Friday, August 6, 2010

Children's Poetry and the Cinderella Syndrome --Redux

Reading Baby Wants Another New Award: Poetry Time! at A Fuse #8 Production last week reminded me of Children’s Poetry and the Cinderella Syndrome—the first posts that I wrote for Blue Rose Girls in October of 2006 before I became one of the regular contributors to the blog. In Baby Wants Another New Award, Betsy Bird discusses the idea of an ALA/ALSC award especially for poetry.

I thought it might be a good idea to re-post Children’s Poetry and the Cinderella Syndrome this Friday as a number of us in the kidlitosphere are considering the idea of a new poetry award. Read it and Baby Wants Another New Award and the comments people—including a number of children’s poets—left at Betsy’s post.

Let’s continue the discussion. Should there be an ALA/ALSC Award for Poetry? What do YOU think?


Poetry is the Cinderella—pre-fairy godmother—of children’s literature. It is often a neglected genre in the school curriculum. It is usually relegated to the servants’ quarters of education. Schools do not purchase multiple copies of poetry books for teachers to share and discuss with children in reading groups. Many teachers—and, sad to say, librarians—are unfamiliar with the names of some of our most accomplished children’s poets and their works. And most administrators consider poetry a frill, as literature to be shared with children—if shared at all—when there is that rare free moment in the school day.

Alas! Children’s poetry usually doesn’t get invited to the royal ball either. It is seldom honored with the “big” award. To my knowledge, just two poetry books have been recipients of the Newbery Medal since 1922: Nancy Willard’s A Visit to William Blake’s Inn in 1982 and Paul Fleischman’s Joyful Noise in 1989. Surely, there have been other poetry books published over the years worthy of acknowledgement. Am I mistaken to infer that the people who are most knowledgeable in the world of children’s literature also perceive poetry as a genre that is less important than fiction and other nonfiction? Why are there so few Prince Charmings willing to squire Cinderella Poetry around town unless she’s all dolled up for a special event? If I were Rodney Dangerfield, I might opine on the state of poetry for children: It don’t get no respect.

Furthermore, one is likely to find few poetry books written by authors other than Jack Prelutsky or Shel Silverstein on the shelves of chain bookstores. Methinks children’s poetry is in need of a very aggressive fairy godmother! Well, I hope it will have a mentor with magical powers in the person of Jack Prelutsky himself. Prelutsky was recently named our first Children’s Poet Laureate by the Poetry Foundation. Maybe he will be able to wave a wand and do what no one has ever done before: Bring children’s poetry into the spotlight where it can shine and shimmer and have an abundance of positive attention bestowed upon it. Maybe he will raise the profile of poetry so it will no longer be treated like the stepchild of children’s literature.


I am a passionate proponent of children’s poetry. I want to spread the word about the importance of sharing ALL kinds of poetry with our children. Too often their exposure to the genre is limited to the humorous verse of Prelutsky and Silverstein. Kids love it! I like it, too. But we should lead our youth beyond the confines of this popular children’s poetry and introduce them to the works of our finest children’s poets—and to poetry that will challenge them, to poetry that will stretch their imaginations.

Two questions: Would anyone think it best to expose children to one type of fiction—just fantasy, perhaps? Would anyone espouse the practice of reading children picture books written by just one or two particular authors? Not anyone in his/her right literary mind! Yet, it seems there are few individuals lamenting our children’s limited exposure to poetry. This disheartens me. Let me explain why I feel as strongly as I do about this subject.

There are things I learned from my experience teaching in an elementary school for more than thirty years. Most children enjoy—and many even relish—poetry when it is read or recited by an adult who loves it. They delight in the rhythm, rhyme, and clever wordplay found in poems written by such masters of the genre as Mary Ann Hoberman, Karla Kuskin, Aileen Fisher, Lilian Moore, and David McCord. Most will also grow to appreciate poems that do not rhyme—poems written by authors like Arnold Adoff, Janet Wong, Eloise Greenfield, Joyce Sidman, Alice Schertle, Tony Johnston, and Kristine O’Connell George. Children can be so inspired by a poem they have heard that they will write an original poem as an artistic response. And when children are immersed in fine poetry, they begin to internalize poetic elements and to develop an understanding of and appreciation for figurative language, imagery, and metaphorical thinking.

Over the years, I witnessed how the reading and writing of poetry with my students helped them to reach inside themselves, to unlock original ideas and thoughts, and to find their own unique voices. There were times when I was awestruck by the poetry they created. Some of my second grade students even modeled their poems after the works of such esteemed writers as Myra Cohn Livingston, Valerie Worth, Barbara Juster Esbensen, Marilyn Singer, and Alfred Lord Tennyson. Poetry definitely enriched my classroom and the lives of my students. I know this not only from what I observed in the classroom—but from letters I received from parents and students at the end of each school year.

One June a mother wrote: “When Kate sits in our window and responds to the moon and stars by writing poetry, I glow with happiness.” Another mother wrote: “Thank you so much for helping Alex discover his ‘new eyes’ in your class. Your love of poetry and music enriched him…” In his letter, Sam said: “…And I love the poems you read to us.” Noah wrote: “When I read poetry, that encourages me to write poetry. Writing poetry gets my imagination going.” Notes such as these reinforced my belief that poetry—all kinds of poetry—should be an integral part of every child’s education.

