The Girls in the Circle by Nikki Giovanni, illustrated by Cathy Ann Johnson.
Produced for Scholastic by Color-Bridge Books, Brooklyn, NY, 2004.
Poem illustrated as picture book, 32 pages (including back matter).
AR Level: 1.9 (worth 0.5 points).
NOTE: Part of the Just For You series, level 2. This book is poetry.
The Girls in the Circle is a well-known poem, here presented with illustrations and additional commentary and activities. A group of girls staying at Grandma’s dress up in all her things. But when Mom arrives, she won’t let them leave until they change back… or have they?
I first read this poem in a college literature class. At that time I read a very different meaning into it, and had no idea the poem was about little girls. I thought it was teens, and the high heels and red nail polish had a very different connotation for young adults.
The second time I encountered it was in the book Hip Hop Speaks for Children, where an illustrated version can be found on page 6, and an audio version is the second track of the accompanying CD. Interestingly, after reading this picture book, I realized that the version found there is incomplete. I like the version poem which ends with “but they didn’t!” better.
The illustrations are soft and pretty. They didn’t especially stand out, but they didn’t in any way detract from the poem. The pictures are somewhat girly, but this is ameliorated by the inclusion of a young brother who spies on the girls, tells mom on them, and finally plays with them. I would be okay with reading this to a class in April. There are two very similar looking girls who appear to be twins and are dressed the same. The text doesn’t mention specific characters, so they could just be sisters, but I didn’t like that choice.
The poem rhymes at times and at other points doesn’t, making it a good choice for talking to kids about rhyming and gradually leading them to understand that not all poetry is rhyming. For older children, you can do a read-aloud, give them a typed copy of the text, and have them look at the variations in the poem. Why do they think part of it rhymes and part of it doesn’t? Where is repetition used and what does it contribute? Look at Giovanni’s specific word choices – do they help to make word pictures in the mind?
Another trick to use – although I haven’t tried it yet with this book – is to cover the cover with paper. Read the poem out loud, once to listen and then several times to illustrate. Have children draw their own version of the poem, and then compare their ideas to the illustrator’s thoughts on it. I do this with out of copyright poems since they have multiple interpretations; we make our own, and then look at the way two (or more) different illustrators have interpreted the imagery.
Nikki Giovanni is undoubtedly a master poet. I haven’t read all of her work, but this is one of my personal favorites. Kids need to be exposed to high quality poetry early in life if you want them to develop an appreciation of it, and Giovanni is working to make that happen. Definitely recommended.