Lesson 2: Backpack Blues


Students will be able to identify with characters from the book and write their own epistles.


Copies of Backpack Blues: Ignite the Fire Within.


Parent or teacher, if you wish, you may choose to omit poems you do not feel are about a theme or subject matter appropriate for your tween or teen. A very few of the poems may be about edgy topics, but they are handled in a manner which will enable you to discuss the theme as you would like to address it.


Ask students to define the word epistle.  Explain that the epistle or epistolary comes from the Latin word for letter.

1.    Read “Dear Mama” by Langston Hughes. Ask for student reactions to the poem.

2.    Read page 122 of Backpack Blues: Ignite the Fire Within.

3.    Turn to page 65 of Backpack Blues: Ignite the Fire Within. Read “Shannon Traynor.”

4.    Discuss the poem.

5.     Have students write an epistle or epistolary poem. They may address it to their mother, their father, another family member, a classmate (Never Allow Real Names), a teacher, a first responder or first responders, a former boyfriend or girlfriend, a grandparent, someone they miss, or another person of their choice.

6.     Share poems.