Friday, January 25, 2019


You can never have too many books about friendship. The good times. The hard times. The breakups. The makeups. Douglas Florian's FRIENDS AND FOES: POEMS ALL ABOUT US is another winner. 25  poems about friends. Rhyming poems. List poems. A couple of poems in two voices. Illustrated with folk-ish art. A lovely addition to your friendship basket. Or your Florian basket.

"What Friends Are For"
For sharing
For caring
For giving

For walking
For taking
For waiting

For pleasing
For teasing
For finding

For lending
For mending
For treating your fair
But what matters most?
For just being there.

"We Used to Be Friends"
We used to be friends
But we drifted apart.
Don't mesh anymore.
Don't see heart-to-heart.
We used to be friends.
We drifted away.
Will we get back together?
Well, maybe someday.

"Friendship is a Flower"
Friendship is a flower.
You have to let it grow.
You really cannot rush it.
You have to take it slow.
Friendship is a flower.
You have to give it room
so it can grow the deepest roots
and marvelously bloom.

Tara is hosting the Poetry Friday at Going to Walden.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019


I have been a teacher since 1981.
More than 35 years.
I've been a classroom teacher in everything from kindergarten to sixth grade.
I've taught reading intervention.
I've been a literacy coach and an assistant principal.
I've worked in curriculum development at the central offices.

In all of those years, and in all of those jobs,
there is one thing I have never done.

I have never once gone on strike.

I've always said that I was there for my kids,
and that even if other teachers went out,
I wouldn't.
I would stay and teach
because that's what I do.

It seems like that's about to change.

The teachers in Denver have been negotiating with the district for over a year.
And they don't seem to be able to come to any kind of agreement.
The district says there is no more money.
And yet we have more supervisors and bosses and "partners"
 than any other district in the state.

In the meantime, the younger teachers in my building
can't make a living wage.
Can't afford apartments anywhere in the city, let alone mortgages.
Can't pay their bills or pay back their student loans.
Work a ten hour school day, then wait tables at night.
Talk regularly about how much they could make in a different profession.
And how much easier it would be.

And I'm worried.
I am worried for my school.
I'm worried for my district.
I'm worried for my profession.

and so, for the first time in my career,
I may be going out on strike.

Friday, January 11, 2019


As the mom of two African American boys, I am always on the hunt for books that depict my boys in positive, but ordinary ways. Definitely not as sports stars or rappers. And not even necessarily heroes like George Washington Carver or Barack Obama or Martin Luther King, Jr.  I want them to see ordinary people doing ordinary things. Maybe that's why I fell in love with SEEING INTO TOMORROW: HAIKU BY RICHARD WRIGHT with biography and illustrations by Nina Crews.

Ricard Wright is best known for his novel NATIVE SON and his autobiography, BLACK BOY. According to the biographical information in the back of SEEING INTO TOMORROW, he was born in Roxie, Mississippi, in 1908. As a young man, he moved from city to city, and finally moved to Paris in 1947 because he heard circumstances were better for African Americans there. In the final years of his life, he wrote thousands of haiku; eight hundred were published in a collection called HAIKU: THE OTHER WORLD. The haiku in SEEING INTO TOMORROW come from those. Each two-page spread contains one haiku, and  several large color photographs of an African American boy.

Maybe the thing I love most is that not only are all of the boys in the book doing ordinary things, but they are doing them outside- exploring the woods, walking dogs, and playing in a park. Exactly the kinds of things I want kids to do every day. Here are a couple that I loved (it's a teeny bit hard to do them justice without the photographs).

As day tumbles down,
The setting sun's signature
Is written in red.

A spring sky so clear
that you feel you are seeing
into tomorrow.

Reading these makes me want to find Wright's adult book. 

Kat Appel, who is writing a poem a day, is hosting Poetry Friday today. 

Friday, January 4, 2019


As a first round CYBILS judge in the poetry category, I've been reading lots and lots of poetry recently. For the past several years, this category has included novels in verse, and this year I think that genre comprised almost half the nominees. There was lots of really rich discussion around these books-- what comprises a novel in verse, should novels in verse be judged with anthologies, etc. The discussions are one of my favorite parts of being a judge-- such smart people.

To be perfectly honest, MARY'S MONSTER hung around on my TBR list for a while. I just was not that excited about reading a novel in verse about the creator of Frankenstein. I don't think I ever read the book, or even watched the movie of Frankenstein. Just not something that interested me.

BUT boy, oh boy, was I wrong! MARY'S MONSTER IS THE LIFE OF FRANKENSTEIN. Three hundred pages. And every single two-page spread includes a beautiful black and white watercolor painting.

Most people didn't believe Mary Shelley,
a teenage girl, unleashed me
a creature prowerful and murderous
enough to haunt their dreams. 

The expected girls to be nice
and obey the rules
They expected girls to be silent
and swallow punishment and pain.

She was cast out from society
because she loved a married man.
her friends reviled her.
Her father banished her from his home. 

