Friday, February 29, 2008

Leaping Lizards! It's the Year of the Frog

I read Tricia’s post Leap into the Year of the Frog at The Miss Rumphius Effect and found out about the efforts of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to call people’s attention to the fact that many amphibian species are threatened with extinction. For your information, I have included an excerpt from AZA’s website:

“Frogs are going extinct. So are toads, salamanders, newts, and the intriguingly unusual caecilians. In fact, the World Conservation Union (IUCN) estimates that at least one-third of known amphibian species are threatened with extinction. While the major culprit has historically been habitat loss and degradation, many of the declines and extinctions previously referred to as "enigmatic" are now being attributed to the rapidly dispersing infectious disease chytridiomycosis, which is caused by the fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd). Bd is causing population and species extinctions at an alarming rate. Can you imagine if we were about to lose one-third of the world's mammals?”

Here is a mask poem I wrote about frogs, which I am dedicating to The Year of the Frog.

by Elaine Magliaro

The day we hatched from jellied eggs…
We looked like fish.
We had no legs.
We breathed through gills.
We had no lungs.
We didn’t have long sticky tongues.
We didn’t look like frogs…for sure.
But then we started to mature.
And day by day we changed and grew.
To tails and gills we bid adieu.
Now we have lungs and four fine limbs…
And we can croak
and jump

And here’s an excerpt from one of my favorite “point of view” poems. The entire poem is posted on the Poetry Now! page at Joyce Sidman’s website.

From A Frog in a Well Explains the World
by Alice Schertle

The world is round
and deep
and cool.
The bottom of the world’s
a pool
with just enough room
for a frog alone.

You can read the rest of the poem here.

Some Recommended Books about Frogs and Toads


A Toad by the Road: A Year in the Life of These Amazing Amphibians
Written by
Joanne Ryder
Illustrated by Maggie Kneen
Henry Holt

To read my review of this poetry collection, click here.

Lizards, Frogs, and Polliwogs
Written & illustrated by Douglas Florian

I enjoy all of Douglas Florian’s collections of animal poems. Lizards, Frogs, and Polliwogs is one of my favorites. The rhythmic, rhyming, lighthearted amphibian and reptile poems in this book are full of clever wordplay and are lots of fun to read aloud. This book is sure to be a hit with children and adults alike. The collection includes poems about polliwogs, spring peepers, a glass frog, the newt, the wood frog, the red-eyed tree frog, a bullfrog, and poison-dart frogs.

Here’s an excerpt from The Wood Frog, a poem about a hibernating amphibian:

My temperature is ten degrees.
I froze my nose, my toes,my knees.
But I don’t care, I feel at ease,
For I am full of antifreeze.

Marsh Music
Written by Marianne Berkes
Ilustrated By
Robert Noreika

As night arrives, a marsh comes alive with music. A bullfrog maestro raises a baton and starts to conduct a chorus of different species of frogs as they begin singing:

The rain has stopped.
Night is coming.
The pond awakes with
Quiet humming.

Maestro frog hops to the mound
As night begins to fill with sound.

Peepers peep pe-ep, peep, peep.
They have had a good day’s sleep!

Chorus frogs are hard to see.
Hear them chirping do re mi.

Other frogs and toads join in, including green frogs and American toads and wood frogs and pig frogs. Two leopard frogs pirouette and leap through the air as they dance ballet on lily pads. Even stars “are twinkling to the tune/As they dance around the moon."

Then dawn arrives, the maestro puts down his baton, and the frogs go to sleep. The marsh is quiet…but not for long…because another marsh melody is heard—that of a bird!

The back matter of the book includes a Glossary of Musical Terms with definitions for certain words used in the text—including adagio, moderato, percussion, and woodwinds. It also includes two pages with information about “The Cast” of amphibian performers named in the book: “Maestro” Bullfrog, Spring Peepers, Chorus Frogs, American Toads, Green Frogs, Narrow-mouthed Toads, Wood Frogs, Pig Frogs, Green Tree Frogs, Leopard Frogs, Barking Tree Frogs.


How to Hide a Meadow Frog & Other Amphibians
Written & illustrated by Ruth Heller
Grosset & Dunlap

Here’s how the book begins:

It leaps about,

With suction cups
upon its toes,
it clings to things.
Then off it goes.

on the
the light…
it’s sometimes gray
green or brown and sometimes pearly white.

The book goes on to inform readers, briefly, about other “camouflaged’ amphibians: the meadow frog, arum frog, the horn frog, cat-eyed tree frog, green toad, and salamander.

Frogs Sing Songs
Written by
Yvonne Winer
Illustrated by Tony Oliver

I can’t find my copy of Frogs Sing Songs at the moment—so here is a review of the book from Booklist:

From Booklist - April 30, 2003
“This lyrical companion to Winer's Birds Build Nests (2001) makes a strong environmental statement about saving frogs, from Africa to the Artic. On each double-page spread, one of Winer's short, simple poems appears under a spot illustration of a frog. Opposite is a full-page, vivid, realistic watercolor illustration of that particular species in its natural habitat. Each of the poems begins with the refrain, "Frogs sing their songs," then the following four lines reveal beautiful details about that frog and the sounds it makes. The book closes with a two-page frog identification guide for each of the 15 species shown in the book, complete with physical descriptions of specific sounds, from an oxlike bellow to a baby rattle. Words and pictures celebrate the varied coloring and sounds and the amazing adaptability of frogs around the world; and children will celebrate the creatures, too.”

Be sure to check out Tricia’s post Leaping Into Books About Frogs (And Other Amphibians) for more book recommendations.

At Blue Rose Girls, I have a great poem by Sherman Alexie entitled Powwow at the End of the World.

Kelly Fineman has the Poetry Friday Roundup.

