Thursday, October 20, 2011

Countdown to Summer: A Poem for Every Day of the School Year

Countdown to Summer: A Poem for Every Day of the School Year 
By J. Patrick Lewis 
Illustrated by Ethan Long 
Readers Guide 
By Karen Tassone
Lewis, J. Patrick. 2009. COUNTDOWN TO SUMMER: A POEM FOR EVERY DAY OF THE SCHOOL YEAR. Ill. by Ethan Long. New York: Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 978-0-316-02089-3
Recommended Age Levels 8-14
Summary of Book
In this entertaining collection of one hundred-eighty poems, mixed forms of poetry are used to entertain the reader. Rhyming and figurative language are creatively transposed to feature poems that relate to school and the typical holidays that happen during a school year.  The number of poems included in this collection is intended to follow a classic school calendar year, thus happening upon the holiday themed poems that are in sync around the actual holiday.  The centrifugal idea behind this book is for the classroom teacher to share one poem a day by reading it aloud to students.  When the book is finished, the school year should be finished. Students will enjoy listening and hearing words like “underwear, burps, and toilet” that are incorporated into the silly humor.  Lewis’ book is truly a fun and creative choice to use in teaching literary concepts throughout the year.  
Review Excerpts
The collection contains a good variety of styles; the themes and subjects will please elementary-age children. Illustrations are light-hearted and match the tone of the poems. Library Media Connection
These one-hundred eighty poems cover everything from school librarians to the tooth fairy to holidays across the religious spectrum. Though the bold line drawings are purely humorous, some of the limericks, cinquains, and acrostics include musings about loneliness, Hurricane Katrina, and other serious subjects. Verses ranging from effectively pithy to undistinguished give a broad picture of what poetry can be. -Horn Book 
As a no-pressure, just-for-poetry's-sake tool to start the day in the classroom, it could be a teacher's best friend.  Kirkus Reviews

The book counts down from 180 days of school left to one day left. The poems focus on a variety of topics, from Bigfoot to toilet inspectors, principals to the Kentucky Derby. There are also a number of poem types, useful for teachers interested in using this book on a regular basis to entertain and to educate. One of my favorite uses of Haiku was found on day fifty-seven, entitled “Country Haik-lues.” In this section, a haiku provides a clue as to the country it describes; for example, “Where everybody/wears a caste, curries favor,/and favors curry.” Limericks, riddles, shape poems, free verse, and nonsense verse are also found throughout. Illustrations for the various poems are done in pencil on paper and are consistently detailed and humorous. This is a fun book that could suit a number of classroom purposes. -Children’s Literature

Cartoon illustrations keep the mood light and breezy. This collection may be most appreciated by teachers, who'll find it an appealing and accessible introduction to whimsical wordplay. -School Library Journal

Awards/Honors Received

*2011 NCTE Poetry Award Winner


Questions to Ask Before Reading

Invite the children to discuss the following before ever showing the book cover of Countdown to Summer: A Poem For Every Day of the School Year.


*Think back to your very first day of school when you started kindergarten.  Can anyone describe how they were feeling and why?  Were you scared, excited, nervous, or sad? What was it like to start school this year? Will it feel different as a student when you leave elementary school and move to intermediate school?  Are there advantages for being the youngest or oldest student group at school?


*Since you have been in school for several years now, let’s talk about what typical holidays happen during the duration of the school year.  Who can tell me anything they know about the month of September? October? November? December? January? February? March? April? May?


*Let’s switch gears and now I’d like for you to tell me what you know about the genre, poetry?  Are there different kinds?  Do they follow a certain format?  Do they entail various kinds of figurative language?

Suggestions for Reading Poems Aloud
*Using poem #146 “In a Book I Once Read the Chicken’s Song” have the girls read the odd numbered lines aloud, leaving the boys the even numbered lines in parenthesis to respond back. 

*Have students echo read after the teacher reads each line of #156 “Weather in a Word:  Still.”

*Assign each student a different letter of the alphabet to stand up and read aloud using #174 “The Librarian.”

*Pair students as a single boy and girl in each group, and have pairs take turns reading #30” Autograph Verses.”  In each line, one person reads the first half of the sentence up to the comma, and then the other person finishes reading what is left behind the comma.

Follow Up Activities
*Use the link to listen to a video of Kenn Nesbitt explaining how to write poetry, use rhyming words and where to fit them into the poem.  After viewing the short “how to” video, continue to scroll down on the website and listen to the animated videos that Nesbitt has created with some of his poems.  Afterwards, students can create their own funny poems demonstrating the proper usage with rhyming words.
*Take a funny poem that rhymes and white-out corresponding rhyme words to create a fill in the blank kind of poem where students must think of their own rhyming word that fits into the poem.
*Use the link to follow a webquest that familiarizes students with author and poet Jack Prelutsky as he teaches the thought process behind writing a poem.  Students will ultimately try their own hand at writing a poem and will have the opportunity to publish it Online.

