the brothers war

Lewis, Patrick J. The Brothers’ War: Civil War Voices in Verse. Washington, DC: National Geographic Society. ISBN: 9781426300370

Lewis’s recounting of the Civil War through poetry and photographs creates a compelling collection. Through The Brothers’ War: Civil War Voices in Verse, the legacy of the Civil War is made visible through the use of poetry inspired by photographs and actual letters from this time period. Actual photographs from the Civil War are paired with poetry to give readers context.

Critical Analysis
The Brothers’ War: Civil War Voices in Verse is a stunning depiction of the Civil War and how the war began. Beginning with the Table of Contents and ending with detailed Author’s Notes, the black and gold pages give the poems a feeling of antiquity that balances the photographs nicely. Each poem is paired with a photograph from the Civil War. The photographs are emotionally stirring which works to invoke a feeling of empathy in readers. Additionally, Lewis includes detailed footnotes that give readers more information about particular events that inspired each poem.

The poetry and photographs in this collection create a timeline in prose and picture. The poems are well-placed in chronological order. After the introduction, Lewis lays a foundation for the start of the war with a stirring poem about slavery called “Down on the Plantation”.

Down on the Plantation
(Picking Cotton near Savannah, Georgia – Early 1860’s)

I stopped to stoop
And stooped to chop,
The clipped to scoop
The cotton crop.

The way it went
Long after dark. . .
A woman bent
Like a question mark.


Special consideration needs to be given to Lewis’ attention to detail. A two-page spread gives readers key historical information about the Civil War and those who sought to document it through photographs. Lewis includes a detailed United States map along with a timeline of the Civil War. Additionally, a note is included about the photography detailing how the war was documented while giving readers more information on where to find more photographs from the Civil War not included in this collection. In addition to a detailed bibliography, the Author’s Notes provides with insight as to how each poem was inspired.

Lewis concludes the collection with a poem that speaks of sacrifice and honor. “Passing in Review” sums up the anthology with a somber reminder of the savage beast that is war. Paired with a particularly stirring photograph, this poem serves to remind us of war and all that it implies.

Passing in Review
The tortured howls,
The wretched noise,
The lives it dooms or redeploys. . .
A civil war breaks men from boys.

Surprise attacks –
Again, again!
Such eerie stillness now and then
Is when a war churns boys to men.

Remember them
Today, deceased,
Young men-at-arms who would increase
By inches some foothold on peace.

Salute the boys
You never knew
For valor. It’s long overdue.
Young men still passing in review.
Don not require
A great parade,
A big brass band or cavalcade
To sing the sacrifice they made.

armless dude

Curriculum Connections

History teachers could use this collection throughout their Civil War unit to supplement their teaching and provide context for learning. Infusing the poetry and photographs throughout the unit, teachers would create a more meaningful learning experience.

Using a poem from the collection as a mentor text, students could choose a photograph from the Civil War, research the event behind it, and create a poem inspired from the photograph and their research.




Mass, Wendy. 2007. Heaven Looks A Lot Like the Mall. New York: Little, Brown, and Company. ISBN: 9780316058513

After a terrible dodge ball accident in gym, Tessa finds herself in place she thought she wouldn’t see for a long time: Heaven. What she finds out is that Heaven (at least for her) looks like the mall where her parents worked and where she grew up (mostly). The Mall Manager greets her and hands her a bag with several items in it; items that were once hers and were purchased at the Mall. With the feel of “It’s a Wonderful Life” or A Christmas Carol, Tessa begins to relive moments in her life through the seemingly simple trinkets in the bag. Tessa’s journey leads her to a new understanding of herself and her place in the world.

Critical Analysis
To think of your life story could be told through a series of everyday items is an interesting concept. In Heaven Looks A Lot Like a Mall, Mass does just that through 16 year-old Tessa’s life, as told in verse. From a baby shoe to a sticker that says, “I gave today” to a prom dress, all the items in a bag that is handed to her represents a defining moment in Tessa’ life. With narrative sequentiality, each item from the bag begins a new poem that relives the corresponding moment in Tessa’s life that ultimately leads up to the accident in gym class. Through Tessa’s reliving of these events, her character is well developed as more and more of her is revealed in the dramatic situations that unfold. Tessa’s near-death experience gives younger readers an opportunity to reflect on their own past, while giving hope for the future. As evidenced from this exchange between Tessa and her guide, Nail Boy:

“I bet if you go through the rest
of your life telling yourself,
‘I’m sparkling,’
you’ll have a whole different energy
and experience.”

I chuckle. “If I have a rest of my life, that is.”

