My daughter Hadley was in first grade, my other daughter Harper was in preschool, and the world was lit by two spunky princesses (sisters) and their plight to learn what it means to give and receive love, an element so vital to survival that the only way to keep it alive is to give it away. In other words, the Disney movie Frozen.
Hadley and Harper were obsessed with Elsa and Anna, as was I (although I loved Olaf just as well). We devoured the story and its songs. I bought the CD as soon as it was released, and we belted out “Let It Go,” and “Do You Wanna Build a Snowman” on our drives to school, to the park, to everywhere. Elsa, Anna, Olaf, Sven, the trolls — the entire Frozen cast was alive and well in the Feyen household.
That fall, as Hadley began 2nd grade, Harper began kindergarten, and I, with shaky but hopeful legs, returned to teaching, the girls’ school put on its annual Party In The Parking Lot. Kids brought scooters, bikes, and rollerblades and circled the lot as fast as they could. There was a moon bounce and face painting. There were hot dogs and popcorn and those frozen cherry, orange, and grape treats that come in plastic tubes. There was a DJ.
The middle school down the street enlisted its students, many of them former elementary students of the school, to man the stations, but as the night progressed, many of them made their way to the concrete patio turned dance floor. Actually, all of us did. Maybe it was the dusk that fell and settled or the the street lights that flickered on, maybe it was that mashup of anticipation and anxiety that occurs when summer and fall clash for a moment, ushering in one season in and out another, but it felt sacred, this dancing together.
And then, the DJ brewed up a compilation of “Let It Go.”
What is it that happens to our bodies when words are set to music? Does it make way for a truth that can’t otherwise be expressed? I do not know, but that night 5- and 6-year-olds moved their bodies and cranked out the lyrics with as much gumption and conviction as 13- and 14-year-olds. We adults sang and danced and smiled too — all of us intertwining and making space for each other and Elsa’s story.
The DJ was just as much swept up in the scene, bopping and shaking in time with what he was mixing up, and as I watched him dance, I thought surely part of the joy of creating something is making it so that others can share in it. That poem, that song, that story, becomes a part of everyone.
This memory is what I think of when I think about experiencing poetry in the classroom. I want joy and imagination to show up. I want there to be dancing and color. I want both silliness and seriousness as only a good story can spin up.
Cupcakes are always a good decision too.
I was walking around with this memory in the library where I work one day, when the book The Fairytale Cake literally fell from the shelf. You know how all the animals in the forest greet Snow White and help her? (Or is that Cinderella?) This happens to me with books. The right book at the right time somehow always makes its way to me, even if that means it has to fall off a shelf.
The Fairytale Cake is shelved in the 800s, because it’s poetry — a clue that the book also has impeccable timing given that it’s National Poetry Month. The story is about a bunch of Mother Goose and fairy tale characters that get together and bake a cake for a boy who’s having a birthday. Humpty Dumpty, Rapunzel, the Gingerbread Man, even the Big Bad Wolf joins the group to mix the batter, frost the cake, and deliver it to the birthday boy.
I came up with some dance moves to three Mother Goose rhymes: “Humpty Dumpty,” “Jack Be Nimble,” and “Little Bo Peep,” and taught them to the kindergarten and first-graders. Then once we caught our breath from jumping and hopping and shaking our tail feathers (I couldn’t resist doing that for the line in “Little Bo Peep” when the sheep return “wagging their tails behind them”), I asked the students if they were to bake cupcakes for these characters, what would they look like?
Little Bo Peep would want a chocolate cupcake with white frosting and heart candies because she loves and misses her sheep. Humpty Dumpty would have a yellow cupcake with white frosting, but it’d have to be broken to somehow look like a cracked egg. Jack would have a blue frosted cupcake with green sprinkles and a candle on the top of it, obviously.
I held up Fairy Tale Cake and as I read, the students exuberantly shouted out the characters they knew (and loved) that helped to bake this cake. Every page is filled with characters from old stories and rhymes that somehow have stood the test of time. They’ve made their way into the hearts and minds of today’s children who, as we all have, hold these stories up to our lives and use them to see the magic in our days.
“What if we made a cupcake for one of our favorite fairy tale or Mother Goose characters?” I asked, holding up a template of a cupcake I drew.
“I want to make one for Belle,” one student said. Another decided on Little Red Riding Hood.
“I’m making one for the Big Bad Wolf,” one student said. “He can eat the cupcakes instead of the pigs.”
A splendid idea, I thought.
With crayons and paper, our little library turned into an imaginary bakery. Students talked about the character they were designing the cupcake for — would he prefer red frosting or orange? Would she want pink sprinkles or glitter sprinkles? (Glitter, always glitter.) Others discussed their favorite part of a fairy tale or chanted bits of the Mother Goose rhymes as they colored away, wiggling in their chairs and bopping their heads to the beat. It was a silly and serious day, an imaginative and joyous one. It was a day of color and dancing. I think Elsa and Anna would’ve approved. Probably the DJ, too.
Write a poem for a favorite fairy tale or Mother Goose character. In it describe a cupcake you would bake for this person. Or try your hand at Concrete Poetry or Object Poetry, where the poem takes the shape of what (or who) you are writing about.
Thanks to everyone who participated in last week’s poetry prompt. Here’s one from Katie we enjoyed: