Jack Prelutsky's poetry can be divided into many varied topics or categories. I have decided to group some of his poetry into categories under specific themes or topics. The categories that I will be using for the following examples of poetry and strategies are: People, Family (includes feelings and emotions), Animals and Places. A fourth week will include a miscellaneous section where I will include a poem about a frog and a few poems about insects.
Week One - First Day
As an introduction to our unit, Willie will tell the children that we will be exploring poetry written by Jack Prelutsky. During our exploration of Prelutsky's poetry, the children will be introduced to characters like Eddie the spaghetti nut, a ridiculous dog, Kermit Keene, a boneless chicken, a pet alligator, the Diatonic Dittymunch, and many more. Willie will be sure to bring many chuckles when he tells the children that they may find amidst the poetry an invitation to a dragon's birthday party. Of course, he will tell the children that he may invite his puppet friends, Tuesday's Cup of Sugar, Wednesday Delight and Alphabet Thursday. Well, if they are invited perhaps the children could invite a friend too.
"Be Glad Your Nose Is on Your Face," (Prelutsky,
The New Kid on the Block
, page 64) will be a great poem to use as we begin our journey with Prelutsky's poetry. Prelutsky admonishes the children to be glad that their nose is on their face for if it were within their ear what a terrible rattle their brain would receive when one would sneeze. Or can you imagine your nose attached to the top of your head - how terribly uncomfortable if tickled by one's hair. After reading the poem, Willie will ask the children to think of various places that their nose could be attached to on their body. For example, imagine your ear stuck onto your arm, how could one breathe if tucked under a sleeve. Or think of your nose attached to the palm of your hand - what a terrible fix when trying to write. Why even a nose glued onto a knee would succumb to pain when running, falling, or climbing a tree. The children will be asked to write a few stanzas that begin with "I am glad my nose is found on my face. Imagine my nose if it were stuck on my…" In addition to writing about where one's nose could be found other than the face, the children will think creatively and write how their nose would respond if found in that place.
Week One - Second Day
Chili is a fun food to eat. Or is it when it is so hot that our taste buds find it difficult to transmit pleasant flavors to our brain? "When Tillie Ate the Chili," (Prelutsky,
The New Kid on the Block
, page 88) she ran frantically down the street, setting a new world record by racing around the block. Her mouth was on fire, eyes red with tears, smoke coming from her nostrils, and steam pouring from her ears. However, when she cooled off an hour later, she declared the chili was tasty and asked for another bowl. Willie will ask the children to write a descriptive essay about Tillie. The children will use our essay format (who, where, what, how) for writing the story that will be used throughout the unit when composing written work. Who is Tillie? Although the poem doesn't exactly give us a lot of descriptive language about Tillie's physical characteristics, the children can surmise that Tillie must have been a funny character. They will describe her using creative terms like: There once was a lady named Tillie. She had eyes that bulged liked balloons. Her hair stuck straight up in the air as if glued there by mistake. She was skinny as a rail with legs that looked so frail. They will proceed by telling where Tillie lived. Perhaps Tillie lived in the jungle or the zoo. Could she have lived by a river named "Calamazoo?" Prelutsky's poem gives lots of clues about what Tillie did after eating the chili. The children's writing will most likely describe how Tillie ate chili, coughed, wheezed, sputtered, and ran around the block. How did she feel about the chili? She loved the chili and asked for another bowl.
Week One, Day Three
Granny Gooding (Prelutsky,
The Frogs Wore Red Suspenders
, page 31) is another adorable character found in Prelutsky's poetry. Granny Gooding lost her footing and fell into a pudding vat. She has pudding everywhere - on her jacket, hat, slippers, and dress. Can you believe ever since Granny Gooding lost her footing she has been a mess? The poem does not give us a specific setting for Granny Gooding. There is, however, a beautiful illustration showing Granny Gooding in a circus setting. She clings to an umbrella in one hand and in the other embraces a cute dog dressed in frilly attire. The audience is aghast as strobe lights are centered on her and she is falling from a trapeze towards a large pudding bowl topped with a ripe red strawberry. Willie will initiate our same essay arrangement with the children for writing a paragraph using the who, where, what, and how format. He will encourage the children to think creatively as they think about Granny Gooding. The children will think about their setting for Granny Gooding before they conjure up thoughts about who she really is in their minds. Do you want Granny Gooding in a circus setting? Perhaps she could be on a farm, in a school, or out to sea. Would the setting change the appearance of Granny Gooding and what she does? Do you think the setting would change Granny Gooding's feelings? When the children have pondered these questions, and have brainstormed with Willie about their ideas then they are ready to write their own creative story.
