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.

Thursday, November 29, 2018


Welcome to Poetry Friday! 

I need to begin with an apology. I know people like to post early, and I apologize for being slow. I came home from work, thinking I was going to put my post up, only to discover I had no heat in my house. It's supposed to snow all weekend in Colorado, so I have spent the last four hours tracking down a repairman, who sadly, has declared my furnace to be in the final stages of rigor mortis....

Anyway, on to happier (and less expensive) subjects. I'm a First Round CYBILS Poetry Judge. Several years ago, CYBILS organizers expanded the poetry category to include novels-in-verse. That year,  I think it was 2015, I read HOUSE ARREST by K.A. Holt. I fell in love with Timothy, a middle school kid in a really hard situation. A medically fragile baby brother. A father who can't stand the stress and leaves. A mother who is doing everything she can to take care of her sick child, plus work and provide for her family. The family is in desperate straits, and Timothy, in an effort to help, makes a poor choice and ends up on house arrest. A terrific story.

Now there's a sequel. In KNOCKOUT, Timothy's baby brother, Levi, is now a seventh grader. Timothy has graduated from college and is studying to take the MCAT. Despite some lingering health issues, he desperately wants to be like everyone else, and takes up boxing. He knows his mother and brother won't be happy, so he doesn't tell them. His dad is all for it, at least until he starts having health issues again. Another great coming of age story...

Earlier this week, shortly after I had read KNOCKOUT, I came across a series of tweets on K.A. Holt's Twitter stream. I thought it was a really interesting commentary on novels in verse. It definitely gave me some things to think about as I'm reading for the CYBILS. 

* She followed up with a series of tweets that I totally loved...maybe because it represents some things I've been thinking about over the past few weeks. More than once, I've finished a novel in verse hoping that the author had some process notes in the back. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don't.…

Holt says (thank you to Karianne for letting me include them in my post):

(Each of them was actually one tweet on K.A. Holt's Twitter feed, but I can't figure out how to format it well).

"I feel compelled to remind them to keep reminding themselves of one very important thing: Verse novels are still poetry. I know that sounds like a silly thing to remind people...


You can't just make words on a page look like poetry. You have to use your poetic elements: imagery, metaphor, simile, assonance, consonance... figure out if your characters might benefit from tanka or haiku or sonnets.


The coolest thing about verse novels is that you're distilling the essence of a story to feelings, emotions, impressions, and you're letting your readers take all of that on so they can fill in the rest of the story. There's so much trust when you write poetry.

Don't be afraid to trust your readers to get the Big Ideas. They totally will, if you do your job with the poetry. Their experiences and your story will intertwine and create something really beautiful.

I mean... no pressure. ;)

Verse novels are just so incredible for the way they invite readers into the story. The way the poetry creates a wide, safe net of words is almost indescribable. Everyone can find themselves in a poem, because emotions are universal, right? Now imagine a narrative of poems.

Anyway... I could go on and on, but I'll stop. :) I'm just so excited to see so many authors fired up to write verse. We are at the beginning of a poetry explosion, I think. And y'all... I AM HERE FOR IT!!

One more thing... did you know that according to an NEA study in 2017, more people are reading poetry now than at any point in the 15 years the NEA has been conducting the survey? People seek out poetry in times of resistance and strife. We need it now, more than ever.

Today the author had another series of tweets about her thinking as she writes novels in verse…
When I sit down to write a verse novel, one of the things I like to do, is to incorporate different kinds of poetry into my books. I think this makes it extra interesting to readers, and it gives teachers ideas for poetry activities.

For example:

In BRAINS FOR LUNCH, the whole book is haiku. Zombie haiku! With puns. Super fun for kids to try on their own, and popular with students who think they aren’t good poets. (Spoiler: they’re GREAT poets!)

In RHYME SCHEMER, I wanted to try something different, so Kevin discovers found poetry (or blackout poetry). Kids looove creating blackout poems (but be careful with sharpies bleeding through into desks. Ha.)

