Story time is the best time of the day. Whether we're snuggled up on the couch or cozy in our pjs before bed, reading stories with my little ones is one of my favorite things to do. Everyone has a favorite book they remember from their childhood, and every day, parents and kids are discovering new classics of their own. There are many fabulous children's books out there, some of which everyone knows about and others we would have never discovered had my son not simply pulled a random book off a library shelf. I created this blog to share some of these wonderful stories with you. Think of it as a year's worth of the best children's books around, since no day should be without a great story. In the end, I hope we'll all have discovered at least a few new titles that will have made their way onto our list of family favorites. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Day 89: If Not for the Cat

I love, love, love haiku poetry.  Love it.  I can still remember writing and illustrating my own book of haiku when I was in third grade and dedicating it to one of the cool, young teachers in my after-school program named Rhonda.  As a kid, I found most poetry boring, unless it was written by Shel Silverstein.  There was something about haiku, though, that really grabbed me.  I think what I loved most about it was its accessibility.  If you're unfamiliar with haiku, it's a form of Japanese poetry consisting of three lines with a syllabic form of five/seven/five.  Seventeen syllables.  That's it.  As a student, knowing I only had to come up with seventeen syllables took a lot of the stress off of writing a poem.  Anyone can do that, right?  Sure.  But what is truly wonderful about haiku is how beautifully descriptive those few words strung together can be.  I teach my seventh grade students about haiku poetry during our unit on East Asia.  In what is one of my favorite events of the school year, students spend a few days writing and illustrating their own books of haiku, which they then read aloud and share with their peers during a class tea party.  I even invite their parents to come.  We drink tea, have snacks, and share poetry with one another.  It's wonderful.  I introduce our little project by reading Jack Prelutsky's If Not for the Cat.  After discussing the basics of haiku, I try to really emphasize that what makes it feel easy (it's brevity) is also what makes it so hard.  Whatever you're trying to say, whatever image you're trying to paint in your reader's mind, you've only got seventeen syllables in which to do it.  Word choice is everything.  When we read If Not for the Cat, I ask the students to close their eyes and listen carefully to what I am reading.  At the end of each haiku, they are to say outloud what type of animal they think the poem is about.  Once they guess, I turn the book around and show them the pictures.  Try it now and see if you can guess, too:

If not for the cat
And the scarcity of cheese,
I could be content.


We are wrinkled hulks
With astonishing noses,
Our ears block the sun.


Boneless, translucent,
We undulate, undulate;


Don't you wish you could see the pictures now?  I assure you, they are as wonderful as the poems themselves.  Now, I know this isn't my typical blog post, but I guess where I'm going with this is that this is a fabulous book to introduce children of any age to haiku poetry.  (I can safely say this after having successfully captured the attention of hundreds of 12 and 13 year olds in my classroom as well as my preschooler at home.) You could use it to expose your child to poetry, or Japanese culture, or in a tutorial about the power of descriptive writing.  Use it to help a child's listening skills by withholding the pictures until he's ventured a guess like I do with my students.  Or, just read it for fun and enjoy the wonderful poems and illustrations of various animals.  Whatever your reason, find a copy at your local library and read it with your child.  It's an absolutely fabulous book no matter how or why you read it.


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