Spectacular Lee

If you are a frequenter of Poetry Friday, you know that today is the birthday of a champion of children’s Poetry (with a capital P!)—Lee Bennett Hopkins. And if you are a reader of children’s poetry, you no doubt have been delighted by Lee’s many poetry anthologies.

To celebrate Lee’s birthday, I’m going to continue my April project of reviewing a book each Friday and using it to inspire my own writing. I’ve got several Hopkins anthologies on my shelf to choose from, but there’s one that holds a special place in my poetry heart– Spectacular Science, Lee’s 1999 anthology that celebrates science. When I first explored combining my nonfiction bent with children’s poetry, I read and reread Spectacular Science. Study this book and you’ll find the works of master poets, from Valerie Worth to Carl Sandberg, writing about topics that speak to the curiosity of both scientists and children.

I had the good fortune to hear Lee speak via Skype a couple of years ago at The Craft and Heart of Writing Poetry for Children, a Highlights Foundation workshop led by Rebecca Kai Dotlich and Georgia Heard. Lee spoke about how to put heart in a poem: “I’m interested in giving children beauty. I want kids to feel something, to have emotion…. As a poet you want to expand their view, to get them to look up.”

Spectacular Science certainly succeeds in expanding the reader’s view and getting them to look up, down, and all around. Kids are naturally scientists—they observe their world and ask questions. The poems in this book are brimming with observation and wonder. They invite a reader to look closely at everything from microscopic organisms to the stars. Consider “Under the Microscope,” by Lee Bennett Hopkins, which celebrates both microscope and creatures it allows us to see:

Some of the poems ask questions that capture a child’s curiosity about what they observe, like Aileen Fisher’s “The Seed:”

Others explore the sense of wonder that inspires scientists and young people alike. Alice Schertle’s “Dinosaur Bone” is one of my all-time favorite poems.

This quote from Bernice Cullinan which Sylvia Vardell posted on her Poetry for Children blog this week addresses how poetry and science are made for one another.

Every poem in this collection is a model of clear-eyed observation, wonder, and delightful language. I hope I’ve whet your appetite with a few selections from Spectacular Science . If you aim to write science poetry, you owe it to yourself to find a copy of this book and pore over its contents.

Revisiting Spectacular Science (along with dreaming about spring finally reaching Michigan!) provided inspiration for a poem I wrote this week:

Spring Questions

How does a robin weave a nest
where eggs stay safe and snug?
How does a spider spin a web
that traps a hapless bug?

How does a beaver dam and shape
a stream into a lake?
Who digs the hole beneath your shrub—
a chipmunk or a snake?

Who taught raccoon to lift a latch
and plan his midnight caper?
Who taught a wasp to chomp a stem
and turn it into paper?

What will you learn when you watch and wonder,
ponder the questions here?
What can you make when you weave and spin,
construct and engineer?
— ©Buffy Silverman, 2018

Head over to Life on the Deckle Edge where Robyn is hosting a birthday party and poetry celebration!

18 thoughts on “Spectacular Lee

  1. Hi Buffy! This is a spectacular post on this book, which I’m embarrassed to say is unknown to me. But then, Lee is the creative genius behind so many for me to catch up to. Understanding nature, the seasons, the forces of science that we need to survive, in a lyrical way is crucial for our student’s future & their students’ future. Thank you.

  2. Terrific, Buffy! I, too, chose “Spectacular Science” to zoom my microscope lens in on for our special tribute to Lee. Brenda Harsham nudged me in the direction of this wonderful anthology. And what wonder-ful wonders you wove into “Spring Questions.”

  3. Oh, Buffy, your poem makes me want to go outside and explore. Thank you for this celebration of Lee and the poem you were inspired to write.

  4. I have many of Lee’s books, but not this one! I’m glad you shared so many poems from it, and always love Alice Schertle’s poems/books, too. Your poem is a lovely intro to questions for children, us, too, and that ever-wandering curiosity that’s so good in the world. Thanks, Buffy!

  5. Love this post, Buffy. Your review of Lee’s book is wonderful and I love the sample poems you shared, especially “Dinosaur Bone.”

    Enjoyed your fabulous poem too with its spot on questions. Reads so beautifully and brims with child-like wonder. Perfect!

  6. Hi Buffy, I like the questions you ask. They track the thoughts I have, although at least a few of the holes in the ground in my yard are from bunnies. 🙂 I hope you don’t mind me linking to your post, since you and Christie and I all wrote poetry inspired by Spectacular Science.

  7. Well, this POST is spectacular, Buffy – as is your poem. Such a terrific book, and it’s wonderful to read your thoughts about it – you’re one of my go-to science folks, you know! How many worlds has Lee opened up for young folks with his collections?

  8. Such a delightful spring question poem, Buffy! Sure to stir a child’s imagination. I love that you have How, Who, and What questions. And thank you for reviewing Spectacular Science.

  9. Wonderful post, Buffy! Spectacular Science is one of my favorites, too. I love your poem and all the possibilities presented in those last two questions! (Spring is slowly making her presence known here in CT; hope she arrives in Michigan soon!)

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