Wednesday, November 30, 2016


My sweet E turns 2 today! I actually found this book after I had sent the birthday box to Phoenix, and had to create to a whole new shipment because every birthday girl deserves a special birthday book!
This one perfectly captures the pros and cons of having a T Rex at your birthday party!
If a T Rex crashes your birthday party
You'd probably be excited.
But you should know a T Rex is as big as a school bus
And he'll have a weird way of looking at you
like he wonders how you would taste with a little mustard.
He's never heard of toothpaste
and he's a close talker.
Those little arms are not very good at birthday games,
He'll eat the cupcake you were saving for your gammy
And he'll break all your toys. 

A perfect birthday gift for any dinosaur lover!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016


He throws the information at me as he is going out the door for Thanksgiving break.

"Her initials are E.N."

I tease a little, "I'm going to figure that out, you know. I can look at an eighth grade attendance roster and figure it out in about ten seconds."

"No you can't," he says. "You can't figure it out that fast."

"Yes I can." We laugh and then he is gone for ten days. I climb the stairs to go back into the building. I have forgotten about E.N. by the time I reach the front door.

Monday. The first day after vacation. I have about seven minutes before I am scheduled to be on the playground for lunch duty and I run upstairs to talk to the fifth grade teachers. The eighth graders are scattered up and down the hall, reading MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM. One tells me that he is reading the play because his brother told him that a lot of people die. I am processing that information, trying to remember which deaths go to which Shakespeare plays, when I run into E again.

"Did you look, Miss? Did you look it up?"

At first, I don't even remember what he is talking about.  "Did I look what up?"

"You know, you said you could figure it out in ten seconds."

I dig deep, trying to remember what I might have said I could figure out in ten seconds, trying not to let him know that I have absolutely no idea what we are talking about. What did I say I would look up? A book title? A random soccer fact? A high school application deadline? I have been known to look up any of those things for the middle schoolers.

He throws out another clue. "You said you could figure it out who it was in ten seconds."

Again, I dig deep.  'Who it was…"

I must still look a little vacant, because he gives me a little more information. "Her initials. Remember?"

Ohhhhh. Now I remember that quick interchange. One of a hundred, or maybe five hundred or a thousand that I had that day. Ten days ago.

But it was the only one I had with him.

And clearly it mattered.

Dang. What were those initials? E??? E what? E.R?

I put on my best private detective smile. "E…?" My voice trails off, hoping he will finish my sentence.

He obliges. "E.N., Miss, E.N."

"Oh yeah. E.N. I can figure that out. Give me two minutes." Now I have three minutes before I have to be on the playground. I dash into the fifth grade classroom to complete my original mission. On the way back downstairs I mentally run through the eighth grade girls. E.N??? By the time I reach the bottom of the stairs, I think I know who we are talking about.

E.N.? He and E.N. are a couple? Really?

That can't be right.

I check the roster to make sure, but there is only one E.N.

I head to the playground. I am a minute late.

He is not there. Probably inside making up homework.

I pull him aside in the cafeteria. "I know who E.N. is, " I announce. "Does she have long brown hair?"

He nods.

"And she's sitting at the table next to yours?"

He nods.

"And she's wearing a pink hoodie?"

He grins.

"I know who E.N. is."

He pushes away to dump his tray and I continue my rounds, willing myself to pay close attention.

I never know, after all, when a random kid will grab five seconds to dump a piece of his heart into my lap.

Such an amazing privilege, this work we do…

Sunday, November 27, 2016


by Lynn Plourde, illustrated by Teri Weidner

It's time for bed, but Baby Black Bear has decided not to hibernate.
"I'm staying awake the who-o-o-o-le winter," he says.
He thinks he might stay up all night and hoot with Owl.
Or perhaps eat sticks with Moose.
He wonders how long it will take him to grow a thick, white coat like Hare.

Mama Bear is worried, but Papa tells her he has it covered. And he does.

Sweet and predictable, with lovely softly blurred illustrations by Terri Weidner.

by Shoham Smith, illustrated by Einat Tsarfati

It's bedtime and the parents think their Sweet Little Nina is asleep.
Unfortunately, that's not the case.
Nina is wide awake.
She wants one more hug and kiss.
Then she leaps out of bed and heads for a grownup party complete with cake ("You know we don't eat at this time of night!") and sugary drinks, all set up in the living room.

