Tuesday, June 19, 2018


I am a lover of books.
And bookstores.
And poetry.
And dogs.
And dogs that work.
It only makes sense, then, that I would love a book about a dog that works.
And that I would love an author visit by an author who wrote about his working dog.

On Saturday, I went to Tattered Cover.
I went specifically to find Naomi Shihab Nye's newest book. VOICES IN THE AIR.
I didn't find that, but on the way into the children's department, I passed by a book display.
And of course, because I love dogs,
especially working dogs,
and I love poetry,
and I love the stories of people's lives,
I had to have it.
I didn't buy it, though, that day.
I'm trying to curtail my book buying addiction
and actually read a few of the books I already own.
Instead I waited until yesterday.
I had been cooped up in the house all afternoon.
I decided I would attend Kuusisto's reading.
It was wonderful.
And of course I had to buy the book.

Kuusisto is a professor at Syracuse University.
He was born in Durham, New Hampshire, where I did my doctoral work.
He was legally blind at birth, but grew up being told by his sighted parents, that he should act like he could see. And so he did that, devising elaborate systems to help himself function in a seeing world. He went to college, and then to the Iowa Writing Workshop. He became a professor. It wasn't until he lost his job at 38, and didn't have any options for another one, that he decided that he would acknowledge his blindness, and get a guide dog to help him move through the world. He described the book as a love poem to Corky, his first dog.

Now he is on his fourth dog.
Kaitlyn is a four-year-old yellow lab.
She accompanied him last night.
She spent most of the time,
while he was talking and autographing,
curled up next to him on the rug, sound asleep.
Toward the end of his talk, he took off her harness,
so she could be a dog and just say hello to people.
She especially liked my coffee.

It was a delightful evening.
And then I came home
and stayed up until almost midnight reading the book.
I will finish it today.
There is nothing better, after all,
then books,
or books about dogs,
or books about working dogs,
written and read by a poet,
on a summer evening
in Denver.

Monday, June 18, 2018


I have spent the last few days devouring BENEATH A SCARLET SKY by Mark Sullivan. The book is marketed as fiction, but is really more a narrative nonfiction. In the author's notes at the beginning of the book, Mark Sullivan says that the book is based on the life of Pino Lella, and set in Italy during WWII. Because so many documents were destroyed at the end of WWII, and because so many of the people involved have since passed away, Sullivan couldn't verify many of the conversations. For that reason, it's considered fiction.

When the book opens, Pino is 17. The Nazis have just begun attacking Italy and Pino and his younger brother Mimo narrowly avoid being killed in a theater that is bombed. Shortly after that, their parents send them to the border of Italy, to stay at a Catholic boys school. There, Pino is responsible for helping many Jews cross through the Alps to Switzerland. When he gets close to 18, his parents summon him back to Milan, and encourage him to enlist in the German army, so he won't be drafted and placed on the front lines. Through a fluky train of events, he becomes a chauffeur to one of highest ranking German officers. This allows him access to some of Germany's deepest, darkest secrets, which he then passes to the Italian Resistance.

I love historical fiction and narrative nonfiction, but had read almost nothing about Italy during this era. I learned a lot, then, in reading this book which is right up there, for me, with Anthony Doerr's ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE, which is one of my all-time favorites.

Friday, June 15, 2018


This week I attended a district literacy training. One of the sessions that I attended, they talked about Overdrive, a tool that allows kids to access books on their computers and phones and tablets. While I was messing around with that app, I stumbled across A MAZE ME by Naomi Shihab Nye. I first thought it was a new book, then discovered it was originally published in 2005, then re-published, (maybe with a different cover?) in 2014. At any rate, I loved the poems. I also loved the foreword, which I think will be perfect to use with sixth graders the first week of school.

From the back cover: 
Life is a tangle of
twisting paths.
Some short.
Some long.
There are dead ends.
And there are choices.
And wrong turns,
and detours,
and yield signs, 
and instruction booklets,
and star maps,
and happiness,
and loneliness.
And friends.
And sisters.
And love.
And poetry.
Life is a maze.
You are a maze.
And amazing.
Naomi Shihab Nye

"Every Day"
My hundred-year-old next door neighbor told me
every day is a good day if you have it.
I had to think about that a minute.
She said, Every day is a present
someone left at your birthday place at the table.
Trust me! It may not feel like that
but it's true. When you're my age
you'll know. Twelve is a treasure
and it's up to you
to unwrap the package gently,
lift out the gleaming hours
wrapped in tissue,
don't miss the bottom of the box.

Naomi Shihab Nye

"If the Shoe Doesn't Fit"

you take it off
of course you take it off
it doesn't worry you
it isn't your shoe

Naomi Shihab Nye

Karen Edmisten is hosting Poetry Friday this week. She shares "Sustenance," a beautiful poem by Barbara Crooker, and then her own "Sustenance" poem, which is equally beautiful.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018


I probably should not admit this, but last week I was a big, fat, quitter pants.

I quit Spanish.

