Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Free Verse Fun at The Dancing Pancake

When I moved into the library 3 years ago, I began reading lots of things I wouldn't normally read. Some of the genres I still don't like, but put up with. Some of them I have really learned to like and look for more of them. One them, not really a genre, more of a style, are the free verse novels.

Titles like Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate, Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse, All the Broken Pieces by Ann Burg are some of my favorites. In looking for more of these free verse novels, I have also discovered a group of students who love them as much as I do. I've also discovered that most of the kids in this group are readers who are normally intimidated by chapters and thick books of fiction. I think that since they can read quickly through the poems and still get a story, they feel successful and it builds their reading confidence. I'm excited to introduce a new one to them in the fall, The Dancing Pancake by Eileen Spinelli.

Eileen Spinelli has two other free verse novels that I like a lot, Summerhouse Time and Where I Live. All of her books deal with families and the issues that all families have and issues that only some families have. The Dancing Pancake continues the theme with the main character Bindi. Bindi's father has recently moved out, looking for some space to clear his head after being out of work for a while. Bindi doesn't understand, but her mom stays positive and doesn't give up on the father, a theme I like rather than a family just giving up. All three of Spinelli's books have hope as a theme while addressing family changes.

Dad moving out isn't the only issue Bindi must deal with, in order to save money, she and her mom must move out of their house but the question is where. Bindi isn't happy about this development but accepts it. It's at this point that another feature of Spinelli books comes into play, extended family is always involved. Bindi's Aunt Darnell finds a closed diner and dreams of buying it and opening up a breakfast/lunch place. It just so happens that the diner has a small apartment upstairs, perfect for Bindi and her mother. With that, two problems are solved, a place to live and a job with better income and the move is on.

From there Eileen Spinelli takes off, creating characters and situations with her poetry that my free verse friends will love.

There's Grace, the homeless women who frequents The Dancing Pancake:

Our newest customer
wears a curly brown wig,
a man's gray sweater,
and ratty red high tops.
One lens of her glasses
is cracked.
At least one tooth
is missing.

the waitress Ruby Frances who just got her driver's license:

Ruby Frances got her driver's license.
She's so happy. Like a little kid.
She twirls around The Dancing Pancake.
Sings that old Beach Boys song
"I get around"("Round round get around...")

and Mrs. Otis, the complainer, sometimes known as the Jingle Lady due to her bracelets:

Mrs. Otis, the Jingle Lady,
is driving us all nuts.
Ruby Frances calls her Mrs. Picky.
(And Worse)

and one of my favorites about school shopping with Dad:

Dad takes me school shopping.
I've always loved
shopping for school stuff-
the bright candy-colors
of new folders,
the sturdy feel of fresh notebooks,
the smell of Pink Pearl erasers,
the pitter of paper clips
when I shake the box.

Throughout the book the author/poet deals with homelessness, forgiveness, patience, personality differences in a way that keeps the reader going. I will add this one to the libraries collection of free verse novels and can't wait to share it with the kids.

This will be my last post for a few days, I'm leaving on my first trip to Boston with 46 of my closest 11 year old friends. I'll have plenty of reading time on the bus and hope to have more titles to add to my Cover to Cover shopping lists when I get back.


  1. Enjoy your trip to Boston-I will miss the trip especially seeing Make Way for Ducklings, Niagara Fall exit, big honken eclairs, and big dogs at Harvard NOT the bus ride home though!

  2. I have found that I have a group of students who absolutely love free verse and, yes, they are the ones who are intimidated by longer chapter books. Some of my students favorites are: Almost Forever by Maria Testa and Heartbeat by Sharon Creech.