Do you hear what I hear?

Versatile poet Marilyn Singer has again teamed up with Canadian illustrator Josee Masse to create a vivid collection of brief poems that promise to appeal to a broad array of children.

Echo Echo by Marilyn Singer and illus by Josee Masse

As with her two previous titles featuring reverso poems, a form Singer devised that employs pairs of poems that can be read line-by-line in two opposite directions, Echo Echo: Reverso Poems about Greek Myths plays with perspectives, short lines, accessible language and lively content.

This intriguing format proves to be a particularly apt approach for the subject of Greek mythology, so resonant with dual perspectives and dramatic conflict. Singer’s polished poems provide one point of view on the left-hand side of a page and an opposing perspective in the other half. Visually, too, each side stands out, as the text of one poem employs white text against a vibrant Aegean blue, while the other displays the opposite combination.

The fourteen pairs of poems, complemented with Masse’s bright, energetic full-page acrylic illustrations, feature the famous myths of Pandora and the box … the rivalry between Arachne and Athena … King Midas and the daughter he turned to stone … Perseus and the slaying of Medusa … Bellerophon and his capture of the winged horse Pegasus … the self-absorbed Narcissus and Echo (a highlight of this collection) … Pygmalion and the statue Galatea … Theseus and his escape from the labyrinth thanks to Ariadne … Icarus and Daedalus … Melanion and Atalanta and the three golden apples … and the tragic stories of Demeter and Persephone and of Eurydice and the musician Orpheus.

Singer’s playful yet thought-provoking poems provide educators with the perfect resource to help young people realize the power of point of view, of word choice, of poetic tone, and punctuation. Why not use this creative poetry to craft a writing workshop like no other? As Singer writes, “When the world was young,/ such wonders!”

See also …

My previous post on Singer’s Mirror Mirror and on poetry collections that celebrate nature.




Following Happily Ever After

It’s back to the reverso for Marilyn Singer, the creator of a surprising poetic form that employs lines that can be read forward and backward. Follow Follow, her playful sequel to Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse (2011), stands alone but continues to employ Singer’s original technique, which offers the writer fresh opportunities to explore fairy tales from varying angles and to shine a light on some of the darker implications of the old tales. Follow Follow A Book of Reverso Poems by Marilyn Singer

The fourteen pairs of poems explore mostly well-known fairy tales and fables, with many pleasing and thought-provoking results.  If you’ve ever read Hans Christian Andersen’s “Little Mermaid, ” you have most likely been troubled by the protagonist’s tragic sacrifice for the sake of a man. In Singer’s poem “The Little Mermaid’s Choice,” the opening lines echo the traditional plot: “For love, / give up your voice. / Don’t / think twice.” Yet, when those same words are reversed, behold the sage warning: “Think twice! / Don’t / give up your voice / for love.”

A more lighthearted pair of poems appear beneath the title “Panache.” Puss in Boots, with his savoir faire, gets to strut in his red boots and cape, all the while transforming the youngest son of a miller into a grand marquis. The quick-witted rascal asserts, “I am/ self-possessed and so well-dressed–/ a cat/ who dares to believe!”

And don’t miss “No Bigger Than Your Thumb,” Singer’s poems based on Andersen’s “Thumbelina.” While the first poem has the miniature female describing her “lofty and daring” aspirations of “… laughing in the sunlight,” the second one presents the opposite preference for the mole, who would “never be at ease/sleeping under the ever-changing sky,/ dancing among the flowers,/ laughing in the sunlight./ I can imagine a wonderful future,/ constant and safe,/ not lofty and daring.”

Illuminating each pair of poems is the bright, sprightly artwork of Josée Masse, who also illustrated Mirror Mirror. The full-page reproductions of her dramatic acrylic paintings add a magical touch to this refreshing collection of witty and wise poetry.

Enhancing the usefulness of Follow Follow is the author’s afterward, where she explains the form of the reverso and provides a brief summary of each fairy tale from which the poems derive. Educators will find this book a lively, enlightening source for a unit on poetry, perspective, or even on punctuation. Recommended for ages 8 and older.

