Recap of Poetry Tips

Here’s a recap of the poetry tips shared on our blog and social media posts so far. Use these tips to explore poetry and this year’s book collection, An American Sunrise by Joy Harjo.

Read Outside: Sometimes all it takes to better understand something or to want to read something is a change of space. Find a poem about the outdoors and take it outside. Being in an environment like the poem may help you connect and understand the poem!

Read aloud: Reading a poem out loud is one of the most simple and effective poetry strategies. By reading a poem aloud, you can pick up on pauses, rhythm, and words that may be missed when reading silently. Also, reading aloud often improves your memory of the piece.

How do you feel after reading?: Oftentimes we prioritize understanding a poem over considering what we like and do not like about the poem. How does the poem make you feel? The author likely selected words or phrases that would make the reader feel a certain way.  

Consider the history: Some poems are hard to grasp because they contain historical context. This is especially true with older poems and poets. There is no harm in researching a poem to better understand the context or references a poem makes. This just increases how much you learn through a poem!

Words matter: Any English teacher or professor drilled into my head the idea that words are one of the most important parts of poetry. Poetry crams so much into a few short lines, so each word has to have a purpose. This means readers have to give their attention to each word. Look up words you do not know, consider word repetition, or just think about a word choice that surprised you.  

Keep a lookout for more poetry strategies on our upcoming blog posts and social media. Comment below which has been the most helpful to you as you dive into poetry! 

Songs are Poems too!

Have you ever thought about the similarities between songs and poetry? Music often feels more accessible because it is part of our daily lives, but poetry can be just as accessible with practice! 

There are countless genres of music, which means each individual has different variations of genres and artists. Similarly, people have favorite poets and forms of poetry that connect with them. 

Music also uses figurative language, rhyme schemes, and different forms that listeners may not think about when listening to a playlist. Music and poetry seem contradictory, but many of these elements are prominent in both mediums. 

Storytelling is a key part of both of these forms. Songs and poems both tell stories in a different way from novels or movies. Songwriters or poets pack their stories into several minutes of listening or reading. Fans often interact with a song or poem multiple times before the meaning and rhythm become clear.

Sometimes songs are inspired by poetry or have similar lyrics. The Lighthouse by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and the song The Lighthouse’s Tale by Nickel Creek both tell the story of a lighthouse and use imagery associated with the sea and lighthouses. These two pieces provide different perspectives: one reflecting on the lighthouse and one from the vantage of the lighthouse. 

Print out your favorite song right, contemporary or classic, and read the words. You may be surprised by the ways poetry is already incorporated into your daily life!

#ReadingTogether: Tips & Tricks for Reading with Little Readers

Earlier this year, we featured a series entitled Reading Together on our Little Read Lakeshore social media accounts! This series provides intentional tips for reading, discussing and exploring themes of books with Little Readers. And surprise! Two NEW tips are spotlighted only here, our blog!

Let your kids see you read! 👀 Tell them what you are reading and why you’re interested in it. Point out to them when you go to the library or purchase a new book for yourself! Sit down on the weekends and read in front of your them. Encourage them to love reading by reading yourself!

Enjoy a series! 📚 For older kids who are growing in their reading skills, a book series is an exciting and reliable option. Ask your librarian for a recommendation and get started! (Or check out our #BookRecWednesday series on either @bigreadlakeshore or @littlereadlakeshore on Facebook & Instagram!)

Enjoy audiobooks together! 🎧 Audiobooks count as reading! Play audiobooks as you have breakfast or a snack. (This also helps kids stay seated and finish their food!) Talk about the story the same way you would a book and ask what them what they thinks will happen next or who their favorite character is!

Don’t forget about nonfiction! ⚠️ Notice what subject interests your kids (baking, bugs, trains, etc.) and find that section in the children’s area of the library. Bring home as many books as you like on one subject and take a deep dive into learning together. Feel free to flip through the pages casually and enjoy books without the pressure of reading cover to cover.