With HOUSE ARREST, I went for a journal format, because that gave me parameters as an author. I needed a certain amount of poems per week, and that gave me structure. Students keeping poetry journals have structure, and a new way to express emotions — just like Timothy.

I wanted KNOCKOUT to be something completely different, so we tried some shaped poetry. It shows how words can mean different things, and how poetry helps you express yourself in many surprising ways. I also wanted a more visceral notebook for shared thoughts between characters.

The new book, REDWOOD & PONYTAIL, is my most ambitious, poetically. Because it’s dual POV, I want characters to share poems, share thoughts, experience the same things in different ways. I also incorporated a kind of Greek chorus with poems you can read in any direction. Why?

Definitely some things to think about.

Saturday morning:
I finished the Roundup, but I'm having formatting issues. I am going to have to work on it later today.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018


Today is November 27th.
I last "sliced" on July 3.
Five months.
I think that's the longest I have ever gone without slicing.

But I have an excuse.
I really do.
I'm in the classroom again.
Three sections of sixth grade language arts.
Then literacy coaching the other half of the day.
I'm totally loving it.

And it's really, really hard.

Seventy kids.
Not that many, really, for three classes.
But it feels like a lot…

Five girls who are monolingual Spanish speakers,
several others who speak only slightly more English,
two little guys on the Autism spectrum,
daily girl drama,
daily boy drama,
daily girl/boy drama,
kids with hard home lives,
kids being raised by grandparents,
kids with no homes,
kids with two homes,
kids who come in
two hours late every day
because they have to wait
for parents to come home
so they can stop babysitting
and come to school.

Despite the complexities of kids' lives,
It's actually not the teaching part that's hard.
It's really all of the other stuff.

The attendance system.
It's still the same computer platform,
but it's a lot more complicated than it used to be.
Especially given that my teaching partner and I
switch time slots every six weeks or so,
but the attendance doesn't switch.
Which means she has to take my attendance
and I have to take hers
and it gets just a little messy.

Google classroom.
I know everyone who is hip and with it
uses Google classroom.
And I'm trying,
and I really do like being able to log on
and respond to kids' writing
but I am only a little hip and with it
and every day
I run up against a new something
to try and figure out.

And the organization.
How can someone who is not
an organizational goddess herself
be expected to organize
seventy other humans
with only slightly developed frontal lobes?
Despite my best efforts,
Somebody is always losing something.
Their writer's notebook.
Their library book.
Their new coat
that they absolutely cannot go home without.

So I'm trying to get back to slicing.
I really am.

But phew, this teaching stuff is hard work.

Thursday, November 22, 2018


In the foreword to WORLD MAKE WAY, editor Lee Bennett Hopkins says,
"When you look at art, you may see and feel things differently than your neighbors or friends or classmates. You might focus on a work as a whole, or you might zero in on a small detail that jumps out-- a patch of sky, a sailboat, even a swirl of color. Looking at a work of art can produce a range of emotions and reactions. It can make you happy or sad; make you laugh, think, ponder, or wonder. World Make Way features 18 poems especially commissioned for this book, written by contemporary poets. Reaching deep within their hearts and souls, each poet interprets what they unearthed after viewing a specific artwork. The arts and their artwork stem from many parts of the world, were created at different times in history, and depict a wide variety of subjects. A wide range of mediums-- such as oil paint, pencil, and ink-- were used as well. The pictures capture your eye, just as the poems capture your ear. 

 And that pretty much sums up this book. Eighteen terrific poets (including several who are regulars on Poetry Friday)- Alma Flor Ada, Cynthia Cotten, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Julie Fogliano, Charles Ghigna, Joan Bransfield Graham, Lee Bennett Hopkins, Irene Lathan, J. Patrick Lewis, Elaine Magliaro, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Marilyn Nelson, Naomi Shihab Nye, Ann Whitford Paul, Marilyn Singer, Carole Boston Weatherford, and Janet Wong-- each wrote a poem in response to artwork from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The oldest piece, I think, is an image of a duck, painted over 3,000 years ago for "a decorative floor in the palace of Egyptian king Amenhotep III."
with a poem written by today's Poetry Friday host, Irene Latham.  The newest piece of art was painted by Kerry James Marshall in 2014; Marilyn Nelson wrote the poem for that piece. Each two-page spread includes the artwork and the poem.  End matter includes information about the poets and also about the artists.