He leans forward and locks
his eyes with mine.
“I’m going to tell you a secret.
Our lives are shaped by the future,
not by the past. Once you decide
how you want your life to be,
all you need to do
is live into that future.”

Then quietly he asks,
“If you have a rest of your life,
What are you going to do differently?”
He reaches out to touch my hand
and when he does,
it’s like a jolt of electricity
passes between us. I look up,
and into his eyes, and I think,
I’m sparkling. I sparkle.

And then I answer,
“The next time a dodgeball
is fired at my head,
I’m going to catch it.”

Modeling a portion of this book, have students tell a story in verse about a defining moment in their life.
Use Heaven Looks a Lot Like a Mall, Pieces of Georgia, Becoming Joe Dimaggio, and Jump Ball: A Season in Poems as book club choices for an ESL class.

WATER SINGS BLUE: OCEAN POEMS by Kate Coombs Illustrated by Meilo So

Water sings blue
Coombs, Kate. 2012. Water Sings Blue: Ocean Poems. Ills. By Meilo So. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books, LLC. ISBN: 9780811872843

Plot Summary
In Water Sings Blue, Kate Coombs finds inspiration at the shore. From a story explaining how rocks turn into sand to a poem about an author who never picks up a pen but still leaves his mark on the world, readers will surely find themselves lost in reverie and longing for carefree days on the beach.

Critical Analysis
Water Sings Blue is a lovely collection of poems that create a light, easy going tone. The poems are rhythmic, bouncy, and fun to read. Many of the poems do follow the A-B and A-B-C format, while others are free verse. These patterns work to help create and give a voice to the sea creatures. For example in “Shark”:

He circles and stares
with a broken-glass grin,
his body’s a dagger,
he has lion’s-tongue skin.

He slides through the water
like a rumor, like a sneer.
he’s a quick twist of hunger.
He’s the color of fear.

The illustrations are rendered in watercolor, and are so realistic that they almost appear to be cut-outs.


So’s illustrations beautifully capture the essence of aquatic life. Her control of the brush creates multiple effects with the watercolors. At times the watercolors look like ink from a pen or acrylic.


Water Sings Blue would make a great resource for science teachers when studying the ocean with their students. In “Ocean Realty” readers are able to learn about how sea shells end up on the beach.

ocean realty

Ocean Realty

My name’s Frank Hermit.
Here – take my card.
So you want a house
with a porch and yard?

I have listings for periwinkles,
whelks, and wentletraps;
turbans, tops, and moon shells;
a palatial conch, perhaps?

That one’s not available –
I’m waiting for the snail
to vacate his townhouse
and put it up for sale

But this place has a deck
and a nice view of the land –
beachfront property
is always in demand!

BLUE LIPSTICK by John Grandits

Blue Lipstick

Grandits, John. 2007. Blue Lipstick Concrete Poems. New York, NY. Clarion Books. ISBN 0618851321

Plot Summary
Blue Lipstick is a fun collection of concrete poetry depicting the daily life of an average teenager named Jessie. From daily family life to sharing a secret with a trusted “friend”, Jessie’s day to day life isn’t as ordinary as she might think. Through artistic concrete poems, readers are able to experience the ups and downs of life with annoying brother, a crush on a boy named Elton, and figuring out just what her style is (hence, the blue lipstick). Blue Lipstick will resonate with readers experiencing the teenage years and those of us who have survived and have somewhat recovered.

Critical Analysis
John Grandits has created a fun, engaging, and interactive reading experience in Blue Lipstick. Each poem is unique and has a rhythm all its own, which is further highlighted by the shape Grandits uses for each poem. The pages of this collection are filled with poems that require the reader to twist the book to keep reading poems, and one even is made easier to read with the help of a mirror. The challenge of reading a book that needs so much adjusting keeps readers engaged, and makes the poetry more interactive. One of the things that stand out, is how Jessie grows throughout the course of the book. This is evidenced in two poems: “The Wall” and “The Wall (Revisited)”. Grandits uses to show Jessie’s attitude change towards some people of whom she was not very tolerant. Through this, young readers are encouraged to consider their own preconceived notions about others.

Most of the poems and their shapes are simple, and all are well designed. With the color scheme of black and blue, the words of the poems bring out Jessie’s attitude and moods in a unique way. In addition the shapes and color schemes, Grandits’s uses over 50 various fonts to convey Jessie’s emotions as well.

Grandits’s use of font color and twists and turns are shown in his poem called “Bad Hair Day”. Jessie’s hair experiment goes horribly wrong and she’s left with a really bad hair day. Only her day isn’t nearly as bad as she it seems, when her mom acknowledges she’s growing up and calls her a “woman.”

bad hair day

He also gets creative with the poem title “The Name-Your-Rock-Band Chart”. In this poem, Grandits elicits participation from the reader through a cleverly laid-out chart where the reader can make up funny sounding band names.

