Category Archives: Read Aloud Thursday

My America: A Poetry Atlas of the United States

Last week I featured a poetry book that spotlights all of the American presidents, and this week I’m sharing another substantial poetry book.  My America:  A Poetry Atlas of the United States is compiled by Lee Bennett Hopkins and illustrated by Stephen Alcorn.  The book is divided into eight sections based on the regions of the U.S.: Northeast States, the Capital, Southeast States, Great Lakes States, Plains States, Mountain States, Southwest States, and Pacific Coast States.   Each section opens with a map and table of facts about each state in the region.  This is followed by six to eight poems for each region (excepting the one poem for D.C. in the Capital section).  Many of the poets whose works appear in this volume are unknown to me, but a few are readily recognizable:  Nikki Giovanni, Langston Hughes, Carl Sandburg, and our old friend, Anonymous.  :-)  Lee Bennett Hopkins (who even has an award named after him) has a couple of poems in here, as do a couple of older children’s poets I recognize.

Of course, my girls immediately looked up Alabama to see if our state is represented by a poem, and indeed it is:  ”Alabama Earth (At Booker Washington’s Grave)” by Langston Hughes.   The fact that we actually visited Booker T. Washington’s gravesite and home a few years ago made this poem doubly meaningful to us.   The final lines of this poem are particularly compelling:

While over Alabama earth

These words are gently spoken:

Serve–and hate will die unborn.

Love–and chains are broken.

My personal favorite is from the Northeast section of the anthology, a poem entitled “Frost’s Farm Road” by James Hayford.   Robert Frost is my favorite poet, so I naturally love that this poem is so reminiscent of Frost’s style, from its beginning–

I pocketed a pebble

From Frost’s farm road at Ripton,

to its end–

In that high circle of his

In or just under the Great World.

Happy sigh.  

Stephen Alcorn’s illustrations are painted using casein on paper with no “preliminary pencil sketches” so as to “surrender to the magic of each poem,” with each illustration “reworked” over time to the lovely, textured illustration reproduced in the book.

This is an altogether lovely book, one that invites slow, thoughtful reading.  It, too, would make a great accompaniment to a history or geography study.  Highly Recommended.  (Simon & Schuster, 2000)


Poetry Friday Button

I’m blogging about poetry every Friday this month, and I’m linking this post up to Poetry Friday, hosted this week by Today’s Little Ditty.

Rutherford B., Who Was He? by Marilyn Singer

I’ve wanted to review Rutherford B., Who Was He?:  Poems About Our Presidents for a long time.   I requested my library buy it way back when I first heard of it last summer, and I even tried to nominate it for a Cybils.  (It was published after the cutoff date, so I will be nominating it this fall!)  Nana bought the girls a copy at her school’s bookfair, and they’ve read it over and over again.  They’ve shared poems from it at poetry tea time, but this is really the first time I’ve had the opportunity to sit down and really look at it myself.

Well!  What a treasure this book is!  Singer begins with a little introductory poem that includes this verse:

Who were these men?

Not just names in a book:

the ones who stood firm or preferred compromise,

the ones of great stature (though not always size),

the ones we’ve forgotten, the ones we still prize.

What follows are thirty-some-odd poems in which every president is represented–every single one, from Washington:

He agreed to father a newborn nation–

and never took a real vacation.

to Polk:

A powerful president with lots of gall.

Made four promises, kept them all.

to Obama:

One thing is certain,

on one thing we agree–

as our first black president,

he indeed made history.

and everyone in between.  Some of the presidents are lumped in together, into one poem, especially when they’re closely related to each other.  (For example, Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanan all share one poem which is about all of their various approaches to the coming dissolution of the Union.)  A few of the poems are standouts in terms of form.  For example, Richard Nixon’s poem is a reverso (see an example of one here on Singer’s website).  Singer’s poetry, coupled with John Hendrix’s illustrations and typography (check it out here), really make this a must-read book.  (I’ve mentioned before how much I love John Hendrix’s work. )  Hendrix incorporates quotes from the presidents with his own brand of humorous illustrations which are caricature-like and support and enhance the message of the poem.  Back matter includes a paragraph per president that sheds a little more light on his time in office and provides context for the poems.  Get this book if you just like poetry or if you want to give your American history studies a bit of oomph.  Highly Recommended.  (Disney Hyperion, 2013)


Poetry Friday Button

I’m blogging about poetry every Friday this month, and I’m linking this post up to Poetry Friday, hosted this week by The Poem Farm.

National Poetry Month

1-IMG_3173-001April is National Poetry Month.  Did you know that?  I love poetry, and my kids love our weekly (ish) poetry tea times.    Poetry tea time provides a great opportunity for making something kids sometimes look askance at (what–surely not just my kids do this?!?) a little more appealing.  For the month of April,  I’m committing to publishing something–probably a book review of a poetry book–here at Hope Is the Word.   My plan is to do this on Fridays so I can participate in the Poetry Friday roundup.