During Christmas break, I decided this was going to be the year that I really did get better at Spanish.
And so I signed up for a class.
And I've been going every Tuesday. 

It's not cheap.
It costs about $30 a session. 
Even with a teacher discount.

And it requires a time commitment.
There is homework.
Lots of vocabulary and verb conjugations to memorize.
And there are tests every couple of months.
I spend at least three or four hours a week,
and sometimes more,
preparing for class.

But most of the time, I really like the class.
I like that there are only five or six people in each class,
so we really do get a lot of time to practice.
I like that most of the people are at about the same level as I am.
I like the teacher.

But the last couple of weeks have been really, really hard.
We had a test.
And despite the fact that I had studied
and studied
and studied,
I didn't do very well.

And then a new session started and two new people joined.
They are sisters. And they are very nice.
But they are way, way, way better than the rest of us.
And it kind of tilts the dynamics of the class.
Not to mention that I always seem to get paired with one of them for partner work.
And it's embarrassing because their Spanish is so much better than mine
and I make so, so, so many mistakes.

Last Tuesday was the ultimateawful.
I had been traveling, and had a 21 hour day on Monday.
I had a leadership class all day Tuesday,
followed by a doctor's appointment I was really dreading.
And I was so tired
I probably should not even have gone to class,
except I knew if I missed a session,
I would never catch up.
And so I went.
And it was awful.

We started with a warmup using a verb conjugation that I use all the time at work.
It's one of my fall backs when I can't figure out how to say something.
I use it all the time.
Probably ten or twenty times every day.
Except that on that warmup,
I just could.
how to do it.
Maybe that should have been a sign.

Then we went on to a different activity.
It was a partner worksheet.
And it was one of those activities that all of us
who are teachers
have experienced at one time or another.
You know, the kind where teaching kids how to do the worksheet,
or how to fold or cut the paper,
instead of the skill or concept you actually intended to teach
becomes the lesson.
The Spanish teacher finally gave up and had us put the worksheet away.
But not before I had said,
"I think I'm too stupid for this.
Can I just listen to everyone else?"

And then we went onto a domino game
that didn't quite work either.
And I just kept feeling stupider and stupider.
And older and older.
(Did I mention that I could easily be the mother
of every other student in the class?
And also of the teacher?)

Finally, mercifully,
class was over.
And I should have just gone home
and gone to bed.
But I didn't.
Instead I went home
and emailed the teacher
that I was through.
I wasn't going to come anymore.
She emailed right back that she was heartbroken
and hoped I'd reconsider.
I wasn't planning to.
I was through.

The next morning when I woke up
I knew I had probably done something stupid.
But I was also a little relieved
because Spanish is really hard.
I went to the second day of my leadership training
and told my team,
almost all fluent Spanish speakers,
that I had quit.
They were aghast.
But you really wanted to learn Spanish.
You are getting a lot better.
What about growth mindset?
I didn't care.
I was done.
Spanish is too hard.

Two days later I emailed the teacher
and asked if I could come back.
Of course I could.
And so I have studied a lot this week.
Done my homework.
Spent extra time with my vocabulary cards
and on the Duolingo website.
Spanish is hard work.
And I wanted to make sure I am ready.

But this experience as a learner has also made me think a lot about myself as a teacher.
Does the content always have to be rigorous for learning to occur?
What is the role of success in learning?
What am I doing to make sure every single kid in my class
feels smart,
and ready to try again,
every single day?
In what ways am I making the learning harder than it has to be?
Are there days when kids should simply be allowed to opt out and listen?

I don't know the answers to any of those questions,
but I do know that my experiences as a learner
will definitely impact me this fall as a teacher.

And I will probably start by telling the story
of when their teacher was a big fat quitter pants.

I want my students to know
that I understand
that learning is hard work.

Monday, June 11, 2018

LAST MAN OUT- Mike Lupica

Since I'm going to teach sixth grade literacy, my goal this summer is to read a lot of books that I could recommend to kids that age. Realistic and historical fiction are really my favorite genres, but I'm trying to read others, that I'm not as likely to follow. I've loved Mike Lupica for years, so when this book showed up in my Scholastic orders, I picked it up.

LAST MAN OUT is the story of Tommy Gallagher, a middle school strong safety on the Brighton Bears football team (Side note: As the mom of two former football players, I loved that this book was about a defensive player, many of the football books I have read feature offensive players- quarterbacks, running backs, an occasional wide receiver). In the first chapter, Tommy is playing in a football game when his family is notified that his firefighter father has been killed in the line of duty. Each member of the family copes in different ways- Tommy still loves football but struggles because his dad is no longer there to practice and coach and advise, so he turns to skateboarding to fill the hole in his heart and life. (I kept thinking about the list of do's and don'ts I always got at the beginning of each sports season. Pretty sure my boys would not have been allowed to skateboard because of the potential for injury, but maybe that's not true on every team). Tommy's younger sister, Em, a star soccer player, quits her team and spends hours and hours alone in her room.

