Posts tagged ‘poetry’

September 15, 2014

dancing, dazzling Josephine Baker

by Wendy Lawrence

I love a book that you can’t easily categorize, and this is one of them. At first glance, you think it’s a picture book, bright and boldly covered. But it’s also thick, almost like a middle grade book, and is 104 pages. When you look at the words, you realize it’s a kind of poem, the whole book written in beautiful language that mimics the dancing of its protagonist, Josephine Baker.

josephineTitle: Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker
Author
: Patricia Hruby Powell
Illustrator: Christian Robinson (who has worked for Pixar and Sesame Workshop)
Genre: Nonfiction, Poetry, Art, Dance, African-American
Ages: 7 – 10, but younger children could be read a few pages and older children could use as a research text

This book tells of the life of an amazing woman who ran away from the slums of St. Louis with a dance troupe and made her way to Carnegie Hall and theatres in Paris. She fought tremendous racism, performing at clubs where she wasn’t even allowed to walk through the front door, places she wouldn’t have been allowed to eat. Josephine Baker ended up leaving for Europe where she felt better received and found tremendous success. The book doesn’t dance around any issues: it talks about the Ku Klux Klan, World War II. It talks about how she bleached her skin with lemon juice and how, even after beings so well received in France, she was called a “savage” and a “devil” in Austria. Always wanting to please, she dressed the next night in all white and sang a gorgeous lullaby, a Negro Spiritual called “Pretty Little Baby”. It worked. They called her an “angel”.

Josephine Baker adopted twelve children throughout her life, her famous “Rainbow Tribe”. They came from eleven countries and Josephine brought each of them up celebrating their own religion–Buddhist, Shinto, Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and animist. She had a gorgeous and interesting life. She was still performing in her seventies when she died in her sleep after a long night of dancing.

The press release that comes with the book dutifully mentions how it is perfect for February (African-American history month) and April (Poetry month), but seriously, let’s hope it’s read all year long. I love that you can use this book to introduce some very heavy topics to your child, but in a very colorful, happy, positive way, not only because of the colors in the book, but because of the colorful, energetic character who titles it.

April 24, 2013

even in the April snow, the forest is singing

Each silver
snowflake
sings my name.
Guess what?
No two sound the same.

foresthasasongI love LOVE LOVE that last line. We all know that no two snowflakes look alike, but that they sound differently? When they call our name? What a wonderful image! And while you might think it strange to start a blog in April about snow, the flakes are fast and furious outside my window right now, so I’m just trying to stick with what mother nature is dealing.

This poem is from a wonderful book of poems just sent to me. And it’s poetry month, so that’s perfect, don’t you think? It’s called Forest Has a Song and in it a girl walks through the forest in all four seasons, listening to the song. There are so many wonderful kid-friendly images that really make the forest come alive.

exploding a mushroom:

Puff!
I found one.
Puff!
It’s plump.
Puff!
Come see this
mushroom pump.

tiptoeing on moss:

Barefoot on this emerald carpet
toe-by-toe I squish across.
I softly sink in velvet green.
Oh how I wish for socks of moss.

Aren’t those great? Other poems detail a fossil, a pile of animal bones, a squirrel, the song of the forest, deer, and many more.

This would be a great book for a classroom. It would be fun to read on or before a family camping trip or hike. It would be fun to read any night, really. And you can challenge your kids to look for the sensory images in the poems. Can they hear a snowflake? What do they think it sounds like? Can they see a cardinal and do they think he looks like a kite?

You could also turn it into a scavenger hunt if you live near or are visiting a forest. Can they find mushrooms? Lichen? A squirrel? A deer? How many images from the book can they remember and see for themselves?

Older kids can make up their own images. Have them walk barefoot across something…a lawn, a pebbly beach, or maybe through a cool brook. What does that feel like? Would they want pebble slippers like the author wanted moss slippers? Can they think of a different image they would like?

Have fun with this book, and I hope you enjoy some of nature this summer. Just not the snowflakes, maybe.

foresthasasongTitle: Forest Has a Song
Author
: Amy Ludgwig Vanderwater
Illustrator: Robbin Gourley
Genre: Poetry, Pictures, Nature
Ages: Almost any

April 11, 2012

watercolor songs in “water sings blue’

I react to the mail the way the citizens do in the Music Man when the Wells Fargo wagon comes to town. I’ve even been known to sing when a package arrives. Even in the days of online shopping, when packages are regular, they still get me excited. But even better is one I’m not expecting. Such was the case with this beautiful gem of a book, which arrived unannounced from the publisher for a review. It’s the perfect time for a beach book, as it’s getting warmer and I’m about to order the next size up of bathing suits (online of course).

