Recommended for grades 2-5
This month at school, my students will be studying Black History in some fashion. I’ve decided that my 2nd and 3rd graders will be studying Black poets before they create their own original poems. The Black figure I have them basing their study around is Langston Hughes, a Missouri born poet. The students began the study by listing the first words that come to mind when they think of poetry (which I had to emphasize doesn’t mean writing a poem). We shared these and then we moved on to looking up Langston Hughes on World Book Student. I used the text to speech feature and asked students to listen and write down one thing they learned about Hughes.
The book I’m using to connect it all is Langston’s Train Ride by Robert Burleigh. The story focuses on when Hughes wrote “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” and at one point I asked my students to write down all the words they could to describe a river without using the word river. I began by reading the ‘Author’s Note’ in which Burleigh says he wanted to describe the moment where Hughes realized he was a writer. Burleigh does a beautiful job emulating Hughes’ poetic form; the words come alive in first person narration. I liked that I was able to focus my student’s attention on certain parts:
At one point, the main character states that he drifts back and this allows me to question my students if the story will stay in the present.
One of my favorite lines, “No matter what, I’ll keep on going,” allowed for my students to mention character traits—such as being brave, strong, having courage and allowed me to contribute a new word—perseverance.
Another point I enjoyed was when the protagonist mentions Illinois and in turn I am able to not only ask my students what it is, but show them the state on the ‘Interactive Maps & More’ feature on World Book Kids.
The book ends with the complete poem and I will be using Nikki Giovanni’s CD from Hip Hop Speaks to Children that has Hughes reading his poem. The illustrations are gorgeous mixed-media, rich in color, sometimes covering a two page spread and other times opposite a page of text, which has the background of wood cuts against a solid color.
Burliegh, R. (2004). Langston's train ride. New York, NY: Orchard Books.
Giovanni, N. (2008). Hip hop speaks to children: a celebration of poetry with a beat. Naperville: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky.