Monday, May 4, 2015

Class Post - Review - "Drum Girl Dreaming"

There is something about the poetry of Margarita Engle that speaks to me.  The Newbery honor winner has a way of making the lives of others as relatable to me  as my own life.  Her newest poem is presented as a picture book, Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music, illustrated by Rafael Lopez.

Inspired by the story of Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, a Chinese-African-Cuban girl in the early-mid twentieth century, Drum Dream Girl presents a young girl who dreams of playing the drums, “of pounding tall conga drums/ tapping small bongo drums/ and boom boom booming/ with long, loud sticks/ on big, round, silvery/ moon-bright timbales.” (Emphasis by the author.)  Despite her aspirations, she is told that only boys may play the drums.  So the girl continues to dream, playing her own imaginary music, until her father allows her to have a teacher, who eventually decides the girl is ready to play the drums in public.

Throughout this poem, Engle makes use of figurative language, alliteration (“When she walked under/ wind-wavy palm trees,”) and sometimes repetition for impact.  Upon meeting her music teacher, “The girl knew so much/ but he taught her more/ and more/ and more/ and she practiced/ and she practiced/ and she practiced.”   The poem ends with the positive affirmation that “both girls and boys/ should feel free/ to dream.”

I cannot talk about Engle’s beautiful poem without also praises Lopez’s astounding paintings.  Brimming with color and spirit, these illustrations bring to life the girl’s dreams of drumming.  She drums while sitting on the crescent moon, while swimming under the ocean as a mermaid and on tables and chairs while floating through the air.  When her father decides to let her drum, Lopez depicts the girl being pulled back to Earth by brightly colored ribbons.  On the final page, while the girl happily drums, a boy with a drawing pad floats above her on his own dreaming cloud, while a smiling moon looks down on them both.  Lopez’s art perfectly complements the rhythm and spirit of Engle’s poetry.

Engle includes as historical note at the end of the book to tell readers and listeners about the inspiration for the poem, and gives details about Zaldarriaga’s life, which includes playing for president Franklin D. Roosevelt.

I am going to enjoy sharing this book with my patrons, and I already know what kind of poetry break I would like to employ.  After reading the poem once, I would like to show off the illustrations, especially the most imaginative ones, and block out the text and let the children create their own dreamy visions for these pictures.  What do they dream about that they can see within these images?  When the girl’s dream gives her wings to play drums on the flower tops, what do you see?  What would you like to do?  When the children have an idea of what their dreams might be, I would read the poem again, and see if they can hear their dreams in the words as well.

Engle, Margarita.  Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music. Illustrated by Rafael Lopez.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015.  ISBN: 9780544102293

Class Post - "Walking on Earth and Touching the Sky"

 Sometimes people can surprise you.  The depths of their thoughts of feelings may not have an outlet through which to be expressed, but if you give them an outlet, there is no telling what you might learn.  At the Red Cloud Indian School, poet and teacher Timothy P. McLaughlin took the writings of his young Lakota students and collecting them into Walking on Earth and Touching the Sky: Poetry and Prose by Lakota Youth at the Red Cloud Indian School.

Collecting the works of middle school aged students from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, Walking on Earth and Touching the Sky reveals the thoughts and emotions of a variety of students through their writings.  Sometimes prose paragraphs and sometimes various forms of poetry, these works are very powerful.  They reveal feelings about death, racism and poverty, as well as identity, religion and living with and in the Lakota heritage.

This collection opens with a section features works about the natural world.  “Ocean” by Duncan Deon says, “The ocean is the flow of the world/ as we are the flow of nature/ and its elements.”  Similar poems follow about the sun and stars.  Different students employ different poetic and literary devices.  Dustin Star Comes Out writes a haiku about nature (“It blooms without fear.”) and Clementine Bourdeaux employs metaphor:

“When you laugh, it’s an echo of your past.
The moon is a round diamond.
The stars are pieces of memory.
The ocean is a blanket of dreams that last forever.
A rainbow is a bridge to your future.”

Some of the poems and prose created by the students reveal dark thoughts from a hard and troubling life.  In a poem entitled “Misery,” Andrew Herman writes, “Indian misery is when somebody takes your land./ Indian misery is when somebody kills your friends.”  While sometimes heartbreaking to read, these writings must have been essential to these students in order to express themselves.  Sometimes thoughts can never be heard until they are written down.

This book is arranged into different segments with an overall theme, such as “Natural World,” “Native Thoughts,” and “Language.”  Each segment opens with a small introduction by McLaughlin and a painting by S.D. Nelson.  This introduction puts the reader into the correct mindset to then experience the students’ writings.  McLaughlin also wrote a general introduction to the whole collection that gives the reader an overview of the history of the Red Cloud Indian School and some context for understanding the students’ lives.  McLaughlin also included an author’s note in which he wrote about his personal experiences with the school and its students.

