Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Freeing your life with words . . . (TPIB: poetry and writing crafts)

I never wrote a poem,
At least one that I’d share
But if I wrote a poem
Does that mean I won the dare?

It seems like there is not enough poetry in the world today, if you ask me.  I have been doing poetry contests with teens in libraries for almost 20 years and each year, there are less entries than the year before.  It’s almost like you have to dare them to write a poem.  Last year I got creative and ditched the poetry all together and did some sidewalk chalk poetry with my tweens.  In fact, you can look at my April National Poetry Month posts to get some great poetry idea to work with tweens and teens.  Start planning now for April.  But since Christie reviewed Tilt today, and since Tilt is written in poetry, I thought I would share one of my favorite nonfiction books to use with teens.  Next month we are going to be doing a lot with teens, nonfiction and your library, so be sure and check back.  In fact, the week of November 11-17th we are doing a whole week of Zest Books nonfiction reviews, programming and more.

Ellen Hopkins writes her YA novels almost exclusively in poems (see today’s review of Tilt), while others wonder: How do you write a poem?

The Book That Turns Those That Don’t Know it into a Poet

Poemcrazy: Freeing Your Life in Words by Susan G. Wooldridge is hands down one of my favorite books about writing poetry.  Inside the pages of this book are a lot of hands on ideas that you can do at home, at school or in a library program to help inspire teens and get them thinking about their life in terms of poetry.

What’s the number one thing you need to write a poem? Words of course.  So get out your poetry journal, take a walk through your neighborhood and collect words.  See that empty bench at the park?  Describe it.  Tell us what you see. Tell us what you feel. Tell us what the bench feels.  Who sat on the bench just 5 minutes ago and why did they leave?

Get some index cards and start labelling the things in your house (or library or classroom).  Sure, I can tell you I am sitting at the table typing on my computer.  Or, I could tell you that I am sitting with both hope and despair filling my lungs as my fingers click click click on the keyboard keys in a melancholy rhythm that looks back into the past to find a hope for tomorrow.  You don’t have to sit down and write a poem every time you think about poetry, sometimes you need to just practice looking at and labelling things.

The truth is, most teens have written some bad break up poetry in their day.  Many of us have written with longing about the dreamy eyed boy that doesn’t know we exist.  Or the cheerleader at the top of the pyramid, either way.  Just become a poem doesn’t work it doesn’t mean you failed; no, you’re failure comes in not writing at all.

And this is the beauty of Poemcrazy, it is a collection of exercises that helps you put building blocks into place and to see the world through a different set of lenses.

Put (Awesome) Pen to (Canvas) Paper

Want some more fun poetry/writing inspired ideas to do with teens? Get some blank notebooks/journals and allow teens to decorate them (markers, decoupage) to be their poetry notebooks.  There are also a lot of fun ways that you can turn ordinary pens into poetic writing utensils: wrap them in friendship bracelet thread and put the occasional bead along the way, use floral tape to wrap the pen and add some flowers to the end of your pen.  In fact, a simple but awesome roll of duct tape can turn an every day pen into an inspiring work of art.

More Poetry: TPIB Poetically Speaking
Karen’s Poetry
Goodreads list of books similar to Poemcrazy

Book Review: Tilt by Ellen Hopkins

Should the sun beat
summer too fiercely
through your afternoon
window, you can
                                     slant
the blinds to temper
heat and scatter light,
sifting shadows this way
and that with a
                                                   lean
of slats.  And if candor
strikes too forecully,
step back, draw careful
breath and consider the
                                                                 angle
your words must take
before you open
your mouth, let them leak
out.  Because once you
                                                                               tilt the truth,
it becomes a lie.


Tilt is called a companion book to Ellen Hopkins’ 2011 adult book, Triangles, but it can really stand alone, and unless your teens are die-hard Hopkins’ fans, I don’t know that they would want to read Triangles.  However, Tilt will definitely be on their list, and in true Hopkins style it does not pull punches.  Tilt is gritty and hard hitting, dealing with issues that I know no adult wants to think teens deal with and teens know either someone or they themselves are dealing with all to well.

Like all of Ellen Hopkins’ books, this one is told in verse, and after tearing through the book, I went through again and looked at the way the poems were set.  Often times there are double and triple meanings that are within the text, depending on placements or alignment of words.  They would be an excellent lead-in for visual poetry-programs.
I would completely recommended it for any library; however, it is definitely graphic with some of the scenes, so if you know that your community is one that is more conservative, keep reviews on hand.  I would put it right up there with Hopkins’ 2009 book Tricks in the details.
I will now give you space to let you know that below here, there are SPOILERS in case you don’t want details.
Ready?  Then hold on.
 Tilt tells the story of three teens interconnected by family relationships:
  • Mikayla, almost 18, completely in that soul devouring love with her boyfriend, who is seemingly as in love with her- until she turns up pregnant.  Mikayla has to figure out what to do about the baby, her family, her boyfriend, and her life, without loosing herself in the process.
  • Shane, who is turning 16, falls for his first boyfriend, Alex, who confesses that he is HIV positive.  Having lived with his sister’s chronic and ultimately fatal illness, Shane has to figure out whether to accept Alex knowing that their love will be shortened, as well as the death of his sister midway through the book, which brings his facade of well-being crashing down.
  • Harley is 14, an innocent good girl looking for love, and finding it unrequited in older boys.  She changes her appearance to find that love, then starts moving unawares towards self-destructive and dangerous extremes in order to get that love, from drinking and drugs to sexting and date rape.
Told you, a lot to deal with, and there are NO punches pulled.  However, that is what makes Hopkins’ writing so real to teens, and so relatable- they know that she lives these characters, and it’s like these teens could be someone that they know.  They’re gripping, and you want everything to be OK, and you cringe and your heart breaks with them when it’s not.  And that’s everything that a wonderful book should be.
And, just for you, we have a GIVEAWAY!!!  Share in the comments below your favorite Ellen Hopkins book and WHY, along with your email address, and you could win a copy of Tilt!  You have until Sunday, October 14th to leave a comment and be entered to win.  This giveaway is open to U.S. residents.