Tag: poetry

Poetry Time is Quality Time

Poetry Time is Quality timeEven when the holidays arrive, it can be difficult to switch off the busy lifestyle that we’ve all become so used to. How do we learn to slow down, and really experience this special time of year?

I’m a firm believer in the power of poetry and prose, read aloud, to change the rhythm of our interactions with the children we teach, as well as the kids we live with. Good writing comes with its own built-in rhythm, and it just doesn’t work if you rush it. If you’re looking for a way to bring some of that holiday spirit into your world, and you’re not quite sure where to start, then look up some of these great resources. Take a few moments – heck, take a few hours! – and open up a classic holiday poem, or a short story.

Whether you’re sharing with little children who want you to repeat the funniest lines over and over again, or with older kids who can take turns being the ‘storyteller’, reading portions out loud, you’ll find your day has slowed down, and some of the magic of the holidays has come alive.

An Interview with Janet Wong

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Children's Author Janet Wong

Children’s Author Janet Wong

Last week I had the opportunity to speak with children’s author and poet Janet Wong about her writing, her books, and her current projects, including her new eBook project with Sylvia Vardell, the Poetry Tag Time series. The third book in the series, Gift Tag, is out just in time for the holidays, and is already one of the best-selling children’s poetry eBooks on Amazon.com.

 

How to Write a Silly Song Parody

One of the easiest ways to write a funny poem of your own is to take any song you know – preferably a song that other people know too – and change the words to make your song. When you do this it’s called a “parody” or a “song parody” because it is a humorous imitation of the original song.

The first thing you will need to do to create your own parody is to pick a song. I recommend you choose a well-known children’s song such as “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” or “I’m a Little Teapot,” or a famous holiday song like “Jingle Bells,” rather than, say, a modern pop song. The reason is that more people will know the original tune, especially adults who may not be familiar with the latest songs on the radio.

Here is a list of songs to choose from (though there are many more than just these that will work well):

  • Oh My Darling, Clementine
  • The Itsy-Bitsy Spider
  • On Top of Old Smokey
  • Row, Row, Row Your Boat
  • Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star
  • Miss Susie
  • My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean
  • Yankee Doodle

Rewriting My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean

Once you’ve picked a song, you’ll want to take a look at the original lyrics. For example, let’s look at the song “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean.” The original goes like this:

My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean

My Bonnie lies over the ocean,
My Bonnie lies over the sea.
My Bonnie lies over the ocean,
Please bring back my Bonnie to me.

Bring back, bring back,
Oh, bring back my Bonnie to me, to me.
Bring back, bring back,
Oh, bring back my Bonnie to me.

To change this into a new song, we will want to keep the same rhythm and the same rhyme pattern.  That is, we’ll want to have the second line rhyme with the fourth line, just as in the original. We’ll probably also want to have something or someone lying on top of something or someone else. Let’s just change “Bonnie” and the thing that “Bonnie” is on.

For example, let’s say instead of “My Bonnie” I decide to have “My bunny” lie on top of something. What might that be? Perhaps, my bunny could lie on top of one of my other pets, like this:

My bunny lies over doggy.

Next, I could have my bunny lie on top of something else. Or maybe I could have the dog lie on top of something else, and make a stack of animals, like this:

My bunny lies over my doggy.
My doggie lies over my cat.
My cat is on top of my froggy,
and that’s why my froggy is flat.

Okay, I think that’s pretty funny so I’ll keep it. But now I need to write a chorus to replace “Bring back, bring back.” I’m thinking about how my froggy just got squished by my other pets, and that sounds like a “green splat” to me, so here’s the chorus:

Green splat, green splat,
oh, that’s why my froggy is flat, like that.
Green splat, green splat,
oh, that’s why my froggy is flat.

And, just like that, we’ve got a brand new song parody.

Rewriting Take Me Out to the Ballgame

Let’s try another example. The song “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” is well known, and was even parodied by Alan Katz in his books Take Me Out of the Bathtub and I’m Still Here in the Bathtub. Let’s see if we can’t make our own version.

First, let’s look at the lyrics to the original song:

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

Take me out to the ball game
Take me out to the crowd.
Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack
I don’t care if I ever get back,
‘Cause it’s root, root, root for the home team.
If they don’t win it’s a shame.
For it’s one, two, three strikes you’re out
At the old ball game.

