Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Good-bye Poetry Month!

With the end of April, comes the end of National Poetry Month. That, however, does not mean giving up poetry for the rest of the year! There is poetry enough to engage you every day between now and next April 1st. Head on down to your local public library and browse the 800s. American poetry is 811, English poetry is 821. German poetry 831, French 841, Italian 851, Spanish 861, Latin 871, Greek 881. ALL the other languages of the world are squeezed into the numbers between 890 and 899. (Don't blame me, I'm not Melville Dewey!) In the library, the children's room numbers roughly correspond to the numbers in the adult section, perhaps slightly abridged.

I'd like to round out the month by recommending a book of children's poetry from my public library: Fold Me a Poem by Kristine O'Connell George, illustrated by Lauren Stringer (Harcourt, 2005). This is a book I wish I had written. Each of the 31 poems are short and succinct and evoke a boy and his origami menagerie.

The illustrations, too, are marvelous! Imagine trying to paint pictures of hands folding paper--Stringer does it masterfully. After seeing how well the illustrations complement the poems I wondered if the author and illustrator worked together. I found my answer on Kristine O'Connell George's website: "I was startled when I first saw Lauren Stringer's sketches for FOLD ME A POEM: She had painted what was inside my head! I've never met Lauren and we didn't communicate while she was working on the book."

Lauren Stringer's website tells the story of how she felt she must learn how to fold origami animals prior to starting to illustrate. Read about it here.

Here's a sample poem from the book:

Of Course

Of course you're real,
Don't you see
your wide


Out of the Dust, Karen Hesse's popular novel in verse (Scholastic, 1997), provided the impetus for a future plethora of poetic tomes by children's authors. (How's that for using alliteration and consonance during National Poetry Month?)

I generally enjoy reading novels-in-verse. They are quick reads for a person who has difficulty finding time to read for pleasure and, I believe, the added white space is encouraging to the child who experiences reading difficulties. For many kids, reading a page is an accomplishment. Being able to read many pages in a short amount of time is a triumph.

I also like the tightness of the form. Poet/novelists describe emotion, setting, and character in the fewest words possible--and, they are usually the perfect words. Writing a novel in verse--even free verse--is intellectually challenging, sweaty work.

Some books have succeeded more easily than others. Ron Koertge's The Brimstone Journals, (Candlewick, 2001) for example, takes us quickly and efficiently into the minds and lives of high school students. Their complicated assumptions about how life's problems must be solved break our hearts.

I had a bit more difficulty with the Newbery Honor book by poet Marilyn Nelson: Carver a Life in Poems (Front Street, 2001). This is a biography in verse and as such, must not only give us a sense of a George Washington Carver's world but include enough facts to allow the reader to march across the timeline of the famous teacher/scientist's life. I found this part lacking. Like many people, I knew only the very basic elements of why Carver's name is familiar. He is the man who found multiple uses for the peanut. Nelson helps us realize that he was so much more. Biographical footnotes are included in some of the pages and I found them to be extremely helpful. I sometimes felt lost when references were omitted. I wasn't always sure what event the poem depicted. If I was confused, I wondered how children read these sections.

The best part of the novel-in-verse is the way it combines both sides of the writer's brain. True, writers are generally thought to be creative, right-brained types. But there is also a logical, left-brained method to the sequencing of a novel. The reader sometimes has to work a little harder to read a novel written in verse. That's part of the fun.


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