Friday, July 31, 2009

Poetry Friday -- Countdown

Countdown to Summer: A Poem for Every Day of the School Year
by J. Patrick Lewis
illustrated by Ethan Long
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2009
review copy provided by the publisher

High Schools have had Poetry 180 ever since Billy Collins came up with the idea when he was Poet Laureate. Now elementary school has their own Poetry 180, brought to us by one of the most prolific poets in all of children's literature -- J. Patrick Lewis!

You've got about a month to get your copy so that you're ready to read a poem a day to your class. You'll begin on page one, on the poem numbered 180, and you'll count down, poem by poem, to summer.

Lewis has timed the placement of the poems in the countdown to roughly coincide with a traditional "after Labor Day" school start, and he includes an amazing variety of holiday poems: Eid ul-Fitr (a special thanks for this one from those of us who have Muslim students in our class whose families observe Ramadan), Columbus Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Groundhog Day, 100th Day of School, Chinese New Year, Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, April Fool's Day, Passover, Easter, and Mother's and Father's Days. There probably are more that I've missed!

Also amazing is the variety of poetic forms included in this book! I found at least one limerick, epitaph, quatrain, haiku, abecedarian, concrete, acrostic, riddle, couplets, haik-lues, ode, lullaby, tongue twister, rebus, and free verse. Again, there are likely more that I've missed!

The simple line drawings by Ethan Long sometimes help the punch line of the poem, sometimes provide a clue to understanding or solving the poem, and sometimes are a visual retelling of the poem.

I tabbed seven poems I really wanted to share with you today, but I guess that's about 5 or 6 too many. You'll have to check these out when you buy your copy: #174 "The Librarian" (an abecedarian), #87 "Martin Luther King, Jr. Day" (a beautiful acrostic), #76 "The Ninth Ward: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans" (heartbreaking and true), #59 "When is Its It's?" (maybe this poem will help my students learn proper use of its and it's...we can hope), #28 "Ars Libri: after Archibald MacLeish (everything books are and should be).

Here are two teacher/teaching poems since this is (I proclaim it so) the current quintessential volume of poetry for the elementary classroom. Apologies for the lost formatting on the first one...the middle lines should be centered between the first and last lines:

#163 I Was Your Teacher Once

I was your teacher once. You may remember me.
I am the chalk dust of memory.
I was the trusted ship you sailed.
You were the promise I unveiled.
I was the show. You were the tell.
I was your magic. You were my spell.
I was the ticket. You were the game.
I was the candle. You were the flame.
I was the curtain. You were the play.
I was the sculptor. You were the clay.
I was your teacher once. You may remember me.

Proposed Amendment to the Constitution

The President and Vice-President
of the United States shall be required
to take the Fourth Grade Standardized
Achievement Test so that
No President or Vice-President
shall be left behind.

Sylvia Vardell at Poetry For Children reviewed Countdown to Summer during Poetry Month in April and, coincidentally, she's got the round up this week!


  1. So much for not buying books for a while. I gotta have this one!!!!

  2. Can't wait to get this one. It'd be great for my morning meetings. I especially liked the poem you shared. Thanks for always stretching my thinking.

  3. Looks like a fab collection, love the idea of 180 poems including all those major holidays. Love the sample poems; the teacher one is perfect!

  4. I felt so lucky when I found this book at the library...right there waiting for me. It was a sign. :) Great posting! Like always!

  5. I just bought this the other day, but haven't peeked inside since. Looks like I need to get busy reading!

  6. hey diggin ur blog..follow me on my blog!!

  7. Thanks for the shout-out, the great review, and for joining the Poetry Friday gathering this week! Always a pleasure--

  8. I just got this one...oh it will be great for the early school year visits from Mr. george. Fun pick Franki!

  9. This sounds like a great book. I'm sure my middle schoolers might be able to appreciate it.


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