Archive for Poetry

Poem Depot: Aisles of Smiles

Written and illustrated by Douglas Florian

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Belly laughs and snickers will be heard from the fourth grade readers, fifth grade readers and sixth grade readers that carry this book on the bus or anywhere else they like to read. The poems are short, simple and catchy. They talk about the things kids enjoy: getting swallowed by an alligator, being hungry enough to eat the whole world or getting stuck in an overstuffed chair.

Douglas Florian clearly knows his readers and how to engage them with his words and his art.

Students will be using his sketches as models for learning how to make new drawings of their own.

Some of his poems start with the beginning lines of well-known nursery rhymes or often repeated poems, but he takes them off in a new, often humorous direction.

Teachers and librarians can use this fun example of poetry in meeting core curriculum goals and literacy skills. Art teachers can have students design their own sketches to go along with the poems. Students can use their favorite poems for their public speaking requirements and have fun doing them. Many of these will become often repeated verses learned by those pesky little brothers and sisters that we all love to make giggle.

  • Poem DepotTitle: Poem Depot: Aisles of Smiles
  • Author/Illustrator: Douglas Florian
  • Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers, 2014
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 154 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-8037-4042-6
  • Genre: Poetry
  • Grade level: 4 to 6
  • Extras: Index of Titles/ Index of First Lines

Dreary & Naughty: The ABC’s of Being Dead

Written by John LaFleur
Illustrated by Shawn Dubin

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It’s tough out there for a teen, especially when your dad’s the Grim Reaper. In this short story, written as a quatrain poem, we meet Dreary, a skeleton who frets about his future. He’d rather die than grow up to be like his dad, waving a scythe and ushering the dead to the underworld. He commiserates with his friend, Naughty, the daughter of Hade’s Gatekeeper. Dressed in a crop top and low-slung mini (to show off her devil tail), she rejects her laid-out future as well; she’s not convinced she wants to rule Hell. But, unlike Dreary, she has already broached the subject with her father, and she nudges her pal to do the same.

Mr. Death isn’t an easy sell, however. He reminds Dreary that he’s part of an important legacy and reviews the many facets, the A,B,C’s, if you will, of this grim job.


A is for arsenic, quite subtle you know.

B is for band saw, no new head will grow.

C is for cudgel, for striking a blow.

D is for dungeon, a process that’s slow.


And so on, all the way to Z. Dreary can’t be convinced; he wants no part of this Reaper business. Later, when he meets up with his friends, War, Famine, and Pestilence, it turns out they all suffer from the I-gotta-be-me blues (Famine whines to his dad that he just wants a chimichanga). Whether Mr. Death ultimately gives Dreary his blessing is left a mystery, but the overall message, albeit heavy-handed, is clear: life is short, so follow your heart.

LaFleur injects a lot of camp into this macabre tale, while Dubin breathes life into the ghoulish characters with his sufficiently creepy black and white watercolor illustrations. Reluctant readers may find the book’s brevity and subject matter appealing, while the poem’s rhyming scheme can bolster their comprehension and literacy skills. This is the third title in the Dreary & Naughty series. For other titles, see the publisher’s website:

  • ABCs of Being DeadTitle: Dreary & Naughty: The ABC’s of Being Dead
  • Author: John LaFleur
  • Illustrator: Shawn Dubin
  • Publisher: Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., 2013
  • Reviewer: Lauren Abbey Greenberg
  • Hardcover: 72 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-7643-4496-1
  • Genre: Fiction / Poetry / Horror / Dark Humor

Poetry Rocks! Contemporary American Poetry

Written by Sheila Griffin Llanas

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Poetry inspires dread in the most intrepid of students. If reading literature is seen as a slog through heavy tomes, then reading poetry is walking the path wearing leaden shoes. Enslow’s Poetry Rocks! series works to tame that fear with books that describe both poet and poetry in simple, easy-to-understand language.

What gives such value to the book (and the series) is the chapter organization. Each chapter begins with a short biographical sketch that helps to place the work in the context of the poet’s life and answer the question why: why did the poet choose those particular topics and themes. Even poets who were contemporaneous didn’t write about the same subjects. We see that it is the life experiences that dictate the choice of topics.

One representative poem is subject to a detailed analysis: summary and explication, poetic techniques and themes. Middle school and high school students will benefit immensely from this reading of the techniques of literary analysis in a non-threatening manner. Armed with that knowledge they can work their way to an understanding of the poem, rather than putting away the book, frustrated at their lack of understanding of writing that is different from the prose works they are used to.

Each poet’s style is given its own analysis, creating easy reading activities and discussion points. The reader can discuss how one poet’s style is similar to, and differs from, another’s.  A few more poems are included (the number varies from poet to poet) and the discussion paragraph points to further questions to be considered. The chapter ends with a listing of the poet’s major works and a final paragraph on related poets, which helps to understand the poet’s cultural milieu.

The eleven contemporary American poets included in the book are Theodore Roethke, Elizabeth Bishop, William Stafford, Robert Lowell, Gwendolyn Brooks, Richard Wilbur, Allen Ginsburg, W.S. Merwin, Sylvia Plath, Billy Collins and Louise Gluck.

Chapter notes, a glossary, further reading suggestions and links to poetry sites comprise the back matter. “A poem is not the end but the beginning of an excursion.” This book is a good start to an excursion into the world of poetry.

  • Poetry RocksTitle: Poetry Rocks! Contemporary American Poetry
  • Author: Sheila Griffin Llanas
  • Publisher: Enslow Publishers, Inc., 2011
  • Reviewer: Anjali Amit
  • Paperback:  160 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-59845-380-5
  • Genre: Nonfiction, Literature

The Misadventures of Dreary & Naughty

Written by John LeFleur
Illustrated by Shawn Dubin

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Dreary and Naughty are new kids in school. How will the other students relate to them? After all, Dreary and Naughty aren’t your usual middle or high schoolers. Dreary is the son of the Grim Reaper and Naughty the daughter of the Devil. The parents have sent their children to a school for mortals to help Dreary and Naughty learn about the inhumanity of mortals.

Written in couplets and four line stanzas, the poem story is dedicated to “the misunderstood, the under-appreciated, the confused, the troubled, the anxiety ridden, the overlooked, and the lonely everywhere.” Dreary and Naughty are all of these, and the other high school students don’t know what to do about them for D & N are so unusual. The result is a story of bullying and hatred that end in what could be called “hate crimes.”

Black and white sketches illustrate the right side of each double-page. Only Dreary’s skull face shows under a hoodie; Naughty has haunting vacant eyes and wears edgy teen clothes. The homes of Dreary and Naughty are creepily made of bone and fire.

While an obvious lesson for numerous classroom or club discussions about divergent lifestyles and acceptance, and while it has the appearance of a picture book, it is definitely not for the young reader. The illustrations of the students in the school are very obviously middle or high school; the main characters are seductive and blatantly evil looking. The other students wear the usual school jackets and preppy outfits, but their thoughts and actions indicate they are prejudiced.

This is the first of a slightly revised version of a 2003 trilogy initially published by Dragonfly Books featuring Dreary and Naughty. In 2003, the book was ahead of its time, featuring characters not part of mainstream literature. A current, more open culture may be drawn via interest in the occult and paranormal.

  • MisadventuresTitle: The Misadventures of Dreary & Naughty
  • Author: John LeFleur
  • Illustrator: Shawn Dubin
  • Publisher: Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., 2013
  • Reviewer: Marion Mueller
  • Format: Hardcover, 58 pages
  • ISBN: 9780764344947
  • Genre: Poetry