Rock Band

Pair with the following books containing concrete poems, and have students create their own concrete poem.
Franco, Betsy. A Curious Collection of Cats. Ills. By Michael Wertz. Berkeley, CA: Tricycle Press. ISBN: 9781582463882
Franco, Betsy. Dazzling Display of Dogs. Ills. By Michael Wertz. Berkeley, CA: Tricycle Press. ISBN: 9781582463882
Grandits, John. Technically, It’s Not My Fault. New York: Clarion Books. ISBN: 9780618503612


dizzy imagesCAUF2KKG

Mora, Pat. 2010. Dizzy in Your Eyes: Poems About Love. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 9780375945656


After the school play, you hugged me
and part of me wanted to stay inside your hugs
the way I used to, resting all safe in the arms
that held me in the beginning, knew me
before I did.

I pulled away and ran to talk and laugh
with my friends. I watched you
watching me move away.
What would people say
if I stayed inside your arms, and
anyway, what if I got stuck
in the warmth and never left?

What is love? Pat Mora’s Dizzy in Your Eyes: Poems About Love attempts to answer that. This unique collection explores all kinds of love with all types of poetry. Love for our families, our pets, and eventually a first love are all revealed through Mora’s collection.

Critical Analysis
When Pat Mora’s editor suggested she try various poetic forms, the resulting piece is one that not only gives readers relatable poetry, but also teaches students how to write these various forms. Mora’s poems are strong examples of various poetic forms: Tercet, Blank Verse, Tanka, Letter poem, Pantoum, Sestina, Villanelle, Sonnet, Cinquain, Anaphora, Acrostic, Triolet, Blues, Couplet, Lyric, Ode, and Song. Not only does Mora include these types of poems, she offers explanations of each kind alongside her piece of poetry .
Dizzy in Your Eyes: Poems About Love would be serve as an excellent inspiration for a class anthology. English teachers could have students in their class sign up for various each poetic form, making sure each poem reflects the stated theme.

WHAT IS GOODBYE? Nikki Grimes Illustrations by Raul Colon


Grimes, Nikki. 2004. What is Goodbye? Ill. By Raul Colon. New York: Hyperion Books for Children, Inc. ISBN 0786807784
What is Goodbye? is a collection of poems that chronicles the first year of a family’s life after suffering a tremendous loss. Nikki Grimes’s poems are told through voices of two children after they have lost an older sibling. Readers are given an emotional, insightful look at the process of grieving, and what it means to come to acceptance.
Critical Analysis
In the beginning, the soft, somber feel of the poems in What is Goodbye? create a melancholy tone that eventually gives way of acceptance of a family’s new normal. From the initial news of the death of their older brother, Jaron, Jesse and Jerilyn’s poems mirror each other only in title. Each child’s perspective on coping with the family’s loss is touching and gives readers a humbling example of how different grief can look between family members. Even though the poems represent the thoughts and feelings of Jesse and Jerilyn, the grieving parents are equally represented. Grimes’s use of free verse poetry is simple, yet gripping and gives a way for readers to attach to the children. Although Raul Colon’s color illustrations are used sparingly, they are well placed and give strong visuals of the emotions portrayed in the poetry.
This collection of poetry has a theme with which many readers have a personal connection. Young and older readers alike are likely to look at grieving families differently and possibly consider how their interactions may impact those suffering a loss. Conversely, readers who have had a significant loss in their lives will empathize greatly with the characters, and are likely to find themselves emotionally connected to the collection.
Below is a poem that could be used as an example how one scenario is experienced so differently between two people. Students could be partnered up with a classmate, given a similar scenario, and asked to write poems that somewhat mirror themselves. The teacher could give the students a theme with which to work or use a situation from a class novel and have the students write poems that offer varying perspectives.

Night Noise – Jesse Night Noise – Jerilyn

Something’s keeping My teeth chatter
me from sleeping in the winter
I hear sniffles of dreams.
through the wall. I lie in a coffin,
Beyond the reach
“Daddy, is that of worry,
you?” I whisper, Jaron floating
hearing crying over me.
‘cross the hall. Something deep inside
Screams, “No!”
Further down and I wake to the sound
In bed I burrow, of my own fear.
pillow clamped Two years are all
over my ears. that separate Jaron and me.
Two years
I’ll go crazy and a coffin.
if I listen I can’t help thinking
to my daddy’s Death could happen
private tears. to me.
Growing up?
Growing old?
The way I figure, now
There’s no guarantee.

