Sunday, December 10, 2017


I first became familiar with Eszterhas' work when I was a CYBILS nonfiction judge a few years ago. ORANGUTAN was in my NF top 10 in 2013, it was also my CYBILS mighta-beens that year.  That year, I also loved SEA OTTERS.

MOTO AND ME made this year's CYBILS nonfiction nominees. Eszterhas has moved to the Masai Mara savanna (in Kenya) to photograph wildlife. According to Eszterhas,  huge wildfires are common during the hot dry summers. During one of these fires, Moto's mother was trying to carry her two-week-old serval kittens across a dirt road. She was startled by the noise of a vehicle and dropped him. Before she could return,  some tourists found him, and thinking they would help, picked him up, and took him to the ranger station. By the time they got there, it had been too long and his mom was gone. Park rangers knew Eszterhaus had extensive experience with cats, and asked her if she would be willing to raise him until he was old enough to be independent.

Eszterhas named the baby Moto (African for fire). At first, she bottle fed him a special mixture of cows' milk, eggs, fish oil, and vitamins; he loved this so much that he drank really fast, one time he choked, and she had to hang him upside down and pound on his back. Several times each day, she rubbed him down with a rough washcloth and brushed him with a toothbrush, because those actions were similar to those he might feel during life in the wild. He didn't like being away from her, so when he was young, she carried him around in a pouch as she took pictures and went about her daily life.

At the same time, Eszterhas was very clear that she was raising the young serval to return to the wild. She wanted him to be ready for that, so she worked hard to make sure he would have the skills he needed. Servals usually play with their littermates. Instead of a sibling, Moto played with a stuffed duck. As he got older, she blended chicken with his milk, then eventually introduced a mouse. Moto hissed at her and took her to his nest, which happened to be Esterzhas' bed.As Moto got older, she left the tent open, gradually he spent more time outside, would always come and cuddle with her before he went out at night. One night he didn't come to cuddle, and although she worried, she knew he was gone. A few days later, she saw him in the wild. He came to her jeep when she called, but also left very quickly.

This book is a little longer than other books I have read by Eszterhas, but it's just as engaging. It might take a couple of sittings, but I know younger kids would love it. I can't wait to share it with my seventh graders, because I think they will love it too!

Friday, December 8, 2017


My middle schoolers surprise me pretty much every day. Earlier this week, one of the eighth graders randomly asked if I like poetry. I read poetry pretty regularly to my seventh graders, but I have never had this student in a class, so she didn't know that I love poetry. She proceeded to tell me that her aunt had written a poetry book. She went back to her locker to get the book. I flipped through it, and knew it was one that our older kids would love. It's the kind of poetry they love- poetry about relationships, about, love, about caring too much, and about breaking up. I told her I wanted to buy a copy and the next day she brought me one as a gift.

FROM SCARS TO BEAUTY would be a great book to share with high school kids, or with a women's group, to talk about writing as a tool for thinking and feeling. It's really uniquely formatted, with the title, often followed by a zinger last line, at the bottom of the page. It's a book I know my seventh grade girls are going to fight over.

if i could,
i would point out
the exact:
aligned in the stars
of the
exact moment
i lost myself.



i was a mother
to my mother
so when she asked
to become one for me
i only knew
how to look down.
i never learned
how to look up
to the woman
that checked out.

--- you sucked the
     childhood out of me


she's silent.
she spoke with
the fire
she held within.
her fury as no match
for those
who burned her.


In the afterward, Nicki Naomi says
"i grew up writing in a back leather-bound notebook. 
i filled every page with poems about the grief that held 
concerning my father's addiction to drugs and my mother's addiction to 
money among the many other childhood traumas that I experienced. Even at 
an early age i knew that channeling my emotions into writing was a a
healthy healing factor.  i knew that without it, i would otherwise remain
silent and potentially numb to myself the way my mom did. 

my poetry is a constant. and it's constantly evolving. the same way that i
am. the more i grow, the more my work does. i am a huge believer in
turning scars into poems, putting them in a book and moving forward.
rereading them once or twice a lifetime, either to improve yourself or the
lives of others. then, putting it back on the shelf where it belongs. 
"you can visit the darkness, but never live in it."
we are meant to survive. 

