Yellow is the Sound of Whistling: Writing Poetry with Second Graders
by Ann Teplick, Sanislo Elementary School
YELLOW IS THE SOUND OF WHISTLING,
WHEN YOU EAT SPICY CHILI
HOT! HOT! YUM! YUM!
I want to be a second grader again. I want to wear dresses with koalas and pink and green plaids, with fuchsia-striped tights, with high tops the color of jade—the names of each of my classmates scribbled across the canvas and rubber toes. I want to wear a stack of rubber-band bracelets, in the shape of cars and boats and birds. I want to sit cross-legged on the floor at Circle Time and braid the hair of the girl in front of me that is thick and luxurious way beyond any word in my vocabulary, and smells like chocolate. I want to ponder the innocence of the world, like the ladybug that hitched a ride on my sleeve, and the Sloppy Joes that await us on the lunch cart. I want to be a second grader, again.
From January 7-March 25, 2011, I had the giddy pleasure of writing poetry, on the theme of COLORS, with three second-grade classes at Sanislo elementary in southwest Seattle. I say “giddy,” because how can you not be, with this age group?
I chose the theme of colors, specifically to split the myth that winter in Seattle is 100% gray. Have you noticed the blush on the cheeks of the soccer players on a 35-degree night? Or the gold-speckled mushrooms that dot the yard? What about the Blue Jay that settles on the Cedar tree outside your kitchen window?
“Oooooooh, colors!” was the collective hum—more like a mantra—that rang throughout the residency.
Sanislo elementary is made up of students from all over the world. So, what better place to start, than by celebrating our skin color. Here is a group poem from Mr. Harkness’s class:
Brown like cinnamon and caramel
White like lacy clouds and white boards
Tan like a peach and a tan-colored pencil
Black like a laptop, a tap shoe, and chocolate.
We continued to work with figurative language, using as mentor texts, the books Hailstones and Halibut Bones by Mary O’Neill; and Spicy Hot Colors, Colores Picantes by Sherry Shahan:
A siren on a cop’s car
A raspberry, sweet or sour
A boot on a rainy day in a puddle
Fire when somebody’s house is burning
Dragon in a Chinese dance
Strawberry in a strawberry split
A cherry growing on a tree near the wooden fence
An apple that makes my apple pie
A rose that blooms in summer outside my window
Tomato dipped in salsa
Anger booming in my mind
A magical red pepper that grants wishes
Ink that magically slides across the paper.
Group poem from Mr. Femiano’s class
In Cameron’s poem “Yellow,” trumpets and sumo wrestlers are described as never before!
Is a trumpet
Blowing a sumo wrestler
Away in his underpants.
Jose chooses yellow images that we notice in our everyday life:
Yellow as tickets
Going to the movies.
Yellow as my dinosaur shirt.
Yellow as the crayon
I use in my coloring book.
Yellow as the wall in the second-grade portable.
Yellow as the banana I peel
We experimented with synesthesia—the description of one sensory perception by another—with the focus on sound:
Blue is the sound
Of me and my family whispering
Dark black is the sound
Of a dog barking at a person.
White is the sound
Of a guitar playing.
Red is the sound
Of the Cambodian flag
Waving in the wind.
Black is the sound
Of a tap dance
Stomping the floor
Loud as a tornado
Rampaging through Arizona.
Group poem by Mr. Femiano’s class
The book, Yellow Elephant, A Bright Bestiary, by Julie Larios (Seattle poet extraordinaire), inspired us to write poems about animals that highlighted repetition. We spoke about the function of repetition in underscoring the importance of things, and how it flies our ears and eyes down the page of a poem.
The poem “Blue Rabbit” paints a picture that is succinct and crisp. I am delighted with Livia’s choice of color and animal. It surprised me, and I live to be surprised:
Blue rabbit eating
A blue carrot in a
Blue field saying,
“This carrot is good,
Better than any.”
There is much to love about the poem “White Cat.” For me, it’s the contrast of colors and textures. PLUS, I want to drop everything I am doing and head to the Meow Puff Café! Don’t you?
White cat meowing in the house, sleeping
In its bed. White cat sleeping with its
Pink crown with red rubies. White cat talking
In its sleep. A girl leaving a gift.
White cat said, “Let’s go to the Meow
Aiden repeats the word “red” six times in his poem “Red Cardinal.” With each repetition, the color deepens its glow:
A red cardinal is building a nest
So it can lay eggs.
The cardinal is searching
for red worms.
The red cardinal is also searching
For red ants, red spiders,
And red mice.
We experimented with inquiry, and agreed that the moment we stop asking questions, we relinquish our sense of curiosity. Thus, we created poems that asked questions of colors. The models for these poems were taken from The Skagit River Poetry Festival’s website.
Are you the Douglas fir that climbs near my window?
Are you the moss that is taking over the world?
Have I seen you painted on my skateboard?
Maybe you are the uniforms of the Seahawks?
Are you the gumball in the machine at the barber shop?
Have I noticed your seaweed washed up on the beach after a storm?
Are you as green as the book James and the Giant Peach?
And what about the frog who sometimes keeps me up at night?
Group poem written by Ms. Wey’s class
Are you the red cherry
That’s in my coconut sundae?
Are you the red candy that’s
As hot as a pepper? Are you the
Red-coral snake that bit me next to my
We experimented with personification, and imagined what we would be, if we could take on the life of a certain color. The book, Dirty Laundry Pile, Poems in Different Voices, selected by Paul B. Janeczko, served as our mentor text, with poems in the voices of brooms, mosquitoes, and washing machines. Lots of laughter, here.
I appreciate how Nasru uses details to extend his thoughts, in the poem “If I Were Gray.”
IF I WERE GRAY
I’d be an elephant
Running from cheetahs,
Jaguars, leopards and lions
At the same time.
If I were white
I would be a polar bear
If I were black,
I would be a tornado
Knocking down a house.
If I were brown
I would be an owl howling
In the dark sky.
If I were yellow
I would be the sun in the blue sky.
If I were silver
I’d be a video game
Controller playing Lego
Star wars forcing
C3-PO into lava
Burning him into
Pieces, turning him
The artist Paul Klee once said, “Color and I are one. I am a painter.” Sanislo second-grade poets are painters, too. They dazzle the world with their spontaneity, their sense of adventure, and their love of words. Does it get any better than this?
Iyengar, Malathi Michelle. Tan to Tamarind, Poems about the Color Brown. Children’s Book
Janeczko, Paul B. Dirty Laundry Pile, Poems in Different Voices. HarperCollins, 2001.
Larios, Julie. Yellow Elephant, a Bright Bestiary. Harcourt, Inc., 2006.
Nordine, Ken. Colors. Harcourt, Inc., 2000.
O’Neill, Mary. Hailstones and Halibut Bones. Doubleday, 1989.
Shahan, Sherry. Spicy Hot Colors, Colores Picantes. August House LittleFolk, 2004.