Grimes concludes readers’ journey with a poem for two voices. Through “Photograph – Poem for Two Voices,” Jesse and Jerilyn give a sweet illustration of being whole again and that completes the family’s journey to acceptance. This final poem would serve as an excellent mentor text for students to use when showing a journey completed by two characters from a classroom novel study. While there are other poems for two voices could be used as a mentor text, this particular piece shows the two characters coming full circle.
Photograph – Poem for Two Voices
Jesse Jerilyn
It’s time
It’s time
for a new photograph. for a new photograph.
Squeeze in close.
Say “cheese.”
Don’t laugh.
Hold that pose! Hold that pose!
Wait till you see it, Wait till you see it,
Mom and Dad,
Jesse and me,
a new kind of family. a new kind of family.
One piece
One piece
One piece missing, but
we’re whole again. we’re whole again.
Whole again.
Whole again!
Smile! Smile!

COMETS, STARS, THE MOON, AND MARS space peoms and paintings By Douglas Florian


Florian, Douglas. 2007. Comets, Stars, The Moon, and Mars. Orlando, FL: Harcourt, Inc. ISBN 9780152053727

Comets, Stars, The Moon, And Mars is a fun collection that takes readers on a journey to far-away places. Beginning with a poem titled, “skywatch” Florian explores the galaxy in a light-hearted way that’s guaranteed to help children have a better understanding of the universe and all that it implies. Complete with scientific facts, this high-interest, fun collection will keep readers coming back for more.

Critical Analysis
Many of the poems in this collection are short, rhythmic, and bouncy. These pithy poems create a unique, yet fun, learning opportunity for readers. Beginning with “skywatch” readers are able to explore our solar system one planet (and planetoid) at a time. Florian completes the collection with “A Galactic Glossary” that matches to each piece of poetry.
Florian’s use of gouache, collage, and rubber stamps on brown paper bags creates a whimsical feeling that connects perfectly with the poems. The cheerful illustrations are appealing to teachers and students alike. With a variety of bright hues used in the illustrations, each poem gives way to the next through Florian’s use of color.
This collection of poetry connects easily to elementary science curriculum standards. The poems make for a fun way to understand the order of the planets and the solar system. School-age children will find the poems fun, while learning facts about the solar system that are universal as seen in the poem titled, “the universe”.

the universe

The universe is every place,
Including all the e m p t y space.
It’s every star and galaxy,
All objects of astronomy,
Geography, zoology
(Each cat and dog and bumblebee),
All persons throughout history –
Including you,
Including me.

Florian takes readers on an out-of-this world journey through the solar system. He even includes our beloved, but demoted Pluto.

Pluto was a planet.
But now it doesn’t pass.
Pluto was a planet.
They say it’s lacking mass.
Pluto was a planet.
Pluto was admired.
Pluto was a planet.
Till one day it got fired.

AMAZING FACES By Lee Bennett Hopkins



Hopkins, Lee Bennett. 2010.  Amazing Faces.  Pic. By Chris Soentpiet. New York:  Lee & Low Books, Inc.  ISBN  9781600603341

Hopkins’ carefully selected poems tell a story about the beautiful faces that make America multicultural.  Each poem gives readers a snapshot of life for everyday people.  Whether it’s a joyful reunion, finding love at the diner, or the sadness that comes with feeling lonely, these poems offer everyone an opportunity to see them or someone they know or love on the pages of this collection.  With poems from well-known children’s poets such as Nikki Grimes, Jane Yolen, Pat Mora, and Janet Wong, this ensemble is sure to resonant with readers.  The artwork, by Chris Soentpiet, is equally captivating, and adds beautiful visuals to the feelings evoked by the poetry. 


The poetry brought forth on the pages of Amazing Faces is well-chosen and create a short, simple, message that while eliciting much emotion, creates a sense of brotherhood among all people.  Young readers will identify very closely with many of the topics in the poems.  From feeling alone at school to sitting and listening to a grandparent share stories, these poems give readers opportunities to find themselves lost in reverie about their own life experiences.  Several of the poems follow the A-B pattern, while others have rhythm that appeals to young readers.  For example, the bilingual poem “Me x 2” “Yo x 2” by Jane Medina

ME x 2

I read times two.

I write times two.

I think, I dream,

    I cry times two.


I laugh times two.

I’m right times two.

I sing, I ask,

    I try times two.


I do twice as much

    As most people do.

‘Cause most speak one,

   But I speak two!


Yo x 2


Leo por dos.

Escribo por dos.

Pienso y sueno

    Y lloro por dos.


Yo rio por dos.

Grito por dos.

Canto, pregunto,

    Intento por dos.


