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Poetry for Children

Module 1

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The Poetry Environment

Module 1 is called The Poetry Environment, and it will contain:
1.  A "classic" poem by a dead poet.
2.  The text of a picture book typed with poem line breaks.
3.  The lyrics to a new, popular or favorite song formatted with poem line breaks.
4.  A less familiar Mother Goose poem.
5.  A poem about school or the library.
6.  A poetry book review of a collection of nursery rhymes (Mother Goose) 
     published since 1995.

1.  A "classic" poem by a dead poet.
Introduction:  I was first introduced to this poem in a British literature course I took while working on my bachelors degree at the University of New Orleans in the early 1990s.  Marlowe does an excellent job appealing to the senses in this poem, and I love the way the shepherd is trying to convince his lady love to "live with me and be my love."  It is a very romantic piece. 
 The Passionate Shepherd to His Love
by Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593)
Come live with me and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove
That valleys, groves, hills, and fields,
Woods, or steepy mountain yields.
And we will sit upon the rocks,
Seeing the shepherds feed their flocks,
By shallow rivers to whose falls
Melodious birds sing madrigals.
And I will make thee beds of roses
And a thousand fragrant posies,
A cap of flowers, and a kirtle
Embroidered all with leaves of myrtle;
A gown made of the finest wool
Which from our pretty lambs we pull;
Fair lined slippers for the cold,
With buckles of the purest gold;
A belt of straw and ivy buds,
With coral clasps and amber studs:
And if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me, and be my love.
The shepherd's swains shall dance and sing
For thy delight each May morning:
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me and be my love.
Source:  The Norton Anthology of Poetry, Revised Shorter Edition, 1975 W.W. Norton & Company Inc. New York.
Extension:  This poem would work best with high school aged students or older students due to the romantic theme.  This poem has a companion piece called "The Nymphs Reply to the Shepherd" by Sir Walter Raleigh, and it would be excellent to share both poems during the same lesson.  Later, students could choose a poem they like and write a companion poem reacting to the poem they select.
2.  The text of a picture book with poem line breaks:
Introduction:  Typing the words of a picture book in poetic lines (like I've done below) is an activity worth doing with students because it builds an awareness that poetry is the basis for the language used in many picture books.  Many students may not be aware of this.    
Behind the Mask: A Book About Prepositions
By Ruth Heller
Of prepositions have no fear
They help to make directions clear
Along the northern shore, bear east ...
beyond this green, reptilian beast
Past its hungry, gaping mouth ...
veer directly ... to the south,
Toward a place where mermaids flock
upon, beside, and near a rock.
One hundred twenty paces west ...
the treasure lies inside this chest.
Prepositions are the best!
They're never alone.
They're always in phrases ...
behind the masks and ... through the mazes.
They almost always start the phrase ...
"Around the world in Eighty Days" ...
Except if you perhaps should find
that you're poetically inclined
and wish to say "The World Around,"
then at the very end they're found.
Of prepositions have no fear.
In phrases only they appear.
So if a word upon this list without a phrase is found ...
as when I say ... "Please step inside, come in, and look around."
It's not a prepostion, so take a careful look.
It's probably an ADVERB and is in another book.
So you will never be confused ... here are some of the rules
that can be used.
The cow jumped over the moon.
The dish ran away with the spoon.
Prepositions will tell you where.
They tell you how ... and when.
Please don't wake us until ten.
Into means "to enter," and that's the reason why ...
"Step into my parlor," said the spider to the fly.
But if inside already is what you really mean ...
then ... eating bread and honey ... in the parlor is the queen.
Be angry with a person, but angry at a thing.
I'm angry with Jack and I'm angry with Jill ....
but, I'm angrier still at the pail and the hill.
Between must be said when referring to two,
and among when referring to more.
The ten is between the king and the queen ...
and the five is among these four.
Say, "different from," not "different than."
Find the odd one if you can.
This is a test ...
Which one is different from the rest?
One preposition is one too many
in sentences that don't need any.
Where have you been at?
Where are you going to?
These sentences ... will never!
And two prepostions aren't better than one ...
Icarus flew near, not near to, the sun.
One is enough ... to tell you where.
They fell off, but not off of, the red rocking chair.
Despite what you have heard,
sometimes prepostions can be more than just one word.
The deer is in front of the camel ....
The lion's in back of the horse.
These are phrasal prepositions and ...
here are more of them, of course.
Prepositions, in this modern day,
at the end of a sentence are sometimes okay.
So it isn't an error ... it isn't a sin
 to say, "It's the room I was playing in."
But those who are graced
with impeccable taste
will insist upon saying,
"It is the room in which I was playing."
Source:  Behind the Mask:  A Book About Prepostions by Ruth Heller, 1998 The Putnam & Grosset Group.
Extension:  Students could write their own poetry and design a picture book with images that support the text of their poems.
