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Janet's Literature Reviews
Poetry

On this page I review the following books: A JAR OF TINY STARS, INSECTLOPEDIA, BENEATH A BLUE UMBRELLA, and JOYFUL NOISE: POEMS FOR TWO VOICES.

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A Jar of Tiny Stars: Poems by NCTE Award-Winning Poets
 
     Edited by Bernice E. Cullinan

Cullinan, Bernice E., ed. 1996. A JAR OF TIINY STARS: POEMS BY NCTE AWARD-WINNING POETS. Illustrated by Andi MacLeod. Portraits by Marc Nadel. Honesdale, Pa.: Wordsong. ISBN : 1563970872.

A JAR OF TINY STARS: POEMS BY NCTE AWARD-WINNING POETS is an anthology of poems edited by Bernice E. Cullinan.  The poems included were selected by children as their favorite poems by the following poets: Arnold Adoff, John Ciardi, Barbara Esbensen, Aileen Fisher, Karla Kuskin, Myra Cohn Livingston, David McCord, Eve Merriam, Lilian Moore, and Valerie Worth.  All of these poets are winners of the National Council of Teachers of English Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children. 

 

The anthology includes a table of contents, an index, a bibliography of the poets' other works, and a short biography about each poet.  The biography gives the usual details of the poets' lives and careers, but a quote by the poet is also included.  Each chapter, containing five of the poet's poems, begins with the poet's portrait and another short quote by the poet.  These quotes and portraits give the reader insight into the poets' feelings, attitudes, and inspirations for writing poetry.  The portraits done in watercolor washes are by Marc Nadel. The editor has also included pen-and-ink drawings by the artist Andi MacLeod.  These illustrations are simple and sparse, but do complement the poems though not all the poems are illustrated.  Hazel Rochman says, "The design is accessible, with large, clear type, lots of white space, and an occasional pen-and-ink drawing."

 

I chose to look at the poems by Karla Kuskin because I like the way she adds humor at the close of her poems for a surprise ending.  Ms. Kuskin says, "If there were a recipe for a poem, these would be the ingredients: word sounds, rhythm, description, feeling, memory, rhyme and imagination.  They can be put together a thousand different ways, a thousand, thousand ... more" (p. 17).  Ms. Kuskin demonstrates this by using most of these elements in her poem, "I Woke Up This Morning" where she describes a child that is having a bad day.  In this poem, only the last words of each stanza rhyme, but the poem has an overall rhythm and is best when read aloud.  The language of the poem is simple and the phrases are short.  The reader can just imagine the emotion and feelings of a pre-teen or a teenager venting their frustration as they say: "Whatever I've done/ And however I've chosen,/ I've done the wrong thing/ And I've made the wrong choice./ I didn't wash well/ And I didn't say thank you./ I didn't shake hands/ And I didn't say please" (p. 20).

 

The poet uses an interesting technique of increasing the font size with each stanza.  This gives the reader the impression that the character in the poem is speaking louder or even yelling as they relive the day.  The imagery in this poem is wonderful as Karla Kuskin captures perfectly the voice of a frustrated teenager.

 

A JAR OF TINY STARS is an excellent anthology that contains examples of poems, in many different poetry styles, that are now available to children.   I think children will find most of the poems enjoyable.  A few of the poems, especially those by Arnold Adoff are more abstract and may not appeal to the majority of children.  One reviewer, Hazel Rochman, felt that the best poets were not included.  She writes, "Of course, the kids' choices don't always represent the best of these poets, and some of the best and the most popular poets aren't here at all (no Kennedy or Prelutsky, for example), but one anthology can't do it all."

 

 

Rochman, Hazel. n.d. A jar of tiny stars (book). BOOKLIST. Available from http://Amazon.com . Accessed 30 June 04.       

 
 

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Insectlopedia
 
     By Douglas Florian

Florian, Douglas. 1998. INSECTLOPEDIA.  San Diego: Harcourt Brace. ISBN: 0152013067.

INSECTLOPEDIA is a poetry anthology by poet/illustrator Douglas Florian.  As the title suggests, this collection is a specialized anthology containing poems about spiders, caterpillars, beetles, and many other insects.  Florian uses many poetic styles, such as free verse, rhyming, and concrete to write his poetry.  Some of Florian's poems are humorous, but some poems describe the insects using creative, descriptive, and insightful wording. 

