Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Friday, April 10, 2015

Carrying Words

When you reach into your pocket forgotten treasures may be discovered.  Depending on the owner of the clothing these tokens represent captured memories; a perfectly round pebble or a bit of sea glass, coins left over from a recent purchase, an old movie theater ticket, a handful of acorns or a dog treat.  Unless this attire is worn on a daily basis the locating of a lost item is cause for rejoicing.

In twenty days, all around the United States (maybe the world), people will be purposefully placing something of importance in pockets.  Poem in Your Pocket Day will be celebrated on April 30, 2015.  Newly released this year A Poem in Your Pocket (Schwartz & Wade Books, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, January 27, 2015) written by Margaret McNamara with illustrations by G. Brian Karas takes us back for a visit with Mr. Tiffin and his students (How Many Seeds in a Pumpkin? and The Apple Orchard Riddle).  

Mr. Tiffin's class had never had an author visit them before.
"Emmy Crane is a poet," said Mr. Tiffin.
"And she doesn't know it!" said Robert.  "That rhymes."
"Not all poems rhyme," said Elinor.

This particular author is visiting on Poem in Your Pocket Day.  Mr. Tiffin thinks it would be a great idea for each of his students to write a poem, place it in their pocket and read it aloud during the author visit.  Conscientious Elinor begins immediately (in March) to learn everything she can about poetry.

In April the class starts their study together.  Mr. Tiffin explains the use of similes and metaphors in comparisons.  The students test their thinking skills verbalizing their examples.  Only Elinor seems to be quiet saying she is working on something astonishing.

Many forms of poetry are presented to the students; haiku, acrostic, concrete and poems that make you laugh.  To flex their new abilities Mr. Tiffin takes them outside one morning, asking them to write in their journals.  Elinor neither says a poem aloud nor puts pencil to paper.

Paper bags filled with a single object, one for each student, are handed out on a Friday afternoon.  The students are asked to write a poem describing their item.  The other students are supposed to guess based on the student's writing.  Elinor's page is blank.  Her desire for perfection leaves her wordless.  Mr. Tiffin encourages her to work on it over the weekend but despite all her efforts on Monday her pocket is empty.

As the rest of the students go about their day, Elinor keeps on working but by the time the poet arrives and the assembly starts, she still has nothing.  Emily Crane reads her poetry to the students, she answers their questions and one by one they read their poems aloud to her.  With a sinking heart Elinor makes her way to the stage.  Emily Crane, author and poet, knows exactly what to say.

There is a special universality about the portrait Margaret McNamara creates of Mr. Tiffin and his students.  Through a blend of dialogue and narrative a diverse, lively group of personalities are presented to readers.  The respect the girls and boys have for their teacher and one another and Mr. Tiffin for them is real.  It's a classroom climate where learning, in this case poetry, can flourish.

Readers feel comfortable exploring alongside the other students in the classroom.  They can see themselves in the unique individuals.  When Elinor has trouble finding the writing perfection she desires, a believable solution is supplied.  Here is another sample passage.

"Sadness is a cracked sidewalk," said Tara.
"Very nice!" said Mr. Tiffin.  "Ms. Crane will be so impressed. 
He noticed that Elinor was being very quiet.  "How about you, Elinor?
What does your poet's eye see?"

It's easy to smile when you see Mr. Tiffin on the front of the dust jacket and matching book case taping the sign on the wall.  The gathered students have poems in their pockets or are carrying their poetry journal.  It's an uplifting school scene.  On the back, to the left, text is written on a blackboard as six boys and girls chat and read.  A bright denim blue background patterned in stitched pockets covers the opening and closing endpapers.  Poems are peeking from the pockets, written on a variety of paper.  A mirror image of the letters from the front appears on the title page with an opened journal and pencil placed below the text within a circle.

Rendered in gouache, acrylic and pencil G. Brian Karas recreates the kind of school setting we all wish we could enter.  Using size and color Karas enriches the pace of the story.  He alternates his image sizes from several double pages, to a series of six small circles, to a single page and then back to more two-page spreads.  The selected palette reflects the mood of the students, their teacher and of Elinor.  When her journal page is blank, Karas has the row of desks with the seated students in blue hues but a circle highlights Elinor in full color.

I've never met G. Brian Karas but I have to believe he is a people person.  His characters are charming in every aspect; their physical features, body postures and clothing.  One of several favorite illustrations is on Poem in Your Pocket Day.  Elinor is walking toward the school in the rain carrying her red umbrella wearing a green back pack.  She passes by the lawn, a flowering bush and letters of a poem in chalk on the sidewalk. Other students are entering the building or already walking about in the hallway.  There are pockets and poems in them on most surfaces and hanging from the ceiling. The mood of the students and of Elinor is apparent.

A Poem in Your Pocket written by Margaret McNamara with illustrations by G. Brian Karas is wonderfully normal.  You wish you could place these characters in your pocket much like a poem. They are treasures, every single one.  Use this book any time of the year in a study of poetry, writing and building self-esteem.  For National Poetry Month in April it is ideal.  At the end of the book you will enjoy reading Elinor's Poetry Page and Mr. Tiffin's Pointers.

To learn more about G. Brian Karas please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  This title has been selected for the next #SharpSchu Book Club Twitter chat in April.   Visit teacher librarian extraordinaire John Schumacher's Watch. Connect. Read. for the details.  Here is a link to a study guide prepared by the publisher.

To celebrate Poem in Your Pocket Day I am giving away a copy of this book.

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