Lee Bennett Hopkins, Champion of Poetry for Children, Dies at 81


He received a bachelor’s degree in education in 1960 at Newark State College (now Kean University), later earning a master’s degree at the Bank Street College of Education. He was teaching sixth grade in Fair Lawn, N.J., in the early 1960s when he was struck by the possibilities of using poetry as a learning tool.

Later in the decade, working as an editor at Scholastic, he began thinking about anthologies. One of his first was “Don’t You Turn Back: Poems by Langston Hughes” (1969).

He argued that poetry could be incorporated throughout a school curriculum, an idea he set down in “Pass the Poetry, Please!,” published in 1972 and reprinted several times since.

His anthologies sometimes drew on existing poems, but often he solicited new poems on specific topics. That was the case with “Nasty Bugs.”

“People like the wondrous X.J. Kennedy must have thought I was a wee crazy asking him to do a verse on the Colorado potato beetle — but he did,” Mr. Hopkins told the website twowritingteachers.org in 2012.

Light verse, though, was not his main passion, he said; he was more interested in exposing young readers to weightier subjects and feelings. He did so in “America at War,” a 2008 anthology illustrated by Stephen Alcorn, with poetry from conflicts ranging from the American Revolution to the Iraq war.

“The focus is not solely on the atrocities, bloodshed, and gore that come with battles,” he wrote in the introduction. “What is emphasized is the emotional impact — the torment, grief, and angst that men, women, and children feel as war becomes part of their present-day lives, their future and forever-afters.”

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