Guest Interview & Giveaway: Cookies for Breakfast? Janet Wong & Sylvia Vardell on Children’s Poetry

By Mysterious Anonymous Interviewer

An anonymous interviewer sat down this week with Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell to ask some “unusual” questions…

Is Poetry Month a good idea? I mean, by the end of April, aren’t a lot of people sick of poetry?

JW: For many people, having something—anything—every day for a month is too much. You might love cookies, but by the 20th day you’ve had enough.

SV: Having a poetry post like this one– in May— is a terrific way to increase support for poetry.

JW: It’s like having cookies for breakfast.

Cookies for breakfast? I know some kids who could get behind that. Seriously, poetry is sweet and all, but do we really need (so much of) it?

JW: Well, do we need cookies? They make us happy. Your mom gives you one, and you know you are loved. They make us feel like a child again. You can can devour it in 15 seconds or stick one in your pocket for later.

SV: And there’s such a wide variety– something for everyone. The key to keeping poetry fresh and appealing is to change things up. For example, you can use props when you share poems aloud, bring students in for an echo read, use poems to start a social studies lesson or to reinforce a science concept, or show poem movies. (Look for the poem movies posted on my blog each day last month.)

JW: Yes! We need to serve up a variety of poems, and serve them in different ways.

Image source: by:, public domain, via usa.go

Monday’s cookie (chocolate chip) with milk = poem movie

Tuesday’s cookie (shortbread) with hot chocolate = poems for your pocket

Wednesday (snickerdoodle) with ice cream = poem with a science lesson

Thursday (gluten free mini-macarons) with tea = writing a progressive poem

Friday (sugar with icing) = a whole “Take 5!” from The Poetry Friday Anthology!

What’s a “Take 5!”?

JW: It’s like a takeout dinner: good and easy and ready-to-serve and exactly what you need when you are a tired teacher who needs to deal with ELA standards. Sylvia is the genius behind the “Take 5!” mini-lessons in The Poetry Friday Anthology series, so I’ll let her explain.

SV: A “Take 5!” mini-lesson is provided for each poem in the Teacher’s Editions of our anthologies, to provide a simple and consistent way to share poems with students, emphasizing enjoyment of the poem but also covering the CCSS or state standards (such as TEKS). These are the five components of the “Take 5!”:

  1. The first step in sharing a poem is to read it aloud to the students. Experiment with different ways of making the poem come alive by pairing the poem with a prop, adding gestures or movement, trying out specific choral and dramatic reading techniques, and so on.
  2. The second step suggests how to engage students in reading the poem aloud together. There are many ways to involve students in large groups, small groups, partner pairs, and as single volunteers. One example is echo reading, asking them to repeat certain words or lines after the teacher reads the lines.
  3. The third step in sharing a poem is to provide a moment for students to respond to the poem. Try an open-ended question with no single, correct answer and encourage diversity in responses. Ask a question suggested BY the poem, rather than a question about the poem.
  4. The next natural step is to focus on a specific science skill or concept that may be present in the poem– just one. This includes the key state standards or CCSS/NGSS disciplinary core ideas. Any given poem may demonstrate many of these ideas, but it is best to focus on one key element that is particularly significant for one mini-lesson per poem.
  5. Finally, in this last step we share other related poems and books that connect well with the featured poem. Look for another poem by the same poet, another poem about the same subject, or a related book of nonfiction.

These steps can be applied to any poem in any book for a quick and meaningful way to introduce and integrate poetry and science, building literacy in incidental, but intentional ways.

Wow–thank you, Dr. Vardell!

JW: I think it’s easier just to say that a “Take 5!” is like takeout fried poems (which you can eat while reading this).

I see that you do like food metaphors. Final question: What advice do you have for parents, teachers, and librarians who want to keep kids reading this summer?

SV: Science is the summer reading theme at many public libraries across the nation this summer– and poetry is a perfect complement. Poems can enrich science learning, be part of science instruction, offer content-rich poetry lessons in reading and language arts, or simply provide fun poetry sharing.

A parent, teacher, or librarian can use the index found in poetry books such as The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science (or any of the science books listed in the science-themed bibliography of The Poetry Teacher’s Book of Lists) to identify relevant science topics in poems such as ecosystems, magnets, or recycling.

In sharing science-focused poetry, we can encourage children to think like a poet and a scientist, carefully observing the world around them using all their senses, maintaining an avid curiosity about how things work, and gathering “big words” and key vocabulary in their reading and their writing.

As Albert Einstein reminds us,

“Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.”

JW: Yes. Absolutely. (What she said!)

Cynsational Notes & Giveaway

Sylvia Vardell is a professor in the School of Library and Information Studies at Texas Woman’s University in Denton, Texas. Janet Wong is a poet/author who lives in Princeton, New Jersey. Together, they are Pomelo Books, the publisher of The Poetry Friday Anthology series.

Enter to win one of three copies of the teacher’s edition of The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science: Poems for the School Year Integrating Science, Reading and Language Arts (each will include a complimentary copy of a student edition). Publisher sponsored. Eligibility: U.S.

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7 thoughts on “Guest Interview & Giveaway: Cookies for Breakfast? Janet Wong & Sylvia Vardell on Children’s Poetry

  1. Recently I've become a big Bill Nye fan but really there isn't a scientist whose work I don't enjoy and respect. Thanks for the chance to win this cool book.

  2. Carl Scott: I love Bill Nye too–watched dozens of his videos while doing research for The PFA for Science! Another scientist to follow is Ainissa Ramirez. Her book NEWTON'S FOOTBALL is great summer reading for teens or adults who love science and football. (I'm giving one to my son, a physics/engineering student who is glued to the TV every Sunday during football season.)

  3. I already bought the Poetry Friday Anthology for our school library and love it. I've shared it with my teachers. Integrating science is a great idea. I look forward to seeing this edition whether I win it or get it later. Thanks!

  4. Oops! I always forget to look in the rafflecopter for what I am supposed to be posting. *blushes* Okay, my favorite scientist would have to be Jane Goddall. Bill Nye is way up there too along with Neil deGrasse Tyson. It's too difficult to choose just one. 🙂

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