Friday, April 29, 2011


Malachi 3:3 And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the LORD an offering in righteousness.

In the Bible, the purification of the believer is compared to the purification of fine metals. Supposedly, silver and goldsmiths heat their metals until they are very, very hot. During that process, according to what I have read, during this process, smiths never leave the room or takes their eyes off their wares. They wait and watch until all of the yucky stuff, the dross, is burned off, and only the very purest, most precious metal, the really good stuff, is left. Only then do the smiths turn off the heat.

This week, I found this poem about the refining process. It's absolutely beautiful, and I wish I could put the whole thing here. Instead, I'm just sharing the middle. You can read the rest of the poem here.

By Dorothy Walters

...What do you know of furnaces?
This is a sun that returns
again and again, refining, igniting,
pouring your spirit
through a cloth of delicate gold
until all dross is taken…

Tabatha Yeatts is hosting Poetry Friday at THE OPPOSITE OF INDIFFERENCE.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


About a month ago, my fourth grade friends and I finished HOW TO STEAL A DOG. Three or four chapters before we finished, the kids began talking about what we might read next. I really wasn't sure.

J approached me after our discussion. "I think you should read something scary," she advised me. "Maybe a GOOSEBUMPS." She named one of her favorites, telling me that it was one that she was sure all of the kids would love. I told her that I usually didn't read aloud books like GOOSEBUMPS or DIARY OF WIMPY KID, just because kids usually find those books by themselves. I also am not big fan of scary books (or movies), and don't know many good ones, but I would think about it. I knew that DEEP AND DARK AND DANGEROUS by Mary Downing Hahn, had recently won the Colorado Children's Book Award. I hadn't read it yet, but thought it might be a possibility. I promised J I would read that over spring break.

And I did. DEEP AND DARK AND DANGEROUS. was scary, creepy scary. Bad dreams at night scary. And well-written. A book I thought kids would love. At the same time, I was a little nervous that some parents might be uncomfortable with the ghost element. And while I'm not ok with censorship, I also felt like there are so many really good books, that maybe I just didn't have the energy to fight that battle at this particular time in my life.

The Monday after spring break, I put that book in my bag for J. I told her a little about the plot- that it was about Ali, a 13-year-old girl and her four-year-old cousin, Emma, who were spending the summer at a cottage on a lake in Maine. The cottage had been in their family for a long, long time, but one summer, many years before, something mysterious had happened, and no one had been back to the lake cottage for twenty years. Finally, Ali's aunt, had decided to return. The first week back, Ali and Emma were at the beach when they met Sissie, a strange and nasty little girl, who turned out to be the ghost of a child who had drowned in the lake. No one in town seems to know Sissie, but she keeps reappearing in the girls' lives…

I explained to J that I wasn't going to read DEEP AND DARK AND DANGEROUS out loud because I thought some parents might be uncomfortable with the ghost element in the story. I suggested that if she wanted to read the book, and if she thought her parents would be ok with it, I would be glad to lend it to her. J assured me that her parents would be fine with it, and took the book from me.

The next day, J was back. She loved DEEP AND DARK AND DANGEROUS. Did I have any more by that author? We looked for Mary Downing Hahn in our school library, but didn't find any. I returned to TATTERED COVER that night. Bought three more. J finished those within another week. I went back to TATTERED COVER. Found a couple more new ones. Bought those. J read them. This weekend I was at a bookstore in another part of town. Found three more. Bought those. When I brought them to J, she said, "I already read this one, don't you remember? But I don't have these two, so I'll take those." She added them to her stash, and when I saw her in the cafeteria several hours later, she was halfway through one. As of yesterday, as far as we know, J has finished all of Mary Downing Hahn's scary stories. She wants me to bring in PROMISES TO THE DEAD, a Civil War story by this author, that I bought because it had a scary cover. And I'm hoping that might help J's love of Mary Downing Hahn books might help her to make the leap into a new genre- historical fiction.

