JacketFlap connects you to the work of more than 200,000 authors, illustrators, publishers and other creators of books for Children and Young Adults. The site is updated daily with information about every book, author, illustrator, and publisher in the children's / young adult book industry. Members include published authors and illustrators, librarians, agents, editors, publicists, booksellers, publishers and fans. Join now (it's free).
Login or Register for free to create your own customized page of blog posts from your favorite blogs. You can also add blogs by clicking the "Add to MyJacketFlap" links next to the blog name in each post.
Blog Posts by Tag
In the past 30 days
Blog Posts by Date
Click days in this calendar to see posts by day or month
I'm pleased to post another installment in my ongoing "Poet to Poet" series in which one poet interviews another poet about her/his new book. This time it's Jane Yolen and Lesléa Newmanwho have very generously volunteered to participate. <!--[if gte mso 9]>Normal0falsefalsefalseEN-USJAX-NONE<![endif]--> Lesléa has a powerful, heartbreakingly beautiful new book out just now, I Carry My Mother, a work for adults that has crossover appeal for teen readers too.
Jane Yolen hardly needs an introduction, but I'm often surprised to find that people don't know about all the POETRY she has published. Her poetry for children includes these and more: - Snow, Snow: Winter Poems for Children; Once Upon Ice and Other Frozen Poems, and more weather and seasonal poetry - An Egret’s Day, Birds of a Feather, and many more wonderful bird-focused poetry books - Mother Earth, Father Sky: Poems of Our Planet, Bug Off! Creepy Crawly Poems, and many more beautiful nature-themed poetry books *Plus those very appealing "How Do Dinosaurs" books *As well as collaborations with other poets such as: - Self Portrait with Seven Fingers: A Life of Marc Chagall in Verse; Take Two! A Celebration of Twins both with J. Patrick Lewis - Grumbles from the Forest: Fairy Tales with a Twist (and a forthcoming follow up book) both with Rebecca Kai Dotlich - Switching on the Moon: A Very First Book of Bedtime Poems & Here’s a Little Poem: A Very First Book of Poetry both edited with Andrew Fusek Peter.
Her book for adults, The Radiation Sonnets, inspired Lesléa's new book, I Carry My Mother. Both focus on coping with the serious illness of a loved one-- such a tough topic-- but poetry is such good therapy.
Lesléa Newmanmay be best known for her groundbreaking book, Heather Has Two Mommies (which will be reissued this year!) and she has many other picture books to her credit, but her poetry is also very compelling and engaging. Did you read October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard? So powerful, such craftsmanship. And last year, she published Here is the World: A Year of Jewish Holidays, a fun and engaging family treasure. Jane read I Carry My Mother (and heard drafts read in the writers' group they share) and asked Lesléa several questions. Here we go. 1. Mourning poems have a fine, long, old tradition. Did you think about that when choosing to write in forms?
The idea for the book was actually inspired by your collection, THE RADIATION SONNETS. I was so moved by both the poems themselves and the concept of a poet writing a poem each night after tucking a loved one who is ill into bed. So the first section of the book, which is a fifteen-part poem called “The Deal” and consists of triolets (a French form using a strict pattern of repetition and rhyme) was written while I was taking care of my mother. Each night for two weeks, after I’d tucked her into the hospital bed we’d set up in the living room, I’d climb upstairs, retreat to my childhood bedroom, and write a poem. After she died, I picked up my pen and began the second part of the book. It made sense to continue writing in form.
2. How long did the writing of the poems take, and when it ended was it like the lighting of a yahrzeit candle?
The poems took about a year, so yes, it was like lighting a yahrzeit candle. It was bittersweet because while I was writing, I felt my mom very close to me. She wanted to be a writer, and for various reasons never pursued it. I literally heard her voice in my ear while I was writing, encouraging me, and being proud of me. When I was finished writing the book, it was like losing her all over again.
3. I know you workshopped most of the poems, which could have felt like people stepping on your deepest emotions or taking flint and knife to your mourning. How did you sidestep such a feeling?
