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Forgive Me: I Meant to Do It

Forgive Me, I Meant to Do It
Written by Gail Carson Levine, Illustrated by Matthew Cordell
Published by HarperCollins, 2012
ISBN #978-0061787256
Grades 2 and up

Book Review

Teachers know how much kids enjoy humorous poetry. Celebrate the culmination of a month of verse by bumping that enjoyment up a notch with Newbery Honor author Gail Carson Levine’s new collection of poetry, Forgive Me, I Meant to Do It. Based on William Carlos Williams’s famed false apology poem, “This is Just to Say,” Levine’s collection raises the sophistication of humorous poetry by emulating Williams’s literary sarcasm and mischief. Each of the poems in this book shares the same title as the mentor poem, “This is Just to Say,” and begins the last stanza with the same quasi-repentant line, “Forgive me.” What falls between those familiar lines is delightfully insincere, snarky, and irreverent. Some poems deliver gleeful commentary on childhood: “While you were buying/doll dresses/I sanded off/your Barbie’s face.” Other poems give a nod to a cast of familiar figures from children’s literature: Pinocchio, who admits he enjoys telling lies; Snow White, who decides that facing the witch is better than living with the seven dwarves’ filth; and a giant who purposely places a rock halfway down the hill so he can claim Jill for his girlfriend when Jack clumsily trips over it. Accompanying each poem is an illustration by Matthew Cordell, whose wickedly whimsical style is reminiscent of Shel Silverstein, Jack Prelutsky, and Quentin Blake. A perfect scaffold to free verse and the literary canon of poetry, Forgive Me, I Meant to Do It will both push your students’ literary prowess and provide them with endless hours of wicked entertainment.

Teaching Invitations

Grades 2-4

False Apology Poems. In the middle of her book and on her website, Gail Carson Levine provides readers with the steps to writing false apology poems. She also offers helpful tips to help children think about rhythm and purposeful line breaks, punctuation, and capitalization in poetry. Follow her suggestions to help your students write their own humorous false apology poems, either with their own voice or from the point of view of someone else: a literary character, historical figure, or perhaps for extra snarkiness, a politician or celebrity. 


Meaningful Apologies. It would be remiss to center instruction on this book without discussions with students about what constitutes a meaningful apology. While the apologies in this collection are purposefully insincere, many others are quite genuine and heartfelt. Read Sorry! by Trudy Ludwig, and I Did It, I’m Sorry, by Caralyn Buehner. Have students identify the characteristics of meaningful apologies, and list them on the board. Then, encourage students to practice writing meaningful apologies, either in poetry form or in prose. Use Joyce Sidman’s This is Just to Say, which is an anthology of sincere apologies inspired by the same Williams poem. As suggested in the False Apology Poems activity described above, give them the choice again to write from their own real voices or from another’s.

Grades 4 and up

Famous Poems as Mentor Texts. William Carlos Williams’s “This is Just to Say” is one of the most recognized and shared poems in American literature. What better way to introduce children to canonical poems than following Gail Carson Levine’s lead and using them as mentor texts for students’ own writing? Share a variety of well known poems that are familiar to both adults and children, and have students select a few that appeal to them. Then, referring to the author note in the middle of Forgive Me, I Meant to Do It, walk students through the craft and structure of the famous poems they choose. Scholastic offers an online writing workshop with several famous children’s poets, including Jack Prelutsky, Karla Kuskin, and Jean Marzallo, called “Writing with Writers” (see Further Explorations below). You may also want to share Sharon Creech’s verse novels, Love That Dog and Hate That Cat, in which Jack models his poems after famous ones by Walter Dean Myers and Robert Frost.

From Humor to Sarcasm. Children tend to delight in the humorous poetry that many children’s poets write. Once your students have tried their hand at writing humorous poetry, push them to the next level: writing sarcasm. Since sarcasm is often a difficult concept for children to grasp, scaffold their attempts by clearly defining what sarcasm is, comparing and contrasting sarcastic poems with humorous ones, and then encouraging students to locate examples of sarcastic poetry in the humorous poetry they already know. Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky, both noted for their adroitness with humor have sarcastic poems in many of their collections. It often helps to begin with a topic or character they know well, such as a popular fairy tale character, and then showing how if that character makes a sarcastic remark, s/he is really saying it to be funny.

William Carlos Williams Author Study. It’s no wonder that Gail Carson Levine chose the works of William Carlos Williams as an inspiration for this collection. His lucid poetry, which often describes common, everyday experiences, is often accessible for children. Explore some of his poetry with your students. Use the books and websites listed below to explore more of his work, and read the picture book biography A River of Words to learn more about this fascinating man who was not just a remarkable poet, but an accomplished medical doctor as well. Encourage students to use some of his other poems as mentor texts for writing more of their own poetry. Celebrate what students learn by holding a poetry slam of Williams’ poetry and students’ original poetry inspired by him.

Poet-Illustrator Collaboration. Matthew Cordell’s delightful illustrations complement Gail Carson Levine’s poems, sometimes clarifying visually what is written figuratively. Have students work in partners to create a similar collection of poetry, with one partner illustrating the poems of the other and vice versa. Make sure to provide them with plenty of time to collaborate and discuss their plans for each poem, as well as the anthology as a whole.


Further Explorations

Online Resources

Gail Carson Levine’s web site
http://www.gailcarsonlevine.com

Matthew Cordell’s web site
http://www.matthewcordell.com

False Apologies – an NPR story
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=7030762

Websites about William Carlos Williams
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/william-carlos-williams
http://www.poets.org/wcwil
http://www.poetryarchive.org/poetryarchive/singlePoet.do?poetId=7349

Writing with Writers – Poetry
http://teacher.scholastic.com/writewit/poetry/index.htm

Books

Bryant, J. (2008). A river of words: The story of William Carlos Williams. Ill. by Melissa Sweet. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.

  • A Caldecott Honor picture book about the amazing life of the poet. 

Buehner, C. (2000). I did it, I’m sorry. New York: Puffin.

  • A clever picture book that uses an interactive multiple-choice format to help children determine the most appropriate response for various ethical dilemmas. 

Creech, S. (2001). Love that dog. New York: HarperTrophy.

  • Jack discovers his voice while learning about great poets and mourning the loss of his beloved pet. 

Creech, S. (2008). Hate that cat. New York: HarperCollins.

  • In this sequel to Love That Dog, Jack continues to learn the power of poetry as he adjusts to a new pet. 

Ludwig, T. (2006). Sorry! Ill. by Maurie J. Manning. Berkeley, CA: Tricycle Press.

  • A picture book about the difference between genuine and insincere apologies. 

McGowan, C. (Ed.). (2003). Poetry for young people: William Carlos Williams. New York: Sterling Publishing Company.

  • An edition of the popular picture book series, this one spotlighting Williams’ poetry.

Sidman, J. (2007). This is just to say: Poems of apology and forgiveness. Ill. By P. Zagarenski. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

  • A diverse collection of poetic forms and content, centering on a fictional sixth grade class’s sincere apologies and the poetic responses they receive back. 
Grace Enriquez About Grace Enriquez

Grace is an associate professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former English Language Arts teacher, reading specialist, and literacy consultant, she teaches and writes about children’s literature, critical literacies, and literacies and embodiment. Grace is co-author of The Reading Turn-Around and co-editor of Literacies, Learning, and the Body.