The Classroom Bookshelf
Inside The Classroom Bookshelf

Firefly July and Hi, Koo!: Poems about Seasons

Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems

Selected by Paul B. Janeczko; Illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Published by Candlewick Press, 2014
ISBN #978-0763648428

Grades K and up
Book Review
Upon reading the first pages of Firefly July, there is no doubt that less can be substantially more. Popular children’s poet Paul Janeczko has teamed up with Caldecott Honor and Sibert Award winning illustrator Melissa Sweet to compile this season-themed picture book anthology of thirty-six poems, none of which are longer than ten lines each. Drawing from poetry for children as well as familiar poetry for adults, Janeczko’s compilation spotlights the subtle, everyday phenomena of each season rather than the conspicuous events or the season itself that tend to be overemphasized in children’s poems. Poems with such titles as “Daybreak,” by Cid Corman, “A Happy Meeting,” by Joyce Sidman, and the eponymous “Firefly July,” by Patrick Lewis share the volume with well known works, such as “The Red Wheelbarrow,” by William Carlos Williams, and “Fog,” by Carl Sandburg. Sweet’s mixed media artwork is as characteristically delightful and vibrant as ever, celebrating the understated wonders found in each season. There is much to engage students here: from discussions about how the selections of verse relate to a particular season, to gorgeous examples of figurative language, to the intricate details and appeal of the illustrations. Introduce this book to your class just in time for National Poetry Month, and continue to share its compact treasures throughout the year.

Hi, Koo!: A Year of Seasons
Written and illustrated by Jon J. Muth
Published by Scholastic Press, 2014
ISBN #978-0545166683
Grades K and up
Book Review
Caldecott honoree Jon J. Muth’s charming panda bear Koo (the nephew of Stillwater, the panda in Zen Shorts and Zen Tales) returns to celebrate the change of seasons in Hi, Koo!: A Year of Seasons. This cleverly named collection offers twenty-six of Muth’s original haiku poetry, introduced with an explanation of the origins of haiku and tracing its development into one of the most popular poetic forms shared in K-8 classrooms. Following the loose guidelines of the three-lined verse, rather than the boundaries of the five-seven-five syllable format, Muth’s poems offer a child’s perspective on a single moment in a season. A pile of snow fallen on Koo’s head is exclaimed as “King!/my crown a gift/from a snowy branch”, while the pending transformations of fall are addressed with “Autumn,/are you dreaming/of new clothes?” Aside from charming insight, each haiku contains a capitalized word that highlights another letter of the alphabet, thus stringing together the twenty-six poems. Muth’s delicate watercolor and ink illustrations give tribute to the origins of haiku, as well as provide a breathtaking backdrop for each snippet of text. A tender and diverting addition to any classroom poetry collection, Hi Koo! is sure to be greeted by young poets and poetry fans.
Teaching Ideas and Invitations

Grades K and up
  • Shared Reading. Keep these volumes close at hand to read the poems in them aloud throughout the school year. Select children’s favorites to rewrite on sentence strips to post in a pocket chart. Keep the lines of the poem whole on the sentence strips or cut them into individual word cards so that students can reassemble the poem from memory using letter/sound or sight word cues.
  • Sensing the Seasons. As the seasons change, so do the things we see, smell, hear, feel, and taste around us. Have students create a comparison chart that tracks the different sights, scents, sounds, textures, and flavors specific to each season. Encourage them to be as precise as possible with their words, and then invite them to use the chart to write more vivid imagery and figurative language in their poetry.
  • Focused Poetry Collections. Both Firefly July and Hi, Koo! are collections of poetry that are linked by a single topic: the seasons. Divide your class into small groups that will each select a topic for a poetry collection–either a homemade bound anthology or a bulletin board display. Once the groups have chosen a topic, have them read a wide variety of poetry to find poems that address their topic, and make editorial decisions about which poems to include and how to organize them in the collection. Share their focused poetry collections in the school or at a local library.
 Grades 3 and up
  • Short Poetic Forms and Poems in Our Pockets. The blurb on the front jacket flap of Firefly July states, “It takes only a few words, if they’re the right words, to create a strong image.” Challenge your students to create short poems (five lines or less) that convey strong images. Use the poems in either of these books as models. You might also want to teach them specific short forms of poetry: epigrams, cinquains, couplets, haiku, and limericks. To further celebrate the strength of these concise poems, have each student pick a favorite short poem to carry around in his or her pocket throughout the week and share with friends and family.
  • Illustrating Poetry. Multiple award-winning illustrator Melissa Sweet accomplished the impressive feat of creating a unique illustration for each of the poems in Firefly July. Have your class study the illustrations, using a reference like Molly Bang’s Picture This to understand how  line, color, composition, and other artistic principles enhance the meaning of a written text. Then have each of your students gather a few of their favorite poems and apply those principles to illustrate the poems. Have each student create an anthology of their illustrated poems, or create a class anthology or bulletin board that showcases the variety of selected poems and illustrations.
  • Poet and Illustrator Study. Jon J. Muth’s poetry and watercolor illustrations work together to create an effective impact on readers. Invite your class to conduct an author/illustrator study of Muth’s work, paying  attention to the ways his watercolor technique enhances what the text says, and vice versa. What themes can be drawn across his writing, or across his illustrations? How does watercolor specifically impact the reader’s understanding of the poem or shape the experience? How does Muth’s poetry compare and contrast with other poets?
  • Using Questions to Sketch the World Jon J. Muth states on his website that his stories evolve from questions: “Why is this so?”… “If this, then why not that?”… and of course, “What if…?” Sometimes words come first and sometimes an image will prod a story out into the open. I might see a girl opening a door in my mind’s eye but I can’t see what she is looking at. When I consider these questions with careful attention — without expectations — they tend to open my eyes to the world in new ways.” Arm your students with clipboards, paper, and colored pencils, markers, or crayons–as well as Muth’s questions–and head out into the world. Have them sketch any scene or setting that they see before them and then scribble some notes that might help them answer Muth’s questions. Once back in the classroom, have students write out the answers to those questions and begin to shape stories and poems out of them.
  • Reading Buddies and Poetry Month. Have your older elementary students read aloud some of the poems in these poetry collections with their primary grade reading buddies. Have them take notes on their reading buddies’ reactions to the poems, and then compare and contrast with one another. What do their reading buddies think of the poems and illustrations in Firefly July? What is the panda bear Koo’s appeal with younger audiences? As a component of this exercise, you might want to have the older students work with their reading buddies in jointly authoring and illustrating short poems.

