Monday, May 9, 2016


Guest Post by Claudia Mills

      As a child I loved to write poetry. As an adult, I’ve felt too intimidated even to try, with one exception. I love to write poetry “by” the characters in my stories. I created child poet characters in a number of books, such as Lizzie at Last and Dinah Forever, and had tons of fun writing poems that Lizzie and Dinah might have written. There is something liberating about writing poems under an alias. It frees me from fear that my poem won’t be good enough, because after all, this isn’t really “my” poem, it’s Lizzie’s or Dinah’s.

        In my forthcoming book The Trouble with Babies, the third book in my Nora Notebooks series, the kids in Nora’s class are writing haiku for a poetry unit. So I had the challenge of writing haiku for each featured character in the class.

        Emma dotes on her cat, Precious Cupcake, so I gave Emma a cat-loving haiku:

Precious Cupcake
by Emma

My cat is the best.
White, soft, fluffy, blue eyes, tail.
She is the cutest.

Critter-loving Amy is disappointed that her mom won’t let her get a pet snake:

When I Grow Up
by Amy

When I’m a mom some-
Day, my kids can have ten snakes
And I’ll say “Hooray!”

          Tamara is the class dancer:

Hip Hop
by Tamara

When I start to dance
My feet have their own ideas.
My body follows.

          After explaining the classic haiku structural pattern of three short lines with 5-7-5 syllables, have students write haiku “by” the characters in a favorite book, or a book report selection, or a classroom read-aloud.

          If students will be using a common text, ask them collectively to recall as many characters as they can, listing the names on the board for easy reference. As each character is mentioned, have students refresh each others’ memories about key traits or scenes in which they appear. Then it’s time to start writing.

          It can be fun to compare student poems written “by” the same character. If the text is Charlotte’s Web, for example, all kinds of poems “by” Wilbur may emerge:

                              I may be a runt.
                              But I can be terrific.
                              And radiant, too.


                              I’m glad I’m a pig.
                              But I hope no one makes me
                              Into a pork chop!

                              The best kind of friend
                              Is a spider who can write
                              Words into her web.

Note that this last poem is about Charlotte, but written by Wilbur, as he reflects on Charlotte as wonderful friend. But if students get confused and write their poems about, rather than by, their chosen character, they are still generating poetry and linking it with their insights into literature.

          Once you get started writing this kind of short verse, it’s hard to stop. That’s the power – and pleasure – of character haiku.

BIO: Claudia Mills is the author of over 50 books for young readers, including How Oliver Olson Changed the World (an ALA Notable Book of the Year) and The Trouble with Ants (starred review in Publishers Weekly), as well as the Franklin School Friends series of chapter books from Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Claudia lives in Boulder, Colorado, with her family and her cat, Snickers. Visit her at

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