________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 17 . . . . April 28, 2006


Poetry Goes to School: From Mother Goose to Shel Silverstein.

Bob Barton & David Booth.
Markham, ON: Pembroke, 2005.
112 pp., paper, $18.95.
ISBN 1-55138-161-3.

Subject Headings:
Poetics - Study and teaching (Elementary).
Children's poetry - Authorship - Study and teaching (Elementary).


Review by Gregory Bryan.

***½ /4


By encouraging students to explore and experiment with words, poetry teaches them how to use language economically and powerfully.


As a literacy teacher in a university faculty of education, one of the most common requests that I receive from teacher candidates is for resources for poetry instruction. Many beginning teachers are searching for magical materials they hope will instil within children a love of poetry. Of course, there are no such magical materials. Poetry is such an enormous genre that resources need to be gathered from a variety of sources over a period of many years.

     This being the case, one should not expect Poetry Goes to School: From Mother Goose to Shel Silverstein to be the magical resource that will satisfy all poetry instructional needs. With this in mind, I believe that readers will be pleasantly surprised. This is a most useful professional resource. The authors, Bob Barton and David Booth, have drawn material from far and wide. It is they who have invested the necessary years of gathering various resources to produce a potpourri of ideas, explanations, and examples perfect for use in instructing young children about the beauty and variety of poetry.

     Poetry Goes to School contains information for teaching all sorts of things about poetry: rhymes, tongue twisters, haiku, riddles, limericks, acrostics, and concrete poems. It contains biographical sketches on popular children’s poets such as Shel Silverstein, Dennis Lee, James Berry, Michael Rosen, Arnold Adoff, and others. It truly is a wonderful place from which to start. Poetry Goes to School is organized around a number of units, each of which is represented by one of the eight chapters of the book: patterns in poetry; word play; nursery rhymes; imagery; voices; stories; games and ceremonies; and information.

     If I were required to identify one aspect of the book that I enjoyed more than anything else, it would have to be the authors’ focus on fun. Not for them the dissection of poems until the unfortunately inevitable result is that many children develop negative attitudes about poetry. “Don’t pick them apart,” the authors advise. “That hurts a poem.” Rather, Barton and Booth emphasize word play and the use of poetry as a means for authentic, meaningful expression of a child’s interests and experiences.

     An idea that I find particularly interesting is the “rearranging the rhymes” activity. The authors suggest cutting up the individual lines of a poem and then, in groups, having the students use the strips to create a new poem, using the words in whatever sequence the group finds most pleasing. The activity is about exploring the sounds and patterns of poetry and removes from the students the burden of creating and penning the words. For mine, this activity is representative of many in the book—the emphasis is upon introduction to, and exploration of, poetry, with careful design conducive to a successful, enjoyable poetry experience.   

     I expect that it would be neither Barton’s nor Booth’s desire for teachers to try to teach poetry by simply picking up this book and beginning at page one and working on to page two and so on to the end of the book. I think they would have you pick and choose, selecting those materials that will be suit the interests and needs of your students, skillfully incorporating information from elsewhere with the information contained within their book.

     Poetry Goes to School is not going to service all of your needs as a teacher of poetry. What it will do, however, is provide you with sufficient material to feel confident about setting out on the journey of teaching children poetry. As you progress, other ideas and resources will come to hand to augment your instruction. I feel confident, however, that for all elementary teachers, Poetry Goes to School will remain at the top of their poetry resource pile, torn and tattered from repeated use.

Highly Recommended.

Gregory Bryan teaches literacy courses in the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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