There is an interesting subplot to J's story, and one that I am still trying to wrap my head around, J makes a point of seeking me out pretty much every day- she stops by my office, or we chat on the playground or in the lunchroom. We talk about the books. Compare notes on which ones are the scariest. J asks if I've brought any new ones. J and I have kind of unconsciously formed our own pseudo Mary Downing Hahn book club. And somehow, other kids have picked up on these conversations. And it's almost like they are a little jealous of this relationship. They are clamoring to get into our club. Someone grabs each Mary Downing Hahn's books as soon as J shuts the cover. Makes a point of showing it to me. Ask if I can bring them books, too.

I've been trying to make sense of this story in my teaching life. I have always worked in an urban setting. Often, my students don't have lots of access to books outside of school and we don't have many kids who come to us as avid, book-a-day readers. I'm always thrilled, then, when I encounter one of those kids. I buy lots of books and can't wait to pass them on. I love talking about books with other readers. I go out of my way to get to know kids and match books with readers.

At the same time, if I'm really honest, the book-a-day kids are not where I invest most of my energy. I spend far more time thinking about my "dormant" readers (I borrowed that term from Donalyn Miller-I love the hopefulness of that label)- finding books they'll love, conferring with them, scaffolding their reading. I go out of my way to make sure those dormant readers are surrounded by great books (and other interesting print). I spend lots of time conferring with them, and getting them off on the right foot.

Thinking about J, and the influence she has had on her class, though, I'm wondering whether I might start next year differently. Instead of working so hard with my dormant readers early on, I might spend more time "going with the goers"- seeking out kids who love to read, fueling those kids' reading fires, and letting sparks from their reading fires ignite the other readers in the class.

I'd love to hear other people's thoughts on this subject…

Monday, April 25, 2011


As far as our fourth, fifth, and sixth graders are concerned, the WIMPY KID series is where it's at. They read these, and reread them, and reread them. I have no problem with this series. I'm delighted kids are reading. I'm glad they have found an author they love. I don't care if they read them over and over again. The trouble is, there are only five (I think that's right?) of them, and at some point, I need to be able to hand them another book.

Enter the just-published THE LOSER LIST. Format wise- it looks a lot like DIARY OF A WIMPY KID, similar font, and lots of illustrations throughout. The main character is a sixth grade kid, Danny, an artistic, comic book loving, kind of "geeky" kid who learns that his name is on the "Loser List" on the wall in the girls' bathroom. He and his best friend, Jasper, sneak into the bathroom to try to remove their names, but Danny is caught, and must spend a week in after school detention.

In the detention room, Danny becomes linked up with a group of the school's resident "bad boys." This gang is impressed by Danny's ability to draw cool tattoos with a sharpie, and Danny becomes a pseudo- member of their gang. He enjoys his new-found status until his "buddies" steal a valuable comic book from one of Danny's friends, who owns a comic store.

I think this book is going to be a huge hit with our intermediate grade kids. First, they are going to love that "Wimpy Kiddish" format. Danny is a likeable main character, struggling with intermediate grade issues- identity/coolness (or lack of), friendship, peer pressure, etc. I also think they are going to love the ending, which was a surprise, even for me.

Taking this one to school today!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Holy week…Easter morning will be a time of singing and celebration, but the earlier part of the week is a time of great darkness. Last night, I attended the Maundy Thursday service at my church. When the congregation arrived, the sanctuary was dark and quiet, with the majority of light being provided by a few candles. Different pastors read scripture about the night Christ was betrayed. After each pastor read, he blew out a candle, and the sanctuary became darker and still darker. Finally, after the last pastor read, the sanctuary was totally dark, and the congregation left in silence.

I went looking for an Easter poem this morning. I found this one, by Edmund Spenser, an English poet best known for "The Faerie Queen."He wrote this about five hundred years ago, but it seems like a great poem/prayer for Easter weekend…

Most glorious Lord of Lyfe! that, on this day,
Didst make Thy triumph over death and sin;
And, having harrowd hell, didst bring away
Captivity, thence captive, us to win:
This joyous day, deare Lord, with joy begin;
And grant that we, for whom, thou diddest dye,
Being with Thy dear blood clene washt from sin,
May live forever in this felicity

And that Thy love we weighing worthily
May likewise love Thee for the same againe
And for Thy sake, that all lyke deare didst buy,
With love may one another entertayne!
So let us love, deare Love, lyke as we ought,
Love is the lesson which the Lord us taught.

