Review: Shakespeare Bats Cleanup - Ron Koertge

Shakespeare Bats Cleanup

by Ron Koertge

Ages 10+

116 pages

Candlewick, March 2003

English teachers, take note: hand this book to your students, and you can teach them poetry little by little, almost without effort.  Isn't that the power of poetry: to instruct subtly without you even knowing you're learning?

Kevin, once MVP on his school ball team, now is laid up with mono.  He writes in his journal to escape the monotony of his illness, but also to reflect on the loss of his mother, girlfriends, baseball and other issues of importance.  As he begins to claim his identity as an author, he struggles with his changing identity as a baseball player.

Kevin begins with the familiar haiku and then moves on to more complex forms, including sonnets, a pantoum, a ballad, blank verse, a sestina, couplets and a pastoral.  I enjoyed reading each form before learning its name, as Koertge demonstrates the type of poem before explaining what it is.  He discusses structure, scansion, rhyming and similes in passing, almost offhandedly, and uses the ongoing metaphor of baseball to help keep things concrete.

I was planning to read Hate That Cat to my 5th graders (as a follow-up to Love That Dog, which I read aloud to many of them in 3rd grade), but now I am considering reading this one.  I'm going to have to ask them if they'd be embarrassed having me read about sex and stuff.  There's nothing inappropriate for middle schoolers, but having your librarian read about making out might be more than they can handle.  Maybe better to leave it to them.  I could read All the Broken Pieces.  Hmmm.  Hard to choose -- they're all so good.

Teaching idea: after reading the novel, students respond in their reader response journals with one of the poetic forms Kevin used.

Nominated for the Louisiana Young Reader's Choice Award, 2006.

Question for you: what other books do you recommend for middle school boys?

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