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For this "Pre-historic" themed Family Days, we welcomed a hoard of young time travelers, who took poetry into their own hands with a variety of fun and exciting activities: they tapped out poetry on vintage typewriters, molded ancient fossil impressions, made early paper out of iron age materials, jammed at a stone age dance party, and added their voices to live songs and storytelling groups. They re-energized with snacks and dove right back in to our dress-up boxes, our bucket of leaves and petals, and our stacks of poetry.
We caught a few of these rare adventurers on camera as they passed through a curtain of vines and entered our video booth staffed by UA Honors students enrolled in a service learning course in partnership with the Poetry Center. Take a peek at one of the videos from our past Family Days! We'll be sure to post more of these videos, as we gear up for our next Family Days on Saturday, October 26th!
Dulton Children’s Books, 2003
Judy Schachner’s Skippyjon Jones might be one of the most delightful children’s stories I’ve read in the past year. The story cinematically comes to life on the page. The narrative surprises you, takes you on Skippy’s make-believe adventures, which are wildly playful and push the boundaries of play and imagination. With Skippyjon, there’s no telling just how crazy and fun the journey might be.
What’s most notable about this story is the attention to language, particularly in the form of its bilingual narrative. When Skippyjon jumps into his closet, he jumps into another world. In this story, it’s Mexico. And in this story, he is a Siamese cat, but by the power of his imagination, he transforms into a Chihuahua! When he travels down a long, dusty road in Mexico, he comes across a "mysterioso band of Chihuahuas” called the Chimichangos. Skippyjon renames himself El Skippito, and when he approaches the pack of dogs, they ask him:
Written and Illustrated by Janell Cannon
HMH Books for Young Readers, 2005
What happens when a crooked-winged cockroach, who moonlights as a skilled sculptor, gets bullied? Anything. Written by popular children’s author and illustrator, Janell Cannon, who’s famous for her book Stellaluna, Crickwing follows the journey of a little cockroach-fellow by the same name, who finds himself getting bullied by animals larger than him. In his angst, he starts to pick on animals—a colony of leaf-cutter ants, to be exact—who are smaller than him. This is a great book to read when discussing themes like bullying and friendship with youth. In addition to a strong and captivating story, Cannon’s artwork is absolutely breathtaking. She creates such tactile images in her art—the monkey's fur actually seems soft to the touch; the green tree leaves look like they’re covered with a mossy fuzz. Youth and adults alike will be charmed by this story and its incredible illustrations.
Baya, Baya, Lulla-by-a
By Megan McDonald
Illustrated by Vera Rosenberry
Set in India, amidst the monsoon rains, not so unlike Tucson, Baya, Baya, Lulla-by-a is a beautifully poetic and rhythmic lullaby. The language is meant to be sung, to lull youngins to bed. I couldn’t help thinking, in a sentimental way, that this is the kind of story that I’d love to read to my own kids one day. The story is full of onomatopoeia, with the sounds of a wise man saying, “pani, pani,” the sounds of the sun-yellow baby bird singing, “Chiri-ya! Chiri-ya!” and the sounds of a mother rocking her choti ladki to sleep with “Baya, baby, lulla-by-a.” The story is also filled with great similes and metaphors: “She sings to you morning after morning, like a sleepy cricket. Kira, kira. Your heart answers, a small drum. Dholak, dholak.” One page dazzles in alliteration: “Baya bird flits, flutters, flies among leafy shadows. Collects green grasses, weaves a nest swishhh swishhh, strand by strand by willowy strand.”
by Alice Schertle
Illustrated by Petra Mathers
HMH Books for Young Readers, 2009
Button Up! opens with a question on the inside flap of the book jacket cover: “Do the clothes in your closet have a life all their own?” Through poetry, this book aims to answer those questions. Each piece of clothing, each shoe, each pair of underwear is linked to one child, usually in some alliterative sense:
--Violet’s Hiking Hat
--The Song of Harvey’s Galoshes
--Bob’s Bicycle Helmet
I came to this thinking while researching the work of teaching artist Tony Blackhawk, who uses abstract art like that of Cy Twombly to lead his students in loose ekphrastic writing exercises. In “Third Mind,” Blackhawk quotes Nancy Gorrell, who used Ekphrastic writing to help students learn about history by “entering” into another perspective. In my own practice, I’ve asked students to write from the perspective of an object in a painting, or from the position of the artist creating it. I’ve found that this practice in “entering” from a different angle seems to offer students an open-mindedness and explorative quality in a creative space that then leaks into the larger world.
This reading list is about entering that very practice—one of stepping into another perspective, and inhabiting the life of an “other” by peeking into their daily life, and seeing where you relate. I’m of the opinion that empathy is one of the most important skills an artist can develop—it’s useful across genres and mediums—and that it’s also a significant life skill. Oftentimes, it’s through the eyes of others—a flowerpot, a three-legged dog, the kid with roller skates—that we first begin to understand the world, and more fully engage with it ourselves.