This is exactly what I want my students to understand about poetry. If you feel the same way, you can buy FROM SCARS TO BEAUTY on Amazon.

You can read more poetry at Lisa's  STEPS AND STAIRCASES.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017


"Fed up with the same old animals? Had enough of hippos? Bored with bears? Tired of tigers? Do you want animals that are fresh, new and exciting? Try LESSER SPOTTED ANIMALS, a book about the wonderful wow wildlife that we never get to see."

So begins LESSER SPOTTED ANIMALS. And it definitely is a book that includes lots of unusual animals. In this book, you will learn about animals like the Cuban Solenodon, the Long-tailed dunnart, the Gaur, Speke's Pecinator, the Ili Pika, and about 25 other animals.

Each two-page spread features a different creature. There's a large, drawn picture of the animal, often with a cartoon bubble. There are two paragraphs of description, written in an engaging and slightly comical voice that could definitely elevate kids' informative writing. There are tiny (1" X 1") boxes that contain additional informative drawings.

And there's also a fact box, which includes size (the silvery gibbons is described as roughly as big as the six month old baby from next door), what the animal eats, a small map of where it lives, its endangered status, and then, my favorite a category called AND, full of those random and interesting facts kids love to learn and share (e.g. gibbons are the most accomplished of swingers-- hurtling around in the treetops, some can reach 35 mph and clear gaps of 49 feet- the accompanying diagrams says that 49 feet is as long as three Range Rovers). End matter includes a glossary.

Fun and definitely unusual!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

I'VE GOT FEET: FANTASTIC FEET OF THE ANIMAL WORLD by Julie Murphy, illustrated by Hannah Tolson

Christmas is coming. I need to get sweet Esveidy's box in the mail this week. Of course, the first thing that I put in the box will be books. Is there anything else? Yesterday, I spent a good part of the day at the Denver Public Library reading CYBILS nominations. I'VE GOT FEET is a book I will be purchasing for Esveidy. It's a terrific nonfiction book for the primary set- engaging pictures, not too long, interesting information…

The book starts out:
Animal feet can walk, run, and kick.They can climb, jump, and dig. 
Some feet swim, some catch food.What a lot of things animal feet can do!
After that, each two page spread features a different animal, some more typical and some unusual-- a cheetah, zebra, duck, gecko, koala, penguin, red kangaroo, great horned own, spade foot toads, chimpanzees. The left side of each spread is the animal "talking." The right side is an interesting fact. Here are a few examples:
Left page: I've got KICKING feet
My back feet sure pack a punch. They help me to avoid becoming  a lion's next meal. 
Right page:  Zebra feet kick so hard they can break a lion's jaw.  

Left page: I've got BLUE feet.
I show them off by stepping high. 
Right  page: Male blue footed boobies show off to attract females.
Those with the bluest feet are chosen first.

Left page: I've got DEADLY feet!
My fierce feet have awesome claws that can catch all kinds of creatures for food. 
Right page: Great horned owl feet are so powerful they can even snatch up skunks, which are almost three times heavier than the owl.

I know Miss E's going to love this one! And so will a lot of other kids and teachers!

Tuesday, November 28, 2017


I have been substitute teaching a seventh grade reading block the last hour of every day.
I absolutely love it.
When I started, in early October,
they could read for eight minutes.
I timed them.
A lot of them,
maybe most of them,
kind of fake read.
Some of them looked at me.
They rustled.
There really wasn't all that much reading going on.

But we persevered.
Book talked.
Read aloud.
Set firm guidelines.
(Right now, they have assigned seats.
no one goes to the bathroom or gets drinks during our reading time).
I dded five minutes to the timer every week.

Yesterday they read for almost 35 minutes.
Dead silence.
Everyone had a book.
Everyone's eyes were glued to their pages.
Only one student asked me how much longer.
And that was with seven minutes left.