Students could work on these with a partner or individually and then present their finished products in front of the class.
3.  The lyrics to a popular song with poem line breaks.
Introduction:  The words to this song are powerful to me because they do a fine job of defining the reality of many women.  They want a strong man to rely on instead of being self-reliant, and they want their relationship to work out at all costs even if it means being lied to or mistreated.  Sheryl Crow does an excellent job of portraying the desperation in the speaker.
Strong Enough
by Sheryl Crow
God, I feel like hell tonight
Tears of rage I cannot fight
I'd be the last to help you understand
Are you strong enough to be my man?
Nothing's true and nothing's right
So let me be alone tonight
You can't change the way I am
Are you strong enough to be my man?
Lie to me
I promise, I'll believe
Lie to me
But please don't leave
I have a face I cannot show
I make the rules up as I go
It's try and love me if you can
Are you strong enough to be my man?
When I've shown you that I just don't care
When I'm throwing punches in the air
When I'm broken down and cannot stand
Will you be strong enough to be my man?
Lie to me
I promise, I'll believe
Lie to me
But please don't leave
Source:  Insert from the CD, Tuesday Night Music Club by Sheryl Crow, 1993 A&M Records, Hollywood, CA.
Extension:  Students could find the words to a song that is powerful to them, and they could write a journal entry or an essay explaining why the words are meaningful to them.
4.  A less familiar Mother Goose poem:
Introduction:  I selected this Mother Goose poem to include here for two reasons.  First of all, I had never seen it before, so I figured it must be a less familiar poem.  Secondly, I loved the lines "She shall have music wherever she goes," because this describes me.  As I write this, I have a small transistor radio in my purse.  I can't be without my music!!!
Banbury Cross
Ride a cockhorse to Banbury Cross,
To see a fine lady upon a white
Rings on fingers, and bells on
    her toes,
She shall have music wherever she
Source:  The Real Mother Goose Touch & Feel Book, 2001, Scholastic Inc., New York.
Extension:  I work in a middle school, and I have a feeling that many of the kids I teach have grown up without much knowledge of Mother Goose poems.  It would be neat to devote a class period during a poetry unit to Mother Goose and to share historical background information about the poems.  Students could peruse Mother Goose books and find favorites to recite.  The entire class could do choral readings of Mother Goose favorites, or groups of students could present their favorites to the rest of the class.
5.  A poem about school or the library.
Introduction:  When I first discovered this poem, I didn't really see the charm in it.  But as I read it over, I really liked the element of surprise that Gary Soto uses in the poem.  I like the way he reveals that the speaker is daydreaming.
Eraser and School Clock
by Gary Soto
My eraser
Is pink
And car-shaped.
It skids across
My math test,
Which is a mess of numbers,
All wrong, like
When I unscrewed
The back of my watch
And the workings
Fell out.
The teacher frowned
When she saw
The watch,
Its poor heart
Torn out.  Now
I'm working
On my math,
And I think,
I think, I think
I know.  I look
Up at the school clock
With its hammerlike tick.
I could tear
Open its back,
And perhaps
The springs and gears
Would jump
And time stop.
This test could stop,
And my friends
Freeze, pencils
In their hands,
Erasers, too.
All would freeze,
Including my teacher,
And I could blow
On the skid marks
Of my eraser.
I walk out
To the playground,
My eight fingers
And two thumbs
Wrapped around
A baseball bat.
The janitor
Is frozen
To his broom,
The gardener
To his lasso of
Hose and sprinkler,
And the principal
To his walkie-talkie.
I hit homer
After homer,
And they stand,
Faces frozen
And mouths open,
Their eyes maybe moving,
Maybe following
The flight
Of each sweet homer.
What a dream.
I shrug
And look around
The classroom
Of erasers and pencils,
The clock racing
My answers to the finish.
Source:  Canto Familiar by Gary Soto, 1995, Harcourt Brace & Company, San Diego, CA.
Extension:  Just as we are locating poems with a certain theme, students could pick a theme of interest to them and locate poems about those themes.  They could collect these poems and create a poetry book on that theme with illustrations and an introduction explaining why that theme is of interest.
6.  Poetry Book Review:  A collection of nursery rhymes (Mother Goose) published since 1995.
The Real Mother Goose Touch & Feel Book
The Real Mother Goose Touch & Feel Book is a board book for children ages three and up.  The book measures six inches by six inches, so it would be easy for small hands to handle it.  The book is rather short in that it only contains seven poems, but it is pleasing to the eye.  The cover and inside carboard pages feature a mix of pastels and also brightly colored lined drawings.  The most unique feature of this book is its tactile nature.  The book is a touch and feel book, and each page, including the cover has some form of interactive picture.  The last page even features a scratch and sniff cake.  This book would be an excellent means to introduce a small child to popular Mother Goose poems such as Mary Had a Little Lamb, The Cat and the Fiddle, and Pat-A-Cake.  It also includes a few lesser known poems. The touch and feel nature of the book, and the rhythmic poems will surely make a young child want to revisit this book again and again.
Source:  The Real Mother Goose Touch & Feel Book by Scholastic, New York, 2001.