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Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold

Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold
Written by Joyce Sidman and Illustrated by Rick Allen
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2014
All Ages
Book Review
Moving readers through winter from the first flakes, “Snowflake wakes, / whirling, / arms outstretched, / lace sprouting from fingertips,”  to the first indications of spring’s return, master poet Joyce Sidman offers an exquisite exploration of animal behavior during the coldest months of the year. Twelve poems, varying in structure and style, describe animals’ methods for survival, while accompanying expository text supports readers’ understandings of scientific terms such as migration, brumation, and subnivean activity. Some poems are playful and rhythmic, “I’m a big brown moose, / I’m a rascally moose, / I’m a moose with a tough, shaggy hide;” while others are lyrical, such as the poem featuring the Tundra Swan, “Dusk fell / and the cold came creeping, / came prickling into our hearts.” Each poem is elegantly accompanied by Rick Allen’s detailed linoleum prints, which also serve to create a secondary narrative, following the journey of the red fox who is featured mid-pounce on the book’s cover. This is a title to which you will return again and again, to use as a mentor text for nonfiction poetry, to explore the seasons, to marvel at the versatility of animals and nature, and simply to appreciate the profound beauty of its verbal and visual imagery.
Teaching Ideas and Invitations
Grades K and Up
Winter Where You Are. What happens during winter in your area? Are there seasonal changes? What changes in animal behavior occur? Invite a local naturalist to come in to talk with your students to answer questions like these that students have prepared ahead of time. Take a walk outside to see if you can find any evidence of animal activity – make notes and take photographs. Find out if there may be a WebCam nearby that is recording animal behavior. Using information gained from the interview and from additional research, create a class book describing winter in the natural world in your area. You might choose to use a compare/contrast text structure, comparing the seasonal changes in your area with those in another geographic location. Student artwork or photographs can be used to illustrate the student composed text.
Animal Research. Invite students to select an animal featured in one of Sidman’s poems or another favorite animal to explore through further research. Students can use survey texts on the animal and/or digital resources to make notes on the animal’s behavior and habits. Encourage students to use the genres of poetry and the structure of expository text to convey what they have learned about the animal, creating a side-by-side presentation of poetry and prose modeled after Sidman’s writing in Winter Bees.
Winter Poetry. Read Winter Bees as part of a collection of poetry about the winter season. Titles such as: Iguanas in the Snow and Other Winter Poems, Winter Poems, Snow, Snow, and Other Winter Poems, Winter Lights: A Season in Poems & Quilts, and Winter Eyes: Poems and Paintings (see Further Explorations section below for full references) can be used as mentor texts for students own poems. After studying variations in content, theme, style, structure, and tone across the poems in these books, students will compose their own poetry. Be sure to hold a poetry café celebration so that students have an authentic audience for their writing.
Animals in Winter. Gather a text set that focuses on animal behavior in preparation for and during the season of winter. Suggested books include: Animals in Winter, Dear Rebecca, Winter is Here, In the Snow: Who’s Been Here?, Over and Under the Snow, Winter is Coming: A Story of Seasonal Change and Under the Snow. Compare and contrast the information in these nonfiction texts along with the style and structures used by the author. This activity could be followed by the “Winter Where You Are “ invitation above.
Grades 2 and Up. 
Close Reading of the Illustrations. Rick Allen’s linoleum prints are beautiful and fascinating. You and your students can learn more about his print making process by reading the interview provided by the blog Seven Impossible Things before breakfast. Conduct a “close reading” of the illustrations in Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold, tracking the progression of time and seasonal change across the course of the story (eg. tree leaves, to snowflakes, and back to tree buds).  Students will likely be quick to follow the journey of the fox across the poems and pages in the book. Examine the double page spreads closely to see if you can identify any other patterns or motifs across the illustrations. Discuss the relationship between the images and the words and how both mediums work together to convey meaning and content information. If possible, work with your art teacher to provide your students with an opportunity to try making linoleum prints.