Nina terrorizes the party, aided by various assorted aunts, uncles, and other guests, and followed by a pug dog all decked out in an e-collar!

You can guess who finally wears out and goes to sleep!

Interestingly, some commenters on Good Reads were concerned about the message this naughty  little girl and her lenient parents might send to children. I think kids will "get" the humor!

Thursday, November 24, 2016


Welcome! Poetry Friday is here!

I'm a CYBILS Poetry Judge, so each night this week, I've curled up with a novel in verse. Last night I read UNBOUND by Ann E. Burg.

UNBOUND is the story of Grace, a slave girl who has spent her entire life with her mother, her step dad who she calls Uncle Jim, and two toddler brothers. When she turns nine, Grace is sent up the hill to the Big House, to work in the kitchen, with Aunt Tempie. Before she goes, she and her mama have a conversation,
Promise you'll keep
your eyes down.
        I promise.
Promise you'll keep
your mouth closed.
         I promise.
Promise you
won't talk back.
          I promise. 

Grace soon discovers, however, that these promises are difficult to keep, especially given that Missus Allen, the plantation mistress, is incredibly cruel and hard to please. And then she hears some very difficult news....

A terrific historical fiction novel in verse, about a part of history I didn't know at all. According to the author's notes in the back of the book, there really was group of slaves who survived by escaping into the Great Dismal Swamp, an area on the Virginia and North Carolina border.

I can't wait to share this with kids on Monday!

Leave your poems in the comments below (I'm still trying to figure out Mr. Linky) and I'll round them up throughout the day on Friday.

It's not quite noon on Friday, but the comments seem to have slowed. I'll post the roundup so far, then will come back and revisit it later this afternoon.

Michelle Heidenrich Barnes has compiled all of the Today's Little Ditty Poems into a book, which catapulted into Amazon's #1 New Release in Poetry Anthologies! Michelle reminds us that we still have five more days to contribute a poem about refuge and solace to the Today's Little Ditty padlet.

Alan, who is more than a little modest,  has just published a new book of poetry, I BET THERE'S NO BROCCOLI ON THE MOON. Today, Alan has a post explaining how he uses alliteration in his poetry. Our fourth grades are studying poets' tools right now and I think they will enjoy learning from a master!

At Crackles of Speech, Cape Cod poet Steven Withrow remembers the advide given by his grandmother  as they walked by a cranberry bog.

It's interesting to me how many of us are drawing on the poems and hymns of childhood today. Julie Larios wanted to keep it simple today. I remember saying her poem/prayer when I was a little girl. Heidi Mordhorst offers a hymn she sang to her children when they were little.

Carmela wraps up three weeks of Thanks-Giving at Teaching Authors with a tribute to Katherine Patterson. I'm a long time fan of Paterson's novels, but didn't know she has also published GIVING THANKS: POEMS, PRAYERS AND PRAISE SONGS OF THANKSGIVING. I want to buy this book!

Anyone thinking about leftover pie? Be sure to check out Matt Forrest Esenwine's original poem, "Pumpkin," from the book DEAR TOMATO.

And while we are talking about pumpkins, check out  Dori's post, featuring John Greenleaf Whittier's, "The Pumpkin."

Kathryn Apel is hard at work on copyedits for a new book, but somehow still made time to write a quick poem. She made me laugh!

Violet Nesdoly shares, "To Skin," a never published celebration of our fabulous epidermis! One of those practically perfect poems that make me wish I could write this well!

Catherine Flynn says, "the mystery of the moon has offered me a welcome distraction from the turmoil of our world." Her series of original haiku remind me how important it is to look up and trust that all will be well.

Brenda Harsham also reminds us to celebrate nature, with a dragonfly haiku and gorgeous photograph. Wow!

Molly Hogan captures a scene outside her window with her original poem, "Autumn Pendulum."

Margaret Simon drew on a prompt from POETS AND WRITERS, "Make a list of words and phrases that describe the surface textures, odors, and colors that surround you as this year draws to an end… Write a trio of poems, each focusing on one type of sensory input. Select an element–setting, narrator’s voice, repeated words, or a specific object–that stays constant through all three, tying them together" to write her original poem, "Mowing in November."