But she did not hide.
She was not silenced.
She fought against the cruelty of human nature
bu writing. 

She conceived me.
I took shape like an infant,
not in her body, but in her heart,
growing from her imagination
till I was bold enough to climb out of the page
and into your mind. 

Now Mary is the ghost
whose bones have turned to dust
and it is I who live on

But hear her voice!
She wrote my story,
and now she will reach beyond the grave
and tell you her own. 

And a poem from the end of the book…

Byron has made public letters that prove
I wrote Frankenstein.
I am no longer anonymous!
I still choose a quiet life away from gossip
but I have a small circle of friends.
I edit Shelley's unpublished poems.
At last, readers see his genius
and allow the light he held up tot he world
to enter their hearts.

I survive. I keep writing.
I am scarred by my years with Shelley,
but he believed in me.
He inspired me to create.
And that gave me strength.

I have made terrible mistakes.
I must endure the knowledge that others
were swallowed by darkness because of my actions.
I have witnessed the wreckage of cruelty.
But unlike my father, I will never be consumed
by bitterness and anger.
I have released those monsters onto the page.

By creating, I keep faith alive
that we will learn someday
to cast aside cruelty and hatred
and build a just world
filled with love.

End notes include-
• More about Mary Shelley
• An Author's note- Lita Judge talks about her process, how she structured the novel, what she chose to include, etc. I wish more novels in verse included this. I think it would help people appreciate them as poetry.
• What Became of Them- Paragraph biographies about people included in the book,
• What Were They Reading

This is definitely worth reading. The content is pretty mature, but if I was a high school teacher, I'd be buying it for my classroom library!

Sylvia Vardell is hosting the year's first Poetry Friday Roundup. Hop over there to see what books next year's CYBILS judges might be reading.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019


Eleven- year-old Jett has had a horrible year. His father was the driver in a DUI accident that killed a family of four. His mother decides to relocate for a "fresh start." Jett somehow becomes friends with the school bully, Junior, who is living through some very rough times. Together, Jett and Junior, make some poor decisions, one of which involves Jett's mentally disabled adult uncle. When the book opens, Jett is returning to his grandmother's cottage by the ocean, for a summer of reflection and healing.

Sadie is 15, the 9th of 11 children, growing up in a barely functional Catholic family. Her father doesn't work, and her mother works two jobs to keep food on the table (barely). Most of Sadie's older siblings have left the home, and those that are left, including Sadie, are basically raising themselves. Sadie is trying to keep her head above water- going to school, working, playing volleyball, and supporting younger siblings, including Teresa, who is 14 and pregnant. This book has a little of a lot of teenage issues- identity, sexuality, romance, friendship. It's one I think lots of reluctant middle and high school readers will enjoy.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019


January 1, 2019.

I have big aspirations for the New Year.

I start the day with a healthy breakfast.

I track the points on my Weight Watchers (ok, now it's Wellness Wins, but it's still Weight Watchers to me).

I read my Bible.

I journal.

I write down three things I am grateful for.

So I'm off to a good start, right?

But then my son pounds down the stairs.

"Where's your hot glue gun?" he asks.

I wince. The hot glue gun is something we almost never used. At some point, in one of my constant (and usually futile) efforts to declutter, I think I either gave it away, or threw it out. The bigger question for me, though, is why my son needs a hot glue gun. Usually, that is not a good sign.

"I don't think we have one," I say. "What are you trying to do?"

"You used to have a hot glue gun," he replies.

"I don't think we have one anymore," I say. And then I repeat my question, "What are you trying to do?"

My son holds out his glasses, which are now in two distinctly separate pieces, broken right at the nose.

"What happened?" I ask.

"They're broken," my son says. "Do we have any packaging tape?"

I try not to wince as I imagine my son walking around with packaging tape on the nosepiece.

"You have insurance," I remind my son.

"I already called," my son says. "My prescription is a year old. They won't give me new glasses without a new exam."

"When did your prescription expire?"

"On December 22nd. So I'm a week too late. I have to have a new eye exam and new glasses. And I can't pay for both."

I have to think fast. My son is 25. I'm trying really hard to push him to be more independent and more responsible. I'm trying not to pay for things. Even so, I know glasses will wait a long time. And he really needs them. And then I remember that his birthday is only two weeks away.

"I will help you with glasses for your birthday. Do you want to do that?"

He thinks for a minute and then decides that he does.

"Call Cherry Creek and make an appointment," I suggest.

"I don't want to go there anymore. I'm going to Northfield."

"Call and make an appointment there. If you want me to go with you, don't make it before 11 on Saturday, because I have something else going on."

"Do you know the number?"

"No, but didn't you already talk to them?"

"Oh yeah." He pounds back upstairs to make the call.

In five minutes, he is back. "OK, I made it for ten on Saturday. And you do have to go with me to pay for the glasses."

I give up and decide it will be easier to change my plans than to have him reschedule.

Zay is not done.

"Do you think I should get contacts instead of glasses?" he asks.

And so 2019 begins.

Happy New Year.