Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Reading: Joyful Noise - Poems for Two Voices

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Written by Paul Fleischman, Joyful Noise is a compilation of poems that are arranged to be read by two readers "with two parts meshing as a musical duet."  Winner of the Newbery Medal in 1989, Joyful Noise is truly a joyful read with its various poems and also accessible to struggling readers with its advocation of reading in partnership.  However, I was not initially excited to read this book for what I felt were rather bland illustrations inside. 

To me, the title Joyful Noise carries multiple meanings. The sound of a poem is joyful. The sound of children reading poems together is joyful. The sound of their "musical duet" is joyful.  The silent sounds of bugs outside is joyful, as it reminds me of summer, and all of the poems focus on the movements of bugs. Some sample poem titles that I enjoyed are "Chrysalis Diary," which details the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly over five months, and "Honeybees," which juxtaposes the life of a queen bee with the life of a worker bee.  

The partner reading that is expected to accompany this book brings the poems to life and makes them more meaningful.  When I first read "Honeybees" in my mind - in one voice - I didn't appreciate the poem.  I didn't think about how one voice is the queen, while the other is a worker.   But then I asked a coworker friend to read the poem with me, and I truly enjoyed it and also felt that this particular poem called into play some dramatics!  

My third graders love the chance to be dramatic, but I do feel that Joyful Noise is best-suited for older readers for its challenging word choice and vocabulary.  For example, the poem "Whirligig Beetles" contains the words gyrating, serpentine, and tortuous.   Reading this particular poem also made me dizzy because of the whirling illustrations and the misalignment of text.  In fact, the text alignment on all of the pages made me somewhat dizzy and confused.  I understand the author constructed his book this way so that readers could identify their own parts, but without the parts being highlighted for me, it was a struggle to get through this book because of the format.  At the same time, this is not a book intended to be read in one sitting as I attempted to read it and may have been easier for me to digest if I had read it the way the author intended: with a partner and sparingly.  

The illustrations, too, deducted the joy of reading this book.  They are all black and white, and some quite small.  Some of the bugs appear real, especially the honeybee, while others are quite fantastical and portray bugs putting their arms around each other and smiling.  I am also just not partial to bugs and was a bit squeamish about some poems and their illustrations, particularly "Book Lice."  (It made me want to put the book down and wash my hands!) 

Overall, I love the idea of Joyful Noise and believe that two partners reading together with expression and fluency would bring these poems to life!   I can imagine high school students in a theatre class benefitting from and enjoying this book.  In fact, I did find several videos on Youtube of high school speech students performing poems from this book, including this one.  Even some of my own students may enjoy acting out some of the poems together.  But I would not recommended reading this book all at once but saving it to devour poem by poem, or piece by piece, on rainy days, like that pint of chocolate Haagen-Dazs is my freezer!  To experience this for yourself, check out Joyful Noise from your local library. 

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