by Marilyn Singer. Illustrations by Josee Masse. 2010. Dutton Children’s Books.
Author Marilyn Singer has created her own form of poetry—the reverso. Read in the usual manner—down the page—her words form one poem. When you read the same poem up the page—reverso!—you have a new poem (and a new perspective) without a single word change. In fact, you may want to turn to the back of the book first (very appropriately) to read the author’s explanation and see an example of the form she created about her cat. For this collection, Marilyn offers readers a reverso spin on several classic fairy tales, including Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, The Ugly Duckling, and Rumpelstiltskin, allowing readers to hear fresh twists to some of their favorite stories and characters.
According to the author’s rules for creating reversos, you are only allowed to make alterations in capitalization and punctuation—no word changes—to guide readers as they read the poem in “reverse.” Here is an example of a reverso of my own (my first attempt!). Just like the book does, I’ll provide the text in both directions. (Notice that each poem uses the same exact words.)
Steaming hot, The first sip
filled to the brim, awaits!
my coffee cup, My coffee cup:
awaits filled to the brim,
the first sip. steaming hot.
The richly colored, detailed illustrations are cleverly divided down the middle to offer readers visual insight to the points of view suggested in the reversos. In the left side of the illustration for “Bears in the News,” a reverso playing on the Goldilocks tale, readers first see Goldilocks as if they are the bears, staring her down. On the right half of the painting, readers now are facing the bears, seeing their surprised expressions.
Singer and Masse have created a fun and extremely versatile book that will be read and enjoyed by students and utilized by teachers.
In the Classroom:
- Identify moments where simple changes in punctuation or capitalization change both the message and the meaning. Emphasize the importance of writers editing their work to make sure they deliver the right message to readers.
- Ask students to describe the voice of each poem. Discuss how the voice changes as each poem is read in reverse and how the author uses punctuation or capitalization to alter the voice.
- Use Singer’s creative poetic form to compose reverso poetry of your own, complete with illustrations to highlight each direction of the poem. You could use familiar stories, as the author did, events from the school day or recess, or come up with your ideas.
- Use the poems in Mirror Mirror to introduce or practice a variety of punctuation marks (ellipsis, colons, exclamation marks, dashes, semi-colons, etc.)
- Use the poems and illustrations in the book to introduce the concept of literary point of view. This could lead to discussions of character, narrators, and point of view in a novel study. How would a story (or our attitudes about a character) change if it were told from a different point of view?
- Discuss the elements of presentation that are critical to the success of this book—font choice, page layout, the connections between the text and the illustrations, color choices, etc.
- Consider the importance of individual word choices in these poems. Each word selected has to convey meaning and contribute to the writer’s message, even as the poems are being read in reverse. Have students look at their own writing—are they making each word count? Ask students to read their writing aloud as they revise.
- Team this book up with Anthony Browne’s Voices in the Park, Paul Fleischman’s Seedfolks or Bull Run, to further explore point of view, perspective, and voice.