Poetry Friday: Eureka! Poems about Inventors, Snowflake Bentley, and Erasure Poetry

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Our fifth graders are in the midst of an informational reading/writing unit focused on inventions and inventors. While the students read mostly nonfiction during this unit, we also share several poems from Joyce Sidman’s remarkable book, Eureka! Poems about Inventors (Millbrook Press, 2002). In this volume, Sidman, winner of the 2013 NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children, celebrates in verse the invention of paper, hot air balloons, velcro, and more.

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“Food of the Gods” describes the history of chocolate, from Quetzalcoatal dropping “ripe yellow pods of cacao” to Francois-Louis Cailler, who, in 1819,

“…seized upon them,

           mixed and ground and tempered,

and by some clean and wholesome magic,

made of them a food–

a wafer of heaven,

a smooth slab of heart’s delight.”

For more about Eureka! as well as a Reader’s Guide and links to information about inventors, visit Joyce’s website.

In the past, the fifth grade teachers and I have talked about having the kids write their own inventor/invention poems, but we’ve never managed to find the time. I had my own eureka moment when I read Dana Murphy’s post about erasure poetry over at Two Writing Teachers last week. Suddenly, I knew this was the way to have our students craft poems about the inventors and inventions they’re studying. This technique is also a great way for students to practice zeroing in on important details and main ideas.

Here is my attempt at erasure poetry to use as a model with students. I chose Jacqueline Briggs Martin’s Snowflake Bentley (Houghton Mifflin, 1998), one of my all-time favorite books to share with students, as my subject. Mary Azarian’s stunning woodcut illustrations for the book won the Caldecott Medal.  Although Wilson Bentley wasn’t an inventor like Gutenberg or Elijah McCoy, he did develop the process to photograph snowflakes and became world-famous for his miraculous pictures.

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I worked in my notebook, jotting down lines that seemed meaningful as I read the book. As I reread, I thought about the importance of particular events and made decisions about including them in my poem. This kind of thinking can be challenging for students, and writing erasure poems will be an engaging way from them to practice these important skills.

The Snowflake Man

~Wilson Bentley~

born February 9, 1865

Jericho, Vermont

A boy who loved snow,

snow as beautiful as butterflies,

studied the icy crystals

through an old microscope.

Saw intricate patterns,

no two the same.

He wanted to find a way

to save snowflakes,

and tried drawing snow crystals,

but they always melted.

At sixteen,

he read about a camera with a microscope.

“I could photograph snowflakes,” he thought.

At seventeen,

his parents spent their savings

on that camera.

Mistake by mistake,

He would not quit.

Finally, in the second winter,

he figured out

how to photograph snowflakes.

Neighbors laughed when

he waited hours

to find just the right crystal.

Willie said the photographs

would be his gift to the world.

He wrote and gave speeches,

became famous,

and published a book.

A book of his best photographs,

of his treasures in snow.

By Smithsonian Institution from United States (Snowflake Study  Uploaded by PDTillman) [see page for license], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo by Wilson A. Bentley; Smithsonian Institution from United States (Snowflake Study Uploaded by PDTillman), via Wikimedia Commons
 Please be sure to visit Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect for the Poetry Friday Round Up.

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13 thoughts on “Poetry Friday: Eureka! Poems about Inventors, Snowflake Bentley, and Erasure Poetry

  1. Snowflake Bentley’s story illustrates persistence wonderfully. I’m inspired to look at more of his photos. Thanks for sharing your poem and your train-of-thought with us! You came up with a great idea.

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  2. Love the idea of creating erasure poems from a nonfiction book. I need to read Snowflake Bentley again! And I have to say I enjoyed your excerpt from Joyce’s poem. I need a “smooth slab of heart’s delight” right now.

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  3. Bookmarking this post, Catherine! I hadn’t thought to include poetry in our nonfcition units (duh!) but your inclusion of Sidman and the way you worked in erasure poetry is just brilliant. Stealing tbis idea!

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  4. I’ve used that book more than once, Catherine, for non-fiction poetry, but didn’t think of the erasure poem lesson in combination. Your poem is wonderful, as is Snowflake Bentley, and those photos. Hard to believe they look like that, isn’t it? What a gift he gave to us! Thank you!

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  5. I love how much I learn during my blog hopping for Poetry Friday. Erasure poems are new to me, and would be a great strategy for getting ideas flowing when starting from scratch seems too intimidating. Thank you for sharing!

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  6. The idea of using found poetry to have students read more closely is brilliant. How fun is it to read with such a purpose in mind! I’m sure the students will enjoy this activity. Your model is great, too. I am tucking away this idea for my next nonfiction unit.

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  7. What a beautiful way to blend nonfiction and poetry. The erasure technique works well. It is so easy to say there’s no time with so many demands, and I love how you used that to slip past that. And it is a way poets work. I love reading stacks of books and asking what really speaks to me? What do I remember? What small thing might stand for a piece of work? Thank you!

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