To get this month of poetry love started, I’m sharing a list of poetry related links from my archives.  Enjoy!

Be sure to check out Jama’s Alphabet Soup on Tuesday, April 1.  She’ll be rounding up all the Poetry Month activities from around the Kidlitosphere to start the month with a bang.  :-)

Read Aloud Thursday–March 2014


Today I wanted to share an alphabet book I’ve had for a couple of years but that I recently pulled out to read to the DLM.  I first learned of this book when I heard Sonya Shafer of Simply Charlotte Mason speak at a homeschooling conference.  She cited it as an alphabet book she likes because of its open-ended nature–plenty of room for the discussion of ideas.  Well, I’ve never been a huge alphabet book fan, so I had to have this one.  It’s actually kind of funny that I bought it since both my girls were well past the typical age to “need” an alphabet book.  So, there it sat, until one day I decided to just go for it with the DLM.  (My lightbulb moment was that I’m probably never going to have the planning time I crave to make well-coordinated preschool “lessons” for him.)  I was surprised at how much he enjoyed The Alphabet Room by Sara Pinto.  We read it twice in one sitting and then he requested it again the next day.  It’s a colorful lift-the-flap sort of book, about the size and heft of a square board book.  The only words are the alphabetized ones that accompany the letters:  A-apple; B-bowl; C-cat; and so on.  The upper-case letter is on a contrasting field of color with the word in lowercase just below it.  On the facing page is the object (apples, a bowl, etc.), and that brightly-colored panel opens up to reveal the alphabet room.  At first the room only contains the apples, but with each succeeded letter, more objects are in the room.  Each picture is different, so it’s fun to point out the different objects.  Some of pictures are humorous; some are like a hidden object puzzle.  I imagine you could spend all sorts of time with this book and your pre-reader.  This one is definitely a cut above the usual.  Highly Recommended.  (Bloomsbury, 2003)

Of course, the DLM and I have been reading other books, but nothing else really stands out.  I’d have to say that his favorites right now are the Froggy books by Jonathan London.  (My girls went through this phase a few years ago.)   Marc Brown’s Arthur books are also usually a hit, as is anything involving heavy equipment.  :-)

I did start reading the DLM his first official chapter book last week.  He has demonstrated surprising attention to detail for some while now during the girls’ chapter book read-alouds, so I thought, why not?  I picked My Father’s Dragon because it’s also next month’s mother/daughter Bookclub pick at the library.  I read it aloud to my girls when they were 4 1/2 years and almost 3 years, so the DLM is right in the middle of that at 3 3/4 years.  Of course, the girls are listening in again, too.  If all goes well with this one, we’ll follow up with Elmer and the Dragon and The Dragons of Blueland.

I finally hit the wall with reading separate books with each girl.  I was attempting to read Thimble Summer to Lulu and Caddie Woodlawn to Louise, but there just aren’t enough hours in the day.
However, we did finish The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander and The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright (who also wrote Thimble Summer).  We all loved both of these books and are eager to move onto the next in each of these series.  (In fact, we’re already about a third of the way through the next in the Chronicles of Prydain, The Castle of Llyr.)  This year is shaping up to be the year of the series as far as our read-alouds go.  Of course, I still sneak in a picture book or three with the girls, so check the links below for a few more links from moi.  :-)

Also of read-aloud interest–I am a sometimes reader of the blog Amongst Lovely Things, so naturally this announcement of a Read Aloud Revival podcast coming in April caught my attention.  This post also has a list of archived links that look interesting.

How’s reading aloud going in your home?  Chat with me in the comments, and/or leave your link in the linky list below.

Happy Read Aloud Thursday, friends!

The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright

The Saturdays is a book I’ve wanted to read for a long time.  It’s even on my Classics Club list!  Sherry recommended I read it and The Book of Three this year in her annual reader advisory post, so this year I decided to do it early before I forgot.  To give myself extra incentive, the girls and I volunteered to host our library’s mother/daughter bookclub and chose this novel as our book for March.    I actually read Enright’s 1939 Newbery Medal-winning novel Thimble Summer when I was a child and then re-read it a few years ago.  I was pleased that it stood the test of time for me and that my fond memories of it weren’t disappointed.   Thus, I approached  The Saturdays with some expectations–that it would be an episodic sort of story that treats the interior lives of children with great respect.  This is certainly true–the Melendy children have some mild adventures on their Saturdays in this novel, but it’s more about their relationships and the way they experience their world.   The Melendy children form the I.S.A.A.C.– the Independent Saturday Afternoon Adventure Club–to give themselves something special:  the opportunity to go out independently for their own adventure, a treat unheard of for children with three siblings and a motherly housekeeper/nanny.  Randy, whose idea it is to begin with, chooses a trip to the art museum because she loves art.  Rush chooses a trip to the opera.  Mona goes to the hair and nail salon all by herself and spends her money on a hair cut and a manicure, neither of which she asked permission for before leaving home.  Little Oliver takes off by himself for the circus.  What they actually get, in addition to the experiences they anticipate, are side adventures:  Randy runs into a family friend who takes her to tea and tells her a story; Rush finds a dog; Mona meets interesting people at the hair salon and also hears a story; Oliver gets lost and is brought back home by a mounted policeman.   They also have a few family adventures, including narrowly escaping asphyxiation by coal fumes and a small house fire.  The story ends happily with them spending their summer at the seashore at the invitation of the friend who took Randy to tea on the First Saturday, and so the story comes full circle.

