” Notes such as these reinforced my belief that poetry—all kinds of poetry—should be an integral part of every child’s education.
Poetry has been a genre too long neglected and too often overshadowed by other children’s literature. For years, I have been on a mission to bring it out of the shadows and into the limelight. Unfortunately, there is only so much enthusiasts like me and a few respected anthologists and advocates like Lee Bennett Hopkins and Paul Janeczko can do to achieve such a goal. I encourage all bibliophiles—teachers, librarians, authors, illustrators, editors, publishers, reviewers, parents, booksellers, children’s literature bloggers, and experts who sit on awards committees—to join in an effort to see that poetry for children is acknowledged as an equal, is invited to the royal ball more often, and when it arrives at the palace, is escorted down the red carpet to the grand hall where it can bask in the attention that it truly deserves.
It may be Wild Rose Reader's bloggiversary--but you get the presents. That's right! Leave a comment at one of my posts any time during National Poetry Month, and you may win a children's poetry book! The first drawing is scheduled for Sunday, April 6th.