Citation:  Dakos, K. (1993). Don’t Read This Book, Whatever You Do!: More Poems About School. New York, NY: Four Winds Press.

Overall Review:  This collection of poems about school-related subjects like spelling tests, the lost and found, wearing glasses, and sicknesses going around the school will be sure to delight kids. Many of them are quite funny or quirky while others take a more sentimental and curious tone to fully explore the variety of school experiences.

The book begins with a table of contents for the reader to find any poem they wish listed by title. The contents pages feature illustrations of dreaming children and a pencil impatient for someone to begin writing which set the scene for the whimsical and childlike poems to follow. Each poem features at least one accompanying illustration to add a new dimension to the poems themselves. Each illustration is done in simple black and white strokes as if they were doodles in a notebook from a boring class lecture further drawing the reader into the school atmosphere.

This collection is a variety of poems by one author—Kalli Dakos. She provides such variety and depth in her poems which further reflect the differences among school children and experiences by appearing in a variety of styles and forms. Using many poetic elements, she really allows the reader to analyze each work for new meaning and to expand one’s knowledge of poetry. For example, her use of figurative language in “If You’re Not Here, Then Where Are You?” helps to illustrate the true power of imagination to transport us to other worlds (“I’m lying on a bed on a cloud of dreams, Floating away over valleys of whipping cream.” Readers of all levels of knowledge of poetry will surely find something that speaks to them in this collection.

Spotlight Poem: “I’d Mark with the Sunshine” by Kalli Dakos

If I were a teacher,
I wouldn’t mark in red,
Because red reminds me
Of blood that
Oozes out of cuts,
And fire engines that
Rush to fight blazes
So hot you could
Die in them,
And STOP signs that
Warn you of danger.

If I were a teacher
I’d mark in yellow—
For corn muffins,
Mustard on a hot dog,
Gardens of dandelions,
And sunbeams that
Dance on daffodils.

If I were a teacher,
I’d throw out
My STOP pen,
And I’d mark with
the sunshine itself!

To give light to an A,
Warmth to a C,
And hope to an F.

This poem focuses on a theme that all children can relate to—school grades. At some point, every child receives a grade in which they are disappointed. However, this poem turns that around and allows them to see that it isn’t as simple or harsh as it seems. It’s all a matter of perspective. By viewing failure not as a stopping point as a beginning on the road to growth and success, it brings hope to the less academically successful readers. By using a new style for the line “And I’d mark with the sunshine itself,” she turns the poem into a hopeful ode to grading with the light of education and encouragement. She also uses descriptors that every child can relate to—fire engines, mustard on a hot dog, etc. to further enhance their connection to the message. By associating things they’ve experienced that were scary, painful, or otherwise unpleasant, even those children who cannot relate to an F are pulled into the poem to put themselves in the shoes of those who are less gifted academically and see that there can and should be hope in an F.

Take 5 Activity:

  1. Before reading the poem, have the children write down five words to describe how they feel when they get a good grade. Then, have them write down five words to describe how they feel when they get a bad grade. Allow them to share, if they feel comfortable.
  2. Read the poem slowly, pausing between each stanza.
  3. Discuss the parts of the poem the poet wants us to take notice of (i.e. words in all capitals or italics). Have them think about these phrases to themselves, and then have everyone read the poem together, putting emphasis on these phrases.
  4. Have the children discuss the parts of the poem that stood out to them and guide the discussion to an end by talking about “hope to an F.”
  5. Read Rosie Revere Engineer by Andrea Beaty and discuss how failing isn’t an end but a new beginning.

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