To make a parody of this, let’s start by changing the “ball game” to something else. Can you think of some place you’d rather go than to a ball game? In order to keep the original rhythm, it will need to be some place that is still two syllables. What if we went to the movies instead? Then our first two lines might go like this:

Take me out to the movies.
Take me out to a show.

Now I need to say something, maybe about what kind of movies I like. Also, notice that “Cracker Jack” rhymes with “back,” so my next two lines need to rhyme as well.

I like explosions in every scene,
robots and aliens up on the screen.

Hey, I’m liking the way this is sounding… But to finish it off and make it funny, I want to say something about what kind of movies I don’t like. I don’t want to see any mushy love stories, so I’m going to end my song like this:

I like ninjas, pirates, and cowboys,
and giant man-eating plants
There’s just one thing I will not see;
I want no romance!

Notice that I rhymed the words “plants” and “romance” in the same spots where the original song had the words “shame” and “game.” This is because I want to keep the rhyme scheme the same as in the original song.

Your Turn

Now it’s your turn to make up your own silly song parody. Here’s all you have to do:

  1. Pick a song
  2. Change the first line just enough to make it different but still recognizable
  3. Keep the original rhythm and the original rhyme scheme
  4. Keep on writing and see where it leads you

Want to Read More?

If you would like to read some silly song parodies, there are many kids’ books full of them. Perhaps the most well-known is Alan Katz’ book Take Me Out of the Bathtub: A Silly-Dilly Songbook. Others include Bruce Lansky’s books I’ve Been Burping in the Classroom and Oh My Darling, Porcupine. My books The Tighty-Whitey Spider and Revenge of the Lunch Ladies also include a number of song parodies. Be sure to check a few of these books out of your library and get ready to have lots of fun.

32 Days of Holiday Poems

Beginning December 1 and continuing throughout the month, right up until New Year’s Day, I will be posting a funny holiday poem or funny winter poem every day on Facebook, Google Plus, and Twitter. Follow me now to read them all! Click on the Facebook or Google Plus logo on the left or the Twitter logo on the right to follow.

NOTE: You don’t need an account to follow along and read the poems. Even without an account, you can still view the Twitter feed and link to the poems. Just click on the Twitter link on the right to see my tweets, which will have links to the poems.

An Interview with Children’s Poet Ted Scheu

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Ted Scheu, That Poetry Guy

Ted Scheu, That Poetry Guy

Ted Scheu (pronounced “shy”), also known as “That Poetry Guy,” has been writing funny poetry for kids for a dozen years now. His poems have appeared in many anthologies in the US and the UK, and he has published four collections of humorous children’s poetry.

His newest book, Now I Know My ZBCs: 59 School Poems for Young Gigglers is available now.

I had the chance to interview Ted recently about his poetry and you can listen to our conversation here.

How to Write a Fractured Nursery Rhyme

Mother Goose

Messing with Mother Goose

If you want to write a poem, but you’re not sure where to start, try taking a poem you already know and changing it. While you can do this with any kind of poem, Mother Goose nursery rhymes are one of the easiest. It’s always fun to take a nursery rhyme and change a few words to make it funny.

First, you’ll need to choose a nursery rhyme or a well-known song such as “Row Your Boat.” There are hundreds to choose from, but here are some of the most popular ones to choose from:

  • Yankee Doodle
  • Humpty Dumpty
  • Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
  • Mary Had a Little Lamb
  • Hickory Dickory Dock
  • There Was an Old Woman
  • Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater

How to Fracture a Nursery Rhyme

After you’ve selected a poem, you’ll need to find the words that rhyme. They should be easy to find because the rhyming words are usually at the end of each line, or the end of every other line. For example, you may have heard the Mother Goose nursery rhyme about the old woman who lived in a shoe. If not, here it is:

There was an old woman,
Who lived in a shoe;
She had so many children,
She didn’t know what to do.

She gave them some broth,
Without any bread;
She whipped them all soundly,
And sent them to bed.

Notice that this poem rhymes on every other line. The word shoe rhymes with do and bread rhymes with bed.

Let’s change this poem starting with the first rhyme. Where else could this woman live? Should we put her in a hat? Perhaps on a boat? Maybe in a drawer? You see, if she could live in a shoe, she could live just about anywhere, so I’ve decided that for my poem, she will live in a box.

There was an old woman
who lived in a box,

Now we need to find some words that rhyme with box. I like socks, fox, rocks, and locks, but I think locks will work best because houses usually have locks. So I’ll write two more lines, like this:

There was an old woman
who lived in a box.
It didn’t have windows
or doorknobs or locks.