Visit your local bookstore! 🔖 Our local West MI bookstores are the perfect place immerse your Little Reader in books. Combine supporting local business and reading with special one-on-one time with a child. Pick one out a new book buy and bring home! And maybe stop for a treat on your way home too?!

Host a reading party! 🥳 Surprise your kids with a giant bowl of popcorn and announce a reading party. Make a stack of as many books as possible. Sit and read through them all (and don’t forget to have a glass of water nearby for all those read alouds!). Celebrate reading in your home by throwing a party.

For tips and tricks like this, as well as fun ways to get Little Readers involved with our program, find us at @littlereadlakeshore on Facebook and Instagram or email us at!

Classic Favorites Book Recommendations

Looking for more books to read this summer? Here are a few classic books, both past and more current, that are perfect additions to your reading lists this summer!

This semester My English class Literature of the Western World assigned a group project to craft a list of the fifty books deserving of inclusion in the Western Canon. We tended to choose books true to their time and books that contained moral lessons, so you may notice those themes throughout the books I highlighted here. I added several of our selections that were either my favorites ones or ones that I am hoping to tackle this summer.

Old Man And The Sea - By Ernest Hemingway (paperback) : Target

This short novel tells the story of an old, Cuban fisherman and his struggle with the largest fish he has ever encountered, an Atlantic blue marlin. Throughout the story, Hemingway uses a simple narrative to explore perseverance and surviving the struggles of life. I love to fish with my brothers and I grew up going to the White Marlin Open in Ocean City, Maryland on vacation, so this book has always reminded me of those moments with family.

Anne of Green Gables: Montgomery, L. M.: 9780553213133: Books

Anne of Green Gables is a classic story that describes the adventures of a young orphan named Anna on Prince Edward Island. It is a coming-of-age story filled with imagination, everyday life, and the relationships that form with those close to you. I read Anne of Green Gables for the first time over Christmas break and couldn’t put it down. Prince Edward Island is on the top of my bucket list for places to travel and I was fascinated by Anne’s imagination. Dandelion Wine (Greentown Book 1) eBook: Bradbury, Ray: Kindle  Store

This tale features a 12-year-old boy, Douglas Spalding as he spends a summer in a rural, Illinois town. The story uses Dandelion Wine as a metaphor for life and explores what it means to truly be alive. I’ve never read this book, but it caught my eye when I read a few of the selections by my peers. It fits with the previous books because it is a simple narrative and tells a story commenting on life. I grew up in rural Pennsylvania, not Illinois, but I always enjoy a story that takes place in a small town. The Kite Runner (9781594631931): Khaled Hosseini: Books

Hosseini’s story is a heartbreaking tale about Amir and his life growing up in Afghanistan. During a time of tension in Afghanistan, the novel touches on the themes of friendship, regret, shame, and the possibility of redemption. This book has stuck with me since I read it in high school. My younger brother recently read it and reminded me of how impactful the story is for the reader.

Holes (Holes, #1) by Louis Sachar

Stanley Yelnats is shipped to Camp Green Lake for the summer after being falsely accused of theft. At this camp, Stanley is forced to dig holes each day for his rehabilitation. As the story unfolds, the author shows how history and ancestry impact the present. Holes always makes me think of the summer. I read this book back in middle school, but I hope to reread the book soon!

The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness - Kindle  edition by Wiesenthal, Simon. Politics & Social Sciences Kindle eBooks @

Simon Wiesenthal, a Holocaust survivor, shares his experiences inside a concentration camp during World War II. In the camp, a nurse asks him to dying Nazi soldier, who is hoping to gain forgiveness from a Jew for his crimes against humanity. The author explored the possibility and limits of forgiveness in this novel. I had never heard of this book before, but this book caught my attention since I am researching World War II at Hope College this summer.

Published in 2014, this book takes place after a flu pandemic that resulted in the collapse of civilization. Station Eleven is a story of hope, pain, joy, regret, and how one uses these emotions to craft a better world. This book is also at the top of my to-read list! It takes place in the Great Lakes region during a pandemic, which feels a bit familiar. It was also a past Big Read selection.