There is a lot to enjoy, experience and digest in this collection, and there is much that can be learned and built upon.  One poem I thought would make for a good patron exercise is called “Seven Ways of Looking at Eagles” by Tonia Scabby Face.

“One way is how he soars high above the clouds.
The second way is when the eagle sits on a tree branch
looking over the countryside.
The third way is when he grabs his prey on the prairie.
The fourth way is when his protective eyes are keeping you safe at all times.
The fifth way is when the eagle lets us borrow his feathers.
The sixth way is when he talks to the rest of the sacred animals
so they can also keep you protected.
The seventh way is how the eagle sits waiting for your own flight to the sky.”

 This poem chose to write about something from the natural world that had a specific significance to her.  The idea behind this poem, however, could be adapted into almost anything.  Students and patrons could be invited to write a poem about seven ways to look at something or someone important to them, like a family member or a pet, or even something mundane, like a fork.  The results could be quite interesting.

McLaughlin, Timothy P., ed. Walking on Earth and Touching the Sky: Poetry and Prose by Lakota Youth at Red Cloud Indian School.  Paintings by S.D. Nelson.  Foreward by Joseph M. Marshall III.  New York: Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2012.  ISBN: 9781419701795

Class Post - Review - "A Kick in the Head"

I have found that sometimes introducing youth to new and different forms of poetry can be daunting.  It can be made much easier by introducing to the mix an element of fun.  This is what editor Paul B. Janeczko and illustrator Chris Raschka have accomplished with the collection A Kick in the Head: An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms.

Janeczko collected poems to exemplify 29 different poetic forms, from the familiar (the haiku, the sonnet) to the somewhat less familiar (the aubade, the villanelle).  Some forms have only one representative poem, but some have two, often to present a contrast.  For example, in the case of the limerick, the first poem offered is from Edward Lear: 

“There was an Old Lady whose folly
Induced her to sit in a holly;
Whereupon, by a thorn
Her dress heing torn,
She quickly became melancholy.”

To illustrate how poets can play within a form and break the rules, Janeczko contrasted this classic limerick with a selection from Steven Herrick:

“There once was a limerick called Steven
whose rhyme scheme was very uneven
it didn’t make sense
it wasn’t funny
and who’d call a limerick Steven anyway?”

I really appreciated these contrasting examples, as they illustrate very well the axiom, “First learn the rules, then you can break them.”  I think these poems will help readers realize that those some forms of poetry have rules, the beauty of poetry is that once you understand these rules, they are fluid.

Janeczko’s selections for poems are varied.  He highlights classic poems from William Blake, Edward Lear and William Shakespeare, as well as modern poets like Alice Schertle and Gary Soto.  There were even some poets with whom I was not familiar, such as Penny Harter.

The arrangement of the poems works very well.  Janeczko starts with the simplest forms, such as couplets, then moves to more complicated forms, both in length and in style.  Poetic forms that are considerably visual, such as a concrete poem, are found towards the end of the collection.  Every spread is beautifully illustrated with lively paintings from Chris Raschka.  For every poetic form, Raschka includes a small icon to represent the form, and to signal to the reader that something new is coming.

Janeczko includes a very helpful introduction to prepare readers for the collection to follow, along with suggestions as to how to the read the book.  Backmatter includes more detailed information about each poetic form than is included throughout the book.  A list of acknowledgements at the end give credit to each of the contributing poets.

There are so many opportunities for poetry breaks given throughout this book, but one idea that struck me the most had to do with a found poem.  According to Janeczko, a found poem “is taken from a piece of writing that wasn’t written as poetry…and arranged on the page as a poem.”  The example given in the book is “The Paper Trail” by Georgia Heard:

“They fluttered from the sky like a sweet and peaceful snowstorm:
sheets and scraps – a crumpled page of cleaning instructions
with a reminder to damp-wipe smudges and smears;
a woman’s cell-phone bill;
a hand-written note on aper decorated with kitchen herbs read:
‘…it would be nice to have another pot-luck dinner for parents’;
a blank check numbered 3746 neatly torn from a check-book.

Bits of paper floated into the open classroom windows,
drifted into a second floor apartment window on Liberty Street.
At St. Paul’s Cathedral, in Lower Manhattan,
three inches blanketed old graves.”

In the backmatter, Janeczko admits that this is not a true found poem, as it is made largely of Heard’s own words, but the idea is still the same.  I have seen other examples of found poems, and one I have seen that I would love to try with students involves taking a page from a discarded or damaged book (and in a library, we have no shortage of those) and selecting words along the page to create a poem, highlighting them through artwork on the page itself.  I think a project like this would resonate with my older patrons.

Janeczko, Paul B., ed.  A Kick in the Head: An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms.  Illustrated by Chris Raschka.  Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press, 2005. ISBN: 9780763606626

Monday, April 13, 2015

Class Post - Review - "Red Sings from Treetops"

 The world is full of color, and the natural world has inspired poets since time immemorial.  Acclaimed poet Joyce Sidman gives thanks for the colors of nature in Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors.  

