It’s Monday What are You Reading and Nonfiction Monday: A Paul Janeczko Overload and then Some

Once again, we join the meme hosted by Jen and Kellee from Teach Mentor Texts (and brainchild of Sheila at BookJourney). Our participation in this meme is actually inspired by our blogger-friends Linda from Teacher Dance and Tara from A Teaching Life who have introduced us to great titles through their weekly Monday posts.

Quirky Poetry Anthologies

I have only just recently discovered Paul Janeczko’s genius when I borrowed two of his poetry anthologies from our libraries. My ten year old daughter and I had so much fun reading these two lovely picture books as illustrated by the inventive and exceedingly-talented Chris Raschka – how can you possibly go wrong with such a collaboration?

This is a book that all English teachers must have. If you teach poetry, and you have not read this, you are missing out on a great deal, I promise you. While I have a deep abiding passion for poetry and I do write a few of my own when inspiration strikes – my poems are unwieldy, unschooled, and largely unstructured. It follows a free-verse, stream-of-consciousness format that borders on confessional verses written in cryptic codes, invented phrases, and random, disconnected musings. Now this book has made me realize that I should start being more disciplined in my writing – I must distill and polish those lines until they gleam in its muscled poetic form.

A senryu – photo taken from the book. Illustration by Chris Raschka.

As Janeczko noted in his introduction when he quoted from Robert Frost: “poetry without rules would be like a tennis match without a net.” I admit I still have my own misgivings about strict rhyming schemes, counting accented syllables, or stringently-formed six-line stanzas – but this book has made the poetic rules so.much.fun and accessible! It has inspired me to come up with my own acrostic, villanelle and the very challenging pantoum. It slaps your emotions silly, shaping them into something sensible while retaining its wild nature – it’s playing with words but with rules in the game. I could also spend a whole day just looking at Chris Raschka’s amazing collages that make the poetry collection come alive. My favorite illustration from the whole book is this one:

This has made me sigh in its .. absolute perfection.

Now this anthology begs to be read aloud to your own children or to your students. There are poems for one, two and three voices – take your pick. My ten year old daughter and I filled our house with ‘joyful noise’ as we read the poems aloud – they dance, leap, and swirl off the page – alongside Raschka’s whimsical, colorful, and incredibly-original artwork. I especially loved the tongue twisters that Janeczko selected – particularly the classic Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll as it reminded me of vorpal blades, the frumious Bandersnatch, and the Tumtum tree. The wordplay borders on wordsmithing really, as young readers get introduced to the classics with so much delight and joy.

The range of selected poems also include William Shakespeare’s Macbeth as it is a poem for three voices…

… and Edward Lear’s The Owl and the Pussycat.

When my daughter and I read this beautiful love story by Lear, she immediately remarked: “but cats eat birds!” Then I told her that it’s the beauty of the poem, how different creatures find love despite differences. And she exclaimed “Oh, something like The West Side Story when the girl and the boy found each other.” Star-crossed lovers indeed and love’s triumph against all odds.

These two poetry books are definite must-reads for all teachers, librarians, poetry lovers, budding writers and artists. Ingenious, playful, and spirited – the amazing collaboration of Janeczko and Rashcka has breathed new life and amazing energy to poetic forms, structured lines, and tongue-twisting quatrains.

Nonfiction Monday

This novel-in-verse, while based on historical accounts and information, is a fictionalized retelling of the narratives of survivors, displaced townsfolks, SS soldiers from the Terezin Ghetto. The characters are mostly composites based from the author’s thorough and comprehensive research of this concentration camp in Prague. Nonfiction Monday is being hosted this week by Jean Little Library.

I have read quite a lot of novels with the Holocaust as its theme – yet this one seems ghost-like as reflected in Janeczko’s uncanny ability to give life to multiple haunting voices in their varying shades of realities and experiences. I read this book in two hours before I went to bed, and it has lit flickers of hope and sputtering bursts of radiance amidst the acrid blackness of hatred that burns. More than anything, I felt moved by the will of the spirit to find sense and meaning to unimaginable horrors and harrowing conditions. Each poem is a complete story unto itself with pain, hope, anguish interlaced with music, art, poetry – and dance. As noted by Janeczko in his Afterword:

What set Terezin apart from Nazi death camps was the nature of many of its inmates. Terezin became “home” for many of the Jewish intellectual and artists of Prague. As a result, it became a prison in which the arts were tolerated, then encouraged as a Nazi propaganda tool. Classical music and opera performances were commonplace, despite the horrors and cruelty of captivity. – p. 91

Teachers would also be happy to take note of all the supplementary sources, websites, and links that can be found at the end of the book. This would also be a good companion material to lengthier narratives such as The Diary of Anne Frank or The Book Thief.

