Happy Birthday, E. E. Cummings

Edward Estlin Cummings was born into a family that celebrated poetry, and both his parents nurtured his artistic impulse from a young age. His mother, Rebecca, dreamed that her baby boy would grow up to become a poet, and she recorded his earliest attempts in a notebook titled "Estlin's Original Poems." In my new picture book biography of the poet, Enormous Smallness: A Story of E. E. Cummings(illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo), I included his first known poem, spoken at the age three:

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Once Estlin learned how to write, he began keeping his own journals, often decorating his writing with drawings of birds and elephants in the margins. Even from a very young age, you can recognize the poet's exuberant wordplay:

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Enormous Smallness tells the story of E. E. Cummings' development as an artist, and part of his particular gift was his ability to retain his childlike vision for the rest of his life. That is to say: playful, open-eyed, and alive to the details of his everyday existence. The boy who wrote poems in a tree house built by his father in the yard of their home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, grew into the man living in a small studio on a half-hidden cul-de-sac in Greenwich Village. The three-year old observer of birds became the poet who wrote: "may my heart always be open to little birds who are the secret of living / whatever they sing is better than to know / and if men should not see hear them men are old."

My wish is that Enormous Smallness will introduce young readers to a great American poet, and that Cummings' inventive, rule-bending spirit will inspire their own writing. To these ends, I have written lesson plans based on two poems included in the book: "In Just" and "the sky was candy." I've tested both with first and second grade students in New York City schools, and the results speak for themselves. Read them and be young again. 

Lessons Plans:

"In Just" lesson plan
"the sky was candy" lesson plan





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