Dispatch from Home: A time for poetry

My kids, not yet Proustian scholars! My daughter is reading a picture book while my son reads over her shoulder.

It's obviously no secret that I love words so it only makes sense that I would try to inspire my kids to do the same.

I don't remember exactly when I began reading poetry to my kids, but somewhere along the way I decided the best way to foster a love affair with words is to read them some of the most imaginative use of language out there.

It's hard enough getting adults interested in poetry. What would possess me to think my two kids, notoriously rambunctious at ages one and three, would sit still long enough for me to recite some poetry?

Well, I'm fortunate that my daughter and son adore books, devouring at least a dozen picture books throughout their day. It's not like they're reading Proust or Dickens. Their bookcases do house a good number of children's classics like "Goodnight, Moon," but I'm not a book snob. I believe that reading anything is better than not reading at all. In other words, we have plenty of Thomas the Train and lift-the-flap books. Anything to maintain their interest in books.

This tactic seems to be paying off. My daughter has recently taken to requesting "My Little Picture Dictionary" as one of her bedtime stories. Confession time. My husband and I certainly don't read all the book to her at once. Goodness, no!

Let me tell you, it would take a long time to read a whopping 350 definitions, each accompanied by a photo and a sentence showing how the word is used. I imagine my daughter is learning a lot as she studies the images while I read to her. My son has shown similiar fondness for his 15-tome set of The Sesame Street Treasury encyclopedias,

published by Funk & Wagnalls in 1983. My kids' obvious joy for books even had my mom calling them, "the little intellectuals."

Still, let's be real. Dictionaries and encyclopedias are typically not the most scintillating reading. More importantly, I wonder just how engaged my kids are with the language of these books and not just the pictures.

This is where I think poetry can play an integral role in shaping how kids view language and words. Thank goodness for writers like Jack Prelutsky, whose wonderfully creative work has made it easy for me to introduce poetry to my kids.

"I have feathers fine and fluffy.

I have lovely little wings,

but I lack the superstructure

to support these splendid things."

excerpt of "Ballad of a Boneless Chicken"
from The New Kid on the Block by Jack Prelutsky

Hmm, this poem could also be a fitting description for that of a growing child, wouldn't you say? To me, the wonderful quality about poetry is that there can be different interpretations of the same poem. I know each time I read a poem again I discover something new in the language or its meaning.

Similarly, Prelutsky's work has sparked some interesting conversations between my three-year-old son and I. Once we talked about how long it might take us to eat a "pizza the size of the sun," the title of one of Prelutsky's books and poems. It was a delicious conversation, let me tell you, enough to make me want to go out and buy ingredients to make our own pizza at home.

"I'm making a pizza the size of the sun,

a pizza that's sure to weigh more than a ton,

a pizza too massive to pick up and toss,

a pizza resplendent with oceans of sauce. "

I'm topping my pizza with mountains of cheese"

from "a pizza the size of the sun"

Prelutsky is the author of more than 30 collections or anthologies of children's poetry, so it's no suprise that he was named the first Children's Poet Laureate by the Poetry Foundation in 2006. Since late last year, Mary Ann Hoberman, another established poet, occupies the post.

No doubt Prelutsky among the giants of children's poetry and, in honor of National Poetry Month (every April since 1996), I'll be writing future posts about other, more obscure poets whose work appeals to children. I will also include tips on easy and enjoyable ways for you to infuse your daily life with poetry.

Meanwhile, please feel free to share any tips you may have on reading poetry to kids or to suggest any poets whose work parents or kids might enjoy. And, if you have a chance, do head on over to the Poetry Foundation at http://www.poetryfoundation.org/ for some poetry fun for you and your kids.

1 comment:

Elle said...

I'm so glad I found your blog! My husband is a high school English teacher and just now we were discussing how difficult it is to get teenagers excited about poetry. I agree that we need to try and foster this love at an early age. I started reading to my girls while they were still in my womb. We love books and words too.

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