LS 5663 Poetry by Kids

Giovanni, Nikki. comp. Paint Me Like I Am. Harper Tempest. 2003. ISBN 0064472647

Paint Me Like I Am is a collection of poems by teens in Washington, DC, Bronx, New York, and San Francisco, California in association with WritersCorps.  The collection is set up like a poetry journal, with each section having a quote and writing prompt that introduce the poetry that follows.

While the poems, mainly free verse, deal with everyday life, it isn’t the ideal everyday life that most people for some reason assume all children and teens have.  Instead you have poems from the point of view of an abusive father and it’s counterpart from the abused son’s point of view, as well as a poem from the point of view of a girl who refuses to join a gang because she lost a friend when he joined a gang.

However, much like the title of this collection states, the collection cannot be called only dark, or depressing.  There are poems of light and hope.  The section titled Friendship shows adults a sliver of what teen friendships look like.  (It doesn’t seem to have changed much, but funny how adults tend to forget how those friendships felt.)  The best word to describe the collection would be raw.  These are not “let’s play nice” or “try not to offend” poems.  They show life how it is for the poet.  This part of life is good, let me show you why (or my life is terrible, here’s my proof).

It is unsurprising that a collection written by teens would likely work best for a teen audience.  Someone, somewhere feels the same as you, has been through the same thing as you, and wrote it down.  These poems seem more likely to encourage those who think poetry is dumb, or that it has to rhyme (many of these don’t) to try their hand at poetry.  It should also serve as a reminder to the adults that the everyday things in life can be the big things in someone’s life.

Spotlight Poem

My Real Name by Elena Noel

Today my name is colorful.
Yesterday my name was dead souls.
Tomorrow my name will be lively spirits.
My friends think my name is fire.
The police think my name is burden.
My parents think my name is symphony.
Secretly I know my name is anything
I want it to be.

This poem is similar to a modified biopoem.  It incorporates aspects of the speaker from different perspectives.  While a modified version could be done for preteens (for example literal names and nicknames) for older teens it is a question of self-evaluation.  Are other people seeing who you think you are?  Why?  Teens could be encouraged to write their own version, possibly replacing police with teachers if the students don’t have regular interactions with the police.  Then it may work best to have them make poetry circles of four or five (including a printout of the rules of a poetry circle) to share their poetry.  In this case, they wouldn’t be sharing with adults unless they wanted to share.


Kirkus- “Each section begins with a quote about writing, and a sample writing exercise. The free-verse poems vary in voice from narrative to lyric to performance; they are edgy, mysterious, and assertive in tone. Subjects range from friendship to parenthood, from the importance of doing right to the importance of doing nothing…The poems in the collection are mixed in their effectiveness; there is no editor mentioned, or any indication of how the poems were selected or when they were written.”

Kirkus Reviews. 2003. (Vol. 71. No. 3.) Accessed via CLCD at


LS 5663 Free Choice

Swaim, Jessica. Scarum Fair. Illustrated by Carol Ashley. Pennsylvania, Wordsong. 2010. ISBN 9781590785904

For children (and adults) who like the creepy, macabre, or just like the scare of Halloween (or for kids who like Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book or Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas), Scarum Fair is a creepy delight.

While probably not a good idea for six-year-olds, this book easily appeals to elementary aged children as well as their older counterparts.  To begin with, many of the titles or themes are something that a child would be aware of, if not familiar with.  For example, while children may have actually experienced a teacup ride (likely with mixed results as to the level of fun), young children would likely be less aware of what a tattoo artist is, though they likely know someone with tattoos.

Most of Swaim’s poems rhyme, which is helpful considering some of the words she uses may not fall into every young child’s vocabulary.  This collection can be used for more than just Halloween though.  There are several poems, such as “Dr. Crunch,” that can be used as science poems and “Mummy Wrap” could easily lead into a lesson about the Egyptian mummies.  As wonderfully creepy as Swaim’s poems are, Ashley’s illustrations enhance them.  Many of the non-human creepy beings have no eyes, but rather black eye sockets.  The reoccurring images, I-Scream and the giant green hand, create a visual trail through the book.

While the collection doesn’t technically tell a story, the first poem has the reader entering the Fair and the last has the reader attempting to leave.