E is not a kid who I would describe as a reader
He does not willingly engage with a book.
He looks for ways to get out of reading.
Our school is part of a project where kids get to order a book every single month.
He never voluntarily turns in his order.
I always have to hunt him down.

But yesterday, we had a break through.

He wasn't exactly reading.
But he was quiet.
he had a book.
About halfway through, I could see that he was getting a little antsy.
I had a couple of picture books that I was reading for CYBILS.
One of them was a picture book called STORMY SEAS.
I slid that onto his desk.
Told him he could look at if he wanted.
He flipped through the pages.
Was silent for another 14 minutes.
Not a total victory.
But a little engaged
with a book.

Usually we end our time together with a little sharing.
So far, it's usually me talking about what I am reading.
Or reading aloud a little.
(I'm hoping that they will take it over soon, but it's all about baby steps).
Over the Thanksgiving break I read REFUGEE by Alan Gratz.
I brought the book to class yesterday.
I told them how it's three seemingly unrelated stories.
The first about a Jewish family fleeing Germany at the beginning of WW2.
The second about a family fleeing Cuba on a life raft in the 1990's.
The third about a Syrian boy in 2015
I explained how at the beginning I wondered why the author had put the three stories in one book.
About how I kept watching for connections.
About how few there were and about how it sometimes even kind of irritated me, because I couldn't figure out how the stories were ever going to connect..
And then, at the end, the three stories wove together, the lives crossed. Paths connected.

His voice startled me.
He almost never talks.
At least not to me.
And definitely not to the whole group

"Hey," he said.
"That's just like what Ms. P said.
The stories seem like they are not connected.
And then at the end they do."

He was talking about A LONG WALK TO WATER, which his language arts class just finished.
And he was right.
The stories seem disconnected.
And they do come together
right at the end.
Just like REFUGEE.
The book I was talking about

I was absolutely stunned.
The contribution was huge.
I wanted to celebrate him.
But not so much that his friends would make fun of him.
Or that he wouldn't want to participate again. 
And so I acknowledged him.
It was just like th book they had just finished.
It was what his Language Arts teacher had said.
But I tried not to make a big deal of it.

Yesterday E became a member of the Literacy Club.

And it was a huge deal to me.

Thursday, November 23, 2017


Sunset over Colorado Springs last night, taken by a friend from high school
The sun seems to be setting on Poetry Friday. Lots of great offerings today! Thanks so much to everyone who participated on this holiday weekend!

Michelle Kogan experimented with the Golden Shovel form this week. Besides her original poem and panting, she is giving thanks for poetry and music this week, with a glimpse into Katherine Paterson's Thanksgiving book GIVING THANKS, as well as Aaron Copeland's rendition of "Simple Gifts."

Carol Varsalona, who is celebrating Thanksgiving holiday with her gorgeous granddaughter today, has collected Thanksgiving poems and songs for us to enjoy.

Molly Hogan's offering, "Thanksgiving for Two," is a must read for all of the empty nesters in the crowd. I probably shouldn't admit that it made me cry.

Jone's original poem about  how she'll spend Black Friday definitely matches my idea of a good time! And at her other blog, Jone's sharing some  fall haiku written by her students.

Over at The Poem Farm, Amy is enjoying the quiet celebrations of the day after a holiday. Her poem reminds me of "Introductions" by Susan Glassmeyer, that I saw on Parker J. Palmer's Facebook page earlier this week.

Dori has been busy opening a new yoga studio (and writing a little poetry besides), but now she's back with ALL CREATION WAITS, a new picture book for Advent.

Robin Hood Black has been really busy! She's not only found some poems, she's turned them into Christmas ornaments! Check them out!

Irene Latham is celebrating the choir of voices she experienced last week at NCTE. (I'm not sure NCTE is an actual holiday, but it definitely should be!)

Anyone who has ever had to cut down a big tree (I did this almost two years ago and I'm still grieving) can sympathize with Buffy Silverman , who has written a tribute to her cherry tree that had to be cut down this week.

Brenda Harsham revels in foliage in an original poem, "Goodbye Green."

