Thursday, June 7, 2012

Pass It On: African-American Poetry for Children

Hudson, W. (1993). Pass it on: African-American poetry for children. New York: Scholastic.

Age: 4 and up

Genre: Poetry


This is an anthology of poetry, as classified by our class text.  All of the poems included in this collection reflect special attributes of the African-American historical experience through the words and different forms that they take.  These meanings are reiterated through the illustrations specifically created for each poem by Floyd Cooper.  The purpose of the selection, as titled, is for these poems to be appreciated, shared and passed on to others.

Reflection of the Poetry:

I have selected two of my favorite poems from the selection to discuss poetic elements.

1)      “African Lullaby”

Someone would like to have you for her child
but you are mine.
Someone would like to rear you on a costly mat
but you are mine.
Someone would like to place you on a camel blanket
but you are mine.
I have you to rear on a torn old mat.
Someone would like to have you as her child
but you are mine.


This poem’s author is listed as “traditional” meaning that it has been handed down through oral tradition or told orally through many generations. The writing also takes the form of a lyric poem, in that it pinpoints the mother’s feeling in that moment in time. The meaning of this poem for me was a mother’s love for her child. The mother expresses that she does not have much in worldly possessions, but offers her unconditional, agape type love. I use the term agape, because that is the feeling the poem gave me, it means a selfless, spiritual type of love.  In fact, this poem is one of my favorites because I immediately connected with it through the love that I have for my children.  I often feel that I do not have many possessions to offer my children, yet I devote my agape love and time to them.

In addition, this poem consists of slow and then fast rhythms.  The first six lines are composed of couplets that begin with a line that has a slow rhythm and then a second line that has a fast rhythm.  The lines with slow rhythm contain more words that are multisyllabic words. As well, they include words that utilize the low vowel sound of “o” and the consonants “m” and “n”, which are indicative of a slow rhythm. These lines express sad feelings such as, “Someone would like to have you for her child”. The lines with a fast rhythm are short with one syllable words and include the sharp vowel sound of “i”, an attribute of a fast rhythm. These lines express a happy feeling like, “but you are mine”.

This poem also includes a sound pattern. The sound pattern is created through the use of repeated phrases such as, “but you are mine”. Moreover, the sentence construction includes a parallel structure in lines one, three, five and seven by beginning with the same words, “Someone would like to…”

I also see the use of an allegory in this poem.  The words “mat” and “blanket” are used as synonyms and refer to the possession that mother has to offer her child in comparison with others who would raise this child.  Specifically, the mother speaks of her “mat” as substandard while others’ mats or blankets are more fitting, being of a higher quality, in which to raise this special child.  Even though I believe that when this poem was created this may have been literal language in that the standard of living was that a person’s mat was his or her home, I believe in present day it is an allegory or a symbol.  I think the “mat” is a symbol for all of the materialistic resources that the mother has to offer the child. The BIG question I have is, why does this mother feel guilty about not having enough to offer her child? Is this a part of history where children were easily taken from their parents?

2)      “Time to Play”

Mama says to play outside.
Wish I had a bike to ride.
I’ll fly to the moon instead.
Steer the rocket in my head.
I’ll pretend to find a star
No one else has seen so far.
Then I’ll name it after me-
                Africa Lawanda Lee!
But for now I’ll grab some chalk,
Play hopscotch out on the walk.

                                                -Nikki Grimes

I found great meaning in this poem as a mother and a teacher. The meaning being a child with a successful future ahead of her because she has dreams of accomplishing great things such as flying a rocket. I believe my students would connect with this poem because of the figurative language used, where the girl wants to find a star, meaning that she endeavors to acquire a better life.  I feel that my students would relate to this because many of them come from homes where education and accomplishment are not valued yet, when inspired they all have hope of becoming people of distinguished achievement.  One example, would be a current fifth grader that I have worked with throughout her elementary career.  This past year she solidly reached her goal of being an on-level reader.  Before this time I had not heard her speak of her future, however since this accomplishment she told me that she wanted to become a veterinarian. She knows this will require additional education, but now has the confidence to aim toward achieving this goal.  She is like the girl in the poem. She knows she has challenges, but endeavors to be triumphant in a successful future. This work also takes the form of a lyric poem since it describes how “Africa Lawanda Lee” feels at that moment. Still, my BIG question is, I wonder if the meaning of this poem would not have been as strong if the figurative language used did not refer to an object that shot for the sky?  The idea of a rocket shooting upward is poignant . Would the use of another object such as a cloud with a graduate standing in a dream-like state, have connected with young readers as much as the image of a rocket?

This poem has a fast rhythm, each line possessing few words and utilizing the sharp vowel sounds of “a”, “e” and “i”, examples would be the words “play” and “bike”. Furthermore, the many of the words include abrupt consonant sounds “k”, “t”, “w” and “p”, instances of these phonemes can be found in the words “rocket”, “wish” and “pretend”. The fast rhythm carries forth the poet’s intention that this poem gives a joyful feeling- hope.

The sound pattern in this writing utilizes the element of rhyme. The poem is written using couplets, or two lines in a stanza about one topic, and the ending words of each line in the couplet rhyme.  An example would be, “But for now I’ll grab some chalk,/play hopscotch out on the walk.” I found this poem fun and enjoyable to read because of the rhymes used and I have experienced my younger students also connecting more to poems that use the element of rhyme.

Reflection of the Illustrations:

The illustrator, Floyd Cooper created each image specifically for each poem. All of the illustrations in this book are created using the artistic style of realistic art and the media used was oil paint on washboard, as stated on the copyright page in the front matter. Each picture shows a realistic scene without exaggeration.  However, I found the illustrations to be integral since they included details that emphasized different words in the poem. Particularly, in the illustration offered for “African Lullaby”, the mother is sitting on a mat with a small amount of food in baskets next to her, yet the baby is adoringly touching his mother on the chin.  In addition, there are camels in the background to emphasize the fact that others could rear the child on a camel blanket.  The power of this illustration comes from the composition. The items in the painting are placed specifically to enhance the meaning of the text.  For instance, the mother and baby are in the foreground, while the camels and other women with large amounts of food are in the background.  The composition shows the relationship between the mother and child is greater or more important than the other characters in the background. In the illustration for the second poem, “Time to Play”, the composition also plays an integral role. In this illustration, there is a rocket flying over the girl while she is playing hopscotch, giving realism to her dreams, that she could reach the stars. As well, the predominant use of cool colors, blues and gray with violet hues, in the painting lend themselves to a feeling of anticipation.  Possibly, an anticipation of what the future will hold for the little girl in the poem.


I would utilize this collection of African-American poems in my classroom for many reasons.  First, to highlight the human condition and experiences of African-Americans throughout history and to instruct on various elements of poetry.  In primary grades, I feel that these poems offer a great variation of conveyed feelings that students could identify with or for vocabulary instruction, in alignment with KCAS Standard Four. While in the intermediate grades, since the book includes poetry from a variety of poets students could practice identifying various elements and forms in alignment with KCAS Standard Five. In order to assist all students with determining meaning from poetry, I would use graphic organizers for students to record questions, comments or feelings they experience from the poems they read.  I have included a few examples of the type of graphic organizers I would utilize below. - Starting on page 101, there are various graphic organizers to use when reading poetry, including one to pair questions about poetry with students’ schema. These graphic organizers were created for high school students; however they could be adjusted to be appropriate for upper elementary students.

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