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The poetry of Joyce Sidman:


by Joyce Sidman
Celebrating Nature’s Survivors

Illustrated by Beckie Prange ISBN: 978-0-618-71719-4

Predictions: reader’s guide

1 2
What is
book about organisms that in
have survived and spread “surviving”? How do you
throughout the world over long What do you need suppose that some
periods of time. What to survive? of the creatures in
plants or animals this book might have
do you think might be survived? What would
in this book? be some good survival
4 techniques?

Look at the Look at both the front
endpapers. Discuss and back cover of this
the concept of a book. Can you identify
timeline. these “survivors”?

Each of these
poems features a familiar
Suggestions for
organism that your students
will have encountered some-
Reading Aloud:
where. Before reading each
poem, ask students where 2 3
they’ve last seen or heard
of this organism. Extra credit:
Each spread in The squirrel poem (“Tail
this book consists of a Tale”) is fun but challenging
poem and a nonfiction note. Try to read aloud, as it is basically
reading the poem first. Ask students two run-on sentences delivered
what images and words they liked. in nonstop chatter. This might be
What is their impression of this organ- a good poem to offer as extra
ism? Then go on to read the nonfiction credit for a student to
note. Ask students what interesting master and perform for
things they learned, and then ask the class.
them what the strengths of this or-

abcd ganism are—how has it become

a “survivor”?
Writing Activities: diamante poem
A diamante (“diamond” in Spanish) is an easy poem form that can start anyone writing. It is seven
lines long with varying numbers of words on each line, in this order: 1, 2, 3, 5, 3, 2, 1. Start and end
with a noun. There are many variations of this form, some specifying adjectives, adverbs, etc., some
moving from one noun to its opposite. The following is an open-ended version:

First Life
(a diamante)

ancient, tiny
teeming, mixing, melding
strands curled like ghostly hands
winking, waving, waking
first, miraculous

1. Read the poem “First Life.” Discuss interesting or vivid words in this poem, what images it evokes.
Then read the nonfiction note and talk about how the first noun relates to the last noun.

2. Choose a subject to write about—maybe try a group poem first, about an animal. Start with the
name of the animal (“tiger”) and use the next five lines to describe this animal—what it looks like, how
it moves, etc. End with another noun that shows us the animal in a new way (“shadow”).

3. Have each student choose his or her own subject to write about.
Letter Poem

In a letter poem, the poet speaks directly to the subject of the poem.
Many students respond to this form because it’s not that different
from writing a note to a friend.

1. Read “The Mollusk That Made You.” Who is talking? Who is he/she talking
to? Discuss with students the metaphors and vivid language. Have students
identify the questions within the poem. Ask them what questions they would
ask a shell, if they could.

2. Brainstorm some interesting objects from nature—or better yet, take a

nature walk. Have students soak in the sights, smells, and sounds of the
outdoors. Have each student choose a subject—a tree, a dragonfly, the
wind—looking at it closely and noticing it with all of their five senses. Tell
them to imagine that they can speak to their subject and have a conversation
with it. What questions would they ask?

3. Write the letter poems. Use this form if you wish: start with a compliment,
then ask at least one question, then end with a wish (Dear Wind: You are
invisible but strong. Where do you sleep? I wish I could ride you like a

Mask Poem
Mask poems are first-person poems that take
the voice of the object they are about, so
you get to pretend to be anything you
want! They are wonderful for
getting students to use their
imaginations and see the
possibilities of poetry.

1. Read “Scarab.”
Ask students about
the images/mood
of the poem: how
does this creature
describe itself? How
does it see the world?
How is its view of
itself different from
our view of beetles
(especially dung
beetles!)? Now read
“Tail Tale” and ask all
the same questions.
How are these two
animals presenting
themselves differently?

