Image result for can i touch your hair poems of race

Citation:  Latham, I., Waters, C., Qualls, S., & Alko, S. (2018). Can I touch your hair?: Poems of race, mistakes, and friendship. Minneapolis, MN: Carolrhoda Books.

Overall Review:
Through the story of a poetry project where two children, one white and one black, are paired together to write a series of poems, Latham and Waters weave together sixteen pairs of poems on topics relevant to elementary age children (i.e. the beach, the playground, family dinners, going to church, sleepovers, punishment, etc.). Each of these pairs includes on poem from the perspective of the white student and one poem from the perspective of the black student to show how their lives are simultaneously very different and very much the same. It shines a light on racism in today’s youth and their families as well as privilege. The final poem— “Dear Ms. Vanderberg” is written by both students together in a hopeful tone about coming together and understanding each other from an open and empathetic point of view. An author’s note and an illustrator’s note close the book to explain how the book came to be and how to ask questions in a way that promotes understanding rather than judgement and separation.

Spotlight Poem:  “Piano Lessons”
“My teacher says
I have piano hands—
long fingers, graceful wrists.
I lift my hands into the air,
and for the first time,
they look like birds
instead of shovels.
She can’t walk by that piano
without touching it,

my grandmother says.
She’s right. Even at night,
I play the piano in my mind,
all those white and black
keys singing together,
then resting side by side.”

This poem focuses on the difference between what we hear or think things should be and the change we experience with a new outlook. For example, Irene sees her own hands as clumsy and unfit for beauty. However, with the kind words from her teacher, she sees her hands as beautiful and capable of creating art. Her musical hands transform an ordinary instrument into something wonderful. It becomes a metaphor for relations between races. It shows the harmony that is possible in the right hands, Irene’s hands if she can begin to see past what she’s been told or what she thinks friendships should look like.

Take 5 Activity:

  1. Read the poem aloud to the class slowly.
  2. Give the class time to discuss the symbolism of the piano as they see it.
  3. Have a class-led discussion of racism and what we can do.
  4. Read Be Kind by Pat Z. Miller.
  5. Re-read the poem as a class and talk about kindness, empathy, and listening and how they impact racism.

Image result for a foot in the mouth poems to read

Citation:  Janeczko, P. B., & Raschka, C. (2012). A foot in the mouth: Poems to speak, sing, and shout. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.

Overall Review:
A Foot in the Mouth: Poems to Speak, Sing, and Shout by Paul B. Janeczko is a compilation of poems by various poets that are best read aloud. It focuses on the richness of a poem’s sound and highlights those works that are particularly enjoyable when heard aloud. The introduction by Janeczko explains this and encourages readers to take initiative and try their hand at reading poetry alone or with a friend for encouragement. The book itself is divided into sections for one voice, tongue twisters, poems for two voices, list poems, poems for three voices, short poems, bilingual poems, rhymed poems, limericks, and poems for a group. There is also an acknowledgements section to wrap up the book by providing more bibliographic information for each selection.

Each poem is accompanied by at least one illustration. These more often resemble doodles as if the illustrator was interpreting the text of the poem quickly as it was read aloud to him. Raschka’s bright, bold, and loud illustrations give a different type of voice to each poem as if he had grabbed the sounds from the air as the words were spoken.

Different styles are highlighted throughout the book with a unique feel for each poem that appealed to a young audience in different ways. Some are humorous, others nostalgic for moments in childhood, and still others slip in education moments like “An Orthographic Lament” by Charles Follen Adams. Some classics are included like “Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll and the witches’ scene from Macbeth. Each fits the unifying theme of richness of language and the increased enjoyment when read aloud to a young audience.

Spotlight Poem:  “The Poems I Like Best” by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer
“The poems I like best
wear classic black
with vintage accessories
and smell like a new book,
the spine just cracked.

The chitchat overheard on a city bus
or nonsense
volleyed between toddlers
on swings at the park.

My favorite poems
squeeze your hand
on a crowded street and say:

The poems I like best
wear blue jeans
and smell
like the tack room of a barn:
worn leather and horse.

