Tuesday, January 15, 2019


I have been a teacher since 1981.
More than 35 years.
I've been a classroom teacher in everything from kindergarten to sixth grade.
I've taught reading intervention.
I've been a literacy coach and an assistant principal.
I've worked in curriculum development at the central offices.

In all of those years, and in all of those jobs,
there is one thing I have never done.

I have never once gone on strike.

I've always said that I was there for my kids,
and that even if other teachers went out,
I wouldn't.
I would stay and teach
because that's what I do.

It seems like that's about to change.

The teachers in Denver have been negotiating with the district for over a year.
And they don't seem to be able to come to any kind of agreement.
The district says there is no more money.
And yet we have more supervisors and bosses and "partners"
 than any other district in the state.

In the meantime, the younger teachers in my building
can't make a living wage.
Can't afford apartments anywhere in the city, let alone mortgages.
Can't pay their bills or pay back their student loans.
Work a ten hour school day, then wait tables at night.
Talk regularly about how much they could make in a different profession.
And how much easier it would be.

And I'm worried.
I am worried for my school.
I'm worried for my district.
I'm worried for my profession.

and so, for the first time in my career,
I may be going out on strike.

Friday, January 11, 2019


As the mom of two African American boys, I am always on the hunt for books that depict my boys in positive, but ordinary ways. Definitely not as sports stars or rappers. And not even necessarily heroes like George Washington Carver or Barack Obama or Martin Luther King, Jr.  I want them to see ordinary people doing ordinary things. Maybe that's why I fell in love with SEEING INTO TOMORROW: HAIKU BY RICHARD WRIGHT with biography and illustrations by Nina Crews.

Ricard Wright is best known for his novel NATIVE SON and his autobiography, BLACK BOY. According to the biographical information in the back of SEEING INTO TOMORROW, he was born in Roxie, Mississippi, in 1908. As a young man, he moved from city to city, and finally moved to Paris in 1947 because he heard circumstances were better for African Americans there. In the final years of his life, he wrote thousands of haiku; eight hundred were published in a collection called HAIKU: THE OTHER WORLD. The haiku in SEEING INTO TOMORROW come from those. Each two-page spread contains one haiku, and  several large color photographs of an African American boy.

Maybe the thing I love most is that not only are all of the boys in the book doing ordinary things, but they are doing them outside- exploring the woods, walking dogs, and playing in a park. Exactly the kinds of things I want kids to do every day. Here are a couple that I loved (it's a teeny bit hard to do them justice without the photographs).

As day tumbles down,
The setting sun's signature
Is written in red.

A spring sky so clear
that you feel you are seeing
into tomorrow.

Reading these makes me want to find Wright's adult book. 

Kat Appel, who is writing a poem a day, is hosting Poetry Friday today. 

Friday, January 4, 2019


As a first round CYBILS judge in the poetry category, I've been reading lots and lots of poetry recently. For the past several years, this category has included novels in verse, and this year I think that genre comprised almost half the nominees. There was lots of really rich discussion around these books-- what comprises a novel in verse, should novels in verse be judged with anthologies, etc. The discussions are one of my favorite parts of being a judge-- such smart people.

To be perfectly honest, MARY'S MONSTER hung around on my TBR list for a while. I just was not that excited about reading a novel in verse about the creator of Frankenstein. I don't think I ever read the book, or even watched the movie of Frankenstein. Just not something that interested me.

BUT boy, oh boy, was I wrong! MARY'S MONSTER IS THE LIFE OF FRANKENSTEIN. Three hundred pages. And every single two-page spread includes a beautiful black and white watercolor painting.

Most people didn't believe Mary Shelley,
a teenage girl, unleashed me
a creature prowerful and murderous
enough to haunt their dreams. 

The expected girls to be nice
and obey the rules
They expected girls to be silent
and swallow punishment and pain.

She was cast out from society
because she loved a married man.
her friends reviled her.
Her father banished her from his home. 

But she did not hide.
She was not silenced.
She fought against the cruelty of human nature
bu writing. 

She conceived me.
I took shape like an infant,
not in her body, but in her heart,
growing from her imagination
till I was bold enough to climb out of the page
and into your mind. 

Now Mary is the ghost
whose bones have turned to dust
and it is I who live on

But hear her voice!
She wrote my story,
and now she will reach beyond the grave
and tell you her own. 

