February holds a special place in my heart. Not because it’s my birthday month, that will come soon enough, but because it is the month of my anniversary, my Grandpa Charlie’s and my mother’s birthday. She would have been 99 this month! When February rolls along, I bring out my red: little heart dishes, candles, flowers, and little things to brighten and cheer this long winter space.
In the classroom, I turn to poetry and talk to the children about loving kindness, first to themselves and then to others. We make lots of lists of the things we love. These lists mostly revolve around family and food. We practice writing odes and shout outs to all the things we love and are grateful for. Odes were originally songs performed to the accompaniment of a musical instrument, and sometimes a brave soul will write a song and perform it. I love these small moments of celebration: no cake, no presents, just the simple pleasure of the written and spoken word.
To begin introducing odes to the children I choose Pablo Neruda’s “Ode to Tomatoes.” I think the sparseness and brilliant imagery will capture their attention and imagination. This is how Neruda begins:
Ode to Tomatoes The street filled with tomatoes, midday, summer, light is halved like a tomato, its juice runs through the streets. In December, unabated, the tomato invades the kitchen, it enters at lunchtime, takes its ease on countertops, among glasses, butter dishes, blue saltcellars. It sheds its own light, benign majesty. Neruda perfectly places each word and gives each the importance it deserves. After the students choose an object of their affection, I ask them to write a list of all the words to describe that object. We share the lists and our classmates offer more suggestions. Then it is time to write. Here are a few the students created. Ode to Horses by Maggie Horses galloping in the middle of the night when nobody is watching, their manes flying in the wind as they go by. They talk to each other with a simple “Neigh.” When the sun comes up, they are all tired from a long night. Their eyes still glow with delight. They have a long day, but they keep on trotting on because they know what the night brings. Ode to Candles by Evelyn Candles Out in the living room Aspiring to burn the brightest Standing tall and proud Wax running down the side Beautiful When the flame has died It goes to sleep Dreaming about a great flame The people huddle round Outside the snow falls And falls Ode to Puppies Hadley Oh puppies! Your fluffy feet And velvety ears Make me want to cuddle you all day long! You make me smile When you run around on your fluffy feet And when you curl up into a ball to sleep You make me want to hug you Your tiny teeth may nip, And your miniature claws may scratch But I love you just the same. Oh Puppies! I love your little tail As it wags, wags, wags And your round tummy As you chow on yummy food You make me laugh When you chew on a bone And chase your tail And lie down on your bed Oh Puppies! I love you Ode to My Goggles by Indiya During the day my goggles Open their eyes and see All the swimmers swimming. They swim with me In the pool And protects my eyes. At night they dream Of swimming in the ocean, Seeing all the fish and coral. They wake up, Ready to swim. Thank you, goggles!
Another poem type I came across recently are Shout Outs. Shout out poems are poems that thank people, animals or things that are personally important. Sekou Sundiata created this type of poetry. His poem has a lot of music in it. Here is a small part of his poem. You can listen to the entire poem here: SHOUT OUT!
Shout Out Here’s to the best words In the right place at the perfect time Here’s to three hour dinners And long conversations, and a beautiful day. To the increase, to the decrease To the do, to the do To the did to the did To the done done To the lonely. To the brokenhearted. To the new, blue haiku. Here’s to all or nothing at all. Here’s to the sick, and the shut-in. Here’s to the was you been to the is you in To what’s deep and deep To what’s down and down To the lost, and the blind, and the almost found.
Here is my attempt at a Shout Out poem. When teaching poetry to children, I think it is essential to write and create and revise right alongside them so that the class become a community of writers fully engaged in the process.
Earth Shout Out Here’s to the seasons turning To the bright spring flowers To the cardinals and jays singing in the trees Shout out to the clear blue sky To the fluffy whipped cream clouds To the children running and playing To their laughter and wild freedom. Shout out to the peaceful world To the beautiful earth To the golden sun and silver moon And to the twinkly diamond stars!
I encourage students to describe the things they love in unusual ways. I don’t make them stick to one form and have fifteen cookiecutter poems. I want them to explore the form and push the boundaries of their thinking. One great book to share with children is Shout!: Little Poems that Roar by Brod Bagert.
Winter SHOUT OUT!!! by Emily Here’s to the snowy blizzards To the skiing vacations To the warm winter coats Shout out to the Christmas fun To the cozy Vermont cabins To the tight ice skates To the creamy hot chocolate Shout out to the warm, doughy cookies To the steep sledding hills To the family movies, snuggled under blankets And to the winter wonderland outside my warm, cozy house Shout out to Pizza by Cam Pizza is cheesy goodness Pizza is a great wheel of sauce Pizza I love your hot and cheesy flavor I love you with veggies on top I adore pepperoni too I shout to the sky Pizza you are the BEST! Shout Out to Ice Cream by Andrew Ice cream you are the dairy king You taste better than anything You come in a lot of flavors All which I savor Even though you’re very cold That makes you even more bold. You can be eaten in bowls, And you can be eaten in cones And with your toppings that are so delish You are my number one wish!
Odes and Shout Outs are a great way to liven up these dreary winter days. They serve as a little light in the darkness. They remind us about what we love and why. They help us to reflect and have gratitude for the big and small things in our lives.
Here are some great books to celebrate loving kindness and Valentine’s Day.
- Arthur’s Valentine by Marc Brown
- Guess How Much I Love You? By Sam McBratney
- Happy Valentine’s Day, Mouse by Laura Numeroff
- Here Comes Valentine Cat by Deborah Underwood
- Hug Machine by Scott Campbell
- Lilly’s Chocolate Heart by Kevin Henkes
- Llama, Llama, I Love You by Anna Dewdney
- Love from the Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
- Love from the Crayons by Drew Dayward
- Love Letters by Arnold Adoff
- Love Monster by Rachel Bright
- Love, Splat by Rob Scotton
- Louanne Pig in the Mysterious Valentine by Nancy Carlson
- Ollie’s Valentine by Olivier Dunrea
- One Zillion Valentines by FrankModell
- Pete the Cat: Valentine’s Day is Cool by James Dean
- Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatcher by Eileen Spinelli
- Snowy Valentine by David Peterson
- The Best Valentine in the World by Marjorie Weisman Sharmat
- The Biggest Valentine Ever by Steven Kroll
- The Day it Rained Hearts by Felicia Bond
- The Ballad of Valentine by Alison Jackson
- The Valentine Bears by Eve Bunting
- This is NOT a Valentine by Carter Higgins
- Valensteins by Ethan Long
- Valentine’s Day by Gail Gibbons