Pets & Poetry by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong
As we watch the news reports of the impact of hurricanes, flooding, and storms across our country, we’re united in our concern for neighbors or strangers affected by these disasters. Scenes of help and rescue are inspiring, and glimpses of pets reunited with their families are heartwarming and reassuring. At times like these, the beloved animals in our lives bring us such comfort and healing. And many psychologists and therapists are beginning to see the value of contact with animals for people of all ages, including children in classrooms and libraries. Therapy groups have used animals to motivate and comfort students for decades, but lately we’ve noticed more stories about reading to a wider-than-ever variety of animals—and even sleepover parties for stuffed animals at public libraries.
Our latest creative writing venture focuses entirely on pets and the special bond we have with the dogs and cats (and other animals) in our lives. It’s entitled Pet Crazy: A Poetry Friday Power Book, the newest in an interactive poetry-reading-writing series that features twelve PowerPacks of poems + activities with anchor poems by Kristy Dempsey, Helen Frost, Janice Harrington, Eric Ode, Laura Shovan, Eileen Spinelli, Elizabeth Steinglass, Don Tate, Padma Venkatraman, April Halprin Wayland, Carole Boston Weatherford, and Tamera Will Wissinger. Those anchor poems are woven together into a story with twenty-four response poems written by Janet Wong in the voices of three child characters—Ben, Kristy, and Daniel. And each PowerPack begins and ends with playful game-like activities that invite children to think, respond, and write.
Here are a few poems from Pet Crazy: A Poetry Friday Power Book that you can share to get young readers and writers thinking about the pets and animals they love and how sharing a book together can be a fun and meaningful activity—especially during tough times. Elizabeth Steinglass’s anchor poem “Book Hound,” an acrostic poem about reading to a dog, is followed by the response poem “READING” by Janet, in the voice of Kristy, about a Reading Rabbit.
Those two poems are followed by “WRITING,” a poem in the voice of Daniel that serves as a mentor poem for a Power2You writing prompt so that aspiring writers can also try creating an acrostic poem of their own. Each of these poems helps kids think about how sharing a book with an animal (a pet or a stuffed animal), can be a fun and reassuring activity.
Reading to Animals
Is your school or library ready for a furry, four-legged, finned, or flapping “reading buddy”? Could a stuffed animal on your bookshelf inspire students to read—and write—more confidently? If you would like to investigate whether a therapy animal program could work at your school or library, here are some websites from Pet Crazy that provide an overview of programs that might be available—or could be started—in your area. Check with your local library to see if they already have programs like this up and running. (See Internet Resources for website addresses.)
This site provides many photos and tips on how to get started, including a “Responsible Dog Owners Pledge with a test that will help families understand the requirements of a therapy dog.
The Intermountain Therapy Animals R.E.A.D. (Reading Education Assistance Dog) program is a central resource with a useful bibliography of professional resources on therapy animals and reading achievement.
This is a program in low-income neighborhoods in Chicago with trained volunteers and Certified Reading Assistance Dogs; one unique element is its poetry-specific program “Poetry Pals.”
Tail Waggin’ Tutors
Therapy Dogs International has a model program described at their website.
Visiting Pet Program
The Visiting Pet Program, based in New Orleans, has a prominent “Reading to Rover” project and has been in existence for 30+ years.
More Pet Poetry
We’ve also featured pet poems in our other books in The Poetry Friday Anthology® series and in the Poetry Friday Power Book series. For example, in our first book, The Poetry Friday Anthology (K-5), there are wonderful dog poems like “Good dog! Bad dog!” by Jeannine Atkins, and “Spotty’s Tongue” by Betsy Franco, clever cat poems like “My Porcupine is Feeling Fine” by Kenn Nesbitt, and even a poem about pet fish in “Fish” by Joy Acey. In The Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School, the heartbreak of losing a beloved pet is beautifully conveyed in “For Bucky (Who Vanished Nov. 1 Without a Trace)” by Naomi Shihab Nye and in “He Was So Little” by David L. Harrison. Even in The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science, poets share their experiences with pets (with a science twist) in poems such as “A Dog’s Hypothesis: Zoey’s Guide to Getting More Goodies” by Susan Taylor Brown or “The Lion and the House Cat” by Mary Lee Hahn. And of course there are many special days to celebrate our love for our pets and animals in The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations, such as National Bird Day (January 5), National Pet Week (first week of May), and National Guide Dog Month (September) with special poems by Margarita Engle, Eric Ode, and Stephanie Calmenson. You can find twenty more pet poems from The Poetry Friday Anthology® series in digital poetry postcard form on Pinterest here: https://www.pinterest.com/pomelobooks/poems-about-animals-and-pets/
Pets are a popular topic for many poets who write for young people and you can locate many pet poetry collections at your local library. For example, look for these pet poetry books to share with the kids and pets in your life:
- Oh, Theodore! Guinea Pig Poems by Susan Katz (Clarion Books, 2007)
- Every Day’s a Dog’s Day: A Year in Poems by Marilyn Singer (Dial, 2012)
- Won Ton; A Cat Tale Told in Haiku and Won Ton and Chopstick: A Cat and Dog Tale Told in Haiku by Lee Wardlaw (Holt, 2011 and 2015)
- The Pet Project: Cute and Cuddly Vicious Verses by Lisa Wheeler (Atheneum, 2013)
Whether we’re reading about interesting animals or sharing a favorite book with a beloved pet, there’s a special kinship between humans and animals that teaches us about companionship, loyalty, responsibility, and love. Poets capture those moments and emotions in special ways that beg to be shared.
