Monday, April 22, 2019

Classroom Connections with Georgia Heard


Boom! Bellow! Bleat!: Animal Poems for Two or More Voices

Georgia Heard, Author
Aaron DeWitt, Illustrator

Wordsong (March 12, 2019)
ISBN: 978-1620915202

For grades K-5

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These poems for two or more voices explore the myriad sounds animals make—from a frog's jug-o-rum to a fish's boom! to an elephant's bark. Laced with humor, the poems are meant to read aloud and cover all major classes of animals: mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, amphibians, insects, even a crustacean! Readers will learn how to estimate the temperature by counting a cricket's chirps and see how creatures make sounds at specific pitches and frequencies, so that they can be heard despite other noise around them. Extensive end notes provide more information on the animals and how and why they make the sounds they do. This is an ideal collection for parents and children to share, or for a fun, interactive classroom read-aloud.


Text copyright © 2019 by Georgia Heard. Illustrations copyright © 2019 by Aaron DeWitt.

Enjoy this ribbeting riveting rendition of "We Don't Say Ribbet!" by students, Minnie and Gigi:


Georgia Heard grew up in Virginia in a house on the edge of 100 acres of woods. She spent her childhood listening to an orchestra of birds, insects, frogs and other creatures in her backyard. She is the author of Creatures of Earth, Sea and Sky: Animal Poems, and has compiled several poetry anthologies for children including the Arrow Finds Its Mark: A Book of Found Poems and Falling Down the Page: A Book of List Poems. She is a founding member of the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project in New York City where she also received her M.F.A. in Poetry from Columbia University.  She is the author of numerous books on writing including: Awakening the Heart: Exploring Poetry in Elementary and Middle School which was cited by Instructor Magazine as one of the “10 Books Every Teacher Should Read.”


Why is bringing poetry into the classroom important?

I believe that children are natural poets; they see the world with poet’s eyes and often speak using poetic words. Bringing poetry into the classroom nurtures what is natural in kids.

Perhaps the most important reason for bringing poetry into the classroom is that it helps children connect with how they feel, and, by reading a variety of poetry, kids connect with other people in the world which encourages empathy.

We should also bring poetry into the classroom because it can teach kids about writing in all genres. Grace Paley said that she went to the school of poetry in order to learn how to write prose. Here are a few writing craft tools that poetry can teach:
  • imagery 
  • voice
  • word choice
  • revision
And many, many other tools.

I love what’s written on your blog Today’s Little Ditty: “a poetry playground for the child in all of us.”  That’s exactly how poetry should feel—like a poetry playground.
How might your book be incorporated into an educational curriculum?

There are many wonderful ways to incorporate Boom! Bellow! Bleat! into the classroom—from performing poems in reader’s theater as well as in interactive read-alouds, to including Boom! Bellow! Bleat! in a nonfiction study of animals where students research and write their own animal sound poems for two voices with accompanying informational back matter, to how Lucy Calkins used one of my poems (“Forest Orchestra”) in her new Units of Study on Phonics to help kids play with and perform sounds, and learn phonics. Animal sounds are perfect for this!

This is perfect book to help children with reading fluency for ELA and ELL. For reader’s theater and interactive read-aloud, there is a performance key in the beginning of the book that tells readers how they might read the poems. The poems are colored coded and each reader, or group of readers, can choose one color of text to read (usually black or red) alternating with one another. Words in blue are spoken by all readers in unison. It’s a good sign when students in classrooms, after reading and performing Boom! Bellow! Bleat!, always ask, Can we read it again?

Although Boom! Bellow! Bleat! is a book of poetry it also incorporates a lot of nonfiction information. Many people don’t realize that writing poetry can involve research, and nonfiction information can be incorporated into poems. There is extensive nonfiction back matter on each animal and their sounds that I call Nature’s Notes. When students write their own animal poems for two voices they can learn how to transform information and facts gathered from research into poetry by close reading the poems in Boom! Bellow! Bleat!. They can include informational animal sound poems in a nonfiction informational piece.

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

One specific classroom exercise using my poem “We Don’t Say Ribbit!” is when teachers and students create a frog pond chorus. Teachers can introduce the poem by reading the Nature’s Notes in the back of book explaining the difference between frogs and toads. Then they might divide the class into two groups: the frog group and the toad group. When the class reads the poem out loud the frog group will say, or perform, the frog sounds (written in black), and the toad group will say, or perform, the toad sounds (written in red). They will alternate calls between frogs and toads such as waaatwang, and yeeeeeoooow (which are actual frog and toad calls), and then the whole group will say the refrain together (written in blue): We don’t say ribbit! / We say…. You can turn the classroom into a frog and toad pond by standing in different parts of the room and performing the sounds. To add extra drama to the performance, sometimes I use animal hand puppets to perform the poems and ask students to join in with me.

