Readers Guide by Lydia Foster
Lewis, J. Patrick. 2007. UNDER THE KISSLETOE: CHRISTMAS TIME POEMS. Ill. by Rob Shepperson. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong Press. ISBN-13: 978-1-59078-438-9
Stuffed like a Christmas turkey, Under the Kissletoe explores the many facets of the Christmas season with sugary drops of humor to punctuate the holiday-themed poems. Author J. Patrick Lewis has whipped up 16 poetic offerings for the reader, each exploring a tried-and-true Christmas tradition. Under the Kissletoe is more devoted to the holidays in a way that his previous wintertime entry, 2003’s The Snowflake Sisters was not; Santa, reindeer, snowmen and elves populate this set of poems. Illustrator Rob Shepperson – a frequent contributor of editorial drawings to the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post – alternates his palette with bright splashes of color (poem “Donner and Blitzen” is bathed in contrasting shades of red, setting the page aglow) and cool, muted hues. His illustrations project cheeriness and camaraderie, accentuating Lewis’ lighter contributions (“Santa’s Summer Vacation”) and providing the necessary visual weight to others (“A Brown King”).
Booklist (2007) Lewis once again shows his nimble way with rhyme and wordplay, writing in a variety of forms, including concrete poetry and rebus verse. The colorful artwork has a jovial quality that heightens enjoyment of the light verse but is less effective in illustrating a more serious poem such as the excellent “A Brown King.” This volume of original verse is not a necessary purchase but makes a nice addition to holiday poetry collections.
Horn Book Magazine (2007) In Lewis’s collection of poems (all but one previously unpublished), affable wit and infectious cadence bring fresh energy to traditional yuletide images.
Kirkus Reviews (2007) Two of his [author J. Patrick Lewis] best poems are shining stars: “Winter Scene,” a lovely shape poem in the form of an ornament and “A Brown King,” about one of the Wise Men. Both of these polished poems are strong enough to be anthologized in children’s poetry collections.
School Library Journal (2007) An uneven collection of seasonal fare. Several of the poems are quite clever and funny, while others are rather flat and uninteresting.
Questions to Ask Before Reading
Ask these questions to children before reading
• What things make you think of Christmas? Are there special memories of a past Christmas that you’d like to share with the class?
• Do you have relatives or friends that send you Christmas cards or presents? Where do they live?
• How long do you think Santa and his elves have to work to get all of the toys ready for all of the world’s children?
• Do you know the ways that other countries celebrate Christmas? Are there any Christmas traditions that you have within your own family?
• What types of food does your family eat for Christmas? What kinds of food do you leave out for Santa and his reindeer?
• “Kissletoe” is meant to mean “mistletoe.” What do people say you’re supposed to do when you stand under mistletoe?
Suggestions for Reading Poems Aloud
“Snowflake Star” – Lewis wrote this poem using symbols to stand-in for many of the poem’s vowels. Build upon his intention by having students act out each stanza. Ask for three volunteers to come to the front of the class and perform clues for each stanza of the poem. For example, line one reads “Call me on the phone,” and a volunteer could perform charades to get their classmates to guess the action.
“Ten-Point Snowman Inspection” – For this poem, divide the class into two groups and have them take turns reading lines (call and response). Have children read the final stanza (“Slice of ice / inspected twice / merchandise approved”) in unison.
“The Gingerbread House Song” - Divide the class into five groups and assign each group one of the five stanzas from the poem. Have the students practice their stanzas and then regroup, having the children return to their desks. Then, begin the recitation of the poem with the group members reciting their stanzas from their seats. This will create a surround-sound effect and add a layer of unpredictability to the proceedings.
• Provide children with construction paper, scissors, glue, and other materials (cotton balls, glitter, etc.) and have them create their own snowman. Refer back to the poem “Ten-Point Snowman Inspection” from the book. Does their snowman meet the essential criteria for snowmen?
• Ask children to bring the address of a friend or family member to whom they want to send a Christmas card or drawing. Have a large United States map to hang on the wall in the classroom. Once the children have finished their cards and drawings, have them come to the map and mark (with a small push-pin or sticker) where the card will be delivered. Have one pin at the point of beginning and then use yarn to connect the beginning point and the destination. Have children identify which card will travel farthest.
• Have children bring materials used to build a gingerbread house (graham crackers, pretzels, chocolate bars, marshmallows, assorted candies). Divide the children into groups of four. Have a worksheet of math-related questions for each group. Example: How many sides does a gingerbread house have? How sides are there to the roof? How many windows are there on your gingerbread house? Then have children create a mathematical equation (2+2=4 for the sides of the house; 1+1=2 for the roof, etc.) for each facet of the gingerbread house. The activity can be adjusted if children are learning multiplication.
• Have children do research on other cultures/countries and their Christmas traditions. Students should keep a journal of what they have learned. Additionally, have children do a presentation over one of the traditions; this can be a poster board presentation, a presentation on culturally-specific food, or any other aspect of their chosen culture or country. Start this project near the first of December to allow maximum time for research and creation of the presentation.
• Author J. Patrick Lewis uses shape poetry for “Winter Scene” in Under the Kissletoe. Have students draw a shape of something Christmas-related (the figure of snowman, Santa’s hat, an elf shoe, a gingerbread man, a Christmas tree, etc.). Have students write a Christmas-related poem in the resulting figure, making sure that the poem has something to do with the figure they have chosen. Finally, ask for volunteers to share their poems with the class.
J. Patrick Lewis’ official Website
[This is the official site for all things related to the author, including information about Lewis’ other works, personal biography, and a list of upcoming events with author. Educators can also contact Lewis about visiting their school and sharing his work with their students.]
Disney’s Christmas Family Fun
[This website offers ideas on Christmas crafts, foods, games, and homemade gift ideas.]
[A Website that posts links to Christmas-themed poetry from past and contemporary poets. It also allows for users to submit their own poems to the site for others to read and share.]
Christmas and Winter-themed poetry books for children:
Angelou, Maya and Steve Johnson. 2008. AMAZING PEACE. Ill. by Lou Fancher. New York: Schwartz & Wade.
Harrison, Michael and Christopher Stuart-Clark. 2010. THE OXFORD BOOK OF CHRISTMAS POEMS. Oxford University Press.
Lewis, J. Patrick. 2003. THE SNOWFLAKE SISTERS. Ill. by Lisa Desimini. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
Nonfiction titles dealing with Christmas traditions and other cultures:
Heiligman, Deborah. 2007. HOLIDAYS AROUND THE WORLD: CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS WITH CAROLS, PRESENTS, AND PEACE. New York: National Geographic Children’s Books.
Lankford, Mary D. 1998. CHRISTMAS AROUND THE WORLD. Ill by Karen Dugan and Irene Norman. New York: HarperCollins.