Crazy to be Alive in such a strange World: Poems About People
selected by Nancy Larrick
This is a collection celebrating the details of individual, unique personalities. The collection’s titles reflect the variety of voices contained in one small volume (“Hey, this little kid gets roller skates.” “Well son, I’ll tell you.”), and its accompanying photographs provide the poetic portraits with a visual accompaniment of faces across generations and cultural backgrounds.
by Lucille Clifton
Illustrated by Michael Garland
E P Dutton, 1981
Written by one of the sassiest voices in poetry—Lucille Clifton—comes the delightful novella, Sonora Beautiful. The voice is strong and angsty and delightful. (You can hear excerpts from the novella read by Clifton herself at the Poetry Center in 1983 here on Voca). The title character, Sonora, is our narrator who leads us through her so-called life. She opens with: “Some mornings I wake up and I am real ugly. I’m not joking. My face is all broken out. My ears are waving like wings. My legs and arms have shrunk or something. My clothes fall off me like off a stick,” (5). Not only is the voice strong and poetic and repeats the funny phrase “I’m not joking” throughout, but the language is also fresh and lively with metaphor and simile. After Sonora makes these comments, her Mom assures Sonora, “Oh, stop. You are beautiful, Sonora. Beautiful.”
the year when two high fives finally signify your age, a time of social reorganization, of jostling for individuality. During my teaching residency at Corbett Elementary last Spring, I was looking for a way to funnel my fourth grade students’ intense thirst for knowledge and competitive spirits into creative energy on the page. So I started hiding my lessons in guessing games. My writing groups turned into “teams.” Presentations of creative work happened during “finals.” This ekphrastic poetry lesson came from that time when I finally learned to use my students' need to engage with each other as a constructive structure for writing.
I called the lesson Poetry Riddles, and began it with a short discussion of rhyme in poetry. I asked the class to think of places in the world where they could find poetry outside of books. To their ideas, I added hip hop and riddles, which can both involve rhyme, but don’t do so as a rule (I generally veer away from teaching rhyme since I think it can constrict younger writers and leave their work feeling more basic and sing-songy than intended). I then asked the students if they wanted to play a riddle game, to which they responded with emphatic affirmatives.
Everybody Needs a Rock
By Byrd Baylor
Illustrated by Peter Parnall
My older sister Mary had a rock collection as a child. Even as she proudly showed me these rocks, which ranged from tiny, shiny pebbles to medium-sized quartz filled gems, I never quite understood her fascination with collecting these objects. Then I grew up and married a man who likes to collect rocks, too. In fact, one of his favorite books—Annals of the Former World by John McPhee—is a book all about rocks and the history of rocks. Even still, I can’t quite understand his fascination with rocks, either. I mean, I like rocks, I guess. I think mountains and the rocks that they consist of are beautiful. Living in the Southwest, I often come across incredible rock formations like Bryce Canyon’s orange steeple hoodoos and the Chiricahuas’ big, balancing rocks, and the orange, Flintstone boulders on your way to the Pinaleño Mountains. I find the huge, expansive rocks, the rocks that combine to make mountains beyond mountains, absolutely breathtaking. But the tiny rocks—those rocks that you find on hikes—yes, I look at them, but I have no interest in picking them up, as my sister did, as my husband does, and collecting them. I guess partly it’s because I hate having to pick up each individual, teeny-tiny rock off of his desk, each time I dust it. I have a miniature collection—another collection that some may find perplexing—and told him that he should put his miniature rocks within my miniature collection, which is actually just a printer’s drawer, flipped right-side up on a wall, so that it resembles a frame with tiny room boxes. He agreed on this, and now our collections have found homes within homes, a compromise of sorts, a marriage of minds, a way of melding our eccentric collections together. This makes me happy.
I was lucky enough to see and hear Seamus Heaney read before he died. Last March, at AWP in Boston, he was a keynote speaker, alongside fellow Nobel Prize-winner, Derek Walcott. I remember how witty they both were. I remember being astounded by their wisdom. I remember thinking: These two men are living legends.
Heaney was, of course, charming. Blame it on his Irish, sing-songy brogue; blame it on his happy eyes; blame it on that generous, hearty laugh. But when I think of Seamus Heaney, I think of a lullaby. After listening to the conversation and reading, I said to a friend, "I want Seamus Heaney to read me some bed time stories tonight." How lucky were his children to get lulled to sleep by that soothing voice.
This morning, after I found out that Heaney had passed, I looked up his reading on the Poetry Center's Voca archives. Heaney came to the Poetry Center on March 30, 1976, just two years after my parents graduated from high school. In the picture that was taken of him--outside of the old Poetry Center cottage--he has a curly, 70's-looking mess of thick hair. He looks sharp in dark clothing (such a poet!). He wears a dark button up long sleeved shirt, a dark blazer, dark pants, and a dark belt. And yet his expression is anything but dark; he has those same happy eyes.