Saturday, April 2, 2016

Why Is Children’s Poetry So Invisible?







Late last year, I was surfing the Internet looking for articles about children’s poetry when I came across a piece in The Guardian titled Why is children’s poetry so invisible? In the article (dated 28 April 2015), Chrissie Gittins, an award-winning British children’s poet, said that it was time “to get confident about children’s poetry…” because children love it. She suggested that publishers, bookshops, and libraries should stop hiding it and start celebrating it.

Chrissie Gittins:

Hoorah for the just-out CLPE poetry award shortlist! What treasures! In fact it’s the only award for a book of children’s poetry in this country. Lucky for writers of children’s fiction there are at least 10 opportunities for them to submit to prizes which are solely for fiction. But, is poetry eligible for the Carnegie Medal, the Costa Book Awards, and the National Book Awards? Yes it is! Have you ever seen poetry shortlisted for these awards?

The last time a poetry collection was shortlisted in the children’s section of Costa prize was in 1999 when it was still called the Whitbread Book Awards. This year, out of 91 nominations for the Carnegie prize, only one was for a poetry collection, and that book didn’t make the longlist. (Any professional librarian can nominate a book and it is added to the nominations.) 

Certainly children’s poetry doesn’t win these prizes, even on the very rare occasion it is shortlisted. Why is that?

If you read summer and Christmas book round-ups, or lists of top 10/50/100 book recommendations, they hardly ever include poetry. If you go into bookshops and libraries, do you see signs for children’s poetry? Not many? Is it perhaps because in many bookshops poetry is likely to be found under signs which say “Fairy Tales and Gifts”, “Jokes”, “Rhymes and Giggles” and “Hobbies”? Do you see much stock of children’s poetry? No? Why is that?

Click here to read to the full text of Why is children's poetry so invisible?

********************

It appears that children’s poetry is treated much the same way “across the pond” as it is here in our country. Children’s poetry books are pretty much invisible in book stores. They rarely win a Newbery Medal or Newbery Honor Award. Although novels in verse get more attention these days, poetry collections—especially those for younger children—rarely get serious consideration for the “big awards.” What is the reason for that? Do children’s librarians think that poetry is a fringe literary genre that is, for the most part, unworthy of awards?

I’m glad that the National Council of Teachers of English acknowledges America’s most gifted children’s poets with its NCTE Award  for Excellence in Poetry for Children and that there is a Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award for the best children’s poetry books of the year—but neither of those awards is broadcast on the Internet like the ALSC awards. They are only “big deals” to poetry lovers like me.

********************



Back in 2006, I wrote Children’s Poetry and the Cinderella Syndrome, my first post for the Blue Rose Girls blog. Here is an excerpt from Part I:

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.


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.

******************** 

Do you think children's poetry is invisible? Do you think it should receive more attention from teachers and librarians...and from ALSC? Do you think that children really do enjoy poetry?




5 comments:

Amy Losak said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Amy Losak said...

It is a shame that poetry is so invisible or relegated to April. For the past three years, I've been in a partnership with a nonprofit arts education group in NYC, Arts For All, to bring haiku and senryu into a couple of NYC schools. The haiku/senryu were written by my late mother, Sydell Rosenberg, a founding member of the Haiku Society of America in 1968. Her work is used to help teach the basics of art and music. It's been highly rewarding and will continue this year. These programs are stimulating, inclusive and fun for everyone involved, and I wish there were more of them. This article I pitched a few years ago will interest you -- http://www.takepart.com/article/2014/04/16/why-its-important-teach-poetry-schools

Elaine Magliaro said...

Amy,

Thanks for commenting. I appreciate your input...and the link to your article. Keep up your good work with poetry in the schools!

One of my good friends is a published haiku/senryu poet who is a member of the Boston Haiku Society. He is a teacher who has conducted an after-school poetry club for elementary students for many years. He has also led haiku walks for adults at the Green Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in Concord, Massachusetts.

Elaine Magliaro said...

Amy,

I tried to respond to your email on two different email accounts--but I received a failure to deliver notification both times. You can find some information about my friend--as well as some of his work at the following link:

http://www.unitedhaikuandtankasociety.com/featuredpoet151.html

-blessed holy socks said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.