Lee Bennett Hopkins: Poetry for Everyone

Young Lee Bennett Hopkins was an unlikely candidate to go down in the Guinness Book of World Records for having edited the most poetry anthologies ever.  He spent half his childhood in the projects of Scranton, New Jersey, and hated school.  His father left the family when Lee was fourteen, leaving him to look after his younger brother and sister.  His mother had her own problems, but she did love her children.

What made the difference for him was a special teacher who gave him hope.  In eighth grade, Mrs. Ethel Kite McLaughlin encouraged him in his writing and urged him to go to as many plays as possible, some of which he managed to see by slipping into the theatres during intermission and catching this second act. This opened a new perspective for Lee, and he was soon on different path, away from the poverty and street life he had known.

He began to get the idea that he wanted to make a difference in children’s lives, too, so he decided to be the first in his family to go to college to become My America: A Poetry Atlas of the United Statesa teacher. It was rough going at first. All that time missed from high school made him have to catch up and take remedial courses before he could get a proper footing.  But when he began the education courses, things started to go much more smoothly.

One of his first job interviews allowed him to show exactly the how creative he would be as a teacher. The superintendent handed him a pack of matches and asked him, if that were all he had to help him teach the first three months in a 6th-grade classroom, how would he do it? Many, many ideas poured forth from him... so many the superintendent had to interrupt him to tell him he had the job!

Lee loved being a teacher and within three years was managing the school’s curriculum support materials. Whatever the topic, he got the books, maps, slides and more together to give the teachers more interesting options. Eventually, he had a brainstorm--why not add poetry to mix, especially for kids who were having reading problems? The words were easier, more fun, and more imaginative than straight-up textbooks. Whatever the subject--English, math, the holidays, or science, Lee Bennett Hopkins had a poem for that.

His career in education had miles to go and really got up to speed after he received his masters degree at the Bank Street College of Education, working with inner-city kids much like the ones with whom he grew up. Then his love of writing and collecting poetry kicked in and he moved over to Scholastic Magazines as a curriculum and editorial specialist.  Through the years, Lee Bennett Hopkins has written and collected hundreds of poems from other writers for books that reach out from the classrooms and into the imaginations of young students everywhere.  Whether the topic is weather, seasons, inventions, geography, sports, or science, he’s got a whole slew of poems for that! And you can find them at the library.

Fast Facts:
Born: April 13, 1938 in Scranton, Pennsylvania
Nasty BugsEducation: Newark State Teachers College (now Kean College; Union, NJ), B.A., 1960; Bank Street College of Education, M.Sc., 1964; Hunter College of the City University of New York, professional diploma in educational supervision and administration, 1967.
Occupations: Public school teacher, 1960-66; senior consultant, Bank Street College of Education, 1966-68; curriculum and editorial specialist, Scholastic Magazines, Inc., 1968-74; full-time writer, 1976--. Has frequently lectured and consulted for children’s television and to school systems.
Selected awards:
The Christopher Award; University of Southern Mississippi Medallion; Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children; Guinness World Record for most prolific anthologist for children, 2011;
Home: Cape Coral, Florida

In the Library:
Click here for a list of poetry books for young people written or edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins. In addition, these titles may be of interest:

Author Talk, compiled and edited by Leonard S. Marcus
Short, lively, honest interviews with favorite children’s authors.  Lee Bennett Hopkins is featured on pages 29 through 34.

Been to Yesterdays: Poems of Life, by Lee Bennett Hopkins
Sweet, spare poetry about the losses in his young life and what came of it.Sharing the Seasons: A Book of Poems

Lee Bennett Hopkins: Children’s Poet, by Amy Strong.
An 112-page biography for young people with many photos. Includes an index and list of related Web sites.

Pass the Poetry, Please! by Lee Bennett Hopkins
Once a teacher himself, Mr. Hopkins shares his enthusiasm for incorporating poetry in every part of the elementary school curriculum. It includes interviews and biographical sketches of “past masters” and a section for “unleashing children’s talents to create verse of their own.”

In addition, our site’s Research section has several databases that include more material on this author: Biography in Context; General OneFile; and Student Edition (a Gale database).

On the Web:

Author Interview with Lee Bennett Hopkins
The publisher Harper Collins gives a transcript of short, interesting interview with the author.

Lee Bennett Hopkins
The author’s home page has an online journal, contact information, and an awards listing. You may also “like” him on Facebook from here.

Lee Bennett Hopkins on Facebook
You can befriend this author online.

The Miss Rumphius Effect: Lee Bennet Hopkins
A quick and joyful interview with the author and samples of his poetry.

NCTE Award-Winning Poet Lee Bennett Hopkins
A slightly longer interview that delves into more in the way of literary themes, the publishing industry, and his recent works.

PennState University Libraries: Lee Bennett Hopkins
The university prepared a short biography on him as part of their Pennsylvania authors section.