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The Study of Poetry and Literature for Children & Young Adults

Featured Poems of Janet Wong

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Poetry of Janet S. Wong

1.   Introduction:

I chose this poem because it features a family tradition. Family traditions are a fascinating subject for children to discuss. They come up with such a variety of stories. I also like the idea of luck. Children will enjoy talking about their different lucky objects and how the objects became lucky.


Good Luck Gold


When I was a baby

one month old,

my grandparents gave me

good luck gold:

a golden ring

so soft it bends,

a golden necklace

hooked at the ends,

a golden bracelet

with coins that say

I will be rich

and happy someday.


I wish that gold

would work

real soon.

I need my luck

this afternoon. 



Poetry Extension:

Read the poem to your class slowly through the first time and then again a second time with emphasis on the line breaks. Use this poem from kindergarten through high school. Children of all ages can discuss their lucky objects and then write poetry about them.

Older students (middle and high school) can extend this discussion into whether or not we can change our luck, and how a positive or negative attitude can affect this change.

An alternative poetry subject could detail a lucky or unlucky day and how it became that way.

An additional subject for children to discuss and write poetry about would be family traditions; ethnic, religious and cultural. This can be supplemented with a trip to the library to research different traditions. The class could sponsor a "Family Day" where older family members visit the classroom and discuss the traditions that they grew up with.


Wong, Janet. 1994. Good Luck Gold and Other Poems. New York:  Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0689506171


2. Introduction:

This poem is an excellent way to have middle and high school students discuss the importance of friendship.


Old Friend


I had forgotten you, friend.

Is that why you came

into my dream?

I had forgotten you.


When I fall asleep again,

will you leave your address

on my pillow?



Poetry Extension:  

Read the poem slowly to the class of middle or high schoolers. Have a student read it the second time. Discuss with the students the meaning of friendship. Have the students write a poem about a friend they had when they were younger.

An additional exercise would be the subject of dreaming. Bring dream dictionaries from the libraries. Have the children research different interpretations of dreams and then write a poem about a dream (either real or imagined).


Wong, Janet S. 2003. Knock on Wood: Poems about Superstitions. Ill. by Julie Paschkis. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0689588125


3. Introduction:

This poem is about friendship, adventure, having fun without a lot of money and a commitment to work. This is a great poem for high school students to read and discuss.


Daddy and Shin


I love it when you tell the story,

Daddy –


you and Shin,


me and Shin,

we're fresh out of high school

and we're bored

and we're hot

and we are not going to waste


our time sitting around


so we hop in Shin's car,

drive north up the coast,


just how far we'll go

on twenty bucks

and still get back

to work the midnight shift.


I love the part where you roll


roll down the hills in neutral,

roll to save some gas


how could you drive? –

strip the gears? –

how could you drive like that?


When we make it

up to Monterey

we dig for clams

with driftwood sticks,

eat five cans of cold baked beans


and as the tide is coming in


and as the sun is sinking fast,


full of gas

we drive straight




Poetry Extension:

Read the poem slowly the first time. Have a student read the second time. A variety of subjects can be discussed with the class: friendship, road trips, no money, jobs, and work ethics. Have the teens brainstorm subjects taken from the poem to discuss, then vote on a couple to discuss and have the teens each create their own poem on that subject.


Wong, Janet. 1999. Behind the Wheel: Poems about Driving. Ill. by Janet Wong. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0689825315



4. Introduction:

A beautiful tribute to a mother, read this to 3rd to 5th graders for Mother’s Day.

In Mother's Shadow


I walk behind Mother

through the woods


not to touch the poison oak

she points to with her stick.


She sees snakes before

they move.


She finds her way

by the smell of the trees.


She stops to rest

the very moment

my shoes grow


and gives me water,

gives me shade


in her steady



Poetry Extension:

Read to the children once, then read it again and ask them to close their eyes and picture themselves as the child in the poem. Ask the children to think of a time when they felt protected and special and write a poem about it. 