* After reading poem #48 “Lost in Austin,” students will brainstorm in small groups how we could figure out the distance between Austin and Boston 
*After reading poem #79 “Mr. Mack Celebrates the 100th Day of School,” tell students to make lists in categories of things that weigh about 100 pounds, things that have about 100 calories of energy in them, various money groupings to make 100 cents, and packages of items that might have about 100. 
*After reading poem #1 “School’s Out!” have students independently write down as many was as they can think of to make 180 using addition and multiplication.

*Using the link to dig into the concept of “Going Green at Back to School Time.”  This site will challenge students to change wasteful thoughts and become more respectful to the environment which include ideas for saving and conserving year round to make it a habit.
*After reading #78 “Good-bye to an Architect,” assign students a different dinosaur to research and share facts about.
*Demonstrate using models how the Earth, Sun and Moon work together to create day and night.  Do this after reading #31 “If the Earth Bumps the Moon.”

Social Studies
*After reading the first poem #180 “A Sixth Grader Sees the Future,” discuss the expectations for the school year by going over homework expectations, absences, manners, respecting the environment, etc.
*After reading poem #64 “Civil War Couplets,” have students research to find out what caused the Civil War, how the United States was effected before and after.
*After reading #7 “The White House,” students can pick a president to research.

*Make an illustrated time line to help keep tabs on the progression of the school year.
*Create postcards that feature landmarks unique to your state after reading #18 “Postcard.”
*Complete a crayon-resist project after reading #27 “Leaving Small Town America.”

Related Web Sites
Poetry Teachers
(Check out this website to learn how to teach poetry in your classroom using funny poems.)

Pro Teacher Collection
(Look at this huge educational website created by teachers for teachers.  It’s a solid site for gaining new ideas to try in your classroom as well as share your own ideas. The genre of poetry is well covered.)

Net Rover
(Explore this website and introduce students to the interactive kid-friendly templates for creating acrostic and shape poems, rhyming couplets, noisy poems, and rhyming word games.)

(Download the educator’s guide to the featured book, Count Down to Summer: A Poem for Every Day of the School Year, and receive useful tips for using language in many ways found in this book collection of poetry.)

Kids Health
(This is a user friendly website that discusses the social, emotional and physical aspects that kids face in beginning a new school year.)

(This site contains resources and tips for parents and educators in preparing for the new school year.)

Author Website
(Take a peek at author J. Patrick Lewis on his website.  Locate his gallery of pictures and his Question and Answer area to take a deeper glimpse on this author.  Also, view his schedule for “Author” visits.)

Related Books
Fiction Children’s Literature
Clements, Andrew. 2009. Extra Credit. Ill. by Mark Elliott. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Fleischman, Paul. 2009. The Dunderheads. Ill. by David Roberts. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.

Krosoczka, Jarrett J. 2009. Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute. New York: Alfred A. Knopf Publishers.

Nonfiction Children’s Literature
Prelutsky, Jack. 2008. Pizza, Pigs, and Poetry: How to Write a Poem. New York: Greenwillow Books.

Seuling, Barbara. 2008. One President Was Born on Independence Day: And Other Freaky Facts About the 26th Through 43rd Presidents. Ill. by Matthew  Skeens. Minneapolis, MN: Picture Window Books.

Winter, Jeanette. 2009. Nasreen's Secret School : A True Story From Afghanistan. New York: Beach Lane Books

Poetry Related to School, Holidays, and Fun
Hopkins, Lee Bennett. 2005. Days to Celebrate : A Full Year of Poetry, People, Holidays, History, Fascinating Facts, and More. Ill. by Stephen Alcorn. New York: Greenwillow Books.

Nesbitt, Kenn. 2007. Revenge of the Lunch Ladies: The Hilarious Book of School Poetry. Ill. by Mike and Carl Gordon. Minnetonka, MN: Meadowbrook Press.

Prelutsky, Jack. 1984. The New Kid on the Block: Poems Ill. by James Stevenson. New York: Greenwillow Books.

About the Author
J. Patrick Lewis is a prolific writer of children's picture books and poetry books, including Tulip at the Bat, The Bookworm's Feast, Blackbeard: The Pirate King, and The Last Resort.  He lives in Westerville, Ohio. His website is 

About the Illustrator
Ethan Long is the author and illustrator of Tickle the Duck, Stop Kissing Me! and Duck's Not Afraid of the Dark and has illustrated a number of other children's books. He lives in Tallahassee, Florida and his website is

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