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Poet Jack Prelutsky: Writing About the Little Things in Life

America's first children's poet laureate is chosen. Also: a question about Halloween, and the music of Mindy Smith, a Northerner with a Southern sound. Transcript of radio broadcast:


Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English.


I'm Doug Johnson. On our show this week:

We answer a question about the American holiday Halloween …

Play some music from Mindy Smith …

And report about the new children’s poet laureate.

Jack Prelutsky

The Poetry Foundation recently named American poet Jack Prelutsky as the nation’s first children’s poet laureate. The group created the award as a way to increase Americans’ love of poetry from an early age. Faith Lapidus has more.


As children’s poet laureate, Jack Prelutsky will give two public readings in the next two years. He will also advise the Poetry Foundation about children’s literature and take part in projects concerning children and poetry.

Jack Prelutsky has been writing poetry for children for almost forty years. He has written more than thirty-five books of poems. His first book was called "A Gopher in the Garden." It was published in nineteen sixty-seven. His latest is called "Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant and Other Poems."

Jack Prelutsky is well known for creating new words by combining two words to create a new kind of creature. For example, he combined "radish" with "shark" to get "radishark." "Lion" and "broccoli" became a "broccolion." Listen now as Jack Prelutsky reads his description of an "umbrellaphant," a mixture of the words "umbrella" and "elephant."

Behold The Bold Umbrellaphant
That's Not the Least Afraid
To Forage In the Broiling Sun
For it is in the Shade.

The pachyderm's uncanny trunk
Is probably unique.
It ends in an umbrella
That has yet to spring a leak.

And so the bold umbrellaphant
Is ever at its ease
No matter if the temperature
Is ninety-nine degrees.

And when a sudden thunderstorm
Sends oceans from the sky
That fortunate umbrellaphant
Remains entirely dry.


Jack Prelutsky says children like his poems because he writes about things they care about. Poetry experts say Jack Prelutsky's poems recognize children’s feelings. An example of this is the poem "My Sister is a Werewolf" which is about how it feels to be different.

Jack Prelutsky also writes poems about American holidays. We leave you now with Jack Prelutsky reading part of his poem "It’s Halloween," about the holiday celebrated at the end of October.

It's Halloween, it's Halloween
The moon is full and bright.
And we shall see what can't be seen
On any other night.

Skeletons and ghosts and ghouls,
Grinning goblins fighting duels,
Werewolves rising from their tombs,
Witches on their magic brooms.

In masks and gowns we haunt the street,
And knock on doors for trick or treat.
Tonight we are the king and queen
For oh tonight it's Halloween.



Our VOA listener question this week comes from Vietnam. Ha Duy Kim Khuyen asks about the meaning of Halloween.

Halloween is celebrated in the United States every year on October thirty-first. On that night, many people will dress in clothing that makes them look like frightening creatures such as monsters or ghosts.

Such traditions developed from Celtic beliefs in ancient Britain. The Celts believed that spirits of the dead would return to their homes on October thirty-first, the day of the autumn feast. They built huge fires to frighten away evil spirits released with the dead on that night.

People from Scotland and Ireland brought these ideas with them when they came to America. Some believed that spirits played tricks on people on the last night of October.

History experts say many of the Halloween traditions of today developed from those of ancient times. They say that burning a candle inside a hollow pumpkin recalls the fires set many years ago in Britain. And they say that wearing a mask to hide a person’s face is similar to the way ancient villagers covered their faces to force evil spirits away.

On Halloween night, American children put on masks and other special clothing. They go from house to house shouting "Trick or treat!" If the people in the houses do not give them candy, the children may play a trick on them.

Some adults dress in costumes on Halloween and attend parties. They also place pumpkins and frightening objects outside their homes. A National Retail Federation study says that Americans are spending almost five thousand million dollars to celebrate Halloween this year.

The study also listed the most popular costumes Americans will wear on Halloween. The most popular costume among children is the princess. Other popular costumes for children are pirates, witches and characters from popular movies, like Spiderman. The study says more than six million adults plan to dress like a witch for Halloween. The next most popular costumes for adults are pirates and vampires.

Mindy Smith

Mindy Smith is a Northerner with a Southern sound. She grew up on Long Island, New York. But she has made a career in the southern state of Tennessee singing country-influenced music. Smith’s second album, "Long Island Shores," shows off her clear voice and emotion-filled songs. Katherine Cole has more.


Mindy Smith was raised by a religious leader and his wife. Sharron Smith was the music director of her husband’s Christian religious center. She taught Mindy to love music and to touch people emotionally with the power of song.

Listen to "Little Devil," a song written and performed by Mindy Smith. She talks about how evil things can sometimes appear to be nice.


Mindy Smith's first record, "One Moment More," brought her great success in the world of country music. But she says she does not think of herself as a country artist. She wants to be a singer and songwriter with her own sound. And she wants her music to honestly express her life experiences. Here is "Tennessee," a song about the state that Smith now calls home.


We close with music from a different record. The song "Jolene" was first written and sung by the famous country and western singer Dolly Parton. Here, Mindy Smith performs the well-known song. Dolly Parton said that of all the artists who have performed "Jolene" over the years, Mindy Smith's version is her favorite.



I'm Doug Johnson. I hope you enjoyed our program today.

This show was written by Dana Demange and Nancy Steinbach. Caty Weaver was our producer. To read the text of this program and download audio, go to our Web site,

Join us again next week for AMERICAN MOSAIC, VOA’s radio magazine in Special English