Thursday, November 4, 2010

Lee Bennett Hopkins: A Silent Mentor

Lee Bennett Hopkins & His Poetry Friends
at NCTE 2009
(Back Row-L toR: Walter Dean Myers, Rebecca kai Dotlich, LEE, Jane Yolen, J. Patrick Lewis)
(Front Row-L to R: Georgia Heard, Sylvia Vardell, Janet Wong)

Yesterday, children’s poet Heidi Mordhorst left a comment for Lee Bennett Hopkins and me at my post PASS THE POETRY, PLEASE!: A Wild Rose Reader Interview with Lee Bennett Hopkins.
She wrote: “Really enjoyable exchange! I especially like the idea of "silent mentors"--we all have them, I guess, and they play a different role to the "talking mentors" we may also have.”

I had one very special “talking mentor”—the late David McCord. David was the first children’s poet honored with the NCTE Excellence in Poetry Award for children in 1977. I met David in the early 1980s. We became fast friends. He visited my classroom every year after his first presentation at my school. Some years, he even came twice to speak to my students and share his poetry. We had a big birthday party for him when he turned eighty-five. (Note: David and I shared the same birthday!)

My students and I—with the help of our art teacher—prepared an audio-visual poetry presentation for his birthday. My students selected their favorite David McCord poems, memorized them, and then I taped my students reciting David’s poems. The art teacher helped my students illustrate the poems. Then he and I photographed the paintings and made slides of them. David was truly touched by my class’s slide/tape presentation of his work. The party was a memorable experience for all of us.

I’ve had dozens of “silent mentors”—including the recipients of the NCTE Excellence in Poetry for Children Award. My two MOST important silent mentors were Myra Cohn Livingston and Lee Bennett Hopkins.

I read Lee's book Pass the Poetry, Please!—both the second and the third editions. I have dozens of sections starred and underlined in the books. Through the book(s), I learned about children’s poets “From Adoff to Yolen”—and read a potpourri of poetry ideas “From Acorns to Zinnias.” I learned about ways to spark children to write poetry.

Yesterday, I posted Lee’s answer to a question I had asked him about why he put more of his creative energy into compiling anthologies than into writing his own original work. In his answer to me, Lee wrote: I do know I wanted to create anthologies so that readers would have a wide variety of voices and subject matter in their classrooms.

Lee sent me a list of all the poetry books he’s both written and compiled. I went through my library and discovered that I own—at the very least—fifty of those books!

Through those books, Lee helped introduce me to hundreds of poets. I sought out books written by many of the poets I discovered through Lee. I read their work. I heard their unique voices speaking to me. All this helped me to internalize poetic language. It helped me to become a better writer of poetry. For that I will be forever thankful to Lee.
After all these years, I think the time has come for me to thank this silent mentor of mine...with poetry.

A Poem for a Dear One: Lee Bennett Hopkins
By Elaine Magliaro

My silent mentor
Never knew how
He inspired me
To write poetry…
Until now.

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