And see my prior post on Singer’s Mirror Mirror.

At the Intersection of Poetry and Nature

Poetry, with its eye-opening images, compressed language, and supple forms, provides pleasing ways to teach children about the natural world. Science teachers and others can use a number of fine collections to enrich their curriculum.

Hummingbird Nest

In Hummingbird Nest: A Journal of Poems, the poet Kristine O’Connell George has captured a range of perceptions she and her family experienced the year a hummingbird came calling. On a warm day in February a hummingbird dive-bombed near the poet’s face. That’s when they discovered the tiny bird had built a nest in the ficus tree on the patio of their home in California. For the next eight weeks, the acclaimed children’s poet kept a journal, recording her observations and musings on the mother hummingbird and her growing family. With naturalistic watercolor paintings, Barry Moser delineates the show taking place outside. His illustration for “Nest Check” shows a daughter leaning toward the tree to see “Two promises made–/two eggs newly laid.” In “Just Hatched,” the poem is enclosed in an oval shape, accompanied by Moser’s simple, delicate watercolor showing a cracked egg. Readers will linger upon the next image, an aerial shot looking straight down into the “woven walls” of the nest, with one baby bird lying next to an egg just cracking. In time, flying lessons will lead to fledglings taking off, and a mother’s job well done. Author’s note and hummingbird facts included, as well as suggested books about hummingbirds.
This is a lovely book to hold, to share, and to read aloud.

Song of the Water BoatmanSidman, Joyce. Song of the Water Boatman & Other Pond Poems. illus. by Beckie Prange. Houghton Mifflin, 2005. Spend some time with the interesting inhabitants of a pond, from spring’s peepers to the painted turtles that burrow in the mud for the winter. Original, accessible poems are accompanied by facts about the habitat’s animals, insects, and plants. Glossary included. Prange’s amazing woodcuts won the 2006 Caldecott Honor award. For ages 7 to 12.

Paolilli, Paul. Silver Seeds: A Book of Nature Poems. Viking, 2001. Simple enough for young children, these gentle poems begin with daybreak and end with night, with lovely images of sun, fog, and rain along the way.

Toad by the Road by Joanne Ryder

Ryder, Joanne. Toad by the Road: A Year in the Life of These Amazing Amphibians. Holt, 2007. Ryder’s engaging poems describe the life cycle of toads, from spring’s tadpoles to adult frogs hibernating in the winter. Henry Bergh Children’s Book Award Winner: Poetry Award (2007)

Singer, Marilyn. Footprints on the Roof: Poems about the Earth. illus. by Meilo So. Knopf, 2002. Older children (ages 9-12) will enjoy Singer’s remarkable poems about Earth’s seasons, weather, land forms, and animals. Use this poetry to foster environmental awareness and to complement the science curriculum. In “Burrows,” for instance, note how she ponders life “under the earth/where rabbits hide from foxes/foxes hide from dogs/full-bellied snakes sleep snugly/worms work uncomplaining. … I try to tread softly:/ a quiet giant/ leaving only footprints on the roof.” Also see her other collections, especially How to Cross a Pond: Poems about Water.

Pulling Poems from a Dappled World

“Glory be to God for dappled things!” wrote Gerard Manley Hopkins in his squirming-with-life poem “Pied Beauty.” What finer season than spring to share fresh poems with children?

Raczka, Bob. Guyku: A Year of Haiku for Boys. illus. by Peter H. Reynolds. Houghton Mifflin, 2010. This might just turn out to be one of children’s (not just boys’) all-time favorite collections of haiku. The engaging images and hearty humor shine: “I watch the worms squirm/and decide to bait my hook/with hot dog instead.” Another kid-pleaser: “If this puddle could/talk, I think it would tell me/to splash my sister.”

