February 24, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Poetry Audiobooks | Listen In

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April is National Poetry Month, a time to celebrate the glorious, dramatic, emotional flow of words that make up poetic forms from haiku to free verse to sweeping epics of gods and heroes. This is our opportunity to show students that poetry is meant to be heard. To that end, we’ve compiled a list of outstanding poetry audiobooks across the K-12 spectrum. You’ll find several poets laureate who read their own work, as well as other memorable poems narrated by exceptional voice actors. Since poetry meshes with many current learning standards and curricula, we have included an assortment of instructional strategies to extend the poetry you share with your students.

early elementary

Grimes, Nikki. Words With Wings. CD. 30 min. Recorded Books. Apr. 2014. $15.75. ISBN 9781490609676.

Gr 4-8 –Mutiyat Adu-Salu narrates this free-verse story of family, school, and life changes with age-appropriate voicing. Heartbroken by her parents’ separation and unhappy in a new school, Gabby retreats into her daydreams, a source of comfort and creativity. Ignored as a “weird” kid, Gabby is fortunate to have a teacher who recognizes her daydreams as a vehicle to her writing, freeing her to express her singular self. Adu-Salu’s conversational tone highlights the effective repetition of words driving the narrative, demonstrating the sounds and rhythms that are a hallmark of poetry.
Grimes’s website, the Poetry Zone, features tips on writing poetry, audio clips of the author reading her own works, and a number of engaging activities directly addressed to studens. The Teacher Tips section provides additional resources for using poetry with today’s youth.

Singer, Marilyn. A Full Moon Is Rising. CD with hardcover book. 33 min. Live Oak Media. 2013. $31.95. ISBN 9781430114413.

Gr 2-5 –Poems exploring full-moon celebrations around the world take listeners to various locations including New York City, Morocco, China, Turkey, Canada, and Australia. Each poem highlights an event, from the simplest reflection of the moon on the ocean to a lunar eclipse in Mali. Julia Cairns’s lively watercolor illustrations portray the various countries and perspectives, while the narration, featuring multiple voices and culturally representative background music, further enhances the listening. The combination of poetry, geography, and science makes this an excellent classroom selection.
This read-along will surely inspire further investigation of the Earth’s moon. The Lunar and Planetary Institute’s site incorporates images, maps, and resources about U.S. lunar missions from before the Apollo landings to the present.

Updike, John. A Child’s Calendar. CD with paperback book. 12 min. Live Oak Media. 2004. $19.95. ISBN 9781591129318.

Gr K-2 –Updike’s elegant, understated text describes seasonal changes and activities in 12 poems. Trina Schart Hyman’s charming watercolor illustrations feature a multiracial cast in rural New England, complementing Updike’s quiet, evenly paced narration, which allows students to follow along with the poetic text.
Pair this title with poet Donald Hall’s reading of Ox-Cart Man (Live Oak Media, 1984), with Caldecott Medal-winning illustrations by Barbara Cooney, to spark a lively Common Core comparison of living according to the seasons in the 19th and 20th centuries.

middle school

Lai, Thanhha. Inside Out and Back Again. 2 CDs. 2:30 hrs. Recorded Books. 2012. $25.75. ISBN 9781464020889.

Gr 5-8 –Lai’s award-winning free verse saga of leaving Vietnam to live in America is narrated with fluent grace and cultural accuracy by Doan Ly. When they flee the fall of Saigon, Ha, her mother, and brothers end up in Alabama and struggle to acclimate to life in the Deep South without friends in unfamiliar surroundings. Poems and narration profoundly express the harsh realities of the immigrant experience.
Primary source material about Vietnamese immigration will enhance lessons on the Vietnam War as well as those about American society. These articles on the difficulties of coming to America will pair nicely with discussions about Ha’s experiences: From Refugees to Americans: Thirty Years of Vietnamese Immigration to the United States, The History of Vietnamese Immigration, and Vietnamese Americans.

Lewis, J. Patrick. When Thunder Comes: Poems for Civil Rights Leaders. 2 CDs with hardcover book. 30 min. Recorded Books. 2013. $37.75. ISBN 9781470369989.