A really interesting collection.

"This Is the Hour"
Irene Latham

This is the hour
where sun dreams
when river
its silky song.

This is the hour
Duck wades
into warm
whispery grass
onto its nest

This is the hour
Duck asks:

        What is yours?
        What is

River answers
        Look how 
        your wings

        How my eyes

Yes, Duck says.
                Now I see--
                this is the hour
                  almighty sun
                gives itself

                to everything. 

Irene Latham

Marilyn Nelson

In this space quiet as a laboratory,
artists as focused as the kitchen staff
of a 4-star Michelin Guide restaurant
give themselves up to organized chaos.
They were born with a compulsion
deeper than skin-deep, deeper than black:
Every cell of their body says Make Art.
Their hearts repeat: Make Art, Make Art, Make Art.

Here in the studio's silence
artists demonstrate that freedom means
exploring unlimited potential,
playing a part in creation.
How beautiful the human body is.
How complex light is on black skin.
How a story can emerge from colors.
How a yellow curve can become a dog.

Whether you're a woman, whether you're black,
no matter who youare, you can make art.
Art rebuilds our hope for a shared future,
it restores our courage, revives our faith.
Here in the studio, as on cave walls,
our species reaches toward undying truths.
Every work of art was once unfinished:
part in this world, part imagined.

Irene Latham, at Live Your Poem, is hosting today's Poetry Friday.

Monday, November 19, 2018


My niece and nephew (now 27 and 29) have always called me the "book aunt." They knew that I might give other gifts, but I would definitely give them a book for every birthday and Christmas. And believe you me, these weren't just any books. I would spend months and months searching for the absolutely perfect Christmas present. For my nephew, the book had to include an element of nonfiction. It had to have a unique format. It had to have great illustrations. It had to be a little funny.

This year, I would not have any trouble choosing that book for my nephew. He would definitely be getting Irene Latham's newest, LOVE, AGNES: POSTCARDS FROM AN OCTOPUS. Agnes is a great Pacific Octopus, who lives under a northwestern coastal pier. When the book opens, she's searching for a home. She finds a lovely bottle (which actually ends up being another octopus' home), but there's a postcard blocking the entrance. And so begins a series of postcard exchanges between Agnes and a variety of recipients- little boy named John Henry, another octopus, McKenzie, some crabs, her eggs, and ultimately the world.

Each two-page spread includes one page of narrative, and one postcard. The postcards are fun, silly, and also full of information. Listen to this one:

In case you can't read it in the picture:
Dear Andrew,Just because I have a beakthat can crush bones andarms that stretch as wideas a car does NOT makeme a monster. I’m a mollusk,okay? Look it up.
Sincerely, Annoyed Agnes

The text and postcards are fun, but this is also a book that's factually accurate. Throughout the course of the book, I learned that octopuses:
      - have a beak that can crush bones, arms as wide as a car, and three hearts
      - hatch up to one hundred thousand eggs
     - spend six months taking care of their eggs
     - die shortly after the eggs hatch
If there's not enough information included in the text, end matter includes "More About Octopuses," as well as a list of further reading and websites.

The bright-colored, joyful illustrations are also sure to delight. Thea Baker is an English artist (currently living in Australia). Her illustrations remind me, in some ways, of Eric Carle. Not only are they eye-catching, however, they are also accurate, right down to Agnes' rectangular pupils. I hope we will see lots more of her work...

Add this book to your Christmas list! It's sure to be a hit!

Saturday, November 17, 2018


SHAKING THINGS UP is not brand new. It actually came out in January. Franki Sibberson, (who is currently presiding over what sounds like a fabulous NCTE conference, if all of the tweets coming out of Houston are the least bit reliable), reviewed the book in January.  (I thought Mary Lee also reviewed it, but I didn't find that on their blog.