Now I’d also like to make this poem funny. I think the idea of a person living in a box is pretty funny by itself, but I wonder what a person might do if they lived in a box. How many things can you think of to do if your house was a box? Would you gift wrap your house for Christmas? Maybe you would be happy that you no longer lived in a shoe? Or how about something like this:

There was an old woman
who lived in a box.
It didn’t have windows
or doorknobs or locks.

She wanted to travel
the world and so
she mailed her house
where she wanted to go.

Getting Started

Remember, once you’ve selected a poem, you want to change the word that rhymes. Here are some examples

  • Put Humpty Dumpty on something besides a wall
  • Change the color of Mary’s lamb
  • Feed “Peter, Peter” something besides pumpkin

And don’t forget about nursery songs. Here are a few you can choose from:

  • Row, Row, Row Your Boat – How about “Ride, Ride, Ride Your Bike,” or “Pet, Pet, Pet Your Cat?”
  • Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star – What else twinkles besides stars? A diamond ring? A traffic light?
  • Yankee Doodle – What could he ride besides a pony? Maybe a rhino? Or a monkey?
  • Baa, Baa, Black Sheep – What would you ask her for besides wool? How about cash?

Now it’s your turn to put your own ideas on paper and see what kinds of fractured nursery rhymes you can come up. Remember to follow these three steps:

  1. Pick a poem or song
  2. Find the words that rhyme
  3. Choose new rhyming words to make a new poem or song

And, most importantly, have fun!

By the way, if you’d like to learn how to write a traditional Mother Goose-style nursery rhyme, check out this fun poetry-writing lesson:

How to Write a Limerick

What is a Limerick?

Limericks are one of the most fun and well-known poetic forms. No one knows for sure where the name “limerick” comes from, but most people assume it is related to the county of Limerick, in Ireland.

The reason limericks are so much fun is because they are short, rhyming, funny, and have a bouncy rhythm that makes them easy to memorize. In this lesson, I’ll show you how you can write your own limericks in just a few easy steps.

The Rules of Limericks

Limericks, like all poetic forms, have a set of rules that you need to follow. The rules for a limerick are fairly simple:

  • They are five lines long.
  • Lines 1, 2, and 5 rhyme with one another.
  • Lines 3 and 4 rhyme with each other.
  • They have a distinctive rhythm (which I’ll explain shortly)
  • They are usually funny.

Rhyming a Limerick

The rhyme scheme of a limerick is known as “AABBA.” This is because the last words in lines 1, 2, and 5 rhyme. Those are the “A’s” in the rhyme scheme. The “B’s” are the last words of lines 3 and 4. Let me give you an example:

There was a young fellow named Hall
Who fell in the spring in the fall.
‘Twould have been a sad thing
Had he died in the spring,
But he didn’t—he died in the fall.

Anonymous

Notice that the words, “Hall,” “fall,” and “fall” all rhyme. Those are the “A” words in the “AABBA” rhyme scheme. Also notice that “thing” and “spring” rhyme. Those are the “B” words in the rhyme scheme.

Limerick Rhythm

Now let’s take a look at the rhythm of the limerick. It goes by the complicated name “anapaestic,” but you don’t need to worry about that. What I want you to notice when you read or recite a limerick is that the first two lines and the last line have three “beats” in them, while the third and fourth lines have two “beats.” In other words, the rhythm of a limerick looks like this:

da DUM da da DUM da da DUM
da DUM da da DUM da da DUM
da DUM da da DUM
da DUM da da DUM
da DUM da da DUM da da DUM

The rhythm doesn’t have to exactly match this, but it needs to be close enough that it sounds the same when you read it. For example, using the limerick above about the fellow from Hall, if we emphasize the beats, it reads like this:

there WAS a young FELLow named HALL
who FELL in the SPRING in the FALL.
‘twould have BEEN a sad THING
had he DIED in the SPRING,
but he DIDn’t—he DIED in the FALL.

Let’s take a look at another famous limerick:

There was an old man of Nantucket
Who kept all his cash in a bucket;
But his daughter, named Nan,
Ran away with a man,
And as for the bucket, Nantucket.

Anonymous

If you emphasize the beats when you read it, it comes out like this:

there WAS an old MAN of NanTUCKet
who KEPT all his CASH in a BUCKet;
but his DAUGHTer, named NAN,
ran aWAY with a MAN,
and AS for the BUCKet, NanTUCKet.

