Sunday, April 1, 2018

2018 Poem #18 -- Through New Eyes

by Jason Stephenson

I read Cynthia Rylant’s picture book When I Was Young in the Mountains to my creative writing students during our memoir unit. I smile at the fact that the book was published in 1982, the same year I was born. As I teach high school, I am fairly unfamiliar with children’s book authors, so I was surprised to find another Rylant book on vacation in Houston one recent summer. The slim poetry collection, published in 2003, was titled God Went to Beauty School. In 23 poems over 56 pages, Rylant portrays God as a regular human with titles such as “God Got a Dog,” “God Made Spaghetti,” and “God Went to India.”

The titular poem, “God Went to Beauty School” opens the book. It is one long stanza with short line breaks, a dash of humor, and one simile. I read the poem aloud to my students and give them time to discuss it with an elbow partner. My Creative Writing 2 students rarely need prompting, but possible questions include:
  • What is so powerful about a human hand? 
  • How do you respond to God being described as a human? 
  • Was this poem blasphemous?
As a class, we discuss how the poem begins with short sentences but ends with one long, complicated sentence. The discussion of hands might lead us to the Michelangelo painting of the Creation of Adam, with God’s and Adam’s hands stretched out to one another. Even in the Bible Belt, most of my students are entertained and not offended by this poem.

My students write their own God-as-human poems in response: “God Got a Speeding Ticket,” “God Plays Golf,” and “God Bought a Gun,” just to name a few. We focus on emulating Rylant’s straightforward style, crisp line breaks, and deep insight.

Further Reading:

Jason Stephenson teaches creative writing at Deer Creek High School in Edmond, Oklahoma. He blogs infrequently at


  1. Being unfamiliar with children’s book authors, Cynthia Rylant is a great place to start. She’s a master.

  2. Thank you for sharing this! Can't wait to try it with my own students. Just discovered that there's also a picture book version that includes some of these poems illustrated by the amazing Marla Frazee:

    1. Ooooo! How great! I'm going to order this book today.

  3. I'm excited to find this blog and to see so many middle and high school teachers using books that I have in my 2nd grade classroom library: WHEN I WAS YOUNG IN THE MOUNTAINS, LEMONADE SUN and more! It honors the work of those who write for children when we give kids time to read, and read again, and read AGAIN for depth and ownership.
    And if the deadline for commenting is really 8:30am on Saturday I'd love to be entered to win Amy's book!