Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices, by Paul Fleischman – A Review

I purchased this book a while back because I ran across a good deal on the ebook version. It is on the Newbery Honor list, so I picked it up. I decided it fits the ATY 2019 Reading Challenge prompt #38, a book not written in traditional novel format. It isn’t even traditional poem format.

I didn’t realize just how unique the format of this book is when I purchased it. This is a collection of poems about a variety of insects – grasshoppers, honeybees, mayflies, and so on. Each poem is written in two columns, intended to be read aloud by two people. One individual reads the column on the left, one reads the column on the right. Some lines are read separately, some simultaneously.

I was so intrigued by the idea of two voices, I decided I had to hear it. I purchased an audio version of this book and listened to it in a single session. It’s a very short book, so this was not difficult to do. My favorite poem is “Whirligig Beetles”. So much fun!

I also wanted to try this for myself, so I invited my son to read this aloud with me. My son is nine years old, and is quite a competent reader. However, the poems in this collection do include words not commonly used by nine year olds. My son struggled a little bit with some of the words, making it a little cumbersome to read aloud. He found it a little annoying, he said, with the voices talking at the same time. To be fair, it does sound somewhat chaotic, but I think that’s what I liked about it.

I look forward to reading it with my other two sons one day. They seem to have more of a chaotic free-spirit about them than my analytical eldest.

While it isn’t impossible to enjoy a visual read through of this book, it is far more interesting to read out loud, or at least to listen to. This book is a very unique and enjoyable experience.

Love That Dog, by Sharon Creech: A Review

For Popsugar’s 2019 Reading Challenge, prompt #29 – a book with “love” in the title – I chose to read Love That Dog, by Sharon Creech. I wanted to use books from my overflowing bookshelves, but sadly, have no books whose titles contain the word “love.” I found this book by Sharon Creech when I went searching for books that qualified.

I was intrigued by the description, so I borrowed a copy from my local library. Goodreads describes the book this way:

Jack hates poetry. Only girls write it and every time he tries to, his brain feels empty. But his teacher, Ms. Stretchberry, won’t stop giving her class poetry assignments – and Jack can’t avoid them. But then something amazing happens. The more he writes, the more he learns he does have something to say.

This book is labeled a “novel,” but is written in the format of a poem, or series of poems. It is the story of Jack, a middle-grader, who learns a thing or two about poetry. It’s a story about a boy and his dog. It’s about a boy finding his voice.

This book moves fast. I read it in a single sitting. I think I would like to read it again sometime, a little slower, perhaps.

I enjoyed it so much, I immediately handed it off to my 9 year old son. I did finally get him to read it. My son learned a few things about poetry. For one, it doesn’t necessarily have to rhyme. Two, poems shaped like the object they are about are a little weird (his words). When I asked him if he would recommend the book to someone else, he said maybe. He rated it a four out of five, and asked me to get the next book, Hate That Cat. That sounds like a recommendation to me.

Camp NaNoWriMo & Writing Poetry With Fifth Graders

For Camp NaNo this April I took on the “project” of writing a daily exercise. One of my goals in this was to recapture a sense of joy in my writing. Each day I’ve taken a new random writing exercise and tried to make the most of it.

Some of the daily prompts I’ve used include:

  • Find ten words in a foreign language that are the same or similar to English words. Use them in a creative writing session.
  • Go out on the town tonight, but carry a notebook with you. Write down any intriguing turns of phrases, jokes or ideas that you encounter.
  • Pretend you are a philosopher in ancient Greece. What would your theory of the universe have been in those days when the world was flat and the earth was the center of the cosmos?
  • Develop a newspaper story about an Elvis sighting, one similar to those that run in the tabloids. Be as humorous—yet convincing—as possible.

The best prompt so far, the one that has generated more thought and more words than any other came on day four. The daily exercise prompted  me to write a song, a poem—any piece of writing you have never attempted before.

While I have attempted to write poetry before, I never have tried a song. But I really didn’t want to write either.

