Ginnie Graham: Kids can be well-versed in poetry
BY GINNIE GRAHAM World Staff Writer
Saturday, March 02, 2013
3/02/13 at 4:23 AM
In fourth grade, I came to loathe poetry.
Emily Dickinson seemed whiny and weird, and the others were boring or too esoteric for my taste.
In my elementary mind, a poem was a lazy writer's attempt at a story. Give me Judy Blume or a historical biography instead.
It was for this reason that I choose poetry for my part in Read Across America on Friday.
It wasn't to punish the fourth-graders in teacher Jake Schweikhard's class at Skelly Elementary School.
It was to show how wrong I was at their age.
Ready to read: Read Across America started on March 2, 1998, because the National Education Association wanted a day to celebrate reading.
The annual date - March 2 - is the birthday of Dr. Seuss, or Theodor Seuss Geisel.
The idea is to generate a football pep rally-like excitement about reading.
Across the U.S., adults take time off to visit schools, libraries or children's groups to read their favorite books.
It shows children enthusiasm about reading, but it is also a way to connect with kids in your neighborhood and city.
Choices, choices: For a week, I worried about my selection.
It was suggested that I choose something that was interesting to me at that age.
In fourth grade, I spent months making it through Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women," which is a guaranteed thumbs-down from 10-year-old boys.
With limited class time available, the piece needed to be short, entertaining, and, hopefully, new.
After pillaging for ideas at the books editor's desk, I came across "If You Were a Chocolate Mustache." It is a collection of poems by U.S. Children's Poet Laureate J. Patrick Lewis.
It hit the right note. Funny, kid-friendly and contemporary.
It was a reminder of my young anti-poetic stand.
Poetry in motion: In Mr. Schweikhard's class, the students are smart, polite and inquisitive.
The self-proclaimed "readers" enjoy the Magic Treehouse book series by Mary Pope Osborne, animal topics, biographies and Fly Guy books by Ted Arnold.
A few said reading wasn't their thing, but they didn't realize that magazines and comic books count as literacy.
In introducing poems, I saw a few eyes roll and arms fold up. I understood that.
But the short poems poke fun at puppy love and sympathize with kids who forget their homework and have messy rooms.
There were even a few chuckles by the end.
As talk turned to music, a spark was lit with each wanting to talk about their favorite artists, from hip-hop to Carrie Underwood.
We spoke about how songs are poems in motion.
Although it took me until college to find great poets in Joy Harjo and Maya Angelou, I always admired songwriters.
I wrapped up my time with "The Ballad of Wilbur and the Moose" by John Stadler.
The book evokes the campfire tradition of songs and storytelling with a wacky rhyming tale of a pint-size cowboy herding pigs in the Old West with his moose buddy.
Spending 30 minutes in a fourth-grade classroom won't solve all the poor social statistics facing our state that lead to low literacy rates.
It pales to the sacrifices and dedication put in by teachers who work with children all day, every day.
For me, it was the best half-hour I remember reading poetry in a classroom.
Original Print Headline: Kids can be well-versed in poetry