Friday, December 30, 2016


As anyone who reads this blog knows, I'm a first round CYBILS poetry judge. Since mid-October, I've been reading poetry and novels in verse. We are wrapping up our duties- we have actually  chosen the books that will be sent on to the second round and now we are just waiting for those choices to be announced. We had 40 books this year, and almost half were novels in verse. I read every single one (so why does Good Reads say I only read three books this year- note to self: must keep more careful records)!

FALLING INTO THE DRAGON'S MOUTH is one that I'm definitely looking forward to sharing with kids. Jason Thompson is a sixth grader, who has moved to Japan with his parents, who are teachers, and his younger sister, Cora. When the book opens, Jason's class is getting a new seating arrangement.
We draw numbers 
picking slips of folded paper
from Oshima Sensei's box
matching them to a map of desks
to find our han--
      the group we'll
      sit with
      clean with
      study with
      for the next
      two months

I hope for at least
one friend
and by friend
I don't mean
what I used to mean by friend
before I moved to Japan
before I started here
at this school once called
Dragon's Mount

by friend I just mean
anyone who doesn't
punch me
for using the wrong word
kick me
for having an accent
or call me
Stinking Foreigner

Jason's hopes are dashed when he is seated at Han Six with Shunta, Go, Yuka, Naho, and Mika, who are six of the biggest bullies in the sixth grade. The five harass Jason constantly- both at school and when they see him around town after school and on weekends. Jason finds some comfort in aikido.

at the dojo
you bow to enter
and on the mats,
you kneel, you meditate
you hold your one-point center
even when Yamada-sensei
pushes your forehead to test you…

and what matters most
through every move and fall
is you keep firm
you stay in control
you hold your center

He befriends Takemura-San, an elderly gentleman who suffers from Parkinson's disease. He babysits Cora and takes her on adventures around the city. Nevertheless, the bullying continues, and by the end of the book, escalates from cruel to dangerous.

DRAGON'S MOUTH would provide a terrific platform for talking about bullying, or about how we treat people who are different.

Holly wrote a series of 30 companion poems, about the city of K, where Holly lives, and where DRAGON'S MOUTH is set. You can read those poems HERE. It would be fun to read these either before DRAGON'S MOUTH, or one at a time, along with the story. 

Donna, at Mainely Write, is hosting the POETRY FRIDAY PARTY today.


Brenda at FriendlyFairyTales said...

The plot reminds me of the newer Karate Kid movie. Sounds perfect for young boys.

Jane @ said...

I was just thinking how Karate Kid-like this sounds! But it definitely sounds like something young readers will be able to relate to, and martial arts can be a wonderful way to learn self discipline and inner strength.

Donna Smith said...

Good ending? Hope so!
It's great to find a book that will capture the boys!

Violet N. said...

That must have been quite an experience--reading all those verse novels! And this one by Holly sounds riveting. Even reading your description put me back in the angst of elementary school.

Donna Smith said...

It is wonderful to find a book that will appeal to boys. Sounds like a good one!

Carol Varsalona said...

Carol, I like how you organized this post and am glad to see that there is book discussing bullying in verse.