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Sunday, March 19, 2017

Keep a Pocket in Your Poem: Classic Poems and Playful Parodies, written and selected by J. Patrick Lewis and illustrated by Johanna Wright. Wordsong, An Imprint of Highlights. 2017. $23.50 ages 5 and up


I think rats
Are really brats.

Their teeth are sharp,
Their hearts are black
As charcoal from
The love they lack.
They're rightly known
As evildoers ... "

When I was conducting poetry workshops in schools, I had a rule that I hoped everyone would make a habit. I asked both kids and teachers to have a poem in their pockets when they came to school in the morning. You know that the 'keeners' were sure to make it part of their day. Others didn't remember. Some didn't care. I wasn't hoping to convert every person in the school to a love of poetry ... that would never work! What I was hoping was that I would make a difference for those who fell in love with the poetic form as I had. That love did not come from my early encounters with poetry. Most of those were painful, as the intention was to try to figure out what the poet was thinking and wanting to convey. How was I to know that, unless I could speak directly with the poet? It all seemed speculation to me, and didn't help me love poetry at all. So, I began sharing poetry with the children in my classroom to bolster their love of words and the ways we can use them. Every day, we shared a poem or two. They had many favorites. As did I!

J. Patrick Lewis was one of the poets I turned to in order to find poems that would resonate with the children - funny, thoughtful, original, and entertaining. I am always keen to see what he is up to next. He never fails to gather me in, and teach me something new. His new collection is a combination of selected poems (he is a brilliant anthologist), and then original poetry meant to echo or parody the meaning of the chosen ones.

Mr. Lewis has selected thirteen:

"SOMETIMES, WHEN I READ A WONDERFUL POEM, I want to write a parody of it. For me, this is the best way to pay tribute to someone else's work.

Of the hundreds of poems I admire, here are thirteen that appealed to the tinkering part of my brain. (Of course I could have tinkered with many others.) So I took the poems apart and put them back together, but in my own words."

Interesting! What a terrific collection this is! It also serves as inspiration for you, your children and students to give it a go. Some of the poems will be familiar, others will not. But, you will quickly realize which are favorites from this selection. If not, go to the library, gather up books to be shared, and take some time to find a few poems that speak to you. Be sure to take a close look at what is included here, as they will get you thinking seriously about the way you might make some changes of your own.

I have already begun with a short excerpt from a poem modelled on Rose Fyleman's classic Mice. I love that he turned the poem into a parody between the two rodents, one much scarier and more detested than the other. It provides real balance between them.

Johanna Wright uses acrylic paint and ink on canvas to bring life to the poems on either side of the gutter. She lets readers see that the two poems are reflective of the other, with colorful, emotional images that add to the appeal of the book as a whole.

The following two face each other:

Winter Sweetness                                                 
Langston Hughes                                                     

This little house is sugar.                                         
 Its roof with snow is piled,                             
And from its tiny window                                       
 Peeps a maple-sugar child.        

 Winter Warmth  
J. Patrick Lewis

This little book is cocoa.
  It warms me when it steams,
And from its toasty pages
 Spiral my marshmallow dreams.

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