I think this is one of those books teachers need to have in their repertoire because some day some kid who has lost a parent will need it. A solid story about grief and integrity and learning to move forward when life has changed and it's really, really hard.

Friday, June 8, 2018


I hated junior high. Hated it. I went from playing on the playground at Longfellow and Stratton and Madison Elementary Schools, where "smart" was an acceptable currency to Washington Irving Junior High, where no one wanted to be smart and all the girls wore makeup and the cafeteria served brown hamburger gravy over rice or mashed potatoes, and no one liked it, but no one brought lunch from home because that wasn't cool. And I didn't understand, somehow, that everyone felt as uncool, and uncertain, and unloved as I did, and that's why so many kids were so, so mean, and so, so, so unkind.

I think maybe that's why I fell in love with IMPERFECT:  POEMS ABOUT MISTAKES, AN ANTHOLOGY FOR MIDDLE SCHOOLERS, Tabatha Yeatts' new book. I know other people have already reviewed the book, so I won't spend a lot of time on it, other than to say it's a collection of more than seventy poems and quotes about making mistakes. The kind of poems that you read and just know that the poet was inside your life or inside your head. Poets include lots of folks that show up at Poetry Friday every week and then some other "classical" poets, like Ella Wheeler and Carl Sandburg. There are endnotes about making good decisions and apologizing effectively.  I LOVE the book and can't wait to share it with the sixth graders I will be teaching next year.


Through this course
we'll explore the art of being thirteen
going on fourteen

We'll practice sitting on a chair
without falling on the floor,
posting in the class group chat
without hurting anyone's feelings,
having a crush on a ninth grader
without losing your dignity.

In our year together
we'll entertain a range of frequent emotions
without frustration being a frequent visitor.

We'll experience rejection,
some days all before lunch.

There are tissues on the teacher's desk.

Bathroom humor will be tolerated
on a limited basis.

The teacher will try not to roll her eyes at you
if you try not to roll yours at her.
We'll read what many others have written
about being alive,
and we'll write what we think and feel,
or at least some of it.
Some of it we'll bury on the playground
when nobody's looking.

Evaluations will be gentle,
since nobody has ever mastered
the art of thirteen
going on fourteen.
Or any other age, really.
We're all just figuring it out as we go along.

Ready? Let's begin.

Ruth Hersey


Make a mistake for goodness sake!
Take a risk in being wrong.
Listen to a different drummer
Write the words to your own song.

Be wild and woolly whenever you can.
Be foolish and daring and brave.
Be silly and fun. Skip when you run.
And try not to always behave.

Be honest and fair. Act like you don't care.
Be loving and caring and free.
Just be yourself. Take care of your health.
And don't listen to people like me.

Charles Ghigna


Are you sorry?

I don't know
but I have your
wounding words

splashed across
my brain and heart
like spray-painted letters-

and eye-catching--

how can I think other thoughts
with these here
taking up all the room?

I carefully
peel up the words
like stickers,

letter by letter
tugging up the edges,
and pulling carefully--

when they rip,
I start over,
picking from another side
until finally…
they all come loose,
flimsy and flat,

so I crumple them up
and toss them away.

Tabatha Yeatts

Kiesha is hosting Poetry Friday at Whispers From the Ridge. Head on over to read lots more great poetry.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018


Friday morning.
School science fair.
The three and four-year-olds have been studying the life cycle of a butterfly.
They invite the seventh graders to visit their butterfly museum.
By the time I arrive, the presentation is over.
The seventh graders are seated with the little ones at centers around the room.
Mostly, they are coloring and reading and building puzzles.
There are lots of smiles, lots of hugs, lots of laughter.
I love watching the older kids with the little ones.

My eye is drawn to the construction center.
There are four or five older kids, all boys, building.
I don't see any little kids.
The boys are some of my most wiggly guys,
the ones I have to stand close to,
the ones I catch watching me read most often
during silent reading time
the ones who most depend on me for book suggestions,
the ones I regularly have to redirect.
They have come a long way this year,
and they are still hard work pretty much every day.

I stand for almost twenty minutes watching the builders.
They create, break, re-create.
Completely unaware of their surroundings.
Completely lost in the building zone.

Now, four days later, I can't stop thinking
about those moving hands and minds.
I think about a typical reading or writing workshop
and I wonder
how I can make it more like the block center
so these guys can learn better.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018


For years, I have talked to teachers about how teaching children to read involves three key components:
        1) Developing a positive attitude toward reading
        2) Acquiring the skills and strategies you need to be a strong and successful reader
       3) Developing fluency
Of course all of this occurs within a strong, supportive, and caring community.

I'm only talking about this because now I am actually living it myself.
I'm talking Spanish every Tuesday night.
I'm not exactly a beginner.
But I'm not all that terrific either.
Right now our class is working on preterite (past tense) verbs.
And it's really hard for me.
There are five of us.
And I'm pretty much the worst one.
My teacher is great.
Warm and supportive and caring.
We have wine and homemade tapas every night.
The people in my class are really nice.