The book includes poems about 14 different girls and women- some very well known:

  • Nellie Bly
  • Friday Kahlo
  • Ruby Bridges 
  • Mae Jemison
  • Malala; 

some kind of well-known:

  • Annette Kellerman, inventor of the modern swimming suit
  • Pure Belpre- Children's Author and first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library
  • Frances Mary Lappe- hunger activist and author of DIET FOR A SMALL PLANET
and some not known very well-known, at least not to me:

  • Molly Williams, the first woman Fire fighter in the United States
  • Jacqueline and Eileen Nearne (French Undercover agents during WW2)
  • Angela Zhang- Scientist and Cancer Researcher

Each two- page spread includes an illustration by a different author (Sophie Blackall, LeUyen Pham, and Melissa Sweet are three of my favorites), and a short biography. Each spread also includes  quotes from that person, embedded in the illustration.

  • Nellie Bly- If you want to do it, you can do it, The question is, do you want to do it?"
  • Frances Moore Lappe- Every choice we make can be a celebration of the world we want.
  • Mae Jemison- Never be limited by other people's limited imaginations
  • Malala- There's a moment where you have to choose whether to be silent or to stand up. 
The book also includes a timeline, a gorgeous table of contents, an author's note, and then a short bibliography and list of resources about each person.

A whole lot to love about this book!

Friday, November 16, 2018


I'm a long time Julie Paschkis fan. I have read her posts on Poetry Friday for years. Her last book, FLUTTER AND HUM: ALETEO Y ZUMBIDO, is one of my all-time favorite bilingual books, also one of my favorite animal books. I was excited, then, to see that Julie has a new book included in this year's CYBILS poetry nominees.

VIVID: POEMS AND NOTES ABOUT COLORS is a wonderful mixture of poems, and science, and fun facts (did you know that in ancient times, in Phoenicia, now Lebanon, purple dye was made from sea snails, and that it took 243,000 snails to make one ounce of dye, which was then sold for three times its weight in gold?), and Julie's original folk art.

In an author's note in the back, Paschkis says, "In this book, I paint poems of different colors, and I include some colorful facts and questions. I hope it inspires you to explore the art and science of color: to write, read, and draw a blue streak!" 

That pretty much sums up the book. Each two-page spread is about a different color- yellow, orange, pink, red, blue, indigo, green, pink, black, white, and ending with rainbow. There's a poem, some playful and some lovely, and also a paragraph of interesting information about that color. Here's one of my favorites:

Loudly, rowdy
daffodils yell hello
Hot yellow

And the factual information:
"Yellow is often described as the color most visible to humans. Because many birds and insects can see ultraviolet light (such as light from X-raysor the sun), it is likely that birds and insects are especially sensitive to the brightness of yellow light. And the yolk of an egg turns a deeper yellow if a chicken eats more yellowplants. (Cardinals also turn redder if they eat more red foods, including seedlings or berries, and flamingos turn pink from eating shrimp.)

And a couple of more poems, just so you can see the playfulness and also the wonderful variety of style:


Inquired Patrice:

"What color paint would you like tonight?
Crimson, scarlet, or cadmium light?

Magenta, madder, beet, carmine?
Quinacridone rose, alizarin?

There are a zillion!
Even vermilion!"

"Red," said Fred.

Long Lake
in I go

Definitely a book elementary teachers and school libraries will want to own.

Poetry Friday, and a giveaway, is at fellow Denverite, Linda Baie's, TeacherDance.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

MISSING MIKE by Shari Green

Nine-year-old Kara goes to the pound to adopt a dog. She doesn't choose one of the five cute golden doodle puppies bouncing around a cage in the corner. Instead, she chooses a scruffy, red brown, one-eyed, tattered ear, maybe part Golden Retriever, cowering in the back of his kennel. She names him Mike Wazowski, after the one-eyed monster in a kids' movie. 

Now, two years later, Kara's family is forced to evacuate their home because of a forest fire. When it comes time to leave, Mike is nowhere to be found and Kara has to leave her beloved, four-legged best friend behind. 