Week One, Day Four
When asked to apologize, young children have one word in mind, "sorry." Usually their apology doesn't contain themselves, just "sorry." Prelutsky's poem "I'm Sorry!" (Prelutsky,
Something Big Has Been Here
, page 93) will certainly help our young children to identify with the sentiment of the poem. The child in the poem is sorry for bringing home ants, putting a frog in his room, writing on the walls with sardines, tying a can to the cat…he is even sorry for something that he did not do - allowing the dog to eat the broom. The children will most certainly giggle upon hearing Willie read the last line - "I'm sorry for being a brat!" Willie will tell the children that they are going to write a "sorry" poem. They will be encouraged to use rhyming words; however, this will not be a requirement for their writing. The children will also be encouraged to think creatively and come up with their own ending line. A few examples: I'm sorry for being so stupid! I'm sorry for being so nasty! I'm sorry for being a clown!
Prelutsky's poem "The New Kid on the Block," (Prelutsky,
The New Kid on the Block
, page 7) describes a kid who acts like a bully. The kid plays rough, likes to fight, stomp on toes, disrespect peer's property - in fact, the kid is big and strong with muscles that are showing everywhere. Willie will ask the children if they were surprised that the author intended the bully to be a girl? Can a girl be a bully as the author mentioned in his poem? Why or why not? What constitutes a bully? The poem will be used as a follow up poem later in the day for writing our own class poem. Rather than writing a poem using attributes of a bully, the class will make a list of words that describe respect towards another person. From this list of words we will compose a class poem. The ending line could read like this: My friend is the kindest one of all.
Another poem "My First Best Friend" (Prelutsky,
It's Raining Pigs and Noodles
, page 14) will be used as a follow up poem continuing with the theme of bullying. The poem names friends who are not very kind. For example, a friend swipes the child's pie, another friend tramples on toes, while another friend kicks in the knee. A discussion will center on traits that are pleasing in a friend. How does one earn respect? What are some of the characteristics of being a good friend? Is it important for your friends to show respect? Why?
Week One, Day Five
Young children love to talk about their dreams - especially the kind of make-believe stories where reality knows no boundaries. Prelutsky's poem "Last Night I Dreamed of Chickens" (Prelutsky,
Something Big Has Been Here
, page 44-45) doesn't even come close to reality. The gentleman dreams of chickens that are nesting in his hair, hopping on his head, running about his bed, standing on his stomach - in fact there are chickens everywhere. Prelutsky usually puts a surprise twist or ending to his poems and this one is no exception - "when I woke today, I noticed there were eggs on top of me." Willie will challenge the children to come up with a make believe dream and write a poem about it. The character in the poem had his dream at night. The children may have their dream at any time of the day. For example, they may begin: Yesterday afternoon I dreamed of… Or, this morning while in school I dreamed of… They will think of another animal character rather than chickens. Yesterday I dreamed of elephants, there were elephants everywhere, they were stomping on my bed, they squashed my head, there were elephants, elephants, elephants as far as I could possibly see…when I woke from my nap, I saw peanuts all over me.