Then I hit upon a grand idea. I would pass this assignment on to one of my fictional characters. And who better than an entire class of fifth graders? My two middle grade adventures series The Silver Compass Adventures and the sister series, The Golden Locket Adventures, center around three eleven year old boys and three eleven year old girls respectively. They hail from a small town, so it is not at all unreasonable that they would end up in the same fifth grade class.

Their English assignment then, is this:

Write an ‘ode’ which is a poem in praise of something. It could be about someone or something you admire. Your poem should be 6-20 lines in length.

So my assignment to write a poem – something I didn’t want to do in the first place – grew into writing six poems. Yikes!

However, this turned out to be an interesting exercise in character development. I spent a great deal of time figuring out how each of the six fifth graders would approach the assignment. Would they groan about it much like I had? Would they embrace it? What would they choose to write about?

I had so much fun responding to this fictional homework assignment that I’ve ended up developing a new obsession with Albert Einstein. I learned a few things about baseball. And oak trees.

I discovered one of my three boys could probably write truly moving poetry if he would only take the assignment more seriously. Another boy gets too caught up in the rhyme and the rhythm and forgets all about the beauty of poetry. One of my girls surprised me by choosing to write a tender tribute to her grandmother.

In the end, it was almost more fun for me to write about writing poetry than to actually write the poetry. However, since this assignment gave me the perfect excuse to write some bad poetry, I went ahead and wrote the six poems. My goal was to convey the six different voices of each of my fifth graders.

So, here they are, in no particular order:

Ode to Baseball, by Mike Tripplet

Nine players take the field
The crowd stands and cheers.
My heart pounds as I wait,
Between second and third, I stand ready.
The wind up, the pitch, the crack of the bat.
Line drive headed my way,
I move in front of it, scoop it up.
A perfect throw to first. Out!

My Grandmother, by Kira Green

Your eyes are bright and full of wisdom
Your face is lined by years of worry.
Side by side we sit in silence,
My hand in yours, there is no hurry.

You hold me close, don’t let me go,
Patient through my frustrated tears.
You teach me to be true, to see inside
How to stand tall despite my fears.

On a foundation of laughter, family and faith
Your kindness shines through all the pain.
I see your strength in the face of adversity,
And never once do I hear you complain.

Einstein, by Elijah Capelli

He developed the theory of relativity
By asking questions with creativity.
A little strange and wild-haired,
He wrote that E equals M C squared.
A winner of the Nobel Prize,
In physics. Who wouldn’t recognize
Einstein’s the greatest scientist of all time.

Ode To My Dog, by Tommy Cooper

I love your wiggly butt dance
When you greet me at the door.
As soon as I get home from school
You’re ready to play ball.
Snuggled together on the floor
You help me through my homework.

Ladybug, by Jordyn Blackwell

The heavens cover the Earth like a dome.
Pinpoints of light blink in the darkness.
Half-moon sends down shafts of light
Like fairy dust on angel’s wings.
Moon beams fade with amber light
As darkness turns to day.
Branches glisten, shiver with the morning chill.
Wind whispers softly through the boughs.
A rustle of feathers is owl returning home,
While with birdsong, sparrow greets the day.
Morning sunlight shines on green,
Turning dew drops into emeralds.
Down below the flowers bloom
In pinks and reds and yellows.
Silently you take to crimson wing
I watch as you alight on a golden flower.
I take you gently in my hand
And I count your star-shaped spots.
I lean in close and watch in wonder,
Until upon your back, the universe I see.

The Tree in the Courtyard, by A. J. Tripplet

There’s a tree in my dad’s courtyard.
It’s taller than the second floor windows.
A tire swing hangs from one of the branches.
It makes me feel like I can fly.
The leaves change from green to brown
Before falling to the ground.
My bed sits by the window, and I see the tree outside.
A squirrel leaps onto the roof over my window.

I’m not much of a poet. But this wasn’t me writing poetry. This was me channeling six eleven year olds as they wrote poetry. I hope I did credit to their individual voices. Writing poetry turned out to be a lot of fun after all.