And every week, when I go to Spanish class, all I can think about is, "I'm not very good at this. "
I make way more mistakes than anyone else.
My pronunciation is awful.
I'm the oldest person here.
I'm the worst one in the class."

And because I keep talking to myself that way
I think I am making Spanish a lot harder.
I know I could learn Spanish a lot easier
If I would just relax and stop talking to myself like that.
It really is all about the attitude.

I need to remember that when I'm talking to kids who struggle with reading
because they live that every day.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018


She is eleven now.
Her face, once jet black, gets whiter every month.
She spends most of her day napping in the sunniest places she can find,
one ear slightly cocked,
listening for the sound of the refrigerator opening.
She can no longer jump onto the bed by herself.
Instead she leans against the bed,
front paws on the boxsprings
(which I have placed slightly askew especially for this purpose)
waiting for me to get up and hoist her rear end onto the bed.
Sometimes her back legs give way on the stairs and she slides backwards on her belly.
She is no longer a young pup.

Except for one brief thirty-minute segment of every day.
Walk time.
How well she knows our routine.
I come in the door.
Change my clothes.
Eat something.
Call my mom.
And then I grab her leash and a couple of plastic bags out of the bag in the pantry,  and we head out the door.
And she becomes a pup again.

Dragging me down the walk.
Every night, at least one person asks me who is walking who.
Panting so loudly that people regularly comment that maybe she is thirsty.
She usually isn't, because she stops to drink out of every sprinkler that we pass.
Snorting like a piglet every time she senses that there might be a snack nearby.
Eighty percent of the time she is right.

We used to go three, four, five miles every night.
Now we usually don't go more than two.
But we go almost every night,
because for that hour
she is a pup again.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018


The email came early this morning. The middle school science teacher is doing a science fair. Several groups need to go outside to perform their experiment. The science teacher really doesn't want to take the whole class outside and he wonders if I have any time open today that I could help. It just so happens that three of my intervention groups are on field trips today. I have about 90 minutes open. I was going to use it for several other projects but…

One of the groups that needs to go outside is four kids from my reading class. Three boys- C, J, E, and one girl- M. C is a really talented soccer player, but not so excited about reading. He will read soccer books (nonfiction only) and occasionally a graphic or illustrated novel. And that's all. Most days, I have to ask him, as he comes in the door, if he has his book. Often, probably three days out of every five,  he has to go back to get it. Then he tromps back in the door, usually a few minutes late, usually bashing into two or three desks along the way, charming a girl or two or three, and finally settling, but always antsy, and rarely focused on his reading.

Today is different. The group is performing an experiment about density. C seems to be in charge. He has taken four soccer balls and filled them with varying amounts of water, which, he informs the group, took him two hours the night before.  The object of the experiment is to see which one will travel the farthest when they kick it. I watch as C withdraws a needle kit from his bag, expertly inserts the needle into the ball, and adds a little air, then the group heads for the field, but not before C sends J back to the room for a measuring tape.

C carries his backpack and two of the balls. E has the other two balls, and M carries the Chromebook for data entry. We arrive at the field and C is all business. He opens his backpack, and withdraws his soccer cleats. He sets the balls up on a starting line, then informs the group that he  is going to be the first kicker. No one objects. The first ball travels 133 feet. I know because J and I have run down the field with the measuring tape. E is responsible for retrieving the ball, so that the other group members can have a kick. No one else kicks it farther than 35 feet. The other three balls, each containing more water, yield similar results. Each time, C's kick travels two or three times as far as everyone else's. M refuses to even try kicking, she says she will be the group photographer and data recorder.

The group's original plan is to take the longest kick from each ball and use that as their data. J points out, however, that C always kicks the farthest and that maybe they should just use him as the kicker. C is more than happy to oblige and kicks balls down the field again and again, until they have enough trials.

Almost an hour later, C takes off his cleats and we head back into the building. He once again takes charge- making sure that we have four balls (all his, I think), and the Chromebook, and the backpack, and the measuring tape. On the way inside, he consults his phone, and tells me that they are late to their next class, and I will need to tell the language arts teacher where they have been.

And as always, kids have taught me today. C can't remember to bring his book to reading class to save his life, but today he remembered four balls, and his cleats, and the measuring tape, and the Chromebook. In class, it takes pretty much every skill I have (and some days ones that I don't) to get him to sit down and focus. His body (and often his mouth) are in constant motion. And yet outside, he's totally focused, able to direct a group, eager to display his prowess, willing to cooperate.

And I wonder, as always, what's wrong with this picture? Why don't these skills transfer to the classroom? Why, oh why, can't we make schools that fit kids better?

Friday, May 4, 2018


Do you ever think you have happened upon something brand new and exciting, that you can't wait to introduce to the world? That's what happened to me this week. About ten days ago, I came across Jeanne Lohmann's work on Parker J. Palmer's Facebook page. I thought perhaps she was a new poet, but discovered that no, that was not the case at all. Instead, I found out that Jeanne Lohmann was a Quaker poet who has published over ten volumes of poetry and has been featured in numerous literary magazines and anthologies. A poetry trail named for her is a dedicated part of Hypatia-in-the-Woods Center for Women in the Arts in Shelton, WA. She passed away in 2016, at the age of 93. 

