Friday, February 20, 2009

Poetry Book Review: mammalabilia


Written and Illustrated by: Douglas Florian

Publisher: Harcourt Books, 2000

ISBN: 0-15-202167-1


A New York Times Book Review Best Illustrated Book of the Year
ABA's Pick of the LIsts
A Horn Book Fanfare Selection
An IRA-CBC Children's Choice
A New York Public Library 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing
An Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Award Winner
A Parent's Guide Children's Medai Award Winner
A Parenting Reading Mgic Award
A Smithsonian Magazine Notable Book for Children


This colorful and fun collection of poetry features furry mammals. A variety of fun mammals are described in entertaining poems that will often make the reader laugh out loud. Often the text is arranged on the page to resemble the animal it is describing (See "The Porcupine" on page 45). This technique adds another unique feature to an already extremely appealing book. The colorful illustrations that accompany each poem will enhance the reader's delight as they read and enjoy each poem.

My Thoughts About this Book:

I first became aware of Douglas Florian's poems when beast feast was a Texas Bluebonnet nominee several years ago. Since then, I have enjoyed reading his poems to students, who find them every bit as entertaining as I do. mammalabilia is one of my favorite collections. I'm sure one of the main reasons I enjoy is because I have always been a big fan of the mammals. I spent many summers working at the Fort Worth Zoo as a Zoo School Teacher, and this would have been an excellent resource to have used in the classes I taught. Many of the short, fun poems featured in the book are perfect to memorize and recite, and would have helped add to the zoo experience as I led my class to the animal we were observing.

The book is appealing in the way it is put together from the beautiful full color illustrations to the fun poetry that works perfectly with each picture. In a few words, Douglas Florian captures the essence of each animal, and the reader almost expects to see the illustrations leap from the page at them. I love how he often uses the text of the poem to "draw" the animal as well, forming camel humps or porcupine quills to present the poem in a fun format.

This book is an excellent addition to any poetry collection--particularly one that belongs to someone who is an animal lover! mammalabilia is well deserving of the numerous honors it has accumulated.

Review Excerpt:

From School Library Journal: "The artist's renderings draw readers into the poem and invite repeated viewings after reading the verse. Pair this title with Mary Ann Hoberman and Malcah Zeldis's A Fine Fat Pig (HarperCollins, 1991) to show children the diversity of images that animals may evoke for poets and artists. Florian has created a zoological garden of delights."

Poetry Book Review: Hip Hop Speaks to Children

Hip Hop Speaks to Children: A Celebration of Poetry With a Beat

Edited by: Nikki Giovanni

Illustrated by: Kristen Balouch, Michele Noiset, Jeremy Tugeau, Alicia Vergel de Dios, and Damian Ward

Published by: Source Books, Inc., 2008

ISBN: 978-1-4022-1048-8


This colorful volume of poetry is full of beautiful words by a variety of notable poets, performers, and even historical figures. There are numerous styles of poetry presented in this book, all ones that encourage the reader to read out loud and with a beat. An accompanying CD features performances by the authors of some of the works. Beautifully colored illustrations accompany each piece enriching the appeal of this book.

My Thoughts About this Book:

From the moment you hold this book in your hands, you know it is a treasure. From the over sized pages, featuring colorful illustrations and numerous art styles to the wealth of poems by noted poets of color featured, this book has something for everyone. I enjoyed the unique layout of each poem featured in the book. Every page turn brought another treat for the eyes in how the poem was presented. The list of authors read like a "Who's Who of Poetry" including Langston Hughes, Eloise Greenfield, Maya Angelou, and even Queen Latifah.

The accompanying CD allows you to hear many of the poems performed by the authors. I particularly enjoyed editor, Nikki Giovonni's descriptions of the different styles of poetry and how they came to be interspersed in between the poetry performances on the CD. The audio performances, allow opportunities for students to hear these poets read their poems with their unique inflection and expression and understanding that only the author of the work could bring to a performance of the poem. I found the recording of Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech a nice addition to the CD, as well as the vocal interpretation of the speech by Nikki Giovanni, Oni Lasana, and Val Gray Ward that ends the CD. I think this would be a great way to inspire students to turn a well-known speech into performance art.

If you are planning to do performance poetry with any age group, I highly recommend this book. The works included here will make a memorable performance for any audience.

Review Excerpt:

From Booklist: "With appeal for preliterate children, their great grandparents, and every generation between, this will be fun for families to share as they get their groove on."

