Friday, March 27, 2009

Poetry Break: Signs of Spring

Introduction: My daughter loves daffodils. Instead of robins, she looks for these brightly colored flowers to tell her when spring arrives.

Sometime Spring
by Douglas Florian

Sometimes sun
And sometimes rain--
Spring is just one big daisy chain.

Sometimes warm
And sometimes chilly--
Spring is silly daffodilly.

(from HANDSPRINGS written and illustrated by Douglas Florian. Harper Collins Publishers 2006)

1. Provide your class with drawing materials and have them illustrate this poem with their signs of spring.
2. Compare this poem to William Wordsworth's (1770-1850) "Daffodils."
3. Take your class out to a nearby field and make daisy or clover chains to celebrate spring!

graphic from: Accessed 3/27/2009

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Poetry Break: Biographical Poem

Introduction: When I was in grade school in New Jersey, our class took a field trip to a Civil War era house that had been a station for the Underground Railroad. I still remember looking down into that small hole in amazement and wondering what kind of life a person would be escaping from to be willing to hide in such a tiny, dank hole in the ground. When slaves were ready to escape, they’d hang a quilt outside their slave quarters, and that night, as the other slaves heard a whippoorwill call from the fields beyond, they would silently bid farewell to the soon-to-be ex-slave escaping with Harriet Tubman. Harriet and her followers would follow the North Star, which was part of the Big Dipper constellation – slaves referred to this as the Drinking Gourd.

That same history unit, I learned more about Harriet Tubman and her amazing life. Her part of the Underground Railroad was the path from Maryland to Philadelphia. Harriet was never caught and neither were any of the slaves she led to freedom, despite frequent episodes of narcolepsy caused by a beating inflicted during her slavery childhood. That same beating created a large indentation in the side of her head, so she always covered it with a head scarf.

The Whippoorwill Calls
By Beverly McLoughland

No one hears her
Through the woods
At night
For she is like
A whippoorwill
Moving through the trees
On silent wings.

No one sees her
In the woods
By day
For she is like
A whippoorwill
Blending into leaves
On the forest floor.

And one night
The whippoorwill calls
And the warm air
Carries the haunting sound
Across the fields
And into the small dark cabins.

And only the slaves know
It is Harriet.

(From LIVES: POEMS ABOUT FAMOUS AMERICANS selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins. Harper Collins Publishers 1999)

1. Integrate social studies and math by having your students look up the average walking pace of a human, then. Look up the map of Harriet’s route and calculate how many miles it is, then estimate how many days it would take to walk from Maryland to Philadelphia along that path.
2. Integrate social studies and art by showing students various websites and images of Underground Railroad quilts. Provide drawing materials and graph paper for students to design their own quilt blocks. Or you can use the interactive website, " Make Your Own Secret Quilt Message."
3. Performance and Poetry – Have your students act out this poem. There are also other poems about Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad that lend themselves well to performance, such as “Harriet Tubman” by Eloise Greenfield and the folksong, “Follow the Drinking Gourd.”

graphic from: Accessed 3/25/2009

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Comets, Stars, the Moon, and Mars: Poetry Book Review

COMETS, STARS, THE MOON, AND MARS: Florian, Douglas, 2007. Illustrated by Douglas Florian. Orlando, FL: Harcourt, Inc. ISBN#978-0-15-205372-7

Douglas Florian has done it again! In this, one of his most recent books of poetry, he has written poems for each planet (including Pluto!), the sun, our moon, and other interesting objects found out beyond our atmosphere. Each poem is accompanied by an illustration of paintings, collage, or rubber stamps. There are strategically placed cutouts within some of the illustrations too, giving a tantalizing hint of what lies beyond, or on the next page for us earthbound types.

My favorite poem is "Pluto:"

     Pluto was a planet.
     But now it dosn't pass.
     Pluto was a planet.
     They say it's lacking mass.
     Pluto was a planet.
     Pluto was admired.
     Pluto was a planet.
     Till one day it got fired.

I've always felt sorry for Pluto - here it was minding its own business and just being itself, until suddenly one day some scientist decided it couldn't be a planet anymore. Mr. Florian expresses that same sentiment, albeit so much better than I ever could!

Mr. Florian also provides a "Galactic Glossary" and helpful bibliography at the end of his book. The glossary provides factual, helpful information useful to teachers who want to incorporate poetry into their astronomy lessons. One example is his entry for the minor planets:

         "The minor planets, also called asteroids
          or planetoids, are pieces of rock
          orbiting the Sun. The largest is Ceres,
          which is approximately 180 miles
          across. The greatest concentration of minor
is found between Mars and Jupiter
          in an area called the asteroid belt, where
          they likely number in the millions."

graphic from: accessed 3/24/2009.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Poetry Break Review - Poetry that does not rhyme

Introduction: One of the very first things I did when I moved to San Antonio was visit the Alamo. You walk through a greenery covered breezeway to enter the grounds. As soon as you enter the gardens behind the Mission itself, it's as if all sound is cut off - this is hallowed ground. This silence can be felt in the daytime as well as the nighttime. Do the tourists feel the reverence, or are they too busy being tourists?

