Friday, April 20, 2007

A Shower of Poetry

April is Poetry Month!

Children are naturals for poetry. Don’t forget that songs and rhymes abound in nurseries and schoolyards and yes, even on MTV. Poetry is all around them, and so children are born and raised for years to love poetry without even knowing it, until that natural affinity is taught out of them and they learn instead that poetry is Serious Business. Before this has a chance to happen, I say, let us do our best to show them the wonders of it, to let it become so much a part of them that it might resist the supplanting. Let us shower it gently over their ears until the lilting and bouncing rhythms and rhymes hold such appeal that they never are without a song and a rhyme in their hearts. (With an added bonus: rhymes help a child’s ear learn to pick out the sounds of language, a key pre-reading skill!) Here’s a few places to begin…

Shel Silverstein A Light in the Attic Where the Sidewalk Ends

Silverstein is one of those children in adult form that became giants and champions of children’s literature in the 70’s, in its infancy (along with Dennis Lee, below). His ridiculous and sometimes nonsensical poems are paired to fabulous effect with his own simple line drawings. While his poetry collections are favourites of mine that still make me laugh aloud, though, I am not such a fan of his short books-with-morals.

Dennis Lee Alligator Pie Garbage Delight

Dennis Lee is Canada’s own Goofy Poet laureate, and I would guess that most of us were raised on his rhymes ourselves. His Alligator Pie is a classic, found on shelves everywhere, and some of his poems have even found their way into board book form, perfect for gifts and for sharing with the wee-est ones in the family. Indeed, Lee’s poetry has enough nonsense and wonderful use of the sounds of language that it makes perfect reading from babyhood to whenever.

Jack Prelutsky

A prolific poet, Prelutsky has books and books of funny – but not nonsensical and outrightly goofy – poems for all seasons and occasions. His books of Valentine’s Day poems is a standard read-aloud for me, and his winter poems are equally fun for sharing. Try these on a child slightly older – grades 1 to 3 are probably your best audience here.

For silly rhymes for older kids with a sly and slightly twisted sense of humour, you might also try Roald Dahl (of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory fame) or Ogden Nash, whose comic gifts also extend to poetry meant for adults.

And if you are not looking for goofy? Try one of these ideas:

Poetry Speaks to Children

Mary P. introduced me to this treasure, a compendium of poetry that runs the gamut from goofy to classic. Not only is each poem placed cleanly on its own page amid well-scaled illustrations, but in some cases, small notes are added about the poem that give it extra resonance for kids, as when a poet had written the poem for his own child. To gild the lily completely, the well-priced set also includes a 60-track CD with a large number of the poems read aloud. Of these, a surprising number are read by their authors, including such luminaries as Tolkien, Frost, Roald Dahl, and Sandburg. All I can say about this, really, is WOW.

Jane Yolen

This prolific author, who also writes fiction and picture books for children, has a goodly number of poetry books in her body of work. I am a particular fan of her seasonal poetry, especially the simple poems in Snow, Snow: Winter Poems for Children, illustrated with stunning photography by Jason Stemple.

Doodle Dandies

J. Patrick Lewis, ill. Lisa Desimini Lewis is one of a small crop of great new poets for kids, and in this volume, illustrations and poems merge, as he presents his fun take on concrete poetry. I also enjoy his much wordier “potluck of poems,” The Bookworm’s Feast, which throws a bit of nonsense into the mix.

Teachers often use haiku with younger grades, too, as it is short, simple, and does not require the ability to form a rhyme. Haiku also lends itself traditionally to natural subjects, so it is perfect for seasonal studies or looking at the world around them.

Cricket Never Does Myra Cohn Livingston

Livingston is the author of several wonderful books of poetry for children, and here she presents a slim volume of haiku and a few tanka, arranged thematically by season. They are simple and lovely, and a few are more urban, to appeal to the city kid.

I also like to use thematic poetry books to add a poetry element to any other storytime, at the library or at home. These are a great way to tie into something your child loves – look for books of poetry on school, food, dinosaurs, animals, sports, seasons, and more. Here are a few titles I really enjoy:

Animals, Animals sel. and ill. By Eric Carle

A great selection of short animal poems illustrated in Carle’s recognizable collage art.

Cats Are Cats sel. Nancy Larrick, ill. Ed Young

Gorgeously illustrated on brown paper by Ed Young, this volume is wide in scope and the selections are lovely but very accessible for kids.

You and Me: Poems of Friendship sel. and ill. Salley Mavor

I’m a sucker for poems and stories about friends, but Mavor’s wonderful soft sculpture art adds an entirely new dimension of fun to this collection.

