Friday, September 21, 2007

Words...Wonderful Words, Words, Words

Part I

Today I have The Grammar Lesson by Steve Kowit, a poem I found at Poetry 180. Having been a teacher for many years, the poem really appealed to me. I think you will understand why. Children certainly don’t get excited when being instructed about grammar and word usage in school. I think it would be fun to share this poem with students in a language arts classroom. I would suggest photocopying the poem on a transparency and showing it to students on an overhead projector. Here’s how the poem begins:

The Grammar Lesson
by Steve Kowit

A noun's a thing. A verb's the thing it does.
An adjective is what describes the noun.
In "The can of beets is filled with purple fuzz"

of and with are prepositions. The's
an article, a can's a noun,
a noun's a thing. A verb's the thing it does.

A can can roll - or not. What isn't was
or might be, might meaning not yet known.
"Our can of beets is filled with purple fuzz"

I think the poem is quite clever. You can read the rest of it here.

Part II

Kowit’s poem brought to mind some children’s books I suggest that students in the children’s literature course that I teach might consider using in the language arts curriculum.

The following books by Brian P. Cleary are three in his Words Are CATegorical series, which is published by Carolrhoda Books/Lerner Publishing Group. The books are written in rhyming verse and would be fun to read aloud.

Illustrated by Jenya Prosmitsky

Illustrated by Jenya Prosmitsky

UNDER, OVER, BY THE CLOVER: What Is a Preposition?
Illustrated by Brian Gable

Here’s an excerpt from Under, Over, By the Clover:

Show us where,

Like in
your bed,

beside the chair—

by the clover,

or next to

They tell us
time and also place,

Like past 9:30
in your face.

The prepositions stand out because they’re printed in colored text. The illustrations in all the books are humorous cartoon-style art, which add just the right amount of humor to books about language.

Check out Brian P. Cleary’s website. It has quizzes and games for kids, activities for teachers, a POW (Poem of the Week), a WOW (Word of the Week), and lots of other things for kids who are really “into” words. It also has some sound effects.

Cleary is also the author of…

Illustrated by J. P. Sandy
Millbrook Press, 2006

This book is for middle readers and older kids…and for adults like me who enjoy PUNS! Here’s one of my favorite verses from the book’s first section, Music {Going for Baroque}.

They tune into the older films
and love to watch the dancing.
“There’s too much sax and violins now,
and not enough romancing.”

Here’s a cute one from the second section: Animals {Laugh Until You’re Horse}.

My dad predicts the weather,
and he toad my sister once,
“It looks a lot like reindeer,
so be sure to wear your pumps.”

At the bottom of most of the book’s pages, Cleary includes definitions of some of the “punny” words included in the poems.

Part III

Selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins
Illustrated by Karen Barbour
Simon & Schuster, 2004

This is a slim anthology of poems that teachers could also use in the language arts classroom. Poets whose works were selected for this book include Eve Merriam, Emily Dickinson, Pat Mora, David McCord, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Nikki Grimes, and Karla Kuskin. The anthology opens with Dickinson’s poem 1212:

A word is dead
When it is said,
Some say.

I say it just
Begins to live
That day.

Next, comes Eve Merriam’s Metaphor in which Morning is/a new sheet of paper/for you to write on. There’s also Dotlich’s Let’s Talk, which is a poem about how people use words to talk “about new robins /who appear/before winter/is through and to tell each other how they’ve been and how they feel…and to talk about good times that they’ve shared. In Finding a Poem, Kuskin advises a reader how to become a poet. Here are some of her suggestions from the poem: Unlock the weather/in your heart/Unleash a thousand whispers/let them shout.

The anthology fittingly ends with Richard Armour’s The Period, which closes like this…

“Get out of my way!”
Cries the sentence. “Beware!”
But the period seems not to hear or to care.
Like a stone in the road,
It won’t budge, it won’t bend.
If it spoke, it would say to the sentence,
“The end.”

Karen Barbour’s colorful gouache illustrations are stunning and add a bright and thoughtful dimension to the poems in this anthology.

Sara Lewis Holmes has the Poetry Friday Roundup at ReadWriteBelieve.


Sara said...

Wow. All great recommendations. I may have to find that "punny" one for my Dad. He's always springing groan-worthy puns on me. And that last poem could work for National (or International) Punctuation Day next week!

Anonymous said...

Man, these posts are great. I love that poem, too. And I love grammar. I really do love it. I'm a geek that way.

Karen Edmisten said...

We love Brian Cleary at our house, and everything else in this post is terrific as well. Thank you.

John Mutford said...

I'm reminded of the old School House Rock song (redone wonderfully by Skeelo in the early 90s), "The Tale of Mr. Morton" which goes "Mr. Morton is the subject of my sentence, and what the predicate says he does..."

Anonymous said...

Phenomenal post, Elaine -- love the combination of review and poetry selections here!

Anonymous said...

Wow. This is fantastic. And the grammar poem is a vilanelle, to boot. What a hoot...

Elaine Magliaro said...

Thanks for your comments, everyone.

Sara, I'm in league with your father. I love making puns!

Jules, I admit to being a word and grammar geek, too.

Liz, I knew "The Grammar Lesson" was a particular type of poem. I just couldn't remember what type. Thanks for the information.

John, I've never heard of that song--or maybe I have and just forgot.

Karen, it's just been in the last two or three years that I've become familiar with Cleary's books.

Kelly, it was funny the way reading Kowit's poem got me to thinking about the Cleary books and the poetry anthology.

Anonymous said...

Elaine, I'm going to track down the noun, verb, and preposition books at the library. They sound like fun.

david elzey said...

I'm always forgetting about these books when people ask me for suggestions on teaching kids grammar. Or for kids who like wordplay poems. Thanks for the tickle.

Anonymous said...

Oh my, what great recommendations. Have you seen the new picture book by the author of Eats. Shoots, and Leaves? It is about apostrophe use (can't remember the exact title) Sept. 24 is National Puncuation Day.

Elaine Magliaro said...


Cleary has a number of other books in the Worsd Are CATegorical series. I think he also has written some books about math--but I haven't seen them.


I think Douglas Florian's poetry appeals to children who appreciate wordplay.


I haven't seen the new children's book by Truss yet. I do have her book about commas.

Hoots said...

Just stopped by on a search for material about Richard Armour. You have an excellent blog and community. Comfortable as a neighborhood coffee shop. Keep up the good work.

Elaine Magliaro said...


Thanks for stopping by and commenting at Wild Rose Reader.