The Looking Glass : New Perspectives on Children's Literature, Vol 6, No 1 (2002)

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Caucus Race Dodo-6

The Caucus Race
Martha Scott, editor


"A Poetical Tour"

by The Dodo (a.k.a. Martha Scott)


Dear Readers,

Welcome to the Caucus Race, a guide to children's literature-related sites on the Internet. In keeping with the theme of this issue of The Looking Glass, the subject for my current column is poetry. After much browsing, I have located quite a few intriguing and instructive sites that I would like to share with you.

A wonderful starting off point is the ISLMC (Internet School Library Media Center) site. This metasite provides links to curriculum-related sites across the Web. The subsection on poetry for children is extensive. Under "Forms of Poetry" we have links to sites about limericks, haiku, concrete poetry and other forms. One of my favourite poets is Edward Lear and I was extremely pleased to find this link to a site which reproduces illustrations and poems from his Book of Nonsense, first published in 1846. Though he is well known for his limericks, Edward Lear did not invent this form of poetry. There are two earlier collections, The History of Sixteen Wonderful Old Women (1820) and Anecdotes and Adventures of Fifteen Gentlemen (c.1821) -- text and hand-coloured illustrations from these books are reproduced here. I'm obviously not alone in my admiration for the great Mr. Lear. The superb British children's book website ACHUKA has published the results of a BBCTV poll to find the nation's favourite children's poems in their "News" section -- I've taken the liberty of reprinting the list:

  1. The Owl and the Pussy-Cat - Edward Lear
  2. Matilda - Hillaire Belloc
  3. Don't - Michael Rosen
  4. Jabberwocky - Lewis Carroll
  5. On the Ning Nang Nong - Spike Milligan
  6. Talking Turkeys! - Benjamin Zephaniah
  7. Macavity, the Mystery Cat - T. S. Eliot
  8. The King's Breakfast - A. A. Miln
  9. Please Mrs Butler - Allan Ahlberg
  10. Down With The Children! Do Them In! - Roald Dahl

The Academy of American Poets has not neglected children's poetry in its comprehensive website. Start with the article "Serious Play: Reading Poetry with Children". It's an excellent discussion on the importance of teaching poetry to children, with links to excerpts from Jim Trelease's The Read Aloud-Handbook and Kenneth Koch's Rose, Where Did You Get That Red?. The Academy maintains a database of about 400 poets, with short biographies, photos and selected poems, including: Eve Merriam; Dennis Lee; Shel Silverstein (follow the links to more Shel Silverstein sites such as this New York Times obituary which contains an audio clip of the poet reading his poem "The Toy Eater" and a seven-image slide show); Lewis Carroll; Ogden Nash; and Jack Prelutsky. The site also provides a listing of "Kids Classics" and other recommended poems

The Web contains numerous sites on writing poetry with children and teens. Scholastic's site offers step-by-step workshops with several children's poets. Jack Prelutsky reads one of his poems aloud, answers questions about himself and his writing, and offers tips and techniques by adapting some of his own poems. Children can follow along, create an original poem, and then submit it directly to Scholastic's online poetry anthology. Karla Kuskin provides ideas for writing descriptive poetry. Jean Marzollo presents techniques for writing riddle-rhymes based on her I Spy books. Meadowbrook Press's site Giggle Poetry (click on "Poetry Class") contains instructions for writing haiku, sound poems, backward poems, limericks, dream poems and many other formats. For teens, the About.com "Creative Writing for Teens" site has a great deal on poetry writing (click on "Poetry Composition"). Teens can learn about poem construction and various forms of poetry, submit poems to be published on-line and read other teens' poems.

Just a few more poetical tidbits to share: The National Council of Teachers of English Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children website lists past and current winners of this award, which is given every three years to an American poet for his or her body of work. Although names only are provided for most winners, there is background information on the most recent winner, X.J. Kennedy. There is also a fascinating profile of the 1997 recipient, Eloise Greenfield, author of the unforgettable Honey, I Love and many other books, reprinted from the journal Language Arts.

The Lee Bennett Hopkins Award is presented annually to an American poet or compiler -- see Daniel Hade's article in My Own Invention. You can also read about the award in Sue Reichard's article on children's poetry. More on Lee Bennett Hopkins can be found at the Children's Book Council site and at the website of the de Grummond Collection, which holds Hopkins' papers, including materials for sixty-five of his books. The Lee Bennett Hopkins Promising Poet Award, administered by the International Reading Association, is given every three years to a promising new author of children's poetry.

Barbara Juster Esbensen has won both the NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry and the Lee Bennett Hopkins Award. The Barbara Juster Esbensen Memorial website provides many links as well as a moving remembrance by her husband, Tory Esbensen.

The British journal Signal: Approaches to Children's Literature offers the annual Signal Poetry Award, and publishes articles on children's poetry in each May issue. In a note on the award Nancy Chambers writes, "The articles are the main reason for the award: that is, it was set up to ensure that at least once a year a solid chunk of Signal's space would be spent on the important subject of poetry."

Douglas Florian, another of my favourites, has a considerable web presence. A search under his name yielded quite a few hits: an author profile on the Embracing the Child children's literature website, an article in The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, a humorous acceptance speech for the Claudia Lewis Poetry Award, awarded by the Bank Street College for mammalabilia, photos of Florian as guest author at an elementary school in Bethpage, NY and a commercial site, storybookart.com, which offers original artwork by children's book illustrators.

Canadian children's poet Sheree Fitch is profiled on the CBC4Kids website; the profile includes audio clips of Fitch reading aloud and discussing her work. There are further links to a profile by the Writers Federation of Nova Scotia and an interview in January Magazine. ACHUKA also has an interesting interview with Fitch written by Andrea Deakin, in which Fitch discusses her thoughts on writing and sharing poetry.

Thus concludes our tour, dear readers. I had hoped to consider Nursery Rhymes as well, but given time and space restraints this will have to wait for a future column... My warmest wishes for a poetically-inspired 2002.

I remain, Yours affectionately,

The Dodo


Martha Scott has been called many things including "Dodo". She lives in Toronto and works as a librarian at the Toronto Public Library's Osborne Collection of Early Children's Books.


Volume 6, The Looking Glass, September, 2002

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The Looking Glass: new perspectives on children's literature

ISBN 1551-5680