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November 15, 2016 BOOKLIST
Find more Everyday Poetry
Which comes first, the science or the poem? So many science-related picture books are told in poetic language and so many poetry books are science-focused that it can be hard to say. Poets are typically very observant, careful word-choosers, much like their scientist counterparts, and the marvels of the natural world have intrigued many poets and continue to be one of the most popular topics in poetry collections for young people.
Children’s Poet Laureate Mary Ann Hoberman and her collaborator, Linda Winston, gave us a new twist on the science poem anthology with The Tree That Time Built: A Celebration of Nature, Science, and Imagination, by judiciously selecting and mixing more than 100 classic and new poems and then providing thoughtful and eye-opening commentary about how each is linked to science (see “Reuniting Poetry and Science” for an article by this duo). Already this year, one can locate several new poetry-science hybrid gems: Poetrees, by Douglas Florian, with its clever poems about all kinds of trees; Jane Yolen’s An Egret’s Day, with poems, paragraphs, and photographs about many aspects of this distinctive bird; and Joyce Sidman’s introduction to the hardiest members of the animal kingdom in Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature’s Survivors, with art by Beckie Prange. You’ll notice that these books don’t just feature poetry but also include “sidebars” and back matter one usually associates with informational books. That’s something kids might try themselves by working in pairs (one as poet, one as scientist), researching a favorite topic and then creating a poem and a prose paragraph about it.
Rhyming Science Books
Some authors of science-focused picture books create rhyming text for sharing information. These aren’t poetry per se but provide an interesting entry point for young readers and listeners who will enjoy the music of the language while taking in new information. Faces of the Moon by Bob Crelin, for example, incorporates rhyming quatrains in describing lunar cycles complete with divider tabs and die cutouts of moon shapes. Scotti Cohn’s One Wolf Howls features counting quatrains that move through the months of the year in presenting wolf characteristics and behavior. Other writers who frequently present factual material through rhyming text include Joanne Ryder, JoAnn Early Macken, Lola M. Schaefer, Lois Ehlert, and April Pulley Sayre, among others.
From these models, children can see that their own writing may be science-focused and fact-filled and not based only on “made up” or imaginary creations. Following a sequential (counting) or patterned (cumulative) approach can provide a helpful structure. But these rhyming factual books are also fun to read aloud, particularly with props.
Poetic Science Books
Other authors use language poetically (but without rhyming) in writing informational science books. They present facts but choose and arrange words musically or artistically, as in Marion Dane Bauer’s The Longest Night, or Brenda Z. Guiberson’s Moon Bear, or Dianna Hutts Aston’s A Seed Is Sleepy. Here are examples for children to consider when they think about how they can arrange the words on the page of their carefully researched science report.
When we invite children to write poetry in language arts class or a report in science class, does it really have to be an either/or proposition? Can we challenge them to think about what they’re learning, gathering key vocabulary and new concepts and then arranging their newfound knowledge (alongside visuals) in ways that are meaningful to them? Perhaps it will be a poem, perhaps not, but with models of the many ways we can describe science inquiries, they may be more motivated to consider both—science and language.
Sylvia M. Vardell is a professor of children’s and young-adult literature at Texas Woman’s University and the author of the Poetry for Children blog.
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