poet of the day: gooney bird greene

illustrated by Middy Thomas (HMH, 2009),
Chapter book for ages 6-10, 112 pp.

Gooney Bird? For National Poetry Month?

You can bet your underpants on it!

Is it true that if you warm your brain to the right temperature, you can write better poetry?

In Gooney Bird is So Absurd, the fourth book in Lois Lowry’s fabulous chapter book series, the lovable, irrepressible second grader who’s been captivating everyone with her brains and quirky fashion sense, proves this theory to be correct.

For the month of January, Mrs. Pidgeon is teaching her class at Watertower Elementary all about poetry. Gooney Bird gets right into the action by donning her special two-ponytail-brain-warming hat. She warns her curious, giggling classmates against calling it “underpants” to get a cheap laugh, and very wisely declares that like a poem, her green, frilly hat (perhaps underpants in another life) can be “whatever you want it to be.”

With each new chapter, the class learns about a different poetic form. They begin with couplets, then move on to haiku, limericks, list poems, and poems for many voices. They even learn about the importance of constructive criticism and revision. Thanks to Mrs. Pidgeon, the humorous and endearing antics of all the kids, and Gooney Bird’s ability to take charge, inspire, and spark excitement no matter what she says or does, none of it feels like “lessons.” Making poems is sheer joy, and Gooney Bird and her classmates discover, among other things, that a poem doesn’t have to rhyme, and “only has to be long enough to say what you want it to say.”

Early on, Mrs. Pidgeon tells the class that she likes to begin each morning by reading a poem, and reveals that her mother, Mrs. X, is in a nursing home and not doing too well. While going through an old trunk, Mrs. Pidgeon finds some of her mother’s poems, which she reads to her on her visits. She also shares several of these with the class, the most poignant being this list poem:


A cake with pink candles,
A yellow hair ribbon,
A kitten named jingle,
The lace collar on my mother’s best dress,
Ruffled curtains in my bedroom,
The fragrance of honeysuckle,
And fireflies on summer evenings,
So many fireflies.
I wonder where the fireflies have gone.

Maybe you can guess what happens next. Bad news, but Gooney Bird steps up to the plate once again, by organizing the best, most important Poem for Many Voices the class has ever done. It’s beautiful how this final poem ties up all the plot points and incorporates everything the kids have learned about poetry throughout the month. Poetry is, above all, about feelings, and Gooney Bird and her classmates are full of heart and inherent wisdom.

If you’re not yet familiar with the Gooney Bird series, run to the library this minute and share them with your kids. They will instantly become fascinated with the red-headed girl who showed up on her first day of school wearing pajamas and cowboy boots, and they will love Mrs. Pidgeon, who says things like, “Poetry is not to be judged. You just savor it.”

About the books, Lowry says:

Gooney Bird Greene is the child I wish I could have been, because I was a terribly shy, self-conscious child (and) I envied desperately those children who were outgoing and self-confident . . . Each book focuses on a different teaching device. In the first book, Gooney teaches the class how to tell stories, and the second one deals with words. I have in mind several other things that this unusual and very outgoing, self-confident child can give to the whole class and her teacher. These books are fun to do.

The third book, Gooney the Fabulous, is about fables, and now, Gooney Bird is So Absurd, which was released just last month, features poetry. All the characters are spot-on believable; if you love Lois Lowry already, you will love her even more (I know, how is that possible)?

Okay, put on your brain warmer hats and get to work!

Click here to read an excerpt from Gooney Bird is So Absurd, and here for more information about the entire series.

*Snowball, pictured here with a dark chocolate raspberry egg on his nose, and teddy bear underpants on his head, would like everyone to read a Gooney Bird book to celebrate spring!

13 thoughts on “poet of the day: gooney bird greene

  1. Underpants on the head seems to be the spring fashion — there’s another early chapter book (forgot the title), with the main character doing the same thing.


  2. I’ll have to check those books out; once we finish reading Goblet of Fire aloud, we’ll probably be looking for a new series (having exhausted Junie B Jones, Judy Moody, Paddington and having made a major dent in Magic Treehouse….)


  3. Do you know I’ve never read a single GOONEY BIRD title, but really want to? I should start with the first for my girls. I bet they’re old enough now…


  4. I LOVE this series. Reading them is a blast. My entire first grade class would chime in:” I want to be right-smack in the middle of everything. EVERYTHING I say.”


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