Week Two, Day One
In the book
A Nonny Mouse Writes Again
, (9) Prelutsky includes a clever poem about a child whose grandma is always getting on his case, especially for behavior that is not kind or respectful. At any rate, the poem admonishes the child to be good when Grandma comes to visit - Don't spray her face with milk; Don't put pins into her head; Don't call her nasty names in Greek; Don't staple her foot to the floor; Don't put waffles in her ears, or beetles in her tea… Although everything is exaggerated and sounds downright cruel, the poet drives a point home to the child - be kind and respectful to your grandma and she will be more tolerant of you. Our classroom's golden rule "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you" certainly applies to the theme of this poem. The poem will be used as a springboard for talking about relationships. Willie will lead the class in a discussion about relationships with our family, and our relationships with classmates in school. Are good, healthy relationships important between family members? Why? How do they affect our lives? Why do you think relationships at home affect the way we respect others in school? How can one show respect and establish a good relationship with others? The children's responses will be charted and used on a daily basis for showing respect in class. Willie will review the poem with the children and ask them to write their own version. They will think of a particular setting and then choose someone that will come to visit. For example: When the principal comes to visit, be sure to close your mouth and sit. Don't throw paper in the air, or pull Jennifer's curly hair, Be sure to invite him to lunch, but don't invite him home for brunch; Remember, whatever you do - you want him to think the best of you. Young children may not be able to use rhyming words. The children will begin with a line telling who is coming to visit followed by lines stating what may impress their visitor.
Grandparents are special people in the lives of children. Although the poem about a grandmother is humorous, it does put a rather negative twist upon the relationship between the child and grandparent. The children will receive a homework assignment for the weekend that emphasizes a positive aspect. Each child will be asked to visit a grandparent and commit to doing a kind deed. If they are unable to visit a grandparent then they may choose a family member within their own household. Monday's assignment will be a written one - the children will write about their weekend experience using our writing format for completing a paragraph.
Week Two, Day Two
Young children enjoy talking and writing about food. Wouldn't they absolutely love to share about food that would cause anyone to become sick to the stomach? In his book
The Sheriff of Rottenshot
, Pelutsky has written a poem called "Sadie Snatt." (22) Now Sadie is not your ordinary lady. Her obesity is quite hilarious to say the least; however, her diet is enough to cause you to wonder what Prelutsky was thinking when he wrote this humorous poem for children. Well, children must have been on his mind because I can already hear the squeals of delight and laughter coming from them. Can you imagine that amongst all of her finest delicacies she includes turtle tails and salmon scales? Or how about chicken cheeks and buzzard beaks. If you frown upon them why not try earthworm omelets or frozen fish-eye custard. Prelutsky writes another amusing poem called "My Mother Says I'm Sickening (Prelutsky,
For Laughing Out Loud: Poems to Tickle Your Funny Bone
, page 52). The child is told by his mother not to drop the mashed potatoes on the gerbil or the cat; not to stuff the yogurt in his sister's shoes nor put peas in his pocket or place noodles on his head. The two poems would mesh nicely and certainly allow the creative juices to flow within the children. Willie's assignment for today will be to ask the children to write a humorous poem about food. Perhaps they could begin by saying something eloquent about their mother along with a special guest who will be coming for dinner. An example might be: My mother is a fine lady who loves to show off her social graces especially when our minister comes to dinner. She tells me things I may not do - do not make mountains and rivers with your mashed potatoes; do not stuff the celery in your ears; do not mash the peas in your milk, nor pour the gravy on your sister's dress.
Week Two, Day Three
Willie has a new plan for today. Hidden away deep in his suitcase house is a cardboard box with a line on each side from the poem "Baby in a High Chair," (Prelutsky,
The Frogs Wore Red Suspenders
, page 46). The poem has two stanzas with four lines each. It is a simple poem that can easily be read by first graders and memorized as well. The simple theme tells us that the baby likes to smile, giggle, and is happy. Willie, with the teacher's assistance, will roll the box onto the floor. The children will take turns picking up the box and reading the line that is facing them. After they have read the line they will find the matching line in the poem that is attached to the board. The children are getting oral reading experience along with sequencing skills. As a follow up activity for day four, the children will write a short essay about a baby that they know using our written story format for writing a paragraph.
Week Two, Day Four
Who doesn't know a father who has tried to fix a few things and now they are no longer in working condition? I am sure most fathers would fit under this category. In this poem, "I Wish My Father Wouldn't Try to Fix Things Anymore," (Prelutsky,
Something Big Has Been Here
, page 102), the father tries to fix things around the house: a toaster that now will not stop popping up; a blender that after being fixed will not start; a clock that is now running backwards, and a dozen that are sure to tickle the funny bone. After reading the poem, Willie will ask the children to write an essay about their fathers, using creative language to describe their father, and tell something that their father tried to fix but is no longer working. Many of our children may have male figures in their lives but not necessarily a father. In that particular case, the children write about their uncle, grandfather, or even an older brother.