Friday, February 22, 2008

A Poem for Harriet Tubman

For this Poetry Friday in February, I wanted to compose a special poem in honor of Black History Month. I wrote a cento in the voice of Harriet Tubman. I used only the titles of books written by African American authors or books about the African American experience…with one exception—Come with Me, a book of poems that was written by Naomi Shihab Nye.

Cento for Harriet Tubman
by Elaine Magliaro

My Brown Angels,
Listen to The Distant Talking Drum.
Hear it Spin a Soft Black Song
Under the Quilt of Night

I’m Only Passing Through,
Goin’ Someplace Special
To The Other Side
Where there’s A Sweet Smell of Roses
And Freedom Like Sunlight.

I’ve Seen the Promised Land
A place for All the Colors of the Race.
Now Is Your Time
To be Freedom Walkers.
Follow me on The Road North
To Liberty Street.

Come with Me
To The Other Side

Where we will Make a Joyful Sound.
We will Lift Every Voice and Sing
Sing to the Sun.
Sing Free at Last!

by Jacqueline Woodson
Brown Angels by Walter Dean Myers
The Distant Talking Drum by Isaac Olaleye
Spin a Soft Black Song by Nikki Giovanni
Under the Quilt of Night by Deborah Hopkinson

Only Passing Through by Anne Rockwell
Goin’ Someplace Special by Patricia C. Mckissack
The Other Side by Angela Johnson
A Sweet Smell of Roses by Angela Johnson
Freedom Like Sunlight by J. Patrick Lewis

I’ve Seen the Promised Land by Walter Dean Myers
All the Colors of the Race by Arnold Adoff
Now Is Your Time! by Walter Dean Myers
Freedom Walkers by Russell Freedman
The Road North by Bettye Stroud
Liberty Street by Candice F. Ransom

Come with Me by Naomi Shihab Nye
The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson

Make a Joyful Sound: Poems for Children by African-American Poets edited by Deborah Slier
Lift Every Voice and Sing by James Weldon Johnson
Sing to the Sun by Ashley Bryan
Free at Last! By Doreen Rappaport

At Blue Rose Girls, I have a list poem entitled Possibilities by Wislawa Szymborska.

Kelly has the Poetry Friday Roundup at Big A, little a.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner...and Win a Poetry Book!!!

On March 5, 2008, the PAS North Shore Council of Massachusetts will hold its winter dinner meeting at the Hawthorne Hotel in Salem, Massachusetts. Our guest speaker will be a gentleman who has been illustrating children’s picture books for more than four decades. He is the recipient of a Caldecott Medal and a Caldecott Honor Award. He has a son and a daughter who also illustrate children’s books. Can you guess who our guest speaker will be?

If you think you know the answer, email me the name of the illustrator. Send your email to: edotdrabik@yahoodotcom. If you are the first person to provide the name of our council’s featured speaker, I’ll send you a copy of Falling Down the Page, a book of poems edited by Georgia Heard that will be released in March by Roaring Brook Press. Note: My poem Things to Do If You Are a Pencil is included in the anthology.

For more information about this poetry book, check out page 13 of the Spring 2008 Catalog of Roaring Brook Press.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Nonfiction Monday: George Washington's Teeth

I hadn’t planned to write a book review for Nonfiction Monday. I was looking for a poem to post for Presidents’ Day in honor of George Washington when I remembered a book I used to share in the library with my elementary students—a book I still read to the students in my children’s literature course. It’s a nonfiction book about the dental problems that our first President faced, the constant pain caused by his rotting teeth, and the dentures that were made for him. It isn’t a typical book about one of the most illustrious figures in American history. It’s a humorous story written in verse that begins at the time of the Revolutionary War and ends after George Washington becomes President and gets a pair of dentures carved from a hippo tusk.

Written by Deborah Chandra & Madeleine Comora
Pictures by Brock Cole
Farrar Strauss Giroux, 2003

George Washington’s Teeth is most certainly a great book to read aloud! It’s rhythmic and rhyming and sure to tickle children’s funny bones. But…the book was well researched. In the back matter, there is a four-page time line (1732-1799) of important events in Washington’s life taken from his own letters, diaries, and accounts. It includes two photographs of his last set of dentures. There is also a list of time line sources.

This is how the book begins:

The Revolutionary War
George hoped would soon be won,
But another battle with his teeth
Had only just begun…

George Washington rushed into town,
The dentist heard his shout.
“Hold still,” he said, then gave a yank—
A rotten tooth popped out!

But that’s not the end of George’s tooth troubles. He heads off to war again with another toothache. He has swollen gums, which he soothes with oil of myrrh. He continues to lose teeth and have teeth pulled. He has to eat soft foods like mush and pickled tripe. When he crosses the Delaware River, there are just nine teeth left in his mouth. At Valley Forge, he has but seven. By the time he returns home after the war is won, he can count the number of teeth in his mouth on one hand: five. So it goes…until Election Day, when…

Poor George had two teeth in his mouth
The day the votes came in.
The people had a President,
But one afraid to grin.

When an artist comes to paint George’s portrait, he has the President put cotton in his mouth to puff out his sunken lips. Later, his dentist brings him a set of dentures. The denture’s springs snap against his tongue, fly out of his mouth—and he loses his last tooth. Poor “toofless” George gets an idea. He rummages through Mount Vernon looking for the teeth he lost. He makes a plaster mold with the teeth he finds to show to the dentist. The dentist then carves Washington a set of dentures from hippo tusk. The rhyming story ends happily with George dancing the night away at a ball.

In the book’s time line, the authors state the following: “George dies at Mount Vernon at the age of sixty-seven. It is believed that a chronic, untreated infection from the old root fragments in his gums contributed to his death.” There are many other facts included in the time line—as well as pictures of some of Washington’s portraits—that children are sure to find interesting.

Brock Coles’ cartoon-like watercolor illustrations enhance the lighthearted tone of the text. Children are sure to enjoy this humorous tale of the dental woes of the Father of Our Country.

Edited to Add:

To see a picture of a set of George Washington’s dentures, click here.
To see two more pictures of George Washington’s teeth, click here and here.