Edmund Spenser

Poetry Friday is at The Book Aunt (and I do so love the name of her blog!)

Happy Easter! Or Passover! Or Spring! Or all three!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Planting the Seeds of Poetry

I had wanted to do a bang up celebration for National Poetry Month. Something really thoughtful. Wonderful. Creative. Special. Pair a poem with a kids' book. Collect five poems around a theme. Gather quotes on poetry. Write a poem every day.

But it just hasn't happened. So instead, I am doing my best to plant the seeds of poetry in the world. I'm working with first and second graders right now. We're "studying" poetry. Reading lots of it. Making poetry posters. Carrying poems in our pockets. Having poetry parties. And maybe best of all, writing poetry.

I am a gardener, nurturing these budding seeds. Loving the way they play with language. Exclaiming over the tools they are trying. Publishing thirty or forty of their poems every night. Wondering if one of these little poets will be the next Langston Hughes or Mary Oliver or Mary Lee Hahn.

Thought I would share a few of their poems…

"My Cat Pumpkin"
by Q

My cat Pumpkin
runs to me.
My cat Pumpkin
hugs my leg.
My cat Pumpkin
can do tricks.
She can climb
I love my cat Pumpkin.

My Turtle
by K
I wish my turtle
wasn't sick
I would be happier
He is at a vet
in a cage
I am going to see him today
I hope he feels better.

"Goodbye Winter. Hello Spring."
by A.
Goodbye Winter.
Hello Spring.
Goodbye snow.
Hello flowers.
Goodbye cold.
Hello warm.
Goodbye Christmas.
Hello Easter.
Goodbye 2010.
Hello 2011.

"Boring Things for Me"
by G.
I get the boring things.
When we went to the store.
I wanted some toys.
My brother got toys.
And I got a coloring book.
I didn't play.
My brother played with his toys.
I didn't even have crayons.

"My Imaginary Dragon"
My imaginary dragon
He runs up and kicks me.
I don't like it.
I'm thinking about selling him
in a yard sale.
He's going to be $5.60.
I can't wait to get rid of him.
He can get really annoying.
I'm going to get a new dragon.
He needs 40 meals a day.
I actually might not want
a new dragon after all.
Dragons stink.

"The Eater"
by L

I am an eater!
vegetable soup,
Pig pork,
Grilled cheese sandwiches,
Frozen broccoli
Hot dogs with catsup and mustard,
Fried chicken.
I am an eater!

"Little Brother"
by J

My brother
always sleeps with me
and he snores at night

Every day when I wake
he is in the living room
and I come
and tickle him.

"Cats, Cats, Cats"
by I.

Cats, cats, cats,
I hate cats.
They make me sneeze
Cats, cats, cats,
I hate cats.
I hate cats.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

THE BUDDY FILES- Dori Hillestad Butler

I love books, any kind of books, but when I am working with young readers, I especially love series books. I also love dogs, any kind of dogs, but especially golden retrievers (shh, don't tell my friend Jack, he thinks black labs are my favorite). It only makes sense then, that I would love a book series that starred a goofy, friendly, lovable golden retriever, right?

I've recently come across THE BUDDY FILES, by Dori Hillestad Butler. Buddy is a who lives with a boy named Conor, and Conor's mom, an elementary school principal. Buddy is a trained therapy dog, but he also fancies himself a dog detective. In each book, he is trying to solve a different mystery. Periodically throughout each book, he stops to make a list of the clues he has uncovered, and the questions he is still trying to answer. (An aise: That little teacher voice in me kept saying, "These would be great for helping beginning chapter book readers work on their thinking strategies).

