LS 5663 Performance Poetry

Fleischman, Paul. Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices. Illustrated by Eric Beddows. New York, HarperTrophy. 1988. ISBN 0060218533

Upon hearing the title, Joyful Noise, many things come to mind, music, choirs, church, happy children, laughter, birdsong.  What doesn’t come to mind is insects.  However, Fleischman’s Joyful Noise is a collection of poetry for two voices with insects as the subject matter (and speakers).

For any single person reading this book, it is confusing.  Since the poems were written for two voices to read together, it has unique problems for a solo reader.  Which side of the poem do you read first?  How do you even read one of these poems? (To be fair, there is a note at the beginning to explain these first two questions.) How does this actually sound? It is difficult (though not entirely impossible) for one person to read these poems aloud and understand how they were intended.  For one person, it requires a recording device…phone, computer, microphone…tape deck, and playing back the reading already recorded while reading the other side.  Easy?  No, but possible.  The most effective way to appreciate this book is to grab a friend and head to a park or a place where neither of you mind reading poetry aloud.

Beddows’s pencil drawings are wonderfully detailed and potentially creepy (especially if you don’t like mayflies or beetles).  While some are focused on accuracy to the insect, others like the book lice are more like cartoon insects than what would be found in a science text.

For Joyful Noise to work in a library setting, the librarian would require pairs of kids and a partner.  Even so, this would likely work better for teens than elementary aged children.  It’s hard enough for adults to read a poem in synch without getting frustrated with each other.  That being said, Joyful Noise offers a wonderful opportunity to remind children of the power of hearing poetry as opposed to simply reading it.  Another nice thing about this requiring a friend, the reader is not alone.  It isn’t one person reading by themselves, it’s a pair of voices.  This may encourage more pairs to participate simply because they aren’t reading alone.

Spotlight Poem

Fireflies by Paul Fleischman

Light                                               Light
.                                                       is the ink we use
Night                                               Night
is our parchment

.                                                        We’re.                                                         fireflies
fireflies                                            flickering
.                                                        flashing
glimmering                                     fireflies
.                                                        gleaming
Insect calligraphers                       Insect calligraphers
practicing penmanship
.                                                         copying sentences
Six-legged scribblers                     Six-legged scribblers
of vanishing messages,
.                                                          fleeting graffiti
Fine artists in flight                       Fine artists in flight
adding dabs of light
.                                                          bright brush strokes
Signing the June nights                Signing the June nights
as if they were paintings               as if they were paintings
.                                                         We’re
flickering                                          fireflies
fireflies                                              flickering
fireflies.                                             fireflies.

Perhaps the most obvious activity to do with any of the poems in this book would be to encourage the pairs of teens to write their own poems for two voices.  In this poem, the fireflies are artists.  Perhaps the students could make similar comparisons.  For example, a painter could be considered a type of chemist, mixing paints and even other materials (glitter, bark, beads) together to create strange new wonders (new colors, interesting textures, whatever the final image is) and sometimes, whatever it is the artist is trying to make blows up in their face just as much as an unstable chemical mixture.  Could a mathematician or concert band member be an athlete?  If using this example, I would emphasize concert band, because if any of the teens are in the school’s marching band, they are probably pretty adamant about the athletic ability required to march and play at the same time (yes, I would be one of them).  If they want to, they should be encouraged to read their own creations aloud.


Newbery Award Winner 1989


“While most poetry can be appreciated by solitary, silent readers, Fleischman’s poems demand to be read aloud. That the words are not intended for private study is clear from the subtitle, Poems for Two Voices.”


Larson, David. The Five Owls. 1988. (Vol. 2, No. 6) Accessed via CLCD at



LS 5663 Hopkins Award Poetry

Coombs, Kate. Water Sings Blue: Ocean Poems. Illustrated by Meilo So. San Francisco, Chronicle Books. 2012. ISBN 9780811872843

Coombs’s Water Sings Blue covers every inch of the ocean, from the shipwrecks and coral on the sea floor, to the tide line and tidal pools.  Even the seagulls have their place in this collection.  Just as Coombs gives voice to each thing through poetry (most of which are told from the point of view of the subject matter), So brings the poetry to life with vivid watercolor images.

The poems have various forms, couplets and quatrains being the most common, yet each have some type of rhyme to them.  Some, such as “What the Wave Say” contain the rhyme scheme in the individual line, as opposed to in a couplet. Many rhyme on alternating lines (the abcb scheme you may remember from middle school and beyond).  Some of the poems are quirky, in “Sea Urchin” the urchin falls in love with a fork. Some invoke images of old fisherman talking to children, as in “Old Driftwood” where the driftwood is telling tales of whales “thi-i-i-s big” to twigs. However others, such as “Shipwreck” and “Shark” have a darker tone.  They remind the reader that as wonderful and fun the ocean is, there is still danger.

