Friday, April 3, 2009

Poetry Friday: Mask Poems


I’m grizzly bear. I’m fierce and fat…
And dangerous. Remember that!
My teeth are sharp as sabers.
My curvy claws can cut like saws,
And when I prowl the woods I growl
And frighten all my neighbors.

I rule the land. This forest’s mine!
I ain’t NOBODY’S valentine!
Don’t think that you can be my friend…
My dinner?

The End


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 swim!


I’m a slippery slitherer,
silent and sleek,
sliding and slinking
through grasses
I sneak
weaving and winding
legless and low
I slip slyly hidden
wherever I go.
Wending and bending
by stalk, stem, and stone
like a ribbon of muscle
and skin without bone
tongue catching the scent
of a soft, furry prey.
Smells like it’s field mouse
for dinner today!

I love mask poems! I love reading and writing them. I think it’s so much fun to take on the personality and speak in the voice of an animal, element of nature, an inanimate object. In my animal mask poems posted above, I tried to capture different personalities or emotions: The bear is boasting about how tough he is and trying to scare other animals. The frogs are excited about having grown into adults. The snake is speaking quietly about the way he moves—sliding and slinking and sneaking up on prey.

In the following poem, a snail speaks. This poem is meant to be read in the voice of a plodding slowpoke. (I’m sorry that I can’t print the end of the first stanza on Blogger the way it should be.)


I’m snail. I’m slow.
That’s how I go
From place to place.
I never race.
I take my time.
I s l i d e
of slime.

I have a heavy shell to bear…
But I don’t care.
I never grouse
Because I have to wear
My house.
I just suppose
That’s how it goes…
Some are fast
And some are slow…
And slow is fast
As I can go.
Slow’s the only speed I know.

Writing Mask Poems with Children
I loved sharing and writing mask poems with my students when I was an elementary teacher and a school librarian. I found having my students write mask poems was an excellent way to encourage them to think and write creatively about subjects that they were learning about in school.

If we were doing a unit of study on space, my students could pretend they were the sun, the moon, a planet, a meteor, a star, a galaxy—and write poems from the perspectives of those “heavenly “ objects. Imagine pretending to be a galaxy spiraling around in the universe…a meteor blazing through Earth’s atmosphere…the sun blasting out solar flares…a star looking like a jewel in the night sky!

Imagine speaking in the voice of an animal you had learned about through doing research on and writing a report about. In your poem, you could slither and hiss as a cobra. You could be a cheetah and run across the grassland chasing prey. You could be a penguin speeding “through the freezing sea like a bullet.”

After taking walks in the woods, observing a tree in or near your yard for several days, and studying about evergreen trees and about the yearly cycle of broadleaf trees—you might even pretend to be a willow tree with a crown of green that “looks like a leafy waterfall”—or a birch tree that feels alone in the forest and whistles “in the night when the wind blows through my leaves”—or a tree beseeching a bluebird to build a nest in its leafy arms and to lay eggs the color of the sky in it.

My students really got into the groove of taking on the “personality” of the subjects they wrote about in their mask poems.

Here are three mask poems written by my second grade students that won prizes in the 2000 Massachusetts Science Poetry Contest:


If I Were a Tree
by Flynn Grade 2

If I were a tree,
If I were a tree,
I'd work all summer
Making food for me.
I'd drink the rain
From the soft brown earth,
Take sunlight in
Through my leaves of green.
I'd stand outside
And breathe the air.
If I were a tree,
If I were a tree,
I'd work all summer
Making food for me.


by Mike Grade 2
I am a flaming
Ball of gases.
My solar flares
Blast into space
Like big fiery hands
Reaching for comets.

I am the sun,
Burning hot,
A golden star
Lighting the darkness.


I Am the Sun
by Anne Grade 2
I am the sun,
A fiery sphere.
Lash out of my body
Like shooting stars.

I am the sun,
A roaring lion
Shaking my mane of fire.
I rule the universe.

I am the sun.

I sometimes visited with other classes in my school to lead poetry-writing sessions. Here are collaborative mask poems that I wrote with two other second grade classes in my school. Mrs. Berg’s class was learning about penguins; Mrs. Baker’s class was doing a butterfly unit.

A Class Poem by Mrs. Berg’s Class

I am a penguin,
chubby in my black and white
waddling on the slippery ice,
sliding on my big belly
into the freezing cold sea.
Here I come, fish.
I’m hungry as can be!

A Group Poem by Mrs. Baker’s Class
I chew on a milkweed leaf
so yummy.
I wiggle around on a green stage.
I hang upside down
like a bat
and shed my striped skin.
Inside my green and gold chrysalis
I grow my bright orange wings.

Someday I will be
a beautiful monarch
and fly around free
in a field of flowers.

Recommended Poetry Books with Mask Poems
It is always wise to immerse children in mask/persona poems written by a variety of poets before asking them to write their own poems. I always found it helpful to write a collaborative group poem before sending students off to write their own individual poems.

Here are some books with mask poems that I used in the classroom and in the library to inspire my students. The following books are all in print.

Selected by Paul B. Janeczko
Illustrated by Melissa Sweet
HarperCollins, 2001

This terrific anthology includes poems by Karla Kuskin, Bobbi Katz, Tony Johnston, Patricia Hubbell, Lilian Moore, Marilyn Singer, Jane Yolen, Douglas Florian, Alice Schertle, April Halprin Wayland, and Kristine O’Connell George. In these poems, the poets speak in many different voices—including those of a vacuum cleaner, a washing machine, the winter wind, a whale, a cow, a mosquito, a bacterium, a blue crayon, a snowflake, and trees.

Written by Byrd Baylor
Illustrated by Peter Parnall
Macmillan, 1981

In Baylor's book, we hear the voices of desert animals—including those of a jackrabbit, a rattlesnake, a spadefoot toad, a buzzard, and a coyote—speaking to us about themselves and their life in the desert. The free verse mask poems in this book serve as excellent examples for children in early elementary and middle grades.

Written & illustrated by Douglas Florian
Harcourt Brace, 1998

Insectlopedia is my absolute favorite Douglas Florian poetry book! Not all of the poems in this collection are mask poems—but the nine that Florian wrote for Insectlopedia are exceptional examples for kids…and they’re a lot of fun to read to and recite for students. The mask poems in this book include The Dragonfly, The Inchworm, The Black Widow Spider, The Weevils, The Whirligig Beetles, and The Locusts. The other poems in this book are terrific, too.

Written by Kristine O’Connell George
Illustrated by Kate Kiesler
Clarion, 1998

Just five of the poems in Old Elm Speaks are mask poems—but they are fine examples to share with children. In Oak’s Introduction, an oak tree speaks to a child—telling him he’s been watching him grow…and inviting the child to see how high he can climb on him/her now that the tree has also grown and has strong branches. In Miss Willow, a narcissistic tree has been admiring herself in “the still cool waters” when a heron comes along and splashes down on her “glorious reflection.” In the book’s other mask poems: a maple shoot remembers helicoptering through the air the previous fall and how it had come to rest in a patch of dirt that was “sweet and soft”; a neatly clipped city tree speaks of having wild dreams of being a forest when all the cars have gone home for the night; and an old elm tells a young sapling It will take/autumns of patience/before you snag/your/first/moon. This lovely book by an award-winning poet would be a great addition to an elementary classroom library collection.

More Than Mask Poems

Written by
Rebecca Kai Dotlich
Illustrated by Karen Dugan
Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press, 2001

Many of the poems in this book are not just mask poems--they are riddle rhymes to boot! It would be fun to read these rhythmic, rhyming riddles aloud to children and ask them to guess whose "voice" is speaking in each poem. The voices include those of a snake, a pizza, fireworks, a trampoline, and a roller coaster. The illustrations will help children guess the answers to the riddles.

Written by
Joyce Sidman
Illustrated by Beth Krommes
Houghton Mifflin, 2006

All of the poems in this book are riddles; many of them are also mask poems. Winner of the 2006 Cybils Award for Poetry, this book contains outstanding examples of mask poems. Some of the "voices" speaking to us in the poems are those of the dew, a grasshopper, a spittlebug, xylem and phloem, a milkweed plant, and a hawk. The illustrations in this book also provide clues for young readers to help them solve the riddles. You can read my review of BUTTERFLY EYES here.


At Blue Rose Girls, I have a second post about Magnetic Poetry, which includes poems composed online by Mary Lee of A Year of Reading, Pam Coughlan of Mother Reader, Meghan McCarthy of the Blue Rose Girls, and me.

At Political Verses, I’m featuring Poem for the End of the Twentieth Century by J. Patrick Lewis for this first Poetry Friday during National Poetry Month.

Amy Planchak Graves has the Poetry Friday Roundup at


jama said...

What a fabuloso post! I LOVE all your poems. I'm partial to bears, so the grizzy bear was a favorite (the ending is great)!

The snake poem is lovely to read aloud -- poems about them are better than encountering them on your driveway, like I did once (yikes)!

And I think you really nailed the psyche of the snail :).

Elaine Magliaro said...


Thanks so much for your comments. I really enjoy writing mask poems--trying to capture--as you put it the "psyche--of different animals, etc. My students really got into writing mask poems too.

There are a couple of books of mask poems that I wish were still in print: Karla Kuskin's ANY ME I WANT TO BE and Marilyn Singer's TURTLE IN JULY. They are exceptional collections.

Linda said...

Mask poems are great for kids who are a little nervous about sharing their true feelings. Your snail poem is my favorite, especially the lines: I take my time.
I s l i d e
of slime.

I can just hear the giggles as kids read those lines! Fantastic!

Elaine Magliaro said...

You're right, Linda. Kids can express their own feelings through mask poems. My students wrote so many wondeful masks poems over the years. I compiled all their poems in spiral bound anthologies. Every year my students and I gave the different antholgies we had published that school year to their parents as presents during the last week of school.

Marinela said...

I really liked your poems!

Elaine Magliaro said...

Thanks, Marinela!

Jules at 7-Imp said...

Fabulous post! I particularly love the Grizzly Bear and Mike's sun poem. Thanks, as always, for the original poetry AND great resources. Wild Rose Reader is where it's at.

Elaine Magliaro said...

Thanks so much, Jules! What made me feel so great about Mike winning a second prize for his poem--was what it did for his self-esteem. He spent time every day in the resource room...and often struggled in school. I was SO happy for him!

Catherine said...

Wow, Thanks for sharing these. I love the tree poem.
I'm excited to have found this blog.

Mary Lee said...

Thanks for the list of poetry books with mask poems! I like to write mask poems sometimes, too!! Now I've got lots of great examples to share with my students!

Elaine Magliaro said...


I'm glad you like my blog.

Mary Lee,

I hope you and your students have a grand time writing mask poems.

Tricia said...

Hi Elaine,
Thanks for the wonderful post (as always)!

I do have a suggestion for you regarding formatting. If you switch to the edit HTML tab and use pre (in <>) before your poem and /pre (also in <>) after. It will keep your formatting, though the font face doesn't always look nice. It's the best way to keep spacing arrangements. See if if that helps with your snail poem.

Elaine Magliaro said...


I can try--but I know absolutely nothing about HTML! I'm not tech savvy like you.

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