The varied verses
of a mockingbird’s tune
or syllables between brothers
scratching scruffy chins
under the hood of a truck.

My favorite poems
hold a wooden spoon of words
and whisper:

I chose to focus on the opening poem in this book because it sets the scene for all those that follow. It perfectly illustrates how words can change our perception, appeal to our senses, and make us connect to a poem even more, especially when spoken aloud. Not only does it poem use imagery to appeal to every sense and make the reader fully experience the art of poetry, it demonstrates how different poems can mean different things to every reader or how poetry is not only one thing. Some poems can wrap you up in a sense of familiarity like you’ve come home (“syllables between brothers”) while others feel strange and challenging but exciting nonetheless (“squeeze your hand/on a crowded street and say/Look”).

Take 5 Activity:

  1. Read the poem aloud to the class.
  2. Discuss the imagery in the poem and how poems can jump off the page to make you feel things.
  3. Read Otto the Owl Who Loved Poetry by Vern Kousky and discuss how the right poem can start a love for poetry and how it makes you feel.
  4. Re-read the poem as a class and discuss the types of poems discussed (familiar, classic, fun, melodic, etc.).
  5. Have the children share poems that have touched them.


Image result for jazz walter dean myers

Citation:  Myers, W. D. (2006). Jazz. New York, NY: Holiday House.

Overall Review:

Jazz opens with an introduction by the poet. This brief introduction covers the history and major elements of jazz music to provide a basis of knowledge for the average reader before presenting sixteen poems about a variety of aspects of jazz from vocals to instruments and prominent jazz musicians. Each poem is unique with a new topic, theme, and poetic style. Each is also accompanied by lively and richly detailed illustrations to bring them to life on the page. The rhythm and soul that jazz is known for is perfectly captured in each poem as they flow into the next. Following the poems is a glossary of jazz terms and a timeline of jazz history.

Spotlight Poem:  “Three Voices”
Thum, thum, thum, and
I feel the ocean rhythm
Thum, thum, thum, and
I feel the midnight passion

Sweet and gentle, so surprising
Music fills us, hear it rising
Like a charming angel choir
Reaching, preaching souls on fire.

What can I add with my horn?
Is it a new sound born because we are
Or is it just a melody that’s leading me
To where I want to be and loosed from
My tether?
And is it really not surprising that our
Spirits are all rising and drawing us
Even higher
Three souls on fire

Through this poem, the reader is introduced to the three main instruments of jazz—the bass, piano, and horn. Each unique player is highlighted and explored in their section of the poem. Though only one stanza is given per instrument, the reader is fully immersed in the feel of that instrument.

Onomatopoeia provides the beat for the first stanza. The constant low strumming provides the backbone for the poem as the bass provides the backbone for each jazz song. It keeps the stanza flowing as we focus on rhythm and steadiness of the bass.

The rhyme scheme shifts in the second stanza as we move onto the piano. We move from ABAB to couplets. This brings us back to something we’re all familiar with as we discuss a more widely-used and familiar instrument. While everyone knows the piano, they might be less familiar with the bass. The piano’s simplicity and sweetness is the focus of this stanza while reminding the reader that the piano can still evoke great emotion and add soul to a song.

The last stanza focuses on freedom. The horn is often free to move about on its own in jazz and provide a new take on old favorites. The rhymes buried within lines show that freedom and innovation.

At last, we discuss that all three voices, with their unique contributions, make something unique and beautiful when they are together. They are more together than apart and can evoke greater emotion and depth than they can on their own.

Take 5 Activity:

  1. Read the poem aloud to the class once. Play the corresponding recordings on the CD included in the book Jazz on a Saturday Night for each of the instruments mentioned in the poem.
  2. Discuss how each instrument sounds to the students, letting them brainstorm and list words, emotions, similar sounds, etc.
  3. Read Jazz on a Saturday Night by Leo and Diane Dillon and listen to the final track on the accompanying CD (“Jazz on a Saturday Night”).
  4. Discuss the relationships among the instruments in the song and the poem.
  5. Re-read the poem as a class and recommend other books like Jazz Baby by Lisa Wheeler or This Jazz Man by Karen Ehrhardt.

