Jack Prelutsky knows what it’s like to grow up in a big city and a small town. He had both experiences in the same place – Brooklyn, New York. He was born there September 8, 1940. He has said that growing up in his six-story apartment complex in the Bronx was just like a small town because “everyone knew everyone else.” 1 While he was drawn to the arts during his childhood,2 his love for poetry was non-existent. In fact, he had a strong “dislike for poetry due to a teacher who ‘left me with the impression that poetry was the literary equivalent of liver. I was told it was good for me, but I wasn’t convinced.’” 2
It wasn’t until he was a young adult that he found his love and talent for writing humorous poetry, and it was quite by accident. One evening he wrote several short poems to go along with watercolors he had spent months painting of imaginary animals. Ironically, it was the poems, not the paintings that friends and editors loved.2 Jack has spent his life writing humorous poetry. It is ingrained in who he is. Even when he tries to write anything serious it comes out sounding funny.3
In September of 2006 Prelutsky was named the first ever U.S. Poet Laureate which he was thrilled to accept.3 Since that time he has spent many hours getting students and teachers excited about poetry. He lives with his wife in Seattle, Washington.
Books of InterestEdit
Something Big Has Been Here is one of Prelutsky's collections of short poems. Published in 1992, it is 152 pages filled with hilarity. Each poem is accompanied by simple child-friendly drawings by James Stevenson that add to the great visualization of the poems. All drawings are done in grayscale which adds to the simplicity. The poems themselves have multiple layers. While some are written for pure silliness, others have more depth to them that children of all ages relate to. They all vary in length and difficulty. While Prelutsky writes primarily for children, he doesn't let his audiences' age limit his writing. His poems are filled with what seems like every word in the English language, and even some that aren't.
A Pizza the Size of the Sun is a collection of poems and drawings by Prelutsky and Stevenson in the same format as Something Big Has Been Here. With poems entitled I've Got a Three-Thousand-Pound Cat and Mister Pfister Gristletwist Prelutsky proves there is no end to his imagination. In this book he employed new devices for his poems such as the one written completely backwards and another "endless" poem written in a circle that repeats over and over.
Prelutsky paired with another illustrator, Peter Sis, for other works which include:
The Dragons are Singing Tonight is a beautifully illustrated collection of poems relating entirely to dragons. Every poem is about some aspect of dragons be it past, present or future. Many are told from a dragon's point of view on what it is like to battle a knight or that it is "tired of being a dragon." The prose has a songlike quality that resembles a Medieval tune. Students who are fascinated by dragons will certainly enjoy this collection.
The Gargoyle on the Roof is another work with Peter Sis and in many ways feels like a companion to The Dragons are Singing Tonight. The poems in this book all relate to the mystic and supernatural creatures of the night. Vampires, werewolves, and gargoyles fill up the pages. This book is not as serious as one might think. Expect Prelutsky's natural and usual humor to seep out of every word. It again has a Medieval quality to it that would assist a teacher in a unit study of knights and Medieval times. Students would appreciate the fantasy qualities that accompany that time period.
Awful Ogre's Awful Day with illustrator Paul O. Zelinsky, is a work different than his previous endeavors. Instead of a collection of independent poems, this book takes on a more story-book like form. Each page is a new poem about Awful Ogre's Day, told from Ogre's perspective. Working in progression from the moment he wakes up until he goes to bed, the reader gets to hear about every detail of Ogre's Awful Day. It's nice to see ogres are a lot like us.
Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant is truly a one of a kind book. Each poem combines an animal with a different inanimate object to create new, unique creatures such as Alarmadillos, Ballpoint Penguins, and Panthermometers. His poems combine the characteristics of the two contributing factions. The Panthermometer, for example, is useful because its tail measures heat. Children adore the creativity of this book.
Prelutsky's poems are full of imagination and originality. One thing his books all have in common is that they are full of humor and surprises. Prelutsky writes from what he remembers it is like to be a child, and that is something all children can appreciate and relate to.3
1Scholastic. (2012). Writing with writers: Jack prelutsky. Retrieved from http://teacher.scholastic.com/writewit/poetry/jack_meet.htm
3Poet extraordinaire. (February 2008). Reading Today, 25(4), 28. Retrieved from http://www.reading.org/General/Publications/ReadingToday/RTY-0802-poet.aspx