Buddy has always lived with Kayla and her parents, but then the family moves, and Buddy is left at the pound. Soon he is adopted by Connor, and his mom, a school principal. But then, one day when they are on a walk, Conor disappears. It’s Buddy’s job to find him!

Buddy is at obedience school when he meets Jazzy and Muffin, two pugs that got mixed up at a dog park. Buddy and his friend , Mouse, help the two dogs get back to the right family.

BOOK THREE: THE CASE OF THE MISSING FAMILY- Buddy loves Conor and his mom, but he wonders what happened to his first owner, Kayla, and her parents. When he has the chance to travel to Kayla’s new town, he jumps right into the back of a moving van. Will he find his old friend?

BOOK FIVE: THE CASE OF THE LIBRARY MONSTER- Buddy is in the library one day when he encounters an unusual blue-tongued monster. Who is the monster? And what is it doing in Buddy's school?

Sunday, April 10, 2011


Why are Christians

so mean?

Well, there actually is
an answer to that question.

And we must face the answer
and deal with it....

are routinely taught

by example
and word

that it is
more important

to be right

than to be

In fact,
being right

licenses you
to be mean

righteously mean,

of course.

Dallas Willard


If you don't know poems and quilts of Anna Grossnickle Hines, you are missing out. Her book, WINTERLIGHTS, celebrates all things luminous- Christmas lights, the Aurora Borealis and Solstice- to name a few. SEASONS: A YEAR IN POEMS AND QUILTS celebrates the seasons of the year through plants and animals.

I love Anna Grossnickle Hines' art as much as her words- she is a quilter and illustrates her poems with beautiful, beautiful quilts. I'm on a book buying moratorium, but when I saw that she had a new book, well, of course I had to have it.

PEACEFUL PIECES is a collection of 25 poems about peace. There are several poems about creating peace within ourselves. There is a poem about fighting with a sibling. There is a poem about being kind to a classmate when no one else is. There are poems about respect and about angry words. And of course, each poem is accompanied by one of Grossnickle's amazing quilts.

In the back of the book, there are short biographies of eight of the world's great peacemakers- Gandhi, Dorothy Day-- and also two young peacemakers- Samantha Smith and Mattie Stepanek. There is also a short piece about how she sought the help of other quiltmaking friends to create her illustrations.

There are so, so, many great poems that it was hard to choose just one to include in this post, but I finally did:


Open minds-- at least two.
Willing hearts-- the same.
Rinse well with compassion.
Stir in a fair amount of trust.
Season with forgiveness.
Simmer in a sauce of respect
As dash of humor brightens the flavor.

Beat served with hope.

Anna Grossnickle Hines (c) 2011

I think this book would be invaluable in talking to kids (or adults) about peace and love and kindness and respect. I can see myself reading many of these poems the first week of school, then returning to them again and again and again.

You can read more about how Anna Grossnickle Hines created the book here.
You can read about how she created one page here. If you scroll all the way to the bottom of this page, there's a book trailer of her reading some of the poems.

Friday, April 8, 2011


Pearl is a little girl who does not quite fit the world. Her teacher, Ms. Bruff, doesn't understand her, or appreciate her poems that don't rhyme. She is "a group of one," not part of the theater group, or the sports group or the library crowd. One of the most popular girls in the class accuses Pearl of stealing her "boyfriend."

Pearl lives with her mother and her grandmother, who is in the final stages of Alzheimer's disease. Her mom, totally overwhelmed with the demands of caring for a dying aunt, does not have a lot left to give to Pearl. And so once again, Pearl is alone.

Then Pearl's grandmother dies and Pearl and her mother are left planning a funeral. Pearl makes sense of the experience in the way she knows best- by writing a poem, a non-rhyming poem, that she reads at her grandmother's funeral.

PEARL VERSES THE WORLD is a perfect to add to your collection of novels in verse. It would be great to hand to one of those "group of one" kids in your class. Or to give to other kids to help them develop compassion for those "group of one" kids. It's a novel about surviving loneliness. It's a novel about saying goodbye and grieving. Most of all, it's a novel about the power of poetry in a child's life.