I have been writing poems for a really long time—half a century!—and I know that I am not the best judge of them. I am always grateful for honest, kind, thoughtful feedback which helps me make the poems the best they can be. I am also very careful about choosing my readers. For example, I trust the women in my writers’ group completely. I have learned to detach from my poems emotionally and just look at what’s on the page, almost as if someone else wrote them. You have to be tough on yourself! I tell my students that the first draft of a poem and the final draft of a poem resemble each other as much as a fish resembles a bicycle. I hold myself to the same standard. I am not my poems and my poems are not me. So it wasn’t difficult to receive feedback. Though it never fails: the lines that I am the most attached to are always the ones that need to be cut. And that can be hard. But only momentarily. Then I see that the cut actually improves the poem, and once again, I am impressed with my own brilliance!
4. You pull no punches. Some of the poems are relentless and unsparing—the pukes, moans, groans, asking for a pill to die. And yet even within the tough, gritty poems, your voice of love soars. I wonder which was harder—recording the disorderliness of your mother’s dying or chronicling your own shattered heart?
I definitely felt more emotional when I wrote about my own grief. While my mother was still alive, no matter what shape she was in, she was still among us, and she was still very much herself. Her absence leaves such a large hole. It is almost unbearable, even more than two years later. So the poems in the third section of the book, such as “Looking at Her” in which I describe applying makeup on my mom while she’s lying in her coffin, and “How To Bury Your Mother” were rather excruciating. But necessary.
5. There is anger in these poems, too, as when you say, “I am an orphan and not an orphan…” or the poem that ends with the thought that your mother, who died of a cancer brought on by cigarettes, had a life that had “gone up in smoke.”
It’s interesting that you read them that way. I don’t see the poems that way. Which doesn’t mean you are reading the poems “incorrectly” as there is no right or wrong way to read a poem. I never felt anger about my mother’s illness and death. Lots and lots of sadness, and much despair, but never anger. My mother was very clear about her choices. She was also very smart. She knew the risks of smoking two packs a day for more than sixty years. When the doctor told her she had six months to live—actually he told me, and I was the one to tell her—my mother absorbed the news and then said matter-of-factly, “Everyone dies of something. This is my something.” She felt no anger. I felt no anger. Only sorrow.
6. And then there is a sprinkle of galgenhumor—gallow’s humor. My favorite of these is the Seussical: “Pills.” Were those written to lighten the book or because you needed a moment of playfulness to hold yourself together?
Humor is a tool of survival that I inherited from my mother. Actually everyone in my family uses humor—often self-depreciating humor—to get by. One day I was thinking about all the pills my mother had to take and I tried writing a poem in the voice of her pills but that didn’t work. Often when something doesn’t work on the page, something else emerges. What emerged was the poem “Pills” which of course is modeled after Dr. Seuss’ poem, “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.” The start of the poem is amusing:
One pill two pills red pills blue pills
Then the poem turns darker, though still maintains its humor:
pills so that her blood won’t clot pills so that her brain won’t rot pills to only take with food pills to change her rotten mood
And the poem ends with no humor at all:
pills that make her stomach churn pills that make her insides burn pills that make her wonder why she has no pill to help her die
In a way a poem like this is more devastating than the others because the tension between the lightness of the form and the heaviness of the content pulls at the heartstrings in a very painful way. But to answer your question, the whole book held me together, both while my mom was dying and afterwards. I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t write poems. Writing poems has gotten me through all the tough times in my life. I am exceedingly grateful that I have this outlet and that the poems often resonate and offer comfort to others.
THANK YOU, Jane and Lesléa-- for this wonderful exchange. I really feel like I'm eavesdropping on two friends talking deeply about a serious subject, but with the care and lightness of a long friendship. What a privilege! Now head on over to A Teaching Life where Tara is hosting this week's Poetry Friday gathering.
The January issue of BOOK LINKS features multicultural literature, as usual, and this time my column focuses on novels in verse with the clever title (thank you, Gillian) of “Diverse Verse.” Here’s a chunk of that piece which you’ll find in its entirety here.
With roots in ancient epic poetry, the verse novel or novel in verse, continues to grow in popularity, particularly with tween and teen readers. A narrative unfolds poem by poem, frequently with multiple points of view, plenty of dialogue, and in colloquial language. The best verse novels are built on poems that are often lovely stand-alone works of art. The novel in verse form offers the generous white space, short lines, and conversational tone that young readers who are still developing their comprehension expertise find helpful. This format is wooing many young people both to poetry and to reading in general—a promising trend.
