What the Heart Knows: Chants, Charms & Blessings by Joyce Sidman

What the Heart Knows by Joyce Sidman

As Children’s Poet Laureate, one of my jobs is to select a collection of poetry each month to feature on the Poetry Foundation’s website. There you’ll find my monthly book picks, and those of the previous Children’s Poets Laureate.

My pick for December, 2013 is What the Heart Knows: Chants, Charms & Blessings by Joyce Sidman.

Interview with Children’s Poet Joyce Sidman

In addition, I interviewed Joyce about her life as a poet and about her new book. Here is what she had to say.

Children's Poet Joyce Sidman

Joyce Sidman

Kenn Nesbitt: How did you come to start writing children’s poetry?

Joyce Sidman: I have always been a poet—I think it’s the way I look at the world. When I became a mother and was plunged back into the world of children’s literature, writing for children became my goal. So, I guess I just combined two loves.

KN: Who / what most influenced you as you began writing children’s poetry?

JS: Poet Alice Schertle for sure—her book Advice for a Frog really opened my eyes to the possibility of writing expressive poetry about the natural world. Lots of other children’s poets—Marilyn Singer, Kristine O’Connell George—and adult poets, too, like Mary Oliver and Wendell Berry. I just read everything I could.

KN: What do you think poetry does for children?

JS: I think poetry helps children (and us all) appreciate the joy, beauty, pathos, and humor of every day life. With its use of imagery and metaphor, it helps them observe details and connect all parts of their lives. It helps them play with words and meanings. But most of all, it helps them tap into their “deep heart’s core.”

KN: Tell me a little bit about your career as a children’s poet.

JS: I spent many years building up a good healthy rejection pile, with occasional acceptances by periodicals like Cricket magazine. My first break came from Millbrook Press, who published my book, Just Us Two: Poems About Animal Dads. Millbrook published another book of mine (Eureka! Poems About Inventors, which is still in print), and then I found editor Ann Rider at Houghton Mifflin, who’d been encouraging me for years and finally accepted Song of the Water Boatman. I have stayed with Ann ever since, and it has been a happy partnership.

KN: Tell me about your new poetry book, What the Heart Knows.

JS: What the Heart Knows is for an older audience than my other poetry books. In many ways, I wrote it for myself . . . for times I needed courage and comfort. But I was also inspired by young people I know, by their strength and willingness to engage with the world. I wanted to celebrate that strength. The book is divided into four sections: Chants & Charms (to bolster courage and guard against evil), Spell & Invocations (to cause something to happen), Laments & Remembrances (to remember or grieve), and Praise Songs & Blessings (to celebrate and thank). It was my third collaboration with Pamela Zagarenski, and I adore her gorgeous, dreamy illustrations.

Favorite Thanksgiving Poems to Read Aloud

Chances are, your Thanksgiving celebration usually includes a turkey dinner with all the trimmings, and perhaps a chance for each family member to say what he or she is grateful for. But this year you can add a new and fun twist to your family’s Thanksgiving tradition by giving poetry a place in the festivities. Reading a poem aloud is an engaging way to bring attention to what is most sacred and special about this holiday.

Here are four Thanksgiving poems that are wonderful to read out loud, either in unison (all voices together) or by taking turns reading each verse.

“Over the River and Through the Wood” by Lydia Maria Child

If this Thanksgiving poem sounds familiar, it’s probably because a version of it has been set to music. In the song version, some of the lyrics are about Christmas rather than Thanksgiving. Here is an excerpt from the original poem:

World Rat Day: Poems About Real Holidays You’ve Never Heard Of, by J. Patrick Lewis

World Rat Day by J. Patrick Lewis

As Children’s Poet Laureate, one of my jobs is to select a collection of poetry each month to feature on the Poetry Foundation’s website. There you’ll find my monthly book picks, and those of the previous Children’s Poets Laureate.

My pick for November, 2013 is World Rat Day: Poems About Real Holidays You’ve Never Heard Of by J. Patrick Lewis.

Interview with Children’s Poet J. Patrick Lewis

In addition, I interviewed Pat about his life as a poet and about his new book. Here is what he had to say.

Halloween Poetry Fun

jack-o-lantern

This week I posted some “Grave Humor” on the Poems page. These are epitaphs that might cause you to laugh if you found them on headstones in a cemetery. But if you are looking for more spooky/funny poems to read or share this year, here are a handful of other poems I wrote especially for Halloween.

If you want even more spooky poems, click here to read all of the monster poems currently on poetry4kids.com.

Happy Halloween everybody!