Happy Reading!!

Literature is Everywhere!

Are you wondering how to get outside and enjoy reading this summer? There are so many outdoor activities and places for you and your family to choose! 

A great strategy for reading is finding a spot outside where you feel refreshed and at peace. Being outside is a great way to make reading fun. You can do this by the pool, the beach, in the grass, or at a park around town. 

Lakeshore parks also feature literature to engage the mind and get outside and enjoy. Did you know that poems and art are featured at Windmill Island Gardens? Check it out!

Angie Pyle's grandson Bryden, 4, runs at the Holland Oz Project at Centennial Park in Holland, Mich., on Tuesday, July 9, 2019. L. Frank Baum was reportedly inspired to write "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz," while staying at his family's cottage at Macatawa Park in Holland. The free outdoor exhibit features a floral mosaic and "Yellow Brick Road" at Centennial Park with plans for six Wizard of Oz life-sized bronze sculptures outside the Herrick District Library across the street. Pyle said they were vacationing in Holland from McDermott, Ohio, and specifically wanted to check out the project. "Who isn't (a fan of the Wizard of Oz)," she said. (Cory Morse |
Picture from “The Holland Oz Project” by Cory Morse

Centennial Park features a Wizard of Oz theme, while a yellow brick road leads into Herrick District Library. L. Frank Baum, who wrote the Wizard of Oz, owned a home in Holland, Michigan, and was inspired to write the story while in Michigan. 

The Outdoor Discovery Center is another great place to visit to see native structures that relate to our chosen book, An American Sunrise by Joy Harjo. Check out their exhibits to the left! 

Poets and authors have long been inspired by nature as a subject. Many poets in England moved to the Lake District in Cumbria, England to write poems, such as “Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey…,” by William Wordsworth. Check out some of the trails along the lakeshore community and write or enjoy the views. My personal favorite hiking spot is Sanctuary Woods!

Use this link to find more ideas for family activities outside. Some cool ideas include painting story stones or finding a guidebook for a hike through nature. 

Suggest more summer activities for readers in the comments below! 

Watch your tone!

One of our past poetry strategies has been to think about your mood as you read a poem. Another great strategy is to think about the tone the author takes within a poem. 

Tone and mood often go hand in hand because the attitude or tone a poet takes within a poem impacts the mood of the reader when reading the piece. The mood can change throughout the poem, while the author’s tone usually is consistent within a poem. Confused? Keep reading!

Read or listen to the poem Stillbirth by Laure-Anne Bosselaar and think about the tone of the poem. 

I felt a sense of panic at the beginning of the poem because of the lines, “It wasn’t my train—the doors were closing,/ but I rushed in, searching for your face.” These lines caused me to feel rushed and confused as the reader. 

The poem continued and I began to feel sad as I started to understand what the poet was talking about. The poet writes, “I was told not to look. Not to get attached—.” This line along with the title Stillbirth” filled me with sadness once I understood that this was a poem about loss. 

Once I thought about how the mood shifted throughout the poem I started to consider the author’s tone when writing the poem. 

The repetition of the word “grief” stood out to me, such as “Some griefs bless us that way, not asking much space.” It seemed to me that the poet wrote this poem as a response to her grief and used the poem to express the pain from the death of a child. 

What was a line from this poem that stood out to you and communicated tone or mood? Leave your thoughts in the comments! 

Summer Book Recommendations

With summer vacation upon us, it seems like the perfect time to highlight some recommendations for summer reads. 

Poetry has been featured for the past several weeks, so let’s shift gears and highlight a different genre – nonfiction. 

Many of the books I have read lately have been memoirs and biographies. Here are a few of my favorites and some other popular recommendations:  

This book tells the story of a writer for the New York Post, who developed a rare form of encephalitis. This rare autoimmune disease affects the brain and causes patients to experience symptoms commonly associated with Schizophrenia or “madness” as Collins calls it.