At Teacher Dance, Linda Baie celebrates the season with one last autumn poem, a Golden Shovel poem based on "Loss" by Carl Adamschick.

Jane's celebration of autumn, an original haiku about the ginko tree, comes all the way from Japan.

Little Willow laments that she didn't find Ted Kooser's "A Letter in October" last month, but I think it still fits the changing seasons pretty perfectly.

Colette Bennett captures a moonlit moment in her original poem, "Pole Dancers."

Over at A Year of Reading, the ever talented Mary Lee is gearing up to write haiku every day in December! She gives us a little appetizer today. Wow, wow, wow!

Tabatha Yeatts' poem, Trees by W.S. Merwin is not an original, but it is definitely a celebration of all things autumn. I love the opening lines, "I am looking at trees/they may be one of the things/I will miss most from the earth…"

Matt Forrest Esenwine  has great news. His new book, FLASHLIGHT NIGHT, was selected by the NY Public Library as one of the best books of 2017. It's also on Amazon's life of best selling books about books and reading! You will also want to stop over at Matt's blog to check out his Poetry Cubed contest!

Kay McGriff took on Matt's challenge and wrote an original poem, "The Ghosts of Art," about some famous sculptures in her hometown. Her poem and the accompanying links made me want to visit Wilson, North Carolina!

Holly Thompson made me laugh with her own new (or at least new-to-me) genre, the insinuation poem.  And wonder how many insinuations I miss when I converse in Spanish!

My boys are past their football playing years. Nevertheless, Alan Wright's poem, "Football Dreaming" evoked a whole lot of memories for this former sports mama. (And yes, I know the poem is not about American football. Even so…)

Over at Random Noodling, Diane gives all of us sugar addicts some harsh true to think about with her new original poem, "America=The Bottom Line."

At Today's Little Ditty, Michelle is wrapping up the November Challenge, find beauty in something that is not usually seen as beautiful, and giving away a book. Be sure to make some time to read the poems, which are compiled here.

Margaret Simon not only took on the challenge of finding something that is not usually seen as beautiful, but attempted a new poetry form, the Shadorma (a Spanish cousin to the haiku). The result is stunning.

Violet Nesdoly also took on the "find something beautiful" challenge. She had previously written a shadorma about an apartment fire in her neighborhood. She's back with another poem about this building, this time it's a senryu.

Sally Murphy has written an original poem in honor of the formerly "poetry poor" Linda Mitchell. I feel much better knowing that Linda is now "poetry rich," "poetry wealthy" and "poetry wise."

Speaking of Linda Mitchell, she's in this week with a review of Katherine Erskine's new picture book biography, MAMA AFRICA, about Miriam Makeba, a Grammy award winning South African singer who "uses her voice to spread awareness of apartheid, and although in exile herself, bring hope to her people in South Africa."

Ruth is in this week with her annual celebration of odes. I laughed when she said one of her eighth graders wanted to write an ode to bras!

The Younger Sun Bookshop Kids' Book Club read TOO MANY FRIENDS by Kat Appel. They had lots of great questions about this novel in verse, so Kat answers them here.

Our favorite foodie, Jama Rattigan, reviews DUMPLING DREAMS: HOW JOYCE CHEN BROUGHT THE DUMPLING FROM BEIJING TO CAMBRIDGE, a new picture book biography about Chinese cooking sensation, Joyce Chen. Jama is giving away one copy of this book. WARNING: Do not read this post unless you immediately want to run out and pick up Chinese food. Yummmm!

Tara's Poetry Friday contribution, "The Cats" by Ann Iverson, seems to have some big life truths, even for those of us who are NOT cat lovers.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend.


It seems kind of funny to be hosting Poetry Friday, when I haven't even been participating recently. I'm hoping that hosting will get me back into the groove or participating each Friday. Originally, I thought I would probably do something holiday-related; either a Thanksgiving poem or maybe poetry books that shoppers could buy for holiday gifts. Then, in my CYBILS reading this week, I came across Carole Boston Weatherford's SCHOMBURG: THE MAN WHO BUILT A LIBRARY. I'm sharing this book today because I think it's really important, and I want a lot of people to see it. 

