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Presidential Inaugural Poet Amanda Gorman’s Debut Picturebook Rings and Sings in the New Year

Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem

Written by Amanda Gorman; Illustrated by Loren Long

Published by Viking, 2021

ISBN #978-0-59320322-4

Grades K and up

Book Review

What better way to begin the new year than to have activist, advocate, and poet extraordinaire Amanda Gorman call out to youth everywhere to believe in their own capacity and ability to enact positive change in the world? Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem is Gorman’s debut picturebook, brimming with all the imagery, lyricism, and literary deftness that, as the youngest U.S. presidential inaugural poet in history, she wowed us with at the beginning of last year. Gorman’s message employs words and phrases that children can grasp. However, she also doesn’t shy away from the real issues that have embroiled the U. S. and many parts of the world in recent times (e.g., “Take a knee to make a stand”). Juxtaposed with this powerful text are celebrated artist Loren Long’s acrylics-and-colored pencil illustrations, which center a young Black girl who brilliantly overcomes a variety of childhood dilemmas, such as making friends and dealing with peer conflict, that prevent her from sharing her song. The combined result is a stirring composition of hope and confidence. As we start a new year together, facing challenges that have carried over from last, Change Sings provides a source of optimism and beauty that we can share with students not just across multiple content areas, but across our world and for years to come.

Teaching Ideas and Invitations

A Note to our Readers: These ideas are not meant to be prescriptive. Choose one. Choose more. It’s up to you. Some ideas are bigger and will take a number of days to complete. Some are shorter. You can also choose to complete one part of a teaching idea, but not the whole thing. It’s up to you!

Grades K and up

Sound and Voice Verbs. Although the word “sings” is in the title of this poem, guide readers to take note of the kinds of verbs Amanda Gorman uses to describe the variety of sounds we can make with our voices: derivatives of hum, cry, scream, talk, roar, ring, and strum, for example.  How would the text read if Gorman had only used “sing” throughout her poem? How does the use of these words change the impact of the text? What do your readers notice about the images created by the language? What do they notice about the rhythm and cadence of the sentences? Have students take a piece of writing that they are already working on, highlight key words, and have them help one another brainstorm more interesting, precise, descriptive, and sound and voice verb choices.

Mentor Text for Poetry Writing. Amanda Gorman uses figurative language throughout Change Sings. Help students do a close reading of the text, noting how those language choices enhance the content of her poem. Have students identify the lines they like best, making sure they explain how the words and language in those lines make them feel and what they make them think. Then, have them try writing their own poetry emulating what they like in Change Sings.

Anthems for All Occasions. For many, an anthem is solely associated with a nation’s official song. However, an anthem is an uplifting and inspiring song that could be associated with any group or cause. For example, many schools, colleges, and universities have an anthem, and popular songs often used as anthems include Queen’s “We Are the Champions” and Aretha Franklin’s “Respect.” Help students distinguish between anthems and songs that are simply used as theme songs. Have students brainstorm a list of anthems that they already know, and then have them pay attention during the week to see where anthems exist in their lives outside of school. Ask them to interview older family and community members about songs that have functioned as anthems in their lives. Compile students’ lists and play some of the anthems for them in class. Invite students to come up with a class anthem, either creating their own song or selecting one that is already known, that represents who they believe they are and what they hope and believe. 

Grades 3 and up

Juxtaposing Text and Illustration in Picturebook Poems. In high quality children’s picturebooks, the illustrations often enhance the written text, adding more nuance and meaning than what the words themselves convey. Have students compare and contrast Amanda Gorman’s written text of Change Sings with the illustrations that Loren Long created to accompany each line. To start, have students analyze the written text, discussing familiar poetry concepts, such as tone, mood, theme, allusion, and imagery. You might also want them to select a few lines to illustrate themselves in whatever media they choose. Then, share Loren Long’s illustrations and discuss what he did to convey his understanding of the poem. How does Long’s interpretation enhance the meaning of the poem for them? What similarities and differences do they see with their own work? Extend these activities to study other picture book versions of single poems that explore complex social issues, such as Peace, by Baptiste Paul and Miranda Paul, The Undefeated, by Kwame Alexander; I, Too, am America, by Langston Hughes; and Imagine, by Juan Felipe Herrera. You might also want to connect this invitation to the Critical Literacy invitation below.

Presidential Inauguration Poems. Throughout history, writing and reciting poetry have been popular ways to commemorate a special occasion. The inclusion of a poet at the inauguration of a country’s president is certainly an incredible honor, and although surprisingly few U. S. presidents have invited poets to take part in the event, the presidential inaugural poem is an important text that is shared across the nation and the world. Use the resources listed in Further Explorations below to find and share a collection of U. S. presidential inaugural poems with your students. Analyze the tone and perspective of these poems. Study examples of figurative language. If you can find any, listen to recordings of these poems being read aloud. Listen and read for themes, emotions, and concerns that are shared across these poems. After exploring these poems, have students select their favorites and explain why. Two of those poems–One Today, written by Richard Blanco and illustrated by Dav Pilkey, and Praise Song for the Day, written by Elizabeth Alexander and illustrated by David Diaz–have been reformatted into picturebooks. 