Kara and her family finds refuge with the Bains, who have opened their home in the emergency. While her parents worry about the status of her home, and her older sister, Sloane, pursues a relationship with a teen dad, Kara searches for solace in crossword puzzles, and a new friendship with Jewel, a foster child in the Bains' home. And all the while, she searches websites and shelters, hoping that her precious Mike has somehow survived.

So much to love about this book.
A novel in verse about those hard, hard, coming of age years.
A main character who is a lover of words.
A dog.
I can't wait to recommend this to readers who love dogs, or words, or Ann Martin's REIGN RAIN.

Saturday, October 27, 2018


I live in the heart of Denver. Although I live at least 30 minutes from any area I would describe as "wooded or rural," I regularly glimpse raccoons, foxes, coyotes, and of course, squirrels, and all kinds of bugs and birds, when I am out working in the yard or walking my dog.

In HIDDEN CITY: POEMS OF URBAN WILDLIFE debut poet, Sarah Grace Tuttle celebrates the wildlife of the city. In her poems, readers find all kinds of animals- including mice, skunks, sparrows, and several kinds of insects, as well as plants like mushrooms, moss, and wildflowers.

Tuttle has a dual degree in English and environmental studies, and as someone who loves a few facts with her poetry, I love the information she embedded in each poem, as well as the followup endnotes, "Fun Facts About the Wildlife in These Poems."

Readers of HIDDEN CITY learn to watch carefully for the natural wonders in their own world. I could see reading the poems and then heading out with writers' notebooks to capture the wonders that we might find. Kids could definitely use the poems as mentors for their own wildlife/nature poems.

Artist Amy Schimler-Safford is an illustrator that is new to me, but her collage artwork is perfect for the poems in HIDDEN CITY.

"Community Garden"
An empty lot has
grown over with
wild tangles of grass and aster,
bright dandelions,
wood sorrel, clover.
bees and butterflies feast on nectar
ants build
snails crawl
and garden snakes sun themselves
by the graffitied wall.

"Under Cover"
On the side of a house
tuck under shingles
in clumps and rows,
crawl into cracks
in clusters and droves
their heartbeats,
and snuggle in tight
for their long winter sleep.

"The Hunting Lesson"
A mother raccoon
teaches her kits:
place paws firmly and
push again
push again
a feast spills out of the bin.
Bagels and fish heads and broccoli
all for the taking.

I'm looking forward to sharing this book with students in my urban setting.

Friday, October 19, 2018


People who have followed my blog know my story. I'm a single, never-married white woman. My sons are African American. They were students at my school and I adopted them when they were seven and nine.  Our journey has been long and bumpy. Many, many people including a former boss, teachers, and football and basketball coaches, have been the village that have surrounded and raised my boys.

A single white mom, with two black boys, is probably not ideal. I know I did a lot of things wrong. But one thing I did right is to fill my sons' lives with books. And I made sure that we had books with people that celebrated my boys.

THIRTEEN WAYS OF LOOKING AT A BLACK BOY, by Tony Medina and 13 Artists, is a book that I wish I had been able to give my boys when they were growing up. The title, as those who are more literary will probably recognize, is a play on Wallace Stevens' 1954 poem, "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird." The thirteen poems, all in the tanka form, are a celebration of black malehood, arranged chronologically. The first poem, "Anacostia Angel," captures a black baby with a fly bow tie and koolaid smile.  In the last poem, "Giving Back to the Community," a black man returns to teach in his community. In between those two are poems that celebrate church, thie middle school/high school flirt, a teenage athlete chasing his bus, and several others.  Many of the poems are set in Anacostia, "a historically black neighborhood in Washington, D.C., which is quickly becoming more gentrified." Anacostia was also the home of Frederick Douglas.

The art in this book is absolutely spectacular. Thirteen different artists, including well-known picture book artists Floyd Cooper, Javaka Steptoe, and R. Gregory Christie each contributed one illustration, everything from watercolor, to pencil-like sketch to watercolor, to mixed media. Wow! I think this book would be a terrific addition to an art class- kids could pick one object and explore it in through several different mediums.