A Drop of Fantasy

This tome of a book is what is keeping me awake most nights! My husband and I have just finished watching the HBO TV Series Game of Thrones (both Seasons 1 and 2), and we are hooked. Since I could not wait for Season 3, I thought that I might as well start on the books (I have all five in the series). I already finished the first book and halfway through the second.

These books are my post-dental-surgery-therapy during the entire week that I was on medical leave. And Haagen-Dasz ice cream of course. George R. R. Martin is just what I need to transport me every night into an ethereal universe with fire-breathing dragons, whitewalkers, valiant heroes, and crystalline writing that is just so exquisite, I just have to read the lines aloud. I don’t know why I have kept myself away from this book for so long. Wish me luck in finishing it – and the rest of the books in the series before year ends).

How about you, dear friends, what have you been reading this week?

A Kick in the Head: An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms selected by Paul B. Janeczko and Illustrated by Chris Raschka. Candlewick Press, Cambridge Massachusetts, 2005. Book borrowed from the public library. Book photos were taken by me.

2006 winner of the Claudia Lewis Poetry Award. AWB Reading Challenge Update: 72 (35)

PictureBook Challenge Update: 77 of 120

A Foot in the Mouth: Poems to Speak, Sing, and Shout selected by Paul B. Janeczko and illustrated by Chris Raschka. Candlewick Press, 2009. Book borrowed from the public library. Book photos were taken by me.

PictureBook Challenge Update: 78 of 120

Requiem: Poems of the Terezin Ghetto by Paul B. Janeczko. Candlewick Press, 2011. Book borrowed from the public library. Book photos were taken by me.

Winner of 2011 Cybils Award for Poetry, Notable Book for a Global Society by the Children’s Literature & Reading Special Interest Group of the International Reading Association. Notable Books for Teens, 2012 by the Association of Jewish Libraries.

AWB Reading Challenge Update: 73 (35)

Novels in Verse Reading Challenge Update: 7 of 10

A Game of Thrones by George RR Martin. Harper Voyager, 2011. First published by Voyager in Great Britain in 1996. Bought my own copy of the book.

Locus Award – Best Novel (Fantasy) (Won) – (1997), World Fantasy Award – Best Novel (Nominated) – (1997), Hugo Award – Best Novella for Blood of the Dragon (Won) – (1997), Nebula Award – Best Novel (Nominated) – (1997), Ignotus Award – Best Novel (Foreign) (Won) – (2003)

AWB Reading Challenge Update: 74 (35)

38 Comments on It’s Monday What are You Reading and Nonfiction Monday: A Paul Janeczko Overload and then Some

  1. Yes! You’re right — I need to get these poetry books. And I agree — what a truly lovely poem and illustration… “What is the opposite of two?/ A lonely me, a lonely you.” by Richard Wilbur Thanks for sharing these books.

  2. We have A Kick In The Head at school & I think I check it out more than leave it on the shelf, Myra. I have only touched the Terezin poetry a bit. I have it, but still haven’t read it all. The other one illustrated by Raschka I don’t know-will certainly look it up. Janeczko has long been a favorite anthologist of mine. Look for Poetspeak, The Place My Words Are Looking For, Looking for Your Name, I Feel a Little Jumpy Around You: A Book of Her Poems & His Poems Presented in Pairs [with Naomi Shihab Nye]. This last is my favorite, but the others have been mainstays for my teaching, too. Just an FYI-as I think I’ve told you, my daugther is very into The Game of Thrones too. Glad you’re enjoying it, & hope your mouth is better, especially with the ice cream!

    • Hi Linda, thanks for all the lovely recommendations. I shall definitely look for his poems presented in pairs with Naomi Shihab Nye, sounds like something I’d fall in love with. Yes! You have mentioned your daughter’s fascination with Game of Thrones, it’s seriously getting in the way of soooo many things, but I can not stop myself. Precisely the reason why I didn’t want to start reading it. *sigh* nothing to do but yield to George RR Martin’s exquisite writing.

  3. Those look like good poetry books. I’ll keep them in mind.

    I had a fantastic week of reading so it’s really difficult to pick a favorite book. I’m going to have go with a fan girl response and say the best (out of an extremely good set of books) was The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Catherynne M. Valente. Please come and see what else I’m reading.

    • Hi there, we truly envy that you already have a copy of Valente’s Sequel to The Girl who circumnavigated Fairyland. Fats, one of the GatheringBooks ladies, fell in love with Valente’s writing, I hope I can get to read both books soon. :)

  4. Oh my word. All I can think of now is that ice cream, which happens to be my favorite ice cream in all the land.

    I’m intimidated by poetry. I need a tutor or something.