2. Choose any object from

the classroom—a stapler, 3. Have each student choose an
a water bottle, an eraser. object; either from his or her desk or
Hold it up and have students the classroom, and do the same sort of
brainstorm metaphors for brainstorming.
it: What does it look like?
Sound like? How does it behave? 4. When students are ready to write, ask them to
If it were alive, how would it view take the voice of the object: they will “become” the
the world? What would it dream book or clock or marker. They will use their brain-
about doing? stormed ideas to tell the world what it’s like to be
a book, clock, or marker! “I am a round white eye
with black lashes” (clock).

Science/Math Activities

Other “Ubiquitous” Organisms

There are many other organisms that could be considered

ubiquitous, and some have been successful for long periods
of the earth’s history. Here is a list of other organisms your
students could study, answering the following questions: Where
does it live? How does it survive in lots of places? What makes
it successful? How long has it existed?

Species that thrive Groups of organisms

among humans: that are widespread:

Pigeons Viruses
Canada geese Algae
Rats/Mice Mosses
Deer Legumes
Rabbits Ferns
Finches (including Grasshoppers
English sparrow) Dragonflies

Cyclothones (fish)
Nematodes (round worms)

Personal Timeline 5 4

The earth’s history, with its billion-year periods, is difficult to comprehend in a visual way. Personal history
can be the same way. In this exercise, students will learn how to apply scale to the events of their own lives.

1. Look at the endpapers of UBIQUITOUS and then read the Illustrator’s Note at the end of the book.
Discuss with your students how Beckie Prange used string to represent the passage of years, and the
concept of “scale.”

2. Have each student brainstorm a list of important events from his or her life (learning to walk, moving, birth
of sibling, etc.) with the dates these events occurred. Help from home is useful!

3. Give each student a long piece of ribbon, yarn, or string, and a tape measure. Decide on the scale of your
timelines, perhaps one inch = one year. Have students measure out the appropriate length, cut, and glue
their string onto paper. Strings can be glued on straight or in a curved pattern.

4. Using the tape measure, students can then accurately mark out when each event in their lives took place,
and label it on their timelines.

5. When timelines are finished, have each child reflect on which periods in their lives were exciting,
important, or difficult for them. As an added activity, have your students project their timelines into the future,
predicting what they will be doing in ten, twenty, and thirty years.

Discussion Topics 47

UBIQUITOUS touches on some weighty topics. You can use this book as a springboard for classroom
discussion, writing, or study:

What makes humans human?

Read both the poem and the note for “Baby.” Discuss with your students this view of humans. Do they agree
with it? Are there other aspects of humanity they think are important? What do they think separates us from
other kinds of animals? What are our strengths? What are our weaknesses?

Extinction—why does it happen?

There have been five major extinctions in earth’s history, and scientists have various theories about what
caused them. Discuss with your students what their theories might be. Some scientists say there is another
“extinction event” going on right now, caused by humans. What might humans be doing to cause species
extinction? What could we do to reverse this?

What makes you a survivor?

After reading UBIQUITOUS, ask your students what kinds of things they think they need to survive. After
a short discussion, have them make two columns on a piece of paper, one titled “Visible” and one titled
“Invisible.” Ask them to jot down at least five things in each column that they feel they need to survive in their
world. Suggestions might be “food” (visible) and “respect” (invisible). Continue your discussion, using their
lists as a starting point.

Red Sings from Treetops A Year in Colors

Illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski ISBN: 978-0-547-01494-4

Synesthesia Poem
1 After reading the
entire book to
Don’t let this students, go to p.
How can
odd word scare you— 6 (“Green is new
rain taste green?
synesthesia just means a in spring”), and
Then try some
mixing of the senses. This ask students...
experiments with
poem is a lot of fun! them:

Start like this:

Clap your
What color hands. Ask your
do flowers students what color
2 smell like? that sounds
Brainstorm like.
a list of colors on
the board, including
some fun ones like What
magenta and Ask them
color do you feel
indigo. what color
like when you’re
chocolate tastes
happy? Excited?

