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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Forgive Me, I Meant to Do It, written by Gail Carson Levine and illustrated by Matthew Cordell. Harper, 2012. $17.99 ages 6 and up

"You fell
and cracked
your skull
on the hill

I had carefully
a banana peel

Forgive me
is now
my girlfriend

And it goes on and on....what fun it was to read this book aloud in the quiet of a Sunday afternoon at my house. The Table of Contents clued me in for the fun and enjoyment to come. Two full pages of 'This Is Just to Say' followed by a page number...all fonts, all sizes. As I read I kept marking new pages with post-its and laughing uproariously. I mean, the introduction isn't included until page 18 and then, it is also an apology:

"Instead of at the beginning
I slipped
this introduction
in here

my editor excruciatingly loudly
it does not belong

Forgive me
I also shredded
her red pencil and stirred
the splinters into her tea

Others have used William Carlos Williams famous poem as a jumping off point for personal tongue-in-cheek apologies of their own. You might share Joyce Sidman's This Is Just to Say (Houghton Mifflin, 2007) as a pairing partner. Then, follow Ms. Levine's advice for trying your own, or for your students to do the same:

"You don't need a title, because William Carlos Williams has given you one, which can be repeated endlessly until your reader is completely sick of it. You also don't need a new ninth line, because that's always the same too: Forgive me. Notice that there are three stanzas, which you may agree are quite enough, and each stanza is four lines long, which you may think are four too many. The first stanza states the horrible offense. The second stanza describes the effect of the offense. The last stanza begins with "Forgive me" and continues with the false apology, because the writer is not sorry at all."

Teachers looking for a mentor book will be delighted with this one. It affords budding writers a chance to take a shot at false apologies. It is irreverant, mischievous, funny, and even poignant at times. Mostly, it is a book of poetry that will reach all readers and fill them with an enthusiasm for the poetic form. Not an easy task, I might add.

Using fairy tales, nursery rhymes and oft-read children's stories as the motivation for her apologetic demeanor, Ms. Levine moves from one page to the next with wit and charm. It helps if listeners (and readers) have some knowledge of them. Who hasn't heard The Little Engine That Could?; but, not like this:

"Ahead of you
you should see
a track

will certainly
and confuse you

Forgive me
you think
you can
but you can't

Oh boy!   Now, add Matthew Cordell's equally wicked images and you have a poetry enthusiast's dream book for sharing throughout National Poetry Month and in the months that follow it. His artwork is a perfect match for the silly and ironic verses, addling his own bits of humor along the way. Check out the gravestones, Jill's new amour, and the wolf's grumbling tummy as Grandma hits the trail.

I couldn't resist reading them aloud to anyone who dared phone as I was enjoying each one of them. Too good to miss...and a great way to start celebrating a month dedicated to getting more people reading poetry. Bravo!

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