Monday, April 20, 2015

Raindrops Roll

Raindrops Roll
Written and photographed by April Pulley Sayre
Published in 2015 by Beach Lane Books
Grades preK-5

ISBN: 978-1-4814-2064-8

Book Review

“Raindrop spangles mark angles. They cling to curves and cover cocoons. Raindrops settle. They slip. They dot. They drip.” In this photo-illustrated nonfiction poetry book, acclaimed author April Pulley Sayre captures the beauty and wonder of rain, raindrops, and the water cycle. Composed of photos taken during and immediately after rainstorms, each page vibrantly celebrates the bright colors that appear and the small creatures that take cover when it rains. Sayre invites us to linger on each page noticing new details with each repeated reading. The sparse text shared in two or three-word phrases feels like raindrops that plop down and land in different places with each turn of the page. The back matter includes additional information cleverly titled a “splash of science” that invites us to learn even more about water in all of its forms through the water cycle. Raindrops Roll mindfully frames rain as a natural wonder worthy of close attention and will inspire students to get out their galoshes and take notice of the world before them, especially in April or during any rainy season. 

Teaching Ideas / Invitations for Your Classroom:

Grades preK-5
Dramatic Presentation. The poetic text of Raindrops Roll lends itself to dramatic interpretation, either as a choral reading or as a play where students become the sky, clouds, rain, and wildlife featured in the photographs of the book. Use recyclables such as paper towel rolls and fill them with rice to create rainmakers to add sound to the presentation. Consider partnering with your music teacher to add musical accompaniment in the form of tambourines, egg shakers, and other hand held instruments to add rain-inspired sounds. Work with students to practice using their voices and bodies to create their dramatic reading of the text. Where should their voices whisper or get loud? Why? Add student created artwork or photographs to serve as a backdrop. Consider a public performance for families or the school community.

Closely Reading the World and the Words. Grab your rain boots and get out the umbrellas to support your students to closely read the world after a rainstorm. Encourage them to notice how the rain collects on leaves, flower petals, and blades of grass. Notice the kinds of birds and other wildlife that come out after the rain has passed. Look up and observe changes to the color of the sky. Have your students use digital cameras or tablets to capture what you find up close. Print or project the images and add simple descriptions using Sayre’s pages as a mentor text for your own class photo book or slideshow.   After closely reading the world, support students to closely read Raindrops Roll by reading like a writer. What do they notice about her choices with layout? How does she vary the way the text is spread across the page? What do they notice about her word choice and the cumulative effect on them as readers?

Wordplay: Alliteration and Rhyming. Sayre makes ample use of alliteration and rhyming to create a stream of words across the pages using simple two- and three-word phrases that feel like raindrops, or maybe word drops. “Rain waters…and washes…and weighs down… [Raindrops] magnify…and mingle…and moisten.” “Rain plops. It drops. It patters. It spatters.” Pair Raindrops Roll with George Ella Lyon’s All the Water in the World in a duet text set comparing and contrasting their use of alliteration and rhyming. Invite your students to revisit a piece of writing that they are working on in order to add some alliteration and/or rhyming to their text. As you read other texts in the course of your classroom work in the weeks that follow, note how other authors have employed alliteration and rhyming in their writing. Keep a running list of effective examples.

Nonfiction Poetry. The genre of nonfiction poetry is a way to introduce students to new topics and information through memorable uses of language. Study the genre of nonfiction poetry as a class. Explore others works of April Pulley Sayre’s including Rah, Rah, Radishes! A Vegetable Chant and Here Come the Humpbacks as well as the works of other nonfiction poetry writers such as Douglas Florian and Joyce Sidman. Discuss the techniques used by these poets to convey their nonfiction content. Invite your students to try their hand at writing nonfiction poetry using the craft techniques of these poets.

Behind the Scenes Secrets. Want to know what the big heart-shaped leaf is on the inside cover? It’s from a Redbud tree that April Pulley Sayre planted. Did you find the hidden creature on pages 37-38? On her website, April Pulley Sayre has created a blog post that reveals more about each photograph in the book. Sayre’s descriptions on her page invite readers to learn more by researching the wildlife she has so beautifully captured.

Rain and Water Text Set.  The topics of rain and water are central to an understanding of environmental sustainability. Create an anchor chart with the class that gathers what students know and want to know about water and rain. Read-aloud other texts across genre that explore these topics in a variety of ways including Rain School by James Rumford, One Well: The Story of Water on Earth by Rochelle Strauss,  Water Dance by Thomas Locker, A Drop Around the World by Barbara McKinney, A Cool Drink of Water by Barbara Kerley, A Drop of Water: A Book of Science and Wonder by Walter Wick. After each read-aloud, return to your class anchor chart to have students add what they learned. View our Teaching with Text Sets entry for more ideas on how to create powerful text sets using a variety of models.

A Splash of Science. The back matter of Raindrops Roll includes Sayre’s informational descriptions of the power and beauty of water and the water cycle. Sayre’s penchant for lyrical language makes this scientific read that much more memorable including sections on how rain patters and spatters, how raindrops cling, how raindrops magnify, and how they reflect, fill and spill. Finally, she concludes by describing raindrops inside us. Even her listing of additional resources is framed as an invitation to “splash around in more water science.” Read the back matter with students and consider the ways in which Sayre’s use of language contributes to memory creation. Use the back matter as a mentor text for informational writing. Support students to use her craft techniques such as repetition of words in headings and rhyming within headings to make their informational texts even more appealing to their readers. 

Critical Literacy
Water as Power. Consider with students the ways that we are shaped by rain or lack thereof. In what ways is water necessary for life? Whose responsibility is it to ensure that people who live in areas experiencing drought have access to clean and affordable water? Pair Raindrops Roll with select news articles on the drought in California such as’s or National Geographic’s coverage. Further student understanding of these informational texts with a viewing of the 2011 animated film Rango about a pet chameleon who arrives in a fictional Western town in need of water.

Online Resources
Author’s Site

Kids Geo Rain Site

Science Kids Rain Facts

United States Environmental Protection Agency Water Site

United States Geological Survey Water Science School:

Water Conservation for Kids

Water: Use it Wisely

Weather WizKids Rain and Floods Site

Branley, F. (1997). Down comes the rain. Let’s read and find out. New York, NY: Harper Collins.

Kerley, B. (2006). A cool drink of water. Washington, DC: National Geographic Children’s Books.

Locker, T. (2002). Water dance. Boston, MA: HMH Books for Young Readers.

McKinney, B. (1998). A drop around the world. Nevada City, CA: Dawn Publications.

Morrision, G. (2006). A drop of water. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.

Rumford, J. (2010). Rain school. Boston, MA: HMH Books for Young Readers.

Shaefer, L. (2001). This is the rain. New York, NY: Greenwillow Books.

Strauss, R. (2007). One well: The story of water on Earth. Toronto, Canada: Kids Can Press.

Wick, W. (1997). A drop of water: A book of science and wonder. New York: Scholastic.

Monday, April 13, 2015

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.