From the list, choose

a color for a group poem. Review 4
each of the five senses with your Have students write
students: sight, smell, touch, hearing, individually about a chosen
taste. Using each of the five senses, color. Encourage them to be as
write about the chosen color: “Yellow descriptive as possible. End with
looks like the sun beaming a line about their own emotions:
through a window . . . “When I feel yellow, I am warm
It smells like toast with and cozy, snuggling with my
honey on it . . .” etc. cat.”
This Is Just to Say Poems of Apology and Forgiveness

Illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski ISBN: 978-0-618-61680-0

The idea for apology poems comes from Kenneth Koch’s book Rose, Where Did You Get That Red?
Teaching Great Poetry to Children, which I highly recommend to any classroom teacher interested in
teaching poetry. As Koch says, the basic idea of this poem is to “apologiz[e] for something you’re really
secretly glad you did.”

Advice from the Editorial Board: <>

a separate sheet of printable “instructions” from the students of Mrs. Merz’s class to help other students
write apology poems. Note: the children in this book are fictitious; all poems authored by Joyce Sidman.

Apology Poems
1. Read the poem “This Is Just to Say”
by William Carlos Williams, on page
6. Discuss: Who wrote the poem? To
whom was he writing it? Why did he
do it? Is he really sorry?

2. Reread “Sparkling Deer,” and discuss

this in a similar way. Then choose an
incident from your own (the teacher’s) Response Poems
past that you regret. Have your
students help you write a poem on the
If your students are feeling especially
board apologizing for this incident, but
brave, have them give their sorry
also explaining why you couldn’t help
poems to the person they’ve apologized
yourself. What tempted you? Include
to. Several things might happen
lots of sights, smells, and sounds.
3. Have each student choose his or her
1. An interesting talk between the two
own past incident to write about.
parties involved, which the student
It can be from years ago, or yesterday.
could write about.
The important thing is to write the
poem so that the reader understands
2. Your student could ask the recipient
exactly why the writer did what he/she
to respond on paper, either in a poem or
did. Include: sensory details from the
letter format.
incident and feelings before and after.
3. Your students, as a class, could gather
Note: Many students find this type of
the apology poems and write-ups/re-
poem easier to write if they assume
sponses and make a book of them, as
another persona, like that of their dog
Mrs. Merz’s class did.
(see “Sorry Back, from the Hamster” on
page 37).
Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow

Illustrated by Beth Krommes ISBN: 978-0-618-56313-5

Letter Poem
1. Read “Letter to the Sun”
and “Letter to the Rain.”
Discuss descriptive phrases 2. As a class,
used, and have your students choose a natural
pick out the “compliment” object to write to: a plant, an
in each poem. animal, a type of weather, a
season. Brainstorm all the things
your students love about that
object—sights, sells, and sounds.
Write a class “letter poem.”
(“Dear Spring, . . .”)
In your poem, include...

• a compliment
3. Have students • a question
choose a subject and write • a wish
their own “letter poem.” If
possible, take your students
outside to a natural area
and have them settle into a
quiet place to write.
Song of the Water Boatman & Other Pond Poems

Illustrated by Beckie Prange ISBN: 978-0-618-13547-9

Riddle Poem
1. Read “A Small Green Riddle.” After trying to guess the subject, find clues from the
poem. Identify metaphors used.

2. Choose a different plant or animal to write about—it can be part of a current

science unit.

3. As a class, brainstorm descriptive words for your creature. Where does it live?
What does it eat? Create metaphors for how it looks, moves, sounds.

4. Create a class riddle poem on a large pad or whiteboard.

Use first person—“become” the creature!

 With my white crown of feathers
 I am queen of the pond.
 Perched on orange stilts,
 my neck poised like a still, blue snake . . .

5. Then have each student pick

his or her own subject for an in-
dividual poem, or they can work
in pairs.

6. For individual work, have available library books

about different creatures. This helps students focus
on the looks and behavior of their animal/plant.

7. Schedule a sharing time so students can read their

riddle poems aloud and guess each other’s subjects.
The World According to Dog Poems and Teen Voices

ISBN: 978-0-618-17497-3 Photographs by Doug Mindell

Memory Poem This works for any age, since we all have important memories
that deserve to be captured in poetry.