Anastasia Suen has the Nonfiction Monday Round-up for February 18, 2008.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Metaphor Poems

This week Tricia of the Miss Rumphius Effect challenged us to write metaphor poems for her Monday Poetry Stretch. I wrote some little snippets of metaphor poems as a writing exercise for myself. I’ve also included a poem I wrote for This Week’s Photo/15 Words or Less Poems at Laura Salas’s blog.

Sparks from our campfire—
glowing stars feeding
the hungry night

Campfire sparks wafting
into air…lightning bugs
dancing in the dark

Snowflakes fluttering
from wintry skies…flocks
of white butterflies

stars of lace whirling
around in white galaxies

Earthbound astronaut…
goose splashes down on
moon’s reflection

Crescent moon…
silver canoe drifting through
a sea of stars

Cloud boats float across
the pond, ferrying ducks
to the other side

Crows perched on telephone lines…
commas punctuating
a paper white sky

Here is a link to Poetry Stretch Results-Metaphor Poems at The Miss Rumphius Effect.

This is the poem I wrote for This Week’s Photo. The picture brought to mind the surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa. When I looked at a close-up of the photo, the lines/ridges reminded me of yarn. So I wrote the following metaphor poem snippet.


Net of golden yarn
Cast off by Jupiter
To snare a mighty moon—

Check out my earlier post Book Bunch: Looking at Langston Hughes. It includes a review of Tony Medina's poetry book Love to Langston and links to several poems written by Hughes.

HipWriterMama has the Poetry Friday Roundup this week.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The 2007 Cybils Winners

The big day has arrived at last! The 2007 Cybils winners have been announced! Check out all the winners at the Cybils blog.

A big thanks to the two fine ladies who are responsible for the establishment of these "kidlit" blogger awards: Kelly Herold of Big A, little a and Anne Boles Levy of Book Buds.

Happy Valentine's Day to you, Kelly and Anne!!!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Valentine Poems

Valentine Poems for Children by David McCord, Valerie Worth, Jane Yolen, Barbara Juster Esbensen, Jane Yolen, and Shakespeare

Valentine’s Poems from the Poetry Foundation's Online Journal

Looking for a good picture book to read aloud on Valentine’s Day? Here’s a link to my review of Sara Pennypacker’s picture book Pierre in Love that I posted at Blue Rose Girls last February.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Monday, February 11, 2008

Just Jazzin' with Dizzy Gillespie & Ella Fitzgerald

Jonah Winter’s Dizzy and Andrea Davis Pinkney’s Ella Fitzgerald are two books that would be great to pair with each other. Dizzy Gillespie and Ella Fitzgerald were contemporaries—both were born in 1917. Both made BIG names for themselves in the world of jazz. Both took jazz beyond the swing music of big bands that was so popular in the 1930s and 1940s. (I’m talking scat and bebop!) Ella was a member of Dizzy’s band—and in the early fall of 1947, Ella and Dizzy headlined a sold-out performance at Carnegie Hall.

The texts of both Dizzy and Ella Fitzgerald sing with a jazzy, hip cat, cool flavor that works effectively with the subject matter of the books.

NOTE: I have included links to some YouTube videos of Dizzy Gillespie and Ella Fitzgerald performing. I recommend letting children listen to/watch the videos so they will have a better understanding of the kind of music these two people are famous for.

Written by Jonah Winter
Illustrated by Sean Qualls
Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, 2006

Winter begins the story of Dizzy’s life by explaining how he was born into a poor family, how other kids beat him up because he was so small, and how he learned to fight back. Dizzy’s father also beat him often. Dizzy tried to be tough. He was often angry. One day a music teacher gave him a trumpet. Dizzy played that horn like crazy—blowing out the anger he felt inside. His music wasn’t pretty at first—but playing the horn made him feel good.

Dizzy kept practicing until he was the best musician in his small southern town. He became bored with just playing music that was written on a page. He wanted to play jazz, to break the rules, to invent new rules with his music. He headed for Philadelphia.

Dizzy was quite a prankster. While on stage, he’d fall off his chair, play practical jokes on other musicians, push the piano player off the bench and then play the piano with his left hand while holding the trumpet in his right hand. The older musicians didn’t care for his antics. Dizzy didn’t care. He wanted to be noticed.

In time, Philly seemed like small time to Dizzy—so he took off for New York, a city that was alive with jazz all night long. He began playing trumpet with a big name band—and clowning around again. He KNEW he had to do something to make himself stand out—even though it cost him his job. But that was okay. Dizzy was a man with a mission. He wanted to change jazz into something new, something cooler—a crazy kind of jazz that’s called bebop!


That’s what Dizzy called
this CRAZY kind of jazz
that he had invented just
by having the courage to be himself
until the very thing that had gotten him into trouble
so much—
being a clown, breaking the rules—
had become the thing that made him great,

his ticket
into Jazz Heaven
where, on certain nights,
Dizzy Gillespie
Still shoves the Angel Gabriel out of the way
And shows him how to play


In an interview in School Library Journal, Jonah Winter states: “I have always been a fan of Beat Generation poetry. I know it has its limitations, and is easily parodied, but it's fun—and that style seemed perfect for getting across the Dizzy Gillespie story.” Winter is right—he sets the perfect tone with his “beat generation” text for his biography of a jazz giant. And with his illustrations, artist Sean Qualls captures the jazzy, beat essence of Winter’s text and Dizzy and his music. Qualls’ stylistic mixed media pictures, which were done in acrylic paint, collage, and pencil, evoke the intensity of the trumpeter wrapped up in making music with his horn.

I’ll quote what Jonah Winter said about Qualls’ art for Dizzy in his SLJ interview: “I had never worked with Sean before this, and I didn't see the illustrations until they were pretty much all done, but I will say—they are so surprising, subtle. The cool palette he uses provides such a nice counterpoint to the crrrrrrrrrazy text. It really gets across the tension between what Dizzy Gillespie and his cohorts were doing with their music (which was explosive and cool at the same time) and that oh-so-hip/cool exterior which totally changed the image of how jazz musicians were perceived.”

