Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Poetry of Rebecca Kai Dotlich

Last Friday, I wrote about the poetry of summer. In the post, I included a short review of Rebecca Kai Dotlich’s Lemonade Sun and Other Summer Poems—as well as two poems from her book.
Today, I’m going to write more about the poetry books of Rebecca Kai Dotlich. For Poetry Friday, I’ll post my interview with her.

I was introduced to Rebecca’s poetry with her first book Sweet Dreams of the Wild: Poems for Bedtime. This is a perfect book to read to young children at night. The poetry is soft and lilting and dreamy. Here is how the book opens:

As the moon unwinds its silver thread
And sleepy children climb in bed,
Sweet dreams are stirring in the air
As wild ones sleep—
Do you know where?

Illustrated by Katharine Dodge
Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press, 1996

Different animals—including a hummingbird, a red robin, a black spider, a caterpillar, a spotted cow, and a sea otter—are all asked where they sleep. The animals then answer the query in lyrical fashion. Here are excerpts from two of the book’s poems:

Red robin,
red robin,
where do you sleep?

I rest in a nest
built of twigs and string
with my head tucked under
a folded wing…

Black spider,
black spider,
where do you sleep?

I sleep in a web
of knitted threads,
woven of silk
in a flower bed.
On a thin, gauzy sheet
I sway in the air,
from a lilac bush
to the garden chair.

The book ends with a young child being asked where she sleeps:

Do you sleep in a bed
fluffed cozy and warm
with a white woolen quilt
and a bear in your arms?…

I thought Sweet Dreams of the Wild: Poems for Bedtime was reminiscent of Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?. I asked Rebecca if that book was the inspiration for her first book. Here is her response:

No. But I can see why you might think that. No, it was actually a poem by Margaret Wise Brown that was written long before Martin wrote Brown Bear. It was called The Little Black Bug and was published in 1937.

From The Little Black Bug by Margaret Wise Brown: "Little black bug/little black bug/where have you been?"

Click here for a peek inside at Sweet Dreams of the Wild: Poems for Bedtime.

Rebecca also wrote a collection of poems entitled When Riddles Come Rumbling: Poems to Ponder. In the poems that are contained in this collection, Rebecca provides clues for readers—and the illustrator Karen Dugan provides further clues—to help them solve the riddles. And if readers still can’t deduce the answers, all they have to do is to flip back to the verso of the title page where the answers are provided.

Illustrated by Karen Dugan
Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press, 2001

The poems in When Riddles Come Rumbling could best be described as riddle rhymes. They are short and rhythmic…and many are written in the voices of the animals or objects that are the subjects of the poems. Here is one of the mask poems from the book:

I curl,
I coil,
I sidewalk-slide,
I slip,
I slink,
I garden-glide,
I speak in reptile-tongue,
(a hissssss)
I try to bite
You hope
I misssssssssss.

I guess it’s easy enough to figure that one out!

I particularly like the language Rebecca uses in some of the riddles to describe the animals and objects: A telescope is “A small magic funnel/a star-/spangled tunnel.” What does a hula hoop do? “That ring of wonder/spins around below the waist” A gumball machine is “a round glass world” and an octopus is a “boneless bandit/of the sea.” I also like her use of words describing the action of animals and objects in her riddles:

Snake: curl, coil, side-walk-slide, slip, slink, garden-glide
Roller coaster: grunt, grumble, twirl, whirl
Yoyo: rock, swirl, snap
Fireworks: boom, pop, decorate
Marbles: spinning, rolling, circling, colliding
Mechanical crane: swing, shoot, swivel
Telescope: searching, exploring, seeking, scanning, parading

When I was teaching in elementary school, I was always looking for poems like these with precise use of words, strong verbs, and creative language—poems that would serve as fine examples for my students’ writing…literature that would enrich their vocabularies.

Classroom Connection: Using the poems in When Riddles Come Rumbling: Poems to Ponder as models, have students write their own poetic riddles. The riddles don’t have to rhyme—but should include clues to help readers figure out the answers. It might be fun for the children to write their riddles in the form of mask poems and speak in the voice of the animals or objects that are the subjects of their riddles. The children could then read their riddles to their classmates and have them “ponder” the answers.

Click here for a peek inside at When Riddles Come Rumbling: Poems to Ponder.

Let’s take a look at another of Rebecca’s poetry collections entitled In the Spin of Things: Poetry of Motion.

Illustrated by Karen Dugan
Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press, 2003

This book contains poems about objects…in motion! These things include windshield wipers, a pencil sharpener, scissors, a rubber band, a classroom globe, a washing machine, a lawn mower, wind chimes, puppets, a roller coaster, a kitchen broom, and a carousel. Here again, Rebecca is adept with her use of language: Bite-sized bits of cereal “bob before/our breakfast nose…paddle in spoons.” A pepper shaker is a “peppered palace” “packed with a million/midnight spots.” Autumn leaves “gather in gutters.” A pencil sharpener “gnaws/and nibbles/whittles and whirs.” Ice cubes in drinks are “mixing, scrambling/changing places/chilly cubes/frozen faces.” The cubes swirl and romp and swim and melt. A lawn mower “Clips tips/spits bits/of grass/Scribbles/paths/forges trails/snails around/a maze/of trees.” A helicopter sways and swerves and hovers and its “paddle blades whirl/in the spin of things.” A roller coaster is described as “turtling up” as it climbs on the rails and as “hugging/the armored/humpback track.” Here are two poems from the book. The first poem rhymes; the second does not:

by Rebecca Kai Dotlich

X slides open,
squeezes shut—
snip, snip, snip,
Silver mouth
yawning wide;
clip, clip, clip,
Slash, gnash,
Dice up, dice.
slice, slice.
Paper cutters,
steel shears—
X swings out, then

by Rebecca Kai Dotlich

sea secrets
to the wind,
tin ballerinas
on a tangle
of string
their bittersweet
sweet voices
of chattering ghosts.

Classroom Connection: Discuss the objects in motion in Rebecca’s In the Spin of Things. Point out the ways she describes how the objects move or how they are moved by another force. Ask them to look around the classroom to see if they can name things that move or can be made to move--for example, windows, doors, chalk or dry erase markers, an eraser, computer keys, a pencil, a paint brush. Take the children outside and ask them to do the same thing. Students might mention that trees move in the breeze, swings swing back and forth on the playground, balls bounce up and down and can swirl around the rim of a basketball hoop.

Make a list of all the objects that the students name. Then talk about the kinds of movement specific to two or three of the objects. Select one of the objects and write a collaborative class poem about that object that is “in the spin of things.” All this brainstorming, discussion, and collaboration should be enough to get the children revved and ready to write their own “poetry of motion.”

Click here for a peek inside In the Spin of Things: Poetry of Motion.

I would like to express my thanks to Rebecca Kai Dotlich for granting me permission to include the full text of her poems posted here.

1 comment:

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