Add to this the emergence of more diverse perspectives in the creation of verse novels with many new poets to know. In his essay for The New York Times in March 2014, “Where Are the People of Color in Children’s Books?” Walter Dean Myers, author of several novels in verse, talks about his own development as a reader and a writer. He describes the turning point for him as follows: “Then I read a story by James Baldwin: “Sonny’s Blues.” I didn’t love the story, but I was lifted by it, for it took place in Harlem, and it was a story concerned with black people like those I knew. By humanizing the people who were like me, Baldwin’s story also humanized me. The story gave me a permission that I didn’t know I needed, the permission to write about my own landscape, my own map.” This “permission” has ushered in a whole new generation of diverse verse novelists.
In the last five years, we have seen an explosion in the publication of novels in verse, particularly written by poets offering rich, diverse experiences. They’ve received Newbery recognition (e.g., The Surrender Tree), as well as Printz, Schneider, Batchelder, Coretta Scott King, and Pura Belpre distinctions. Seeking out poets that reflect parallel cultures with many diverse viewpoints enables us to show young readers both the similarities and the differences that make the human landscape so dynamic and interesting. These poets are using the language, experiences, and images of their cultures in ways that are fresh and powerful. The special succinctness of poetry is also an appealing introduction into culture for students. Sometimes powerful points about prejudice, identity, and cultural conflict can be made in a very few words. In addition, we can also rediscover our human universality in the words and feelings of poems that cross cultural boundaries. These poets speak of their lives, of their color, of their humanity, of their humor. Some write in dialect, some use rhyme, some focus on racial pride, some share emotional universals; readers of all cultural backgrounds deserve to know their names and read their works.
McCall, Guadalupe Garcia. 2011. Under the Mesquite. Lee & Low.
Nagai, Mariko. 2014. Dust of Eden. Whitman.
Nelson, Marilyn. 2014. How I Discovered Poetry. Dial.
Newman, Lesléa. 2012. October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard. Candlewick.
Ostlere, Cathy. 2011. Karma. Razorbill.
Pinkney, Andrea Davis. 2014. The Red Pencil. Little, Brown.
Sax, Aline. 2013. The War Within These Walls. Eerdmans.
Thompson, Holly. 2011. Orchards. Random House.
Thompson, Holly. 2013. The Language Inside. Delacorte.
Venkatramen, Padma. 2014. A Time to Dance. Penguin.
Woodson, Jacqueline. 2014. Brown Girl Dreaming. Penguin.
Sharing diverse novels in verse: ACTIVITIES
As we select and share these verse novels with students, we can use a variety of approaches to engage them in reading, listening to, performing, discussing, and understanding these works. Here are just a few ideas.
Guide students in discussing the experience of reading or listening to an excerpt of the book read aloud in contrast with hearing a professional audio adaptation of the book. We can help students contrast what they “see” and “hear” when reading the text with what they perceive when they listen to a professional production. Look for these audiobook adaptations as examples: The Crossover, Caminar, The Weight of Water, Salt, Words with Wings, Planet Middle School, Inside Out and Back Again, October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard,The Red Pencil, and Brown Girl Dreaming.Does the audiobook version employ music or sound effects? What do these elements add to their understanding of the book? Is there a sole narrator, two narrators, or a full cast? How does that narrator use her/his voice to suggest character, create tension, or add emotion? How does listening to the audiobook enhance the understanding of cultural details, new names, and unfamiliar words?
These diverse novels in verse can provide entrée into a discussion of culture, identity, roles, and expectations as depicted in literature. Work with students to identify cultural details in the verse novels they read that reveal specifics such as names, language/dialect, family structure, forms of address, foods, celebrations, musical references, and religious practices. Collaborate to research background information using nonfiction literature, websites, YouTube videos, local resources, community members, etc. Talk about the cross-section of similarities across cultures; their own and those they read about. Check out the discussion available on the “Official Campaign Tumblr” at the WeNeedDiverseBooks site: http://weneeddiversebooks.tumblr.com.
Lead students in creating a PowerPoint slide show presentation or simple digital trailer (using Animoto, Vimeo, or other sources) of an excerpt from a selected novel in verse. Use key words from the poem to guide the selection of pictures or images, as well as their interpretation of the scene. Then add the poem text and read the poem aloud as you view the slide show with the students. If possible, record the audio of the poem reading with a timed narration for the slide show. Consider adding relevant sound effects or a musical soundtrack as the background for a poem performance. Then play it for another class, in the library, at a public event like Open House, or air it on the school cable channel.
