Tuesday, August 25, 2009

School Days, School Days: First Food Fight This Fall and Other School Poems by Marilyn Singer

Cleaning Erasers
by Kwan

I love
to erase the
To make today's words
and numbers smear,
then disappear
from here.

I grab
the erasers
Out the open windows.
Watch out, below--
Lessons heading
your way!

In Marilyn Singer's forthcoming First Food Fight This Fall and Other School Poems (Abrams, 2009), we first meet a group of kids destined to become Ms. Mundy's class--each unique even in the way they mount the steps onto the bus and take their seats. Laksmi shyly hides behind her hair, while Dylan clicks a mental photograph of the noisy gang's first ride to school. As the year goes forward, Singer crafts 29 engaging and endearing poems by one or more of these students, chronicling not only the familiar milestones--squabbles and games, holidays and first snowfall, tests and triumphs--but each child's passage through the trivial and momentous days of their lives. And like Dylan's mental click, each child is caught in a verbal snapshot as each grows through the year.

The verses range from humorous to arresting. Here are two takes on the classroom reading of a well-known poem:

When Ms Mundy Read Us A Poem
by Laksmi and Kwan

I fell asleep as
Only this time
I dreamed of flowers.
On the grayest fall day,
all the maples outside
were bare.
But in our room cherry
trees bloomed.

The constant squeaking of swings, thump of basketballs and shrieking, all the running and shoving of hide-and-seek suddenly stop for a special event, through the photographic eyes of Dylan, who echoes Robert Frost:

Posing for the perfect photograph,
we looked up, still and silent,
heads tilted, mouths open wide,
to catch the first snowflakes of December
on the last outdoor recess of the year.

Constant rivals Amy and Malik keep their feud going in their joint poem "Valentine's Day" which concludes:

Tell me that you won't be mine!
Please don't be my Valentine!

The school year makes it way through science fair time, food fights and cleanups, bean-planting activities, field trips, and also significant individual triumphs. Laksmi stays awake and suddenly "sees" a poem in her wide-open mental eye, Jake finally volunteers to do math on the board, Ms. Mundy hands Dylan her real camera to snap a perfect class picture, and Fumi discovers that although she hates gym, she loves dancing there. And then, amazingly, it's the last day of school:

Last, First

Last bubblegum stash,
last lesson we're taught.
Last fountain to splash,
last chance to get caught.

Last hugs all around,
last read-aloud poem.
Last wish we could stay,
last loud bus ride home,

First chance to sleep late,
first day it's too warm.
First do-nothing date,
first great thunderstorm.

First race to the beach,
First green beans to pick.
First sweet-tasting peach,
First jellyfish--ICK!

First star in the sky,
first "Look, it's still light!"
First bright fireflies,
first long summer night.

Singer's simple poems are surprisingly moving, written in various styles--quatrains, blank verse, haiku--capturing the individual voices of the kids of the class. Great for occasional poetry breaks, for the beginning and end of the year, or as a jumping-off point for classroom poetry study and writing, this slender book deserves a place close at hand on teachers' desks year-round. Sachiko Yashikawa's ebullient illustrations catch the humor and pathos, the ups and downs, of the school year just right, and every child can find himself in these short poems that capture the elementary school experience like a treasured photo album.

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