Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Poetry Picture Books for Making Inferences

When teaching poetry, it's often easy to just break it down into small bits. This bit is personification, this bit is alliteration, this bit is a simile.

But poetry is more than these small bits. Instead, readers need to try to figure out what the author is saying. This process requires a reader to make multiple inferences--sometimes in very few lines of text. Teaching poetry goes hand in hand with teaching inferences. Readers need to use their background knowledge to reach for the meaning of the poem. While the figurative language is important, it's only a piece of the puzzle.

Where to find good poetry for kids? I've had tremendous luck at discount bookstores, like the ones that you find at outlet malls or vacation spots. I have also had luck with combing the shelves of used book sales at libraries. These two sources have opened my eyes to some great books of poetry that I may not have otherwise found. (Plus, they're often inexpensive!) Here are some of my favorites--and the ones that I've picked up for my classroom are all from discount or secondhand sources. While you may not be able to buy them directly anymore, you may still be able to get them from libraries.

Amber Was Brave, Essie Was Smart: This is a story told in poems. I love the title poem for teaching character traits. Author Vera B. Williams tells us these traits right off the bat, and then supports them with specific details. Throughout the rest of the book, the story of the sisters and their situation unfolds. The copy that I picked up had a different cover, so I think there may still be older editions floating around that you can get for cheap!

Once Around the Sun: This book goes through the year with a poem for every month. The poems are filled with personification, alliteration, and similes...but even better, the poems are about kid-friendly, concrete topics. The colors of the illustrations evoke the feelings of the seasons. The poems are wonderful for helping students to see how they can take a poem apart to find the different kinds of figurative language, but put it back together to look for a main idea. Definitely a must for your classroom library.

Black Earth, Gold Sun: I love gardening, and this book of gardening poetry is one of my favorites. I bought it as a discard from a library. Just today I read the first poem with a previewing group, looking at how the author uses a simile to compare the freshly dug earth to a chocolate cake. (What an image!) The poems have nice specific vocabulary words to stretch the students' understandings, with supportive pictures help them to put the pieces together.

Hey, You! Poems to Skyscrapers, Mosquitoes, and Other Fun Things: I bought several copies of this over the weekend, and then promptly turned them over to other teachers--so I haven't had much of a chance to explore it much. Hopefully I'll get my copies back.

Trailblazers: Poems of Exploration: This book makes a wonderful history connection. Bobbi Katz writes poems from the points of view of various explorers. She chooses a diverse bunch, going beyond the obvious people. Definitely worth looking for, especially if you teach social studies.

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