And a poem from the end of the book…

Byron has made public letters that prove
I wrote Frankenstein.
I am no longer anonymous!
I still choose a quiet life away from gossip
but I have a small circle of friends.
I edit Shelley's unpublished poems.
At last, readers see his genius
and allow the light he held up tot he world
to enter their hearts.

I survive. I keep writing.
I am scarred by my years with Shelley,
but he believed in me.
He inspired me to create.
And that gave me strength.

I have made terrible mistakes.
I must endure the knowledge that others
were swallowed by darkness because of my actions.
I have witnessed the wreckage of cruelty.
But unlike my father, I will never be consumed
by bitterness and anger.
I have released those monsters onto the page.

By creating, I keep faith alive
that we will learn someday
to cast aside cruelty and hatred
and build a just world
filled with love.

End notes include-
• More about Mary Shelley
• An Author's note- Lita Judge talks about her process, how she structured the novel, what she chose to include, etc. I wish more novels in verse included this. I think it would help people appreciate them as poetry.
• What Became of Them- Paragraph biographies about people included in the book,
• What Were They Reading

This is definitely worth reading. The content is pretty mature, but if I was a high school teacher, I'd be buying it for my classroom library!

Sylvia Vardell is hosting the year's first Poetry Friday Roundup. Hop over there to see what books next year's CYBILS judges might be reading.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019


Eleven- year-old Jett has had a horrible year. His father was the driver in a DUI accident that killed a family of four. His mother decides to relocate for a "fresh start." Jett somehow becomes friends with the school bully, Junior, who is living through some very rough times. Together, Jett and Junior, make some poor decisions, one of which involves Jett's mentally disabled adult uncle. When the book opens, Jett is returning to his grandmother's cottage by the ocean, for a summer of reflection and healing.

Sadie is 15, the 9th of 11 children, growing up in a barely functional Catholic family. Her father doesn't work, and her mother works two jobs to keep food on the table (barely). Most of Sadie's older siblings have left the home, and those that are left, including Sadie, are basically raising themselves. Sadie is trying to keep her head above water- going to school, working, playing volleyball, and supporting younger siblings, including Teresa, who is 14 and pregnant. This book has a little of a lot of teenage issues- identity, sexuality, romance, friendship. It's one I think lots of reluctant middle and high school readers will enjoy.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019


January 1, 2019.

I have big aspirations for the New Year.

I start the day with a healthy breakfast.

I track the points on my Weight Watchers (ok, now it's Wellness Wins, but it's still Weight Watchers to me).

I read my Bible.

I journal.

I write down three things I am grateful for.

So I'm off to a good start, right?

But then my son pounds down the stairs.

"Where's your hot glue gun?" he asks.

I wince. The hot glue gun is something we almost never used. At some point, in one of my constant (and usually futile) efforts to declutter, I think I either gave it away, or threw it out. The bigger question for me, though, is why my son needs a hot glue gun. Usually, that is not a good sign.

"I don't think we have one," I say. "What are you trying to do?"

"You used to have a hot glue gun," he replies.

"I don't think we have one anymore," I say. And then I repeat my question, "What are you trying to do?"

My son holds out his glasses, which are now in two distinctly separate pieces, broken right at the nose.

"What happened?" I ask.

"They're broken," my son says. "Do we have any packaging tape?"

I try not to wince as I imagine my son walking around with packaging tape on the nosepiece.

"You have insurance," I remind my son.

"I already called," my son says. "My prescription is a year old. They won't give me new glasses without a new exam."

"When did your prescription expire?"

"On December 22nd. So I'm a week too late. I have to have a new eye exam and new glasses. And I can't pay for both."

I have to think fast. My son is 25. I'm trying really hard to push him to be more independent and more responsible. I'm trying not to pay for things. Even so, I know glasses will wait a long time. And he really needs them. And then I remember that his birthday is only two weeks away.

"I will help you with glasses for your birthday. Do you want to do that?"

He thinks for a minute and then decides that he does.

"Call Cherry Creek and make an appointment," I suggest.

"I don't want to go there anymore. I'm going to Northfield."

"Call and make an appointment there. If you want me to go with you, don't make it before 11 on Saturday, because I have something else going on."

