when you are trying
not to think about something
it keeps popping back
into your head.
You can’t help it
you think about it
think about it
and think about it
until your brain
feels like a squashed pea.”
Jack hates poetry. He doesn’t want to read it, and he certainly doesn’t want to write it. However, he is in the same situation as many children: you do not get to choose what you want to do in school. And so, in a series of assigned poems over the course of a school year, Jack dutifully records his feelings. In the beginning, they’re short and grumpy poems, like “I tried. Can’t do it. Brain’s empty” or “I don’t want to because boys don’t write poetry. Girls do.” However, once he reads the poems of Walter Dean Myers, who is 1) not a girl and 2) not writing about roses and romance or wheelbarrows, Jack begins to feel differently. He begins to write about the death of his beloved dog in poem form. He even musters up the bravery, with his teacher’s encouragement, to ask Walter Dean Myers to visit his school. Poems? They may not be so bad after all.
Does anyone remember the William Carlos Williams poem about the red wheelbarrow?
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
As a young child, that poem filled me with rage. Really?! I thought. You’ve got to be kidding me. You know what? No. So much does NOT depend on wheelbarrows. Why am I reading this? I’ll admit it freely, friends. Until someone taught me about symbolism and brevity and the distilled emotions of poetry, I had absolutely no patience or interest in it. (Now, I am a happy subscriber to the Poetry Foundation magazine and spend many hours reading poems-that’s the truth! I even became a literature major-there is hope for all you who do not yet love poetry!) Anyway, when Jack opens his book with a complaint about the wheelbarrow, I laughed out loud! In an authentic voice, Jack manages to display his distaste for poetry, but creates some very moving poems while doing so.
The best part of this book is its intertextuality-a fancy word that means “references to other books”. Not only does Jack chronicle his appreciation for the young adult superstar author, Walter Dean Myers, he also discusses several famous and important poems. These poems are included in the back of the book, so you can read them, too. The book is like a bunch of arrows pointing to other great books and poets and authors, so it makes you want to read more! This is an excellent way to introduce a poetry unit in the classroom because it acknowledges the common complaints against poetry, discusses why poetry is important (without preaching, friends, because you know that is really something I can’t bear in a book-kids smell that a mile away!), and then gives us some clues for new things to read. Furthermore, anyone who has ever lost a pet will be moved by Jack’s poems about his dog.
Author’s website: http://www.sharoncreech.com
Creech, Sharon. Love that Dog. HarperCollins: New York, 2001. 86 pp. Ages 8-12.
If you liked this book, and it made you crazy for poetry and now you want to read it all the time, like me, you might want to try the sequel to this book, called Hate that Cat. Home of the Brave is a poem-story about a young Sudanese refugee settling in Minnesota, and Out of the Dust is the story of a young girl living in Oklahoma during the Great Depression. And of course, everyone should read everything Walter Dean Myers has ever written!