I love Jeanne Lohmann's writing, it reminds me of several other favorite poets, most notably Mary Oliver and Marge Piercy. Here's a sample:

"Praise what comes"

surprising as days and kisses, all you haven't deserved
of days and solitude, your body's immoderate good health
that lets you work in many kinds of weather. Praise

talk with just about anyone. And quiet intervals, books
that are your food and your hunger; nightfall and walks
before sleep. Praising these for practice, perhaps

you will come at last to praise grief and the wrongs
you never intended. At the end there may be no answers
and only a few simple questions: did I love,

finish my task in the world? Did I learn at least one
of the many names of God? At the intersections,
the boundaries where at least one life began, and another

ended, the jumping-off places between fear and
possibility, the ragged edges of pain,
did I catch the smallest glimpse of the holy?

Jeanne Lohmann

Read a few more of Jeanne's poems here.

Brenda is hosting Poetry Friday at Friendly Fairy Tales.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018


Today is my 62nd consecutive day of posting. Thirty-one days of slicing in March, and thirty more days of poetry in April. Phew! I am tired!

As I wrap up these two months of nonstop writing, I'm thinking about several different things:

The importance of audience and feedback- It's really, really nice to get feedback on your writing. I loved getting comments from other writers. This year, I didn't get nearly as many comments when I sliced. I thought maybe it was just me-- that I was old and boring, and didn't have much to contribute to the community, but then several other people wrote about the lack of comments too. I found the same thing to be true with poetry, but it was mostly my fault. I really prefer to post in the morning, but I had a hard time getting ahead, and ended up, most of the time, posting at about 9:00 at night. That meant not many people read what I wrote. It's harder to want to keep writing when you think no one is reading it.

And then I think about our students. How many of our kids write for days and days and days, with only their teachers as authentic readers? No wonder they don't want to keep writing!

The importance of community. The first several years I wrote poetry, I wrote alongside a group, at Year of Reading. I loved the little community that formed each year. I loved having a focused (not sure that is the right word for it) and I loved seeing what other people did with that topic. Last year, I didn't write at all, and this year, I came back, I found that I really missed the community and connections and conversations around the shared topic. I did have a few faithful readers- Mary Lee Hahn, Cathy Mere, Glenda Funk, Elisabeth Ellington, Jean LaTourette. Those people kept me writing. And again, I think about the importance of community in our classrooms.

The importance of mentors and exemplars and possibility. I loved reading other people's poems. Amy Ludwig VanderWater gave readers a new tool to try every day. Mary Lee wrote a month's worth of fabulous golden shovel poems. Elisabeth Ellington and Glenda Funk, who both said they weren't poets, tried a whole bunch of fabulous and different structures. It was really fun to have all of those possibilities to wallow in. I think about the importance of immersing kids in poetry.

The role of choice. This feels a little like heresy, but I have been thinking a lot about choice. I totally believe in kids having choice as writers. At the same time, I really appreciated the structure provided the years that I wrote with MaryLee. I didn't mind having the topic chosen for me. And I actually think I wrote better than I did this year. I'm really not sure what that means, but I'm thinking about it.  

Playfulness. Writers need lots of time to just plain out play. And I don't think I give them enough of that.

So, those are just a few random thoughts, at the end of two straight months of writing. And now I'm going to go read a book. I haven't done nearly enough of that in the last couple of months!

Monday, April 30, 2018

Poem #30- "In My Book"

Phew! April Poetry Month is in the books!

"In My Book"

You can …
open a book
balance the books
have your nose in a book
hit the books.

Or perhaps you can…
read the fine print
read between the lines
read into something
read someone's mind
read someone like a book
or occasionally, read someone the Riot Act
(or throw the book at them if necessary).

You can be......
       a closed book
       an open book
       a bookworm
       or book smart

And you can use
every trick in the book
or perhaps the oldest trick in the book
and if it's really good, make it one for the record books.

And now it's time to close the books
on April Poetry Month!

(C) Carol Wilcox, 2018

I found the book and reading expressions here.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

POEM #29- Radicle

On Friday night, I was looking back through the poems I have written this month. I was surprised, ok, maybe shocked is a better word, to discover that I had never written a poem to my mom's mom, my Grandma Grace. Grandma Grace was a librarian in the Chicago Public Library system for many, many years. And if I had to pick one person who rooted and grew me as a reader, it would definitely be her. I am not sure why I have not written about her in my poetry journey this month. As I was writing, I wondered if the first root had a special name, so I googled it, and found that it's called the "radicle." I guess that kind of fits, too, with Amy Ludwig Vanderwater's strategy, "Be Inspired by Science."


