An educator and poet, Kalli Dakos was born in 1950 in Ottawa, Canada and studied at institutions such as Queen’s College, the University of Nevada, the University of Alberta, and Syracuse University. Her early career as an elementary school teacher and reading specialist has influenced her later work. Dakos’s poetry is uniquely attuned to the lives of elementary school students, and her collections of poems are often considered humorous and apt depictions of life in the classroom. Her books of poetry for children include If You’re Not Here, Please Raise Your Hand (1990), Don’t Read This Book, Whatever You Do! (1993), The Bug in Teacher’s Coffee (1999), Put Your Eyes Up Here and Other Schools Poems (2003), and A Funeral in the Bathroom (2011). Dakos has been praised for her sensitive evocations of the feelings of elementary-aged students, as well as her poems’ frequent humor and word play. Many of her books have been Children’s Choice Selections from the International Reading Association. Dakos has also had a successful career as a visiting author, leading poetry workshops in schools in the U.S., Canada, and abroad, and presenting her poems in interactive performances designed to draw in students and teachers both.
Dakos has discussed her interest in both writing poetry for children and performing her poetry in schools: “Teachers and students loved the poems, and I began visiting schools everywhere as an author. My goal was to help teachers and children realize how exciting their lives were if only they looked at life as if they were wearing magic glasses and listened as if they were wearing magic ears. I developed a program that I called ‘A Celebration of Life in the Classroom.’ It involved student participation, chanting, echoing, theatrics, and toys—lots of toys to bring the poems and stories to life, and to pull in even the most reluctant readers and writers. I visited schools with magic glasses, magic ears, giant pencils, dancing coke bottles, Miss Piggy’s head, worms, snakes, centipedes, toy microphones, and other crazy toys. Even though we have a lot of fun, my main goal is still academic. I want children and teachers to see that there is so much to write about in their own lives.”
Dakos also noted the roots of her love of poetry and performance: “I fell in love with writing when I was in the sixth grade. That year I enjoyed writing mysteries, and my teacher, Mr. Beecroft, always let me share them in front of the class. I loved the feeling of holding an audience entranced with my words, and knew that at some point in my life I would work as a writer.”
Sir Alexander Mackenzie School, Inuvik, Northwest Territories, Canada, teacher, 1974-75; Storrington Public School, Kingston, Ontario, teacher, 1974-76; Eagle Bulletin, Syracuse, NY, reporter, 1984-86; Manlius Pebble Hill School, Syracuse, teacher, 1985-86; freelance writer, Great Falls, VA, 1986—; Braddock Elementary School, Annandale, VA, reading teacher, 1986-87; Edstar, Inc., Great Falls, president, 1990—. Has served as a lecturer and reading specialist at Northern Virginia Community College; has also worked as a language arts consultant.
- What’s There to Write About?, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1989.
- If You’re Not Here, Please Raise Your Hand: Poems about School, illustrated by G. Brian Karas, Four Winds Press (New York, NY), 1990.
- Don’t Read This Book, Whatever You Do!: More Poems about School, illustrated by Karas, Four Winds Press, 1993.
- Mrs. Cole on an Onion Roll, and Other School Poems, illustrated by JoAnn Adinolfi, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1995.
- The Goof Who Invented Homework and Other School Poems, illustrated by Denise Brunkus, Dial (New York, NY), 1996.
- Get out of the Alphabet, Number 2!: Wacky Wednesday Puzzle Poems, illustrated by Jenny Graham, Simon & Schuster, 1997.
- The Bug in Teacher’s Coffee, illustrated by Mike Reed, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1999.
- The Greatest Magic: Poems for Teachers, Scholastic, 2000.
- (Adaptor) Follow the Leader, illustrated by Carolyn Bracken and Sandrina Kurtz, Scholastic, 2001.
- (Adaptor) The Wild Ice Cream Machine, illustrated by Carolyn Bracken and Steve Haefele, Scholastic, 2001.
- Put Your Eyes up Here, and Other School Poems, illustrated by G. Brian Karas, Simon & Schuster, 2003.
- (With Alicia Demarto) Our Principal Promised to Kiss a Pig, illustrated by Carl Di Rocco, Albert Whitman (Morton Grove, IL), 2004.
- I Heard You Twice the First Time: Poems for Tired and Bewildered Teachers, illustrated by Denis Proulx and Gina Marin, Edstar, Inc. (Raleigh, NC), 2010.
- A Funeral in the Bathroom, illustrated by Mark Beech, Albert Whitman (Morton Grove, IL), 2011.
Contributor to periodicals, including Instructor, Young American, Child Life, Challenge, Chicadee, Jack and Jill, Children’s Playmate, and Learning.
- Booklist, February 15, 1993, Hazel Rochman, review of Don't Read This Book, p. 1062; June 1, 1995, Lauren Peterson, review of Mrs. Cole on an Onion Roll, pp. 1776-77; September 15, 1996, Susan Dove Lempke, review of The Goof Who Invented Homework, pp. 234-35.
- Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 1995, review of Mrs. Cole on an Onion Roll, p. 632; July 1, 1996, review of The Goof Who Invented Homework, p. 965; July 1, 1999, review of The Bug in Teacher's Coffee, p. 1052.
- School Library Journal, December, 1990, Amy Adler, review of If You're Not Here, pp. 114, 116; April, 1993, Sally R. Dow, review of Don't Read This Book, p. 130; September, 1996, Betty Teague, review of The Goof Who Invented Homework, p. 213.