Dizzy is an outstanding biography that tells about the life and music of one mighty cool bebopper! It’s a picture book in which both the text and illustrations work in perfect harmony

Dizzy Gillespie-Bebop Reunion—Diz, Kai, Monk

Dizzy Gillespie & Louis Armstrong—Umbrella

Dizzy Gillespie on the Muppet Show

The Buzz About Dizzy: Jonah Winter, an interview with Jonah Winter about his book Dizzy from School Library Journal (9/20/2006)

Written by Andrea Davis Pinkney
Illustrated by Brian Pinkney
Jump at the Sun/Hyperion, 2002

The narrator of Ella Fitzerald is Scat Cat Monroe. In the book, Scat Cat is pictured as a cat dressed up in a suit. He tells us the story of Ella Fitzgerald’s life in four parts, which focus on some of the most important periods/events of her life.

Track 1: Hoofin’ in Harlem
Track 2: Jammin’ at Yale
Track 3: Stompin’ at the Savoy
Track 4: Carnegie Hall Scat

Track 1: When Ella was young, she dreamed of becoming a dancer. She even taught herself to tap-dance. But when she entered a talent contest at the Apollo Theater in 1934, she got cold feet. She just couldn’t dance—so she started singing.

At first, her voice came quiet as a whisper.
A measly little hiss, soft as a cricket. But when the
band joined in, Ella rolled out a tune sweet enough
to bake. She won the contest straight up, kicked her
dance dreams to the curb, and pinned all her hopes
on being a singer.

Track 2: In 1935, the Harlem Opera House signed Ella as a featured singer. A man named Bardou Ali, who was the master of ceremonies for the Chick Webb Orchestra, saw her perform one night. Bardou thought Ella would be perfect for the orchestra—but Chick was a hard man to please…a perfectionist. Chick said he’d let Ella try out when the orchestra played at a dance at Yale University. Well, Ella had those “Yalies jammin’.” Chick welcomed her into the band that very night.

Track 3: Ella sang with the Chick Webb Orchestra at the Savoy. “The place was crammed full of folks who’d come to shake their tails to the orchestra’s sound.” And what of Ella who had once dreamed of becoming a dancer? Why, after she finished singing, she’d get down off the stage and dance with the patrons!

Chick saw Ella’s talent and helped her learn how to deliver a song…how to grab hold of a melody and wrap her voice around it. The two of them had a real chemistry and made beautiful music together. In May of 1937, the Chick Webb Orchestra took on the Benny Goodman Orchestra in a battle of the bands. Ella was on fire:

Her voice was quick-fired rhythm, with a brassy
satin twist.

She sizzled with Chick’s cymbals.
Busted loose with his bongos.

She sang like tomorrow wasn’t ever gonna come.

Track 4: Ella’s star continued to rise. She helped lift the orchestra to new heights. With Al Feldman, one of the other members of the orchestra, she wrote and recorded a song entitled “A-Tisket, A-Tasket,” which was a smash hit. (You can hear Ella perform it in a YouTube video. Look for the link below.)

When bebop became the “hot” music, Ella got on board. Dizzy Gillespie asked her to join his band. She started scat singing—using nonsense syllables instead of lyrics to carry a rhythm. In September of 1947, she and Dizzy “headlined a sold-out performance at Carnegie Hall.”

In A Note from the Illustrator, Brian Pinkney explains how he was inspired by some Harlem Renaissance artists, including Aaron Douglas and William H. Johnson, who worked during the days when Ella “came of age in Harlem.” He says he was also inspired in his use of colors by those that were in style during the Art Deco movement (1925-1940).

Pinkney’s illustrations, which were done in scratchboard, dyes, and acrylic paints, get into the free-spirited rhythm of jazz. Some of his compositions even touch on the surreal: Chick Webb’s “swinging” band swings on swings in the sky, Ella and Chick fly over the city above the Savoy, and Ella and Dizzy soar above the moon on a giant trumpet. These musicians have gone beyond the bounds of traditional music…to where they are free to improvise and really take wing with their jazz and scat and bebop. As in Dizzy, the art and text in Ella Fitzgerald work together in perfect rhythm to tell the story of a “vocal virtuosa.”

Ella Fitzgerald: One note samba (scat singing) 1969

Summertime—Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong

Ella Fitzgerald—A-Tisket, A Tasket

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Book Bunch: Looking at Langston Hughes

I love the poetry of Langston Hughes. I used to read poems from his book The Dream Keeper to my second grade students. I always shared poems from the book when I read them Coming Home: from the Life of Langston Hughes, a picture book biography that was written and illustrated by Floyd Cooper.

Today, I’m reviewing Tony Medina’s book of "autobiographical" poems about Langston Hughes entitled Love to Langston. As the front flap of the book jacket states: “Each poem explores an important event or theme in Hughes’ life, from his lonely childhood and the racism he overcame, to his love of travel and his ultimate success as a writer.” In his introduction, Medina tells readers that his book “captures glimpses of Langston’s life in the art form he cherished most—poetry.” The book's poems are narrated in the voice of Langston Hughes.

Written by Tony Medina
Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
Lee & Low, 2002

The fourteen poems contained in the book give us glimpses not only of events and themes in Hughes’ life—but also a peek inside the man, his thoughts and emotions. Because Medina speaks in the voice of Hughes, the poems seem personal. It's as if the poet is talking directly to and confiding in the book’s readers.

Following are excerpts from Love to Langston, which I hope will give you a flavor of Medina’s free verse poetry in the book:

Langston speaks of libraries being special places for him in his poem Libraries.