Week Two, Day Five
In the poem "I'm Thankful" (Prelutsky,
New Kid on the Block,
page 28) the child is thankful from everything from a checker set to roller skates. However, with each item that he is thankful for a line follows about something that happened to the object. For example, he is thankful for his bathing suit that he lost in the river. The children will write their own "Thankful" poem. Willie will give an example such as: I'm thankful for the rain, that made my shoes all wet. I'm thankful for my dog, who bit me at the vet.
Animals and Places
Week Three, Day One
Many of Prelutsky's poems that pertain to specific places contain cartoon-like animal characters. Therefore, some of the poetry that I have selected may come under headings for both animals and places. The poem "In the Heart of South Dakota" (Prelutsky,
The Frogs Wore Red Suspenders
, page 10) tells us about Jenny Jay who gets off a train and hops upon a bison, riding him across a windy plain. She ends up sitting on a fence gazing at the presidents carved on Mount Rushmore. There is so much material in this one short, humorous poem. Of course, as always when we are reading about a specific place, Willie will begin by showing the children on the globe where South Dakota is located in relation to where they live in Connecticut. He will show the illustration in Prelutsky's book of Mount Rushmore with the four presidents and name them - George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. The children will give information that they know about bison, along with questions that will guide them in gathering information that they do not know. The Internet will be our source for gleaning information for the class. Willie will ask the children to write an essay on information that they remember from our discussion. Their physical description should include the fact that the American Bison is the largest mammal in the continent of North America. They have dark brown woolly hair, curved horns upon their head, and a bigger front with a tapered hind part. They like to travel in herds, and feed on grasses. Their last line may include something funny - "If I ever meet a bison, I'd…"
Week Three, Days Two and Three
Prelutsky has written many humorous poems about elephants. One in particular is called "In Indianapolis" (Prelutsky,
The Frogs Wore Red Suspenders
, page 24). The illustrations are just as funny, and will be a favorite with the children. Willie will be sure to ask the children where he can find Indianapolis. In the poem Prelutsky tells us that in Indianapolis we see an elephant sitting in a sycamore tree, sipping warm milk through an oversized straw. He also tells us what we will do - dance with a blue kangaroo, and when the elephant sneezes, we will run and hide. This is a great poem to teach children about elephants and kangaroos and their environments. In my mind I can hear Willie having fun with this poem. He'll probably tell the children that Indianapolis has to be in Africa or some Asian country because he is certain that is where one would look for elephants. Indianapolis will not be a familiar city for our younger children who live in New Haven. They become confused enough thinking that New Haven is their state or that they live in the city of Connecticut. We will look on the globe to find Indianapolis. Willie will ask the children if they think that elephants could be found in Indianapolis. He will tell them that we will look on the Internet to help us find information about elephants.
The World Book on line is a great source for information. We will discover that elephants are the biggest animal in the world except for a few whales that are larger. Also, they are the only animal that has a trunk for a nose. Elephants are extremely strong - that is why in some countries they are used for logging or for carrying heavy loads. They are also very intelligent and can be taught to perform tricks such as dancing, rolling over, standing on their heads, etc. Elephants enjoy eating grass, roots, water plants, bark, and leaves. They are excellent swimmers and hold their trunks above the water while swimming.
The children will write an essay about elephants using our written format for writing a paragraph. Their stories will be illustrated with as many details as they can remember from our factual information.
On day five we will talk about kangaroos. It will be particularly interesting for the children to discover that the joey is only one inch long and very undeveloped when he is born. He lives on his mother's milk while being carried in her pouch. Kangaroos are found in Australia, New Guinea, or nearby islands. A team of students will gather more information about kangaroos from the Internet and report their findings back to the class. Willie will share with the class that elephants and kangaroos are not found in the same environments. He will ask the children why they think Prelutsky included an elephant and a kangaroo in the poem "In Indianapolis." Could it be another tactic by Prelutsky to bring humor to his poetry?