Hago mucho mas,

    Que hancen todos ellos,

Porque yo hablo dos:

    Lo doble que aquellos.

Jane Medina

This poem is a beautiful example of the experience that many English Language Learners live each day in the United States. Our district has an AP Spanish for Native Speakers class, and I think this poem would make an excellent introduction at the beginning of the year.   Through this poem, I could introduce the students to all the ways the library could be of use to them throughout the school year highlighting various collections in the library that would be helpful to them.

Finally, Hopkins concludes with a poem by Langston Hughes that sums up the collection beautifully.

My People

The night is beautiful,

So are the faces of my people.


The stars are beautiful,

So are the eyes of my people.


Beautiful, also, is the sun.

Beautiful, also, are the souls of my people.

Langston Hughes

Hopkins could not have chosen a better poem than “My People” to sum up this collection.  The use of this poem creates a sense of unity between all people.  Chris Soentpiet’s portrait includes various “characters” from previous poems to further give personification to Hughes’ poem.  Together with the artwork (for this poem and others), the poem concludes the collection in a thoughtful, purposeful way. 





Adedjouma, Davida. 1996.  The Palm of My Heart:  Poetry by African American Children.  Ill. By Gregory Christie. New York:  Lee & Low Books, Inc.  ISBN  1880000415


The Palm of My Heart:  Poetry by African American Children is a collection of poetry written by children who participated in Writing Between the Lines workshops.   This compilation of poetry gives authentic voices of what it is to be Black.  With a picture book feel, poems are enhanced with colorful, strong, and simple artwork in acrylic and colored pencils that work alongside the poetry to give a stunning visual account of Black culture in America.


Brought together through a series of workshops called Writing Between the Lines, this anthology gives readers a glimpse of how African American children view themselves within the social label of “Black”. 

To give a sense of strength and boldness, Adedjouma uses the word “Black” in a large, bolded font that stands out on almost every page of the book.   The children’s thoughts and feelings about this social label are evident in their seemingly simple, yet complex poetry.

This anthology would be an excellent teaching tool, when working with students on writing free poetry or developing voice in their writing.  As the words are spoken, you can feel the empowerment that the children must have experienced while writing these poems.   This is evident in the words of Andreya Renee Allen:
Black is beautiful

Black is me

Black is the color

          can’t you see


blue is nice,

And orange is neat

But they can’t compete


Black is beautiful

Black is me

Tall, dark, and wonderful


Andreya Renee Allen

After reading several pieces of poetry from this collection, students could be invited to create poems that explore a piece of their identity in free verse form.  This collection would serve as an excellent example of creating a class anthology of poetry.   Finally, included is an end page that gives more information about the poets.  When they were born, what their hobbies are, and what they hope to be when they grow up are all captured in short vignettes.




Dakos, Kalli. 1996.  The Goof Who Invented Homework and Other School Poems.  Ill. By Denise Brunkus. New York:  Dial Books for Young Readers.  ISBN  083719280


The Goof Who Invented Homework and Other School Poems by Kalli Dakos is a fun collection that could feasibly stay on the teacher’s desk the entire school year, as he or she could refer to it all year.  Opening with a lament by school supplies personified in the beginning pages and closing with a poem from a teacher who is retiring, this collection mirrors the happenings that take place on any given campus in any given school year.   The simple black and white illustrations for each poem add character, without dominating the text on each page. 

What better way to build camaraderie between teachers and students than to make fun of the very thing with which they have a love/hate relationship:  school!  Through Kalli Dakos’s poetry, students and teachers alike can take a break from the day to day trappings of life at school and laugh (and, sometimes cry) a little.  There are few page breaks, and a new poem begins shortly after the previous ends.  Denise Brunkus’s illustrations are fairly basic and give readers a simple symbol with which to associate the poem.

Dakos does a great job identifying the anxieties that come with testing.  Several poems could be used prior to testing time that could give students an opportunity to find some humor in the testing situation while having the opportunity to express themselves by modeling poetry.  The next two poems could be used as a stress reducing exercise while encouraging kids to write about their feelings about testing.

A Few Words From Your Test

What am I?

A razor-sharp hatchet.

Ready to chop

Off your head

With one blow,

And serve it

On a silver platter

To your teacher

. . . . and your parents.


Teachers could also use the poem, “Lucky” as a mentor text for students to model.  Students could write a poem of appreciation to a teacher, parent, or someone special. 


Out of all the galaxies

In the universe,

I live in

the Milky Way.


Out of all the planets

In our solar system,

I live on

Planet Earth.


Out of all the teachers

In the world,

I have

Ms. Hogan

Lucky. . .

Just lucky.