SCBWI

Society of
Children's Book Writers
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History & Poetry — A Winning Combination

Plus Activity Ideas

By Eileen Meyer

History and poetry meld together in my just-released picture book, The Superlative A. Lincoln: Poems about our 16th President. The topic is a natural fit with the elementary school curriculum’s study of Abraham Lincoln, a well-suited read-aloud during National Poetry Month (April), and makes a nice addition to a family library for any Lincoln and history fans. The book has also been announced as an ILLINOIS READS selection for 2020.

This picture book celebrates superlatives, which most kids find fascinating. Young readers enjoy learning about who is the first to accomplish something or is the best at reaching an important milestone. Each story is told through poetry in this 48-page picture book. For example, you’ll learn more about how Lincoln was the “Best Yarn-Spinner,” what happened when our sixteenth president had an “Aha” moment as a teen in the “Biggest Dreamer” poem and find out interesting details about his “Strongest Conviction.”

But first you might ask, why tell these stories through poetry? Using lyrical language, sound, rhythm, and form, a poem can engage a reader in a very unique way. I enjoy writing poetry, so that was my unique hook for readers. Poems provide an opportunity to take one topic and isolate it—emphasizing a key point within a story. A poem’s pacing also gives the reader a chance to slow down, pause and reflect about the content. The format fit with my need to draw attention to key points or topics. Here’s an example from the book:

After reading this poem about Abraham Lincoln’s story-telling prowess, there are many things ripe for discussion, whether at home or in the classroom. Here are some examples:

  • What is important about this poem?
  • Are there any new vocabulary words? If so, which words? Discuss their meaning.
  • The poem is rich in imagery. If you were the artist, how would you illustrate this poem?
  • The poem provides an opportunity to enrich and extend subjects, such as a discussion of storytelling vs. other forms of communication, such as texting. When is texting a good way to communicate? When is storytelling a meaningful way to connect? What do you think Abraham Lincoln would think about sending text messages?
  • Did you like the end rhymes and patterns. Do all poems need to rhyme?

There are 19 different poems in The Superlative A. Lincoln: Poems about our 16th President.  Subject matter includes education (“Most Studious” poem), sportsmanship (“Best Wrestler”), equality (“Strongest Conviction”), friendship (“Most Surprising Friendship”) as well as many more topics. Poetry can help us start important conversations—it is my hope that is a natural outcome of reading the material.

Activities

In addition to discussing the poems, we can also engage young readers with activities as a way to explore some of the themes.

Recently, I teamed up with Darien District Librarian Diane Nelson to present programs about using poetry effectively in the classroom at the Illinois Reading Council and the Association of Illinois School Library Educators conferences. We had fun working together to share different ways that K-5 students might engage in poetry-related activities. Here are a few ideas:

Magnetic Poetry

Spark a young child’s interest in creating simple poems using magnetic paper and any magnetic surface. Start by printing words onto magnetic paper. You can join www.teacherspayteachers.com to have access to a free magnetic poetry kit to create this activity at home in the classroom. Find the free kit here.

Cut them out. Place on an accessible magnetic surface such as a cookie sheet, refrigerator or steel desk. Young readers can create simple free verse poems using the words on one of the magnetic surfaces. This activity is perfect for a classroom center where students work independently or in small groups. This is also a creative activity at home.

       

Acrostic Poems

Acrostic poems offer a simple and creative way for students of all ages to write a poem about a topic. Readers may choose a word that they think of (or select one from the book) relating to Lincoln’s life experience and construct a poem. Using Word Bank cards, students can brainstorm and list descriptive words they might use in their poem. A poem template helps them lay out the first letters of the lines that form a word or sentence when read downward.

Acrostic Poem Example 1:

What Lincoln Wore on His Head

Handsome
Accessory—it made our
Tallest president even TALLER!

or

Acrostic Poem Example 2:

Young Abe Liked . . .

Borrowed from
Others, they
Opened up his world,
Kindling a passion to
Study and read.

Based upon the age and experience of the writer, the acrostic poem may be more simple or complex in nature. See my website to download a handout guiding readers through the Acrostic Poem writing process, including word bank cards, examples, and templates. Find it here. 

FiveSevenFive Haiku App

For older readers, why not take advantage of the free phone application, FiveSevenFive and use it to tap into their creativity? Search for and download the free app. Then encourage students to write their own haiku poem about Lincoln or a poem topic (for example: storytelling, education, or wrestling) in the book using the app. Poets should share their haiku poem with a friend.

Here’s an illustrated example:

Poem and Photo by Diane Nelson, Actor Michael Krebs as Abraham Lincoln

Venn Diagram Activity

Another activity provides an alternative to poem making. After reading the “Most Surprising Friendship” poem about Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, two readers might want to team up and try this. Using a Venn Diagram worksheet such as the one displayed below, two friends or classmates may interview each other, learning more about background and interests they share in common, as well as how each is different.  Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln had many things in common—both were very tall men, had little formal education, and loved to read books. But they were different in many ways, too. (Refer to the sample Venn Diagrams found on EileenMeyerBooks.com in the books page and download.) Your interview results might surprise you!

Venn Diagrams, magnetic poetry, acrostic poem making, and the FiveSevenFive Haiku App are just a few different ways to extend a book’s topic and allow readers to think about it and tap into their creativity. A former teacher, acclaimed poet, and anthologist, the late Lee Bennett Hopkins said: “It is my firm belief that poetry can and must be an integral part of the total school curriculum, interwoven with every subject area.”  I hope that you agree!

 

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Eileen Meyer writes picture books and poetry. Her works include The Superlative A. Lincoln: Poems About Our 16th President (Charlesbridge) – a 2020 ILLINOIS READS selection for grades 3-5; Sweet Dreams, Wild Animals, and other titles. Eileen loves visiting schools and working with K-8 students. She enjoys sharing programs with educators, recently presenting at the 2019 IRC, AISLE, and NCTE conferences. Eileen is a long-time member of SCBWI. For information about school programs, please visit www.EileenMeyerBooks.com and contact Eileen.