Title: Water Sings Blue
Author: Kate Coombs
Illustrator: Meilo So
Genre: Picture Book, Science and Nature
Ages: 0 – 9

Summary and Review: I have a soft spot for poetry picture books. I think poetry is the perfect way to introduce beautiful verse to a child. Children get poetry in a way that English PhD’s are still trying to figure out. And it allows you to read the whole book or just a few favorites, depending on the child, the time, and the interests. This books includes a wide range of poems.

Old Driftwood is beautifully visual:

Old Driftwood / has been to sea / an come back home / unexpectedly.
Gnarled sailor / now he sits high / up on the beach / beyond the tide,
telling of mermaids / and whales thi-i-i-s big / to all the attentive / astonished twigs.

What the Waves Say is rhythmically lyrical:

Shimmer and run, catch the sun. / Ripple thin, catch the wind.
Shift and splash, drift and dash. / Slow and gray, foggy day.
Whisper hush, murmur shush. / Swell and sigh, otter lullaby.
Journey on with a yawn. / Swirl and swish, play with fish.
Roll green, rise and lean— / wake and roar and strike the shore!

and Nudibranch is just silly:

The nudibranch / has dropped his clothes / in a spot not even / his mother slug knows.

Follow up with the kids: The poems are simple enough that they will be accessible to a really young audience. (A few of them might irritate a more serious poet, but I don’t usually pretend to be a more serious poet.)

Kids might like to write their own beach poems, especially during a vacation at the beach—maybe you need something to do when its raining? You could help younger kids by letting them copy the meter of one of the poems in the book. Or even let them use the rhyming words at the end and come up with some of their own words for the rest of the lyrics. How great would your family photo album be for your beach trip with some original art and poetry by your kids!

Or, let your children explore with watercolors and paint their own scenes to these (or their own) poems.

Another fun activity would be to hand the kids a camera (maybe a toy one if they are really young) and let them photograph areas of the beach that could illustrate these (or their own) poems. Then when you get back to doing that family photo album, you will have some of their own photos and maybe even some of their own poems to include!

Your turn: Are you heading to the beach? Do you have any favorite beach poems or poetry picture books?

January 23, 2012

mambo your way into the soul of a good poem

I love my sister. AND (As a teacher writing comments about kids a lot I was taught never to say BUT in situations like this) :), my memories of her learning to play the violin are not pleasant ones. Which is why I vowed that I would never let my children learn to play a stringed instrument until I had a soundproof room in my house. Which is probably why my 3yo (because can’t all 3yo’s read straight into your soul’s deepest fears?) decided that the violin was exactly what he wanted to play.

We are a few months into our lessons and a few stanzas into Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. And let me say this: every time his bow screeches across the strings, twinkle-starring its way through notes both sharp and flat, maybe some at the same time, I smile with pure happiness. Yes, I am that much of a sucker.

Music gets us where it counts. We use it to get us through the work day. We use it when running, to make us go faster. We use it to calm down. We use it to express our love when dancing. It touches every part of our lives and that’s why this book is so good. Just listen to how it begins:

On summer nights
Papi lets me help out
at the music store.

Papi says you can
read people’s souls
by the music
they listen to;
that hearts
fly home
when the music’s
Just Right.

Title: Under the Mambo Moon
Author: Julia Durango
Illustrator: Fabricio VandenBroeck
Genre: Poetry, Fiction
Age: Middle School, High School, Any, really

Summary and ideas: In this book, characters come and go from a record store as music from all over Latin America is played and remembered. Read this book with a record player nearby. (Okay, the internet will do.) Read the book through once and then the second time you read it, play a song every time one kind of music is played. Dance to it. If you really want to embrace the book, learn to dance the different dances. You don’t have to take a formal class; I’m sure YouTube will come through for you. Or if you are reading this with a class or an older child who likes to be challenged, have them write a copycat poem but with their favorite kind of music instead. Mimicking great writers can be a great learning opportunity.

And then tell me: what strong musical memories do you have?