From Libraries

to sit and to stay
with books and books
and books of endless

beautiful words

keeping me company
taking my loneliness
and blues


He explains his feelings for his father in another poem:

From I Do Not Like My Father Much

My father is a man who could not do what
he wanted to do or be what he wanted to be
so he takes out his pain on everyone
even his own family

His anger causes me pain
just the same

No, I do not like my father much

He tells of his love for his favorite place in Harlem Is the Capital of My World:

Harlem is a bouquet of black roses
all packed together and protected
by blackness and pride…

Yeah, Harlem is where I be—
where I could be
Harlem is the capital of my world

In Jazz Makes Me Sing, Langston relates how the music “makes me/think about my sadness/and how I ain’t alone/The blues makes me feel/a whole lot better/It hits my heart in/the funny bone.”

In Poetry Means the World to Me, he expresses the importance of poetry in his life.

From Poetry Means the World to Me

Poetry means the world to me
it’s how I laugh and sing
how I cry and ask why…

Poetry is what I use
To say
I love you

The fourteen “glimpses” into the life of Langston Hughes also: show us a young boy learning about his people from listening to the stories his grandma tells him; speak of the prejudice he faced in school and about Jim Crow; recall his high school days when he lived in a white neighborhood where his white friends were immigrants and outsiders like him; and tell about his travels to many different places around the world.

Medina modeled some of his poems in Love to Langston after poems Hughes wrote for The Dream Keeper: Grandma’s Stories evokes Aunt Sue’s Stories and Sometimes Life Ain’t Always a Hoot echoes the sentiments expressed in Mother to Son.

In the back matter, Medina includes Notes for Love to Langston. In these detailed notes, the author provides information about the poet’s life and background information for each of the poems. Love to Langston is an excellent book to share with students during Black History Month--or any time of the school year.

Classroom Connections

  • Read Coming Home to your students along with a few poem selections from The Dream Keeper.
  • Continue to read two or three poems a day from The Dream Keeper for a period of four or five days.
  • Then share and discuss the fourteen poems in Love to Langston.
  • Follow up your reading of Love to Langston with readings of selected poems from the book—along with the detailed notes about those particular poems.
  • Read Grandma’s Stories and Aunt Sue’s Stories, Sometimes Life Ain’t Always a Hoot and Mother to Son. Discuss the poems with your students and talk about the similarities in Hughes’ and Medina’s poems.
  • It would be great to have several paperback copies of The Dream Keeper in your classroom. Some of the poems in the book are short and would be easy for children to memorize. You could let children peruse the book and select poems they might like to memorize and recite for their classmates or share with them in a choral reading exercise.

Here are links to some poems written by Langston Hughes:

Dream Variations



I, Too

Mother to Son

The Negro Speaks of Rivers

Theme for English B

From Random House: More than twenty poems excerpted from Vintage Hughes

Click here to read about the career and poetry of Langston Hughes.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Books & Resources for Black History Month

MotherReader has two great posts at ForeWord, Black History Month Picture Books and More Black History Month Picture Books, in which she provides recommendations for picture books to read during Black History Month:

Read Jules’ reviews of some great new books at 7-Imp in her post Good picture book biographies start here. She’s included images of some fabulous illustrations along with her reviews, too!

Check out Tricia’s post Teaching Resources—African History Month at The Miss Rumphius Effect.

Here’s a link to Andrea Davis Pinkney’s Celebration Time: Black History Month is here and there's a party goin' on, which appears in the February 2008 issue of School Library Journal.

From Time for Kids: A Then to Now timeline of Black History

Here’s a link to a post at the ESSL Children’s Literature Blog that presents selected books by notable African American authors: African American Children’s Writers.

Following are links to three of my previous posts at Wild Rose Reader with recommendations of poetry books and picture book biographies for Black History Month:

Poetry Books for Black History Month

More Poetry Books for Black History Month

Poetry & Picture Book Biographies for Black History Month

Friday, February 8, 2008

Poetry & Picture Book Biographies for Black History Month

When I was still teaching in an elementary school, I usually began my unit on biographies in mid- January with the reading of books about Martin Luther King, Jr. The first month of the year seemed like a good time to introduce my second grade students to biographies. I think they are excellent vehicles for exposing young children to different periods in our country’s history and for introducing them to people who were important figures of the past, to scientists and explorers, artists and composers, writers and inventors, and to individuals who had to face great obstacles in their lives and yet were able to forge ahead. Biographies can provide children with a more personal view of history and bring the subject to life better than a social studies textbook can. They can show how people are affected by the times in which they live.

Starting in January and continuing through February, I would read a number of books about famous African Americans, including Benjamin Banneker, Jackie Robinson, Langston Hughes, Wilma Rudolph, Harriet Tubman, and Rosa Parks. I’d also read books about the lives of presidents like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln and of other remarkable individuals. My students, too, read biographies that they had selected from the books I had available in my classroom.

Before beginning the unit, I’d gather dozens of biographies from the school library and my own collection and set up a display table and bookcase where my students could peruse the biographies for a few days and then select the ones they wanted to read in class. Because I always liked to use poetry across the curriculum and to connect poetry to other literature, I had a folder of poems about famous people that I had collected over the years to share with students during the course of this unit. In the folder, there were poems about George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Nancy Hanks, Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King, Frederick Douglas, Langston Hughes, and others.

Today, I am recommending a book of poems about thirteen famous African Americans. The book was written by J. Patrick Lewis and illustrated by John Thompson. It is perfect for use during Black History Month…or whenever your students are reading biographies. I’m also listing a few of my favorite picture book biographies and nonfiction books about some famous African Americans.

Classroom Connection: Instead of asking children to write a book report of a biography they have read, why not have them write poems about the subjects of their biographies? This kind of writing exercise allows children more freedom of expression and an opportunity for a creative response to a work of nonfiction. The poems in the following book can serve as excellent examples for your students own poems.

Here are a two examples of poems written by my second grade students about Abrham Lincoln in 1991:

by Elizabeth S. and Lisa R.

