Thursday, May 17, 2007

Poetry Friday--J. Patrick Lewis

J. Patrick Lewis has written a collection of poetry about African Americans called Freedom Like Sunlight: Praisesongs for Black Americans. Lewis wrote poems about thirteen famous African Americans who paved the way for civil rights. These biographical poems are about Arthur Ashe, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong, Martin Luther King, Jr., Leroy “Satchel” Paige, Rosa Parks, Langston Hughes, Jesse Owens, Marian Anderson, Malcolm X, Wilma Rudolph, Billie Holiday.

I love books that present facts or elements of nonfiction in an unusual way. These biographical poems would be great ways to introduce kids to these heroes. In fact, they might like them even more after they’ve learned a little bit about each person.

My favorite poem in the collection is the titled, “Baby Contralto” about Marian Anderson.

“She brushed
Her voice
Across the air
In colors
Not seen
Anywhere.

In colors
Beautiful
And strong,
She brushed
The air…
And painted song.”


After reading through this collection, I had many picture book biographies come to mind. I would to like have students read the biographies and the poems and talk about writer’s craft and how two writers could share factual information in different ways. Some of the picture book biographies that I would love to use in conjunction with J. Patrick Lewis’ Freedom Like Sunlight include:


Martin’s Big Words by Doreen Rappaport
Rosa by Nikki Giovanni
When Marian Sang by Pam Munoz Ryan
Wilma Unlimited by Kathleen Krull
Love to Langston by Tony Medina
Only Passing Through: The Story of Sojourner Truth by Anne Rockwell
If I Only Had a Horn: Young Louis Armstrong by Roxanne Orgill

The back of the book has more information about each hero or heroine Lewis chose to portray through biographical poem. J. Patrick Lewis is always surprising. He writes serious, nonfiction poetry like Freedom Like Sunlight which really honors courageous people from history. He writes really funny poems like Wing Nuts: Screwy Haiku which is just a romp with fun haiku, but makes kids really think in a riddle-like fashion. In contrast, his more traditional haiku book Black Swan/White Crow illustrates his ability to write the nature haiku that is more like the Japanese traditional haiku. He writes poems really stretch kids’ grasp of words like in the book Once Upon a Tomb: Gravely Humorous Verses, a collection of funny epitaphs.

J. Patrick Lewis is always amazing me with his use of words. My new find: Freedom Like Sunlight is one I really can’t wait to share with my students since they have learned so much about the African Americans he celebrates in this book.

1 comment:

cloudscome said...

Great post! I have to get this book. I enjoy the biographies you suggested too. I really can't wait to read theBlack Swan/White Crow haiku book, since I love Japanese style haiku. Thanks for highlighting all these books and poems!