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Teach Poetry

Poetry grabs minds.
Experience varies, but
The moon, a mysterious plot,
The helmet of revolutionaries
Hack brains, pack concepts,
Inject impressions
Make memories connect.
Share poetry.

I chose three books with themes that are similar in my mind. As much as I enjoy poetry in picture books and find it easily accessible, the challenge of introducing and hooking older readers on poetry excites me. These books have a common theme: hiding a true life from society because of norms experienced in the wider world. These books, for older student readers, make connections we can feel and engage our empathy. High school students live on the dichotomy of autonomy and parental oversight, and they can understand these themes and use them to build empathy with people who experience things the children in these books experience.

Swing and Loving vs. Virginia are historical and very present images of the world we live in and feature interracial relationships. Whether friendships or romantic relationships, it is important to represent all people with their open minds in the literature in our libraries to represent the respect we want to engender (American Library Association, 2018).

If you need more reasons: 

In addition to the empathetic gains to be had with broadly reading outside one’s own experiences, poetry helps the students’ meet curriculum standards (Common Core State Standards, CCSS, 2018). Washington State has adopted Common Core Standards, so recognizing, reading a range of texts, and making meaning from verse will benefit curriculum (Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, 2018).

High school in particular is the last chance that we have to grab readers before releasing them into the wilds of big-box store book picks and movies. Learning to experience different art forms, including poetry, is part of the Common Core Standards (CCSS, 2018).

Powell, P. H., & Strickland, S. (2017). Loving vs. Virginia: A documentary novel of the landmark civil rights case. San Francisco: Chronicle Books.

Combining the voice of two people who fell in love during their high school years, the poetry speaks from each of them. When they meet, when they fall in love. They hide their relationship because of Virginia’s laws in the 1950s. The verse explores their feelings as they learn Mildred’s pregnant in her second attempt at a junior year in high school. Eventually they leave the state to get married where they can legally be together; however, the pair return to Virginia where Richard can work best. Eventually they are arrested and the Supreme Court supports their marriage, changing laws across the country to allow interracial marriage. The book is filled with information about the laws and changes between verses, and lays out exactly how the Lovings challenged their charges. The images add to the appeal, both photographic and drawn with the same focus and abstraction that we see in the poetry itself.

I would include this book in a high school library. It addresses mid-20th century politics, which are explored in high school curriculum, and it personalizes the plight of people living the civil rights movement. This book is also biographical. It has very strong characters and positive messages, though it also explores premarital sex and pregnancy. Margret’s parents are greatly supportive and Richard and Mildred’s love and care for one another, their children, and their families are set forward in spare verse that allow the imagination to build empathy. We can see that they love their home as much as the politics and social structures of 1950s Virginia keep them apart from their family as they as jailed. Through this understandable telling of a single family’s plight, students can understand the reason Civil Right are still important today.

Alexander, K. & Hess M.R. (2018). Swing. New York: Blink.

Noah and Swing (Walt) are high school juniors who love baseball, and that links them as friends, but high school has a lot going on, socially. Noah, the narrator, decides to tell the girl he’s known forever that he cares about her, and Swing wants to share his love of jazz with Noah. Noah went thrift shopping and found old love letters in a bag he bought for his mother, and he starts writing to her. Those letters start an entire new way of looking at our own society. While Noah is the narrator, Swing brings the heart. The love letters, flags, jazz, and baseball wash into the narrative. Noah and Swing are on the sidelines as a mysterious party plants flags all over town, and we readers have a look at the society we (very much) currently live in, but Swing and Noah are the primary narrative.

The emotional impact of characters that the students can understand going through experiences that they have had, or mentally placing themselves into the position that the characters inhabit, will only add to a reader’s empathy (Bal & Veltkamp, 2013). This book would do well in a high school library collection, but could be read by high-grade middle schoolers. I would add it to any high school as the combination of verse and relatable characters that have specific enough personalities that emotional connection from the readers will easily bring empathy. This book, like the others will help students relate to poetry and will help meet curriculum standards, should the students choose to read it. My reservation is that there is so much going on in this book may surprise more avid readers or those who do not read deeply. Between the pacing and ending, the feel in Swing is different from Alexander’s other books. Saying that, though, the fact that we’re seeing a wave of poetry reading middle and high schoolers thanks to books like Swing warms my heart.

Terry, E. (2017). Forget me not. New York: Feiwel and Friends.

Calliope June loves astronomy and lives with her single mother. They recently moved to a new apartment and a popular boy in the building noticed her the moment she arrived. Told in verse from Calliope’s point of view and in short paragraphs from Jinsong, observing her from the outside and navigating school’s social balance.  We inhabit Calliope in verse, filling in the details as her Tourrette’s takes over and changes her physically. The poetry allows room for understanding and feeling the aftermath of a Tuorroutte’s outburst in class. She tries to keep others from knowing or from being affected by things she may say or do, but eventually she comes to know more about the people around her. This book tells a character-driven story of forgiveness and acceptance, and so many can use that in the first person.

I would purchase this book for an elementary, middle school, or high school library. It speaks to fifth graders and higher. The author speaks from her personal experience of Tourrettes, and uses a female character, which we so rarely see experiencing Tourrettes. Three of four Tourrettes suffers are male, so this inclusion in the library will broaden understanding (Baker, 2008). The book also explores bullying, but it does not end with Calliope triumphing over or finding justice for the bullying. Rather, Calliope digs inside herself and finds a way to meet and express sympathy for her bully. That’s a level of emotional resilience to take a lesson from. At the same time Jinsong overcomes his embarrassment and becomes Calliope’s friend, despite what reservations he may have had early on about the effects that friendship might have had on his popularity.

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Of all three books, Loving vs. Virginia used the poetry form best to convey emotion and experience. It might be the most likely to be challenged due to the pregnancy. The characters’ both use poetry and their voices are both distinct and relatable. The other books are well-done, but Forget Me Not changes from poems to verse to change character voice and Swing’s Narrator is Caucasian, not part of the social back ground plots or a character representing a minority group or differently-abled status. These are small differences, but in matters of representation, the main character’s voice matters, as does that character’s involvement to the reader’s understanding of those situations and experiences.

References: 

Alexander, K. & Hess M.R. (2018). Swing. New York: Blink.

 American Library Association. (2018). Diversity. Retrieved October 30, 2018 from http://www.ala.org/aboutala/diversity

 Baker, L. (2008). Gender associated with Tourette syndrome severity. University at Buffalo. Retrieved October 30, 2018 from http://www.buffalo.edu/news/releases/2008/04/9325.html

 Bal, P.M. & Veltkamp, M. (2013). Ow does fiction reading influence empathy? An experimental investigation on the role of emotional transportation. PLOS ONE, 8(1): e55341.

Retreived October 30, 2018 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3559433/

 Common Core State Standards. (2018). English language standards / Standard 10: Range, quality, & complexity / Range of text types for 6-12. October 30, 2018 from http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/standard-10-range-quality-complexity/range-of-text-types-for-612/

 Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. (2018). K-12 English language arts learning standards. Retrieved October 30, 2018 from http://www.k12.wa.us/ELA/Standards.aspx

 Powell, P. H., & Strickland, S. (2017). Loving vs. Virginia: A documentary novel of the landmark civil rights case. San Francisco: Chronicle Books.

 Terry, E. (2017). Forget me not. New York: Feiwel and Friends.