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Poetry and folklore | class #5, fall 2017

Folklore and poetry

For our class on November 1, we will read four books and one article. Since this class only meets six times, we have to double up on some genres. These two go together better than some because they both need to be read aloud.

Successful folklore books must have a strong voice. Folktales and fairy tales come from an oral tradition in which the best storytellers have individual styles, just as singers have their own ways of delivering songs. Poetry, too, needs to be heard to appreciate the sound of the words — and spoken aloud to feel their combinations in your mouth. Poetry also needs to be seen because line breaks, indentations, and even the leading (the space between lines) are important. Each of these four books is expertly illustrated, as well. 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 heroines with supernatural helpers.

Representing poetry, we are reading Poetrees, one of Douglas Florian's themed poetry books. For our poetry compilation, we have A Kick in the Head, an exhaustive collection of poetry forms compiled by Paul Janeszco. 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. And speaking of "exhaustive," books like this are not meant to be read in one sitting. Enjoy each poem on its own, ideally read aloud.

I encourage you to take a look at this blog post about using poetry in elementary school classrooms. I wrote it last year, with lots of help from Debra Smith. In addition to helping me teach this class, Debra is a writer and works 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 in the comments below.
Note: Students have been asked to research specific book creators and websites and add their findings in the comments.

  • Arienne C. on Won-Ldy Paye

  • Lena J. on Margaret H. Lippert

  • Sedef S. Julie Paschkis

  • Belinda P. on Paul Fleischman

  • Summer X. on Douglas Florian

  • Missy M. on Paul Janeczko

  • Stephen M. on Chris Raschka

  • Jen C. on Cinderella-type stories

  • Tracy C. on Noodlehead stories

  • Damina K. on Trickster tales

  • Nimah G. on Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm


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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Like Robyn, Sanya, Amy, Nezile, Katie, Cieo, Sophie, Michelle, Dima, Medina, Sally, Marion, and Kiran, I spent the more time unpacking/digesting/unearthing the poems in the poetry books this week. Needless to say, I loved both. My partner and I read parts of A Kick in the Head to our daughter and then I spent more time solo exploring Poetries. The illustrations in each were fantastic. Chris Raschka's style reminded me of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Both books also included an eclectic array of different poems that were connected by conistent art even when the words travleded to different parts of the page. It was also helpful that they each had a glossary (the Glossatree & Notes on the Forms). It think it important to balance the informative aspect of these books with the engaging/artistic aspects of the poems. (Found Poem, Blues Poem, Senru, there was so much I didn't know) Ipitaph for Pinnoccio reminded me of Mark Twain humor, and the limericks reminded me of Alice in Wonderland/or Where the Sidewalk ends.

Posted : Oct 31, 2017 11:02


I was most surprised by my enthusiastic response to Poetrees because the book combines two things I couldn't be more apathetic about: poetry and trees. In fact, I usually can't stand poetry due to my allergy to whimsy. (And I'm not exactly a nature person.) BUT I found myself devouring Florian's words and kept wanting to Wikipedia all the trees and tree-related phenomena he was writing about. I even pored over the glossary at the end to reinforce what I had learned through his lyricism. I had actually visited General Sherman at the Sequoia National Park this summer without really understand the context or significance of the tree and I appreciate now having more insight into a world I had long forgotten after elementary school science lessons.

Posted : Oct 31, 2017 02:57

Tracy Cheng

Noodlehead stories are generally short and simple stories that focus on the silliness and awkwardness side of characters - think funny stories about "fools." Examples would be a character that takes everything way too literally, or a character who pocesses good intentions but not common sense. They are usually entertaining and targeted at younger children, but can be enjoyed by audiences of all ages. Examples can be found from very old folklore across many different cultures around the world, to very recently published story collections and chapter books. Examples of noodlehead stories: Noodlehead Stories: World Tales Kids Can Read & Tell by Martha Hamilton and Mitch Weiss (2006) Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish (2013) Noodles, Nitwits and Numskulls by Maria Leach (1979) The Book of Noodles: Stories of Simpletons or Fools and Their Follies by William A. Clouston (1969)

Posted : Oct 31, 2017 06:22

Camila Garcia Enriquez

Mrs. Chicken and the Hungry Crocodile by Won-Ldy Pay was very fun to read! It is one of those stories in which "it is OK to lie and fool others", which is usually very exciting for children. This is also a story on how to get oneself out of danger, even when our counterpart is bigger and stronger than us. In that sense, Mrs. Chicken and the Hungry Crocodile is an analogy of David and Goliath, calling upon the fact that physical strength does not always overcome intellectual strength. Because this is a read-aloud, I dot think the story would be difficult for children to understand, especially if dramatic reading is performed Lastly, as I was reading it I imagined different scenarios for encouraging participation, such as asking children "What is the hen doing?!" right before reading the description of the exchange of the eggs.

Posted : Oct 31, 2017 03:07

Helen Liu

Reading Mrs. Chicken and the Hungry Crocodile really brings me much joy. Never thought there could be such an intimate friendship between a chick and a crocodile, to the extent of exchanging babies. I would assume the story will be a great read-aloud source to young readers, especially with vibrant words like "snap" and "bok" that make the actions alive. The texts are a bit more heavier in some pages than I thought for juvenile poetry though.

Posted : Oct 31, 2017 02:21

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