"Do you know the number?"

"No, but didn't you already talk to them?"

"Oh yeah." He pounds back upstairs to make the call.

In five minutes, he is back. "OK, I made it for ten on Saturday. And you do have to go with me to pay for the glasses."

I give up and decide it will be easier to change my plans than to have him reschedule.

Zay is not done.

"Do you think I should get contacts instead of glasses?" he asks.

And so 2019 begins.

Happy New Year.

Friday, December 28, 2018


Photo from Wikimedia Commons (1916)
The young teachers at school hold me up as a model. "I want to be like Carol," they sniffle through a wad of kleenex, "She never gets sick." That's pretty much true. After thirty some years of teaching, I have a killer immune system. And I hardly ever get sick. 

I think I must have bragged too much, though. The week before break, the sixth graders were sneezing and coughing and blowing their noses, and last Saturday, the first day of vacation, I woke up with a scratchy throat. Which just kind of hung around for a couple of days, then turned into a full blown cold on Christmas Eve. 

And all of a sudden, all of my plans for cleaning, and seeing friends, and catching up on my reading, and blogging have just kind of gone right out the window...

by Barbara Vance
Don't breathe next to me!
You might get me sick.
Your nose is so red
That it looks like a brick.

Your eyes are all puffy;
You're sneezing a lot.
I'm leaving the room;
I don't want what you've got. 

Don't cough when I'm here--
you might pass it on.
For goodness sakes,
Cover your mouth when you yawn. 

Read the rest of the poem here.

Donna Smith, who has very recently moved to Pennsylvania, is hosting Poetry Friday at Mainely Write.

Saturday, December 1, 2018


This has definitely been an interesting weekend. I fell asleep working on the roundup on Friday, so got up and finished it Saturday morning. All day Friday, I was working in a google doc, then pasting it into blogger,  so I didn't have to keep taking the post down, then putting it back up, and that system was working fine. On Saturday morning, when I went to paste the whole google doc into my poetry roundup post, the formatting totally went crazy, to where it wasn't even readable. After trying everything I could think of, I finally ended up retyping the whole thing, and reinserting the links. And then the furnace, yes the new, $3800 later furnace, started blowing cold air. And then my son mentioned that not only was the furnace blowing cold air, but we didn't have any hot water either. The furnace guy returned, and so as of ten o'clock last night, I have heat and hot water. And So here, better late than never, is the roundup of some very lovely poetry. 

Creating and Celebrating…
  • Aussie Alan Wright kicked off Poetry Friday with recollections of his history as a poet. My favorite lines from his post, "Poetry remains my oxygen." I suspect that is true for a lot of us. 
  • Linda Mitchell also talks about the creative process. Her thoughts on "creative cross-training" make me want to start an art project. 
  • Amy Ludwig Vanderwater isn't doing art, but she is writing about art. I love the last two lines of her poem, "Dear Cow."
  • My Denver neighbor, Linda Baie, is also trying her hand at ekphrastic poetry. She used Edward Hopper's painting, "Gas," as the basis for writing a gorgeous snapshot poem. I'm not sure whether it's truly biographical, or just terrific historical fiction. 
  • I'm always fascinated by authors' writing processes. I loved reading April Halprin Wayland's post about the backstory of "Belle Benchley," a poem that was recently published in THE POETRY OF US. 
  • Donna Smith is, in my estimation, a very lucky grandmother. She spent time this week writing and creating with her granddaughter, which also led to two original poems for her. 
  • Another Mainer, Mollie Hogan, is in with a nature-inspired triolet. I want to try this structure!
  • Brenda, at Friendly Fairy Tales is "in love with art, nature, possibility, and words" today.  She wants you to head over and tell her what you love. 
  • At Reflections on the Teche, Margaret Simon is also celebrating nature with a gorgeous video of a murmuration (don't you love that word?) of Dunlin sandpipers and two original poems. 
  • Diane Mayr is heavy-hearted about the upcoming winter at Random Noodling, but then celebrates Shirley Chisolm's birthday, with a found poem at Kurious Kitty.  I especially love this stanza from the Chisolm poem- If they don't give you/a seat at the table/bring a folding chair.
  • At The Apples in My Orchard, my name twin, Carol, honors nature in a different way. She has an original list poem about the destruction of our oceans. 
  • At There is No Godforsaken Town, Ruth celebrates another kind of creation, the creation of a life together. Her post, including an original poem, put a lump in my throat. 

