Before I share about verse novels, I think it’s important to talk about poetry in general.
It’s interesting to see that at a very early age, kids already form biases about poetry. When I’d start my poetry unit each year, kids would invariably say all poems were about “love and flowers.” Didn’t matter where I was teaching or what grade. It didn’t matter how immersed kids had been in Shel Silverstein, Jack Prelutsky and the like. I got these answers every time.
Part of my goal in presenting poetry to upper elementary and middle school kids was for them to see poetry is much broader than they’d previously thought.* I shared poems everyday on varied subjects, served as “museum director” in a classroom-turned poetry gallery, assigned secret poetry pals, pounded out the meter of poems we chanted as a class, sang Emily Dickinson stanzas to the tune of Gilligan’s Island (it works!), and ended the unit with a coffeehouse, where kids presented their memorized poems and filled up on sugary coffee and cookies.
Before we got very far, I made the point to share a few things with my kids:
Poetry should be seen and heard.
You can understand poetry by listening. You can admire its interesting look on the page, but I think you miss out if you don’t blend the visual and aural together. Poetry is pleasing to the ear (word choice, rhythm, repetition, rhyme) but is also pleasing to the eye. A poet uses structure to communicate (line breaks, for example) just as language is used.
Poetry packs a punch.
Each word counts and better deliver.
Poetry creates mental images.
Words build pictures. Readers must approach with their eyes and minds open. Often readers will be given a fresh way to see the familiar.
Poetry speaks to the emotions.
This fits with the “love and flowers” idea my students were initially sold on. A poem is really a request for the reader to respond.
On Friday we’ll talk about how these ideas work with novels-in-verse.
*This is what Sharon Creech tackles so beautifully in her verse novel, LOVE THAT DOG.