I read Unbroken in high school for a summer reading project and was surprised to enjoy this book so much. Laura Hillenbrand records the life of Louis Zamperini, a former Olympic athlete, who served in World War II as an airman. The story details his time during the war as a survivor of a plane crash, eventual prisoner of war, and his struggle to cope after the war.

In this book, readers can delve into Malala’s miraculous recovery after being shot for advocating for her right to education in northern Pakistan. This book is perfect if you enjoy stories of bravery, the fight for education, and the power of one voice.

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This story by Dave Peltzer is sure to be a shocking and emotional read as it details one child’s life of abuse and journey in the foster-care system. It is a deeply felt novel that follows the author’s story of resilience and struggle. 

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Dive into the memoir from the poet of our chosen book this year. Joy Harjo tells her story from her childhood, time at an Indian boarding school, and struggles before becoming the current United States poet-laureate and acclaimed author.

What are the books on your summer reading list? We’d love to hear them!

Nervous about Poetry?

Our Big Read 2021 book announcement day was last week and there’s already lots of excitement around our chosen book, An American Sunrise by Joy Harjo. We have lots of poetry fans along the Lakeshore, many of whom have been waiting a long time for our Big Read program to choose a book of poetry.

We’ve already heard from community members who have shared with us that they are nervous about poetry because they aren’t sure how to read or make sense of poems or even if they like poetry! If this is you, you are in good company!

When I read poetry in my high school English classes in high school, I was not a fan. I read the assigned poems diligently, but the deeper meanings my classmates often found were lost on me. Poems scared me!

It wasn’t until I took a creative writing class in college for my English secondary education major that I began to appreciate poetry. 

We had to write several poems, which I was incredibly nervous about. I had no experience with poetry other than several weeks of a poetry unit in high school. I was pleasantly surprised by how my perception of poetry changed and I respected poets more after writing some poetry myself. Poetry still makes me nervous, but with every poem I read, I enjoy it a little more.

Someone shared Billy Collin’s “Introduction to Poetry” with me recently and I felt it was the perfect way to kick off our first book of poetry. 

I enjoy the lines, “or walk inside the poem’s room/and feel the walls for a light switch.” In some instances, it is easier to find the “light” in certain poems than in others.

This poem reminds me of a few of my favorite lines from An American Sunrise. Harjo’s collection begins with the poem “Break My Heart”. She writes, “Before, though, even words/ Are creatures of habit./ You cannot force poetry/ With a ruler, or jail it at a desk.”

We are hopeful that with practice and an open mind An American Sunrise will be an impactful collection of poems. Harjo describes her story as a Mvskoke Native American and her emotions throughout are raw and powerful.

If you get a chance, read through our previous blog posts as for the past few weeks, we’ve featured poetry and strategies for how to read poems. We’re so excited to continue sharing strategies, reflections, and poems in the months and weeks leading up to our Big Read month! 

Introducing Our 2021 Selections!

We are excited to announce that we have received an eighth consecutive grant from the National Endowment of the Arts! Our program will highlight poetry and Native American history this November. 

An American Sunrise by Joy Harjo

This year, we will concentrate on Poet Laureate Joy Harjo’s An American Sunrise, a collection of poems that traverses the homeland from which her ancestors were uprooted in 1830 as a result of the Indian Removal Act. A Writer of the Muskogee (Creek) Nation, Harjo celebrates her ancestors and reminds the reader to remember the past.

“I’m elated to announce that we’ve received NEA and NEH grants again this year. As our program has grown over the last eight years, each year, I am more excited for our community to participate,” said Dr. Deborah Van Duinen, who is director of both the Big Read and Little Read and an associate professor of English education at Hope.  “Each year we learn so much as we listen to and learn from each other while encountering important stories together.”

Writer, musician, and current Poet Laureate of the United States, Joy Harjo was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and is a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. “An American Sunrise:her eighth collection of poems—revisits the homeland from which her ancestors were uprooted in 1830 as a result of the Indian Removal Act. It is a “profound, brilliantly conceived song cycle, celebrating ancestors, present and future generations, historic endurance and fresh beginnings,” wrote critic Jane Ciabattari. “Rich and deeply engaging, An American Sunrise creates bridges of understanding while reminding readers to face and remember the past” (Washington Post). 