Novels in verse written from multiple points of view lend themselves readily to readers’ theater adaptation. Work with students to choose crucial excerpts for each character and then give them time to become familiar with their characters’ selections. Students read their selections aloud (with or without simple props) in sequence. Consider recording their reading in audio and/or video format to share with others. This is also an excellent moment for talking about “point of view,” particularly when each reader voices a different persona or character. In addition, for students who compete in UIL or other similar events or for oral interpretation practice in drama/theater class, use verse novel excerpts with monologues or dialogues for solo and duet performances.
Talk with students about how a novel in verse is different from a prose novel (e.g., the use of white space, line breaks, poetic forms) and why an author might choose this verse format. Rewrite a poem page to show it in prose form for contrast. In many cases, the authors of these novels in verse incorporate a variety of poetic forms and types within the narrative, such as haiku, free verse, list poems, sonnets, invented formats, and more. Work with students to identify the specific type or form of your chosen verse novel(s) and talk about its distinctive features. Consider how the poem’s lines or stanzas fit into the overall structure of the poem and contribute to its meaning. Talk about why the poet might choose to include this particular form. If you have an ambitious group of students, try creating a short collaborative verse novel together, with everyone contributing poems on the same agreed-upon event with multiple perspectives or a chronological, sequential story with multiple authors.
I recently noticed that Monday, January 26, has been declared Multicultural Children’s Book Day! (Has that been around awhile and I just didn’t know?) Very excited to see this development, along with the WNDB movement (We Need Diverse Books). I’ll post more next Friday, too.
Meanwhile, join the crowd celebrating Poetry Friday at Live Your Poem hosted by the lovely Irene Latham. See you there!
It's time again to forecast the new poetry to be published for children and teens in 2015. I've scoured all my usual sources (notes, emails, newsletters, publisher previews, etc.) and this is the list (so far). I know there will be more and I hope you'll alert me to any books I've missed. (For example, there have to be a LOT more novels-in-verse coming. I have very few on my list thus far.) But I'll be adding to this list all year long and even have a link to this list posted in the sidebar of this blog, so you can refer to it any time. I hope to get copies of these (and look for more at the ALA Midwinter conference at the end of the month) and post more info as they roll out. I'm already working on more installments in my "Poet to Poet" interview series and other fun surprises. Meanwhile, here we go:
Appelt, Kathi. 2015. Counting Crows. Ill. by Rob Dunlavey. New York: Simon & Schuster/Atheneum.
Argueta, Jorge. 2015. Salsa: Un poema para cocinar/ A Cooking Poem (Bilingual Cooking Poems). Ill. by Duncan Tonatiuh and Elisa Amado. Toronto, Canada: Groundwood.
Brown, Calef. 2015. To Hypnotize a Lion: Poems About Just About Everything. New York: Macmillan/Henry Holt/Ottaviano.
Bulion, Leslie. 2015. Random Body Parts. Atlanta: Peachtree.
Cannon, Nick. 2015. Neon Aliens Ate My Homework and Other Poems. New York: Scholastic.
Cleary, Brian P. 2015. Chips and Cheese and Nana’s Knees: What is Alliteration? Ill. by Martin Goneau. Brookfield, CT: Millbrook.
Cleary, Brian P. 2015. Something Sure Smells Around Here: Limericks. (A Poetry Adventure) Ill. by Andy Rowland. Brookfield, CT: Millbrook.
Engle, Margarita. 2015. Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Engle, Margarita. 2015. Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings: A Memoir. New York: Atheneum.
Engle, Margarita. 2015. Orangutanka: A Story in Poems. Ill. by Renee Kurilla. New York: Holt.
Engle, Margarita. 2015. The Sky Painter: Louis Fuertes, Bird Artist. Ill. by Aliona Bereghici. Two Lions.
Grimes, Nikki. 2015. Poems in the Attic. Ill. by Elizabeth Zunon. New York: Lee & Low.
Hopkins, Lee Bennett. Sel. 2015. Lullaby & Kisses Sweet: Poems to Love with Your Baby. Ill. by Alyssa Nassner. New York: Abrams.
Hosford, Kate. 2015. Feeding the Flying Fanellis. Ill. by Cosei Kawa. Minneapolis, MN: Lerner/Carolrhoda.
Lewis, J. Patrick and Nesbitt, Kenn. 2015. Bigfoot is Missing! San Francisco: Chronicle.
Lewis, J. Patrick. Ed. 2015. National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry. Washington DC: National Geographic.