Radicle: the tree's first root. 
Roots are responsible 
for anchoring the plant body 
to the ground, 
and supporting it. 
You, Grandma Grace, 
were definitely 
my reading radicle. 

you always had a stack of books waiting
on the end table in your living room 
and every summer, when we arrived in Chicago,
i headed for the armchair in the front room 
a reading throne 
where i would take up residence
to devour book after book after book

my reading radicle

you gave me the Little House series
all eight of them
one at a time
i signed the first one
"to Carol Wilcox 
from Grandma Grace, 
December 24, 1967,
Colorado Springs, Colorado
you signed the next seven
i still have those books

my reading radicle

and you introduced me 
to the Newbery Medal
I'm not sure it was intentional
but i still think of 
Claudia and Jamie,
and their grandmother,
Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
every year, when the winners are announced
and every time I walk into a museum,
not to mention the million mini-lessons 
I have taught around thinking 
about how an author constructs a text
based on my own comprehension difficulties, 
when I, as a fourth grader,
failed to read Mrs. BEF's prologue.

my reading radicle

The radicle, a tree's first root. 
responsible for anchoring the plant body 
to the ground, 
and supporting it. 
You, Grandma Grace, 
were definitely 
my reading radicle. 

(C) Carol Wilcox, 2018

Saturday, April 28, 2018

POEM #28- Conduit

Reading is a conduit to wholeness.    Jason Reynolds

I discovered Jason Reynolds about two years ago and have been a huge fan ever since. I have read almost all of his books and had the opportunity to see him, along with Brendan Kiely in an interview at the Denver Public Library last winter. I wish Reynolds' books had been around when my sons were in middle school and high school. 

Earlier this week, I came across an interview John Schu at Watch Connect Read did after winning the Newbery Honor Medal. I loved this quote, so today it is the basis for my golden shovel poem. 


ahhh, this thing called reading
some think it is
 just about black words crawling across white page, but really it is a
high speed conduit
creating endless opportunities for travel to 
place where brain heart soul merge and there is wholeness

(C) Carol Wilcox, 2018

Friday, April 27, 2018

POEM #27-When Did Poetry Become Broccoli?

Yesterday, I came across this article by Chris Harris, "When Exactly do Children Start Thinking They hate Poetry?"Chris is an executive producer for How I Met Your Mother and The Great Indoors and recently released his first poetry book, I'M JUST NO GOOD AT RHYMING. I found my poem in his article. I was struck by Chris' question, "When did poetry become literary broccoli?" and wondered if there might be a found poem hiding in the article. I started messing around with it; it didn't quite work, but close enough, and so I added some of my own words, and revised the order a little. Because I didn't want to end up in copyright jail, Chris' words are in italics. 

"When did poetry become literary broccoli?"

So tell me, exactly when 
did poetry become literary broccoli?

word-hungry toddler 
gobbles songs, finger plays, 
Good Night Moon and
Brown Bear, Brown Bear
bangs spoon on metal highchair trays
shouts incessantly, 
"more, more, more, more, more!"

So tell me, exactly when 
did poetry become literary broccoli?

was it that nine-year-old
experiencing poetry 
solely through prefab formal structures-
        and diamante 
who exclaimed,       "POETRY:
       It's like regular writing
       but with even more rules!"

No wonder
some kids go from 
enjoying poetry,
     to thinking they hate it
              to knowing they can't stand it.

what about this? 
what about if we made poetry
rather than constrictivewhat about if we help kids
discover just how many directions
and word countries
there are to explore

Dr. Seuss and Lewis Carroll…
     bouncy joy 
     in nonsense words
     that somehow magically 
     make sense

Nikki Grimes…
     laser-specific moments
     make the universal
     feel personal 

John Grandits
     blurring the line
     between picture and poem
     until poemisthepictureisthepoem

Kwame Alexander…
     makes reader
     lean forward
     until they find themselves
     surrounded by a heartbreaking moment

What about if we help kids think of poetry
as the polar opposite of that?
As writing that's free
from the standard rules?

What about if we allowed them to sit at the kids' table?
from the usual concerns
of standard grammar
proper sentence structure,
conventional margins

let them look at how versatile
and powerful
english words can suddenly be. 

let's give our kids the chance
to stick macaroni noodle words on the tines of their heart
press gravy sentence lakes in mashed potato paragraph puddles
bake miniature cakes in essaybake ovens

might then poetry 
children's literary heart food?

(C) Carol Wilcox, 2018

Irene Latham is hosting Poetry Friday today. Be sure to stick around and read a few of her poems, ok, actually all of them, from her series ART SPEAK, based on art work from the Harlem Renaissance. In today's post, she talks about how her composing process. I can't believe she creates such beautiful words in an hour! 