Image result for you read to me i'll read to you very short fairy tales to read together

Citation:  Hoberman, M. (2004). You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You: Very Short Fairy Tales to Read Together. New York, NY: Little Brown and Company.

Overall Review:

This fairytale book in the You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You series covers well-known stories like “The Three Bears,” “The Princess and the Pea,” “Cinderella,” “The Three Little Pigs,” and more. It opens with an author’s note that advises adults to ensure children are familiar with the original fairy tales because the poems contained in this book take new spins on the old tales. It also discusses who might be suited to the poem plays included. There is also an introductory poem that lays out how the structure of each poem works and how they should be read. Each poem takes on a different fairy tale and provides a new ending, a new point of view, or other twist to make them new and unique. There are also several illustrations for each poem to portray the action being described in the text.

Spotlight Poem:  “Jack and the Beanstalk”
“My name is Jack,
The beanstalk lad.

And I’m the ogre
Jack made mad.

I lost our milk cow
In a trade.

You got give beans.
That’s all you made.

My mother threw them out
That night
And in the morning
What a sight!
A beanstalk grew
That was so tall
We couldn’t see
The top at all.

You climbed it
To the top and then
You stole my magic
Laying hen.

Your hen that lays
Gold eggs. Why, yes.
I stole your hen,
I do confess.

My bags of gold,
You stole them too,
And then my golden harp.

That’s true.

That was a naughty
Thing to do!

Now Mister Ogre,
Don’t be mad.
I do admit
That I was bad,
But we were poor
And hungry too.

You give them back
Or I’ll eat you!

I’ll give them back
If you agree
To sometimes lend
Your hen to me.

You’re asking me
To lend my hen?

Not all the time.
Just now and then.
And also for
A special treat,
Please lend your harp.
It sounds so sweet.

Why, yes, it has
A lovely tone.
But don’t forget,
It’s just a loan!

A bag of gold
Perhaps you’d share?

A half-bag’s all
That I can spare.

Now that’s all settled
And we’re friends
And that’s the way
Our story ends.

Let’s write it down.

Let’s write it now.

We’ll tell about
The beans and cow

And how the beanstalk
Grew and grew

And when our story
Is all through,
You’ll read to me!
I’ll read to you!”

This poem-play is meant, like all the other pieces in this book, to be read aloud by two voices. One player is Jack, and the other is the giant. The simple rhyme scheme and language make it appropriate for even preschool audiences as the story is one with which most children are familiar. It is written to be an accessible and simple read aloud to get children thinking about the ending of Jack and the Beanstalk, compromises, and working together to be friends. If Jack and the giant had reached an understanding, perhaps the ending wouldn’t have been quite as dramatic. The process of sharing poetry and writing it together is the theme of this story, even if it isn’t stated until the end. When a child has a chance to tell their own story, they are empowered and able to share their gifts and views with the world. That is enhanced with the sharing of their poetry with others. That bond is what is at the center of this piece as the giant and Jack share a piece of their side of the story, become friends, and want to continue sharing their stories with each other.

Take 5 Activity:

  1. Read the poem aloud with another person playing the roles of Jack and the Giant.
  2. Ask the class to discuss the original fairy tale of “Jack and the Beanstalk” and what they know of it.
  3. Read Trust Me, Jack’s Beanstalk Stinks by Eric Braun and talk about how there are many sides to a story and many ways to tell it.
  4. Re-read the poem to the class and let them sit with it quietly for a moment.
  5. Let the class write their own version of this or any other fairy tale.

Image result for red sings from treetops

Citation:  Sidman, J., & Zagarenski, P. (2010). Red sings from treetops: A year in colors. New York: Scholastic.

Overall Review:
Red Sings From the Treetops is separated into four poems—one for each season. It opens with spring. Each poem is spaced out over multiple pages that provide simple, childlike illustrations brimming with the colors being described. The colors themselves pop from the poems as bursts of colors. The four poems make up the entirety of the book with no additional information on seasons or color associations nor a glossary, table of contents or other organizational tools.

Spotlight Poem:  “Spring”
Red sings
from treetops:
each note dropping
like a cherry
into my ear.

