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Poetry for Children

Module 5

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Multicultural Poetry

A POEM BY AN AFRICAN AMERICAN POET
 
INTRODUCTION:  Bring in biographies and autobiographies and picture books written for children or young adults on notable African Americans.  Display these around the room and let the students get up and thumb through them. 
 
My People
by Langston Hughes
 
The night is beautiful,
So the faces of my people.
 
The stars are beautiful,
So the eyes of my people.
 
Beautiful, also, is the sun.
Beautiful, also, are the souls of my people.
 
From My Black Me:  A Beginning Book of Black Poetry, edited by Arnold Adoff, Dutton's Children's Books, 1974
 
EXTENSION:  After reading the poem, tell students the names and a little bit about the contributions of the African Americans in the books you brought in.  Have each student select one African Amerian to research.  Allow several weeks in class for the reading of the biographies and for using the Internet and encyclopedias to gather information on each person.  Have students prepare oral presentations with a visual such as a poster to present to the class on the person they selected.
 
 
 
 
A POEM BY A HISPANIC OR LATINO/LATINA
 
INTRODUCITON:  Ask students if they like Mexican food and to name foods made with flour or corn tortillas such as tacos, tostadas, fajitas, enchiladas and burritos.
 
Tortillas Like Africa
by Gary Soto
 
When Isaac and me squeezed dough over a mixing
     bowl,
We dusted the cutting board with flour,
When we spanked and palmed our balls of dough,
When we said, "Here goes,"
And began rolling out tortillas,
We giggled because ours came out not round,
     like Mama's,
But in the shapes of faraway lands.
 
Here was Africa, here was Columbia and Greenland.
Here was Italy, the boot country,
And here was Mexico, our homeland to the south.
 
Here was Chile, thin as a tie.
Here was France, square as a hat.
Here was Australia, with patches of jumping kangaroos.
 
We rolled out our tortillas on the board
And laughed when we threw them on the comal,
These tortillas that were not round as a pocked moon,
But the twist and stretch of the earth taking shape.
 
So we made our first batch of tortillas, laughing.
So we wrapped them in a dish towel.
So we buttered and rolled two each
And sat on the front porch---
Butter ran down our arms and our faces shone.
 
I asked Issac, "How's yours?"
He cleared his throat and opened his tortilla.
He said, "Bueno!  Greenland tastes like Mexico."
 
From Canto Familiar, Harcourt Brace & Company, 1995.
 
EXTENSION:  Bring in soft four tortillas and crispy corn tortilla shells and fixins such as refried beans, cheddar cheese, cooked ground beef, lettuce, tomato and salsa.  Demonstrate how to make a burrito, taco, and tostada.  Let students sample the foods.  Later after clean up, have students find the countries Soto names in the poem on a large map or globe to see what shapes they have.
 
 
 
 
A POEM BY AN ASIAN AMERICAN POET
 
INTRODUCTION:  Bring in a place mat from a chinese restaurant that has the Chinese Calendar on it and explain it and show it to the children.  Read the poem below.
 
Ox and Snake
by Janet Wong
 
I was born
in the year of the ox
it says on the back
of this cracker box.
 
What about you?
I bet you're a snake,
the way you swallowed
that whole moon cake!
 
From Good Luck Gold And Other Poems, Macmillan Publishing Co., 1994
 
EXTENSION:  Let the students find the animal that represents the year of their birth and the year of the births of their family members or other loved ones.  Have students make a clustered web drawing with the animal names in the main circles.  Have them see how many people they can create branches for on their webs stemming from each animal in the Chinese Calendar.  Students may have to take this home to complete it as some may not know the birth years of significant family members such as parents or grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins. 
 
 
 
 
A POEM BY A NATIVE AMERICAN POET
 
INTRODUCTION:  Read the poem to the students then research on the internet or in books what a typical Navajo house would be made of and how it would look.
 
Dawn House Song
From the Navajo of the Southwest
 
Below the mesas,
a new house has been made.
Now as the dawn
starts to brighten the sky,
painting the walls
of the house with light,
Sky Bear hears the people sing:
 
Far to the east,
there was a house made,
a house was made, a beautiful house.
The Dawn,
there his house was made.
White Corn,
there its house was made.
Soft possessions
for them,
a house was made.
Water in plenty,
for it a house was made.
Corn Pollen,
for it a house was made.
 
Before me, may it be beautiful.
Behind me, may it be beautiful.
Around me, may it be beautiful.
Below me, may it be beautiful.
Above me, may it be beautiful.
All around me, may it be beautiful.
Within me, may it be beautiful.
 
From The Earth Under Sky Bears Feet:  Native American Poems of the Land by Joseph Bruchac, Philomel Books, 1995 
 
EXTENSION:  Have students draw an aerial view of a beautiful house that the would like to live in.  Once completed, let the students explain the unique features of their houses.  Hang the completed pictures on the wall in the hallway with the Navajo poem.  This would be a good project for students in an art class or a social studies class to do.
 
