Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Classroom Connections with Alice Faye Duncan


A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks

Alice Faye Duncan, Author
Xia Gordon, Illustrator

Sterling Children's Books (January 1, 2019)
ISBN: 978-1454930884

For ages 5 and up

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With a voice that is wise and witty, Gwendolyn Brooks wrote poems that captured the urban Black experience and the role of women in society. She grew up on the South Side of Chicago, reading and writing constantly from a young age with her talent nurtured by adoring parents. Brooks ultimately published 20 books of poetry, two autobiographies, and one novel. In A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks, Alice Faye Duncan celebrates Gwendolyn’s life and work, illuminating the tireless struggle of revision and the sweet reward of success.


Click on image to enlarge.

Text copyright © 2019 by Alice Faye Duncan. Illustrations copyright © 2019 by Xia Gordon.
From A SONG FOR GWENDOLYN BROOKS (Sterling Children’s Books).

SING a song for Gwendolyn Brooks.
She whittles her sonnets with perfect grace,
Like Edna St. Vincent Millay and Robert Frost.

With slinky, sly, and see-line spunk,
Gwen swings the blues with her black pen,
Like guitar players at Theresa's Lounge.

Gwen paints poems with paintbrush words,
And Gwen takes home a Pulitzer Prize.

A Pulitzer Prize?


                © 2019 Alice Faye Duncan, all rights reserved.


Alice Faye Duncan discovered the snappy-snazzy poems of Gwendolyn Brooks, when she was a child scanning the crowded bookshelves in her parents’ home. After Alice earned an English degree in college, she went to library school, and used every free moment writing picture book manuscripts as she also pursued a writing career. She is the author of multiple children’s books including Memphis, Martin and the Mountaintop (a Coretta Scott King Honor Medal), Honey Baby Sugar Child, and Twelve Days of Christmas in Tennessee. When Alice is not writing or researching new books, she serves as a school librarian in Memphis, Tennessee.


Why is bringing poetry into the classroom important?

Poetry pricks the imagination and inspires young people to embrace their emotions. Poetry acknowledges that our human feelings are important and so often poetry inspires students to pick up their pens and write.

How might your book be incorporated into an educational curriculum?

A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks is an aural experience. It is sheer music. It is high emotion.  It is FUN to read aloud because of my incessant and effective use of alliteration, assonance, rhyme and repetition. The nine poems that make up the biography demand to be spoken. The book SWINGS. While it also demonstrates for the budding writer—examples of a sonnet, examples of free verse and the rigors of the editing process.

Can you suggest a specific classroom exercise related to your book?

Gwendolyn Brooks was famous for looking out her kitchenette window, watching her neighbors and writing about their lives. Alliteration is a repeated letter or sound. And frequently, Miss Brooks used alliteration to give her poems a musical quality. For this exercise, recall one of your memorable or inspiring neighbors. Write a seven line poem that celebrates or praises your neighbor's life.  Include alliterative language in the 1st, 5th and 7th line.

What is a simple, practical tip for teachers when it comes to incorporating poetry in the classroom?

Require students to memorize poems. Like a balm or healing salve, the power of these memorized words will comfort them in trying times.

Can you recount a specific instance of when poetry impacted a student or group of students in a positive way?

Early in this current school year, I introduced one of my high school students to Gwendolyn Brooks' Collected Works. After reading the collection, my student informed me that her favorite poem by Brooks is "The Mother." This encounter with Gwendolyn Brooks inspired my student to write her very first poem. She is now working toward self-publishing a book of poems to share with her high school peers.


Facebook and Twitter: @alicefayeduncan
Instagram: @alicefayewrites

Look for her forthcoming picture book, Just like a Mama, illustrated by Charnelle Pinkney Barlow (Jerry Pinkney's granddaughter) on Mother's Day, 2020.

Many thanks to Alice Faye for participating in our Classroom Connections series for National Poetry Month, and for offering two copies of A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks (one hardback and one digital) for randomly selected TLD readers!

To enter, leave a comment below or send an email with the subject "Song for Gwendolyn Giveaway" to TodaysLittleDitty (at) gmail (dot) com by Tuesday, April 30, 2019. Winners will be announced on Thursday, May 2nd, so be sure to check back to see if you've won!

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Check out the other Classroom Connections posts and giveaways on offer this month by clicking the names below!

Digital art © 2018 by Miranda Barnes,
based on a line from "Ghazal" by Tracy K. Smith.


The best way to keep up with the Classroom Connections series is by subscribing to Today's Little Ditty via email, which you can do in the sidebar. I will also be announcing the posts on social media. Like me on Facebook and/or follow me on Twitter (also in the sidebar) to stay informed that way. Catch up with Classroom Connections posts you may have missed by clicking on the "It's time to INSPIRE" icon in the sidebar, or by visiting my "Poetry in the Classroom" board on Pinterest.


  1. Good Morning, Alice Faye and Michelle. I am sitting at my computer just beaming with my school librarian smile because I too am a school librarian that writes! My challenge is the work of publication while being a writer. Whoo, does becoming published take focused, tough-skinned dedication, time and work. I'm so impressed that Alice Faye has been able to be the success that she has WHILE being a school librarian. Thank you for that tremendous inspiration. I'm off to write a poem about a neighbor ala Gwendolyn Brooks style. It just sounds fun. Keep up the writing and great work, both of you!

  2. "Poetry pricks the imagination"
    Yes it does! This book looks to be a lovely tribute to Ms. Brooks.

  3. What a beautiful poem about Gwendolyn Brooks! I really like the teacher tip. It's a good one. Thanks for the post.

  4. Love PB biographies in verse--thanks for sharing!

  5. Ah, as an undergrad I saw Gwendolyn Brooks read at a very intimate gathering and I was just blown away not only by her poetry but by her persona. Such grace, such a lovely woman. And hooray for Alice Faye for bringing her to a new generation of kids!

  6. I am very eager to read more about Gwendolyn Brooks.This would add so much to my poetry work with kids, but a friend of mine co-wrote an adult book about her, The Whiskey of Our Discontent and I know she and other teachers would love to see this gem.