So’s watercolor images are beautiful.  Some are slightly cartoonish, others could be photographs, one in particular (the one on the page with both “Blue Whale” and “Shipwreck”) uses a technique called “wet-on-wet” (which involves putting wet watercolor onto already wet paper) to create fuzzy organic lines in the deep water that contrast from the hard edges of the waves on the top of the page.  However, So invokes images of Japanese woodblock printings, specifically Hokusai’s The Great Wave off Kanagawa, around the poem “What the Waves Say.”

This collection seems to be geared towards independent readers (if only because many of the poems beg for multiple readings and extensive studying of their accompanying images).  However, a young child would likely enjoy some of the poems, such as the poem about the tide line. While at first glance, it may not seem to be something high school students would enjoy, the depth of the poems and the interesting perspectives may interest them.

Spotlight Poem

Sand’s Story by Kate Coombs

We used to be rocks,
we used to be  stones.
We stood proud as castles,
alters, and thrones.

Once we were massive,
looming in rings,
holding up temples
and posing as kings.

Now we grind and we grumble,
humbled and grave,
at the touch of our breaker
and maker, the wave.

This is another one of the darker poems in the collection.  If the library is near a beach, it would be interesting to encourage the children to go look at the sand and the rocks around the beach and image what they once looked like or what they could have been.  This poem could connect to erosion or time.  It would be an interesting introductions to some of the great structures of the world (both ancient such as Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids and modern) as a reminder that over time, things are lost, whether it be knowledge or form.


Lee Bennett Hopkins Award 2013


Booklist Starred Review- “Varied in form and tone as well as subject, these short, precisely worded poems offer new takes on seemingly familiar subjects and subtly shift the reader’s way of seeing. So’s watercolor illustrations work in tandem with the playful, evocative verse, taking key words and ideas as inspiration for brilliantly watery scenes that are sometimes brightly colored, sometimes barely tinted, but consistently well balanced and well executed.”

Phelan, Carolyn. Booklist. 2012. (Vol. 108, No. 16) Accessed via CLCD at


LS 5663 Sidman Poetry

Sidman, Joyce. Dark Emperor & Other Poems of the Night. Illustrated by Rick Allen. New York, Houghton Milton Books for Children. 2010. ISBN 9780547152288

Sidman’s Dark Emperor is a wonderful collection of night poems…that happens to also be educational.  Why do I add educational as an afterthought considering each poem’s facing page has interesting factual information about the subject of the poem?  The fact is, it would be just as wonderful without the science lesson.  For someone who likes poetry or nocturnal things (or both), as interesting as the information is, it is the poetry and the illustrations that hook the reader.  This collection works well for all ages.  It can be read aloud to young children.  It can be used for elementary science classes.  It can surprise older students with interesting facts about topics they thought they knew everything about.  It can remind adults of when the night was both scary and the coolest think ever.  The night hasn’t changed.

Allen’s relief and watercolor images creep, crawl, flutter, and grow beyond their simple black frame.  Yet, despite the fact that these intriguing images cross their boundaries, they never intrude on the poetry (the small font facts wrap around the edges on several pages though).  The images mirror the topic or voice of the poem.  With one notable exception, the image with “Oak after Dark” which only made sense to me after I read the poem, the images quietly tell the theme of the poem without requiring the reader to read the poem.  If there is a giant image of a spider, the odds are, the poem is about a spider.

The actual poems vary in type an length, but all lend themselves to being read aloud.  Take “The Mushrooms Come,” for example.  The phrase, “the mushrooms come” is repeated at the end of every stanza.  Read silently, this line can easily be scanned over (especially in the last two stanzas where it is repeated twice).  However, once read aloud it conveys a very different meaning.  Suddenly, the phrase is the focal point.  It’s the beat of a war drum.  It lends the poem an almost sinister air (or if you happen to like mushrooms, it can be more of a solemn invocation).

Finally, let’s look at the facts.  I mentioned earlier they are in small type and this is true, but they also have bold keywords that correspond to a small glossary in the back of the book.  Each chunk of facts has something to do with the subject of the poem.  Usually, there are some common facts, spiders spin webs out of silk they produce, alongside slightly more obscure but interesting facts, when orb spiders are done hunting they eat their webs.  The facts ground the somewhat mystical poems and seemingly fantastical images.  They remind the reader that these interesting things they are reading about are real.

Spotlight Poem

Welcome to the Night by Joyce Sidman

To all of you who crawl and creep,
who buzz and chirp and hoot and peep,
who wake at dusk and throw off sleep:
Welcome to the night.

To you who make the forest sing,
who dip and dodge on silent wing,
who flutter, hover, clasp, and cling:
Welcome to the night!

