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Thursday, April 12, 2012

This Is Just to Say, written by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski. Houghton Mifflin, Thomas Allen & Son. 2007. $21.95 ages 10 and up

"I'm sorry I bit your mom's finger
and hung on to it like that.
Hamsters are not normally
but I'd had a lot of adventures by then
and I was tired.
Her hand was a huge scary claw
coming at me.
The blood tasted like rust."

This thoughtful and captivating book offers poems of apology and forgiveness. It is perfect to pair with Gail Carson Levine's new book, Forgive Me, I Meant to Do It (Harper, 2012). When I was posting that one yesterday, it reminded me how much I enjoyed this book when I first read it. It was very appealing in those classrooms where I shared it at the time. It can be the jumping off point for discussion of oft-neglected memories, and then finding a way to write about them.

It happens in a fictional sixth grade class under the tutelage of Mrs. Merz. Students are asked to pen
a poem of apology, loosley fashioned after William Carlos Williams' much quoted poem of apology. The first half of those included were written as just that, while the second half of the book moves on to a response to said apology. Here is the opener from Thomas to Mrs. Garcia in the office:

"I have stolen
the jelly doughnuts
that were in
the teachers' lounge

and which
you were probably
for teachers

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so gloppy

too bad
the powdered sugar
spilled all over my shirt
and gave me

Mrs. Garcia was kind (?) enough to forgive him:

"Dear Thomas

Thank you for your poem.
You have a way with you, Thomas.
Smiling, asking me how I'm doing today,
talking a mile a minute.
Slipping in and out (yes, I see you)
stealing our hearts, and our doughnuts, too.
A nice boy like you can really
get on in the world
if he doesn't let his fingers run away with him.

Of course, I forgive you.
But I still have to call your mother."

Aha! As you read, you come to know the writers through their words. The letters back and forth can be funny; but, they are also admissions of guilt over transgressions that happened long ago, the death of a beloved family pet, mean-spirited comments made. The range is quite remarkable, very readable and will hold the interest of the reader. I like the way in which each apology gets a response, with varying takes on the form of the original poem.

Worthy of your attention, this is a set of poems that will encourage those students inclined to try their hand at their own aplogies. I would love to read them.

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