Contrast in Poetry. One of the most interesting literary techniques that Amanda Gorma uses in Change Sings is contrast. Not only does she do this in straightforward ways–”I don’t make a taller fence, / But fight to make a better bridge”–but she also does it in unexpected and fresh ways – “I scream with the skies / Of red and blue streamers. / I dream with the cries / Of tried-and-true dreamers.” What effect do these examples of contrast have on the imagery these lines create? How do these examples of contrast add more depth and layers to the text? Have students identify different examples of contrast in Change Sings, as well as other poems, and then invite them to try using contrast in their own poetry writing.

Amanda Gorman Author Study. With the help of a school or local librarian, gather a collection of Amanda Gorman’s poetry and biographical information. What threads of her biography do students see in her work? Read through her poems as a class, noting similarities and differences across the formats and styles of her poems. Take a close look at her writing techniques, noting her word choices and use of figurative language. Examine the topics and perspectives she writes about in her poetry. Most notably, her inaugural poem for President Biden, “The Hill We Climb,” as well as a video of her reciting the poem at the 2021 inauguration can be found at the Library of Congress website. Additionally, her collection of poems, Call Us What We Carry, was published in December, and as a true Generation Z poet, her most recent poem, “New Day’s Lyric” was posted via a social media video to close out 2021. Compile a list of the writing techniques gained from this author study and invite your students to try out some of these writing craft moves in their own poetry.

Loren Long Illustrator Study. Loren Long has provided the illustrations for many children’s books, as well as the illustrations for the picturebook by President Barack Obama, Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters. Gather multiple copies of Long’s books to conduct an illustrator study. Survey Long’s illustrations, and identify his artistic style, artistic idiosyncrasies, and favorite artistic media to use. Gather information about him from his website listed below, your local librarian, the Internet, and as other biographical sources. Invite your students to try out some of his artistic techniques when illustrating their next writing piece. 

Critical Literacy

Social Justice Allusions. Although the underlying themes and message of Change Sings can be applied across time and space, Amanda Gorman included allusions to several contemporary social justice issues that have gripped the nation. After reading aloud Change Sings, see which of those references your students noticed in the text (e.g., DREAMers and DACA, the act of taking a knee at sporting events during the national anthem to peacefully protest racial injustice, and the border wall between the U. S. and Mexico). How does Amanda Gorman use these allusions in her poem? What layers of meaning do these references add to the poem? How does this poem in turn contribute to each of these movements?

Further Explorations

Online Resources

Amanda Gorman

http://www.theamandagorman.com

@TheAmandaGorman

Loren Long

https://lorenlong.com/

@lorenlong

U.S. Presidential Inaugural Poets and Poetry

Academy of American Poets – https://poets.org/inaugural-poems-history

Writer’s Digest – https://www.writersdigest.com/write-better-poetry/who-are-the-inaugural-poets-for-united-states-presidents

Literary Hub – https://lithub.com/read-every-presidential-inauguration-poem-ever-performed-there-are-fewer-than-you-think/

Media Coverage of Amanda Gorman’s Inaugural Poem

U.S. Library of Congress – https://blogs.loc.gov/catbird/2021/01/for-there-is-always-light-amanda-gormans-inaugural-poem-the-hill-we-climb-delivers-message-of-unity/

Websites about Amanda Gorman

Academy of American Poets – https://poets.org/poet/amanda-gorman

Poetry Foundation – https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/amanda-gorman

“New Day’s Lyric,” by Amanda Gorman

YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_aCJhuDIirg

Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/amandascgorman/, @amandascgorman

Books

Alexander, E. (2012). Praise song for the day. Ill. by D. Diaz. Katherine Tegen Books.

Alexander, K. (2019). The undefeated. Ill. by K. Nelson. Versify.

Blanco, R. (2015). One today. Ill. by D. Pilkey. Little Brown. See our Classroom Bookshelf entry here.

de la Peña, M. (2018). Love. Ill. by L. Long. G. P. Putnam’s Sons.

Herrera, J. F. (2018). Imagine. Ill. by L. Castillo. Candlewick Press.

Hughes, L. (2012). I, too, am America. Ill. by B. Collier. New York: Simon & Schuster. 

Obama, B. (2010). Of thee I sing: A letter to my daughters. Ill. by L. Long. Knopf Books for Young Readers.

Paul, B., & Paul, M. (2021). Peace. Ill. by E. Meza. North South.

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.