Here’s another pet poem from Pet Crazy just for fun. See if you can decode it!
One last thing . . . a GIVEAWAY!! If you’d like to have a chance to win a Reading (and Talking) Rabbit for your classroom or library: reblog, tweet, or mention this post on Facebook. Tag us (@PomeloBooks) if you can—or let us know in the comments where you shared this post—and check Sylvia Vardell’s Poetry for Children blog [link: https://poetryforchildren.blogspot.com] next Friday, September 15, to discover the winner!! [Reading Rabbit link: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B009JQNB3Y/ref=ox_sc_sfl_title_2?ie=UTF8&psc=1&smid=A3K56N2H9D8FMC]
CHILDREN’S BOOKS CITED
Vardell, S. & Wong, J. (2017). Pet crazy: A poetry Friday power book. Princeton, NJ: Pomelo Books.
Katz, Susan. 2007. Oh, Theodore! Guinea Pig Poems. New York: Clarion Books.
Singer, Marilyn, 2012. Every Day’s a Dog’s Day: A Year in Poems. New York: Dial.
Steinglass, E. (2017). “Book Hound.” In Vardell, S. & Wong, J. (2017). Pet Crazy: A poetry Friday power book. Princeton, NJ: Pomelo Books.
Vardell, S. M. and Wong, Janet. Eds. (2012). The poetry Friday anthology K-5: Poems for the school year with connections to the Common Core (or TEKS). Princeton, NJ: Pomelo Books.
Vardell, S. M. and Wong, Janet. Eds. (2013). The poetry Friday anthology for middle school: Poems for the school year with connections to the Common Core (or TEKS). Princeton, NJ: Pomelo Books.
Vardell, S. M. and Wong, Janet. Eds. (2014). The poetry Friday anthology for science: Poems for the school year integrating science, reading, and language arts. Princeton, NJ: Pomelo Books.
Vardell, S. M. and Wong, Janet. Eds. (2015). The poetry Friday anthology for celebrations: Holiday poems for the whole year in English and Spanish. Princeton, NJ: Pomelo Books.
Wardlaw, Lee. 2011. Won Ton; A Cat Tale Told in Haiku. Ill. by Eugene Yelchin. New York: Henry Holt.
Wardlaw, Lee. 2015. Won Ton and Chopstick: A Cat and Dog Tale Told in Haiku. Ill. by Eugene Yelchin. New York: Holt.
Wheeler, Lisa. 2013. The Pet Project: Cute and Cuddly Vicious Verses. Ill. by Zachariah OHora. New York: Atheneum.
Wong, J. (2017). “Daniel: WRITING.” In Vardell, S. & Wong, J. (2017). Pet crazy: A poetry Friday power book. Princeton, NJ: Pomelo Books.
Wong, J. (2017). “Kristy: READING.” In Vardell, S. & Wong, J. (2017). Pet crazy: A poetry Friday power book. Princeton, NJ: Pomelo Books.
Intermountain Therapy Animals R.E.A.D. (Reading Education Assistance Dog). http://www.therapyanimals.org/Research_%26_Results.html
Jimison, R. (2017). After a night at the library, stuffed animals help kids read. Retrieved from: http://www.cnn.com/2017/02/28/health/stuffed-animals-reading-study/index.html
Tail Waggin’ Tutors (Therapy Dogs International). http://www.tdi-dog.org/OurPrograms.aspx?Page=Children+Reading+to+Dogs
Visiting Pet Program. http://www.visitingpetprogram.org
Sylvia M. Vardell is Professor at Texas Woman’s University and teaches children’s and young adult literature. She has published five books on literature for young people, plus more than 25 book chapters and 100 journal articles. Her current work focuses on poetry for young people, including a blog, Poetry for Children. Her favorite pets are dogs and she’s had three of them (Luther, Yenta, and Caesar, each for many years), as well as Leonardo the tortoise, and Pecky the parakeet.
Janet S. Wong is a graduate of Yale Law School and a former lawyer who became a children’s poet. Her work has been featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show and other shows. She is the author of 30 books for children on identity, chess, creative recycling, yoga, and more. She has had dozens of pets, including birds, fish, a frog, hamsters, lizards, turtles, a cat, and favorite dogs named Bernadette, Coco, Nissa, and Angel.
Together, Vardell and Wong are the creative forces behind The Poetry Friday Anthology and Poetry Friday Power Book series.