Spotlight Poem

Coffin Race by Jessica Swaim

There’s no need to have a license.
There’s no need to be alive.
The competition’s stiff tonight,
’cause dead folks love to drive!

You’ll see expensive models
plus some long-forgotten makes.
Reclining seats are optional,
but not a soul needs brakes.

The racetrack spirals downward
to the finish, and no wonder:
the winner gets a floral wreath
and parking six feet under.

This is a great example of the tongue-in-cheek humor that would appeal to teen readers.  While younger readers might get the “six feet under” reference, they are likely to miss the play on “stiff” and “long-forgotten makes.”  It’s not only a play on racing in general, but in a soapbox car race in particular.  Teens may want to turn their favorite sport (or activity as “Deadbeats” shows) into something for the undead.  Would horse racing include nightmares with goblin jockeys?  Would ghosts do ballet?  Can zombies play football without their limbs falling off?  The younger kids could make their own model coffin racecars (perhaps modified rubberband racers).  As a side note, it would probably be best to do coffin racecars specifically around Halloween when the parent’s expect the macabre, unless they know in advance.


Cybil Award 2010 finalist


Booklist- “This is a mostly fresh take, offering up decomposing bands, mad tattoo artists, haunted teacup rides, and more. Ashley’s acrylics-and-graphite art provides plenty of creepy touches”

Kraus, Daniel. Booklist. Accessed via CLCD at

LS 5663 Janeczko Poetry

Janeczko, Paul B. comp. Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems. Illustrated by Melissa Sweet. Massachusetts, Candlewick Press. 2014. ISBN 97807663648428

Firefly July is a collection of short poems (as the full title states) that works better when not read all at once.  Similar to eating two dozen pieces of candy one after the other, reading the whole collection in one sitting leaves the reader feeling like whatever it was they loved about the first few they read, was gone by the eighth.  However, there is enough variety that even if a child read the whole collection in one sitting, they would likely be able to pick out a favorite.

That being said, these short poems would be a great way to start a class because of their length.  They don’t appeal to a specific age group, so while the brightly colored images may imply this collection is meant for a younger audience, the actual poems don’t have this boundary.

The collection is organized by season, which Sweet depicts with several different techniques including watercolor.  In fact, the winter section looks remarkably similar to Douglas Florian’s Winter Eyes. In fact, it is the pictures that allow this book to reach a younger audience than the poems alone.  If this collection was simply made of black text on white pages, I would recommend it for middle school kids or older.  Because of the images, some that literally depict the poem, others that hint at an interpretation, but still leave it ambiguous, this collection would work well with younger children as well.

The poems themselves vary in style and voice.  Perhaps the nicest thing about these poems is not their brevity (though some children could make that argument) but the amount of substance crammed into two to five lines.  It serves as a reminder to the reader that the number of words doesn’t necessarily directly correspond to how much is actually being said.

Spotlight Poem

In the Field Forever by Robert Wallace

Sun’s a roaring dandelion, hour by hour.
Sometimes the moon’s a scythe, sometimes a silver flower.
But the stars! all night long the stars are clover.
Over, and over, and over!

This poem is in the summer section.  While it practically screams at adults to ask the dreaded question of “What does the author mean?” perhaps a better question to begin discussion would be “How do you see the summer sky?”  After all, it is in the summer section and talking about the sun, moon, and stars, so it does involve the sky.  Instead of looking only at the poem’s interpretation of the sky, this poem could easily act as a quiet guide to writing poetry.  It’s short.  It has a subject.  It happens to rhyme.

Something unique about this collection of seasonal poetry is that many of the poems are quietly about the season they are in.  For example, there are fog poems in both the fall and the winter sections.  Why?  Well, fog can occur in both seasons, so one can guess that the poems are applicable for both seasons.  The moon occurs in different incarnations throughout the book as well.


Kirkus- “The winter poems are snowy, but they are also laced with fog; nature scenes alternate with depictions of a subway, a rusting truck, harbor boats and more. Sweet’s effervescent mixed-media collages include signature elements like graph paper and saturated pinks; the large format engenders some expansive compositions, such as one showing the curve of the Earth near an enormous, smiling full moon.”

Kirkus Reviews. 2014. (Vol. 82, No. 3)