Story by Walter Stormont
Photographs by Ezekiel Espanola
We begin with a poem by a talented young author who was looking for some tips to give her a kick-start in the world of verse. She came away with the following to share with readers everywhere:
My Favorite Fruit is Berries
By Juliette Foret
Berries are sweet,
and I like them too
because they are bumpy.
I like the color and the fact
that they are sour.
And I like them too
because they are chubby
and I like that.
This was crafted during a recent Children’s Open Mic workshop at the Beale Memorial Library in Bakersfield, in conjunction with Kern Poetry.com and its coordinator Portia Choi. During the afternoon, Portia poured her heart into getting to know the kids and drawing them into the world of words.
Before the event, Portia was arranging plants on the tables in the Children’s Section, when Juliette Foret walked in with her mom, Alejandra.
“Are you here for the poetry?” Portia asked the young lady.
“How old are you?” Portia asked Juliette.
“She likes to write her own stories,” Alejandra said, adding that she and Juliette thought this workshop would be a good introduction to poetry.
Meanwhile, some kids were having a splendid time playing grocery store with the toys available in the children’s section: a wee shopping cart, mini groceries and a functioning play cash register. One child wore a store apron while she helped the little “customers.” All these kids would soon be drawn into the day’s poetry events which got underway on the large rug next to their “store.”
With all gathered in a circle, Portia introduced the second Kern County Library Children’s Open Mic. She was armed with a selection of colorful, whimsical books.
After everyone shared their names, Portia cracked open the book Silly Sally by Audrey Wood.
“Silly Sally went to town/Walking backwards upside down.” She handed the book to Juliette, who continued the story, and they traded off pages until the end.
Portia asked Juliette, “Did you ever try sleeping upside down?” Juliette answered. “No!” to which Portia replied, “It’s not easy!” But today, thinking poetically and writing verse would become easy for these youngsters!
Continuing the demonstration of how poetry can use rhyme, sound and other effects, Portia read from another popular book, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin, Jr. and John Archambault.
She pointed out something else as well, that all literature is saturated with one common element: the alphabet. “Twenty-six letters,” Portia noted. “Every word uses them. Every book has them.” This led to Phase Two of the workshop, where the kids sat down at tables and wrote out the letters of the alphabet, some with the help of their parents.
“What’s the first letter of the alphabet?” a dad asked his youngster, who immediately got the answer by singing the familiar “A-B-C” song. Soon all 26 letters were written out.
Eight-year-old Melissa Thompson was also a quick study, having learned the alphabet at age four.
The next step was for everyone to use these letters to form words, which would in turn form poems. Melissa was asked what her favorite color is. “Blue.” Her happy challenge was to craft a poem that was introduced by something blue…
I like the sky.
I like the trees.
I like the birds.
I like the library.
I like to color.
The children and their parents spent a good hour having fun discussing letters, words and the poems they could create with them… and doing it!
Their work was quickly rewarded with the appearance of a special guest, children’s author Lenora McClellan. She is a lady who can truly serve as a role model for the budding young poets, and she showed why as she shared the delightful tale of Fred the Fly in her book Don’t Lay Twitchin’ in Someone’s Kitchen. It’s based on memories of her childhood in her Grandma’s spotless kitchen.
Even Fred made an appearance, a fuzzy puppet who popped out of Ms. McClellan’s bag. She invited the audience to come up and pet Fred, and eventually a couple kids gamely wandered up and said hello.
As Ms. McClellan read from her book, Fred’s story came alive in rhyme and humor. The author kept her young audience spellbound, not only entertaining them but showing them what they could achieve if they keep imagining, keep observing, and keep writing.
Children’s Librarian Ariel Dyer is pleased with the poetry day. “There’s been a lot of interest on the Facebook page.” She says they may host another workshop in April.