Come feel the cool and shadowed breeze,
come smell your way among the trees,
come touch rough bark and leathered leaves:
Welcome to the night.

The night’s a sea of dappled dark,
the night’s a feast of sound and spark,
the night’s a wild, enchanted park.
Welcome to the night!

It may not surprise you to learn, this is the first poem in the book.  It’s an effective and haunting introduction.  Younger kids would likely have fun guessing what kinds of things will be in this book based on the words in this introduction.  What flies at night?  What chirps?  What crawls?  What comes out at night?  For older kids (and teens) this poem presents a great framework.  Three rhyming lines followed by a repeating line offers a not so impossible outline for a poem.  They could write their own introductions to the night, or they could introduce something they enjoy (welcome to basketball, welcome to videogames, welcome to *insert least favorite class here*).  The librarian can offer a welcome to the library.  If they were comfortable enough, they could change the repeating line.  The poem could be spooky repeating something like “I see you,” or sad with “The rain still falls,” or (to get back on a sports theme) “Swish! Nothing but net!”


Newbery Honor book 2011

Lee Bennett Hopkins Honor book 2011


“Sidman’s verse is sophisticated yet factual, each poem providing an excellent lead-in for the paragraph of prose information about the featured critter or thing, and there’s an entertaining play in mood as well as in style and form (readers will particularly warm to the light humor of “I Am a Baby Porcupette” and the slightly ominous inexorability of “The Mushrooms Come”)…This is a fine collection for classroom use at any time, but it’ll bring extra impact to those who can find a way to share it at dusk with the lights dimmed, watching through the windows as the nocturnal ballet begins outside.”

Stevenson, Deborah. The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books. 2010. (Vol. 64, No. 1) Accessed via CLCD at

LS 5663 Social Studies Poetry

Shields, Carol Diggory. Brain Juice American History: Fresh Squeezed! Illustrated by Richard Thompson. New York, Handprint Books. 2002. ISBN 1929766629

Brain Juice American History is everything a person who doesn’t like history could want.  It’s funny.  It’s educational.  It’s brief.  That third point may be the most important for reluctant learners.  Upon reading Shields’s introduction I realized, she was just like me.  History was something to be dreaded.  Not with Brain Juice.

While the running timeline across the top of the pages could be helpful, it is also full of quips and not quite truths (like the Emancipation Proclamation “freeing all slaves”).  Despite this lapse in accuracy, the collection is a fun read, with Thompson’s illustrations often being sharply charactured or satirical.

While nearly all of the poems rhyme, some are set to specific tunes, such as “To the Tune of…” which it notes should be sung to the tune of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”  Some mock the modern era, such as “Y2K,” some point out forgotten facts, “The first Americans were dinosaurs,” and others such as the poems about the Civil War or 9/11 remind us that there is a price that goes with being free to have the levity.

This collection is ageless.  I want this as my history book.  For young children, it is an introduction.  For the middle grades, a new perspective or poking fun.  For high schoolers, who ‘everyone’ knows are way to cool (or busy) to care what happened yesterday much less in history, it is a reminder that history is both fun and significant.

Spotlight Poem

World War II by Carol Diggory Shields

In our very own galaxy, not long ago,

An evil empire began to grow.

Hitler, Tojo, Mussolini,

Each worse than a movie meanie,

Three dictators with a single goal:

“We want the world under our control!”

But they were defeated, not by computers,

Spaceships, or intergalactic shooters,

Or robot weapons, or laser spears,

But by men and women

and their blood, sweat, and tears.


This poem is one that, though it starts out lighthearted, reminds the reader that there is, in fact, a price to be paid.  Encourage the student to ask their family if anyone served in the Great War and which theater.  It is a reminder that history is very much still effecting us today.  Do their parents remember where they were on December 7th?  For that matter, do the kids older siblings, or older cousins, or parents remember where they were on September 11th?  Unlike many in this book that invite laughter, the poems like “World War II” or “Trail of Tears” invite reflection and remembrance.


Kirkus–“In deft, light verse, Shields (Food Fight, p. 963, etc.) revisits dozens of high and low spots in this country’s history, to which political cartoonist Thompson appends plenty of fine-lined, tongue-in-cheek caricatures and vignettes. The tone is generally, but not always, jocular;”


Kirkus. Kirkus Reviews. 2002. (Vol. 70, No. 23.) Retrieved from CLCD at

LS 5663 Science Poetry

Florian, Douglas. Comets, Stars, the Moon, and Mars. Harcourt, Inc. 2007. ISBN 9780152053727

Comets, Stars, the Moon, and Mars is a bit of a conundrum.  For the most part, it is an enjoyable (mostly) linear collection of poems about space and the planets with interesting, if strange, illustrations and fun circular cutouts that fit around a planet or the sun.  On the other hand, things such as the names of the moons (which are wrapped around the moon they are naming) can be hard to read or in the case of craters and segments of the planets confusing if you were not aware parts of planets or Earth’s moon are named.

