Fuse #8

Friday, April 21, 2006

Review of the Day: A Kick In the Head

It's Friday. For some time now the other children's literature bloggers have been participating in a kind of Poetry Friday type deal. Under normal circumstances the blogger in question would post a poem they particularly liked, whether it be one by Alexander Pope or a lovely little fib. All that is well and good, but poetry just ain't my bag, baby. Therefore, it makes far more sense if I review a book of poetry for children every Friday instead. And what better way to kick it off than with this, the most useful of poetry tomes I've found in quite some time.

Every year Poetry Month comes along and every year there are children's librarians like myself who shudder at its approach. Poetry. It's not something that every person in the world is going to appreciate right off the bat. So, if you're like myself, you get out a bunch of poetry books, put them in an area labeled "POETRY MONTH SELECTIONS" and then desperately search the internet for further poetry-related activities you can hold in your branch. This year I decided I'd try to do some poetry with the homeschooler bookgroup I run. What I really wanted was to show the kids lots of books with different kinds of poetic styles in them. A collection of poetic forms, if you will. I couldn't find anything perfect, however, so I just chalked it up to there being too few useful poetry books for kids in this world. Then I attended the Children's Book Committee annual breakfast at the Bank Street College of Education. And the winner of the 2005 Claudia Lewis Award, as it happened, was "A Kick In the Head", as selected by Paul B. Janeczko. I was curious so I picked it up. And right then and there it hit me that THIS was the book I'd been so desperately searching for all this time. It's a truly interesting collection of poetic forms done in such a way that kids will not only understand them, but want to write some of their own. After I recovered from the shock I returned to my library and sure enough, lo and behold, there was the book sitting perkily on my shelf where it had always been. So parents, educators, and librarians, heed my warning. Discover "A Kick In the Head" for your own Poetry Months before it's too late. Don't make the same mistake I did.

The book contains twenty-nine different poetic forms. Everything from your basic haikus and limericks to triolets, aubades, and pantoums. There are blues poems and clerihews, and even the rare riddle poem or two. Janeczko has culled the most amusing and child-friendly versions of these forms possible, and it works. For example, take the villanelle. You might not think it lends itself naturally to a child's reading, but then you see how cleverly Joan Bransfield Graham has created, "Is There a Villain In Your Villanelle?". And into this lively jumble we throw Chris Raschka's brightly colored mixed-media extravaganza. The result is a high-energy introduction to poetry in all its wild and wooly forms. A lovely amalgamation to say the least.

None of this is to say that there wasn't an odd choice or two. For the "found poem", Janeczko reprints Georgia Heard's, "The Paper Trail". The poem is a beautiful list of different kinds of writing, and it soon becomes clear that these are the scraps of paper and floated to the ground when the Twin Towers fell on 9/11. No mention of 9/11 is ever made, but you'd have to be pretty dense not to get the St. Paul's Cathedral reference. Fans of that old Cat Stevens song, "Morning Has Broken", will see it listed under the "aubade" section. And I, for one, had no idea that poem/song was written originally by classic children's author Eleanor Farjeon. Go figure.

I'm not normally a Raschka fan, by the way. Something about his images, I find off-putting. But I did enjoy a lot of what the artist decided to do here. For the "senryu" poem, for example, he was able to construct a month old cheese sandwich using only paper fibers of various orange, yellow, green (bleck!), and cream-colored shades. And if you think he had an easy job of this book then YOU try making an illustration for Shakespeare's "Sonnet Number Twelve". Even worse, make a picture for a poem imitating "Sonnet Number Twelve". It's doubly hard. So a tip of the hat to Raschka's efforts.

Now people are going to wonder what ages to hand this book to. I say, all. Obviously some of the poems, like the sonnets, aren't going to charm very small ones. But kids who like silly limericks or tankas that begin with words like, "Fish guts" will find their favorites in this selection. As for older kids, this book is useful well into high school. At that point the students will start appreciating the difficulty behind some of the more elaborate poems. A lovely addition to every library and I dare say a necessary one. No poetry section is complete without this book.


At 10:36 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of my favorites along with A Poke in the Eye! I am a Raschka fan and find the pairing of his art with poetry especially pleasing. There is a video clip that includes some footage of him painting on Teaching Books.


At 11:30 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

The cover art alone is enough to get my attention, and now I'm wishing I had had this book back when the Girlchild was ten and moaning that she didn't like poetry.

I get that poetry is not your bag, baby, but I am a little sad because I've been trying to trace down a kid's poem forever without luck. On the off chance, the first line is: "is you wore my sneakers"

At 11:47 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had a different reaction to this book, which I ordered through Scholastic for my first-grader. Looked great in the catalog, but when I finally saw the book, I could not figure out for whom it was compiled. Finally I thought that it would work for an adult writing workshop, who'd likely have a lot of interest in all those different forms. The 9/11 poem that didn't acknowledge it was a 9/11 poem struck me as a particularly odd inclusion.

But that's the way some children's poetry books seem to me. Either too adult (this is good for you, kids) or too straining-to-please and doofy. Several other recent poetry books, ordered sight unseen, were waaaay too full of stuff about bad cafeteria food, mean substitutes, etc.

At 12:19 PM , Blogger fusenumber8 said...

I can see the problems with handing this to a first-grader. Raschka's illustrations are a concession to young 'uns, but I wouldn't label these poem slam-bang good times. But then, as I've mentioned before, poetry and I remain friends but we really feel like we should see different people. And really, how many other books of this kind can you even find out there? My sole regret is that "fibs" were so new that they didn't make the publication. By the way, I did a small search for "if you wore my sneakers", but I didn't get far. A full poetry search might yield some results. Perhaps others have heard the line.

At 3:14 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

My dear Fuseody,
(who is tetchy about her prosedy)

--you would like the poem
by Ogden Nash
called "Very Like a Whale"
(which it isn't)!

Here's a bit
to make you grin:

"One thing that literature would be greatly the better for

Would be a more restricted employment by authors of simile and metaphor.

Authors of all races, be they Greeks, Romans, Teutons or Celts,

Can't seem just to say that anything is the thing it is but have to go out of their way to say that it is like something else....."

From the poem:
Very Like a Whale
by Ogden Nash



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