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.