We do not have a President
Like Abe—
Not as smart
And not as brave.
Abe was tall and touched the sky.
He fought for freedom for the slaves.
And when Abe died,
I know how much the people cried.

by Lisa M.

Abraham Lincoln, tall and thin,
With little brown whiskers that covered his chin.
Abraham Lincoln, honest and smart,
Inside he had a very kind heart.
Abraham Lincoln worked very hard at what he did.
He became famous for his stovepipe lid.
Abraham Lincoln hangs proudly on the wall.
He is my favorite President of them all.


Written by
J. Patrick Lewis
Illustrated by John Thompson
Creative Editions, 2000

FREEDOM LIKE SUNLIGHT is a collection of poems about African Americans who were freedom fighters, athletes, musicians and singers, and writers. Lewis wrote “praisesongs” for the following individuals: Arthur Ashe, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Louis Armstrong, Martin Luther King, Jr., Leroy “Satchell” Paige, Rosa Parks, Langston Hughes, Jesse Owens, Marian Andersen, Malcolm X, Wilma Rudolph, and Billie Holiday. Thompson’s illustrations serve as a fine complement to Lewis’s poetry.

The Poems: Lewis uses a variety of poetry in praising the thirteen African Americans who made their marks on history. Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Louis Armstrong, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X are persona poems in which Lewis speaks in the voices of these five individuals.

Here is the first stanza of Harriet Tubman:

I packed corn bread
And salt herring.
I packed my favorite patchwork quilt.
The shabby rags
That I was wearing
Came from the House that Evil built.

Here is an excerpt from Martin Luther King, Jr.

For having told
The truth, I am
Alone and cold
In Birmingham.

I speak to them.
They spit at me
Because it’s Mem-
phis, Tennessee.

In Langston Hughes, Lewis addresses the poet. This poem consists of four stanzas—each of which has four lines and an ABCB rhyme scheme. All of the stanzas begin in the same fashion. The repetition is quite effective.

The beginning lines of the four stanzas:

Someone said they saw you in Paris
Someone said they saw you in Africa.
Someone said they saw you in Harlem
Someone said they saw you, Langston.

The final stanza:

Someone said they saw you, Langston,
Spiriting summer. What was it they heard?
Poems that endlessly echoed…
A dream deferred.

The poem about Rosa Parks tells of her refusal to give up her seat on a bus and the debt that is owed to people like her. The poem about Leroy “Satchel” Paige speaks of his amazing ability as a pitcher to throw a variety of pitches, including “The looper/the drooper/the jump ball/the wobbly ball.” In Jesse Owens, Lewis focuses on the athlete’s triumph at the 1936 Olympics held in Germany and how “The Fuhrer looked away without seeing/the man jump over Germany.”

My favorite poem is Marian Andersen. With few words, Lewis captures the delicate beauty of Andersen’s voice:

She brushed
Her voice
Across the air
In colors
Not seen

In colors
And strong,
She brushed the air…
And painted song.

The Illustrations: Like Lewis’s poems, Thompson’s illustrations are a fitting tribute to these thirteen people. Done in a variety of media, the pictures are elegant and sometimes moving. Most of the illustrations that accompany the poems are portraits of the people: Marian Andersen is depicted singing. Louis Armstrong, trumpet in hand, is shown singing, too. Captured in black and white, Arthur Ashe’s quiet grace speaks out to readers from the page. For some of the people, the artist chose to illustrate a pivotal moment—a Black women crying for the assassinated Martin Luther King, Jr., or something symbolic of the individual’s life—an empty bus for Rosa Parks and a typewriter with sun shining on it for Langston Hughes. Thompson also illustrated two double-page spreads on which no text is printed—pictures of Martin Luther King, Jr., bent over a counter at a police station when he was being arrested and Malcolm X, viewed from behind, speaking to a crowd of onlookers in a city. In the final illustration, we see Rosa Parks sitting on a bus and gazing out the window.

At the back of the book, Lewis included Biographical Notes about the thirteen Black Americans he honored with his “praise songs.”

Some Recommended Picture Book Biographies and Nonfiction Books about Famous Black Americans

Written & illustrated by Floyd Cooper
Philomel, 1994

Cooper’s book is by no means an in-depth biography of the famous writer —but it touches on many of the important relationships and experiences of his life. It is a fine book to read aloud and an excellent way to introduce children to a great American poet.

Written by Nikki Giovanni
Illustrated by Bryan Collier
Henry Holt, 2005

This Caldecott Honor Book focuses on the historical event of December 1, 1955 in Montgomery Alabama, when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man on a bus—and the ensuing boycott of buses by Black Americans.

Written by Peter Golenbock
Illustrated by Paul Bacon
Harcourt Brace, 1990

My elementary students loved this book about Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese, two remarkable and brave sports figures. This book takes readers back to the 1940s—a time when Black baseball players were not allowed in the Major Leagues and had to play in the segregated Negro Leagues. The book tells about Branch Rickey and the reasons why he selected Jackie Robinson to be the first Black player signed to play for a Major League team, the Brooklyn Dodgers; about the prejudice and hostility Robinson faced from fans and other baseball players; and about Pee Wee Reese, a man who believed in doing what was right—a man who had the courage to stand up for his Black teammate at a time when that was not a popular thing to do. Illustrated with watercolor paintings and photographs.

Written by Kathleen Krull
Illustrated by David Diaz
Harcourt, 1996

Wilma Rudolph was stricken with polio before she turned five. It was believed that she would be crippled for life. This biography tells of Wilma’s struggle to regain her ability to walk again, to triumph over adversity, and to become the first American woman to win three gold medals in a single Olympics. Wilma Unlimited is a truly uplifting and inspiring story.