Alamo Plaza at Night
by Carol Coffee Reposa

Even now, tourists come
To gaze up at the chipped facade,
Weathered double doors
Oaks twisting into dark, floodlights
Trained along their branches.
Cameras flash agaist white limestone
Pocked with centuries
And gunshots long ago.

Within the walls
And Roman arches
Heavy with their bars
Are tidy gardens:
Boston fern droops langidly
Toward fresh-cut grass
and copper plants.
Goldfish wallow in their quiet ponds.

Outside people talk about the mission,
Where to go, what to eat.
Visitors brood over maps
And time-lapse shots, children peering
At old plaques, words lost
Within a diesel's whine, the clop-clop
Of a horse's hooves, wind rising
In dark trees, voices gathered
Into the stones.

(From A STUDENTS’ TREASURY OF TEXAS POETRY by Billy Bob Hill, Editor. TCU Press 2002)

1. Read this poem as an introduction to the Texas Revolution in a Texas History class.
2. If you have the misfortune to not live in Texas, this poem could be read as an introduction to the Texan Revolution in an American history class.
3. Every culture has its special places – the Alamo, Arlington Cemetery, Osaka castle, and Tiananmen Square; just to name a few. In a high school world history class, read this poem, then lead a class discussion on why cultures need those special places.

Sketches from a Spy Tree - verse novel Book Review

SKETCHES FROM A SPY TREE: Zimmer, Tracie Vaughn, 2005. Illustrated by Andrew Glass. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company ISBN-13: 978-0-618-23479-0

Sketches from a Spy Tree is not your typical verse novel. Most of this genre is written for teenagers, but this novel is aimed squarely at middle schoolers. Tracie Vaughn Zimmer has written an intriguing collection of free verse poems that can be read individually. Read as a novel, though, they follow narrator Anne Marie, her identical twin Mary Anne, and their best friend May Ching, over the course of a couple of years as they explore their neighborhood, feelings, and learn to cope with life’s ups and downs. It also paints a ray of hope for upper elementary and younger middle schoolers who are struggling with a parent's remarriage.

At the beginning of this novel, 10 year old Anne Marie tells us about how her father left her mother and 3 daughters a couple of years before the story begins. Over the course of the novel, we learn about Anne Marie’s new stepfather, the neighbors, the frightening dog who lives 2 blocks away, the new baby sister, and how Anne Marie finally learns to care for her stepfather. Ms. Zimmer skillfully crafts this progression, with lines moving from “I’m the one with hate/painting my heart black.” (“The Twins”) to “I bite the side of my cheek/until after the I do’s/and clamp my eyes tight/for the kiss” (“The Kiss”) to “Our last name/is not the same/as Momma’s anymore/and there are days/I dislike him/just for that.” (“Names”) to the day when Mike, her stepdad, gives her the art supplies her father left behind when he left, “But right now I think I’ll/paint a picture/to fill the black spot/he wiped clean/in my heart.” (“Potential”). In the last poem, Anne Marie is carefully wrapping a self-portrait: “It’s a Father’s Day gift/for my stepdad, Mike.” (“Self-Portrait”). The very last page is a wonderful painting of Anne Marie with a sketchbook in hand and wide grin on her face. Could this be the self-portrait she gave to Mike? If so, Anne Marie has come a long way since the beginning of the novel.

Andrew Glass’s illustrations are primarily sketches and paintings which we are led to believe come from Anne Marie herself. Mr. Glass has used a combination of paintings, sketches, and collages to bring the poems to life. The paintings, especially, are vibrant, and filled with movement – after all, Anne Marie leads an active, typical 10 to 11 year old’s life. But she has her quiet moments too. The poem that gives the book its title, “Maple Street” is illustrated with a photo collage, and is my favorite from the book because I also had a tree I sat in to hide from the world when I was Anne Marie’s age.

Maple Street

There’s no doubt
where our street
found its name:
the gigantic maple tree
in front of Jamie Hamlin’s house.
His nose may run
green slime all year,
but he shares
the stale chocolate bars left over
from his family’s corner store
and besides,
like I said,
there’s his tree.

With my sketchbook and colored pencils,
I climb
the four largest limbs
into my tower,
the perfect place to draw
what I see:

Mary Anne and Emily
swinging higher and higher
their hair like two flags
in the wind

Paul and Carrie O’Brien
practicing karate moves before their four o’clock class.

From my tower
I can see the whole neighborhood.
But no one can see me,
hidden by these green and paper leves,
creating sketches
from a spy tree.

Both Tracie Vaughn Zimmer and Andrew Glass are twins. Tracie is an identical twin and Andrew is a fraternal twin, although he tells us in the dust jacket, “As fraternal twins, Alex and I never looked anything alike. He was a strapping football player type, while I was a skinny, artistic guy. Yet it was not unusual that as soon as people learned we were twins, they suddenly stopped being able to tell us apart.” Knowing that both the poet and artist of this book are twins just like their main character, gives this book a unique appeal.

Graphic from: accessed 3/6/2009