 
 
 
A POEM BY AN INTERNATIONAL POET WHO IS NOT AMERICAN
 
INTRODUCTION:  Ask the students if they have a special place where they hide treasured things away from others such as brothers and sisters.  Discuss, then read the poem to the students.
 
 
Stone House
by Naomi Shihab Nye
 
My grandmother is dead
but her green trunk
must still be sitting.
Sitting in the stone room
with an arch
and a single window.
Sitting in the cool light
that touches
the chipped lid.
And I wonder where the key has gone.
The key that lived
between her breasts
whether she slept or woke.
And wouldn't let anybody touch.
I wonder if they have
emptied the trunk
or left her squares of velvet
carefully folded,
her chips of plates,
the scraps and rubble she saved
and wouldn't let us see.
Wouldn't let us see
because every life
needs a hidden place.
And I pray they
have not emptied it.
 
We brought her rosy soap
for the hidden place.
Heavy wedge of chocolate
twisted in foil.
She tried to eat the foil.
We brought her nothing big enough
but she saved it all.
The uncle made fun of her.
She lived too long.
The Queen of Palestine.
She would turn her face away
when he said that.
He died first.
 
And we never stayed.
No we never stayed.
The trunk stayed.
The grapes shriveled in the village
and didn't come again.
This was a sadness beyond telling.
Maybe if they didn't mention it
the grapes would return.
 
The clay they used for jugs
also went away.
The young men
went away.
It was a hard place to be
if you were staying.
 
Why do I think of that key
still planted firmly in the crack
over her heart?
She used to say the stone
was smarter than the people
because it never went away.
 
From 19 Varieties fo Gazelle:  Poems of the Middle East, HarperCollins, 2002.
 
EXTENSION:  The poem says "every life needs a hidden place."  Do you think this is true?  If you had a green trunk like the grandmother's, what would you store in it?  On a white sheet of paper, draw the green trunk.  Draw your personal treasures in the trunk or around the trunk.  Display your drawings on the wall around a copy of the poem.  Do you know anyone who has a special trunk like grandmother's?
 
 
 
 
POETRY BOOK REVIEW:  A BOOK OF POETRY FOR CHILDREN/YA BY A POET OF COLOR PUBLISHED SINCE 1995
 
Night Garden:  Poems from the World of Dreams by Janet Wong, Simon and Schuster, 2000
 
     Night Garden:  Poems from the World of Dreams by Janet Wong is a collection of fifteen poems for children ages seven to ten.  The poems are created from dreams of the poet and her friends, and some of the titles of the poems touch upon familiar dream subjects such as "Falling," "Flying," "Nightmare," and "Talking in Her Sleep."  Wong even features the dreams of her pet in "Dog Dreams." 
     The illustrations are by Julie Paschkis and are even more striking than the poetry itself.  The artwork is almost like wallpaper in that each page has heavily repeated patterns.  The colors are monochromatic in the background on the pages and each poem features one full color picture in the center of the the wallpaper like background.  The repeated patterns create a textured effect which is very unique looking. 
     The poem "Gently Down the Stream" is about swimming in your dreams.  The poem is sixteen lines arranged in couplets.  Some of the end rhymes are pure such as "free" and "me and "troubles" and "bubbles," but other words are only close to being true rhymes.  Examples of this are "glass" and "path" and "lean" and "stream."  Wong uses alliteration in the words "water" and "washing," "fast" and "fish," and "long" and "lean."  She incorporates repetition by repeating the word "swimming" four times in the poem.  The poet creates a swishing effect of water with lots of "s" words and words containing digraph "sh."  Fifteen words in this relatively short poem contain either the letter "s" or the digraph "sh."
     "Dog Dreams" is a darling poem about a dog dreaming as he sleeps with kicking feet, "twitches," "growls," "whimpers," "snarls," and "yelps."  In the poem, we meet the dog as he is actively dreaming until he yelps and awakens himself.  Then his master takes him out to "let him sniff the trees, let him walk, chase the breeze."  The poem has nature imagery with the trees, breeze, air, and night being mentioned.  Any dog owner would certainly recognize and appreciate this scene described by Wong in the form of a poem.
     "Nightmare" is a poem that tries to scare the reader about watching scary "things you see on TV."  Wong uses words and phrases to create scary imagery such as "afraid," "scary," "cold dark room," "quiet of the night," "things will spring into your dreams," "frightful scare," and "true nightmare."  She also uses repetition to further her cause with lines like "will follow you" "will follow you" and "down the hall to your cold dark room" which is also repeated twice.  She goes for your jugular when she describes nightmares as "a news-at-seven true nightmare" which can conjure up all kinds of thoughts of real-life scary things.
     Like her poetry book Good Luck Gold, Wong also includes one poem that features aspects of her Asian culture.  The poem "Turnip Cake" describes this Asian food and includes a few Asian words too.
     Although I did not like this book as much as I liked Good Luck Gold, the poems "grow on you" the more you read them and it includes stunning artwork which was nonexistant in Good Luck Gold.  This book is worth a look.  
    

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