Paschkis, Julie. 2015. Flutter & Hum: Animal Poems/ Aleteo y Zumbido: Poemas de Animales. New York: Holt.
Raczka, Bob. 2015. Presidential Misadventures: Poems that Poke Fun at the Man in Charge. Ill. by Dan Burr. New York: Roaring Brook.
Ruddell, Deborah. 2015. The Popcorn Astronauts and Other Biteable Rhymes. Ill. by Joan Rankin.
Salas, Laura Purdie. 2015. A Rock Can Be… Ill. by Violeta Dabija. Brookfield, CT: Millbrook.
Singer, Marilyn. 2015. Every Month’s a New Year. Publisher?
Sonnichsen, A. L. 2015. Red Butterfly. Ill. by Amy June Bates. New York: Simon & Shuster.
Wardlaw, Lee. 2015. Won Ton and Chopstick: A Cat and Dog Tale Told in Haiku. Ill. by Eugene Yelchin. New York: Holt.
Young, Ed. 2015. You Should Be a River: A Poem About Love. New York: Little, Brown.
Zolotow, Charlotte. 2015. Changes: A Child’s First Poetry Collection. Ill. Tiphanie Beeke. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks.
And this one is not poetry, per se, but I can't wait to see it and must include it here:
Kousky, Vern. 2015. Otto the Owl Who Loved Poetry. New York: Penguin/Paulsen.
Now head on over to Tabatha's place for the Poetry Friday gathering at The Opposite of Indifference. I have a link to all the Poetry Friday hosts (for half of 2015) in my blog sidebar too (thank you, Mary Lee), just FYI.
Image credit: I created this crazy quilt of book covers, but obviously each publisher is the image source.
What a treat to end the calendar year with a dialogue about the best poetry published for young people! I was honored to serve as a Round I judgefor the poetry category of the Cybils Award alongside Tricia Stohr-Hunt, Margaret Simon, Bridget R. Wilson, Kelly Ramsdell Fineman, and Nancy Bo Flood, led by our noble chair, Jone Rush MacCulloch. In case you’re not familiar with the Cybils, you’ll find more info here. “Cybils” stands for “Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers’ Literary Awards” and these were first awarded in 2006. Currently, there are 13 categories of awards including poetry, as well as book apps, nonfiction, easy readers, graphic novels, speculative fiction, etc. I’ve been lobbying for TWO categories of poetry awards, so that both anthologies AND novels in verse might be recognized (separately). We’ll see what happens with that idea.
Meanwhile, we were allowed to select a maximum of seven titles for our shortlist and we used every slot! Our list features these seven wonderful works of poetry:
Cybils Poetry Shortlist 2014
Water Rolls, Water Risesby Pat Mora
Dear Wandering Wildebeestby Irene Latham
Firefly Julyedited by Paul B. Janeczko
Santa Clausesby Bob Raczka
Voices from the Marchby J. Patrick Lewis and George Ella Lyon
Brown Girl Dreamingby Jacqueline Woodson
Hi, Kooby Jon Muth
And here are our blurbs on each poetry title on the shortlist.
Water Rolls, Water Rises: El Agua Rueda, El Agua Sube by Pat Mora, published by Children’s Book Press, 2014.
In a series of free verse poems in English and Spanish, our most precious natural resource takes center stage. Water rolls, rises, slithers, hums, twists, plunges, slumbers and moves across the Earth in varied forms and places. Mora’s three-line poems are filled with imagery and emotion. “Water rises/ into soft fog,/ weaves down the street, strokes and old cat.” (In Spanish: “El agua sube/ formando suave neblina/ que ondula pro la calle, acacia a un gate viejo.”) The lyrical movement of water described in verse is accompanied by Meilo So’s gorgeous mixed media illustrations highlighting 16 landscapes from Iceland, to China, to Mexico, the United States and more. Back matter includes an author’s note and information about the images in the book. A joyous, bilingual celebration, this collection brings water to life.
Dear Wandering Wildebeest: and Other Poems from the Waterhole by Irene Latham, illustrated by Anna Washam, published by Millbrook, 2014. In Dear Wandering Wildebeest, Irene Latham’s poetry bounces with the impala and peeps like the meerkat. With childlike illustrations by Anna Wadham, Irene Latham takes us on a journey to the water hole of the African grasslands. Each poem is accompanied with factual information that will inform even the oldest readers.