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Poetry Break: A Poem from an NCTE Award Winning Poet

Poem: "Pencils" by Barbara Esbensen

Book: A Jar of Tiny Stars: Poems by NCTE Award Winning Poets Edited by Bernice E. Cullinan

Pubisher: Wordsong, 1996

Introduction: Give each student a brand new pencil. Ask students to name some of the things that are going to be written with their pencil. List responses on a piece of chart paper. Encourage responses that involve things you can create with a pencil. Such as a drawing, a poem or story. Once all responses have been recorded, review the list, and then ask students to listen to the poem.

by Barbara Esbensen

The rooms in a pencil
are narrow
but elephants candles and
fit in

In a pencil
noisy words yell for attention
and quiet words wait their turn

How did the slip
into such a tight place?
gives them their

From a broken pencil
an unbroken poem will come!
There is a long story living
in the shortest pencil

Every word in your
is fearless ready to walk
the blue tightrope lines
to teeter and smile
down Ready to come right out
and show you


After reading, have students re-read the poem with you. Use the poem as an introduction to a sustained silent writing time and have students respond to the poem in some way using a pencil. They can draw or write anything they feel inspired to create. Post the finished work of students who wish to share on the wall under the title, "Creations Born From Our Pencils!"

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Poetry Break: African American Poetry

Poem: A Lesson from the Deaf

Book: Thanks a Million by Nikki Grimes

Publisher: Greenwillow Books, 2006

Introduction: Ask students if they know how people who can't hear "speak." Explain how deaf people use sign language to communicate with others. Tell students that this poem explains how to make the sign for "Thank You" in American Sign Language. Have students listen as you read the poem:

A Lesson from the Deaf
by Nikki Grimes

First, sweep one hand
up to your mouth,
as if to blow a velvet kiss.
Like this.

Second, drop that hand
into the other,
crisscross, open palms staring
at the sky.
Do you see?
How your clever hands
create a butterfly?

(Think of shadows
you shape upon a wall at night.
But this is more than play.)

Stand before someone
who has been kind to you.
Follow steps one and two,
and without breathing a word,
your "thank you" will be heard.


Show students the sign for "thank you." Make the sign together. Re-read the poem and make the "thank you" sign together as it is described throughout the poem. Encourage students to say "thank you" to others in sign language like the last stanza of the poem suggests.

Poetry Break: School/Library/Books

Poem: The Big-Word Girl

From the Book: Please Bury Me in the Library by J. Patrick Lewis

Publisher: Gulliver Books, 2005


Ask students if they know the name of the book we use to look up words we may not know how to spell. Prompt them to answer "dictionary" if they are stuck. If students are familiar with dictionaries and their uses, ask them to list some of the reasons one might need to use a dictionary. List these reasons on chart paper. Explain that we can also use the dictionary to learn new words to use, like the character in the following poem:

The Big-Word Girl
by J. Patrick Lewis

Of all the clever girls I know,
Elaine's the one who counts.
But what she counts are syllables
In words I can't pronounce.

I took her to a horror show--
(Godzilla Meets Tooth Fairy)--
But she could not unglue her eyes
From Webster's Dictionary.

She put her trembling hand in mine
(Godzilla smashed the floor!),
For she had come across a word
She'd never seen before!

But when the lights came on, Elaine
Was sound asleep and snoring.
I woke her up. She yawned and said,
"How Uncustomarily,


Post a copy of the poem in the library, next to where the dictionary is displayed. Also post a piece of blank chart paper next to the poem. Encourage students to look up words they come across as they read that they may not know the meaning of. Have students list these words and their meanings on the blank chart paper.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Poetry Book Review: LIVES: Poems About Famous Americans

LIVES: Poems About Famous Americans

Selected by: Lee Bennett Hopkins

Illustrated by: Leslie Staub

Published by: HarperCollins Publishers, 1999

ISBN: 0-06-027767-X

Awards/Recognitions: Notable Children's Trade Books in the Field of Social Studies 2000, National Council for Social Studies & Children's Book Council


This volume of poetry is rich with history, focusing on sixteen individuals who contributed to the history of our country in a significant way. Through fourteen poems, twelve especially written for this book, readers learn about the mark these important individuals left behind.

My Thoughts About this Book:

As a self-proclaimed American history nerd, this book was a treasure to me. I felt drawn to each poem, and was totally lost in the words describing these important Americans. I enjoyed the variety of historical figures used in the collection. From writers (Langston Hughes) to sports celebrities (Babe Ruth) to presidents (Abraham Lincoln), the people highlighted in this book help bring American history to life for any reader. Well known poets (Jane Yolen, Nikki Grimes) create verses that truly capture each individual and their unique contributions to our history and culture. There are a variety of poetic styles for the reader to experience throughout the book. Each poem's subject speaks to the reader with a clear voice and allows the reader to get a feel for the subject's personality and character. Since each poem does relate in some way to a historic event or person, the works are timeless and will have meaning to any future generation.

The illustrations by Leslie Staub are an added bonus, allowing the reader to picture each individual as they read the poems. This book is one that any young history enthusiast should be exposed to again and again.

Review Excerpt:

From School Library Journal: There is a good balance of men and women represented as well as a variety of personalities from Eleanor Roosevelt and Rosa Parks to Neil Armstrong and Langston Hughes. Hopkins's eloquent introduction praises the power of poetry. A winning combination of poems and illustrations.