One of the universally dreaded assignments in my high school’s third-year English curriculum was the memorization of a monologue, soliloquy, or sonnet written by William Shakespeare. To this day, I can recite the lines I learned and I’m grateful I had to commit them to memory.
Lately there has been renewed interest in the memorization of poetry with the publication of books such as Caroline Kennedy’s Poems to Learn by Heart (Disney Press, 2013) and Mary Ann Hoberman’s Forget-Me-Nots: Poems to Learn by Heart (Little, Brown, 2012). And, while memorization is not required, some sites such as the Poetry Foundation’s, welcome people to record and share a poem.
For those with an iOS device, there are two new productions featuring verse that can’t be missed. The first challenges listeners to learn the selections (with recording options), while the second will have them returning again and again to the featured poems, learning them in the process. Whether introducing poetry to children and teens inside or outside the classroom, we hope you and your students will discover as our reviewer Chris Gustafson did, that, “The game of poetry is unexpectedly satisfying.”
The stickiness of Poems by Heart (Inkle/Penguin Group USA; Free, $.99 per additional add-on bundle; Gr 7 Up) isn’t in the modest selection of well-known poems, or the serviceable male and female narrators who will read them aloud to you. It’s not the pleasant design or the intuitive navigation. It’s the surprising realization that you want to memorize poetry! Tap the tempting blinking triangle labeled “Learn this” and you find yourself choosing words from a box to fill in the missing words of the poem, line by line. Your mistakes will be instantly corrected and you’ll get a score for your progress stanza by stanza. Want to try again? You can, you’ll do better, and you’ll get a higher score. Soon, you’ll know the poem by heart, and you can record yourself reciting the poem you memorized.
The free app comes with two poems, and additional thematic four-poem “bundles” (adventures, romantic, Elizabethan, odes, love. Gothic tales, early innovations) are available for purchase. Each poem is labeled for level of difficulty. Selections range from Edward Lear’s “The Owl and the Pussy-Cat” and Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” to Walt Whitman’s “O Captain! My Captain!” and Emily Dickinson’s “This is my Letter to the World.” The game of poetry is unexpectedly satisfying. —Chris Gustafson, Whitman Middle School Library Teacher, Seattle School District, WA.
Eds. note: Be sure to watch this video about Poems by Heart.
Have you ever lamented the fact that insightful yet accessible poems for children are hard to come by? If yes, then A Word’s a Bird: Spring Flies by in Rhymes (Syntonie, $2.99; PreS-Gr 4), may just be the app for you. Written by award-winning author/poet, Orel Protopopescu, this four-poem collection introduces children to the power of language by encouraging them to explore metaphors through sight, sound, and touch.
The first selection illuminates the collection’s title. The three poems that follow offer unusual, and playful, glimpses into the natural world during the spring months. “May,” for example, opens with a text scroll descending toward a cardinal pecking in a meadow. The words, “A bloom’s a room/you seek/when you want/to sneak a peek/at nectar sippers,” are highlighted, one by one, as they are read aloud. Both English and French narrations are available. A tap to a scroll and the verse replays, while a touch to an underlined word brings forth a definition. For “May,” readers and listeners learn that “nectar sippers” refers to insects and “a bloom” is “another way to say a flower.” Clearing the scroll from the screen brings the scene to life through animation and interactivity. In this case, the cardinal flies to a garden of closed peonies, an inchworm creeps out from under a leaf and retreats when spotted by the bird, and the “blooms” open to “rooms” and reveal “nectar sipper” bees hiding inside. So clever!
The hand-painted watercolor illustrations lovingly created by Jeanne B. de Sainte Marie portray a bright and idyllic world of duck ponds, lily pads, and weeping willows. Realistic sounds of insects, frogs, and even snoring bees abound. Hidden surprises include “shoot flutes” that can be tapped to play notes and sails that can be touched to summon up the wind. Navigation, primarily pulls, pushes, taps and swipes, is highly intuitive. A delightful (and informative) short video on the creation of the app and the illustrations plays against a jazzy tune.—Kathleen S. Wilson, NYU/Tisch School of the Arts, New York, NY
For additional app reviews, visit SLJ’s Touch and Go webpage.
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