Gr 5-8 –Narrators Corey Allen, Jennifer Ikeda, T. Ryder Smith, and Myra Lucretia Taylor deliver stirring poems by a former U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate. The selections shine a light on civil rights leaders around the world, including Coretta Scott King, Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi, and Mohandas Gandhi. The work of these remarkable individuals shines through the robust narration and unique paintings rendered by five stellar illustrators. This is an inspiring audio for older students.
Those who are motivated to conduct further research may find these resources useful: The Civil Rights Era in the U.S. News & World Report Photographs Collection; a brief history of Mohandas Gandhi; profile and time line of Suu Kyi’s life and work; and a Time for Kids article and photo slideshow of Nelson Mandela’s life.

Myers, Walter Dean. Here in Harlem: Poems in Many Voices. 2 CDs. 1:30 hrs. Live Oak Media. 2010. $22.95. ISBN 9781430109303.

Gr 6 Up –This work blends literary merit, performance excellence, and audio embellishments. The lovely background jazz and introduction read by Myers highlight evocative poems exploring the lives of Harlem residents. A wide range of characters are brought to life by a talented full cast. A sure hit with students and educators.
Harlem One Stop offers historical cultural tours featuring the residence of Langston Hughes, the Apollo Theater, and the Abyssinian Baptist Church, all with significant Harlem roots.
Resources and information about one of the most famous aspects of Harlem history and culture can be found at the National Jazz Museum. Students can explore current exhibits and collections online and schools can arrange visits and tours.

high school

Collins, Billy. Aimless Love: A Selection of Poems. CD. 1:30 hrs. Books on Tape. 2013. $20. ISBN 9780385366397.

Gr 10 Up –U.S. Poet Laureate Collins (2001-2003) narrates his own work with deep vocal timbre and solemn pacing. His poems focus on small details of daily life–a mouse, riding on a train, an old typewriter, and even Cheerios. The real power of this audio work is the poet’s ability to elicit clear images of the ephemeral with a delivery that places focus on the words. The last poem, “The Names,” is a striking memorial to lives lost on 9/11.
The Library of Congress has a complete listing of the U.S. poets laureate, from 1937 until the present. Short biographies of each poet are listed with links to additional information about them.

Homer. The Iliad. 15 CDs. 18 hrs. S. & S. Audio. $49.99. ISBN 9781442347311.

Gr 10 Up –Alfred Molina’s impeccable pacing and subtle inflections, paired with powerful narrative styling, make Stephen Mitchell’s translation of this iconic epic poem an exciting listening experience. Mitchell has garnered quite a bit of controversy by employing coarse, contemporary language, making this perfect for comparing and contrasting with more traditional translations of Homer’s story of Greek gods, love, and war.
To lighten the lesson a bit, offer students the opportunity to watch these documentaries about Helen and the Trojan War. Digging for the Truth: Troy—Of Gods and Warriors From History Essentials, hosted by Josh Bernstein, searches for the facts behind Homer’s story of the Mycenaean Greeks and their Trojan adversaries. (A & E, 2009). In the documentary In Search of the Real Helen of Troy, Oxford professor Bettany Hughes shares facts about Helen and her times.

Wein, Elizabeth. Rose Under Fire. 8 CDs. 11:30 hrs. Brilliance Audio. 2013. $59.97. ISBN 9781743169568.

Gr 8 Up –Close to the end of World War II, RAF air transport pilot Rose Justice is imprisoned at Ravensbrück, the infamous Nazi concentration camp. Writing poetry helps keep hope alive for Rose and her fellow inmates. Her experiences and relationships with the guards and other prisoners are explored in poems with themes of resilience, tragedy, and survival. Natasha Pick’s memorable narration includes French, Polish, and Russian accents, moving readings of Rose’s poems, and even a few songs. This companion to Code Name Verity (Brilliance Audio, 2012) clearly and compellingly stands alone.
Further information about the horrors of Ravensbrück can be found on the website of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., where photographs and personal histories are documented.

Sharon Grover is Head of Youth Services at the Hedberg Public Library, Janesville, WI. Lizette (Liz) Hannegan was a school librarian and the district library supervisor for the Arlington (VA) Public Schools before her retirement.

This article was published in School Library Journal's April 2014 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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