One thing to be said for the individual poems is that they are brief.  If a class is studying black holes one day an Mars the next (or perhaps it would make more sense to say Mars one day an Jupiter the next), this collection makes it easy to start the day off with a poem on the appropriate topic.  In fact, the poems in some cases, stand better without the confusing images.

This collection does include a glossary and further reading list, which would be extremely helpful to a young independent reader.  This book lends itself towards a more mature reader, yet at the same time, the very same pictures that would confound a young reader would possibly put off an older one due to the strange color scheme that includes chartreuse, rust, burn umber, and what suspiciously looks like red crayon.

Spotlight Poem

Pluto by Douglas Florian

Pluto was a planet.

But now it doesn’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.


For student’s who didn’t grow up with nine planets, which should be most of them now, it would be fun to use this to explore how science is still learning and changing.  Perhaps, if the library had the permissions and resources, they could show The Magic School Bus: Lost in Space.  That specific 1994 episode, is about a trip through the solar system including the ninth planet, Pluto.  It would be interesting to hear children’s definitions of what is or is not a planet. (I remember shortly after it was decided that Pluto was not a planet there were “tombstones” for Pluto throughout the science wing of my high school.  Something similar could be done with the children making up elegies and epitaphs.)


Mind the Gap, 2006 Best Summation of the Pluto problem in the US.

Kirkus Book Review Stars



Kirkus–“From the universe, the sequence narrows its focus to the galaxy, the solar system and then each body in turn, from the sun to poor demoted Pluto, and beyond. The verse is characteristically playful, wrapping itself around astronomical facts with ease. ”


Kirkus. Kirkus Reviews. 2007. (Vol. 75, No. 6.) Retrieved via CLCD at

LS 5663 Biographical Poetry

Hopkins, Lee Bennett, comp. Lives: Poems About Famous Americans. Illustrated by Leslie Staub. HarperCollins Publishers. 1999. ISBN 0060277688  

Lives is a collection of fourteen poems.  Each poem is about a different notable figure in American history.  These poems are supplemented not only by Staub’s illustrations, but also by a glossary at the end of the collection (titled “notes on the lives” by Hopkins).

Many of the poems have similar forms.  They are each short enough to fit on one page, the opposite page features an illustration of the person the poem features, and several are in traditional stanzas.  That being said, the variety in these seemingly similar poems is refreshing.  “A Song for Sacagawea” and “JFK: Perseverance Furthers”easily the two longest in the collection, are not the first and last, but the second and next to last.  “Till,” the poem about Helen Keller, is the one in the collection that seems to take advantage of it’s limited space by using space to create the feeling of Helen waiting for Ann.

This collection would be good for elementary aged children, though an explanation of who exactly Walt Whitman is may be required.  Not only is the format easy to follow, there will be a poem opposite a picture every time, the words are just hard enough to encourage an aspiring reader, but not so hard that they will become frustrated.

Staub’s illustrations are clear and precise with bright colors.  Each person is surrounded by something that helps define who they are, or by something that is described in the poem.  That being said, I found them slightly disconcerting.  For those familiar with art, I would put the illustrations in the “uncanny valley,” which is a place where you know something is fake (and it appears fake) but it is realistic enough to be off putting.

Spotlight Poem

American Wizard by Lawrence Schimel

A shout

rang out

in Menlow Park

one New Year’s Eve


as people

stepped down

from the train

into dark


and he pulled

the switch–


a flood of light

lit up the night!


What marvelous lamps

without gas

or flame!


The people cheered

Thomas Edison’s name

and his marvel

that turned dusk




Depending on the age of the audience, several things can be done with this poem.  For example, if all you show them is the title, “American Wizard” and ask them who and what they think it is about, you would likely get a variety of answers.  If all of those were written down, with emphasis on the “what” and then read the poem, you could ask if it was about what they thought.  If the answers supplied were along the lines of magic, ask what is magic?  Is it the impossible happening?  If so, then wouldn’t Edison’s illumination of Menlow Park be considered magic?  If the kids didn’t know who Thomas Edison was, this is a fun introduction (though to be fair, his spectacular failures should be discussed as well).



H.W. Wilson’s Children’s Collection (2006)


Booklist–” Each poem appears on a left-hand page facing a bordered portrait painted in a flat, naive style and centering subjects against backgrounds that reflect something significant in their lives. Ending the book, two pages of notes feature a paragraph of information about each person featured in the verse.”


Phelan, Carolyn. Booklist. March 1999. Vol. 95, No. 14.