I just love stories that are rich in characterization and in which one might argue not a whole lot actually happens.  Well, plenty happens in this story really, but everything that happens isn’t outside the realm of normal childhood adventures (normal for 1940s era New York City children, that is), but Enright writes in such a way that even the most humdrum of adventures is wonder-full, which is just as childhood should be.  This story is in the same vein as the Eleanor Estes books (we love both the Moffat stories and the Pye stories), and my girls even noticed that like the Moffats, there are four Melendy children, two girls and two boys (and they also only have one parent living).   This story is also very similar in spirit to the Penderwick stories and even some of the E. Nesbit stories just a little bit.  What I love most about them is Enright’s wonderful ability to describe mundane events in the most beautiful way–she truly paints word pictures!  I shared a couple of her descriptions here; here are a few more:

This from Mona’s Saturday at the salon:

 Cascades of warm water and foaming suds of perfumed soap flowed over Mona’s scalp.  Miss Pearl’s fingers were light and dexterous.  This was something entirely different from Cuffy’s brand of shampoo.  Cuffy scrubbed as if her hope of salvation depended upon it.  When she was through, your eyes were red and smarting from all the soap that had got into them, and your whole skull was throbbing as though it had been beaten with a mallet.  The Melendy children dreaded shampoo days as they dreaded few things, and Oliver had once been heard begging Cuffy to use the vacuum cleaner on his scalp instead.  (Saturday Four)

This lovely description is from the final Saturday when the Melendys vacate their city home for the seashore:

At least it was Saturday.  The express men, smelling of crates, and wearing caps on the backs of their heads and pencils behind their ears, had taken away the trunks.  The taxi drivers and Father and Willy Sloper and Rush took the rest of the luggage down to the waiting taxis.  It was interesting luggage.  Besides a rare accumulation of elderly suitcases and hatboxes, there were several cardboard boxes, a duffel bag, a tricycle (Oliver had won on that but lost on the rocking horse), two umbrellas and a walking stick bound together, some steamer rugs, and the special suitcase with a window that contained the melancholy Isaac [Rush's dog].  (Saturday Eight)

Rush’s first glimpse of what he’ll have at his disposal in their summer home:

“Look at that!” said Rush, standing still; both his arms pulled down by suitcases.  He was staring at a piano.  It was the real McCoy all right:  a Steinway parlor grand, black and shining as wet tar, with all its ivory keys gleaming in a sort of elegant smile.  (Saturday Eight)

The Melendy children explore the seashore upon their arrival.  (It reminded us of Pagoo.):

Randy walked along the rocks exploring.  Her knees and elbows were lavender, her teeth chattering, and she was covered with gooseflesh; but as long as Cuffy didn’t know it Randy could ignore it.  She came to a little pool full of sea water and kneeled down shivering, to examine it.  She saw barnacles, and seaweed, and blueblack mussels, and some tiny turreted shells that wobbled decorously across the floor of the pool.  When she reached down and picked one up to find out what made it wobble all she could see was the tip end of a minute pink claw.  She dropped it back again, and lay down on her stomach to get a better view of this small busy world.

She saw a big crusty old villain of a crab waltzing sideways through the weeds, and some little fish that would hang motionless and nearly invisible in the water for minutes at a time and then dart quickly as if pulled by threads.  The longer she looked the larger the world of the pool became, until it was a jungle ravine full of wild beasts and sudden dangers. (Saturday Eight)

And one more, just because I love it so much.  This exchange is from their first supper at the lighthouse:

The older ones had supper on the terrace later with Mrs. Oliphant.  They looked very clean with their wet hair and salt-scoured faces.  A whole flock of freckles had already alighted on Randy’s nose, and Rush said he thought he must be sunburned because he could feel his back; usually he hardly knew it was there.  (Saturday Eight)

We wracked our brains to come up with some sort of activity–usually it’s some sort of craft–to do at our bookclub meeting.  This book didn’t seem to lend itself to anything crafty, so we settled on a tea party, complete with petit fours, in honor of Randy’s tea party with Mrs. Oliphant.  It was a lovely evening, and all of the mothers and daughters in attendance enjoyed the story immensely.  We all give it a Highly Recommended, we here at the House of Hope are looking forward to picking up the next novel in the Melendy Quartet.  (Henry Holt, 1941)