Thursday, April 25, 2019

Classroom Connections with David Elliott


Voices: The Final Hours of Joan of Arc

David Elliott, Author

HMH Books for Young Readers (March 26, 2019)
ISBN: 978-1328987594

For ages 14 to adult

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Told through medieval poetic forms and in the voices of the people and objects in Joan of Arc’s life, (including her family and even the trees, clothes, cows, and candles of her childhood), Voices offers an unforgettable perspective on an extraordinary young woman. Along the way it explores timely issues such as gender, misogyny, and the peril of speaking truth to power. Before Joan of Arc became a saint, she was a girl inspired. It is that girl we come to know in Voices.


© 2019 by David Elliott, from Voices: The Final Hours of Joan of Arc (HMH Books for Young Readers)


Read David Elliott’s spotlight interview
on Today's Little Ditty HERE.

David Elliott is the author of over twenty picture books and novels for young people, including The New York Times bestselling And Here’s to You!. Other books include The Transmogrification of Roscoe Wizzle; Finn Throws a Fit; Baabwaa and Wooliam; the This ORQ series; and the poetry series On the Farm, In the Wild,  In the Sea, On the Wing and In the Past. His YA novel in verse Bull (2017) garnered six starred reviews and has been compared to Hamilton. Voices: The Final Hours of Joan of Arc was released in March of this year. Before becoming a writer, David worked as an olive picker in Greece, a popsicle stick maker in Israel, and a singer in Mexico. He is a founding member of Lesley University’s Low Residency Program in Creative Writing, where he still teaches. Currently, David lives in New Hampshire with his wife and Dandie Dinmont terrier, Queequeg.


Why is bringing poetry into the classroom important?

Well, this is like asking why it’s important to bring math into the classroom, right? And I love that the question refers to bringing poetry into the classroom, rather than teaching it. Bringing poetry to young people is an act of love. If we’re not very careful, teaching it is like refusing to give a starving kid dinner until she can recite every ingredient that went into its preparation. There are so, so many reasons to get poetry into the ears and mouths and hearts of our younger citizens. Here is just one. Right now we’re all about STEM. It’s all STEM all the time. Hooray! We get it. STEM! STEM! STEM!

Yes, of course, we need great engineers, great doctors, great astronomers and mathematicians and coders. Nobody is arguing that we don’t. But if we’re going to get anywhere in this weary world we need engineers who can feel, doctors who can empathize with their patients, astronomers who can communicate the wonders of the universe to the rest of us, and mathematicians and coders who are firmly grounded in notions of what it means to be human. I can’t think of any better way to give our young women and men these skills than to sustain them with poetry. Carl Jung once defined a symbol as the best representation of that which cannot be represented. I think that’s an excellent definition of a poem. Of course, we can’t duplicate the experience of grief, or love, or jealousy, or rage, or astonishment, or confusion or any of it through metaphors, and syntax, and line breaks. But we can get close. And when we do, we get closer to all the human beings with whom we share the planet.

How might your book be incorporated into an educational curriculum?

I can think of many curricula where Voices: The Final Hours of Joan of Arc might be an appropriate text. Medieval and European History, Women’s and Gender Studies, Creative Writing Classes. Mary Ann Cappiello, professor of language and literacy at Lesley University, did an excellent job of putting together a curriculum for a Women’s History and Gender Studies course. You can find it in School Library Journal’s “The Classroom Bookshelf.”  Here’s the link:

I’d love to see someone do a unit asking students to write their own biographies using the structure of Voices. First, allow the kids to get two or three of the forms used in the book under their belt. Then ask them to tell their lives through poems from the perspective of people who know them, as well as inanimate objects that mean something to them—bikes, helmets, barrettes, keyboards, violins, whatever. I might also ask them to pick one voice—in Voices, it’s Fire—that repeats throughout their biography.

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


French. Dates from thirteenth century.