Poetry has been a genre too long neglected and too often overshadowed by other children’s literature. For years, I have been on a mission to bring it out of the shadows and into the limelight. Unfortunately, there is only so much enthusiasts like me and a few respected anthologists and advocates like Lee Bennett Hopkins and Paul Janeczko can do to achieve such a goal. I encourage all bibliophiles—teachers, librarians, authors, illustrators, editors, publishers, reviewers, parents, booksellers, children’s literature bloggers, and experts who sit on awards committees—to join in an effort to see that poetry for children is acknowledged as an equal, is invited to the royal ball more often, and when it arrives at the palace, is escorted down the red carpet to the grand hall where it can bask in the attention that it truly deserves.



Here’s a comment Alvina Ling left at Children’s Poetry and the Cinderella Syndrome, Part 2 in 2006:

I agree that poetry is the "stepchild" of publishing--it's considered a "tough sell," especially for trade publishers, but I'm not sure what to do about it. One thing I will say is that many picture books, although not categorized as such, are indeed poetry. So children, at least picture book-age children, are getting exposed in a big way to rhyme, rhythm, and the beauty of poetry.

Elaine, would you prefer that poetry books were honored more often by the Newbery committee? Or would you like a separate major award for poetry books, along the lines of the Newbery and Caldecott and Printz? (by the way, there was also that poetry novel that won the Newbery, OUT OF THE DUST by Karen Hesse)

Here’s my response to Alvina:

Although OUT OF THE DUST is written in free verse poetry, it is classified as fiction. I have asked myself the following question--which I will pose to you and anyone else who happens to read this comment: Would OUT OF THE DUST have gotten as much attention--and a Newbery Medal--if it had been classified as a book of poetry? I wonder. It is most certainly a powerful and elegantly written novel.

I think the "problem with poetry" is that so many of us who are adults had more negative experiences with poetry than positive ones. So we grew up without a true appreciation of the genre. Over the years, teachers and librarians and students in my children's literature course have made comments to me--such as the following:
I don't like poetry.
Children don't borrow poetry books from the library. They stay on the shelves.
Kids don't like poetry

Well, I observed that kids really enjoy poetry when it is introduced to them by someone who loves it.

So, herein lies the problem: We need more adults who will take the time to get to know poetry, develop an appreciation for it, and share it with children. How do we do that?

I think we must raise the profile of children's poetry and children's poetry books.

And we all know that one way for a children's book to garner a great amount of attention is for it to have been honored with a Newbery Medal or a Newbery Honor Award. (There are already a number of awards for children's poetry books and children's poets. Unfortunately, hardly anyone-- except poetry enthusiasts like me--pay much attention to them.)

I would hope that the individuals who serve on Newbery committees appreciate all genres of literature equally. I would hope every year one or two poetry titles might be taken into consideration. And yes, I would like to see poetry books honored with Newbery Medals more often than twice in eight decades!

I agree that young children are exposed to picture books with lots of rhythm and rhyme. But somewhere along the educational timeline, there is a gap in children's exposure to quality poetry--poetry that helps set the stage for their understanding of some of the great works they will expected to read in secondary school and college.

Links to my original posts at Blue Rose Girls

Children’s Poetry and the Cinderella Syndrome, Part 1
Children’s Poetry and the Cinderella Syndrome, Part 2


Laura has the Poetry Friday Roundup at Author Amok.


Toby Speed said...

Wonderful, Elaine. Thanks for bringing this article forward again. I, too, linked to Betsy Bird's blog from my blog today. I'm going to link to yours via Facebook. Thanks again, and enjoy your weekend.

Elaine Magliaro said...

Thanks for helping to spread the word, Toby! I hope we can get an in-depth discussion of the subject going.

Jeannine Atkins said...

Elaine, thanks for re-posting this, and for the wonderful work you did as a teacher. I love teachers who combine creative reading and writing, and poetry is particularly well suited to this. Instead of reading a poem and only talking or writing about it, it's good to write one yourself.

Elaine Magliaro said...


I loved sharing and writing poetry with my elementary students. I connected poetry and other literature to all of our subjects. I especially enjoyed using poetry during our units of study in science.

Stella said...
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Stella said...

I worked as a school library media specialist for 21 years (I retired in June) - one who loved poetry. I tried to read a poem every day to each class and offered copies of the poems to share. I also shared the books with them. After I began incorporating poetry into my library class, my students started taking out more poetry and I made sure our shelves were well stocked. The kids do indeed love the word play, the rhythm and joy of poetry. Too many teachers relegate poetry to National Poetry Week or a unit instead of incorporating it into their daily curriculum.

Poetry does indeed deserve a separate award if it's to reach more children. We need to encourage promising poets to continue to write great poems for children and an award on par with the Caldecott and the Newbery would do poetry's cause great justice. I agree with Betsy.

Charles Waters said...

Elaine needless to say you're absolutely right! What to do? Keep spreading the word. I proudly join you on this journey.

Saints and Spinners said...

Thanks for posting the Cinderella syndrome, Elaine. When I think of friends and colleagues who have said, "I don't like poetry," I remember the tone as being dismissive in the way one might say, "I don't eat beets [or green eggs and ham]. Period." I never knew how to offer alternatives that would be enticing. When I do storytelling programs, I often share poems set to music. That works for metered poetry, but I'd like to see how a free form poem would work someday.