Rhythm in Poetry – I Am the “Iamb”

William Shakespeare

When poets write rhyming, metrical poems, they usually count “feet” instead of syllables. A foot is a group of syllables that, most of the time, contains a single stressed syllable. (Read Rhythm in Poetry – The Basics, and You Can Scan, Man for more information about stressed syllables and poetic feet.)

Meet the Iamb

The most common poetic foot in the English language is known as the “iamb.” An iamb is two syllables, where the first syllable is unstressed and the second syllable is stressed. For example, the word “today” is an iamb because the stress falls on the second syllable, like this:

- /
today

When a poems is written using iambs, we say that it is “iambic.” For example, the following line is iambic.

- /   - /   - /  -   /
Today I had a rotten day.

Rhythm in Poetry – You Can Scan, Man

Scansion in Poems

As I explained in Rhythm in Poetry – The Basics, some syllables in English are “stressed” – pronounced louder or with more emphasis than others – while other syllables are “unstressed,” meaning they are not emphasized. Knowing this, you can create patterns of stressed and unstressed syllables in your writing to create a rhythm in the words. Having rhythms in your poems make them more fun to recite and easier to remember.

To make it easy to spot the stressed and unstressed syllables in the examples I gave, I wrote them in UPPERCASE and lowercase letters, like this:

my PUPpy PUNCHED me IN the EYE.

The trouble with using this method is that it is awkward to write or type this way, and it makes the poem more difficult to read. Also, if you have a poem that is already printed on paper, you wouldn’t want to have to rewrite the entire thing just to show the rhythm.

Wouldn’t it be better if could make marks to show the stressed and unstressed syllables? Indeed, there is such a system that is commonly used, and it’s called “scansion” (pronounced “scan-shun”). The process of marking the stressed and unstressed syllables in a poem is called “scanning.”

Printable Poetry Activity Worksheets

I thought you might like to know that I’ve started putting printable poetry activity worksheets for some of my poems on the website. You’ll find them on the Poetry Activities page under the heading “Worksheets.”

You can use these worksheets at home or in class to give kids a few more fun activities to do beyond just reading the poems. By answering questions, writing, and even unscrambling words, kids will get a little more practice to help improve their comprehension and literacy.

huge thank you to Primary Leap for creating these wonderful activity worksheets! Visit their website for thousands more printable activity worksheets for kids organized by grade level and subject.

Here are direct links to the activity worksheets I’ve posted so far. Enjoy!

Worksheets

Rhythm in Poetry – The Basics

When you read rhyming poetry, one of the things you might notice is how the words often have a nice rhythmical quality. That is, there is a pattern to the rhythm of the words that makes them fun to say and easy to remember. Sometimes the rhythm is a simple one, and sometimes it’s more complex, but it’s not there by accident. Poets arrange their words in such a way as to create those rhythmical patterns.

When rhyming poems also have a rhythm in the words, they are much more fun to read. By contrast, rhyming poems that do not have a rhythm are usually not as enjoyable to read.

Over the next several lessons, I’m going to show you how to identify the rhythms in poems and how to write rhythmical poems of your own so that others will enjoy reading them.

 

A Reindeer for Christmas

Read and listen to the poem, and then take the quiz below by clicking on the Start button.

Dear Santa, this Christmas my list is quite small.
In fact, I need practically nothing at all.
My list is so short and so easy to read
because there’s just one thing I actually need.

A reindeer for Christmas is all I require;
a reindeer, of course, who’s an excellent flier.
I really don’t care if it’s Dasher or Dancer.
I’m okay with Cupid or Comet or Prancer.

Please don’t think I’m greedy; I only want one.
You won’t even miss him, and I’ll have such fun.
I promise I’ll feed him and treat him just right,
and take him out flying around every night.

You see, I’m not selfish. So, for my surprise
this Christmas, please bring me a reindeer that flies.
But if my request is a bit much for you,
I guess that an iPod will just have to do.

–Kenn Nesbitt

 

A Fish in a Spaceship

Read the poem, and then take the quiz below by clicking on the Start button.

 

A fish in a spaceship is flying through school.
A dinosaur’s dancing on top of a stool.
The library’s loaded with orange baboons,
in purple tuxedos with bows and balloons.

The pigs on the playground are having a race
while pencils parade in their linens and lace.
As camels do cartwheels and elephants fly,
bananas are baking a broccoli pie.

A hundred gorillas are painting the walls,
while robots on rockets careen through the halls.
Tomatoes are teaching in all of the classes.
Or maybe, just maybe, I need some new glasses.

–Kenn Nesbitt