How I Discovered Poetry

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How I Discovered Poetry
Written by Marilyn Nelson, Illustrated by Hadley Hooper

Publisher’s Summary:
Looking back on her childhood in the 1950s, Newbery Honor winner and National Book Award finalist Marilyn Nelson tells the story of her development as an artist and young woman through fifty eye-opening poems. Readers are given an intimate portrait of her growing self-awareness and artistic inspiration along with a larger view of the world around her: racial tensions, the Cold War era, and the first stirrings of the feminist movement. A first-person account of African-American history, this is a book to study, discuss, and treasure.

Primary Source Pairing:
Each poem by poet Marilyn Nelson is rich with emotion, memory, and hints of history. As Marilyn and her family travel through the United States, her narrative becomes as beautiful as the landscape she sees from her window.

For this primary source pairing, focus on the poem “Bomb Drill” Lackland AFB, Texas, 1952, page 10. There are three parts of the poem where primary sources can provide background knowledge and a framework for Marilyn Nelson’s poem.

“I am the new girl in Dick and Jane country.”

Examine an image from a Dick and Jane book. Analyze not only the illustrations but also the text.

  • Describe what you see.
  • What do you notice first?
  • How much of the text can you read? What does it say?
  • What do you see that looks strange or unfamiliar?
  • What do you see on the page besides writing?
  • What other details can you see?
  • Why would Marilyn Nelson describe herself as the “new girl in Dick and Jane country?”

“I read while the television talker talks about career and the hide drajen bomb…We ducked and covered underneath our desks, hiding from drajen bombs in school today.”

Study an image of Bert the Turtle promoting “duck and cover” as part of the Federal Civil Defense advertising campaign.

  • Describe what you see.
  • What do you notice first?
  • How much of the text can you read? What does it say?
  • Find something small but interesting.
  • What do you notice that you didn’t expect?
  • What do you notice that you can’t explain?
  • Who is the audience for this advertisement?
  • Discuss whether this advertisement would ease your fears about a hydrogen bomb attack.
  • Why do you think the Federal Civil Defense Department chose to use a turtle for this advertisement?

Mama says she’s going to vote for Ike. Daddy says, “Woman, you just think he’s cute!”

Watch and analyze a campaign commercial (embedded below) for Dwight Eisenhower for president in 1952. According to

“Dwight Eisenhower was a lucky man. For the 1952 Presidential campaign, Irving Berlin wrote his campaign song and Walt Disney Studios made one of his television ads — which were the first campaign ads aired on TV. The minute-long spot is upbeat and cute and it features a cartoon elephant. What more could a candidate ask for?”

  • Describe what you see and hear.
  • What do you notice first?
  • Do you only see live action, or are there any special effects or animation?
  • Describe any words you see on the screen.
  • Does anything about it seem strange or unusual?
  • What other details do you notice?
  • Who do you think was the intended audience?
  • What feelings or ideas do you think its creators wanted to communicate?
  • If someone created this motion picture today, what would be different?
  • How does this campaign advertisement compare to campaign ads today? How are they different?

Book Cover and Summary: Follett
Dick and Jane image: MentalFloss
Bert the Turtle advertisement:
Eisenhower Campaign Commercial: YouTube and Time Magazine