Alarcon, Francisco X. Laughing Tomatoes and Other Spring Poems/ Jitomates Risuenos: Y Otros Poemas de Primavera (The Magical Cycle of the Seasons Series). Children’s Book Press, 1997. A fun, bilingual collection by a renowned Mexican-American poet. The 18 poems include “Words are Birds” and others teeming with nature and joy.

Giovanni, Nikki. The Sun Is So Quiet: Poems. Illus. by Ashley Bryan. Holt, 1996. Collection of poems by acclaimed poet celebrates the seasons, nature, and an array of childhood experiences.

Hopkins, Lee Bennett, editor. Opening Days. Harcourt, 1996. Nineteen poems by various poets such as Jane Yolen and Walt Whitman have fun with sports, including baseball, skiing, karate, and tennis.

Hopkins, Lee Bennett, ed. Sharing the Seasons: A Book of Poems. illus. by David Diaz. McElderry, 2010. Superb collection of poems spanning the seasons. Includes such poets as Carl Sandburg, Marilyn Singer, and Karla Kuskin.

Noda, Takayo. Dear World. Puffin, 2005. Bright and beautifully illustrated collection of brief poems celebrating the natural world.

Ruddell, Deborah. Today at the Bluebird Cafe: A Branchful of Birds. illus. by JToday at the Bluebird Cafe by Deborah Ruddelloan Rankin. McElderry, 2007. Ruddell’s poems of cardinals, a woodpecker, and others are whimsical and lively. Her humor reigns in such poems as “There’s a Robin in the Bathroom”: “He uses my toothbrush/to scour his wings./He sloshes and splashes/on all of our things.” Rankin’s bright, lively illustrations add to the fun. Also see Ruddell’s A Whiff of Pine, a Hint of Skunk.

Playing with Perspective

Singer, Marilyn. Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse. Illus. by Josee Masse. Dutton, 2010. Ages 7-10.

Arresting images, lyrical language, and relevant themes inhabit all of Marilyn Singer’s poetry collections for children. In Mirror Mirror, she has created a new poetic form, which she calls the reverso. The apt name refers to her technique of writing a poem that can be read in both directions — up and down. She uses the same words in both poems, changing only punctuation and capitalization as needed.

Singer’s reversos focus on fairy tales, where things are almost never as they appear.  The title and the form perfectly match the substance, all the while providing an intriguing reading experience. Masse’s vibrant paintings create split images that depict the brilliant duality of the poem’s perspectives. Words and illustrations reflect interesting angles on familiar fairy-tale characters: “Rapunzel’s Locks,”(“No wonder she felt snippy.”); “In the Hood,” (plays on two meanings of hood: Red Riding Hood’s and the slang word for neighborhood); “Longing for Beauty,” (“A beast/can love/ beauty”; now read the lines in reverse order) and “The Road,” about the process of letting yourself go “wherever the road leads.” That’s what the poet and the illustrator have done. Now it’s your turn, dear Reader. Keep your eyes wide open. This could be paired with Laura Whipple’s If the Shoe Fits: Voices From Cinderella, 33 fresh poems from various perspectives of objects (such as the glass slipper) and characters in the fairy tale.

Double the Fun With a Superbaby

O’Malley, Kevin. Once Upon a Royal Superbaby. Illus. by the author, Carol Heyer, and Scott Goto. Walker. 2010. Ages 6-9.

As in the hilarious Once Upon a Cool Motorcycle Dude (Walker, 2005), this talented trio again taps the inherent conflict of a collaborative writing assignment for two kids who don’t see eye-to-eye. The boy’s contribution to the pair’s invented fairy tale includes plenty of rock ’em sock ’em action, while the girl focuses on a queen she names “Tenderheart” and the baby she calls “Sweet Piper.” The boy transforms the infant into “Strong Viper” as the “superbaby” manages to save his kidnapped parents from a giant cyclops, in a happy-ever-after ending that satisfies both writers.  O’Malley’s Photoshopped drawings of the storytellers are complemented by Goto and Heyer’s dramatic illustrations reflecting the children’s contrasting ideas. This picture book provides humor as well as a chance to discuss conflict resolution and gender differences.

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