Extensive back matter gives information about each artist, about tanka, and about the Anacostia area.

"One-Way Ticket"
Payday don't pay much
   Every breath I take is taxed
The kind of life where
   I'll have to take out a loan
To pay back them other loans

"Athlete's Broke Bus Blues"
Know how many times
   I done missed this broke-down bus
Hardly catch my breath
   Running as fast as can be,
Wave at this bus leaving me

"Brothers Gonna Work It Out"
We righteous Black men
   Patrol the soul of this 'hood
Raise young bloods proper
   To be the kings that they are
Crowned glory of our future

Brenda, at Friendly Fairy Tales, is hosting Poetry Friday today.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

MOONRISE by Sarah Crossan

Joe Moon is seventeen years old.
He hasn't seen his brother, Ed,
since he was seven,
when Ed stole his aunt's car
and hotfooted it to Texas.

Joe remembers
taking a phone call from Ed.
There was an incident
a policeman was shot and killed
And Ed
despite proclaiming his innocence
ended up on death row.

Now, ten years later, Ed's execution is imminent,
and Joe travels to Texas
to see his brother,
and possibly to say goodbye.

A powerful (and horribly sad) story
of family
and love
and justice (or injustice).

Sunday, October 14, 2018

WITH MY HANDS by Amy Ludwig Vanderwater

Can't believe it's been a month since I have blogged! I have had rough spells, but I am pretty sure this is a record for me. Can I blame the beginning of the school year and 67 sixth graders??? Anyway, I'm back at it now. I'm a CYBILS poetry judge, so from now until the end of December, you can expect a whole lot of poetry books and novels in verse.

Amy Ludwig VanDerwater's WITH MY HANDS: POEMS ABOUT MAKING THINGS is up first. The book, which debuted in March, begins with the poem, "Maker."

I am a maker.

I am making
something new
with my hands
my head
my heart.

That's what makers do.

A maker starts with
empty space
and stuff.

A maker
through mistakes.
A maker
must be tough.

A maker is a tinkerer.
A maker
will explore.

A maker
creates something new
was before.

WITH MY HANDS goes on to celebrate the joy of creating. There are poems for artists, for builders, for bakers, for sewers, actually twenty different poems about things to do or make - painting, clay, birdhouses, snowflakes, piñatas, parachutes, boats, cards, knot, soap carving, tie-dye, collage, spaceship, sock puppet, cookies, leaf pictures, a fort, origami,  knitting, a shadow show. 

I had a hard time choosing poems to highlight. A couple that I loved:

"Tie-Dye Shirt"
I made a tie dye.
Didn't buy it.
Tied it
Dipped it.
Dyed it.
Untied it.
Shook it.
Dried it.
Wore it.

Try it!

I cut a parachute from plastic
tied my guy on with elastic
threw him from a window (drastic)
watched him drift to earth-- fantastic!

You're not even looking
but you know
we have been cooking
for we're filling
up the kitchen
with a smell
of something good.
We are stirring
hands aflutter
mixer whirring
eggs and butter.
We resemble
clouds of flour
(as two
busy bakers should).
And these goodies
we are making
were a batter.
Now they're baking
into cookies.
Will you help us
eat them up?

We knew you would.

Should I admit this book made me a little nostalgic? When I was a little girl, I was constantly making something-- water color paintings, bean pictures, clothes for my dolls, a carnival.  My boys were always digging, building, cutting, drawing, baking.

I don't see kids doing as much of that anymore and it makes me sad. I envision this book opening up whole new worlds-- I hope it would cause kids to say, "Could I really make/do that?" I envision myself putting this book at a center in an elementary grade classroom, along with all kinds of "making" materials. I also think it would be a terrific Christmas gift- along with a box of things to use for making- yarn, googly eyes, markers, construction paper, beads, etc.

Thanks, Amy, for another terrific offering to the world of children's poetry!

