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Folklore and poetry | Class #5, fall 2016

Folklore and poetry

For our class on November 16, we are reading four books and one article. I like combining these two genres because both need to be read aloud in order to really appreciate them.

Folklore has to have a strong voice, as it comes from an oral tradition where storytellers have individual styles, just as today's popular singers have their own ways of putting songs across. Poetry, too, needs to be heard to appreciate the sound of the words — and spoken aloud to feel their combinations in your mouth. And of course poetry needs to be seen on the page because the line breaks, indentations, and even the leading are as important. Each of these four books is expertly illustrated, as well. So there is lots to analyze and discuss this week!

Representing folklore stand-alone picture books, Mrs. Chicken and the Hungry Crocodile is a hybrid of two story types: the trickster and the noodlehead. This story probably originated in northeastern Liberia where it was collected by Won-Ldy Pay. The second folklore book is Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal, Paul Fleischman's compilation of tales from a variety of origins, all of the Cinderella story type — persecuted heroins with supernatural helpers.

Representing poetry, we are reading Poetrees, one of Douglas Florian's themed poetry books, this time about trees. For our poetry compilation, we have the über-collection of poetry forms compiled by Paul Janeszco, A Kick in the Head. There are plenty of compilations for children that feature one poetry type — haiku, concrete poems, etc. This one has one of everything — or as close to everything as I've found for an elementary-aged audience.

With Debra Smith's help, I've written a special blog post about using poetry in school, including some poetry resources for teachers. In addition to helping me teach this class, Debra is a writer and has a background in Montessori education.

Finally, we are reading Susan Dove Lempke's Horn Book article, "Purposeful Poetry" from the May/June 2005 special issue on poetry.

We invite all of you to join our discussion this week in the comments below.
Note: Students have been asked to research specific book creators and websites and add their findings in the comments.

  • Shaina L. on Won-Ldy Paye

  • Emily N. on Margaret H. Lippert

  • Nell K. on Paul Fleischman

  • Melissa C. on Julie Paschkis

  • Shuwen L. on Douglas Florian

  • Tim M. on Paul Janeczko

  • Andrea M. on Chris Raschka

  • Monique H. on Cinderella-type stories


Lolly Robinson

Lolly Robinson is a freelance designer and consultant with degrees in studio art and children’s literature. She is the former creative director for The Horn Book, Inc., and has taught children’s literature at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education. She has served on the Caldecott and Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committees and blogged for Calling Caldecott and Lolly's Classroom on this site.


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Longy H

I also liked "Mrs Chicken and the Hungry Crocodile" - it is a very memorable tale with a very satisfying ending where Mrs Chicken tells her children that the puddle is "big enough for us" and "much too small for crocodiles" ties nicely back to the beginning of the tale. However, I'm not entirely convinced about the rest of the tale because whilst Mrs Chicken outsmarts the crocodile, I feel that Mrs Chicken is a bit too cunning and poor crocodile! The colourful illustrations are childlike and classic which works well with the text.

Posted : Nov 15, 2016 06:05


I've always been intrigued by how many folktales and classic stories there are across many different cultures, and "Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal," presents a unique display of all of them in one story. I know that many teachers incorporate different versions of the Cinderella story throughout their instruction. This book would be a welcome addition, and could be used to introduce a unit, or literature study on similar stories set in different countries. I think the presentation of all the different versions in one story really helps the reader notice the subtle differences, such as what the Cinderella wore, how she got to the ball, etc. These subtle differences can open up deep discussions on different cultures, what they value, and how we can learn from them.

Posted : Nov 15, 2016 05:57

Liza Raino-Ogden

I absolutely loved Mrs. Chicken and the Hungry Crocodile. It was very reminiscent of other trickster tales, like "Doctor De Soto," which was one of my favorites growing up. While I do agree that it is a bit of a "pourquoi story," as my mother used to say, I think the reason why this book is so successful is not that it explains why chickens sit in puddles, but rather that it shows how everything is connected. Perhaps I am more attune to this now as we are facing these next four years, but what was really interesting to me what how the story showed that the chicken was able to show the crocodile how they were similar--they were both soon-to-be mothers--and convince her that they were not only connected, but sisters (despite how far apart they are on the food chain). This is an important message, especially these days as we are trying to find ways to connect despite how far apart we are on the political spectrum. I also enjoyed the simplistic drawings, as they added innocence to the story in spite of the danger Mrs. Chicken was in.

Posted : Nov 15, 2016 05:25

Santi Dewa Ayu

Susan Dove Lempke’s May/June 2005 Horn Book article, “Purposeful Poetry”, emphasized the growing demand for poems that fit within or match a specific curriculum. Although these types of purposeful poems can make for effective learning tools to bolster the subject material, I agree that they can detract from learning about and genuinely appreciating poetry itself. There has been a growing desire in education to quantify learning; this enhanced dependance on data to validate and process is evident in the need to have art serve a specific purpose other than being art. It was almost painful to read this article as I can relate to feeling pressure to have my art be something beyond what I feel it to be. I also agree that we should give youth more credit and not assume that they only care to read humorous poems; this was another reminder that marketing can deeply drive content.

Posted : Nov 15, 2016 04:36

Siyuan Lu

I really enjoy reading the funny story ‘Mrs. Chicken and the Hungry Crocodile’. I read this story for my 3-year-old son. He kept asking me to repeat the story again and again. After reading this story several times, I have a better understanding about Lolly’s comment that folklore needs to be read aloud in order to really appreciate them. When I read the story aloud with some tones or accents changes, my son enjoyed the story much more than he did when I read the story with low and plain voices. I also like the illustrations of this book. For example, after reading the book for the first time, I felt that the hungry crocodile really looked stupid even without knowing the story. At first I did not get how the illustrator created the stupid image for the crocodile. Later I noticed that the author created this effect by making lots of changes for the eyes of the crocodile on different pages.

Posted : Nov 15, 2016 03:02

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