21 November 2009

Bedtime Poetry

One of the books Isaac picked for storytime tonight was My Parents Think I'm Sleeping, which is a short collection of poems by the first Children's Poet Laureate, Jack Prelutsky. I was glad that Isaac picked it for a few reasons. First, Jack Prelustky is a wonderful children's poet. He knows how to capture their voice and speak to their sense of the absurd. And he is funny. I like to read funny books at bedtime because I like to hear Isaac laugh. I was also glad that Isaac chose this book because I hope that he has a better experience with poetry as he goes through school than I did. I figure if he begins developing an appreciation for it now, maybe it will survive the endless forced analyses that he will have to sit through in English class.

So, from that last sentence you can probably figure out my problem with poetry. I can remember listening to my 6th grade teacher read Shel Silverstein to us and loving it. I can still recite the first few lines of "Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out." Then I went to middle school, and then high school, and finally college, and I hated poetry by the end. Well, maybe I didn't hate poetry. I hated picking a poem apart to get at the "meaning." I could never "see" the meaning behind the words that the teacher wanted me to "see." I am very literal and most of the time just didn't get it.

But I have found a new appreciation for poetry since teaching and working with children, and having a child of my own. Children's poetry doesn't have to be about anything, it just has to be fun or interesting to read. That is why I like Jack Prelutsky. Whether he is being funny or poignant, he is always writing for kids, not to kids or at kids.

The book that Isaac chose tonight was a collection of poems about bedtime. They are all written from the perspective of a little boy and they explore the same issues that we go through every night as we put Isaac to bed: making your parents think you are asleep while you are really playing, seeing weird shadows on the wall or hearing weird noises, being hungry after the lights go out, wanting to stay up and play. All of the experiences that boys and girls everywhere go through to avoid going to sleep. But Prelutsky doesn't just bring out the humor of childhood, he also captures the wonder. Here is my favorite poem from the book we read tonight:

"A Million Candles"

A million candles fill the night,
they glister in the dark,
and though by day they hide their glow,
now each displays its spark.

Amidst them all, there is one light
that has a special shine,
and that's the one whose name I know ...
I think that it knows mine.

We try to read Isaac poetry every now and then, but we don't force it on him. I want him to enjoy it and seek it out on his own, as he did tonight. I know he will be forced to write the papers and pick apart the poems just as I had to, but I also hope that he will remember the poems that made him laugh and enjoy revisiting them when he is older.

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