To All the Beasts who Enter Here, there is word play with "Saw-scaled viper/ rubs, shrugs,/ sizzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzles," form experiments in Triptych for a Thirsty Giraffe, humor of "Dung Beetle lays eggs/ in elephant poop,” and even danger, "Siren-howls/ foul the air./ Vultures stick to task." Children and adults alike will love the language and learning that wanders in this book along with the animals of the watering hole.
Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems selected by Paul B. Janeczko, illustrated by Melissa Sweet, published by Candlewick, 2014. Prolific anthologist Paul B. Janeczko brings the old and the new together in Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems. The collection of 36 poems contains poems by classic poets such as Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost. Intermingled with these are poems by well known children's poets including J. Patrick Lewis and X. J. Kennedy. Firefly July takes readers through the seasons beginning in spring and ending with winter. The poems take readers to different locations as well. Both city and country settings appear in the poems. As the subtitle states, the poems are short, but the images they evoke are almost tangible. Melissa Sweet's mixed media illustrations are colorful, playful, imaginative, and whimsical. They draw readers into the poems. Firefly July is a stellar collection that will likely be a family favorite for years to come.
Santa Clauses: Short Poems from the North Pole by Bob Raczka, illustrated by Chuck Groenink, published by Carolrhoda, 2014.
Who knew that among his many talents, Santa was an expert at writing haiku? In this collection of 25 poems using the 5-7-5 format, Raczka brings us Santa's many observations, some about his job: "Wishes blowing in/from my overfilled mailbox--/December's first storm" and others about the weather, the time of year, and Christmas preparations: "Clouds of reindeer breath/in the barn, steam rising from/my hot chocolate". A fun read all at once, or one per day in anticipation of Christmas, some of the haiku work for winter in general as well: "Just after moonrise/I meet my tall, skinny twin--/'Good evening, shadow.'"
Kelly Ramsdell Fineman Writing and Ruminating
Voices from the March: Washington, D.C., 1963 written by J. Patrick Lewis and George Ella Lyon (WordSong/Boyds Mills Press, 2014) Voices from the March is a historical novel in verse that focuses specifically on the momentous march on Washington, D.C. on August 28, 1963, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his landmark “I Have a Dream” speech. Six fictional characters (young and old, black and white) tell their tales on this historic day in cycles of linked poems alongside the perspectives of historic figures (the “Big Six”) and other march participants for a rich tapestry of multiple points of view. It’s been fifty years since the signing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, when discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin became against the law, but as recent events attest, we still have progress to make as a nation. In this powerful work, Lewis and Lyon tackle issues of racial and social justice in 70 lyrical poems that reflect the perspectives of young people and adults struggling with taking action for positive change in peaceful ways. In addition, extensive and helpful back matter includes a guide to the fictional and historical voices, bibliography, index, and list of websites and related books.
Brown Girl Dreaming written by Jacqueline Woodson, published by Penguin Group, Nancy Paulson Books, 2014. Brown Girl Dreaming is many things in one rich collection – memoir, history, biography – and lyrical, exquisite poetry. Events of the author’s personal and family history provide the framework for a series of individual poems. Woven throughout are key events of the Civil Rights journey and also personal effects of racism and discrimination. In this beautiful and powerful tapestry of verse, one hears the poignant reflections of Jacqueline Woodson, “one of today’s finest writers,” who kept on dreaming through tough times and good times and who keeps on writing in “mesmerizing verse.”
Nancy Bo Flood The Pirate Tree; Social Justice and Children's Literature
Hi Koo!: A Year of Seasons by Jon J Muth, published by Scholastic, 2014.
Inspired by his twins, Muth wrote a haiku book that doesn't followe the often used three line, 5-7-5 syllable form. This made this title a stand out among other haiku books. Readers take a seasonal journey from summer through spring by Koo the panda. (Thus the pun in the title: Hi Koo!) Beginning with a simple observation about the wind: found!/ in my Coat pocket a missing button/ the wind's surprise, to the last haiku: becoming quiet/ Zero sound/ only breath, Muth offers to young readers a new way to experience haiku.
The watercolor and ink drawings complement the text. The subtle alphabet theme adds another dimension to the book. The author's note at the book's beginning sets the tone: "...haiku is like an instant captured in words--using sensory images. At its best, a haiku embodies a moment of emotion that reminds us that our own human nature is not separate from all of nature." This book of poetry will help readers to slow down to appreciate the small moments of nature and daily happenings.
