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?
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.