He will read "A Certain Lady Kangaroo" (Prelutsky,
The Sheriff of Rottenshot
, page 20) where we find a silly kangaroo who tried to keep everything from a makeup kit to credit cards in her pouch but they kept falling out. She tried snaps, strings, staples and glue, but nothing would keep her pouch shut. Finally she went to a tailor who fitted her with a zipper. Willie will read a little rhyme that he wrote and then tell the children that they will write an ending to his poem. There once was a blue kangaroo, that lived in the California zoo, the things that she carried in her pouch, made her a mean old grouch. One day everything came tumbling out, then she began to complain and pout. Oh dear, she began to sigh, I do believe I will have to cry. I cannot tell what all I have within my pouch. Please help me before I scream, "Ouch!" Together as a class we will brainstorm about what the blue kangaroo may have had in her pouch. It will be fun to make up a story about a blue kangaroo. Who is she? Use descriptive words to tell how she looks. Where does she live? What does she have in her pouch? What is she planning to do with the things in her pouch? Where is she planning to go?
Week Three, Day Four
In his book,
The Frogs Wore Red Suspenders
, Prelutsky includes a funny poem called "Every Morning in Fort Myers." (50) The penguins are looking high and looking low for a sign of snow. The children will find the poem just as absurd when they discover that Fort Myers is in the state of Florida. The illustrations are just as comical. One penguin is wearing binoculars around his neck, while another sports an umbrella hat. One poor fellow has fainted while others stand around and try to assist. There are even a few penguins that are trying to communicate to the puzzled lifeguard - I suppose they are asking where they can find snow in Fort Myers, on the Gulf of Mexico. Willie will read a poem that he wrote to be used as a model for the children's writing. Every evening in New Haven, on the Long Island Sound, there's a herd of hungry elephants, looking all around. All along the shore they stomp, looking for a pail full of peanuts, but they won't find them in New Haven, on the Long Island Sound. The children will adjust their writings according to the animals or birds that they choose. Willie will encourage the children to think of animal or bird characters that are not indigenous to our area.
A follow-up poem that we will use called "Penguins" (Prelutsky,
A Pizza the Size of the Sun
, page 42), although humorous, gives us information about where we can expect to find penguins. The poem tells us that penguins can be found on our planet's underside, and that they have to be careful not to cough or they might fall off.
Week Three, Day Five
We will conclude this week's poetry with the poem, "One Old Owl" (Prelutsky, The Frogs Wore Red Suspenders, page 36). The poem portrays an old owl sitting in a tree in a forest watching silently while the night is still. The old owl looked around while the moon was bright, then flapped his wings and flew into the night. The children will use prior knowledge from a study about owls that we do in the beginning of the school term. At that time we read books about owls, chart our information, and complete a special art project where we make owls and fly them from the ceiling in our room. Willie will read a model poem that he has written to the children. Two brown furry owls made a beautiful sight, while sitting on a fence watching for mice in the night. The children will adjust their number of owls, description of the owls, where the owls are sitting, and what they are looking for in the night.
Week Four, Day One
A simple poem "The Soggy Frog" (Prelutsky,
The Sheriff of Rottenshot,
page 11) depicts a frog and toad. The toad's abode is by the road while the frog's abode is in the boggy. Prelutsky concludes that is why the toad seems dry and the frog is soggy. The children will be given a written assignment where they describe a toad and compare him to a frog. Prior knowledge will have been gleaned from the Internet where we look up information and compare the two creatures.
Week Four, Day Two
Since we all know that the frog's main diet consists of insects, we will read an untitled poem (Prelutsky,
Beneath a Blue Umbrella,
page 48) about a red bug, yellow bug, and a little blue snake. As they were swimming and playing in the Great Salt Lake, they spied a mean and sly green bullfrog watching them. When they heard him say, "Croak," they all yelled, "Whoops," and swam away. We will review prior knowledge about insects and then continue to read a very funny poem called "The Centipede." In Prelutsky's poem we find that the centipede has many feet as she rides her odd velocipede. She has won many awards for working all of her centipedals. Is the centipede an insect? If not, what disqualifies her from being classified as an insect?
Week Four, Days Three, Four, and Five
We will conclude our unit by reading various poems from Prelutsky's book
Ride a Purple Pelican.
These poems will take us on many journeys to far away places like Kalamazoo, Nova Scotia, California, and Arkansas.