SCHOMBURG is poetry-- it's a story in verse-- about Arturo (Arthur) Schomburg, a Puerto Rican who immigrated to New York in 1891. According to the book jacket, "Schomburg's life passion was to collect books, letters, music, and art from Africa and from people of African descent." His collection became so large that he turned it over to the New York Public Library. Today it is known as the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. 

This is an important book. I want my students (and my own sons) to read it, but I am not sure it's one they will fully appreciate on their own. I wonder, for instance, if they will notice the dates embedded into the pictures. I wonder if they will notice Schomburg's words in italics, "True scholarship requires time and calm effort; Tell our stories, proclaim our glories." I wonder if they will take time to read the end page, that says that each of Schomburg's books had a bookplate pasted into the front, and that's why this book also has a book plate in the front. That's why I'm looking forward to sharing it with them, a little at a time. 

UPDATE: Michelle H. Barnes actually interviewed Carole Boston Weatherford about SCHOMBURG in September. You can read that interview and more poems from the book at Today's Little Ditty. 

Arturo Schomberg was more than a book lover,
more than a mailroom clerk at Bankers Trust,
where he supervised eleven white men,
unheard-of authority for a black man at that time.
He recognized early on that history was not history
unless it was complete from all angles.
Like a detective, he hunted for clues and found facts
affirming the role of African descendants
 in building nations and shaping cultures.
Fellow book collector Arthur Spingara noted
     that Arturo would approach 
an immense pile of apparently worthless material
and unerringly find…one or two treasures
which would have been lost to a less inspired collector. 
Arturo believed that those facts, once unearted,
would speak loud and clear in halls of knowledge,
daring another teacher to tell a black child
that the Negro has no history. Time and again,
through print, music, and art, Schomberg proved otherwise.
(Page 1)

…So when his fifth grade teacher
told him that Africa's sons and daughters
had no history, no heroes worth noting,
did the twinkle leave Arturo's eyes?
Did he slouch his shoulders, hang his head low,
and look to the ground rather than the horizon?

No. His people must have contributed something
over the centuries, a history that teachers did not teach,
Until they did, schoolchildren like Arturo
would not learn of their own heritage,
ignorance shackling them like chains. (2)

I wanted to find out, said Arturo Schomberg,
what my own racial group had contributed.
He could not get his hands on enough books.
His curiosity about Africana- insatiable
Arturo had what he called the book hunting disease.
No one volume told the whole story,
and no library specialized in the subject.

So he hunted rare book stores,
poring over fragile pamphlets with torn covers
and leather books with paper mites between pages.
Most of what he bought early on came cheap
because white collectors considered it junk.
Still what he hunted was not easy to find.

…Arturo found African roots in the family tree
of artist, ornithologist, and naturalist John James Audubon.
His masterpiece was the book Birds of America.
With watercolors, pastel crayons, charcoal, and pencils,
he depicted North American birds in stunning lifelike poses.
Yet for all Audobon's fame, there was rarely mention
that he was born to a French plantation owner
and a Creole chambermaid

…Even German composer Ludvig von Beethoven
had ties to AFrica. He was often described
as dark, a mulatto, or a Moor. His mother
was said to be a Moor-- North African.
Gifted beyond belief, Beethoven
still composed after he'd lost his hearing.
How could this maestro's African heritage
     have been muted?(18-20)

Rumor has it that Schomberg's wife put her foot down:
Either his books or their family must go. Only a threat like that
could make him part with his prizes.
There were bookshelves filled with books all over the house,
a family member said, even in the bathroom.
The books were carefully catalogued,
inventoried in Arturo's head,
and arranged by color and size of bindingl
But Arturo's library had outgrown private hands.
He had turned down a very handsome author
because the collection deserved a wider audienc.
Arturo had already lent items to libraries
and staged exhibitions for community groups.
He approached the New York Public Library,
but it lacked the funds
to purchase his vast holdings.
So the Carnegie Corporation
for $10,000 and in 1926 donated it to the library.

Happy Poetry Friday! Leave your comments and I'll approve them and share them!