Sunday, September 9, 2018


I'm teaching three sections of sixth grade Language Arts this year. I'm loving it, but struggling to stay on top of the teaching, and also blog. Phew! One of the hardest things for me has been the 50 minute periods. That's not very much time at all. Before the year started, I promised myself that I was going to read aloud to my sixth graders every single day. Originally, I planned to read a chapter book, and had chosen, Dan Gemeinhart's SOME KIND OF COURAGE as my first read aloud. When the year started, however, I discovered I had three students who spoke no English, and three more with less than a year of English under their belts. I decided, then, to start with picture books. Each week I have chosen books that were somehow connected. Last week, I chose "friend" books. FRIENDS STICK TOGETHER, by Hannah E. Harrison, was my sixth graders' favorite read aloud. 

Rupert the Rhino is a bit staid. He likes reading the dictionary, listening to classical music, and eating cucumber sandwiches with no crusts. Levi the tickbird is quite the opposite- he loves corny jokes, armpit farts, and popping wheelies. Rupert is a more than a little unsettled when Levi moves in and upends his life by playing epic air guitar solos, burping the alphabet, and picking ticks off Rupert during lunch, "Tastes like chicken!"

Rupert does everything he can think of to get Levi to depart (one of my students' favorite pages was Rupert on the merry-go-round, using centrifugal force, and then barfing in the trash can). He finally asks Levi to leave, saying, "I find your boisterousness a tad loathsome," and "Your uncouthness is slightly problematic. Predictably, after Levi is gone, Rupert discovers that he misses him, and has to make a visit to Levi's trailer to invite him to come back.

My students and I loved pretty much everything about this book-- terrific humor, fun illustrations, and great vocabulary. I thought the design was total genius--Harrison begins and ends with a dictionary entry for the word symbiosis. We discussed this briefly when we started, I pointed out several examples during the book, and then we returned to it at the end. A few minutes later, during independent reading time, one of my students was thrilled to discover a section on symbiotic relationships in the WHO WILL WIN series. A perfect example of why it's important to read aloud to big kids!

Monday, September 3, 2018

EDUCATED by Tara Westover

I've been in the same book club for over twenty years. We aren't a super serious book club- pretty much, we choose a book the month, or maybe two months before, we read the book, or most of us read most of the book, we meet at a restaurant, we have food and adult beverages, we talk about the book for a little while, and then we move on and talk about other things. I generally am one of the people that read the book, but I often read it mostly in the week before book club. That didn't happen this month.

Our September choice is EDUCATED by Tara Westover. I bought the book right after our last book club, when I happened to be at a bookstore with my mom. It's pretty long, so I decided I was going to try to read a chapter a day, to get through it by September 15. By Friday, I was about a third of the way in. I had had a really long week at school, and Friday night on the back porch with a book sounded just about perfect. I picked up EDUCATED, and before I knew it, it was Saturday night, and the housework wasn't done, but EDUCATED was. And all I can say is, "Phew! What a read!"

EDUCATED is a memoir by Tara Westover, who was raised in a fundamentalist Mormon family in the mountains of Idaho. Westover was homeschooled until the age of 16, but most of her homeschooling consisted of working in her father's junkyard, often under really dangerous conditions. Westover and her siblings never went to the doctor, were never exposed to people of other races, had never even heard of the Holocaust. At 16, Tara, like one of her older brothers, left the family compound and went to BYU, then to Cambridge and Harvard. EDUCATION is the story of her transformation. It's a powerful and eye opening story.

For me, though, the book spoke loudly about the experiences a reader brings to the page, and how that impacts the reader, and that's what I have continued to think about A subplot of the book, which actually plays a really central role, is about Westover's father, who she believes to be bipolar, and his impact on the family. Another subplot focuses on one of Tara's brothers, who also appeared to have mental health issues, and was physically and verbally abusive to his sisters and others in the community, but was defended and protected by his parents.  Those stories spoke loudly to me, maybe even more loudly than the story of Westover's education.

I leave the book with a zillion questions. What responsibility does a parent have to protect his/her children from the other parent, if he/she is mentally ill? Or from his/her siblings? At one point does one renounce his or her own children? When is it acceptable to renounce one's own family?