 

The anthology contains a table of contents to help organize the 21 poems.  Each poem within the book is accompanied by an illustration also by Douglas Florian.  The illustrations are a combination of watercolor and collage on brown paper bags.  Florian uses figurative language and more sophisticated vocabulary to add depth to his poetry.  An example of a pun that Florian includes in "The Mosquitoes" is when he describes blood as "take-out food" for mosquitoes (p. 33) and he gives us an example of a metaphor when he compares a Monarch butterfly to royalty in "The Monarch Butterfly" (p. 34).  Florian uses precise vocabulary, such as primeval, medieval, and religiously, throughout his poetry which will help students build their vocabulary.  In a clever use of wordplay, Florian describes ticks as "Not majes-tic. Not magne-tic. Nor aesthe-tic. Ticks are strictly parasi-tic" (p. 45).

 

Florian's artwork that accompanies his poetry is creative and inventive.  He uses a multi-media approach by using watercolor and collage.  The pictures complement the poems by sometimes adding humor as in "The Giant Water Bug" (p. 36) where Florian has depicted a water bug holding a Father's Day card.  Some of Florian's illustrations give students a better understanding of the insect, as in "The Walkingstick" where he shows a walkingstick hidden among twigs.  Florian even paints a red arrow to point out the walkingstick.  The artist also uses calligraphy to spell out the names of the insects in many of his illustrations.  These letters are then glued randomly around the drawing to add more details to his sparse watercolors.

 

In Florian's poem "The Army Ants" (p. 13), the ants are compared to soldiers marching to war.  Florian begins the poem with "Left, Right" to give the impression of a marching cadence.  The literary technique of personification is used to further show the ants as soldiers that are unstoppable and destructive by using the lines, "We swarm./ We fight./… We roam./ We race./ You're lucky if/ we miss your place."  Florian also uses alliteration in this poem by starting most of the poem's lines with "we".  The alliteration and the use of short lines gives the poem a nice rhythm that students will enjoy especially when the poem is read aloud or in two voices.  The watercolor artwork adds to the metaphor of the ants as soldiers by showing the ants marching in long straight lines.

 

Florian's anthology of poems is a delightful book that I found I enjoyed the more I read the poetry.  It is surprising that a poetry book about only insects can be so enjoyable.  According to Carolyn Angus, in SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL, "There are other books of poetry about insects and lots of collections of humorous verses about animals but none match INSECTLOPEDIA." 

 

 

Angus, Carolyn. 1998. Insectlopedia (book). SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL. Available from http://Amazon.com . Accessed 30 June 04.

 
 

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Beneath a Blue Umbrella
 
     By Jack Prelutsky

Prelutsky, Jack. 1990. BENEATH A BLUE UMBRELLA. Illustrated by Garth Williams. New York: Greenwillow Books. ISBN: 0688064299.

BENEATH A BLUE UMBRELLA, is a 64 page anthology of poems by award-winning poet Jack Prelutsky.  The book of poetry is delightful to look at with its bright colorful illustrations by Garth Williams.  The anthology contains a table of contents to list the 28 poems included in this book.  An interesting side-note is that Prelutsky's poems in this anthology do not have titles.  The titles listed in the table of contents are the first lines of the poems or the first few words of the poem.  Biographies of the poet and the artist are also included at the end of the book.  The poems, usually consisting of two stanzas that are four lines each, are presented in large text on a white background with a pastel colored border.  Each poems is followed by one of Garth Williams' illustrations.  Janice Del Negro says, "Williams' full-page watercolor and ink paintings for each rhyme accurately, if not inspirationally, reflect the text."  The arrangement of the poem and full-page drawing give the anthology a picture-book look and feel.

 

Jack Prelutsky's poetry has the sing-song rhythm and rhyme of a Mother Goose poem and Del Negro even calls him a "Mother Goose reincarnate."  Many of Prelutsky's poems are humorous and silly, but some of his poems can be described as somber or insightful.  His poetry is rich in visual imagery as shown in the title poem, "Beneath a Blue Umbrella" (p. 8),  where he describes a melon as yellow, succulent, and fat.  Prelutsky uses a combination of rhyme and alliteration that is very effective when he names some of his characters: Rickety Pickety/ Percival Peake, Patter Pitter Caterpillar, Jennifer Juniper, and Anna Banana.  Children will enjoy saying or hearing these names.

 

Prelutsky also uses destinations, such as the Mississippi valley, cities, and states in the United States as the setting in some of his poetry.  He has Rickety Pickety carry a bear to Nome, Little Blue Snake floats on the Great Salt Lake, and four fat goats that sail south from Newport News on their way to Key West.  Using actual settings gives the teacher or parent "teachable moments" to discuss places in our country.  The poet also uses precise, descriptive vocabulary to describe the characters, destinations, and actions in his poems.   When he uses words such as; succulent, icicle, enchanted, forlorn, slumbered, dandelion, Mardi Gras, and pantaloons; he is adding interest and also increasing the child's vocabulary and knowledge of the world.

