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In Praise of Poetry, by Sandy Meagher

It's National Poetry Month, but these poetry titles and activities will fit into your curriculum at any time of year

Students ringing bells

The Poetry Bell Ringers brighten everyone's day by reciting poems with handbell and rhythm accompaniment.

April is Poetry Month – yet the celebration should be year-round! So often, teachers like to have a poem to introduce each month. Try A Year Goes Round: Poems for the Months by Karen Winnick (Boyds Mills Press, 2001, ISBN: 1-563-97898-9). These gentle, easy-to-read poems are beautifully illustrated by the author. These poems can be incorporated into your class' studies of science and weather. Another easy-to-read collection is Weather: Poems by Lee Bennett Hopkins (Harper Collins, 1994, ISBN: 0-060-21463-5) and Eileen Spinelli's delightful Here Comes the Year (Holt, 2002, ISBN: 0-805-06685-3) is a month-by-month and seasonal book that urges children to follow along through the year.

A grand celebration
Elementary school curriculum stresses generational learning – many classes have generation celebrations throughout the year. A wonderful book of poems is A Grand Celebration: Grandparents in Poetry selected by Carol G. Hittleman and Daniel Hittleman (Boyds Mills Press, 2002, ISBN: 1-563-97901-2). It could be fun for students to write their own grandparent poems, using these as models, and then share them.

Rhyming favorites
Now that I've been a grandparent for the last 18 months, I find that my grandson, Paul III, loves rhyme and rhythm. We sing nursery rhymes, clap and dance to them and have a grand time. One of our favorites is Snuggle Puppy (Workman, 2003, ISBN: 0-761-13067-5), a board book by Sandra Boynton, which is based upon the song from her Philadelphia Chickens book and CD (Workman, 2003, ISBN: 0-761-12636-8). Our other favorite is The Lady with the Alligator Purse (Little, Brown, 1998, ISBN: 0-316-93074-1), adapted and illustrated by Nadine Westcott.

Stories in verse
Stories that rhyme are like poetry to me – I loved You Are to Me by Rebecca Doughty (Putnam, 2004, ISBN: 0-399-24176-0). This story-poem could be used as a model to write a poem for a friend or for Mother's and Father's Days. The illustrations are simple but genuine.

Feel the beat
Since poetry is an exquisite form of rhythm, I would have loved all of you to have met Stephen Swinburne when he visited our school. As the children entered the auditorium, he played a large bongo drum and sang his book Unbeatable Beaks (Holt, 1999, ISBN: 0-805-04802-2). His rhyming verse describes the beaks of different birds. The children were mesmerized by the wonderful drum rhythm and the words that helped them to imagine all those beautiful birds.

Sharing poetry
An outstanding poetry resource for children and teachers is Artistic Adventures: Poetry by Kelly Burkholder, (Rourke Press, 2001, ISBN: 1-571-03354-8). This book can help everyone to understand all the ways in which poetry can make a difference in our lives. The author offers ideas for sharing poems, such as: "Make a card with your poem inside. Write it on special paper. Tuck it into a friend's pocket. Surprise a friend with a postcard poem. Ask your friends to write poetry, too. Sharing your poetry makes it more special." That's good advice indeed!

Speaking of sharing poetry, the Poetry Bell Ringers at our school help all of us to have fun with poems. Each month these students work in small groups to memorize a favorite poem. Then they knock on a classroom door, ring their bells and recite the poem for an appreciative audience.

Some good sources for poems to memorize were A Child's Introduction to Poetry by Michael Driscoll, which is accompanied by a CD (Black Dog, 2003, ISBN: 1-579-12282-5) and also An Illustrated Treasury of Read-Aloud Poems For Young People (Black Dog, 2003, ISBN: 1-579-12289-2). Everyone in our school loves to be surprised by the Poetry Bell Ringers!

Sandy Meagher is the Library Department Chairperson and School Librarian in the Wayne Highlands School District, Honesdale, PA.