Quick Pick: Guess Who, Haiku by Deanna Caswell and Bob Shea

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by Christine Brovelli-O’Brien, Ph.D., STEM Read Contributor

What do you get when you combine adorable animals, playful storytelling, and Japanese poetry? The fabulous book Guess Who, Haiku, that’s what!

Although aimed at children, Guess Who, Haiku, written by Deanna Caswell and illustrated by Bob Shea, adults will also be entertained by the story’s cadence and the deep, satisfying hues of the drawings. As Caswell explains in her notes at the end of the book, “the hai in haiku means ‘to make light of’ or ‘to make a joke of’,” and her book is reflective of this “element of play.” Well-paced and descriptive, each poem introduces a new character to you, the reader, and that new character then asks you to “guess who from his/her haiku” until you reach the final character (no spoilers here!).

Haiku, a traditional Japanese poem consisting of three unrhymed lines with five, seven, and five syllables, is defined by its sparse form as well as its ability to create a strong visual image in a reader’s mind. It’s a fun structure to play around with because, making it a great option for introducing young kids to formal poetry.

While reading Guess Who, Haiku aloud to your students, emphasize the rhythm pattern and subtle rhyming of the framework lines, such as “This cow has a haiku just for you…Can you guess who from her haiku?” (emphasis added). Even the youngest of brains responds positively to pattern repetition! Reread the story, only this time tap out the syllable pattern on your legs and have the kids join you. Point out that poetry, like music, has a distinctive rhythm pattern.

Give students time to write their own haiku and share with the class. This activity works well for small groups, too, allowing for collaboration of ideas. Topics for their haiku can include their favorite animal or family pet; their favorite place to visit; their favorite person; or their favorite toy/book/item. Classmates will have a blast trying to guess each other’s topic!

The beautiful illustrations by Bob Shea, who has created work for Nick Jr., PBS Kids, and Comedy Central, just to name a few, are a perfect complement to the imagery Deanna Caswell crafts with her haiku. Guess Who, Haiku is a terrific choice for welcoming summer!