1. Some memories stay with

us more than others. Which 2. Pass out copies
sorts of experiences stick of “Hornet’s Nest,”
in the mind? Brainstorm p. 29, and read
a list on the board aloud.
(birthdays, vacations, first-
time experiences, losses,
embarrassments, etc.).

3. Discuss what happens in the poem.

 Who is the speaker? Who is he/she
4. Look back at your brainstormed list of speaking to?
memorable types of experiences. Remind  What sensory details help create an
your students that as they grow older, some image in the reader’s mind?
of the vividness of these experiences may  What metaphors/similes are used?
slip away. Poetry is one way to capture them  What is the emotional tone of the
forever. Ask them to think back over their poem?
lives and pick one moment that they want to  What is the speaker trying to convey
capture: in the last stanza?
 a) Jot down sensory details from the mo-
ment: sights, smells, sounds.
 b) Who else was there? What did they do,
 c) What were the emotions of the
moment–before, during, after?
6. Write! Then share! (This
exercise is most effective
if you, the teacher, also
5. Ask them to write their participate and share
poem addressing someone/ your writing. Low-key
something who was involved background music helps,
in this memory, almost like too.)
a letter: “Grandpa, do you
remember the day we . . . ?”
Include those sensory details
to put the reader right there.
MeowRuff A Story in Concrete Poetry

Illustrated by Michelle Berg ISBN: 978-0-618-44894-4

1. Begin by sharing the book Concrete Animals

with your group. Then say, “What
would happen if we tried to
make the crow into a concrete
poem?” On the board, use
anatomical words to “build” a
poem in the shape of a crow as
a model (wing, feather, body,
beak, claw, etc.). You can use
each word as many times as
needed to create a shape. Click
here <
concreteanimalpoem.html> for
a full-page example (done by a

2. Make three columns on the board: Head, Body, and Feet. With your group,
brainstorm all the animal “parts” words you can think of:

Head Body Feet

Snout Scales Talons

Antenna Gills

3. Ask each child to think of an animal they want to “build” out of words. Have them
lightly sketch their animal on a piece of unlined paper. Then have them fill in their
animal with appropriate words from the board (or others). Words can be used more
than once!
About Joyce Sidman
Joyce was born in Connecticut and spent summers at camp
in Maine. She now lives in Minnesota with her husband
and two sons. The following is a brief Q & A, of which you
can read more on her website (

Q. How did you start writing?

A. Words came into my head, and I wrote them down. This started in grade school. Later, I
kept journals (still have most of ’em). From early on, I felt compelled to write. I think a lot of
writers are like this. Writing helps us understand the world; we’d be lost without it.

Q. Where do you get your ideas?

A. I firmly believe (lecture coming . . .) that everyone needs “pondering time.” Time alone,
without noise and distraction. This is when ideas come--when things sort themselves out,
when you see visions and solutions. Not just for writing, but for life. My pondering time
happens during walks in the woods, where I watch the seasons change and let my thoughts
wander. The natural world sustains and inspires me. I could never live in a city for long.

Q. Why do you write poetry?

A. I really discovered poetry in high school, encouraged by a sympathetic teacher. Poetry is
so vivid and sleek–like a racecar. No extra words. I love using image and metaphor; it’s such
a powerful way of explaining your thoughts and feelings (as in poetry = racecar). Poetry
comes naturally to me. Storytelling is not so natural to me, though I hope some day to
successfully write a novel.

Q. How many books have you written?

A. Almost a hundred. Really! Most of them are sitting in dusty stacks under my desk. How
many are published? Nine children’s books, and two more on the way, at the moment.

Q. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

A. I like to teach poetry-writing in schools. I also love to dig in the dirt and eat chocolate
(not usually at the same time, though it has happened). I love poking around outside,
identifying birds, insects, frogs. And on inside days, I like to read and snuggle with my dog.

Q. Are you famous?

A. Yes--to my dog. And to my children, on good days. And there’s a lady I met at the library
who says my poetry makes her cry (but I’m not sure if that’s good or bad).

For more information and many more activities, visit

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