A thought provoking, disturbing and exhausting read.

Friday, August 10, 2018

PICTURE BOOK 10 for 10

Picture Book 10-for-10 is one of my favorite days of the entire year! It's the day I have to hide my debit card, so I don't go totally out of control buying all of the new books that people share. Some years I am wonderfully clever, and actually have a theme. This year I'm just sharing some books that I am looking forward to reading when school starts next year. You can check out a zillion great collections (remember to hide your debit card first!) in the Google PB 10-for-10 community.

by Ryan T. Higgins
When Penelope Rex arrives at the first day of school, she discovers that all of her classmates are children. She eats them, because children are delicious. The next day she goes back with good intentions, but again accidentally eats a classmate. It takes Walter, the class goldfish, to teach her an important lesson. Thanks to the ever brilliantTamara Jaimes for sharing this one with me!

as told by Dave Horowitz
Once there was an old stonecutter named Stanley (who just happens to be a frog). He was good at his job, but stonecutting was hard and Stanley wanted to do something a little easier. On the way back from the quarry, one day, he noticed a businessman sipping tea, and wished he could do that. And somehow magically he was a businessman, and then the king, and then he got tired of that and wanted to be the sun and, well you get the picture! Be sure to read the author's note at the beginning

Minh Le and Dan Santat
An Asian grandfather babysits his very assimilated American grandson. At first, the two don't seem to have much to say to each other, but then their sketchbooks create common ground.

by Julia Durango, illustrated by Bianca Diaz
Every time Wilson goes to visit his grandmother, he makes a promise about all of the things he wants to do to her old rundown house. Gigi assures him that she is just fine, and that he is enough for her. Wilson also tells other people, including the ice cream man and the librarian, about Gigi's house, and one day the community arrives to help.

by Liz Garton Scanlon and Lee White

Once there was a man
living all alone in a creaky 
house on the tip-top of a steep hill.

All is well until the wind starts to blow. 

The wind blew until the 
shutters banged in the creaky 
house on the tip-top of the
steep hill.
The wind blew, the
shutters banged, and
the boards bent. 

The man is sad until a little girl named Kate arrives and plants trees. A lovely cumulative picture book about our ability to take care of our world and about  the power of trees.

by Troy Hall and Richard Jones

Wednesday the Whale lives in a fishbowl. One day, a little girl named Piper approaches the bowl and tells Wednesday that she's lovely, but that she doesn't belong in there. Her words give Wednesday the courage to try something new. Pair this one with Dan Santat's AFTER THE FALL.

by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Matt Hunt
A family moves into a new house, only to discover that there is a walrus in the bathtub. The funnest part of this book is that each page is a different list, e.g. Bad things about having a walrus in the bathtub: 1) Clam shells  2) Screechy seagulls, 3) Bathtub tidal waves. A few pages later: Ways to try to get a walrus out of the bathtub: 1) Have a clam giveaway  2) Dress up like a killer whale  3) Dress your dad up like a lady walrus. 

by Tereasa Surratt and Donna Lukas, illustrated by Nicola Slater
A beautiful story about the never-ending life of a tree. Based on these Wisconsin authors actual experiences-- a tree on Surratt's property is first home to animals, then a little girl's rope swing, built by a loving grandfather. Finally the tree succumbs to Dutch Elm disease and the community comes together to build a tree house around its trunk.

words by Sally Lloyd-Jones
pictures by Leo Espinosa

Three goldfish, Barracuda, Patch, and Fiss, live in a tall apartment building that overlooks an old broken-down fountain. One summer, a man arrives to fix the fountain, and then invites all of the goldfish  in the neighborhood to go on vacation for the summer. An author's note says that this is based on an actual fountain, the Hamilton Fountain, in New York City. 

by David Covell

Hey, you.
Sky's blue!
(forget your shoes)
that door

Sprout, you're out!
Chase the wind
     can you grab it?
A joyful, rhythmic poetic picture book about a child playing outside on a barefoot summer day.