Winter Poems sel. Barbara Rogansky, ill. Trina Schart Hyman

I love books about winter (though I wouldn’t mind skipping it in real life), and this book collects some gorgeous poems from a variety of poets as “serious” as Emily Dickinson, Thomas Hardy, and Edna St. Vincent Millay. Beautiful.

Sports! Sports! Sports!: A Poetry Collection sel. Lee Bennet Hopkins, ill. Brian Floca

This collection is aimed at early readers, and contains a host of short, simple poems about different sports. A great way to hook a reluctant reader or someone who has already come to believe that poetry must be Serious. For a fantastic narrative poem about a basketball game, see also Bill Martin Jr.’s Swish!, illustrated to great kinetic effect by Michael Chesworth.

If you are looking to introduce your child to the classics, but aren’t sure what is child-appropriate or accessible for youngsters, consider a few authors who have written for children as well as adults. Langston Hughes, e.e. cummings, and Carl Sandburg are a good start here. Poems about the natural world or simple settings have also often been used with kids to great success. Consider Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost (there is a lovely edition illustrated for children by Susan Jeffers) or I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud by Wordsworth as a fine pair of examples. And, of course, a good story can reel in any child, as demonstrated by Ernest L. Thayer’s Casey At The Bat.

For a fantastic selection of poetry, visit your local public library!

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

For the Young Hep Kitten

Most of us like music, and many like jazz. Want to open up that sound to your wee one? Break out the berets - here are a selection of jazz-tinged books for the young, a way to share the sounds and rhythms and stories of its legends.

Charlie Parker Played Be Bop and Mysterious Thelonious
Chris Raschka

These are not really biographies, but introductions to the sounds of jazz. Read Charlie Parker with a rhythm to capture its spirit while you enjoy Raschka’s signature loopy drawings. The black cat, he told me once, is his own cat. The coloured grid in Thelonious corresponds to Raschka’s own originally-devised notation, so this book can be “played” to his tune or read as a rhythmic poem celebrating the famed piano man.

A-Tisket A-Tasket
Ella Fitzgerald, ill. Ora Eitan

Ella wrote this cute child-friendly ditty herself, and sang it through her career. A nice introduction to a jazz song that works for the world of kids, the song is illustrated with jaunty, somewhat wild, and quite expressive collage art. Unfortunately, the music is not included in the book anywhere, so you will have to listen to it on CD to learn it if you don’t know it already.

Ella Fitzgerald: The Tale of a Virtual Virtuosa
Andrea Davis Pinkney, ill. Bryan Pinkney

The tale of Ella’s rise to First Lady of song, told by a jive-talkin’ scat cat who claims to have been with her for the whole ride. This fun book focuses on a few key concerts and pairings along the way, and features swirling, richly-toned illustrations in Brian Pinkney’s much-lauded scratchboard style.

What a Wonderful World
George David Weiss and Bob Thiele, ill. Ashley Bryan

Bold, vivid, folk-ish illustrations bring Louis Armstrong’s signature song to life as an inspirational message for children. Satchmo himself even makes a brief appearance.

Satchmo’s Blues
Alan Schroeder, ill. Floyd Cooper

This is a fun story about a young boy with a dream, willing to work for it. It paints a picture of young Louis Armstrong, growing up in New Orleans, captivated by jazz, and is accompanied by misty paintings that seem to channel both sunlight and haze at once. Gorgeous.

Walter Dean Myers, ill. Christopher Myers

A collection of poems celebrating many different aspects and traditions that make up jazz music, this book is dedicated to the children of New Orleans and loving illustrated by the man behind Harlem and Black Cat. Poems speak to the rhythm of jazz, the funereal parade tradition of the Big Easy, be bop and the blues, and many of the famed instruments – piano, sax, and voice, among others. A forward at the front and a glossary and timeline at the back fill in some background knowledge for the curious parent and child. Gorgeous.

I See The Rhythm
Toyomi Igus, ill. Michele Wood

This is a look at the history of black music in America, not solely jazz, though jazz takes up a goodly portion of the book. Each two-page spread features a painting inspired by the music, a timeline of the history behind the music’s time, and a small informational blurb about the time or style, as well as a poem about the music. Jazz and its many incarnations and permutations are well-covered, from blues to swing to cool jazz and in between, but also represented are slave songs, gospel, R&B, rock, funk, and hip hop. A fantastic overview for anyone interested in music and roots.

World of Music: Jazz
Crystal Kirgiss

This is a straight-up non-fiction title, but one that looks at jazz in a manner both brief and thorough. Three-page chapters discuss the history and future of jazz, as well as different styles and features. The thing that might make this of particular interest is that it puts jazz in its historical context, in terms of what was happening in America – socially and in the news - and how it affected the music. Not as cool or fun as the other titles, but one to really give a good background to the bursts of innovation that came with jazz, and an excellent source for a school project.

These hip titles and more can be found at your local library!

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.