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Books that feature poets

Recently some friends of mine from Brookline High — Mary Burchenal and Ric Calleja — were interviewed in the Boston Globe about whether poetry is starting to disappear from schools. I don’t really know, but I sure hope not. In lots of classrooms I visit, poetry is certainly a part of the curriculum.

But I had a thought recently, that as a teacher, I rarely showed my students many real or fictional modern poets, even though we read poems. I didn’t realize until recently that my classroom collection has been woefully short on characters and authors who choose to write and read poetry. I have lots of journalers, some journalists, and the occasional fiction writer, but not enough poets. Lucky for me, a spate of great options have appeared lately to add to classroom libraries or stashes of text samples for minilessons.

The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy      Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets      nelson_how i discovered poetry

On the fiction side, two very different options:

The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy, by Kate Hattemer
In order to protest a reality-TV show being filmed at their prestigious art school, Ethan and his friends (and his gerbil, a bit of a hero himself) decide to save their school. In order to do so, they decide to write a vigilante poem a la Ezra Pound to get the student body on board. I like to think Pound would have loved to be just this sort of inspiration.

Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets, by Evan Roskos
James Whitman, a teen who struggles with anxiety and depression, loves Walt Whitman, and so tries to adopt Whitman’s spirit in his own life. Threaded throughout with Walt’s words and James’s poetry-esque descriptions of his experiences, this book has many elements, including family struggles, a crush on a girl, and a protagonist who doesn’t always connect.

On the nonfiction side, a book I doubt I’ll forget:

how i discovered poetry, by Marilyn Nelson; illus. by Hadley Hooper
This verse memoir, consisting of sonnets that don’t rhyme, paints the story of Nelson’s military family moving around America during the 1950s. Personal experiences and connections to civil rights news of the day combine to tell a powerful and somehow also quiet story about using words to tell stories.

I can’t wait to use these titles in a variety of ways with students and teachers, and I’d love to hear other ideas of texts that feature poetry or writing generally as a central theme!

Christina Dobbs About Christina Dobbs

Christina Dobbs is an assistant professor of English Education at Boston University. She is a former high school teacher, literacy coach, and reading specialist, and she studied adolescent literacy at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.



  1. Interesting article and column. Perhaps if poetry is paired with other activities and art forms for a more comprehensive educational experience, it might resonate more. Here is what I’m doing in tribute to my late mother, Sydell Rosenberg, an anthologized American poet. She was a charter member of the Haiku Society of America, founded in 1968, and a teacher. I hope one day to publish a children’s book of her work – which is what she wanted — but meanwhile, these initiatives have been satisfying for everyone involved.

    Haiku, with their compact and concise format, yet so richly evocative – and of course, poetry in general – can expand the scope of kids’ imaginations and help them make creative connections, as well as facilitate literacy through elegant, spare wordplay and metaphor. I think it’s fair to say that haiku capture “nature in nuggets,” as I like to say. They are ideal for “en plein air” reading and writing, as well as arts and crafts, gardening – or just observing and exploring!

    I have made some strides in sharing her work with young audiences: I recently concluded the second Sydell Rosenberg-Arts For All haiku/art workshop series for second-graders at P.S.163 in the Bronx, in which several of mom’s animal haiku were integrated into drawing, painting and writing. The first program took place in the fall of 2013.

    Another program recently wrapped at P.S. 163: a haiku/music workshop series for English as a Second Language learners – also second-graders. I attended three of the six sessions. They were delightful! The two music teachers from the nonprofit Arts For All, my partner, developed inventive lesson plans to connect my mom’s haiku to melody and rhythm, with the words serving as the verses. The children helped to construct the melody and even their own haiku “lyrics” which served as a unifying chorus. The lead music teacher selected four haiku, each one representing a season.

    Also, in 2013 I worked with the Children’s Museum of the Arts on a splendid project called the PoeTree – please see this blog below. Using my mom’s haiku, and her definition of haiku, as a guide or starting point, kids were encouraged to write their own haiku on paper leaves and suspend them from the tree. Over several months, this golden structure became populated with many colorful, decorated leaves.

    In addition to the PoeTree blog, please also see this recent article about the importance of teaching poetry in schools. My partnership with Arts For All is included. Thank you for the opportunity to tell you about my efforts, and I look forward to future opportunities to amplify my mom’s versatile verses in ways that serve children.

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