Where the Sidewalk Ends, by Shel Silverstein: A Review

I haven’t read a whole lot of poetry. In truth, most of what I have read, I don’t always get or enjoy. But I am trying to broaden my experiences, and when my boys picked out a book of poetry by Nick Cannon last year, I discovered some poetry, at least, could be a great deal of fun to read out loud.

When I found Where the Sidewalk Ends last Christmas, I picked it up for my children, and it has since joined my 2017 Reading Challenge list. I have enjoyed reading this book aloud with my boys, though it has been a mixed experience for them. My oldest, at seven, has enjoyed the poems more than the younger two, but even they enjoyed at least some of them.

The book opens with this beautiful “Invitation” …

If you are a dreamer, come in,
If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,
A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer…
If you’re a pretender, come sit by my fire
For we have some flax-golden tales to spin,
Come in!
Come in!

The boys’ favorite poems include “The Loser” and “The Planet of Mars.” I think this is mostly because of the illustrations, also by Shel Silverstein. The first of these is about someone who has lost his head, and the picture shows him sitting on it as he rests from his exertions in trying to find it. The second includes an illustration of one of the poet’s imagined Martians whose faces aren’t “in the very same places” as humans. The place for his face is on his butt, which, of course, made my boys laugh hysterically.

Silverstein’s poems are full of absurd and ridiculous images. Some of them are downright tragic. The rhymes and rhythms are wonderful and funny. And the simple illustrations brilliantly compliment the poetry throughout the book. The title poem, “Where the Sidewalk Ends,” is among my favorites in the book, full of wonder and imagination.

Overall, this was a very fun read. One that should definitely be read aloud. And now that is is finished, I hope my boys will let me read it to them again. And again.

The book ends just as beautifully as it began, with the last line of the last poem, “The Search.” The book has been read, the pot of gold has been found…

What do I search for now?

I guess it’s now time for this “dreamer, wisher, liar, hope-er, pray-er, magic bean buyer” to go and spin some tales of my own.

2016 Reading Challenge, and poetry by Nick Cannon

I haven’t posted a new book review for several weeks. In fact, it may seem I have completely dropped out of the 2016 Reading Challenge that I began at the start of this year. This would be because I have not had time to do much reading. I started reading The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss at the very end of March, barely managing to crack open the 700+ page tome. Then in April, I participated in Camp NaNoWriMo, and had to set aside most of my reading in favor of more writing time.

Reading with my children, however, is one priority I will not set aside for much of anything and on a recent foray to the local library we brought home Neon Aliens Ate My Homework, And Other Poems, by Nick Cannon. The method my children use to select the books that we borrow is to simply pull them randomly from the shelves and stuff them into our library bag until the bag is fairly bursting. Cannon’s book was one such random grab, made by my middle son who was attracted by the green cover.

I don’t have a great deal of experience with poetry, usually finding it difficult to relate to. That said, I enjoyed this book, and will attempt to do it justice in a review. The poems in this collection are full of humor, fun and general ickiness (stinky feet anyone?). While I can’t say that I liked all of them, they were a great deal of fun to read aloud, and I enjoyed sharing this book with my boys.

The poems range in style, though most employ some sort of cadence and rhyme. The themes vary as well, from the whimsical “Animal Advice”, to the silly “The Baby Squisher” and “Hot Sauce on my Popcorn”, to the downright gross “Boogers” and “Farts or Burps”. Many more of the poems are tributes to Cannon’s family or to others he admires such as “Super Mom,” “Grandpa Esau” and “School of Hip Hop”.

Over all, the poems in this collection have a positive and uplifting message. Some of my personal favorites include the title poem, “Neon Aliens Ate My Homework,” “Dinosaur 3000,” “Weird Concrete!” and “The Wordsmith”.

Besides writing poetry, Nick Cannon is a film star, comedian, TV and radio host, musician, writer, director and philanthropist. This book also has an entire arsenal of artists (Michael Farhat, Fawn Arthur, Kristian Douglas, MAST, Mike P, Jack Fish and Andrea von Bujdoss) whose artwork brilliantly compliments Cannon’s poetry.

For a completely random grab, this turned out to be a rather enjoyable read, one I would heartily recommend.