Tuesday, April 5, 2011


Over the years, I have written lots and lots of poetry. And right now, for whatever reason, I don't have any words. So I decided that tonight I will share a favorite I wrote a long time ago.

"Confessions of a Reader"

Almost Spring,
A spider
Stakes a claim
On a corner
Of the eight-foot window
In our living room.

Each morning
I admire
Taut guidelines
Tightly placed spokes.
Dancing gown threads,
Architecture unrivalled.

My mother
Would not tolerate
Such slovenly housekeeping.
She would get a broom
And knock down
This errant squatter’s palace.

I do not.

I am waiting for Charlotte
To leave a message.

Carol Wilcox
published in All That Matters: What We Value in School and Beyond.
edited by Linda Rief and Maureen Barbieri
Heinemann, 1995

Sunday, April 3, 2011


Today, because it's Sunday…
Or maybe because it snowed (after we had a record high yesterday)…
Or because it's the last day of spring vacation, and I have to go do schoolwork…
Or because I keep reading all of the wonderful poems everyone is writing,
and sometimes, lots of times, I write poetry too,
but right now I just don't have any poems…
Or because…

I first came across this poem on a dear friend's website. Bobbi is one of the most grounded, centered, truly spiritual people I have ever met. I loved this poem.

"Love After Love"

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.

Read the rest of the poem at

Saturday, April 2, 2011

LIPMAN PIKE and baseball poems

Yesterday was Opening Day at Coors Field. I'm a huge Colorado Rockies fan- in my pre-mothering days I used to have a partial share in season tickets- I went to 25 or 30 games a year. In honor of this special
occasion, I'm presenting a book and poetry companion. Today's topic- BASEBALL!!!!

Lipman Pike was born in 1845-- the same year, according to Richard Michelson, as baseball officially became a sport with consistent rules and equipment. In 1858, the National Association of Base Ball Players was formed.

Lipman Pike's family had immigrated from Holland. His father owned a haberdashery in Brooklyn. He encouraged Lipman and his older brother, Boaz, to play Base, as the game was called then, as a way of assimilating into their new culture.

As a teenager, Lip began playing with his brother's neighborhood club. Word of his power and speed spread through Brooklyn, and when Lipman was 21, he moved to Philadelphia, where he had been offered $20 a week to play for the Philadelphia Athletics. He was the best player on that team, but faced discrimination because he was a Jew. He encountered similar discrimination when he played for New Jersey Irvingtons, and then the Troy Haymakers.

Kids are used to looking at discrimination as it applied to blacks/slavery/the Civil Rights movement. LIPMAN PIKE is a biography that helps kids understand that other groups of people have faced also faced discrimination. It would be great to compare Pike's story with Jackie Robinson (maybe using the picture book TEAMMATES or Kadir Nelson's WE ARE THE SHIP). Richard Michelson provides four pages of end notes with additional information about Pike and also about the experiences of Jewish immigrants. Zak Pullen's character focused illustrations perfectly complement the story.

And because April is National Poetry Month, I went hunting for baseball poems. Of course I could have used "Casey at the Bat" or "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," but I wanted something new and different. I found a site called Baseball Almanac. One page has links to twenty-five or thirty baseball poems. And there was even one about the Colorado Rockies!

Baseball Parks
J. Patrick Lewis

Diamondbacks are safe in Phoenix
Where the ARIZ warm and dry
And the team they COL the Rockies
Plays it cool a mile high.

Read the rest of the poem here

"If School Were More Like Baseball"
Kenn Nesbitt

If school were more like baseball
we'd only have to play.
We'd hang out in the sunshine
and run around all day.

Read the rest of the poem at Poetry4Kids.
If you don't know this site, poke around a bit- kids love it!
And this one is in honor of my Ohio Friend, MaryLee and the terrific poem she wrote today.

"End of Winter"
Eve Merriam

Bare-handed reach
to catch
incoming curve.
Leap higher than you thought you could and

Read the rest of the poem here.

