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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Alligator's Smile and Other Poems, by Jane Yolen with photographs by Jason Stemple. Millbrook Press, Thomas Allen & Son. 2016. $26.99 ages 5 and up

"First day, learn to prey.
Second day, the same.
Third day, another hunt -
It's our favorite game.
We don't wait for Mother
to help us with our needs.
We swim into the water,
And we learn to read ...
                         the reeds."

Jane Yolen's poem Kindergarten for Alligators is a terrific way to introduce poetry to your students, as a new school year begins. I wish I could convince every teacher to promise to make poetry an integral part of the reading experiences shared daily in their classrooms. It has such an impact on kids and their literacy, showing them how word choice and personally chosen subject matter can change their reading and writing lives. Poems make ideal mentor texts.

Jane Yolen has been plying her trade as a writer and poet for many years, and has written more than 350 books. Here she shares 13 poems about a favorite, if fearful, topic. Kids love to read about alligators, and recognize their relationship to another favorite - the dinosaur. These descendants are endlessly fascinating. Her poems are descriptive and engaging, dealing with diet, habits, characteristics, how they hunt, how they parent, and their life expectancy:


Alligators live long lives.
They don't seem to grow old.
They just bigger, longer.
They remain both fast and bold.

Without a sign of their old age,
They pace the swampy shore
For up to half a century -
Zoo gators even more."

Faced by a clear and telling photograph taken by the author's son, they are accompanied by a text box that offers a fascinating fact:

"Scientists think alligators in the wild
can live for up to fifty years or more. Some
gators in zoos have lived more than
seventy years. The oldest captive gator
is in the Belgrave Zoo, in Serbia. Muja
arrived at the zoo in 1937, fully grown -
probably at least two years old already.
How old do you think he might be?"

In backmatter, more gator facts are shared, as well as a glossary and a list of resources for those wanting to expand their knowledge.

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