Beginning with Spring (because spring is the beginning of all things), Sidman writes that “red sings/ from treetops:/ cheer-cheer-cheer,/ each note dropping/ like a cherry/ into my ear.” (emphasis by the author.)  The birds’ cheery music signals life coming back into the world, followed by red rhubarbs and red worms squiggling after the rain.  Green follows, and yellow and purple.  Spring turns to summer and “Yellow melts/ everything it touches.”  Green fades with fall and white encompasses winter until the red birds come back, dropping notes “like a cherry/ into/ my/ ear.”

Poetical journeys through the seasons are somewhat common.  2014 saw the release of Jon J. Muth’s beautiful Hi, Koo!, a trip through the seasons on the haiku form of poetry.  Sidman’s seasonal poetry in Red Sings from Treetops is less structured, more free verse.  She likens the colors of the seasons to tastes, sounds and smells, bringing the reader and listener in to her world.  “In spring/ White/ sounds like storms:/ snapped twigs and bouncing hail.”  

Sidman keeps things relatively simple, calling upon only commonly used colors like white, black, yellow, green and blue, though in summer, “Blue grows new names:/ turquoise,/ azure,/ cerulean.”  She focuses on everyday things, “smells like butter,/ tastes like salt,” so that the reader or listener can feel and relate to what she is saying.

While the colors of the seasons go dark and light, the tone of the collection remains cheerful, even in the face of thunderstorms.  A child reading or listening to the poems could find stability in the cheerful acceptance of nature’s mood swings.

Red Sings from Treetops is beautifully illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski (who won a Caldecott honor for her work) with mixed media art.  Obviously tying the artwork with Sidman’s colorful poetry, Zagarenski also plays with words and textures in a fairytale-like landscape where even the fish wear little paper crowns.  Sidman’s poetry is presented within the art, or on a white panel, the color words always emphasized with their own designation.

Spring, summer and fall always seem to me to be alive with color, but I was delighted with the colors Sidman highlighted for "Winter."  When it seems as if gray and white are all you have, it is nice to imagine the pink in your cheeks.  Using winter, or a similarly non-colorful idea such as nighttime, I would work with young readers to imagine the colors we would find.  Creating a poem out of the colors to be found in a blackout would be quite enjoyable.

Sidman, Joyce.  Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors.  Illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2009.  ISBN: 9780547014944

Class Post - Review - "Jazz"

Jazz is a distinctly American art form.  As explained by Walter Dean Myers in the introduction to his poetry collection Jazz, the form rose out of African and European musical traditions, and has at its heart a foundation of improvisation.  To celebrate this unique form of expression, Myers has written a collection of poems inspired by jazz musicians and the musical form.

“Start with rhythm/ Start with the heart.”  Myers opens his collection with the poem “Jazz” and infuses his words with rhythm and heart, as well as passion, energy and soul.  Practically begging to be read aloud, the language sparks right off the page.  Myers writes about the soul of jazz, and the history.  In “America’s Music,” he writes, “What did the world see? / What did the world hear?”  The poems create a wonderful avenue to talk about the historical context of jazz.  Paintings by Christopher Myers further illustrate jazz’s roots.  Images of black men in uniform accompany “America’s Music.”  

The poems in Jazz range in mood and tempo.  Some are loud and celebrational, like “Twenty-Finger Jack,” and some are more emotive and intimate, like “Jazz Vocal.”  “Can you hear it just beginning/ or am I just imagining those precious sounds?” intones the narrator of “Jazz Vocal.”  The familiar form of address brings the reader and listener in close.

The narrators and characters described in the poems of Jazz are all older, adults.  For that reason, there needs to be something else to draw in the ears and attentions of younger readers and listeners.  For this, Myers employs his language and his rhythm.  Youngsters might not understand the personal longing of a poem like “Blue Creeps In,” but the long sounds at the end of each stanza in that poem create an audible sense of yearning and things unfinished.

Jazz is a very visually appealing book.  Each poem is presented within or opposite a painting by Christopher Myers, the poet’s son.  The art helps to bring the words to life with their vibrancy.  In addition to the poet’s introduction, the book features backmatter that includes a glossary of jazz terms and a time line, making this a wonderful book in include in musical or historical instruction.

The poem “Be-Bop” made me think of Chris Raschka’s amazing picture book Charlie Parker Played Be Bop.  Like Raschka’s book, Myers’ “Be-Bop” makes use of onomatopoeia to create verbal music.  I would love to combine these two books with an activity with my patrons.  Armed with my musical instruments, we could create music together, then use onomatopoeia words to create poems about our music. 

Myers, Walter Dean.  Jazz.  Illustrated by Christopher Myers.  New York: Holiday House, 2006.  ISBN: 9780823415458