If you have ever tried to explain to kids why, "And it was all a dream" endings just don't work, or if you have ever struggled with writing a good ending yourself, you have to read Ruth's original poem, "Endings." So true!

Holly's original poem is accompanied an explanation of how Japan feeds its children who are living at poverty level. 

Jan Godown Annino is in with two #iamthankful poems. The second one is also an entry in Today's Little Ditty place of refuge. I felt like I was at the beach while I was reading it!

Irene Latham, along with Poetry Friday posters Mary Lee Hahn and Heidi Mordhorst, actually drafted a poem in front of an audience at NCTE! She includes "At the Harvest Ball," as well as another poem written by Katherine Bomer. Reading everyone's posts, I'm sad to have missed this fabulous conference again this year.

Jeannine Atkins, whose novel-in verse, FINDING WONDERS: THREE GIRLS WHO CHANGED SCIENCE, is also in my stack of CYBILS nominees, participated in several different poetry panels, including one with Irene Latham, at NCTE. I'm fascinated by the amount of research that goes into so many poetry books and would have loved to hear Jeannine interviewed about her process. 

Mary Lee, describes perfectly how many of us have been feeling for the last few weeks. "My creative spirit… has been sitting out on the porch with her head between her knees for the last couple of weeks." Mary Lee's decided, however, to do something and will be hosting #haikuforhealing during the month of December. Come write haiku with us!

Linda Mitchell reminds me of an old favorite, "New Colossus," by Emma Lazarus. I memorized this poem in junior high, but have forgotten so much. Maybe we should have a day where everyone posts these lines on social media...

    “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” 

Tabatha Yeatts introduced me to a new website, WOMEN'S VOICES FOR CHANGE: REDEFINING LIFE AFTER FORTY.  I'd love to have coffee with Tabatha and the three poets she includes in her post today.

Little Willow has been sharing "thoughtful songs" all month. Today's "Integrity Blues" by Jimmy Eat World is an important one. Be sure to make time to listen to this ballad.

Alice Nine shares one of my all time favorite, favorite poems, "From Mother to Son," made extra special by the reflection by Joe Nathan, a Minnesota school administrator.

Jane, a friend from Vancouver, shares "Poem for the Long-ly Wed." In case you want to read the whole poem (I did, after reading part of it), you can find it at Writers' Almanac.  This poem is from Garrison Keillor's POEMS FOR HARD TIMES.

A lot of us seem to be finding solace, encouragement, bravery, maybe even a little hope in poetry. Linda Baie reminds me to revisit Joyce Sidman's WHAT THE HEART KNOWS: CHANTS, CHARMS, AND BLESSINGS.

Robyn Hood Black found some poems in vintage text, then turned them into Christmas ornaments. These would be great Christmas presents!

Be sure to check out Myra Garces-Bascal's review of NOCTURNE: DREAM RECIPES before you go! Looks like a book that's sure to delight even the most reluctant reader!

Tara Smith is enjoying ECHO ECHO, Marilyn Singer's newest book of reverso poems, which features characters from Greek mythology. I totally agree with Tara, who says, "There are those poets who are able to take this craft and create a new invention of the form, which leaves me all the more envious and dumbfounded: such is the invention of reverso poems by Marilyn Singer."  

Wednesday, November 23, 2016


Thanksgiving Eve seems a perfect day to feature poems about food.

I was talking with a group of fourth graders this week about how poetry helps us see the world in whole new ways, and about how we read a poem, and then can never look at that object again, without thinking of that poem. I wish I had read FRESH DELICIOUS: POEMS FROM THE FARMERS' MARKET by Irene Latham, illustrated by Mique Moruchi, before I had taught this lesson. Fresh delicious includes twenty-one poems, including some that children will know- tomato, cucumbers, lettuce, peaches, blueberries, strawberries, watermelon, potatoes, eggs and some they might not-purple hull peas,  basil, okra, and don't miss pole beans on the back cover from the Farmers' Market. A jillion surprising and really wonderful comparisons…

Where your
meets my
hopeful nose,
the world
with sweetness.
- Irene Latham

a fleet
of green

in a wicker
- Irene Latham

a bouquet
of minty
-Irene Latham

Mique Moriuchi's collage illustrations, featuring a variety of animals visiting the farmers' market and interacting with the produce  are perfect- bright, playful, and colorful. A bonus section includes recipes- salsa, fruit kebabs, lettuce wraps, and cheesy confetti frittata, mini veggie pizzas, and easy strawberry ice cream.