    • Hi Jennifer, I’m sure you just haven’t found the perfect poem yet that would resonate deeply with you. :) Janeczko is a great tutor, as I’m sure you’d discover if you read his poetry books. :)

  5. How do I not know about Paul Janeczko? I need to read more poetry. Thanks for enlightening me, Myra!

  6. I’m glad you’re enjoying the Game of Thrones series. I read those books a couple of years ago and couldn’t put the series down once I started reading.

    • Hi Katya, I know what you mean. I really don’t *have the time* for it, but now that I’ve started reading through it, seems like I have to ‘steal the time’ to read the rest of the series. It takes hold of you and no choice really but to yield.

  7. My kids and I love reading Silverstein’s books together so I think we would love A Kick in the Head and A Foot in the Mouth. You have lovely blog. Thanks for visiting mine!

    • Hi Laura, I think I reviewed two of Silverstein’s books for Poetry Friday, and you’re right they’re great read-alouds to children, my own ten year old love his books too. :) Thank you for the kind words and thanks for the visit back.

  8. Lovely books! And ice cream does go nicely with books during post-dental-surgery days. I had some done a few weeks ago, so I can relate. Enjoy your week, and thanks for visiting my blog.

    • Hi Laurel, yes, ice-cream does soothe painful gums – and they’re great as side-dish to my main course: novels. :) Thanks for dropping by as well.

  9. Morning Myra. Love your recommendations. I’m very familiar with Paul J. and recommend him often to student teachers. I found Requiem stayed with me a very long time. I’ve also enjoyed the Game of Thrones series on tv but have yet to pick up any of the books. I’m too busy reading for an upcoming book talk to teachers focused on the big idea ‘perspective’. Oh poor me! I’m been really excellent and enjoyable books because of this. Out of my Mind by Sharon Draper, Trash by Andy Mulligan, The Other Half of my Heart by Sundee Frazier to name just three. Too many books and just not enough time.
    Tammy
    Apples with Many Seeds

    • Hi there, Tammy, so glad you dropped by to share all of these lovely titles. I haven’t heard any of these three books you mentioned but will definitely look out for them. And I couldn’t agree more about having too many books and too little time. :)

  10. I’ve never heard of Paul Janeczko before. I’m going to see if my library has a copy. Happy reading.

  11. Great post! Thanks for stopping by my blog! I think I’m the only one who doesn’t watch or read Game of Thrones. It just doesn’t appeal to me, but I hope you enjoy it!

    Happy reading :)

    • Hi Helene, I know a few friends like you who just didn’t take to the Game of Thrones – I could also understand how the multitude of new characters and remembering all those new worlds may not appeal to most. Thank you for dropping by and enjoy a week of reading too!

  12. Thanks for sharing a peek at the pages and illustrations of your poetry books this week! Both look fun! I have yet to read or watch the Game of Thrones, but I know many people who can’t get enough of them! I’m really looking forward to Requiem–sounds powerful.

  13. Very impressive list, you have sent me off the explore the George Martin books and put in my wishlist. I hope we get to see the TV series here in New Zealand, we have just had a channel added that shows some of HBO, so I must keep an eye out for it in case.
    Kathryn

    • Hi Kathryn, I have the George RR Martin books since March of this year but I’ve put off reading it as I know that it would take up too much of my time and it requires commitment. Now I’m hooked.

  14. A Kick in the Head looks incredibly cute :) Great selections!

    Have a great week :) The Brunette Librarian’s Blog

  15. I’m looking forward to checking out your blog more. Already, I want to read Abad-Jugo’s “Leaf and Shadow” you wrote about on another post!

    • Hi Earl, I’m glad you enjoyed browsing through our recent reviews. Please feel free to look more and check out stuff that would resonate with you. :)

  16. Hope you have a great week!

  17. Thanks for introducing me to the work of Paul Janeczko! Both of the poetry anthologies look like a lot of fun, I’m going to have to check and see if my library has them. Surprisingly, I’ve never read a novel about the Holocaust so Requiem is definitely getting added to my list.

    Glad to see you’re still participating in the novels in verse challenge! Thanks for linking up =)

    • Hi Amanda, our participation has slowed down quite a bit, but yes, we’re still very much into the novels-in-verse challenge. Thanks for dropping by.

  18. What a great week! I really enjoyed Requiem, but that is all I have read by Janeczko- thank you for showing me other amazing books by him. I will definitely look into his other poetry books.

    Happy reading this week! :)

    • Hi Kellee, glad to see you here once more! Janeczko is also a fairly recent discovery of mine. I have fallen in love with his picture books. I’m sure he must be a fantastic teacher. :)

  19. It’s nice to see poetry for a change! I will be checking those out as I am planning on becoming a teacher and poetry is one of my weaker points!
    Have a lovely week!

    • Hi Lettie, I’m glad that you found poetry a refreshing change. :) Janeczko would be a great way to start if you like to learn more about poetry for your own teaching. :)

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