Celebrating Other Poets and Authors
  • Pretty much every time I visit Little Willow at Bildungsroman, I "meet" a new poet. Today I met Chelsea Woodward.
  • LOUIS UNDERCOVER sounds like a novel many of us will want to own. Thanks to Fats Suela at Gathering Books for sharing this one. 
  • Laura Shovan is over the moon with two new moon books. COUNTDOWN: 2879 DAYS TO THE MOON and RUBY IN THE SKY are books I will be putting on reserve at the library. 
  • Tabatha Yeatts has two "Maggie" poems this week. Don't miss "Glacier Climbing" by Maggie Blake Bailey. 
  • Irene Latham stopped by with a new-to-me title TRIBE OF MENTORS by Timothy Ferriss. According to Irene,  Ferriss lost several people who were important to him. Realizing, he could never get their answers to questions that mattered to him, he started asking other people, leaders in entertainment, science, business, etc. the answers to the questions, and it changed Ferriss' life. I want this book!
  • Over at Life on the Deckle Edge, Robyn Hood Black recalls a recent trip to Ireland and Scotland, gives "a wee wave to the elves and fairies" with a William Allingham poem. 
  • Elaine Magliaro is a CYBILS judge and is also a judge on Margaret Wise Brown Prize for Children's Literature this year (an award she actually WON last year). Despite her busy life, she found time to post Edna St. Vincent Millay's, "When the Year Grows Old," which is absolutely perfect for this time of year. 

  • Michelle Kogan has an original haiku in her heartbreaking, but oh-so-important post about the situation at our southern border. And she shares one tiny way we can help. I am wondering how much tissue paper it would take for all of my sixth graders to participate. 
  • Whenever I see Jama Rattigan's name pop up, I expect pictures of delicious foods and recipes that leave my stomach growling. Today, though, Jama has brings us the work of poet Jose Argueta, who immigrated from El Salvador thirty years ago, but is working hard to give children in that country access to libraries. 

Other Original Poems
  • Mary Lee is in with a silly, but true,  sports haiku. And she's putting together the next six months of Poetry Friday. Stop by to sign up. 
  • Ed Decaria has written a "Choose Your Own Adventure" poem. I had a hard time commenting, Ed, but for the record, I'm definitely a "shoo-er."
  • Matt Forest Esenwine has taken on what seems to me to be a very ambitious project, writing in iambic pentameter. And I love his mantra, #WriteLikeNoOneIsReading
  • I think it's admirable that Erin Mauger, who moved last weekend, managed to write a poem. I think we can all relate to her feelings of "misplaced, displaced" and "jam jars next to socks."

Poetry Ripples
  • It's amazing to me how Poetry Friday has "ripples" across the world. On the west coast,  Jone McCulloch invites readers to start the new year with a poetry postcard. Sounds like fun! And then on her other blog, Check It Out, she is giving away an ARC of Margarita Engle's SOARING EARTH, which she describes as a companion volume to ENCHANTED AIR, that came out two years ago. 
  • Buffy Silverman, who lives, I think, in Michigan, is enjoying the first snowfall of the year. She's also enjoying a really special poetry-related gift from Irene Latham, who lives in Alabama. 
  • Irene influenced another poster, Catherine Flynn, to try a new source, Google Arts and Culture, for writing ideas. The result was a delightful poem about first love. 
  • At Poetry for Children, superhero Sylvia Vardell generously shares parts of what looks like a wonderful presentation from NCTE. Presenters included K.A. Holt (featured here today), her poetry superhero partner, Janet Wong, and Tom Marshall, an award winning principal/poet/poetry pusher from New Jersey. 
  • In her post, Sylvia has a slide that says that 80% of poetry loving adults first encountered poetry when they were children. Carol Varsalona's post, which features beautiful autumn poems and images from children, assures me that we have a whole new generation of poets and poetry lovers growing up in our schools. 
  • And coincidentally, the very last poster of the weekend, Heidi Mordhorst, had one of last year's second graders contact her with a poem he had written. She shares that poem on her blog. 
In Closing…
  • In what seems like a perfect final post, Susan Bruck offers an original lullaby.