Another food/poetry book I read this week is OUR FOOD: A HEALTHY SERVING OF SCIENCE AND POEMS, is by a favorite author, Grace Lin, and her friend, Ranida T. McKneally. OUR FOOD features haiku from five food groups- protein, fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy.

Protein foods
I've always wondered
Do brown chickens lay brown eggs?
My thoughts are scrambled.
Almonds are "good fats"?
Do they fight crime in disguise?
Seems nutty to me 
Each haiku is accompanied by a rich informative piece. Some are basic what you might expect to find in a book about food-
     - What is a fruit?
     - Why do I have to eat my vegetables?
     - What are protein foods?

Some take the reader a little deeper:
     - Why are so many vegetables green?
     - Why are lean meats healthier than fatty meats?
     - What is the difference between brown bread and white bread?

Still others are downright fun:
     - What makes popcorn pop?
     - Why do beans make you gassy?
     - Why are some cheeses so stinky?

End pages include a few additional questions, a diagram of the four food groups, and a glossary. A terrific poetry/science crossover!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016


My boys, 21 and 22, are almost grown.

And I'm finding it really, really hard to parent them right now.

The world we are living in is a really scary place.
 I fear for my chocolate skinned son every time they go out the front door.
I do not know what to say to my boys.
I do not know what they should
say or do
if they are going about their ordinary
every day business
picking up loaf of bread
or a gallon of milk
at the grocery store,
putting gas in their cars
or walking across the parking lot
on their way to class
and someone says something.
Keep your head down.
Walk away.
Don't make eye contact.
Get to a safe place
and call 911.
I raised them to be men
of character and integrity
I do not want them to live in fear.
And yet the world is a really scary place.

I worry about the choices they make.

All day today I have been thinking
about a lady named Gwenevere.
She's the mother
of the Chattanooga school bus driver
that crashed and killed
five children yesterday.
Early reports indicate
that he was driving too fast.
I could be Gwenevere.
My boys drive fast.
Run yellow lights.
Make poor decisions.
Every day,
I pray that their decisions
won't cause harm
to themselves
or others.
won't have
permanent ramifications.

And I have been thinking
about another mom.
Anonymous right now.
Her son was killed last night
in a stabbing
at an apartment complex in a college town
about an hour north of Denver.
A couple was fighting.
A neighbor stepped in to help.
And now he's dead.
I want my strapping strong sons
 to be up standers
to step in if someone needs help

But I don't want them dead.

My boys are almost grown
And yet I'm finding it really, really hard
to parent them right now.

The world is a really scary place.

Monday, November 21, 2016

CATCHING A STORYFISH- Janice N. Harrington

Keet (short for Keet-Keet Parakeet) is a girl who loves to talk.

"You'd talk the whiskers off a catfish,"
Grandpa says, "and the shine
off a new penny."
"Grab the glue, grab the tape,"
Daddy says, "Keet, if you keep talking
"I'll need to stick on an extra pair of ears."
They're right. I like to talk.
I like to spin stories
this-is-what-I did-stories
this-is-what-I-saw stories
stories to make my brother giggle-bouncy
and wiggly as a worm.
stories to make Daddy lean in
and hold me octopus-tight.
stories to make Mama's eyes
shine birthday candle-bright."
Keet's stories stop, though, when her parents decide to move from Alabama to Illinois to be closer to Keet's grandfather. Her new classmates make fun of the way she talks, then her much loved grandfather/fishing buddy, has a stroke, and Keet doesn't know if she will ever tell her stories again. A new friend, Allegra (who happens to be a Latina), and a lovely school librarian help Keet catch the story fish inside of her again.

My favorite line from the book, by Doug McVicker, a storyteller that comes to visit the class.
"Knowing someone's story is one wayto put an end to a lot of trouble in the world" (p. 152). 
A terrific novel in verse about starting over in a new place, about remembering who you are, about making friends, and about the power of story. I wish I would have had this book at the beginning of the year. It will definitely be one of my first four or fourth grade read alouds next year! Don't miss the glossary of poetic forms at the back of the book.

