Saturday, March 29, 2014

Poem-Mobiles: Crazy Car Poems by J. Patrick Lewis

Poem-Mobiles: Crazy Car Poems by J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Jeremy Holmes

Rating: 5 stars

Last month at the SCBWI Winter Conference we conference-goers got to choose two break-out sessions in which we'd learn, in a small group, some specific things about a specific topic.  I chose to attend a nonfiction picture book session and a poetry-writing session with the one and only Jane Yolen.

Me?  Poetry?  Honestly, in high school and college poetry was beyond me.  I felt stupid wading through stanzas trying to figure out the meaning.  I felt as if my whole class was staring at one of those pictures where a design pops out at you if you stare long and hard enough--and they, in unison, appreciated the neat thing that they could easily see through the patterns while I was left just staring.  I could either fake it or admit defeat.

But I love poetry in children's books.  Rhyming makes the books even better, I think.  My kids--and I, too--have always gravitated towards books with a rhythm and a rhyme.  So I thought it was high time to get over my bad self and dive into the world of poetry.  Among other things, Jane Yolen suggested to us scribbling note-takers, writing wanna-bes that we needed to read more poetry if we wanted to write more poetry.

J. Patrick Lewis was at the top of her list of poets to know about and read.  J. Patrick Lewis actually went to Lorelei's school last year, so she feels like she knows him.  We bought World Rat Day around that time, and both Lorelei and Ben have thoroughly enjoyed the silly holidays that he brings to light in short, clever, funny poems.  Honestly, they got into this poetry thing before I did--they'd read World Rat Day a bunch of times, laughing out loud as kids do so easily, before I wandered over and grabbed the book to read.

And holy smokes!  It was so good!  This was poetry I could get and enjoy--a great place for me to start, and I could start enjoying poetry along with my kids.  A win-win situation, for sure.

So I did what I usually do when I find an author I like and Jane Yolen tells me to: I check out every single book I can find by him/her.  I'm an all-or-nothing person, what can I say?  It was in this way that we stumbled across his latest book, Poem-Mobiles: Crazy Car Poems.  They are fantastic, and all three of my kids enjoy it in three very different ways:

Kiefer loves the illustrations by Jeremy Holmes.  There is so much to look at in each of these intricate, silly cars that J. Patrick Lewis has thought up and Homes has drawn up!  The kids fought over this book on the way home from our family trip to West Virginia last week; Kiefer, our youngest, easily won.  He pored over the illustrations slowly and carefully.  The grass taxi that requires mowing is his favorite, by far.
         Grass Taxi
I need to mow the glass,
I should Weedwack the visor,
I'm blanketed in grass.
My wax is fertilizer.
And when my gas tank's low,
I fill up on Weed-B-Gone.
My wormy engine's slow.
Check underneath my lawn.
Kiefer gets the first turn a lot of the time...
Ben does his best to read the poems and can read them literally but doesn't quite get the twists and turns of J. Patrick Lewis's wit.  He loves the wacky illustrations but the poems come alive when I read them to him (like how I patted myself on the back right there?).  By putting an emphasis on this word over that one, and by stopping and explaining what's so funny, he gets the joke and becomes a better reader.

Lorelei gets it all.  One of her fellow first grade classes just did a little performance/explanation of the word and literary concept of "inference."   She's happy for the challenge to infer, to read between the lines, to take the time and figure out the point and the joke.  She's a strong enough reader, curious enough girl, and funny enough kid that she eagerly looks for the jokes in poems like these. And even though cars are traditionally "boy toys," these poems are for either gender, trust me. This one cracks her up:
       Jurassic Park(ing)
You thought the dinosaurs were dead?!
The cars behind our school
Are big Tyrannosaurus wrecks
That run on fossil fuel.

I'm pretty sure that this book and other poetry collections by J. Patrick Lewis will be our gifts of choice at birthdays this year!