Anyone can nominate a book for consideration and this year there were 36 poetry titles nominated. Here’s that list, fyi:
Cybils Nominated Poetry Books 2014
2014 Rattle Young Poets Anthology
Brown, Margaret Wise. Goodnight Songs: Illus. by 12 Award-Winning Picture Book Artists
Bryan, Ashley. Ashley Bryan's Puppets: Making Something from Everything
Bunting, Eve. P is for Pirate: A Pirate Alphabet
Cleary, Brian P. If It Rains Pancakes: Haiku and Lantern Poems
Cleary, Brian P. Ode to a Commode: Concrete Poems
Elliott, David. On the Wing
Florian, Douglas. Poem Depot: Aisles of Smiles
Frank, John. Lend a Hand: Poems About Giving
Graham, Joan Bransfield. The Poem That Will Not End
Heppermann, Christine. Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty
Hoberman, Mary Ann. You Read to Me, I'll Read to You: Very Short Tall Tales to Read Together
Hopkins, Lee Bennett. Manger
Janeczko, Paul B. Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems
Jiang, Emily. Summoning the Phoenix: Poems and Prose @ Chinese Musical Instruments
Latham, Irene. Dear Wandering Wildebeest: And Other Poems from the Water Hole
Lewis, J. Patrick and Lyon, George Ella. Voices from the March on Washington
Lewis, J. Patrick. Everything is a Poem: The Best of J. Patrick Lewis
Lewis, J. Patrick. Harlem Hellfighters
Lewis, J. Patrick. Poem-mobiles: Crazy Car Poems
Lynn, Danika. Imagination Stew
McMahon, Jeff. Swimming to the Moon / A Collection of Rhymes Without Reason
Michelson, Richard. S is for Sea Glass: A Beach Alphabet
Mora, Pat. Water Rolls, Water Rises Water Rolls, Water Rises: El agua rueda, el agua sube
Muth, Jon J. Hi, Koo!: A Year of Seasons
Nesbitt, Kenn. The Biggest Burp Ever: Funny Poems for Kids
Oliver, Lin. Little Poems for Tiny Ears
Raczka, Bob. Santa Clauses: Short Poems from the North Pole
Radunsky, Vladimir. Alphabetabum: An Album of Rare Photographs & Medium Verses
Schmidt, Annie M. G. A Pond Full of Ink
Singer, Marilyn. Rutherford B., Who Was He?: Poems About Our Presidents
Swaim, Jessica. Classic Poetry for Dogs: Why Do I Chase Thee
Thomas, J. C. Ninja Mouse: Haiku
Wilson, Karma. Outside the Box: A Book of Poems
Woodson, Jacqueline. Brown Girl Dreaming
Yolen, Jane. Sister Fox's Field Guide to the Writing Life
Next, a group of Round 2 judges will consider our shortlist of seven titles and select ONE for the final award. That will be announced on Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14, 2015. I’ll be sure to post that info here then, too.
Meanwhile, congratulationsto the poets, illustrators, editors, and publishers who produced these wonderful, diverse works of poetry— from haiku to memoir to novels in verse, with a historical focus, ecological theme, santa-center, seasonal slant, or just plain fun—do not miss these poetry gems!
And who knows what the new year will bring? I look forward to posting my 2015 “sneak peek” list of forthcoming poetry books very soon!
Meanwhile, head on over to my fellow Cybils Poetry Judge, Tricia's place at Miss Rumphius Effect for the first Poetry Friday gathering of the new year.
As the year ends, I like to revisit the poetry for young people that has been published this year and celebrate my favorites. It's always great to see new poets emerge (like Kwame Alexander, Skila Brown, and Mariko Nagai) and other established authors take interesting risks (like the haiku novel in verse of Chris Crowe, Ashley Bryan's truly creative puppets plus poems, Jacqueline Woodson's moving memoir, and Pat Lewis's collaboration with George Ella Lyon). The novel in verse continues to be a powerful form (check out The Crossover, Caminar, Death Coming Up the Hill, Silver People, Rhyme Schemer, Voices from the March, Dust of Eden, Brown Girl Dreaming), but a few lovely anthologies have been published too (Manger, Firefly July, and if I may be so bold, The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science which features new poems by 78 poets). The illustrations are also compelling and appealing in many of this year's poetry featuring the art of Ashley Bryan, Douglas Florian, Melissa Sweet, Meilo So, Jon Muth, and Rick Allen. And flying under my radar (till the end of the year), is a wonderful collection of poetry by Haitian children illustrated with portraits by Rogé. Such a range of voices, subjects, forms, and styles-- wonderful for sharing with children and teens of all ages. Check 'em out!
