Friday, February 23, 2007

POETRY FRIDAY: Fairy Tale Poems

It all began last week with my Fairy Tale Friday post. I entered the imaginary kingdom of fairy tales…and I’m still here—much longer than I had intended to be. You see…I couldn’t find the trail of breadcrumbs Hansel had left for me in the forest. (He knows how directionally challenged I am.) I’m trying to stay calm and make the best of my situation since there’s no cell phone service in this neck of the literary world.

There’s a lot to see here in the land of enchanted woods, gingerbread cottages, fairy godmothers, talking wolves, little guys who know how to spin straw into gold, and slimy frogs who keep insisting they’re royalty! Wait a minute. What’s this I see? The Baba Yaga Bookstore! Imagine a little shop walking around on chicken legs. Maybe I’ll just jump over the threshold and see what’s inside.

Oh, look! Here’s a book by one of my favorite children’s poets!


Written by Mary Ann Hoberman
Illustrated by Michael Emberley
Published by Little, Brown

Great! It’s a book of short, rhyming fairy tale stories told in two voices. The text is printed in three different colors: red for the first voice, magenta for the second voice, and blue when both voices speak in unison.

Mary Ann Hoberman, recipient of the NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children in 2003, is a master of meter and rhyme. The stories in this book are rhythmic and playful and a lot of fun to read aloud. Here’s an example from the book to give you a flavor of these tales told in two voices:


I’m Big Bad Wolf.

I’m Little Pig.

You’re very small.

You’re very big.
But now I’ve got you
In my pot.

The water’s getting
Very hot.

I’ll cook you up
And make a stew.

Why, that’s an awful
Thing to do.

Pig keeps Wolf in the cooking pot until he apologizes for eating Pig’s siblings. Pig then lets Wolf out of the pot and gives him a block of ice to sit on so he can cool his hindquarters. Then both characters sit down and read together:

What will you read?

A tale that’s true.
A tale about
Both me and you.

Can I read, too?

If you know how.

Of course I do.

Then let’s start now.

We’ll read Three Little Pigs
Right through.
You read to me.
I’ll read to you.

This book is great from start to finish. It includes eight tales for two voices. I just wish it had been available when I was still teaching second grade. I know my students would have loved to do choral readings of the tales in this book.

Michael Emberley’s cartoon-style illustrations complement Hoberman’s lighthearted text. The facial expressions of the humans and animals really enliven their characters and add to the humor of the tales.

One thing I especially like about YOU READ TO ME, I’LL READ TO YOU is the way Hoberman ends the book by encouraging readers to read the old tales that were the inspirations for the rhyming stories in her book—as well as other fairy tales they haven’t yet read:


And so our fairy tales
Are through.

We’ve read them all.
What shall we do?

We could reread them.

Yes, we could.

That might be fun.

That might be good.

But, then again,
We could read some
Of these old tales
That these are from…

And I am pleased to tell you that the characters in this book live—and read—happily ever after!

Ooops! Crash! Oh no! I think I just cracked the dainty little glass slipper that was displayed on the bookshelf near the Cinderella stories. The slipper that was sitting next to the sign: You crack it—you wear it!

Written by Laura Whipple
Illustrated by Laura Beingessner
Published by Margaret K. McElderry

This is a book of poems told in different voices—including the voices of Cinderella, a rat, feet, Cinderella’s slipper, and the nasty stepsisters. Most of the poems do not rhyme; they are not humorous parodies. The “voices” express their thoughts and feelings. The stepmother bemoans her poor life before she married Cinderella’s father and her new husband’s weakness, the queen doubts the beautiful young maiden who “sparkled at the ball,” the other slipper feels abandoned and then repulsed and pained by all the big feet struggling to stuff themselves into it.

Here are a few excerpts from the book:


Hear my voice first.
Blinded by a cunning woman,
I was the unfortunate fool
who set the stage
for the ashes and tears in this tale.


Cinderella, stir those ashes.
Cinderella, tie my sashes.
Cinderella, you’re always much too slow.

