About the Story
“The Putrid Poetic Ponderings of Louis J. Pasternak, AKA Dr. Skullstench” is a funny read-aloud perfect for your poetry lovers–and your poetry haters. Fourth grader Louis is, shall we say, slightly unhappy about the poetry project at school, and he vows to write gross poems certain to make Miss Sweetmallow regret the unit. Filled with 25 light verse poems by Louis, and a few more lofty ones by his nemesis, Goldie, this story is chapter book length. It’s 65 pages and about 6,500 words–great for spending a little classroom time each day on poetry. You can read the story on my blog during National Poetry Month for free (the formatting might be a little wonky because there are different text styles for different poets, and notes back and forth, etc.), or you can buy the paperback version for $6.99.
About the Author
Laura Purdie Salas (that’s me) is a children’s writer and poet with more than 120 books published. Her titles have been honored with many lovely lists and awards, including the Minnesota Book Award, NCTE Notables, Bank Street Best Books, starred reviews, and more. You can see a more complete listing of awards here.
Much of Laura’s writing relates to science and the natural world, such as her Can Be… series (Millbrook Press, 2012-2015). BookSpeak! Poems About Books (Clarion, 2011), her most well-known book, is a poetry collection all about stories, books, and reading. While Laura loves writing about the amazing world we live in and also about the joy of reading, she also meets lots of kids on her school visits and travels who are not as excited by the beauty of the world as she is. So Laura got in touch with her disgusting side (which, as it turns out, was not all that hard to find) and wrote a book-length story just for them. It’s not quite a picture book and not a traditional chapter book, so it doesn’t work for traditional publishing. So, she decided to go straight to the readers this work might appeal to and to the teachers who work with them.
An Excerpt from the Book
Here’s how the story starts.
Miss Sweetmallow said we had to write poetry.
I hate poetry. I like folding my eyelids back so you can see the wet parts underneath. I like playing basketball until I’m dripping in sweat and then shaking my whole body so everybody gets a shower. I even like to risk getting poisoned every month or two and eat the cafeteria’s Swedish meatballs in gravy. Which look like cat hairballs.
“In this unit, you will each write 25 original poems.”
I slumped in my chair.
“When you create poems, you can embrace the beauty of language and feel the poem burn deep into your soul.”
I closed my eyes.
When I opened them, Miss Sweetmallow was by my desk. “And,” she said, “You can write them about anything you want.”
I sat up straighter.
“Anything?” I asked.
“Yes, Louis, anything.”
Well. O.K., then.
I was going to make Miss Sweetmallow very, very sorry she made us write poetry.
The notes back and forth between Louis and his teacher on his poems were the most fun part of the story to write! Here’s a poem where Louis picks up on Miss Sweetmallow’s suggestion to write about bunnies–adorable, fluffy bunnies–and takes it in a direction she really didn’t want.
Each poem demonstrates a poetic element, form, or goal assigned by Ms. Sweetmallow (though there are not lessons and explanations embedded in the story). So the poems would fit seamlessly into your own classroom lessons and discussions on metaphor, alliteration, list poems, haiku, etc.
Ready to get your students engaged in poetry this April for National Poetry Month? Humor can be an especially great way to reach reluctant readers and reluctant poets. I hope Louis finds a good home in your classroom or library!
If you’re looking for poems for National Poetry Month but you’re a little grossed out by Louis’ approach, you might want to check out my 30 Painless Classroom Poems series.