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!