Saturday, March 1, 2008

Poetry for Women's History Month

I thought some teachers might be looking for special resources for March, Women's History Month.

Here is a poetry book I recommend for use in the classroom—especially during Women’s History Month.

Compiled by Lillian Morrison
Illustrated by Ann Boyajian
Houghton Mifflin, 2001

This substantial anthology for children in the upper elementary grades and middle school contains forty-five poems about famous women of the past and present: Amelia Earhart, Clara Barton, Molly Pitcher, Anne Frank, oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle, Elizabeth Blackwell, Jeanne d’Arc, artist Georgia O’Keeffe, Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Fannie Lou Hamer, and several Olympic medalists It also has poems about women and girls playing sports, traveling west as pioneers, making music—and poems about females with a can do attitude and a desire to achieve. Adult and children’s poets whose works can be found in this book include Emily Dickinson, Stanley Kunitz, Marianne Moore, Alice Walker, Nikki Giovanni, Felice Holman, Lillian Morrison, J. Patrick Lewis, X. J. Kennedy, and Ann Turner.

More Spice than Sugar has a nice mix of serious poems and those that are lighthearted in nature. Most of them are written in free verse. Many of the poems Morrison selected for this book can’t be found in other anthologies.

More Spice than Sugar is divided into three sections: When I Am Me, She’s a Winner, and Against All Odds. In the back matter, Morrison includes “Notes” about the real “feisty females” who were written about in the poems.

One of the most touching pieces in the book is Where Are You?, a poem of address in which the writer speaks to Anne Frank. It would be a fine poem to share with children after reading The Diary of Anne Frank or a biography about her.

Here’s an excerpt from the poem:

From Where Are You?
By Marjorie Agosin
(translated from the Spanish by Monica Bruno)

Anne Frank,
though each of us
is not an everlasting flower,
we are looking for you
as though you were still alive,
still sailing along, in your party dress,
putting into shore through
Amsterdam’s canals
and your sparkling bicycle
were still waiting for you on the blue piers.

Here’s an excerpt from another poem in the book about Dr. Sylvia Earle, marine biologist, oceanographer, and author. It would be great to share this poem with students before or after reading one of her nonfiction books for children.

From Sylvia Earle: Deep Ocean Explorer
By Bobbi Katz

Her eyes might gaze
but not for her the lure of Mars.
She’s challenged by a different place,
just as unknown as outer space.
Not for her the stratosphere
but a life-filled, liquid atmosphere—
where she can…be a pioneer!

Read your students Kathleen Krull’s inspiring picture book biography Wilma Unlimited: How Wilma Rudolph Became the World’s Fastest Female and then read them the following poem from More Spice than Sugar:
From Wilma Rudolph
(Who Won Three Gold Medals in the 1960 Olympics)
By Grace Butcher

She was the one who seemed
to run in the sky
legs from nothing,
from nowhere,
her feet surrounded by air…

Her knees bumped into clouds.
Her arms pushed the wind
out of the way.

Emily Dickinson speaks out to us from the pages of this poetry book:

From [The Poet Emily]

They shut me up in prose—
As when a little Girl
They put me in a Closet—
Because they liked me “still”—

Also included in More Spice than Sugar is Sam Cornish’s poem about Fannie Lou Hamer and voting rights.

From Fannie Lou Hamer
By Sam Cornish

fannie lou
her greens
her land
and wanted
men went
to the bottom
of the river
for wanting less

There are also poems that add levity to this anthology—including a humorous one by X. J. Kennedy entitled The Girl Who Makes the Cymbals Bang. The poem is about a young girl who convinces her music teacher that a female has enough strength to crash cymbals together...that a girl can do the job as well as any boy.

From The Girl Who Makes the Cymbals Bang
By X. J. Kennedy

…Though I complained,
Our teacher Mister Cash
Said, “Sorry, girls don’t have the strength
To come up with a crash.”

“Oh yeah?” said I. “Please give them here!”
And there and then, I slammed
Together those brass plates so hard
His eardrums traffic-jammed.

The girl proves her point…and becomes the one to give “each song a real smash ending.”

More Spice than Sugar would definitely make an excellent classroom poetry resource—one tailor-made for Women’s History Month.

Looking for more resources? Check out my earlier post Book Lists & Other Resources for Women’s History Month.


Anonymous said...

Elaine, I love those two Sylvia Earle books you mentioned. I'll have to look for the anthology.

Elaine Magliaro said...


I'm glad that "More Spice than Sugar' is still in print today. Unfortunately, many children's poetry books go out of print in a few years. I believe that most, if not all, of Sylvia's children's books are published by National Geographic.

Anonymous said...

If you write any poetry yourself, I'd be glad to put some of them up on my site. Peace

laurasalas said...

I'm still working on February's titles! Loving The Brothers' War right now, by J. Patrick Lewis. Thanks for recommending it. Now will have to put More Spice than Sugar on reserve.

Love the Anne Frank poem. We'll be in Amsterdam for about a 7-hour layover on our way to Scotland (provided all flights are on schedule, etc.), and I'm hoping we have time to visit the Anne Frank house.