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Notes from a Children's Librarian 800: On Poetry

Our Children's Librarian columnist Julie Booker brings us a new view from the stacks every month.

Book Cover I Did It Because

When I was a pre-teen, I visited the poetry section with the voracity of a homebuilder in the DIY department. One of my favourite books was Chief Dan George’s My Heart Soars. I studied the portrait on the cover: his wise wrinkled face, eyes upward, channelling the poetry gods. I knew the 819s so well that when a fresh book appeared I sized it up like a new kid in class, wary yet hopeful. One gem that delivered: Sean O’Huigin’s Poe Tree: A Simple Introduction to Experimental Poetry with its back pocket treasure—a phonograph recording of O’Huigin, bp nichol and Ann Southam. I can still hear their voices 25 years on: ‘wistful wisteria/ gross rose, gross rose…’ Another find was Ted Hughes’ Poetry In the Making, in which the author explains to kids how to be a writer, using poems to illustrate. The first chapter draws a brilliant analogy between catching fish and capturing a poem. Loris Lesynski’s I Did It Because… (How A Poem Happens) is a more modern and immediate how-to, illustrated by Michael Martchenko.

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Notes from a Children's Librarian 398: On Storytelling

Our new Children's Librarian columnist Julie Booker shares the magic of the oral tale.

Book Cover The Enormous Potato

As a children’s librarian, I know the magic of captivating kids with a great readaloud. But it can’t compete with the adrenalin required to tell a story. After seeing Aubrey Davis engage my kids with his telling of The Enormous Potato, (a book nicely illustrated by Dusan Petrocic), I decided to try. But not any story would do. It had to be written with the oral in mind.

Dan Yashinsky’s The Next Teller was my starting point. I chose “Va Attacher La Vache” by Justin Lewis, the tale of a stubborn couple who argue about who will tie up the cow. Its farcical ending and French refrain are designed to impress. I loved letting go of the usual physical prop to rely on my gut for dramatic pauses, pacing, perfectly placed hand gestures. I could see the illustrations form in the listeners’ eyes. The story became solidified in my memory so that years after my storytelling phase had ended I told it successfully to a summer camp full of story-thirsty kids.

Book Cover The Name of the Tree

Now when I tea …

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