Saturday, November 5, 2016



One fifth grade class
a dilapidated old elementary school
slated to be torn down
and replaced by a grocery store
 at the end of the school year.
A teacher/activist that requires her students
to journal every day.
18 students including:
George Washington Furst, the class president who really wants his mom and dad to reconcile.
Gaby Vargas, an English Language Learner.
Sloane and Sydney Costley, identical twins, BFF's, but very different.
Mark Fernandez whose father has recently died.
Newt Mathews, frog loving scientist, who happens to have Aspergers.
Hannah Wiles, missing her deployed mom.
and Norah Hassan, originally from Jerusalem,
who really don't want their school to close.

This novel-in-verse follows the 18 fifth graders,
each with their own unique voice,
as they progress through a school year.

I love the way the book is designed, with each student having their own icon that appears in the corner of the page.

End notes include a description of seventeen different poem forms, with the titles of mentor poems included in the book, 15 different poems, again with mentor poems from the book, and a glossary.

Looking forward to sharing this with our fifth graders on Monday!

Friday, November 4, 2016


Screen Shot 2015-10-22 at 4.28.23 AM.png
Douglas Wright, Argentinian Poet

Phew! Having a really hard time keeping up with blogging and life right now! Every week, I promise myself, "I am going to blog at least three times this week." And then it doesn't happen! Darn! We have a day off today (comp day for two fourteen hour days of parent/teacher conferences, in case anyone is wondering), so I'm stealing a few minutes before I start in on housework and grocery shopping and bill paying and all of the other stuff that has also been neglected…

I am a literacy coach at a bilingual school. I really, really, really want people to incorporate poetry into the life of their classrooms. I have tons and tons of books of English poetry, and it's easy for me to offer people lots of choices, but I don't have nearly as many choices for people in Spanish.

About a year ago, I stumbled across an Argentinian poet and illustrator, Douglas Wright, who blogs at El Jardín de Douglas. He posts new cartoons, illustrated poems, and songs almost every day. He has some really short poems that he calls bocaditos (nibbles) that our little guys, who are just starting to speak Spanish (and also their literacy coach, who is only a little fluent), can access fairly easily. And our kids love him! 

Here are three we have used with our kids. I've included a rough translation…

El árbol quedó sin hojas,
las ramas no tienen nada,
y contra un cielo de otoño:
sólo las ramas peladas.
Douglas Wright

The Tree was Leafless
The tree was leafless,
the branches have nothing,
and against an autumn sky:
only bare branches.

Douglas Wright

Una poesía de parches

Una poesía de parches
de cuadritos de color,
como una manta tejida,
tejida con mucho amor.

Un parche azul es el cielo
y uno amarillo es el sol,
y un parche verde es la plaza
donde todo es resplandor.

Unos parches de poesías,
de poesías de color,
tejidos como una manta,
como una manta de amor.

Un parche negro es la noche
y un parche blanco es el día,
uno gris es la tristeza
y uno rojo es la alegría.

Una poesía de parches
de cuadritos de color,
tejida como una manta,
como una manta de amor.

Douglas Wright

A Patch Poetry A patch poetry color plaid, as a woven blanket, woven with love. A patch is blue sky and a yellow one is the sun, and a green patch is the square where everything is shining. Patches of poetry, poetry of color, tissues like a blanket, like a blanket of love. A black patch is the night and a white patch is the day, gray one is sadness and one red is joy. A patch poetry color plaid, woven like a blanket, like a blanket of love. Douglas Wright Argentina


La primavera está aquí 

La primavera está aquí,
la primavera se siente
—en los pájaros, las plantas,
en el aire, en el ambiente.

La primavera está aquí,
la primavera se siente,
y los pájaros, las plantas
—el aire, el cielo, las nubes—,
entonan todo a coro:
“la primavera, ¡presente!”. 

Douglas Wright

Spring is Here Spring is here, Spring feels -in birds, plants, in the air, in the environment. Spring is here, spring feel, and birds, plants -the air, the sky, the clouds, all sing the chorus: "Spring, present!" Douglas Wright

The very talented Laura Purdie Salas has the Poetry Roundup today.