Written by Andrea Davis Pinkney
Illustrated by Brian Pinkney
Harcourt Brace, 1994

This is an interesting biography of Benjamin Banneker, a free Black man who was born in 1731. Banneker, a self-taught mathematician and astronomer, was the author of the first published almanac by an African American. If Black people were not enslaved, he felt that they could study and learn as he had. He decided to write a letter to Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson to express what he thought of Jefferson owning slaves even though he had written in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal.”

Pair the reading of Dear Benjamin Banneker with the picture book Molly Bannaky, a fictionalized account of the life of Benjamin Banneker’s grandmother. The book was written by Alice McGill and illustrated by Chris Soentpiet.

Molly (Walsh) Bannaky was an English dairy maid who escaped being put to death for the crime of having spilled a pail of milk because she could read the Bible. She was sent to America as an indentured servant. After working for a planter for seven years, she gained her freedom, started farming, and bought a slave to help her. Later, Molly married the slave whose name was Bannaky. The couple had four girls. Benjamin was the child of their eldest daughter.

Written by Doreen Rappaport
Illustrated by Bryan Collier
Jump at the Sun/Hyperion, 2001

Although this is a very brief biography with a spare text, this book opens a door to a discussion about a great American and an inspirational leader who believed in fighting for the rights of Black people through non-violent means. The text in the book is printed in two different fonts and sizes: the narrative is printed in black and Martin’s “big words” are printed in large, bold letters in a variety of colors. This is a biography not just about this man’s life—but also a book about the way he used words to express his beliefs, to communicate his hopeful vision, and to inspire people to work peacefully in their quest for equal rights. Collier’s multi-media illustrations provide a window into the past...into American history...into the heart of the Civil Rights Movement and the man who spoke with such eloquence about his dreams for a brighter future for all citizens of our country.

Written by Anne Rockwell
Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
Dell/Random House, 2000

This is a powerful and riveting biography that reads like fiction. Sojourner (Isabella) Truth was not a slave of the South—but of the North. This book begins with Sojourner being sold at auction in New York in 1806 when she was just nine years old. It follows her through her experiences with different masters, her forced marriage to an older slave, her eventual freedom, her court case against a slave owner who broke the law when he sold her son Peter to a plantation owner in Alabama, and her later years when she became a great spokesperson in the fight to abolish slavery.

Only Passing Through is an excellent and poignant biography of a brave and strong woman who suffered great cruelty during her life as a slave. It would be an outstanding book to read aloud to third and fourth graders—and even to older children.

Written by Pam Munoz Ryan
Illustrated by Brian Selznick
Scholastic, 2002

This biography of the famous Black contralto, a Robert F. Sibert Honor Book, is visually stunning. Selznick’s gorgeous, rich artwork draws a reader into the pages of this fine story of the life of the talented opera singer who grew up in America during the “Jim Crow” days. This is a book for all ages. It includes extensive Author and Illustrator Notes, a list of Notable Dates in Marian Andersen’s Life, and a Selected Discography.

Written by Carole Boston Weatherford
Illustrated by Kadir Nelson
Jump at the Sun/Hyperion, 2006

This is a fictionalized account of Harriet Tubman’s escape to freedom and her return to the South to show other slaves the route to follow out of bondage. As in Martin’s Big Words, there are threads of more than one text running through the book: the third person narrative tale, the words Tubman speaks to God, and the answers Tubman hears from the Almighty. Weatherford’s lyrical text and Nelson’s powerful images combine to make this an outstanding picture book to share with children. Weatherford includes a Foreword with some details about slavery and a comprehensive Author’s Note with information about the life of Harriet Tubman.

Click here to view some of the illustrations from Moses.

The Poetry Friday Roundup is at AmoXcalli this week.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Two Books for Chinese New Year

Written by
Janet Wong
Illustrated by
Yangsook Choi
Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2000

A young American boy of Chinese and Korean heritage narrates this book about Chinese New Year and the preparations and traditions associated with this special “lunar” holiday. The boy explains the things he and his family do before the arrival of “this next new year.” He helps clean the house to remove the bad luck and make room for good luck.

We are scrubbing our house
rough and raw

so it can soak up good luck
like an empty sponge.

He washes his hair and dries “it extra dry/so it can soak up some good luck, too” He cleans himself from head to toe. He plans to dress up in his cleanest clothes, be brave when they light the firecrackers at midnight, not hide in the crowd during the big parade, and not say anything awful. That’s because he wants to start the New Year off on the right foot. He is hoping to have a second chance. As the boy says:

…I have so many dreams,
so many dreams

I’m ready

to make
come true.

Wong skillfully employs a boy’s childlike voice that rings true in its simplicity. Choi’s colorful, energetic illustrations add to the celebratory nature of this picture book that would be an excellent book to read aloud to young children for Chinese New Year.

Written & illustrated by Kam Mak
HarperCollins, 2002

This collection of fifteen poems takes readers through the year—from one winter to the next winter—with a young boy who is learning about his new home in American. Mak, who grew up in New York’s Chinatown, speaks in the voice of the boy who is unhappy about having had to leave Hong Kong and his grandmother behind. The book opens with a poem about the New Year.

Back home in Hong Kong,
it’s New Year.

Papa says we’ll have New Year here,
in America, in Chinatown.
Mama says it will be just like home.

But it isn’t home,
Even when the firecrackers
Hiss and crackle all night long
To scare off every evil spirit in the world.

The next morning he hopes to find a whole firecracker in the “drifts of red paper” littering the street—but he can’t find one “even though the air dances/with scraps of red/a snowfall the color of luck.”

The boy misses his grandmother and her pickled kumquats, which his mother doesn’t know how to make. He doesn’t “want to go to school where he says “the English words/taste like metal in my mouth.”

As the boy explores Chinatown, he introduces us to this ethnic neighborhood where he watches a cobbler working with leather, accompanies his mother to a market where she selects a carp from a big tank where the fish “are crowded/nose to tail, scale to scale,” stops by a bird shop “where it sounds/like the woods in spring,” and visits his favorite shop filled with animal kites, bowls and chopsticks, bamboo snakes—all manner of things that remind him of his home in Hong Kong.

