Monday, March 22, 2010

Love That Dog, Hate That Cat

Poetry isn't always the easiest thing to teach to kids.  Heck, it isn't always the easiest thing to teach to adults either.  Most people can easily enjoy simple rhymes and clear word pictures, but anything slightly more abstract is harder to grasp.  Shannon Creech took this concept, the challenge of learning poetry, and turned it into two books of freestyle verse about a boy, Jack, and his exposure to poetry.  Love that Dog is the first book and takes the reader through the process of watching Jack learn to enjoy and write his own poetry.  His teacher, Miss Stretchberry, knows her stuff and doesn't coddle her students with easy poetry like Jack Prelutsky or Shel Silverstein.  Not that enjoying those poets is a bad thing, but it's much harder to grasp William Carlos Williams when you're only ten years old, like Jack is.

Told in freestyle verse in the forms of notes to his teacher, Jack goes from hesitant and suspicious of this poetry business, to finding his own voice and expression.  He decides to emulate the poet Walter Dean Myers and make a poem about his beloved dog, Sky.  The reader gets hints about Jack's dog and his tenderness towards him, but not the whole story of what happened to the dog until later in the book.  When I finally reached the end where Jack presents his poem about Sky, I burst into tears.  Creech does an amazing job of guiding us through Jack's process in expressing his love for his dog and by the time you reach that poem, you ache for that little boy and his loss.  It was a beautiful book.  It reminded me of all the poems I learned about in the course of my public school education and how much they meant to me when I learned to understand them.  The book is a fast read, but would be great as a read-aloud as a family.  At the end of the book, Creech includes the poems that Miss Stretchberry taught to her class and that would a great starting point in discussing poetry to kids.  It's on my list of books to read to my kids.

In Hate That Cat, Jack is back at school the next year and learning more poetry.  It's more of the same, but not redundant.  The reader gets to learn more about Jack's family and their new addition.  You get to read a bit more about his stubborn Uncle Bill who believes that all poetry must have meter and rhyme.  What a stick-in-the-mud.  It wasn't as moving as Love That Dog, but I still enjoyed it and would definitely read that to my kids right after the first.

This is a great way to expose kids to non-rhyming, freestyle and more abstract poetry.  After all, if you start young it only gets easier with time.  Next, I'll be convincing you all to start playing opera to your family.  Seriously, it's awesome.  I'll find a way to get everybody hooked one of these days.


  1. What an ambitious and creative premise for a book! I love poetry and am impressed not only that Creech would attempt such a project, but would -- according to your review -- be so successful at it. My curiosity is definitely piqued!

  2. I'm excited to check this out!! Alan is one of those people who thinks all poetry must rhyme. I have always loved free verse. I can't wait to check these out!!!