Young children are capable of literary criticism, if only at a very simple level. It is more important to recognize the valuable skill-building nature of such reflection and discussion. Using focusing questions to encourage discussion among young students helps them "to hear the poems more deeply and refine their skills to listen for and respond to the message, the music, the imagery, and the emotion of the poem" (Steinburgh, p. 4). Harrison and Cullinan, in their aforementioned book, suggest displaying the following prompts when discussing poetry:
1. How did the poem make you feel?
2. Did the poem make you see something in a different way? Explain.
3. Tell me a part of the poem that you liked/disliked and why.
4. Which words helped you to see pictures in your mind?
5. What part of the poem surprised you? (p. 18)
These prompts could guide us in our discussions of poems and will be used for both oral and written responses.
Steinburgh suggests using three types of questions when discussing a poem with children. In the first type of question the teacher tries to elicit the young readers' responses by asking what pictures come to mind as they listen to a poem, if the poem prompts them to recall similar life experiences, how the poem makes them feel and whether certain words stick in their minds. The second type of question focuses on the subject of the poem, what it is about, where it takes place, the feelings it conveys and conjectures on why the poet wrote it. The third type of question focuses on the poet's techniques, what senses are appealed to, what comparisons are made (through such devices as simile, metaphor and personification), who the poet might be writing to, what musical phrasing is used and how the poet shaped the poem.
To explore more fully a poet's use of sense images I suggest using Hubbell's poem, "I Know A Tree," taken from the book,
The Tigers Brought Pink Lemonade
(p. 30). In describing a fruit tree Hubbell uses wonderful sense imagery. The tree has a unique odor of "tulips in jam" and "incense in clover." Its silver leaves with ivory-colored veins contrast with its golden blossoms, teak-colored trunk and gray tangled roots. The fruit, although sparse, tastes "so fine." The reader is able to take in this tree with all its splendor using his/her senses. (See Lesson Plan I).
To consider how a poem conveys strong feelings I suggest using Hubbell's poem, "Gone," (
, p. 20) where a child laments the loss of a friend who has gone away. He feels like one of "the smallest things on earth today" and likens himself to the shadow of an ant he is looking at. Although short, this poem expresses a strong feeling of loss and is one that children can easily identify with.
To examine a poet's effective use of comparisons I plan to use Hubbell's poem, "Whales," taken from her book entitled
(p. 17). It describes watching a pod of whales swim by. She uses metaphors to describe them as "waves riding upon waves" as they "roll and arc." The blowholes she compares with white lilies that they are wearing. Hubbell also uses personification to describe their effect on the sun which "shivers" as they forcefully move past. Personification is used a second time to describe the "wind's fat fingers" that plug the ears of the observer, preventing him/her from hearing the whales' song. (See Lesson Plan II).
To understand how a poet can paint pictures with words I will use Worth's poem, "Grass" (
All The Small Poems and Fourteen More
, p. 18). In this poem the reader is invited to hear the stillness and even empty sound of a freshly mowed lawn and to compare that scene with wild growing grass in a field that "whistles" and "slides" and sends up a "foam of seeds." This grass is tangled with all sorts of leaves and provides a safe haven for "rustling schools of mice." The imagery, including sounds, is quite vivid and you can picture little mice peeking out from behind tall blades of grass and tangled leaves and feel the sense of security they must feel in this refuge.
To explore the music of language in poetry I suggest using Kuskin's poem, "Spring," (
Moon, Have You Met My Mother?
, p, 112-113). It is a poem that you want to tap your foot to. It is light and springy, describing joyful inclinations to sing, shout, swing, kick, dance and race. It describes many of the welcomed signs of spring like blossoms, "buzzing black bees," dew on a rose, and a "light leaping goat." It is definitely a poem that makes you want to jump and move to its zesty rhythm.