The boy, sad at having had to leave so many things behind in Hong Kong—including his animal chess game, is excited one evening when his father brings home a surprise package for him. Inside the package, the boy finds a chess game.

Inside, the red and green pieces sleep close together.
But on the board, the cat pounces on the mouse,
the mouse terrifies the elephant.
And I beat my sister.

Just like home.

Through the course of the year, the young boy begins to adapt to his new surroundings. The sights and sounds and foods and shops of Chinatown have made him feel at home in America.

The collection ends as it began—with a poem about the New Year. The boy is excited. He knows there will be noodles and sweet rice cakes for breakfast…and lions in the street outside his apartment.

I fly downstairs to be there
when they come—
leaping, pouncing,
prancing, roaring,
jumping dancing,
shaking their neon manes.
Drums beat
feet stamp
hands clap
voices shout
This is Chinatown!

Mak’s realistic paintings of the boy’s mother busy at her sewing machine, the boy playing chess with his sister, the cobbler punching holes in leather, carps in a fish tank, a sidewalk food cart, and the head of a New Year lion complement the poems about this young boy’s experiences and feelings during the course of his first year away from the country of his birth. The free verse poems give readers a true flavor of Chinatown. Both the text and the art provide a glimpse inside the mind of an immigrant child who is learning to accept the changes to his life in a new country.

Edited to add: Click here to view eight illustrations from My Chinatown at Kam Mak's Web site.Click here for a review of Grace Lin’s new picture book, Bringing in the New Year, and some Lunar New Year Links.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Poetry Book Review: Yum! Mmmm! Que Rico!

Written by Pat Mora
Pictures by Rafael Lopez
Lee & Low Books, 2007

The Poems: Yum! MmMm! Que Rico! was one of my favorite children’s poetry books of 2007. I think it’s a terrific combination of haiku about edible plants native to the Americas, factual information about these foods, and vibrant artwork. Although Mora adheres to the traditional 5-7-5 format of this poetic form—hers are not your typical haiku. I think these “New World” haiku will be less abstract and more tangible to the mind of a child. Although many children may never have tasted a papaya or a prickly pear—many will have eaten, seen, smelled, and touched pumpkins, tomatoes, potatoes, corn, pineapples, peanuts, blueberries, and pecans. I think children will be able to relate to the haiku about these particular foods and the sensory experiences Mora describes when cooking and eating them.

Here are some examples of imagery and figurative language from Mora’s poems:

Chocolate is “brown magic melting on your tongue.”
A pineapple wears “a stiff prickly hat.”
Mashed potatoes are “salt and pepper clouds.”
A pumpkin is “autumn’s orange face.”
When a cooked cranberry pops in a pot, there are “scarlet fireworks.”
Melting vanilla ice cream runs down a cone “cooling your warm summer laugh.”
On eating papaya: “Chewing your perfume/we taste your leafy jungle.”

Classroom Connection: Mora’s haiku are refreshing and innovative. They are good examples of how a writer can respond in an imaginative way to different foods and to an experience as common as eating. A classroom teacher could certainly use Mora’s book as an inspiration for a classroom poetry-writing activity. Imagine a teacher bringing in foods like kiwi fruit, avocados, mushrooms, mangoes, scallions, bananas, apples, and strawberries for students to observe, eat, and then write poems about. The students could describe the foods in regard to how they look, smell, feel(the textures of the foods on the hands and in the mouth), and taste. Students could also be encouraged to make comparisons and to use figurative language as Mora did when describing the foods and gustatory sensations. (I tried a lesson similar to this with poems by Valerie Worth--Raw Carrots, Mushroom, Asparagus--and it was very successful.)

One year, I also did a lesson for National Education Week pairing the observation and tasting of foods with writing. I called the activity See It, Feel It, Smell It, Taste It, Write It. Parents sat with their children “experiencing” different edible objects like marshmallows and round slices of lemon. Then the parents and their children wrote about the foods using comparisons.

Informative Prose: One thing that sets this book apart from most collections of haiku poetry is Mora's inclusion of factual information about “Americas’ sproutings.”

Here are a few “tasty” factual tidbits Mora serves up in her prose paragraphs:

Native Americans ground blueberries for use in medicine, and European settlers boiled blueberries with milk to make gray paint. The word chocolate is derived from the word xoxolatl, which means “bitter water.” The Totonac Indians from Mexico used vanilla to make perfume, medicine, and insect repellant. A substance found in the milky liquid of unripe papayas is used in meat tenderizers. It was once believed that that pumpkin could be used to remove freckles and cure snakebites.

The Illustrations: Lopez’s illustrations rendered in acrylic on wood panels are exuberant and alive with color. They transform this book into a true celebration of edible plants native to the Americas. The textured, stylistic paintings are full of joy and humor—a sandal-wearing pineapple dances with maracas in one hand, red juice runs down the chin of a smiling boy as he relishes a fresh tomato, a drum-playing boy parties with his sandwich as they dance in a river of gooey peanut butter, flames sprout from the mouth of a sweating father who has just bitten into a chile pepper, and simmering cranberries explode from a pot in a cloud of purple steam bursting with pink, orange, aqua, and blue fireworks. Lopez’s art is a visual delight!

Click here to see two illustrations from the book.
Edited to add: Click here to see a preview of the book.

Note: Mora expresses her gratitude to her husband, a professor of anthropology who teaches a course on the Origins of Agriculture, and ethno-botanist Gary Paul Nathan for their help. She also includes a short list of sources.

Although not every one of Mora’s haiku pops with a surprise or a clever twist at the end, there is plenty to excite the eyes and the literary palates of readers in Yum! Mmmm! Que Rico!. Yum! Mmmm! It’s a delicious melange of tasty haiku, savory facts, and luscious illustrations.

Karen Edmisten is hosting the Poetry Friday Roundup this week.