Harjo’s many awards include a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas; the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America; the Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets; and two National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowships. Joy Harjo previously visited Hope College in the fall of 1993 and spring of 2012 through the college’s Jack Ridl Visiting Writers Series.

“While the Big Read has not yet focused on poetry, I’m excited for the Lakeshore to be immersed in Joy Harjo’s beautiful verse and the history it tells,” Van Duinen said.  “Harjo’s poems encourage us to contemplate whose histories are told and whose are silenced, and why we must learn about history and culture. They also remind us of the ways reading poetry can lead to greater empathy and understanding.”

Fry Bread by Kevin Noble Maillard

Our Little Read Lakeshore accompaniment for children will feature the picture book Fry Bread, written by Kevin Noble Maillard and illustrated by Juana Martinze Neal.

Debut author Kevin Noble Maillard’s Fry Bread is an evocative depiction of a modern Native American family. Told in verse, Maillard’s book captures the complex Native American identity and shared tradition through beautiful illustrations by Pura Belpre Award winner and Caldecott Honoree Juana Martinez-Neal. Fry Bread celebrates warm food, but also the similarities and differences of nation. 

Author events for the programs are Joy Harjo, Kevin Maillard, and Cynthia Leitch Smith. Specific event details will be released in August.

The NEA Big Read Lakeshore program has received $20,000 from the NEA, one of several grants announced on Wednesday, June 9. The Little Read Lakeshore programhas received $15,000 from Michigan Humanities, one of 17 grants to be announced this summer.

Our 2021 Books

In addition to Hope, our community partners include the Allegan District Library, Allendale Township Library, Alliance for Cultural and Ethnic Harmony, the City of Holland, CultureWorks, Fellowship Reformed Church, the Fennville District Library, the Gary Byker Library of Hudsonville, the Georgetown District Library, the Herrick District Library, the Holland Museum, the Holland-Hope College Sustainability Institute, the Howard Miller Public Library, the Loutit District Library, the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District, the Outdoor Discovery Center, the Patmos Library, Ready for School, the Saugatuck Center for the Arts, the Saugatuck-Douglas District Library, the Spring Lake District Library, Western Theological Seminary, the Woman’s Literary Club and many individual area residents.

Find out more about our 2021 selections, our program and more at!

Every Word Counts!

Words in a poem are like sentences in a novel. Poems tend to vary in length but each word is usually chosen by the author for a reason.

For those who read poetry, a good strategy is to pay attention to the diction, or the choice of words within a poem. 

One way to do this is to read through a poem twice and notice words that surprise you the second time you read it.

Let’s try it.

Read or listen to the poem, “Digging” by Seamus Heaney.

What words or phrases stuck out to you or surprised you after reading? 

I was surprised by the phrase “gravelly ground.” It surprised me that the poet did not just say “sinks into the ground.” The word “gravelly” makes the line very specific.  

I looked up the definition of “gravelly” in a dictionary and found it means there was gravel scattered throughout the ground. This caused me to think about how difficult it must have been to dig into the soil and plant the potatoes. 

Finding definitions for unknown words is another popular strategy to better understand the words in a poem.

I researched the word “squelch” from the lines, “The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap/Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge.” I could imagine the sound of the shovel sinking into the ground as the speaker’s father worked in the field. 

Lastly, paying attention to repeated words throughout the poem may help the reader understand the main themes within the poem. Oftentimes, the poet will repeat words or phrases that are important to the poem’s meaning.

The repetition of the word “digging” and the phrase “the squat pen rests” within the poem caught my attention. 

These phrases are placed together in the final lines, “Between my finger and my thumb/The squat pen rests./I’ll dig with it.” 

Through these lines, the speaker decides to follow a new path and not farm like his father and grandfather. 

Sometimes readers have to “dig” into the definitions and word choices the poet makes to better understand the poem.

Did any other words or phrases confuse or capture your attention? Write them in the comments!