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April 10, 2012 Celebrating Picture Book Poetry in the Classroom By Jeremy Brunaccioni
Grades PreK–K, 1–2

    I feel as though I should write you an ode or limerick to start off your poetry month celebrations, but rather than torture you with a variation of a “roses are red" poem, I’m going to give you some great titles and resources to use in your classroom. Rhyme, description, adjectives, and onomatopoeia are all areas you can cover in a developmentally appropriate way with young students as you celebrate poetry. 





    Poem in Your Pocket

    Before we dive into the books, here's an easy way to share poetry in the classroom. Participate in Poem in Your Pocket Day on April 26th or any other time you're studying poetry. Basically, you carry poems with you that you hand out to students in passing. I prefer to format mine as bookmarks. If I use a poem from an anthology or collection, like Shel Silverstein's Where the Sidewalk Ends, I credit it on the bookmark. Sometimes this will pique a student's interest enough that they will check the book out of the library. It's a quick and easy activity that you can share with older students as well. Try my Mary Had a Little Lamb or London Bridge pocket poems.


    Poetry Picture Books

    Trains Go

    Written and Illustrated by Steve Light

    Publisher: Chronicle

    I know most people view them as for very young children, but I’m a proponent of using board books in the classroom. They’re durable, and there are some great titles out there, Trains Go being one of them. This book is simply fun, with colorful, sketch-like train illustrations and train sounds for text. It’s a great example to get students thinking about adding sounds to their writing.


    Pantone: Colors

    Publisher: Abrams

    Pantone: Colors is another board book that I highly recommend for the classroom. (Check out the classroom activity I use it for, down below.) It features stylized illustrations with facing pages of 20 variations on a color. With colors like basketball orange, lizard green, and meatball brown, children will be exposed to a wealth of descriptive language.


    Come On, Rain!

    Written by Karen Hesse

    Illustrated by John Muth

    Publisher: Scholastic

    “ . . . romping and reeling in the moisty green air.” This is just one example of the incredibly descriptive language Karen Hesse uses to tell the story of a young girl waiting for rain in the parched city. Be sure to stop with your students and savor passages like “ . . . while the music from Miz Glick’s phonograph shimmies and sparkles and streaks like night lightning.” This book is bound to get them thinking about how they can use description in their own writing.


    If I Never Forever Endeavor

    Written and Illustrated by Holly Meade

    Publisher: Candlewick

    While you’ll need to have some conversation with your students to help them understand the text, this book is beautifully written. It introduces some great vocabulary like “endeavor” and “scalloped.” One of my students referred to the word "scalloped" as being similar to the waves on an ocean. What a great teaching moment! The illustrations are gorgeous, and my students loved the embossed bird under the book jacket. Don’t forget to check out my vocabulary builder skill sheet.


    Randy Riley’s Really Big Hit

    Written and Illustrated by Chris Van Dusen

    Publisher: Candlewick

    You may already be familiar with Chris Van Dusen from his Mr. McGee series. If you’re not, go out and buy them when you pick up a copy of Randy Riley’s Really Big Hit. The fun rhymes, entertaining stories, and colorful retro illustrations will keep you as entertained as your students.

    This sense of fun and color finds its way into Randy Riley’s Really Big Hit, the story of a boy whose passion for space and robots helps to save his town from a rogue fireball. 



    This activity was inspired by the Pantone: Color book I reviewed above. It's such a fun and easy way to encourage children to expand their descriptive vocabulary. To start off, visit your local paint store and gather an assortment of paint chart cards. (You can print out my color list here, so you'll know exactly what to get.) Next, cut the cards into one-inch squares, but be sure to keep them separated by color.


    Start with one color at a time, spreading them out on a table. Help children pick four shades of each color and glue the squares onto a sheet of white paper.


    After the glue has had time to dry, children can name their colors and write the names next to the squares. When all the pages are done, staple them into a book.

    As you can see from the pages above, this student was enjoying describing the different shades. With colors like "sign yellow" and "bubble gum pink," she's sure to be inspired to continue her colorful descriptions in her writing journal.


    Bonus Book


    Twosomes: Love Poems From the Animal Kingdom

    Written by Marilyn Singer

    Illustrated by Lee Wildish

    Publisher: Knopf

    I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but you know you’re in for a treat when you see the adorable dogs on the cover of Twosomes.  Your students won’t be able to resist comical two-line poems like "Porcupines": “Hugging you takes some practice / So I’ll start out with a cactus.” You’ll want to add this little gem of a book to your poetry collection.


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Susan Cheyney