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.




Small Poems That Soar

Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems just might be one of the brightest choices you make this year in the field of children’s books. It takes only a few minutes to sample this collectiFirefly July A Year of Very Short Poemson of 36 well-chosen poems that span the seasons, but many a child –and adult–will pause to savor the dazzling lines, illustrated with such verve by Caldecott Honoree Melissa Sweet.

This singular collection, selected by acclaimed poet Paul B. Janeczko, shines with poems by such popular children’s poets as Lillian Morrison, Eve Merriam, and James Stevenson, as well as some surprising choices: William Carlos Williams, Richard Wright, and Charles Reznikoff.

Beginning with spring (yes, it’s arrived!), each season plays out in nine poems. Ms. Sweet gives us her painted bright red pickup truck loaded with hand-drawn images of old fans to accompany Gerald Jonas’s energetic poem “In Passing.” Readers can bump along while reading about the “dumpy junktruck/stacked full of old floor-fans,/unplugged, unsteady, undone,/free-whirling like kids’ pinwheels… .”

The illustrator’s detailed collage-watercolor-gouache illustrations vary in style as they encounter distinct poems and moods. Her gape-mouthed gulls, for instance, humorously evoke the ravenous creatures depicted in X.J. Kennedy’s brief poem that compares the birds’ cries to rusted gates. For another summer poem, the titular poem by J. Patrick Lewis, Ms. Sweet shows fat globes of light encircling the fireflies’ tails and childlike pencil drawings of grass, trees, and weeds sprouting in the dusk. It’s enough to inspire us adults to return to our firefly-chasing ways.

To my ear, two of the special surprises in this book arrive in the winter portion. “Snow Fence” by Ted Kooser is a stunning six-line beauty. I’m not going to spell it out for you; just find your way to the page with the vivid red fence and ponder his lines. Another remarkable entry is Reznikoff’s two-line riff on what the house-wreckers left.

What marvelous activities teachers, librarians, and parents can concoct with Firefly July. Language arts teachers can find writing prompts here, teach metaphors or sensory images or point of view … art teachers can use the book to inspire collages … parents can relish a sweet morning or bedtime to share these vivid little creations. Highly recommended for every home, school, and public library, especially for use with grades 2-5.

And see my previous post on Water Sings Blue and these titles … 

Kick in the Head An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms by Paul B JaneczkoReading Poetry in the Middle Grades 20 Poems and Activities by Paul B JaneczkoCollected Poems for Children by Ted Hughes




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.

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