  • Eight lines
  • The first and second lines form an unrhymed couplet.
  • The end words of lines one and two set the rhyme scheme.
  • Lines 1,3,5,7 rhyme. As do lines 2,4,6,8.
  • Line one is repeated at lines four and seven.
  • Line two repeated at line eight. In other words, the first two lines of the poem are also its last two lines.
Lines can be any length, but rhyming lines are of the same length.

How Great My Grief

How great my grief, my joys how few,
Since first it was my fate to know thee!
Have the slow years not brought to view
How great my grief, my joys how few,
Nor memory shaped old times anew,
Nor loving-kindness helped to show thee
How great my grief, my joys how few,
Since first it was my fate to know thee?

     – Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)

Take a look at “The Arrow” on page 124 in Voices: The Final Hours of Joan of Arc. Though it has been shaped to form a concrete poem, it is, in fact, a triolet. Following the guidelines listed in the bullet points above, write a triolet in the voice of an object from your own life.  What does it have to say about you?

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

When I was teaching I often began each session—no matter the content of the class—with a poem. We didn’t discuss it. I didn’t “teach” its meaning or say anything about its structure or the author. I simply read it, was silent for a moment, and then got on with the day’s lesson. Without fail if I forgot, the students—everybody from the shy girl sitting in the front row to the burly quarterback sitting at the back—complained, and bitterly. They didn’t know they needed it, but once they discovered they did, they craved it. Imagine what our country would be like if every day, every teacher from kindergarten through upper level graduate courses in cellular biology read one poem. Every class. Every day. We would be living in a different, a better country.

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

In all my school visits I try to write a communal poem with whatever group I’m talking to. Here’s a recent one. Almost all the language of the poem came from the kids, a group of kindergarteners and first grades. They were thrilled.


I was flying, hunting, searching for prey.
I work by night, I sleep by day.
I turn my neck: I see the mole,
I take it back to my treetop hole.
Hoo! Hoo! Hoo! Hoo!

Years ago, I was teaching a college level intro to creative writing class. When we came to the unit on poetry we read Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art.” I will never forget the expression on one of the student’s faces when we finished. She looked as if a light were shining on her, or, maybe, as if she had suddenly discovered that she was the light. That is one of my happiest memories, that little moment. And all we did was read the poem. We just read it.


Instagram: @davidelliott1234
Twitter: @davidelliott10

Look for BULL (click here to read the review on Today's Little Ditty), released last month in paperback.

Many thanks to David for participating in our Classroom Connections series for National Poetry Month, and for offering a copy of Voices: The Final Hours of Joan of Arc to one randomly selected TLD reader!

To enter, leave a comment below or send an email with the subject "Voices 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 Michelle and David, thank you for a beautiful and inspiring chat between the two of you. I am deeply touched by David's trust in poetry. He completely trusts poetry to do what it is supposed to do. Kids fall for that kind of authenticity. They know when we trust or don't. I cannot wait to read Voices! What a marvelous topic for teens. Thank you for writing it!

  2. This whole post is a poem. Thank you so much. I can feel the warmth of that light... (I have this fabulous book already!) xx

  3. So cool! I love David's classroom ideas, and I ran to get the book before I finished reading the post.

  4. I loved 'Bull' & have loved reading David's poems from his early books to my students, yes, just read them. Looking forward to reading Joan, know it will be special, perhaps especially for our times today. Thanks, Michelle & David.

  5. Could you hear me cheering with my hear! hear!'s?

    "But if we’re going to get anywhere in this weary world we need engineers who can feel, doctors who can empathize with their patients, astronomers who can communicate the wonders of the universe to the rest of us, and mathematicians and coders who are firmly grounded in notions of what it means to be human. I can’t think of any better way to give our young women and men these skills than to sustain them with poetry."

    Totally fab post, thanks so much, both of you!

  6. I loved Bull and am looking forward to reading Voices. I LOVE the teacher tip today. Thanks for the post.

  7. This post is so rich and full of everything I believe to be true about poetry. If everyone experienced a poem every day, the world would be a different place. Thanks for the wonderful exercises, too. The triolet challenge I'm determined to try. How amazing to make one in the shape of the eye of a needle.

  8. This book is my favorite of the year so far. So much to love. I am going to reread soon.