Puzzling things can be riddled out during hour-long commutes to classes. We had been discussing the importance of poetry in my children’s lit class at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, LA. I mulled over why I really loved poetry as I drove. [Mulling is not as dangerous as texting.] I’d had good teachers who read poetry beautifully and those who helped find the intricacies of author’s meanings. Somehow, I knew that while these were useful, the love came before any of this. Then it dawned on me that my enjoyment came from hearing Mama read poems just for pleasure. She seldom commented on them, often read poems far beyond our understanding, and took requests for our favorites to be read again and again. Some of our favorites included those we understood not one whit.
A comic book light bulb came on in my head in the form of a resolution for my new school year. I would not stop the learning surrounding the poems we used in my second grade classroom, but I would start each day with a poem just for pleasure. Any comments or discussion would only come as children showed interest in the poem.
Of course, we read from Shel Silversteins Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic. We started each month with Maurice Sendak’s Chicken Soup with Rice poem. They loved the family poems in Mary Ann Hoberman’s Fathers, Mothers, Sisters, Brothers, and giggled over Jack Prelutsky’s The New Kid on the Block and Something Big Has Been Here. They enjoyed the assortment of authors in the wonderful collection Sing a Song of Popcorn, and in the other worn volume I had brought from home that I used with my own children Favorite Poems Old and New: Selected for Boys and Girls by Helen Ferris.
My students responded much as I had responded to Mama. They had their requested favorites for repeats. Some they enjoyed for the sounds, some for their humor, and some for the empathy they inspired. By Christmas, I had a thrilled parent, who had believed she was raising a non-reader, She made a special trip in to school to tell me that the first two items on her son’s Christmas list were the Shel Silverstein books. In an earlier blog, I mentioned Jennifer Fuller, an astute second-grader who made up a new motto which I used that year and in years to come on my poetry bulletin board, “A poem a day keeps the grouchies away.”
April is Poetry Month. I think it may be time to get back to my poem-a-day remedy for the grouchies. I recommend it, and if you have a child in your life, I recommend any of the books I have listed for theirs.