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The Death of the Hat: A Brief History of Poetry in 50 Objects

The Death of the Hat: A Brief History of Poetry in 50 Objects
Collected by Paul Janeczko and Illustrated by Chris Raschka
Published by Candlewick in 2015

Grades 1 and Up

Book Review
Through a collection of poems that spans more than 1400 years of human language play, anthologist Paul Janeczko traces the history of poetry. A poem by Eloise Greenfield, “Things,” introduces the organizing principle for this collection, which proffers poems about objects drawn from nine different historical periods.  While Western poets predominate the collection, a limitation Janeczko acknowledges in a lengthy introduction, there is a representative sampling of poetry with Eastern origins. This title is the fourth in a series of anthologies produced through the collaboration between Janeczko and Caldecott winning artist Chris Raschka. As with the other titles, Raschka’s soft subtle watercolors provide visual support without overwhelming the poems, leaving the words open for multiple interpretations by different readers. Readers who ponder this compelling collection of words from fifty poets, some familiar to them, and some new, will surely walk away with a deeper understanding of the human experience across centuries.
Teaching Ideas: Invitations for Your Classroom
Grades 1 and Up
What is a Poetry Anthology? Explore the form of an anthology with your students. Gather a collection of poetry anthologies; Paul Janeczko has many and you may also want to explore the collections of anthologist Lee Bennett Hopkins. As students experiences these anthologies, record their observations about the texts on chart paper. What is an anthology? How are anthologies organized? What processes do anthologists follow to create a collection? If time allows, guide students through the process of creating their own anthology framed by a topic or theme of personal interest.
Writing Poetry About an Object. After reading the poems in this collection, students will be inspired to try their hand at creating a poem about an object. Should further inspiration be required, you might want to read Valerie Worth’s collection, All the Small Poems and Fourteen More or some of Pablo Neruda’s famous odes. Have students write a reflective companion piece alongside their poems that sheds light on their thinking about every day objects and how they place value on them in new ways. Does writing about objects inspire gratitude or an appreciation for simplicity? A new understanding of beauty in unlikely places? After drafting, revising, and publishing their poems, students can create illustrations for an anthology of their work.
Poetry Aloud. Poetry is an art form that begs to be performed. Invite your students to select a poem from the collection to memorize and perform. Listen to audio clips of poets reading their own poems for inspiration, noticing how the poets use pacing, expression, and volume to more deeply convey the meaning they find in the poem. Older students may enjoy hearing peers discuss their poetry performances on the website Poetry Out Loud. Schedule an opportunity for your students to perform their poems for an audience.
Photography Inspired by Poetry. Poets invite us to look closer, to see the world from new angles. This re-envisioning process can also be inspired through the medium of photography. Invite your students to select one of the objects in these poems. Provide students with digital cameras or tables with photo capabilities. Students can experiment with light, shadow, and angle to capture a unique and meaningful perspective on the object they chose to depict. Display students photos along with copies of the poems by which they were inspired.
Grades 3 and Up
What Has Changed? What Remains the Same? The poems in this anthology were authored over a span of 1400 years. Invite your students to read the collection with an ear for patterns and disruptions across time periods, engaging with the question of what has changed over time and what remains the same. Chart students answers to these questions, asking them to cite evidence from the poems to support their statements. What can students learn about the human experience through this analysis?
More About the Poets. In his introduction to the anthology, Janeczko states that he hopes the collection will inspire readers to seek out more poems by the included poets. You can encourage this exploration by providing your students with additional information about several of the poets featured in the collection who are the subject of well written picture book biographies (see the books about Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Basho, Pablo Neruda, Robert Frost, William Carlos Williams and Langston Hughes listed in the Further Explorations section as examples). If you have more time, extend this study into a genre study of the picture book biography using books about the included poets and others. What techniques do authors and illustrators of picture book biographies about poets use to represent their subjects?
Framing the Collection. As an extension of the “What is an Anthology?” teaching idea above, invite older students to closely examine the structure of The Death of the Hat: A Brief History of Poetry in 50 Objects. Students should read the introduction, discussing how this introduction serves to frame the collection. Why did Janeczko choose to place Eloise Greenfield’s poem right after the introduction? How are the different historical periods introduced and delineated within the book? How did Janeczko choose to title the anthology and how does this choice reinforce the concept / structure of the collection? Examine additional poetry anthologies in this close manner, studying the organizational and structural techniques used by anthologists.
Timeline of Artistic Styles. Use this anthology as a launching point for a study of artists’ styles and artistic movements across the century. Create a large digital or physical timeline that includes the time periods addressed in the anthology. Guide students to explore what was happening in music, visual arts, and dance during each of these historical periods. Represent these art forms on the timeline. Invite students to look for continuity and disruptions in the arts forms of each time period. You may want to collaborate with the art and music specialists an your school to carry out this activity.
Further Explorations
Online Resources
Paul B. Janeczko
Paul Janeczko and Island Readers and Writers
Poetry Out Loud
Educator Guide for the Janeczko / Raschka  Anthologies
Lee Bennett Hopkins
Poetry Foundation – Children’s poetry
Academy of American Poets
The Poetry Archive
The Children’s Poetry Archive
Bober, N. (2013). Papa is a poet: A story about Robert Frost. Ill. by R. Gibbon. Henry Holt.
Brown, M. (2011). Pablo Neruda: Poet of the people. Ill. by. J. Paschkis. Henry Holt.
Bryant, J. (2008). A river of words: The story of William Carlos Williams. Ill. by M. Sweet. Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.
Janeczko, J.B. (2014). Firefly July: A year of very short poems. Ill. by M. Sweet. Candlewick Press.
Janeczko, J.B. (2009). A foot in the mouth: Poems to speak, sing, and shout. Ill. by C. Raschka. Candlewick Press.
Janeczko, J.B. (2005). A kick in the head: An everyday guide to poetic forms. Ill. by C. Raschka. Candlewick Press.
Janeczko, J.B. (2001). A poke in the I: A collection of concrete poetry. Ill. by C,. Raschka. Candlewick Press.
Kerley, B. (2004). Walt Whitman: Words for America. Ill. by B. Selznik. Scholastic Press.
Medina, T. (2002). Love to Langston. Ill. by R.G. Christie. Lee & Low Books.
Yolen, J. (2009). My uncle Emily. Ill. by N. Carpenter. Philomel Books.
Spivak, D. (1997). Grass sandals: The travels of Basho. Ill. by Demi. Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
Worth, V. (1994). All the small poems and fourteen more. Ill. by N. Babbitt. Farrar Straus and Giroux.

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.