Category: News

Happy Birthday to Lewis Carroll

Lewis Carroll Self Portrait Circa 1856

If you have ever read or watched one of the stories about “Alice in Wonderland,” then you know how much fun it is to enjoy the work of Lewis Carroll. This name is the pseudonym, or pen name, of 19th-century author Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. He used several pseudonyms in his lifetime, but he wrote his most famous poems and stories under the name Lewis Carroll.

When Carroll was growing up, he had a wild imagination and loved telling stories. His favorite hobbies as a boy were putting on puppet shows and magic shows for his siblings. Carroll also put together a family magazine of his poems and talked his family members into contributing other writings to it. When he got older, Carroll also became interested in math and photography, especially portraits of children. One of the children featured in his photographs was a little girl named Alice Liddell, who inspired the Alice in Wonderland stories.

Carroll’s poems were just as imaginative as his Alice stories. In fact, there are two very famous Carroll poems that are found within the Alice stories, as if the characters in Wonderland were composing and reciting them. These poems include “The Walrus and the Carpenter” and “Jabberwocky.” Carroll is also known for a long poem called “The Hunting of the Snark,” which was published in a different book.

“Jabberwocky” tells the story of a young man who fights a terrible creature called the Jabberwock. Try reading this poem out loud. Notice how Carroll used a lot of nonsense words. He left it up to the reader to decide exactly what each nonsense word might mean. Do you think that the sound of each nonsense word (such as “slithy”) helps you to understand the meaning?

Jabberwocky

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”

He took his vorpal sword in hand;
Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
He chortled in his joy.

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

Over the River and Through the Wood: An Anthology of Nineteenth-Century American Children’s Poetry

The following is a guest post written by Karen L. Kilcup, Professor of English, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and Angela Sorby, Associate Professor of English, Marquette University. I’m very excited about this new anthology published by Johns Hopkins University Press, so I thought I’d let them tell you about it in their own words.

Over the River and Through the Woods

Who could resist a poem that opens like this:

Have Angleworms attractive homes?
Do Bumble-bees have brains?
Do Caterpillars carry combs?
Do Ducks dismantle drains?

Charles E. Carryl’s “Memorandrums” typifies the animated, modern spirit of our new anthology, Over the River and Through the Wood. We began our project not only because we admire the writing—its ease, its playfulness, its innovation—but also because we realized how many nineteenth-century children’s poems are still vital to Americans—parents and grandparents as well as their children. From the title poem to “Mary’s Lamb” to “’Twas the night before Christmas” (“Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas”), many of the verses in Over the River remain part of our collective consciousness, even if we can’t immediately identify the sources. I remember my own grandmother singing “Over the river and through the wood,” though she changed the second line: “To grandmother’s house we go.” Since she prepared the Thanksgiving turkey and mountains of vegetables and pies, I imagine that she felt just fine about this substitution. Our collection includes some other wonderful holiday poems, including one delicious ode to turkey dinner (Cooke’s “Turkey: A Thanksgiving Ode”) and a comic ballad from the bird’s perspective, “The Turkey’s Opinion.” Of course there’s far more to the anthology than holiday poems, but many of the most beloved, familiar pieces live in that section. Many of our poems offer major contributions to America’s literary tradition, including works by authors whom we don’t ordinarily associate with children, such as Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Sarah Piatt.

One children’s poem, “Mary’s Lamb” was actually the first sound recording ever made by Thomas Edison; you can listen to a scratchy, slightly later version by Edison here. Sarah Josepha Hale’s famous poem draws from a real story about a girl bringing her pet to the Redstone School, now in Sudbury, Massachusetts. You can visit the school from mid-May through mid-October.

Rudyard Kipling

Rudyard Kipling

Rudyard Kipling (December 30, 1865 – January 18, 1936) was a British writer who spent part of his life in India. He wrote many books and poems, some of which are still very popular today. Later in his life, Kipling was the first English writer to be given the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Some of Kipling’s most famous writings were about the experience of war. In his poem “Boots,” Kipling uses the same words repeatedly in a rhythm that sounds like soldiers marching. Try reading the first three lines of the poem out loud to hear the rhythm for yourself:

How to Include Poetry in Your Family’s Holiday Traditions

Holiday Season

The winter holidays can be a fun and exciting time for both kids and adults. This year, why not integrate poetry into your family’s celebrations of the season? Add literary flair to your family’s traditions by including poems in your festivities.

Here are three simple ways to incorporate poetry into your seasonal celebrations.

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.

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 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.”