Red turns
the maples feather,
sprouts in rhubarb spears;
red squirms on the road
after rain.

Green is new
in the spring. Shy.
Green peeks from buds,
trembles in the breeze.
Green floats through rain-dark trees,
and glows, mossy-soft, at my feet.
Green drips from tips of leaves
onto Pup’s nose.
In spring,
even the rain tastes Green.

Yellow slips goldfinches
their spring jackets.
Yellow shouts with light!

In spring, Yellow and Purple hold hands.
They beam at each other
with bright velvet faces.
First flowers,
first friends.

In spring,
sounds like storms:
snapped twigs and bouncing hail,
blink of lightning
and rattling BOOM!

Blue needs sun.
Without it,
sparkling spring sky!

White can be quiet too:
Delicate petals filled with light

And here,
in secret places,
peeps Pink:
the color of

The imagery of this poem really stood out to me and made the words jump off the page. The first stanza alone uses the metaphor of red singing to bring the color alive. It bursts forth from the trees in such a way that it is impossible to ignore. This metaphor continues with the use of cherries, little music notes that compose the song of red throughout the season, their melodies brought to life with the onomatopoeia in the fourth line.

Throughout the poem, this rich language continues to enhance the feel of the changing colors of the season. It instructs with examples of each color’s presence (i.e. yellow goldfinches or the sun, white flowers, etc.), but it invites the reader to fully experience each color from the sound of red to the smell of white. It takes the changing world and makes it three-dimensional on the page, surrounding the reader with the experience of spring.

Each color also takes us on an emotional journey from the bold and exciting snippets of red to the shy new pink. We are treated to a tour of each emotion associated with spring.

Take 5 Activity:

  1. Read the poem aloud for the class and let them sit for a moment with it.
  2. Discuss color as a class. Let them come up with associations for each color of the rainbow (i.e. feelings, life milestones, etc.). Discuss some cultural color associations around the world.
  3. Read My Many Colored Days by Dr. Seuss and let the class draw connections between the book and the poem regarding emotions, seasonal or life cycle changes, etc.
  4. Read the poem again together as a class.
  5. Discuss the science behind the color changes in the seasons seen in the poem and how they affect us emotionally.

Image result for voice of freedom fannie lou hamer

Citation:  Weatherford, C. B., & Holmes, E. (2015). Voice of freedom, Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the civil rights movement. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.

Overall Review: 

Voice of Freedom is a beautiful and moving story told in verse of Fannie Lou Hamer’s life. This biography told through twenty-two poems in a variety of forms is accompanied by rich, textured illustrations that provide depth by providing a visual story to accompany the poems. Their artistic interpretations of the words use a variety of textures and colors to illustrate the depth and richness of Fannie Lou’s life.

The book opens with a quotation from Hamer: “The truest thing that we have in this country at this time is little children…if they think you’ve made a mistake, kids speak out.” It is perfectly suited to a juvenile biography. What follows are poems about the milestones and influences of Hamer’s life from her birth and childhood through her work in the civil rights movement and politics.

An author’s note follows the poems with more information about Hamer’s life and work as well as the historical period in which she lived. A time line of Hamer’s life and the historical events that occurred therein, source notes, and a bibliography are also included at the end of the book.

Spotlight Poem:  “Black Power”
“’Say it loud—I’m black and I’m proud.’ –James Brown

Black power! had become the battle cry
of the movement. For me, that meant pride
and equal rights, but for Stokey Carmichael,
the new head of SNCC, it meant fighting if need be—
and it meant having an all-black staff.
Hurt my heart to lose Bob Zellner
and the other white workers
so committed for so long.
How could I hate?
I mourned whites who died for freedom.
I have lived long enough to know
that no race has a corner on decency.
I feel sorry for anybody that could let hate wrap them up.
Ain’t no such thing as I can hate anybody
and hope to see God’s face.
Out of one blood God made all nations.

This poem stood out as an important illustration of how pride in oneself does not have to mean alienating or bringing others down. Its focus is love across races and true equality. By using a quote from Hamer herself (“Out of one blood God made all nations”), the poem perfectly captures her spirit and her message of love, not hate.