 

The poem I liked best is titled "In Downtown Philadelphia" (p. 18) in the table of contents, but that does not tell you what the poem is about.  This simple poem is about three puppies that find a pretzel.  The reason I like the poem is because the visual imagery through Prelutsky's words is so strong.  The poem reads: In downtown Philadelphia/ upon a busy street,/ three puppies found a pretzel/ which looked very good to eat.// The first one sniffed it cautiously,/ the second took a bite,/ the third one snatched it in his jaws/ and darted out of sight.  Prelutsky captures the realistic actions and playfulness of the puppies in this poem.  This simple poem reads like a nursery rhyme with its rhythm and rhyming words and would appeal to children.  The illustration by Garth Williams adds humor to the poem because of the look of surprise on the face of one puppy.  (I think it was the puppy that took a bite.)

 

This is a wonderful anthology for small children and according to Del Negro, "A good addition to nursery-rhyme and early poetry collections."

  

Del Negro, Janice M. 1990. Beneath a blue umbrella (book). SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL 36, no. 6: 115. In Academic Search Premier (databases online). Accessed 30 June 04. 

 
 

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Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices
 
     By Paul Fleischman

Fleischman, Paul. 1988. JOYFUL NOISE: POEMS FOR TWO VOICES. Illustrated by Eric Beddows. n.p.: Harper & Row. ISBN: 0060218533.

JOYFUL NOISE: POEMS FOR TWO VOICES, a 1998 Newberry Medal Winner, is an anthology of insect poems by Paul Fleischman.  The poems, as the title suggests, are to be read aloud by two readers.  Mr. Fleischman has added a note explaining the technique of reading his two voice poetry.  The book also contains a table of contents that lists the fourteen poems.  The poems, all two to three pages long, are written length wise down the page, using two columns to distinguish the two voices.  Each poem has one or two pencil drawing by Eric Beddows that are simple, but add interest, clarity, and sometimes humor to the poem.  Barbara Chatton says about the illustrations, "Beddows uses personified black-and-white drawings to capture the feeling of the poems, including a sultry queen honeybee reclining on her couch" in "Honeybees" (p. 29).   

 

Through Fleischman's poems, he shows the true characteristics and traits of some of the insects.  The reader learns in "Water Striders" (p. 5) that these insects walk on water by "resting on the thin film" on the water's surface (p. 5).  Students also learn, through the humorous poem “Book Lice”, that there are lice that actually eat books and bookbinding glue.  "Fireflies" (p. 11) informs the reader that fireflies usually appear in June.  This anthology would be an excellent choice for incorporating literature into a science class. 

 

In Barbara Chatton's review, she says of Fleischman's JOYFUL NOISE, "He has combined the elements of sound and meaning to create clear, lively images of a variety of insects."  The element of sound is evident in the poem "House Crickets" (p. 36) where the word crick-et (spoken by both people together) is repeated many times throughout the poem.  The word crick-et interrupts the poem just like a cricket in the house would interrupt the household.  Chatton also says, "Elements of repetition, onomatopoeia, and alliteration are effectively used to create a character for each of these creatures, … which makes these poems a joy for reading aloud."  Repetition is used throughout his poems to emphasize certain words or sound and these words are usually spoken by the two voices simultaneously.  Fleischman includes a variety of poems in his anthology with the poems being humorous, somber, or strictly descriptive.

 

The poem that spoke to me was “Fireflies" (p. 11).  The fireflies flight through the night sky uses the beautiful metaphor of an artist/ calligrapher in the following lines: light/ is the ink we use/ night/ is our parchment.  The imagery that Fleischman creates here with his words is so strong that the reader can just see the fireflies painting a picture with light.  The poet also uses the literary element of consonance in his use of the following words: fireflies, flitting, flashing, fleeting, flickering.  These words give the reader the impression that the light pictures only last for an instant.  Fleischman also cleverly uses personification when he has the fireflies "practicing penmanship" and "copying sentences."  Fleischman also continues the metaphor when he describes the fireflies as "Insect calligraphers, Six-legged scribblers, and Fine artist in flight." 

 

This anthology of insect poems is a delight and a surprise find for me.  To fully appreciate the poetry and to receive the full effect that Fleischman intended, the poems must be read aloud and preferably with a partner.  I feel these poems would be well received by all age groups.

 

Chatton, Barbara. 1988. Joyful noises: Poems for two voices (book). SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL 34, no. 6: 79. In Academic Search Premier (database online). Accessed 30 June 04.    

 


These reviews were prepared in fulfillment of requirements for "Literature for Children and Young Adults", LS5603, Texas Woman's University, Summer 2004.