Thursday, October 20, 2011

Vherses: A Celebration of Outstanding Women

Reader's Guide by: Rachel Blackmon

Bibliography: Lewis, J. Patrick. Vherses: A Celebration of Outstanding Women. Ill. by Mark Summers. Mankato: Creative Editions, 2005. ISBN: 1568461852

Recommended for Ages 9-12 or Grades 4-7

J. Patrick Lewis and Mark Summers have created a novel in verse which highlights the accomplishments of fourteen remarkable women throughout history to present day. From Amelia Earhart (Solo) to Anne Frank (People Are Really Good At heart), Jane Goodall (Notes From a Day in the Bush) to the Williams sisters (Double Doubles), and several other pioneers of their time,  Lewis has selected a cast representative of the vast multitude of opportunity available to girls and women alike. These poignant, direct poems introduce the reader to each woman on a level which encourages further conversation and generates instant admiration. Summers’ precise illustrations serve as the final punctuation in these lyrical narratives, and evoke emotional responses at first sight.

Review Excerpts:
“He [Lewis] writes a poem that summarizes the fine points of each individual and does so with beautiful, concise words and musical rhythm. It is amazing how much the reader can learn from just a few stanzas. The illustrations are incredible and add much to the enjoyment of reading of the book… The author has drawn on a reservoir of knowledge to depict these famous individuals and clarify their accomplishments. This is a perfect book to display how reading poetry is a wonderful way to recreate a memory through imagery” (Children’s Literature, 2005).

“Lewis and Summers celebrate the accomplishments of 14 mostly American women through verse and illustration…The style and content of the poem reflect the personality and endeavors of its subject…This will be a delightful addition to the poetry shelf and good choice for women's history studies” (Booklist, 2005).

Questions to Ask before Reading:
1. Show students the books and ask if they recognize any of the women on the cover. If so, what do they know about them? If not, what do they predict will be outstanding about them?
2. What makes someone outstanding? Why? What would make you feel outstanding?
3. Who is your favorite female historical figure? Why? Is there anyone in your life today that reminds you of this figure? Who? Why?
4. Do you think there’s anything men can do that women cannot, specifically because of gender? If so, then what and why? If not, why?

Suggestions for Reading Poems Aloud:
1. All - Have students get into groups of 4 and read one selected poem from the Lewis’ novel in a round. Therefore, the first student would read the first line and then the next would start with the first line as the first student goes on to the second, and so on. This will encourage the students to keep a steady rhythm so they can keep in line with one another as well as provide repetition of the poem itself so that it may resonate more strongly. 
2. Double Doubles – Have children pair off and read this poem aloud to each other, alternating stanzas, while facing each other in an effort to mimic a tennis match. 
3. People Are Really Good At Heart - Teacher will read poem once to class and then discuss with students what Anne Frank must have been feeling when writing this poem. After discussion has taken place, students will be asked to reflect on the poem, and Anne Frank's circumstances at the time it was written, and then give a dramatic reading with the tone and rhythm they imagine were meant for this poem to be read in.   
4. All - Teacher will write the names of all the women featured in the collection on the board and as the poems are read aloud to the class, students will take turns guessing which poem is about which woman.
Follow Up Activities (art/history/reading/technology/writing):
*art – Have students reflect back to pre-reading discussion questions and focus on what the word outstanding means to them. Then, instruct them to create a poster collage from cut outs, print outs, drawings, etc… which depicts this meaning for them.  

*history/writing/technology – have students get into groups of 3 or 4 and select their favorite outstanding female, either from the book or from other sources. Have them perform a study of selected hero and produce either a typed report or PowerPoint presentation of chosen female.

*reading – have students choose a partner and one poem from the book. Ask them to discuss with each other what they remember about the poem and what they thought it was trying to convey. Then, have them re-read same poem aloud to each other and find something they had not noticed the first time. Share findings with class.

Related Websites:

History for Kids (through poetry) website:
Children’s Encyclopedia of Women:

Related Books:
More works of children’s poetry about renowned females –  
Glaser, Linda. Emma’s Poem, 2010. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Morrison, Lillian, 2001. MORE SPICE THAN SUGAR: POEMS ABOUT FEISTY FEMALES. Houghton Mifflin.
Paul, Ann Whitford. All by Herself. New York: Harcourt Children’s Books, 1999.
Smith, Charles R., Jr. 2003. Hoop Queens. Candlewick.

Children’s non-fiction literature about renowned females
Annino, Jan Godown, 2010. She Sang Promise: The Story of Betty Mae Jumper, Seminole Tribal Leader. National Geographic Children’s Books.
Chin-Lee, Cynthia, 2005. Amelia to Zora: Twenty-six Women Who Changed the World. Charlesbridge Publishers.
Pinkney, Andrea Davis & Brian Pinkney, 2009. Sojourner Truth’s Step-Stomp Stride. Disney/Jump at the Sun.
Vernick, Audrey, 2010. She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story. Collins.

About the Author: 
Born on May 5th 1942, to Leo and Mary Lewis, J. Patrick Lewis was one of three boys who all grew up in Gary, Indiana. Today he lives in Ohio and has four grandchildren he adores. Author of more than fifty children’s poetry publications, J. Patrick Lewis is widely known and revered by fellow authors and fans.

Author’s official site:

More from the Illustrator:

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