Critical Literacy

  • Beyond the Four Seasons. These collections of poetry celebrate spring, summer, autumn, and winter–seasons that are experienced by those living in more temperate climates. However, many of the world’s people live in places that experience vastly different climates, such as the rainy and dry season in tropical locations. Some even prepare each year for a hurricane season or another season marked by dangerous weather patterns. What might poetry anthologies that explore those seasons look like? How might one possibly “celebrate” the dangers of a monsoon season? Have your class either search for poems about seasons other than the temperate four, or research the experiences of people during those seasons and write poems about them.
Further Explorations
 
Online Resources
 
Paul B. Janeczko’s website
http://www.paulbjaneczko.com
Melissa Sweet’s website
http://melissasweet.net
Jon J. Muth’s website
http://www.jonjmuth.com/muth.html

Poetry Foundation – Children’s poetry
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/children/

Academy of American Poets
http://www.poets.org

The Poetry Archive
http://www.poetryarchive.org

The Children’s Poetry Archive
http://www.poetryarchive.org/childrensarchive/home.do

Haiku Society:
http://www.haikusociety.com/learn/historyofhaiku

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

Books

Poetry Books about Seasons

Davies, N. (2012). Outside your window: A first book of nature. Ill. by M. Hearld. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press. see our entry at http://classroombookshelf.blogspot.com/2012/04/outside-your-window-first-book-of.html

Florian, D. (2006). Handsprings: Poems & paintings. New York: Greenwillow.
Florian, D. (2002). Autumblings: Poems & paintings. New York: Greenwillow.
Florian, D. (2001). Summersaults: Poems & paintings. New York: Greenwillow.
Florian, D. (1999). Winter eyes: Poems & Paintings. New York: Greenwillow.

Hopkins, L.B. (2010). Sharing the seasons: A book of poems. Ill by D. Diaz. New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books.

Katz, B. (2006). Once around the sun. Ill. by L. Pham. New York: Harcourt.

Lin, G. & R. McKnealy. (2006). Our seasons. Ill. by G. Lin. Cambridge, MA: Charlesbridge.

Ruddell, D. (2009). A whiff of pine, a hint of skunk: A forest full of poems. Ill by J. Rankin. New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books.

Sidman, J. (2009). Red sings from rooftops: A year in colors. Ill. by P. Zagarenski. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Thomas, P. (2007). Nature’s paintbox: A seasonal gallery of art and verse. Ill by C. Orback. Minneapolis, MN: Millbrook Press.

Poetry Books about Haiku

Bodden, V. (2010). Haiku. Mankato, MN: Creative Education.

Cleary, B. P. (2014). If it rains pancakes: Haiku and lantern poems. Minneapolis, MN: Millbrook.

Clements, A. (2007). Dogku. Ill. by T. Bowers. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Mannis, C.D. (2002) One leaf rides the wind: Counting in a Japanese garden. Ill. by S.K. Hartung. New York: Puffin Books.

Raczka, B. (2011). Guyku: A year of haiku for boys. Ill. by P. H. Reynolds. New York: Houghton Mifflin. see our entry at http://classroombookshelf.blogspot.com/2011/01/guyku-year-of-haiku-for-boys-written-by.html

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.