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

I suggest that teachers begin by reading a poem aloud to their students every day. It only takes a minute or two to read a poem—teachers might start the day (or the class) with a poem or end the day with a poem. Or have a daily poetry break. It’s important to read a variety of poems—from rhyming poems to free verse poems to poems for two voices—so students can get a taste of all kinds of poetry. Ask students to keep a poetry folder with the poems they really love, illustrate in the margins the pictures they see in their minds, and write what makes them love this particular poem. With this simple tip, I can guarantee that within a matter of a couple of weeks students will be asking for more poetry.

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

A student in one of my classes was going through a tough time at home. He was the kid whose desk was in the corner, and he was always getting in trouble at school. When he started to read and write poetry he was able to connect with his feelings, and the poems he wrote were remarkable. He became the class poet. He created a book of his own poems and was so proud, he shared it with everyone who walked in the room. He had found something that he valued and that enabled him to be authentic. Poetry helped him find his voice as a writer.

When I teach poetry, stories like this frequently happen. The kids who feel they aren't good at anything, especially writing, often become the class poets. I’m not sure why that is—maybe because poetry is short and, therefore, more manageable than other kinds of writing, but I think it’s also because poetry is freer and kids are able to write what they think and feel, and it sometimes catches those who are falling through the cracks.

Twitter and Instagram: Georgiaheard1
Facebook: Georgia Heard Page  (georgiaheard1)

Many thanks to Georgia for participating in our Classroom Connections series for National Poetry Month, and to Wordsong for providing me with a copy of Boom! Bellow! Bleat! for one randomly selected TLD reader!

To enter, leave a comment below or send an email with the subject "Boom Bellow Bleat 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 Georgia! What a wonderful post. I love that the voices are color coded. That IS so perfect for ELL & ESOL students that I know. I almost squirted coffee out my nose when I read that "some people don't realize poetry involves research" . I'm always researching! It's one of the best parts of poetry writing. And, I agree. Michelle's poetry playground is one of the best places to play with poetry.

  2. I love this new book by Georgia, so don't put me in the giveaway. I have it. There is much to love when imagining this in a classroom. Kids will love doing the reading aloud, and perhaps then creating their own poems of sounds! And I liked seeing this: "because poetry is freer and kids are able to write what they think and feel, and it sometimes catches those who are falling through the cracks." I had one student who became enraptured by rap, hadn't been doing so well otherwise, but began writing & he, too, created a book of his poems. He had found a way to be successful when he hadn't been before. Poetry is a beautiful thing, and Georgia's books help teachers use it with their students. Thanks, Michelle & Georgia!

  3. I've read quite a bit about this book in Poetry Friday posts, but this was nice because we were also able to hear from Georgia herself. I can't wait to read this one!

  4. This is such a fantastic post in every way. I was lucky to see an F&G at the Highlights course taught by Georgia and Rebecca Kai Dotlitch in 2017, so am super excited to see the book and try it with kids. I love the idea of reading the poems in class and Georgia's tips are definitely ones to incorporate. There can never be too much poetry! This project of yours, Michelle, for teachers and others is a real gold mine. I am learning so much and enjoying every second of reading your posts! Janet Clare F.

  5. This is a wonderful interview. I relate to it particularly since I would teach my preschool students several bird calls and we would create a dawn chorus. Now I know how to create a frog pond chorus! I actually came upon such a thing in the woods one time, and it was the most fascinating sound! Thanks, Michelle, for this great interview with Georgia. I am a fan....

  6. Georgia is one of my favorite people-poets. Her books and her presentations at NCTE have been instrumental in my teaching. Exploring the science of nature while reading and writing poems brings a sense of wonder into the classroom.

  7. Oh my! What timing this post is for me right now. I am in the midst of mentoring my little kinders in the world of writing poetry. This is such a wonderful post full of great ideas I know they will love.

  8. Georgia is a true poetry master. I was able to hear about this wonderful book at Highlights. So excited for Georgia and for the children who will be able to love poetry even more!

  9. Thank you so much for these wise words, Georgia and Michelle! My students are having a blast reading these poems!

  10. As a teacher, I've learned so much from Georgia through the years. Can't wait to share this new title with my students! Thanks.

  11. I'm so taken with Georgia's book, and I love the section in the back she included on "Nature’s Notes," I'm always fascinated by this info–and learning about all the critters correct songs. Thanks again for your rich book Georgia and for the blog post Michelle!