Duet Model Reading with Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night.Joyce Sidman and Rick Allen have also collaborated on the Newbery Honor winning title Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night. This title is a perfect pair for comparison in a duet model reading (see our Teaching With Text Sets entry) with Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold. Compare the illustrations, poem content, style and format, and the overall book design. Invite students to consider other cycles, such as moon cycles or life cycles, as a structure for a collection of poetry. Work as class to compose, illustrate, and publish a new book modeled after these two titles.
Poem and Prose. Through the inclusion of a secondary text, Sidman provides expository information about the featured animal or aspect of winter in prose. Invite students to consider the relationship between the prose and the poem by modeling with “Big Brown Moose.” Project a copy of the poem and prose passage side by side and ask students to make explicit connections between the expository text and the poem. For example, the line “Winter’s main challenge for moose is to provide enough plant material to powe their enormous bulk,” is reflected in the poetry line: “I’m a ravenous moose/ as I hunt for the willow and yew.” Following this modeling, break the class up into small working groups to repeat this exercise using the other poems. This activity could be followed by further genre study of nonfiction poems, leading to students’ original compositions.
Tone & Style in Poetry. In Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold, Sidman masterfully varies her style and tone to match the animal and animal behavior featured in each poem. Divide your class into small groups, assigning each group one of the animal poems to examine. Ask students to identify how Sidman crafts the poem through word choice, figurative language and effects of sound, such as alliteration, assonance, and consonance. Students should be prepared to present their poem with an oral reading (performance) and a specific discussion of the tone and style.
Sidman Author Study. Joyce Sidman is a prolific and inspiring poet whose works have been recognized with numerous awards, including the Newbery medal and the NCTE Award for Excellence in Children’s Poetry. Conduct an author study of Sidman’s work, exploring the range and variety of her work, paying particular attention to patterns in the topics, themes, forms, and style of her poetry. A listing of Sidman’s books can be found on her informative website.
Further Explorations
Online Resources
Joyce Sidman: Author Website
NCTE Award for Excellence in Children’s Poetry
NoWaterRiver: Poetry Month 2013
Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Rick Allen (Illustrator / Printmaker)
Rick Allen: Kenspeckleletter Press
National Geographic Kids
Alarcon, F.X. (2001). Iguanas in the snow and other winter poems. Ill. by M.C. Gonzalez. New York: Children’s Book Press an imprint of Lee & Low.
Bancroft, H. (1996). Animals in winter. Ill. by H.K. Davie. New York: HarperCollins.
Florian, D. (1999). Winter eyes: Poems and Paintings. New York: Greenwillow.
George, J.C. (1993). Dear Rebecca, winter is here. New York: HarperCollins.
George, L.B. (1995). In the snow: Who’s been here?New York: Greenwillow.
Gerber, C. (2008). Winter trees. Ill. by L. Evans. Cambridge, MA: Charlesbridge.
Hines, A.G. (2005). Winter lights: A season in poems & quilts. New York: Greenwillow.
Messner, K. (2011). Over and under the snow. Ill. by C.S. Neal. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books.
Rogasky, B. (ed.). (1999). Winter poems. Ill. by T.S. Hyman. New York: Scholastic.
Stewart, M. (2009). Under the snow. Ill. by C.R. Bergum. Atlanta, GA: Peachtree.
Stinger, L. (2006). Winter is the warmest season. New York: Harcourt.
Thornhill, J. (2014). Winter is coming: A story of seasonal change. Ill. by J. Bisaillon. Toronto, ON: Owl Kids.
Yolen, J. (1987). Owl moon. Ill. by J. Schoenherr. New York: Philomel.

Yolen, J. (1998). Snow, snow : winter poems for children. Honesdale, PA: Boyds Mills Press.
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Erika Thulin Dawes About Erika Thulin Dawes

Erika is a professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former classroom teacher, reading specialist, and literacy supervisor, she now teaches courses in children’s literature, early literacy, and literacy methods. Erika is the co-author of Learning to Write with Purpose, Teaching with Text Sets, and Teaching to Complexity.