Thursday, April 26, 2018

POEM #26- Proficient


four kids
all proficient readers
according to the state test

case study #1
he greets me with a polite, "hello, miss"
then hunkers down 
sideways in his seat
always has a book
always has a next book in mind
regularly reads 30-45 minutes without looking up
doesn't mind chatting with me but
shy about presenting books to peers
completed book log is turned in every week

case study #2
he saunters into class
five minutes late
chooses two or three picture books
bumps noisily against several desks
settles with a few noisy thumps and jostles
chomps gum as he opens book
fingers brush against phone
eyes rove constantly
flips a page
when he sees me watching

case study #3
she flings the locker wide
gestures at the top shelf
five thick library books
stacked spine out
i am reading, she says.
why do i have to fill out a reading log to prove it?

case study #4
identified as gifted
brilliant writer and thinker
high proficient, almost advanced on state tests
reads only if Diary of a Wimpy Kid is available
otherwise, stares blankly into space
or doodles on scratch paper

four kids
all proficient readers

not in my book

(C) Carol Wilcox, 2018

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

POEM #25- Censored.

So I have been working, almost since the beginning of the month, on a series of shardomas. Tonight I worked for over an hour, and got nowhere. I finally reverted to one of my old favorites, the story poem. Actually not even sure this counts as a poem, but it's the best I can do tonight.


My mother and Marge Wisby,
who lives up the street
are reading
The cover picture,
an eerily glowing bassinet
with a bold red title
on black cover,
intrigues me.
(And, if truth be told,
scares me a little).

Linda Wisby and I
emerge from the basement playroom
to find our mothers talking about the book.
The conversation stops
as soon as we enter the room.
I wonder what what the book is about.
My mother will not tell me.
I want to read the book.
My mother will not let me.
"When you are older, " she says.
She has never censored my reading.
I wonder what the book is about.
I cannot wait until I am older.

I am reading Tinkerbelle,
the story of a man who sails
a small boat across the Atlantic.
I wait until my mother is out of the room,
take the dust jacket off of Tinkerbelle,
and switch the two books.
Much scarier than anything I have read.
Too scary for me.
My mother was right.
After one hundred pages
I switch the covers back
and return to Tinkerbelle.

I am censored. By me.
(C) Carol Wilcox

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

POEM #24- If you don't learn to read…

"If you don't learn to read…"

So I could just say to you,
"Listen, if you don't learn to read,
you will have to blindly sign forms
that people stick in your face,
you know, things like rental agreements
and car leases and insurance papers
then later, you will be told
about ginormous penalties
that you have incurred,
and when you protest,
someone will wave the paper in your face
and say, "You agreed to it.
It's right here."

Or maybe I could say,
"Listen, if you don't learn to read
you will not be able to figure out your tax returns
(and ok, yes, it maybe true that you may not be able to figure them out anyway)
but if you don't learn to read
you definitely will not be able to figure out your tax returns
and you will end up having to pay someone else
to do what you could probably do for yourself.

Or perhaps I could say,
"Listen, if you don't learn to read
you will not understand
when you get notices saying
you make too much money
so your medicaid has been cancelled
and no, you can't just throw those notices out
or dump them into a drawer
because at some point
those choices will come back
to bite you in the butt."

If I say those things,
will that make you want to learn to read?

(C) Carol Wilcox, 2018

Monday, April 23, 2018

POEM #23- Betrayal

I have been loosely following Amy Ludwig VanderWater's theme, ONE SUBJECT, 30 DAYS. A couple of days ago, she used a "back and forth" structure. I don't think it worked nearly as well for me as it did for her, but at least I tried.


In sixth grade
we sit, in order
best readers,
front right side of the room
Billy O and I
switch seats 1 and 2
every week.
Readers are leaders.

In seventh grade
Bernice Rosenhoover
wears frosted pink lipsticks,
miniskirts, and
platform heels
at lunch 
she necks with boys
on the railroad tracks
north of the junior high.

I do not even own a lipstick.

In sixth grade
finished assignments
mean time to read
from the messy overstuffed bookshelf
 in the back of the room.
I race through
The Borrowers,
The Yearling,
a hundred others.
The books are my real work.

In seventh grade
there are no real books
only anthologies.
I like the stories in those
but they are not books
and they are not very long
and we get in trouble
if we read ahead. 

In sixth grade
there is status to be found
in being the first person
through an SRA color level.
I enjoy that status.

In seventh grade
no one reads.
Reading is boring
Reading is uncool.
Reading is for nerds. 

I do not want to be a nerd.

And so I become Peter
denying my biggest truths
to please an angry crowd.

(C) Carol Wilcox, 2018

Sunday, April 22, 2018

POEM #22- rules for readers

Not sure they are considered "real poems," but I have always loved messing around with abecedarians, and usually at least one shows up every April. I've been messing around with this one off and on for a few days…

"Rules for Readers"

always allow ample time for reading
build a budget for book buying
constantly carry reading materials
don't devalue the power of a few minutes
"ear reading" is excellent, as are e-books
find friends and form a book club
genre and author studies are great
house a stack of "next reads on your nightstand
ignore those who insinuate that reading is not important
juggle multiple books if that works for you
know that reading is as essential as breathing
literary is lovely, but not always, it's important, sometimes to
make time for things like mysteries and magazines
never pass a bookstore without going in
observe what others are reading
plan for poetry pretty much every day
question, constantly, what you see in print
reread, review and recommend your favorites to other readers
stories are salve, mirrors, and windows for the soul, so don't
take truths you find in books lightly
unless you absolutely love a book, don't read it
value the opinions of others, but don't let them dictate your book choices
wish and wonder while you read
exit books that just aren't working out for you
you don't need to defend your reading choices
zzzzzzz- end each day with a little reading