Some Limerick Tricks

There are two more things that you will notice when you read limericks:

  1. The first line usually ends with a person’s first name or the name of a place.
  2. The last line is usually funny.

Because the first line is usually the name of a person or place, writing the first line is the easiest part. You simply pick the name of a place or person – like “New York” or “Dave” – and write a line like this:

There once was a man from New York

Or

There was and old woman named Dave

Then go to your rhyming dictionary and start looking for rhymes like “cork,” “fork,” “pork,” “stork,” or “cave,” “gave,” “wave,” and so on to find more words to complete your limerick.

Once you’ve found some rhyming words, you’ll want to start thinking about a funny ending for your poem. I find it’s easiest to write lines 1, 2, and 5 first, and then to fill in lines 3 and 4 afterward. For example, I decided to write a limerick about someone from Seattle, so I started it like this:

A talkative man from Seattle
would spend his days speaking to cattle.

I then noticed that the word “prattle” rhymed with “cattle” and “Seattle” so I wrote the last line, like this:

She said, “Why it’s nothing but prattle!”

Finally, I went back and wrote lines 3 and 4 to complete the limerick:

A talkative man from Seattle
would spend his days speaking to cattle.
When asked what he said,
one old cow shook her head,
and replied, “Why it’s nothing but prattle!”

You’ll notice that I changed the last line after I wrote lines 3 and 4.  I did this so the poem would make more sense. It’s okay to change your words at any time if it improves the poem.

Your Turn

Now it’s your turn to see if you can write a limerick of your own. Remember to follow these steps:

  1. Choose the name of a person or place and write the first line.
  2. Look in a rhyming dictionary for words that rhyme with your person or place name.
  3. Write line 2 and 5 to rhyme with the first line.
  4. Now write lines 3 and 4 with a different rhyme.

When you are done writing, read your limerick out loud to see if it has the right rhythm; three “beats” on lines 1, 2, and 5, and two “beats” on lines 3 and 4, as shown above. If not, see if you can rewrite some words to get the rhythm right.

Limericks Take Practice

I know that writing limericks is going to seem hard at first because it’s sometimes difficult to get the rhythm, the rhymes, and the joke to all work together. But don’t worry; with a little practice, you’ll soon be creating funny limericks of your own that will make your friends and family laugh. Have fun!

How I Fell in Love with Poetry

Hap Nesbitt, Danny Nesbitt, Jimmy O'Dell, and Kenn Nesbitt

Can you guess which one is me?

I was nine years old when my family went water-skiing every day for an entire summer. We’d get up early, fix enough sandwiches to fill the cooler, and head for the lake in our midnight blue 1967 Cadillac Coupe de Ville, ski-boat in tow. On the best days, we would arrive before the wind had kicked up, when the lake was still a glassy calm.

Somehow, my dad’s job with a heating and air conditioning company allowed him to work mainly in the spring and fall. With summers free, my parents took us to the lake every day; me and my two brothers, Hap and Danny, and our friend Jimmy. Hap was the one with the crew-cut. Danny looked just like me, only more devious. We were all skinny, tanned, and a little too wild.

This was 1971, and the car had only an AM radio. No FM, no 8-track player, and certainly no DVDs or video games. A trip to the lake meant over an hour in the car each way, along winding mountain roads where the AM radio was useless, there weren’t enough other cars to play “slug bug,” and thumb wrestling got old in a hurry. Eventually–as four boys will do when stuck in the back seat of a car for an hour or two–we would begin to fight. It always started innocently enough with a “Quit touching me,” or a “Hey, that’s mine,” but would quickly erupt into a full-blown wrestling match on the floor of the car. Did I mention we also didn’t have seat belts?

How to Write a Cinquain Poem

What is a Cinquain?

Adelaide Crapsey, American poet and creator of the modern cinquain

Adelaide Crapsey, American poet and creator of the modern cinquain

A cinquain – which, by the way, is pronounced “sin-cane,” not “sin-kwane” – is a form of poetry that is very popular because of its simplicity. It was created by American poet Adelaide Crapsey about 100 years ago, and is similar to Japanese poetic forms, such as haiku and tanka.

Cinquains are just five lines long, with only a few words on each line, making them easy to write. The first and last lines have just two syllables, while the middle lines have more, so they end up with a diamond-like shape, similar to the poetic form called the diamante.

Though they are just five lines long, the best cinquains tell a small story. Instead of just having descriptive words, they may also have an action (something happening), a feeling caused by the action, and a conclusion or ending.