The lines “I have lived long enough to know/that no race has a corner on decency” struck a chord with me because of the emphasis placed on the second line by adding a break between the two. It continues the theme of bad people being a part of everything but not letting that weigh you down or stop you from working for what is right. No race, no cause is without issues or bad apples. That doesn’t mean the entire thing can be dismissed or thrown away. This is an important concept for children—the world isn’t black and white. It is a difficult concept to convey, but this poem manages to do so in an inspirational way as the subject of the poem would have done.
Take 5 Activity:

  1. Read the poem aloud to the class.
  2. Let the students discuss hate and how it is used to divide people.
  3. Read Separate Is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatiuh and discuss the black power movement.
  4. Re-read the poem aloud together and let the students discuss anything that stands out to them.
  5. Recommend books such as Let It Shine: Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters by Andrea Davis Pinkney, The Youngest Marcher by Cynthia Levinson, and Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up to Be Malcolm X by Ilyasah Shabazz.


Image result for cesar si se puede yes we can

Citation:  Bernier-Grand, C. T., & Diaz, D. (2013). César: ¡Sí, se Puede! Las Vegas, NV: Two Lions/Amazon Children’s Publishing.

Overall Review: 

This book includes several poems that chronicle the life of Cesar Chavez from his childhood through his historic work for farm workers’ rights and his death. Each poem covers a chapter in his life or significant influence on the man he would become including his mother, father, difficult childhood, The Depression, and more.

Each poem includes a vibrant illustration depicting the events or subject of the poem. The book also includes a table of contents with the title of each poem included in the book as well as the appendices at the end, which include author’s notes, a glossary of Spanish terms, the story of Cesar Chavez’s life told in prose with additional information, a timeline of Cesar Chavez’s life, a list of sources used, and a collection of memorable quotes from Cesar Chavez.

The poet used his craft to present historic events and a famous person in a condensed and accessible way to children who may not be familiar with this man and the events of his life. The emotional impact of the poetry in this book helps to put the reader in a place of openness to his cause. It puts the reader in his shoes by condensing the story and fully connecting the range of emotions the workers and Cesar himself felt throughout his life. It is a wonderful tool to begin a lesson on workers’ rights, Cesar himself, social justice, racism, or activism.

Spotlight Poem:  “Dad: Librado Chavez”
como un guitarron.
Nearly six feet tall.
Huge, strong hands.
Taught Cesar
how to make cars
out of sardine cans
and tractors
out of spools of thread.
‘Never afraid of work
and often did too much.’
Found it dishonorable
to be fired for being lazy.
‘But if somebody was fired
for standing up for a person’s rights,
it was quite honorable.’
Tugged at Cesar’s ears
and patted his head.”

This poem stood out to me with its simplicity. What appears, at first reading, to simply be a story about Chavez’s childhood and his connection with his father really starts to drive home how influential his father was in Cesar’s later work. My favorite lines that fully expose this point are “’But if somebody was fired/for standing up for a person’s rights,/it was quite honorable.’/Tugged at Cesar’s ears/and patted his head.” By putting those lines together back-to-back, the poet shows that his father’s words tugged at his ears, just as his father did lovingly. The words stayed with him throughout his life and greatly shaped his future.

This poem also illustrates Cesar’s ordinary childhood. He was a simple child like anyone else who enjoyed spending time with his father who he viewed as larger than life and monumentally important. He made toys with him and worried for him. This perfectly shows children that anyone can change the world.

Take 5 Activity:

  1. Read the poem aloud, explaining the Spanish phrases.
  2. Let the students sit with the poem and ask them to discuss their favorite lines.
  3. Read Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez by Kathleen Krull to the class. Discuss key parts of his life and the influence his father had on him.
  4. Discuss how Cesar Chavez was an ordinary child like anyone else who enjoyed spending time with his father, and he wound up changing the lives of countless people. Have the class brainstorm ways anyone could make a change.
  5. Re-read the poem aloud as a class and suggest books such as Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi, Grace for President by Kelly DiPucchio, Harlem’s Little Blackbird by Renee Watson, and Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson.

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