This is the 1999 winner of the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award:
Johnson, Angela. 1998. The Other Side: Shorter Poems. New York: Orchard.
Here is a Digital Trailer for THE OTHER SIDE created by graduate student AnnMarie Williams and available on YouTube and here.
Here is a Readers' Guide for THE OTHER SIDE created by Jordan Alexander.
Johnson, Angela. 1998. The Other Side: Shorter Poems. New York: Orchard Books.
Recommended Age Levels 6th- 8th grade
Summary of Book
The Other Side Shorter Poems, by Angela Johnson, is a collection of thirty-three poems. The story is told from the point of view of fourteen year old Johnson. Through her prose poetry, she creates a sense of nostalgia about growing up in Shorter, Alabama. She creates a mental picture of the town and the people that inhabited her world. With lines like, “...me and Donna Anderson used to skip school and hunt for things to put in her death chest,” the reader is able to flashback to the past and understand what life was truly like for this small town, African American, girl growing up in the Deep South. She tells the history of her life through sharply contrasting stories that range from, her father experiencing the Vietnam War to her skinny dipping with her cousins. These contrasting stories truly create a multidimensional book.
*Coretta Scott King Author Honor Award
*Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award Winner
*NCSS-CBC Notable Children’s Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies
“This short collection packs a powerful punch.”-Booklist
"This bittersweet volume will catch the heart of any reader who believes that growing up means leaving home behind.” –Kirkus Reviews
"An unforgettable view of an insightful young woman growing up in the South.” –Publishers Weekly
“Through prose poetry and colloquial speech, Johnson recalls skinny-dipping, the soft Alabama breeze, dirt roads, and red dusty porches. She presents vivid images-mothers stripping their children in the Wash-a-Teria to launder their clothes; houses smelling of "cinnamon and dead flowers;" getting up enough nerve to ask the secret of growing old. She touches on topics such as Vietnam, racism, and the Black Panthers, but also recalls dancing in the woods with a "boom box blasting through the trees." This slim volume just may open up increased awareness and understanding about the way things were-and how they sometimes still are.” –School Library Journal
Questions to Ask Before Reading
Before showing the book to students, I would start with the following questions about poetry:
*What do you think makes poetry good?
*When reading poetry, what should the reader look for? (How should one analyze poetry?)
*It would benefit students to document their responses where the entire group can see the answers they came up with. After introducing the topic of poetry, I would then lead into prediction questions about the book.
*What do you think this book will be about? Ask students to explain why they made the predictions. This can be done in small groups. (I would present the questions in the “Think, Pair, Share” format. Then, document the responses groups came up with, and post the answers where all can see them; this will allow students to see if any of the predictions were accurate.)
*What do you think the title, “The Other Side” might represent/symbolize?
Suggestions for Reading Poems Aloud
*“The Other Side” – First, have students read the poem silently to themselves. Next, have the teacher read the poem aloud. Then in small groups, have students reread the poem and write in the margins what they think the poem means.
*“Crazy”- Invite the whole class to read the lines, “You’d have to be crazy,” each time it is repeated. A volunteer or teacher could read the other lines.
*“Into the Light”- Divide the class into small groups. Assign the groups a stanza to read and after practicing, have groups read aloud. Make sure to emphasize reading with meter and timing.
*“Dancing in the Moonlight”- Instead of having students do a sing along, try rapping the poem. Choose volunteers to read the stanza or the line with a rap rhythm. Once this is demonstrated, try reading it as a rap chorally with the whole class.
*“Piano Lessons”-While the teacher or a volunteer reads the poem, have students act it out. Students could pretend to be Angela, Mama, Grandmamma, and Miss Delta. Have the volunteers read the poem prior to the presentation. Tell them to think about how they could bring this poem to life by acting out the words. Then, have students enact the poem as it is being read to the class/group.
Follow Up Activities
*First, have students pair up and choose a poem. They should then analyze it for language, imagery, and emotion. They can make their annotations in the margins or directly on their poem of choice. This type of analysis should first be modeled by the teacher. Once they have completed the analysis, have students individually write a review explaining if they liked the poem or not. Their review should contain text evidence based off of their analysis.
*Have students brainstorm a list of important events or people that have impacted them in the last year. Then have them write a poem like Johnson’s over their chosen topic.
*Have students locate cities from the book on a United States map. They should be able to identify the following: Shorter, Alabama; Birmingham, Alabama; Waugh, Alabama; Montgomery, Alabama; Diamond, Ohio; and Cleveland, Ohio.
*Have students choose one of the following mentioned in the book: Vietnam War, Politics/Voting, or the Black Panthers. Then, have students research their topic and create a list of 5-10 facts about their chosen topic. Next, students should share what they learned to the class. Finally, have students write a paragraph telling how one of these events affected the main character. This would require students to cite text evidence from the poems.
*Have students create a timeline of some of the events that occur during the poems. To help students, the teacher should provide a bulleted list of the key events. See if students can place the events on a timeline using the book and their background knowledge from their research. This could lead into a lesson over a specific day or event. This lesson is cross curricular because it incorporates timelines which is also a Language Arts TEK.
*Have students visually illustrate one of the poems. This could be done abstractly through colors, or a literal representation of one of the events.
Related Web Sites
http://aalbc.com/books/related.htm (This website contains a brief summary about the Coretta Scott King Award. It also provides a summary and picture of all the winners from 1979 to the current year.)
*Houghton Mifflin Reading
http://www.eduplace.com/kids/tnc/mtai/johnson.html (This website contains a brief biography of Angela Johnson.)
http://www.teachingbooks.net/book_reading.cgi?id=3607&a=1 (This website contains an audio clip of the author reading some of her poems.)
http://www.visitingauthors.com/books/johnson_angela_books/johnson_angela_books.html (This website contains a list of all of Angela Johnson’s books. It provides a short summary, a picture, the ISBN, and the price of her books.)
Coretta Scott King Award Winners
*Giovanni, Nikki, and Bryan Collier. 2008. Rosa. New York, NY: Square Fish. ISBN: 9780312376024
*Grimes, Nikki. 2003. Bronx Masquerade. New York: Speak. ISBN: 9780142501894
*Hamilton, Virginia, Leo Dillon, and Diane Dillon. 1995. Her Stories: African American Folktales, Fairy Tales, and True Tales. New York: Blue Sky. ISBN: 9780590473705
*Myers, Walter Dean. 2001. Monster. New York: Amistad. ISBN: 9780064407311
Young Adult/Children’s African American Poetry
*Adoff, Arnold, and Benny Andrews. 1968. I Am the Darker Brother; an Anthology of Modern Poems by Negro Americans. New York: Macmillan. ISBN: 9780689808692
*Bryan, Ashley. 2001. Ashley Bryan's ABC of African-American Poetry. New York: Aladdin Paperbacks. ISBN: 9780689840456
*Bryan, Ashley1992. Sing to the Sun: Poems and Pictures. New York: HarperCollins. ISBN: 9780064434379
*Nelson, Marilyn. 2001. Carver, a Life in Poems. Asheville, NC: Front Street. ISBN: 9781886910539