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  • Writer's picturePenny Harter

Travel and Beasties

It’s been a while since I last posted a blog, and much has been happening. Christmas and New Year’s came and went, and suddenly I am full-tilt into a January that’s almost gone already. I spent the week of January 11th-15th in North Jersey, being a visiting poet in both the Millington Elementary School (working with 4th grades on using original similes and metaphors, and on having them write poems  expressing emotions) and the Gillette School (my first day as the visiting author of The Beastie Book). I stayed in a Best Western in Murray Hill (New Providence), a lovely facility, and had a great week. After school and evenings, I enjoyed visits and the occasional supper with various old friends whom I hadn’t seen in too long. The Long Hill School District PTO facilitators, Melissa Azarian and Lisa Rook, and all the school personnel I worked with, made me feel most welcome.

The highlight of my stay was working in tandem with Alexandra (Sasha) Miller, the marvelous illustrator of The Beastie Book, presenting to successive groups of K-2 students in the Gillette School Library. We saw five groups during the day on January 13th, and worked out our presentation pretty quickly. First, I read some of the poems and showed the accompanying illustrations—taking questions and encouraging the kids to “find the hidden letter” in each. Sasha had brought larger matted copies of many of the illustrations which she propped on the chalk rail in the front of the room and showed the students while I was reading. In this photo, taken by Lisa, Sasha and I are showing the class the Lopsy-Tilt, and they are looking for the hidden letter “L”. If you click on the photo to enlarge it, perhaps you can find it.

Next, I encouraged each group to create a “Class Beastie,” coaxing several made-up names from them, choosing one (with Sasha’s help) and then leading the kids into telling us a poem about that new Beastie. I wrote down their words while Sasha drew their Beastie on the spot, on a large piece of story-board paper. She, too, asked leading questions. It went beautifully, and the school intended to laminate Sasha’s drawing and display them in the hall along with good copies of the accompanying poems from each group. Then we encouraged all the students to go on and create their very own Beasties, draw them and write about them. What fun! Here are the five “class poems.” Enjoy!


The Crocolus

The Crocolus lies in the swamp. It eats a lot of bugs. It has four arms So it can give A lot of slimy hugs.

It has three legs So it can kick And swim through lots of mud. And if you visit it one day It will ask you please to play And you will say, “No Way!” And then you’ll run away!

—Combined Kindergarten-First Grade class poem


The Wackieuptus

The Wackieuptus jumps each day From her volcano home. And when she’s out she wants to play With little local gnomes.

Her hair is growing two nice moons. Her hands have only four Fingers that she uses well To have a Lava War!

—Kindergarten class poem


The Droople

The Droople lives in the puddle Below a saggy tree. And everyday he cries and cries Shoos away bugs and flies Until his eyes are very red. Then he stops and goes to bed.

— Kindergarten class poem ———————————-

The Sneezikus

The Sneezikus lives underground In a place called Sneezitown Where everybody sneezes And makes a lot of breezes.

She has a tiny body With huge and floppy feet And only knows to sneeze on you But she is very sweet.

So go ahead and visit her So you two can meet And offer some Sneezitizer When she goes to sleep.

—First Grade class poem


The Octolaser

The Octolaser has eight arms And lives under the water. It likes to hug sea monsters And play with its sweet daughter.

It eats a lot of scaly fish And puts them on a coral dish And then it likes to make a wish That all the fish will be delish.

—First Grade class poem


And here is another photo taken by Lisa, this one from the Gillette School hall wall of a display of three of Sasha’s spontaneous sketches with their accompanying class poems. The school mounted the display after Sasha’s and my visit. It should enlarge if you click on it:

Beastie hall wall display

I drove home on Friday, very tired, and on Saturday finally succumbed to the cold that I’d held at bay all week. Thank goodness I’m starting to feel better today, Friday. Tired as I was, though, my homecoming was greatly brightened by a note awaiting me in my postal mail—a note of thanks from X. J. and Dorothy Kennedy, responding to my having sent them a copy of The Beastie Book. (I’d shared some earlier drafts of the poems with them, along with a couple of the accompanying jpegs, and they’d been encouraging back then.) In his note, Joe said lovely things about the book, and when I asked him whether he’d like to offer a comment I might post on my blog, he graciously e-mailed me the following kind words:

In the rollicking verse of The Beastie Book, Penny Harter creates stupendously ridiculous new animals never seen before, and swaggeringly colorful illustrations fit the poems like gloves. This book has been thoroughly child-tested and warmly approved (by several of my grandchildren).

—X. J. Kennedy

Sasha and I are blessed by his words, and by the fact of this book. We hope to repeat our workshop in a number of schools. Anyone out there interested in having us come to a school please contact me. We’d love to take our show on the road.

Finally, if you’d like to order the book, you can not only get it from Shenanigan Books and, but also from Barnes & Noble and Borders (on-line), and from Baker & Taylor.

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