Because there are many nontraditional families, mention that they are writing about the feeling of being safe and the time and person or persons that helped them feel this way.


Wong, Janet. 1999. The Rainbow Hand: Poems about Mothers and Children. Ill. by Jennifer Hewitson. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0689821484



5. Introduction:

A poem for high school students, especially juniors and seniors that are enrolled in Driver's Education.


When a Cop Stops You


When a cop stops you,

what can you do?


Grab your leg and moan in pain?


I would if I could

but I know I would laugh.

So I sit there, waiting,

shrinking fast,

humble, quiet.

Stupid. Sweet.


When the cop walks up,

I stare at his feet.

I give him my papers.

I listen. I nod.

When he lets me go –


Thank God.


Poetry Extension:

Have a student read the poem, then have another student read the poem. Compare where they paused in the readings and discuss whether that changed the meaning of the poem at all.

Have the students write poems to share with the class about their first driving experiences.


Wong, Janet. 1999. Behind the Wheel: Poems about Driving. Ill. by Janet Wong. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0689825315


6. Introduction:

This poem is interesting on two different levels; a dog being man's best friend, and from the historical perspective of living through the Depression.

GongGong and Susie


Susie sure is good


Got to be.

I treat her right.

Last night


kill a skunk.


Did I tell you?

Many times

I did eat



Take out them

stinky thing,


with garlic, onion.

Skunk, snake, night owl,

I eat them


It was Depression time.

No work, nothing

to do.

We hunt, we fish, we camp.


Hey Susie, Susie,

want to eat

some chow



Poetry Extension:

This poem should be definitely read through to the class at least twice.

Approach the poem on one of two levels; smaller children will enjoy discussing pets and how a pet can be a good friend. This can be followed up with them writing a poem about a favorite pet they've know.

Older children can tackle the issues people faced during the Depression. For example, "Can you imagine being hungry enough to eat skunk?" The followup activity can be the teens' researching the Depression and writing in poem format about the adversities people faced and how they dealt with them


Wong, Janet S. 1996. A Suitcase of Seaweed and Other Poems. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0689807880



Potential! That is what this poem is about to me. I think this is an excellent poem for children to realize that inside of each of them lurks an amazing amount of potential.

There Is a Place


There is a place

where the museum houses thousands of paintings

seen nowhere else in the world,

the colors so bright they grab your eyes

and hold you there, looking,

where the library is filled with brand new books

waiting for you to open them first,

to tell stories only you could know,

where fresh cherries have no pits,

where puppies never grow old.

There is such a place,

hidden deep

in me.


Poetry Extension:

Read the poem to any grade, slowly. On the second reading have them close their eyes and visualize the place mentioned in the poem.

Ask each child to write a poem about the hidden world that is hidden inside each of them. Have the children write a poem about this world of potential that exists inside of them.


Wong, Janet. 2000. Night Garden: Poems from the World of Dreams. Ill. by Julie Paschkis. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0689826176



8. Introduction:

 Children will enjoy discussing superstitions and luck. This will be a fun activity for a day when the children are restless.




Potatoes for your pocket, Granny.

Let them wrinkle for you Granny.

Let them dry as hard as stones,

to pull the hurting from your bones.


Poetry Extension:

Read the poem twice, have the children (3rd - 5th grade) think about the possibilties of ordinary objects helping people feel better. Let them research similar beliefs that exist. For example, people with Restless Legs Syndrome put a bar of Dial soap between their sheets and claim that it significantly improves their condition. Gout can be cured (supposedly) by drinking a glass of cherry juice a day.

Then let the children write a short poem explaining the condition and the common cure.


Wong, Janet S. 2003. Knock on Wood: Poems about Superstitions. Ill. by Julie Paschkis. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0689588125


"Poetry is, in a way, like shouting. Since you can't yell at the top of your lungs for a very long time, you have to decide what you really need to say, and say it quickly."
----Janet S. Wong