Friday, July 26, 2013

Insect Poetry

While Kristin has been getting root canals and buying plants to keep her house looking like something out of J.K. Rowling's magical world, I have been teaching two courses a day for the past three weeks. That means I spend a lot of time in my office, quietly reading and grading reflections, discussion board posts, and proposals, and any number of other things. Or, if I'm lucky, I am quietly sitting at home in a comfy chair reading and grading reflections, discussion board posts, and proposals, and any number of other things. At this point in the summer, though, it seems that no matter where I find myself sitting, the noise of insects--particularly the fuzzy rhythmic singing of the cicadas--fills the air. It seems to permeate even the brick and cinder block walls that surround my cozy office, somehow seeping in through the windows like they weren't even there. And for some reason, I find the sound comforting rather than irritating--the wordless poetry of insects. (Probably because I remember when--sometime around 1987-- the creepy red-eyed 13 year periodic ones, pictured above, all came crawling out of the ground surrounding the house I grew up in in Illinois.  Ah...the memories.)

Thankfully, there are some really amazing writers who have written their own poetry capturing the essence of these and other insects in verse. Poets are often so precise in their use of language that their work can be rich in vocabulary and less intimidating that other types of informational text, while remaining scientifically accurate.  Joyful Noise, by Paul Fleischman, is a Newbery Award winning book of poems for two voices that successfully navigates those three characteristics. The title actually comes from the Cicadas poem (read a snippet with this link), which is filled with powerful verbs that mimic the insects' song in a lyrical interplay between the two voices. Honeybees, my all time favorite from this small book, is wonderfully told from two perspectives, a worker and a queen, whose views of life in the hive are vastly different. You do have to watch out for one of the worker's lines, "...slaving away in this hell..." but even kids as young as 2nd grade can quickly pick up on the format for reading these poems (though admittedly the vocabulary would be tough for a 2nd grader to tackle independently!). However, the two voices format also works well for writing about two related, but different, subjects. (Think carnivores and herbivores, plants and animals, stars and planets, tornadoes and hurricanes, etc.)

Insectlopedia, by Douglas Florian, is another insect focused poetry book. Cicadas don't make an appearance here, but other noisy insects like hornets, mosquitoes, locusts and crickets do...alongside their quieter comrades like ticks, mayflies, and army ants. These poems employ a variety of rhyming
patterns and, like Joyful Noise, contain science related vocabulary (parasitic, primeval, swarm, pupa) that somehow seem easier to understand when captured in Florian's simple verse. (For the record, he is a prolific poet and has a number of animal related poetry books...and even one about space!)

Joyce Sidman's Song of the Water Boatman & Other Pond Poems rounds out this trio of insect poetry (though Joyce's work includes other pond-habitat related animals, as well!). This 2006 NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book (and Caldecott Honor) award winner combines the precise language of poetry with additional informational text, presented in the wide margin. (If you click on the book's title, it will take you to Amazon's site for this book where you can "Look Inside" and see an example!) This extra feature really classifies this book in the "dual purpose" genre since you can read the poems, like "Diving Beetle's Food Sharing Rules," and then, if you want to, follow up by reading the short informational paragraph about the predaceous diving beetle (which is really a cool little insect!).

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