You can learn to write cinquains by following these few simple steps:

  1. Decide what you would like to write about.
  2. Brainstorm words and phrases that have to do with your idea.
  3. Think about what story you want to tell.
  4. Write your words and phrases in an order that tells your story, being sure to count the syllables as you go.

The Rules of a Cinquain

There are actually many different ways to write a cinquain, so I’m just going to teach you how to write a traditional cinquain, as it was defined by the poet who invented it. These are the rules:

  1. Cinquains are five lines long.
  2. They have 2 syllables in the first line, 4 in the second, 6 in the third, 8 in the fourth line, and just 2 in the last line.
  3. Cinquains do not need to rhyme, but you can include rhymes if you want to.

That’s it. Just three simple rules.

If you want to, you can even memorize the syllable count by remembering this five-digit number: 24682. Repeat after me: 24682, 24682, 24682. Now you’ve got it.

Getting Started

First, you need to select a topic. That is, you need to choose something to write your cinquain about. Here are a few easy places to get ideas:

  • Write about your favorite thing
  • Write about something you don’t like
  • Write about something you see around you
  • Write about something that happens to you

Since I like ice cream, I think I’ll write a cinquain about ice cream. This is convenient since the words “ice cream” have two syllables, so I can probably use this phrase as the first line of my cinquain. If your favorite thing is pizza, soccer, your cat, etc., you could also use “soccer,” “pizza,” or “my cat” as the first line of your cinquain.

Brainstorming ideas

Once you know what you are going to write about, you need to brainstorm ideas about your topic. Think of as many things as you can and write them down on a piece of paper. It’s okay to write your ideas on one piece of paper and then write your poem on another piece of paper.

For example, I know several things about ice cream, so I’ve put them down here:

  • It is cold.
  • It is yummy.
  • It is sweet.
  • I like eating it.

These are just four ideas, but they are not yet a poem. To turn these ideas into a cinquain poem, we need to say them in a way that we have five lines with the right number of syllables on each line.

Counting Your Syllables

I recommend your count your syllables with your fingers as you write each line. If a line has too many syllables or not enough syllables, see if you can change some of the words to get the right number of syllables.

Once you get the syllable count right, make sure the poem says what you want it to say. You may need to go back and change it some more so that it tells the story you want it to.

Once your cinquain is finished, read it again, counting the syllables on your fingers to make sure you got everything right.

Ice Cream Cinquain

Here’s a cinquain that I wrote about ice cream, using the ideas that I brainstormed earlier:

Ice Cream

Ice cream.
Cold and yummy.
I love its sweet richness
as it finds its way into my
tummy.

You might notice a few things about this poem. It tells a little story. There is an action in which I eat the ice cream and it swallow it. There is a feeling expressed where I tell that I love it. And I even rhymed “yummy” with “tummy.”

Messy Room Cinquain

Let’s try another one. This time, let’s write a cinquain about having a messy room. First, we need to brainstorm ideas. Here are a few I came up with:

  • Dirty laundry
  • Toys all over the place
  • Mom says “clean it up”
  • The hamper is overflowing
  • I’d rather watch TV than clean my room
  • I don’t mind my own mess

I don’t have to use all of these ideas, but writing more ideas than I am going to actually use give me lots to choose from when I start writing the poem.

Now that I’ve got my ideas, I’ll rearrange these into a five-line story with a 24682 syllable pattern, like this:

My Messy Room

My room
is such a mess.
Toys all over the place.
Mom says, “Clean up!” But I like it
like this.

Telling a Story with Your Cinquain

I mentioned earlier that the best cinquains tell a story. An easy way to do this is to start with your subject on the first line, describe it on the second, put an action on the third line, a feeling on the fourth line, and a conclusion on the last line, like this:

Title

Subject
Description
Action
Feeling
Conclusion

You don’t have to follow this pattern exactly. For example, in the Messy Room cinquain, you’ll see that my description is on lines 2 and 3, and both the action and the feeling are on line 4. But this should give you a general pattern for telling a story.

What Are You Going to Write?

Now it’s your turn to try writing your own cinquain. Here are a few things to remember as you write:

  • Cinquain poems can be written about anything
  • They are five lines long
  • The syllable pattern is 2, 4, 6, 8, 2
  • Brainstorm ideas first
  • Count the syllables on your fingers
  • “Center” your poem on the page
  • Rhyme if you want to
  • Have fun!