Cinderella, place these laces.
Cinderella, paint our faces.
Tonight’s the ball, but you’ll stay home, you know.


Each day, a tougher trial.
Heavy, ugly, big feet
pushing down on my very sole!
Oh! I shuffle with pain!
Oh! I shudder silently!
The threat of shattering!
Oh! The strain on a shoe!

Why? I demand to know why!
When will he search for my mate?
When will we step together again?

This would be an excellent book to read in conjunction with a unit of study of Cinderella stories from around the world. It could also serve as a springboard for a creative writing activity in which students are encouraged to write their own “voices from Cinderella” poems.

Laura Beingessner’s illustrations are done with a deft and delicate hand. There are several colorful two-page spreads. Most of the pictures, though, are smaller spot illustrations set against a white background. The format and size of IF THE SHOE FITS help indicate it as a book for middle readers.

Crikey! Baba Yaga just got into her mortar and went flying off over the treetops. I think I’ll put the cracked glass slipper back on the shelf, jump back over the threshold, and try to find my way home once again. Oh…look! The old witch left a pile of discarded, out of print books by her woodpile.

Hmmm…this one looks interesting.

Written by Gwen Strauss
Illustrated by Anthony Browne
Published by Alfred A. Knopf

I think I’ll start by reading from the introduction.

Strauss says she began writing these poems many years ago when she was “exploring the theme of metamorphosis in fairy tales.” Anthony Browne had also been working with fairy tale themes. They both wanted to “approach fairy tales from a new perspective” and “decided to collaborate on a book in which a combination of drawings and poems would form a collection of portraits, in the hope that such a collection might open a small door into the quieter moments of transformation and reveal those dark and startling events that lie buried within the stories.”

This is definitely a book for older readers. The twelve “portrait” poems are persona poems in which fairy tale characters speak in their own voices—as in The Prince and The Waiting Wolf:


Imagine this: we’re in the garden harvesting,
and you’re telling me how our children suckled,
Their mouths opened like dark moons.

When you speak to me like this,
I want to say everything,
And I want to put my hands on your lips.

For a long time I was blind,
Even before the thorns of roses tattered my eyes.
I was bored, handsome, a prince.
The thrill was in what I could get away with.


She will have the youngest skin
I have ever touched, her fingers unfurling
like fiddleheads in spring.

My matted fur will smell to her of forest
moss at night. She’ll wonder about my ears,
large, pointed, soft as felt,
my eyes red as her cloak,
my leather nose on her belly.

These portrait poems and Browne’s black and white illustrations in TRAIL OF STONES transport us to another dimension—a quieter, darker realm of fairy tales that few of us have ever visited.

I don’t suppose Baba Yaga will mind if I take this book. After all, she left it outside where it would get soaked in the first drenching rain. Besides…now I have this “trail of stones” to help me find my way back home.

I hope you enjoyed our visit to The Baba Yaga Bookstore as much as I. Now, before I leave this enchanted kingdom, I’d like to send you off to find a fairy tale poem—one written by Jane Yolen. Just wave your magic wand, click on the link, and you will be whisked away to Poetry 180. Then,
with a wave and a click, transport yourself to Poetry for Children for two Cinderella poems.
Happy Poetry Friday!


Tricia said...

Hi Elaine,
I bought You Read to Me, I'll Read to You: Very Short Fairy Tales to Read Together for William's birthday last week. We took it on our trip and had a lot of funny reading it to each other. He even shared with his grandparents.
Also, love the link to the Jane Yolen poem.
Have a great weekend!

Elaine Magliaro said...


Hope you had a wonderful trip!

We've been discussing fairy tales in my children's literature course. I read excerpts from YOU READ TO ME, I'LL READ TO YOU: VERY SHORT FAIRY TALES TO READ TOGETHER to my students yesterday. They really liked the idea of the book--and the excerpts I read. Hoberman is such a master of meter and rhyme.

Have you seen the other two books in the You Read to Me, I'll Read to You series? They're great, too!

Rita said...

What wonderful excerpts. I'm looking up all of these!

Thank you!!