(C) Carol Wilcox, 2018

Saturday, April 21, 2018

POEM #21- Endless

If you teach a child to read, then their opportunities in life will be endless. 
Barbara Bush (1925-2018)


sometimes it seems as if
there is no way you
will be able to teach
that recalcitrant reader how a 
single book can change a person's entire world because that child
resists endlessly, but you hold big truth, and so you are compelled to 
keep looking for that perfect read
and then
one magical and unforgettable day their 
eyes are opened to the opportunities 
waiting in
books and all of a sudden, that student's life,
previously limited, will
never be 
the same, the horizons have become endless 

(C) Carol Wilcox, 2018

Friday, April 20, 2018

POEM #20- If I were a book

For the past two weeks, I have mostly been proctoring session after session after session of our state's "blessed event." Definitely not my favorite thing about teaching. We aren't allowed to look at the screen while we are proctoring, but I can't help but wonder what the kids are reading. On other tests,  in the past, I've been surprised more than once, to see the names of authors that I love. And truthfully, I always feel a little betrayed by that. I always wonder why an author would ever sell her work like that...

And as far as style, I've been reading Amy Ludwig Vanderwater's poems this month. Amy writes rhyming poems, pretty much every day, and she's really, really good at it. I hardly ever write rhyming poems, it just seems way too hard to me. Somehow, tonight, I decided I would try rhyming…

"If I were a book"

If I were a book
I'd want to face out,
and show off my cover
my worth I would flout.

If I were a book
I would want to be read,
in classes, on buses,
I'd want my words spread.

If I were a book
I'd hate corners turned,
but notes in the margins
would show lessons learned.

If I were a book
I'd want a few smudges,
they'd show I'd been loved
I wouldn't hold grudges.

If I were a book
I never would be
a passage to dissect
from a test factory.

(C) Carol Wilcox, 2018

Thursday, April 19, 2018

POEM #19- Blueberry Pie Elf

When I was a little girl, my mom took us to the bookmobile parked at a nearby shopping center every single week. I couldn't wait to go. I'd check out as many books as my library card would allow, and carry my treasures home. I would spend the rest of the day and probably most of the week, simply reading.

My sisters read very differently. My middle sister did not read much at all. My youngest sister read, but she had one book, THE BLUEBERRY PIE ELF, that she read over and over again, for many, many months. When we got to be adults, I found that book online, and gave it to her for Christmas one year.

Today is my sister's birthday. This poem is for her.

"Blueberry Pie Elf"

Monday afternoon.
I couldn't wait
to clamber aboard
the bookmobile
to exchange
my teetering pile
for another million treasures. 

My sister,
a much more
faithful reader.
Every week,
she'd climb the stairs
with her paltry pile,
two or three books at most
and proceed directly
down the narrow aisle
to the checkout desk.
She had to know, for sure, that
Elmer, the blueberry pie elf,
was coming home
with her again,
before she would check out
anything else.

She was a one book kind of gal.

(C) Carol Wilcox, 2018

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

POEM #18- Reading Confessions

Reading Confessions (tanka wannabe's)

i am a person
known to dive into dumpsters, 
brave busy intersections,
and ford rushing rivers,
in search of reading material

friends always tell me
over easy eggs and fantasy
 are pleasing to the palate
I swear I've tried 'em
both stick in my craw 

each time i promise
i won't do it again, but 
mid book, I can't wait
I leap sixty pages
and peek at the end

(c) Carol Wilcox, 2018

Tuesday, April 17, 2018


June 1969.
Family vacation
to visit relatives.
Somehow, the unthinkable happens.
I run out of reading material.

I mount the steep stairs
to my grandmother's attic.
Find a box of books in one corner. 
Thick adult books.
Faded water stained covers.
Yellowing pages.
Small print.
The choices are paltry.

500-page biography of Queen Victoria
is close to the top. 
I begin reading.
I read and read and read.
DRINA is long.
I don't know much about English history
DRINA is hard to understand. 
I read and read and read.
DRINA is boring.
I do not finish in the week
I spend at my grandmother's. 
She lets me put DRINA in my suitcase.
I am not a quitter reader.

By the end of the summer
I have finished DRINA.
It is easily the longest book I have ever read. 
I can recite a few random facts.
Queen Victoria's real name was Alexandrina.
Drina shared a bedroom with her mother 
until she became queen at age 18.
Queen Victoria was married to Prince Albert. 

Fifty years later I am a teacher. 
Every time we talk about rigor
I picture that faded navy blue cover.
I remember DRINA.
If a text is long and hard and boring
and the reader doesn't quit
does that count as rigor?

(C) Carol Wilcox, 2018