by Leland James
($16.95, (7” X 10”) Paperback, 96 pages – including 32 color illustrations by Anne Zimanski)
“Longberry’s Leap” by Leland James, an internationally acclaimed poet, is a wonderful book of poetry for children, with 32 beautiful color illustrations by Anne Zimanski. It is the story of a young girl’s adventure into the world of imagination and her imaginative reconciliation with the uninspired kingdom from where she took the leap to discover the unknown. Imagination leads to insight as well as delight. It is a suitable read for children as young as six and may be read by many ten to thirteen-year-olds. The book is written in rhyming couplets, with wordplay enjoyable for both children and adults. Tools for parents who wish to build their child’s vocabulary through the story are included. A companion booklet for teachers and parents who wish to use the book for instruction in poetic craft, with definitions and a complete metrical scan, is available as a PDF download from Little Red Tree Publishing.
Note to Parents, Teachers, and Older Readers
In Longberry’s Leap two aspects of my interest and experience come together, my career as a poet and writer of fiction and my parallel career as a designer and developer of educational materials, including textbooks and training programs for audiences from pre-school through graduate-level higher education. This note addresses my ideas regarding Longberry as an educational tool for children, as well as for enjoyment.
A Word About Big Words
There is disagreement, if not controversy, about vocabulary level in children’s literature. One camp argues for a limited number of easily understood words for the intended audience appropriate to the age level. The other camp argues for the applicability and desirability of stretching young readers and listeners. I am in the latter camp and have written Longberry accordingly.
First, let me make the case as I have experienced it, then from children’s choice, and finally an academic research-based opinion.
I do readings for children at schools and libraries and find children of all ages do one of three things with “big words.” This really means unfamiliar, unless one is referring to technical terms. Actually, children do the same thing with unfamiliar words as adults.
- The reader or listener, if the work is literary, particularly poetry, simply enjoys the poetic music and pays attention to the broad meaning of the story or poem.
- The reader or listener guesses the general meaning of the word from context or root words.
- The reader or listener is interested, perhaps even delighted, by the word and asks about it or goes to the dictionary in search of the definition.
This in my experience is the natural way vocabulary is built.
Now as regards letting children speak for themselves through the literature they prefer, let’s take the wildly popular Harry Potter series. The Chamber of Secrets, which is rated by the Lexile “Framework for Reading” as appropriate for grades 5-6 (the center of the Longberry audience), is a good example. Here are a couple of dozen words from the first few chapters: simper, livid, nimble, lurch, fiasco, haphazardly, betide, gnarled, emblazon, gingerly, pince-nez, abashed, apothecary, indignantly, cavernous, waft, sidle, apprehensive, sumptuous, billow, flail, petrify, sallow, flout. I believe this speaks for itself.
A dramatic example, just how far the stretch can go and still be effective and enjoyable for children, is the popular Skippy John Jones series. Here Spanish words and phrases are incorporated with no explanation, and children enjoy it and understand it. Here are a couple of examples.
“Por que?” asked Skippito.
(Children can figure out that por que means “why?”)
“Then they took a siesta. But after waking up ….”
(Children can use the context to figure out that siesta means “nap.”)
You might say new words and phrases in Skippy are ay caramba, mucho fun.”
At the younger side of the spectrum, we have the #1 “New York Times” bestselling book by Jamie Lee Curtis, Big Words for Little People, rated for ages 4-7. Here are a few sample words: cooperate, respect, patience and considerate.
Finally, from the Harvard Education Letter, “Small Kids, Big Words”: “[A] growing body of research and classroom practice show that building a sophisticated vocabulary at an early age is key to raising reading success—and narrowing the achievement gap.”
According to my own experience with children and the above, I have employed “big words” in Longberry. I have done so with an eye to context and root words that might be known. Illustrations, of course, add a dimension of potential understanding. In order to maximize the potential advantage, I have included a dictionary by page number at the back of the book for older children. Along with word definitions, I have included references that might be unfamiliar, i.e. “curious as George,” referencing the Curious George books by Hans Augusto Rey. Allusions in one work to others are too often, in my view, overlooked in primary and even secondary education.
At the bottom of many pages in Longberry you will find, above the page number, the word “vocabulary” and/or “reference.” These indicate that a word or reference on that page is defined or explained in the glossary at the back of the book.
For parents, teachers, and older readers, I have, with Little Red Tree Publishing, developed an introduction to the poetic craft,—see below for details— utilizing Longberry’s Leap as a poetic-craft learning tool. In this age of “free verse,” I believe it is important to keep alive the understanding and joy of traditional poetry.
A Guide for Teachers and Home School Parents:
The Craft of Traditional Poetry: An Introduction to Traditional Poetry and Creative Writing—for older children and young adults
The guide has four parts:
- Traditional Poetry: Concepts, Terms, and Definitions.
- Poetry/Creative Writing Lessons Plans [7 lessons].
- Visuals and Handouts.
- A metrical scan of Longberry’s Leap.
In addition to the guide, there is PowerPoint of all the visual aids , contained in the lessons.