The Bill Martin Jr. BIG BOOK of Poetry
Edited by Bill Martin Jr. with Michael Sampson
Published: Simon &Schuster Books 2008
Sampson, tells us in the story behind he Big Book of Poetry that Bill Martin Jr. accredits poetry to saving his life. He writes.....
"Bill was a non-reader in elementary and high school. He survived in the academic world only because of his excellent ear--what he could hear he could remember. And teachers were willing to allow him to do tests orally. But that would not be the case in college. But there was a saving grace--Bill really liked poetry and signed up for a poetry class at Emporia State Teachers College (Kansas). Bill loved the dramatic readings the professor gave, with such poets as Walt Whitman, Marion Monroe, and Robert Frost. And when he looked at a printed copy of the poems the teacher read, he discovered he could read them! That's how Bill Martin Jr became a reader."
I think this is a great story to share with students especially before reading poems from this book. This can show them that even a struggling reader can become an author and that poetry can be powerful. You can also read this in the front of the book in the Foreword by Eric Carle one of the man illustrators that collaborated on the book. Carle also tells us that Bill had trouble reading because of fear and by "discovering the rhythms underlying in the written words" he was able to "eventually joy in reading."
The Big Book of Poetry is an anthology of 122 poems picked and studied for months by Bill Martin Jr. and Michael Sampson. I personally think this is one of the best books of poetry I have seen. It covers topics such as Animals, World of Nature, Around the Year, People and Places, School Time, Me and My Feelings, Family and Home, Food for Me, Nonsense and Mother Goose. The book is arranged by these topics. There is also a variety of different types of poems. Poems that rhyme such as The Woodpecker with lines such as "The Woodpecker pecked out a little round hole. And made him a house in the telephone pole." And poems that don't such as Metaphor that says "Morning is a new sheet of paper for you to write one. Whatever you want to say, all day, until night folds it up and files it away."
There are famous authors such as Margaret Wise Brown, with So Many Nights, Jack Prelutsky with I've Got An Itch, Langston Hughes with Grandpa's Stories, and even poems by Robert Frost with Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening and Emily Dickinson with A Bird Came Down the Walk. These are just a few of the author names that you will notice as you read through the poems. There is so much in this book that it is impossible to really do it justice on here. The variety of authors gives us a variety of different styles and helps us to get a very broad picture of poems. The way I see it is there is something for everyone. Even I, who is not such a fan of poetry found several poems that I thought were fun and engaging and thoroughly enjoyed. I found myself reading and re-reading and also comparing poems by some of the same authors to look for their style. This was fun for me.
Some of them are just fun to read such as this one called Beans, Beans, Beans by Lucia and James L. Hymes Jr. (p. 140-141)
Big fat lima beans,
Long thin string beans,
Those are just a few.
Big fat kidney beans,
Red hot chili beans,
Jumping beans too.
Don't forget the shelly beans.
Last of all, best of all,
I like jelly beans!
The double page spread illustrated by Derek Anderson surrounds the poem and is also bright and funny with a bunch of big cowboys eating different types of beans and one little cowboy child eating jelly beans the faces on the grown-ups are priceless.
Some of them were thought provoking and create feeling such as Dreamer by Langston Hughes p.119
I take my dreams
And make of them a bronze vase,
and a wide round fountain
With a beautiful statue in its center,
And a song with a broken hear,
And I ask you"
Do you understand my dreams?
Sometimes you say you do
And sometimes you say you don't
It doesn't matter.
I continue to dream.
The illustrations for this poem by David Gordon are much different. They reflect a feeling of dreaming with blurred lines and colors and little detail. The illustrations in the book are also what makes it a special collection of poetry. They are all done by several different people and I quickly realized that most of my favorite picture book illustrators were included in the mix. I found myself again trying to see if I could guess the styles of the artists and match them up as I went through. I felt like this really sealed some of the work we have done in this class this semester on illustrations. I could really see distinct styles that resonated with me through the book and in other books I had read by the artists. Some of the easiest ones to match with their artists were The Pasture illustrated by Steven Kellogg, Ten Little Caterpillars by Lois Ehlert, Papa Says by Aliki, Eat-It-All Elaine by Henry Cole and Manhattan Lullaby by Chris Raschka. These again only touch on a few of the wonderful artist included in the book.
The variety that you get in one book makes this one stand out above all others that I have read. The one criticism that I have is that there is not a whole lot of cultural diversity in the book. Some of the illustrations include racial diversities but the poems themselves do not reflect many different cultures. In a book that has such great variety this part did upset me a little but I still feel like it is a great collection for any classroom or home library to help children be exposed to many different poems that are easy to read and understand.
Read more about Bill Martin Jr.