He waited
In the whiteness of the afternoon sun;
Black man on green ground.
He waited
In the silence of the tongue
Black man on green ground.
He waited
In the path of his words
White broke his bones;
Black man on green ground.
He waited
As few men have ever
And endured
Before a multitude
as no man before,

Read the rest of the poem here.
This would be a great poem to pair with TEAMMATES, one of my all time favorite picture books.


Friday, April 1, 2011


April is National Poetry Month.
I love poetry.
And I wish I had something flashy organized for this month.
I have thought of lots of ideas.
I could write a poem a day, like my friend MaryLee is planning to do.
I could do a whole month of found poems.
I could do a whole month of poetry quotes.
I could do poetry trios, where I found three poems that went together .
I could review a book and put a poem with it.
I could do book reviews in the form of poems.
I could review poetry books.
I could share a different favorite poet every day.
I could take pictures and write poems about them.
At this point in my life, with no job for next year,
and teenagers,
all of those seem a bit much.
So let me just say, I love poetry
and I will probably/might
do something poetry connected
when I blog this month.

Today's gift, a poem I found in this month's OPRAH magazine
(if you haven't seen it yet, there's a terrific section on poetry!)


To walk quietly
till the miracle in everything
speaks to you
is poetry.

You want to look for poetry
in your soul
and in your everyday life,
as you search for stones
on the beach.

Four thousand miles away,
as the sun ices the snow,
I smile.

For in this moment,
you are the poem.

After years of looking,
I can only say
that searching for small things
worn by the deep
is the art of poetry

But listening
to what they say

is the poem.

For me,
is the unexpected utterance
of the soul.

It is where the soul
touches the everyday.

It is less about words
and more about awakening
the sense of aliveness
we carry within us
from birth.

To walk quietly

till the miracle
in everything


is poetry

whether we write it down
or not.

I confess
I started out life
wanting to write
great poems,

only to be worn by life
to wanting to discover true poems,
and now
in the second half of life,
I feel humbled
and excited

to want to be
the poem.

Mark Nepo
OPRAH magazine, April, 2011, p. 232


I didn't blog much about books in March, but I did do quite a bit of reading. Here is a list of what I read. Blogspot is being weird with the numbers, I have tried, unsuccessfully to fix it but I can't.

Picture Books

Habitat Spy- Cynthia Kieher King

2. Deep in the Deser0 Rhonda Donaldt
3. Meet the Planets- John McGranaphan
4. The Glaciers Are Melting- Donna Love
5. Big Cat, Little Kitty- Scotti Cohn
6. Pecan Pie Baby- Jacqueline Woodson
7. Me And You- Anthony Browne
8. Goal- Mina Javaherbin
9. Art and Max- David Wiesner
10. The Back of the Bus- Aaron Reynolds
11.Big Red Lollipop- Rukhsana Khan
12. Boo Hoo Moo- Margie Palatini
13. I Broke My Trunk- Mo Willems
14. The Really Groovy Story of the Tortoise and the Hare- Kristyn Crow
15. Paul Bunyan Vs. Hals Halson: The Giant Lumberjack Challenge
16. Doodleday- Ross Collins
17. Fairly Fairy Tales- Esme Raji Codell
18. A Kiss Goodbye- Audrey Penn
19. Chester Racoon and the Big Bad Bully- Audrey Penn
20. I’d Choose You- John T. Trent


  1. 21. The Buddy Files- Book 1- The Case of the Lost Boy- Dori Hillestad Butler
  2. 22. The Buddy Files- Book 2- The Case of the Mixed Up Mutts
  3. 23. The Buddy Files- Book 3- The Case of the Missing Family
  4. 24. Clementine and the Family Meeting- Sara Pennypacker
  5. 25. Bless This Mouse- Lois Lowry
  6. 26. Junonia- Kevin Henkes
  7. 27. Pearl Verses the World- Sally Murphy

2YA Literature

29. Mission Unpopular (YA)- Anna Humphrey


30. The Box Children- Sharon Wyse

31. I am on the last 50 pages of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks