Friday, August 28, 2009

Countdown to Summer: A Poetry Book Review

I’m sure many of you are familiar with Poetry 180, a popular website developed by former US Poet Laureate Billy Collins for high school students. Quoting from what Collins has written on the main page of the website: Poetry 180 is designed to make it easy for students to hear or read a poem on each of the 180 days of the school year. That’s a great idea—sharing poems with students all through the year…poems they can sit back and listen to--and enjoy--without having to dissect them.

Now J. Patrick Lewis gives us a “Poetry 180” for elementary and middle grade students in his newest collection, Countdown to Summer: A Poem for Every Day of the School Year, a book that actually contains 180 poems. All written by Lewis himself! Yes, that means the book has a different poem for teachers to share with their students every single day.

Countdown to Summer: A Poem for Every Day of the School Year
Written by J. Patrick Lewis
Illustrations by Ethan Long
Little, Brown (2009)

Countdown to Summer is a book of light-hearted verse that would be great to have on hand in the classroom. Lewis's collection opens with Poem 180, A Sixth Grader Sees the Future and ends with School’s Out!. Not all of the poems, however, are about school or school-related subjects. They are about various and sundry topics: Bigfoot, gold teeth, a werewolf, eBay, a gecko’s neck, football, snowflakes, a polar bear rap, salmon, different holidays, etc. There are some poems with silly sounding titles: Barnaby Butterby Bitter III (The Bookahopic Hippo); Oogalie Boogalie Boo!; Conc-luge-ion; Tweedle Dumb and Tweedle Smart; The Eyefull Tower. There are also poems of a more serious nature—I Was Your Teacher Once, Famous Civil War Horses, and Ars Libris (after Archibald MacLeish). Countdown to Summer includes limericks, haiku, riddles, concrete poems, quatrains, list poems, acrostics, cinquains—in other words, it’s a book with a good variety of poetry that never gets monotonous or dull. Many of the poems contain puns and clever wordplay—and many are sure to set kids giggling.

Here’s A Sixth Grader Sees the Future—one of my favorites in the book—in which a student relates his joy (?) at being back in school. I laugh every time I read it.

In a billion years, A. D.,
Our sun will shine for none to see.
The sea will miss each passing ship;
The sky will hover over zip.
Those blazing stars will start to cool,
And I won’t have to go to school.

In a billion years from now—
Or maybe more—but anyhow,
The earth may shrivel up and die.
The universe? Pi in the sky.
The future, spinning, may have spun.
And I may have my homework done.

There are poems in Countdown for Summer that could serve as springboards for creative writing exercises. I think middle grade kids would have fun writing their own poetic epitaphs. Here are some of Lewis’s animal and “people” epitaphs.



For a Plastic Surgeon

He took in hips,
He tucked in chins,
He fattened lips,
And smoothed out skins,
Unwrinkled eyes,
And narrowed noses.
Now here he lies…

And decomposes.

Kids might also enjoy trying their hands at writing some Doozies for Twosies: Animal Sweet Talk.

From the book:

“Elsie, you’re my heart’s content.
I love you more than…two percent!”

“Why don’t you stay, my Honeybunch,
A little while? I’ll make you…lunch.”

In School’s Out!, the final poem, a child—with fingers crossed—expresses his feelings about the end of the school year.

It begins…

School is out and I’m so sad
(That is what I told my dad.)
I’ll miss Mrs. Rosenbaum
(That is what I told my mom.)

And ends…

Tests are over—what a bummer.
This’ll be a boring summer.
School is out and I feel lost.
(It’s hard to keep my fingers crossed!)

I had a lot of fun reading through Countdown to Summer. I have little doubt that teachers and students will have fun sharing the poems in the book every day in class…all through the school year!

My thanks to J. Patrick Lewis for granting me permission to post his poems in my review.


At Political Verses, I have a poem that I wrote for Tricia’s Poetry Stretch this week: A Going Back to Parochial School Poem--Circa 1956—which I also posted at Wild Rose Reader this week.

At Blue Rose Girls, I have a poem by Ron Koertge titled First Grade.

The Poetry Friday Roundup is at Book Aunt this week.


Jules at 7-Imp said...

I love this book, too!

Tricia said...

I have been reading my way through this one and loving it. I'm giving it to my son's teacher on the first day of school. I can't think of a better way to say how important I think poetry is!

Thanks for sharing your review.

jama said...

Love your review, Elaine. Been hearing such great things about this book. Must get it!!

Elaine Magliaro said...

Jules & Tricia,

I think it's a wonderful poetry book for teachers. What a great idea!


I hope you enjoy the book as much as the rest of us!

Mary Lee said...

Great idea, Tricia!

I am reading this book a poem a day to my fourth graders. Yesterday, my Ball of Energy came racing up to me at the end of the day -- we were lined up to walk out the door -- with the book, breathlessly reminding me that I hadn't read the poem for the day! They are hooked after four poems!!!!

Elaine Magliaro said...

Mary Lee,

I love to hear stories like that! You just never know which kids will be the ones to really get hooked on poetry.

I hope you have a terrific school year.

Vivian Mahoney said...

Fun poems! J. Patrick Lewis has become my children's favorite poet, thanks to you! I'll have to get this book. Thanks for the recommendation!

Elaine Magliaro said...


Pat's poetry was always popular with my elementary students. So glad I could turn your kids on to his work! I hope they enjoy this new collection of his.

laurasalas said...

Great review, Elaine! I just read this book and will be sharing it as One Book I Love next week. But I'll point people here for your fantastic and thorough description:>)

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