Friday, February 3, 2017

LS 5663.20 Review: America at War Edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins

America at War
by Lee Bennett Hopkins

Hopkins, Lee Bennett. America at War. New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2008. Print.

Poetic Elements: If a student or reader is interested in a "light" read when it comes to poetry, this might not be the book choice for them. While it is not necessarily the most intense poetry one will ever read, it does have a chance of upsetting young readers who may not deal well with these topics. For those that can handle it, it is a beautifully done text dedicated to the many wars that America and Americans have fought throughout the years. The book is divided into eight different sections, each focusing on a different period of time, from past to present. One of the best things that occurs in this book is that the past is often connected to the future. The styles of the poems vary a great deal, which does add an interest to the text as well.

There is certainly an emotional impact when it comes to reading through this book of poems. War is not an easy topic, and the poems do make this apparent. Put together with the images included, and it can be a very strong message to readers. As for figurative language and rhyme, it varies a great deal between the different poems and poets. It is clear that they all have their own style, but they do seem to flow together well through the entirety of the book. As for imagery, it is apparent throughout the majority of the book. The illustrations certainly help with this aspect.

Appeal: I do not believe that all of the poems have a form that are naturally interesting to students and young readers. Some of the poems are long in length, taking up most of the page, and just turning to them could be a bit intimidating to a reader who may not be strong with poetry. This is a feeling that I had more than once through my process of reading the book. I do think that the subject matter is something that may not appeal to all young adults a well. It might be a bit difficult for students to relate or make connections to all of the poems, as they were not alive through the wars, and are not always interested and invested in history. Still, some children will connect to it quite well.

This is a book or poetry that will most definitely enrich and extend a student''s knowledge, however. While they learn about these wars in school, these poems seem to touch on a side of the topic that they do not always see in school. In class, it is the dates and facts, which can get mundane to students, these poems over an emotional insight that changes up the way they view and hear the information.

Overall Quality: Overall, the poems are fairly consistent in quality. Of course, when you have a mixture of poetry from many different poets, it is understandable that the reader will not love all of the poems throughout the entire book. While I enjoyed most of the book, there were a few poems that were written in a style or way that I did not enjoy, and they are not ones that I would consider using in my own classroom. It does not mean the poems are bad, they are just not my style.

There is a wide mix of poets throughout the book as well. Some of them have been writing poetry for quite some time, while others are much more new. At least, I had not heard much of them, and they do not seem to have many poems out there, from basic searches done in interest. It is always exciting to see poets and writers that you are unaware of because then you can seek out other works by them. This opens great opportunities for students to find more texts that they will enjoy if they like a specific author's style or voice.

The Poets: As stated earlier, the poets vary a great deal in their style and experience. As someone who is not a large fan of poetry myself, I was not necessarily sure which poets had been around for a long time, and which ones might be newer into the industry. Still, there were some names that stood out to me. This book is also an anthology, meaning it is a collection of poems over similar topics; in this case, eight different wars from the American Revolution to the War in Iraq. As for poets that are well known, Joan Bransfield Graham and Sir Walter Scott were two names that stood out to me, and to a couple of other reading teachers when I asked them which poets stood out to them or sounded familiar. Of course, there were ones I had never heard of, and also ones that were written under "anonymous."

Layout: This book is set up very well as it has a table of contents and an index that helps the reader easily find a poem within the eight different subheadings. Each heading is listed on the contents, and then all included poems are also listed. The arrangement of the book looks very well put together. It looks professional and important, which I think is very important for poetry that discusses a topic that can be very difficult and emotional. Again, the poems vary a lot in their layouts and styles, but I do feel they flow together well. When there is a longer poem included, there is a shorter one on the following page so that it is less intimidating.

The illustrations within the book are also incredible. The artist did a wonderful job of creating illustrations that go along well with the point and emotion of the poem it accompanies. Some of the illustrations are a bit tough to look at, and might prove difficult for younger readers. However, they are all patriotic and beautifully drawn, which adds to the appeal of the book as a whole.

Spotlight Poem: 

"Vocabulary Lesson" by Ann Wagner

We don't have wars.
We have
    preemptive strikes
We don't have soldiers.
We have
    peace keepers
We don't have mistakes in combat.
We have
    friendly fire
    flawed intelligence
And we don't have death.
We have
    loss of life
    collateral damage
What we do have is
    careful vocabulary.

To introduce this poem, I think it would be important to preface what the topic is about, and use it at a time that is relevant in the classroom. There is a point of year where we read text about September 11th, and this could be a good time to incorporate this poem. It is not one that I would use for a warm-up on an unrelated day. I would read it with my students, in hopes that they would better understand the purpose of the text.

When it comes to a follow-up activity, I believe I would focus on the connotation of certain words, and how this can impact the tone and mood of the poem as a whole. We would create a chart, and fill it with words from the poem that are positive and ones that are negative, and then determine the importance of having these different kinds of words. Students can then write their own poem trying to include words that have both positive and negative connotation.


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