Friday, September 25, 2009

if you find a rock

Today Poetry Friday is hosted by Susan Taylor Brown--thanks!

In our county, first graders spend the fall on a science unit about Rocks, Soil and Worms, and in my class the initial reading assessment requirements are nearly fulfilled so I'm looking forward to Rocktober.

You know how some books reach in and grab you by the heart? If You Find a Rock by Peggy Christian is one of those for me. It's not marketed as a volume of poetry, but it works that way, and the "colortoned" photos by Barbara Hirsch Lember picture, in a slightly surreal way, real children doing real things with real rocks. They fill the simple, measured text with even more gravity. The message is that playing with rocks is serious business. Here's a sample.

If you find a rock--
a big rock--
by the edge of the water,
then you have found
a splashing rock.
When it hits the surface,
the water jumps
out of the way,
raining back down
on your outstretched hands.
The bigger the rock,
the wetter you get.

The other thing I love about this book is its element of magical realism--there's science content here, physics and biology and paleontology, but it's all mixed in with aesthetics and emotion and even the possibility of wishes granted. Just like real life.

And now, to spoil the mood, I must just announce again that THURSDAY IS THE DAY! Pumpkin Butterfly: Poems from the Other Side of Nature has its official release this week! Become PB's fan on facebook!

Friday, September 18, 2009

"this curriculum sponsored in part by Tom Chapin"

Today's poem is really part of a song from Tom Chapin's album "Billy the Squid." In case you don't know him, Tom Chapin is a musician famous for being Harry Chapin's younger brother--but I'd risk asserting that his music for kids is known by far more people because of his downright usefulness in the classroom.

The first day of school I sent my first-graders out delightedly singing verse one of "Great Big Words"--because there's great pleasure in being able to announce to grown-ups that you're an "eager bibliophile." And here I give a loud shout-out to John Forster, a frequent lyricist for Tom Chapin. I can't confirm that he wrote the lyrics for this one, but his wordsmithing is behind most of the other cleverly composed, perfectly appropriate yet never syrupy songs I've taught children over the years. All join in!

La, la, la la la la la, la, la, la!
When I was a little kid (a diminutive juvenile),
I liked my folks to read to me--I was an eager bibliophile.
Now I like words for how they sound and how they communicate...
I guess I should explain myself--that is, elucidate.
Great big words, I love big words!
Letter by letter, the bigger the better--
Great big words!

Now maybe you're adept at sports or excellent at school,
Or maybe you're vainglorious (which means you think you're cool).
But give me a massive ideogram (a big word) to make my point--
When you can verbalize your thoughts, you can really rock the joint!
Great big words, I love big words!
I get a thrill out of every syllable--
Great big words!

Big words are prodigious terms; now don't they sound delicious?
They impress your teachers, confuse your folks, and make your friends suspicious.
But that's okay; we'll start a trend that soon will sweep the nation:
The Hyperlinguistic Polysyllabic Speech Association!
Great big words, I love big words!
Letter by letter, the bigger the better--
Great big words!

La, la, la la la la la, la, la, la!

Friday, September 4, 2009

a big little beginning

Poetry Friday is hosted today at Crossover by Kelly Herold.

Today will be my fourth day with a rather phenomenal group of 1st graders. They've all arrived in my RLA classroom reading like 3rd-graders, and on the first day, when we began by reading Chrysanthemum (need I add 'by Kevin Henkes'?) and talking about names, they could all count the vowels, consonants and syllables in their own names. They could fill in a blank to describe their names as short, long, cute, Spanish, "un-comen" and "pawrfl" words.

But in general they write like kindergarteners, and they are only 6, and therein lies my delicious challenge: to lead them into rich, juicy literacy projects that call on their established skills (and not inconsiderable smarts) while respecting their 6-year-old hearts. Where better to start than with Ruth Krauss?

Beginning on Paper

on paper
I write it
on rain

I write it
on stones
on my boots

on trees
I write it
on the air

on the city
how pretty
I write my name

~Ruth Krauss, from the anthology Sing a Song of Popcorn

We started on Tuesday; by Wednesday they'd done their first choral reading, exchanging the "on" lines and the "I" lines, and yesterday we turned our backs on the chart and said it by heart. C'est parti, mes amis! (which is a prettier way to say, "And they're off!)