Alexander, Kwame. 2014. The Crossover.Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
I posted this information on Twitter the moment it was announced and followed up on Facebook, but forgot that I should also feature the news on my blog—oh the woes of managing multiple social media platforms! So, in case you haven’t heard, it was announced at the recent conference of the National Council of Teachers of English that Marilyn Singer is the next recipient of the NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children.
The NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children This award for poetry for children is given by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) every two years to a poet for her or his entire body of work in writing poetry for children. NCTE established its Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children in 1977 to honor a living American poet for his or her lifetime achievement in works for children aged three to thirteen years. The award was given annually until 1982, at which time it was decided that the award would be given every three years. In 2008 the Poetry Committee updated the criteria and changed the time frame to every other year. The National Council of Teachers of English strives to recognize and foster excellence in children’s poetry by encouraging its publication and by exploring ways to acquaint teachers and children with poetry through such means as publications, programs, and displays. As one means of accomplishing this goal, NCTE established its Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children to honor a poet for his or her aggregate work. Nearly twenty leading poets have since been recognized. Be sure to check out Renee La Tulippe's fantastic "Spotlight on NCTE Poets" serieshere. Each recipient has met the following criteria:
NCTE Poetry Award Criteria Literary merit (art and craft of aggregate work) • Imagination • Authenticity of voice • Evidence of a strong persona • Universality; timelessness Poet’s contributions • Aggregate work • Evident potential for growth and evolution in terms of craft • Excellence Evolution of the poet’s work • Technical and artistic development as evidenced in the poetry • Evidence of risk, change, and artistic stamina • Evidence of different styles and modes of expression Appeal to children • Evidence of childlike quality; yet poem’s potential for stirring fresh insights and feelings should be apparent. Although the appeal to children of a poet’s work is an important consideration, the art and craft must be the primary criterion for evaluation.
Recipients of the NCTE Poetry Award
2015 Marilyn Singer 2013 Joyce Sidman 2011 J. Patrick Lewis 2009 Lee Bennett Hopkins 2006 Nikki Grimes 2003 Mary Ann Hoberman 2000 X. J. Kennedy 1997 Eloise Greenfield 1994 Barbara Esbensen 1991 Valerie Worth 1988 Arnold Adoff 1985 Lilian Moore 1982 John Ciardi 1981 Eve Merriam 1980 Myra Cohn Livingston 1979 Karla Kuskin 1978 Aileen Fisher 1977 David McCord
About Marilyn Singer and her poetry In my book, Poetry People: A Practical Guide to Children’s Poets, I featured this info about Marilyn and her work (which I have updated a bit here):
Marilyn Singer was born on October 3, 1948, in New York and grew up and went to college there, too. She started out as a high school English teacher but soon moved to writing full time. While visiting the Brooklyn Botanic Garden one day, she began to write about insect characters that she had created when she was eight years old. With her husband’s encouragement, she joined a writer’s critique group and soon published her first book, The Dog Who Insisted He Wasn’t (Dutton 1976). Now a prolific author of nearly 100 children’s books, Singer has created poetry, fairly tales, picture books, novels, mysteries and nonfiction on a variety of topics. Her work has been recognized as an IRA Children’s Choice book, ALA Best Book for Young Adults, NCTE Notable Trade Book in Language Arts, Reading Rainbow selection, New York Times Best Children's Book, School Library Journal Best Book, etc.
Singer enjoys animals, nature, hiking, the theater, independent and avant-garde films, tap dancing, singing, Japanese flower arranging, meditation, gardening, and computer adventure games. Her diverse and far-ranging interests are often reflected in the rich variety of her writing.
From her first book about a beloved subject, dogs, she has created several others children enjoy. Marilyn Singer’s work may be best characterized by its diversity, from the distinctive poetic formats found in the poems for each month in Turtle in July to her creation of the original, ingenious “reverso” poem showcased in Mirror, Mirror as well as Follow, Follow (both available as excellent audiobooks, too!). Her wide-ranging topics include dogs, animals, science, monsters, Presidents, and nonsense. In fact, pairing her poetry with her nonfiction on a similar topic can be an interesting way to show children how one writer can try different writing styles. Share the poems from It’s Hard To Read A Map With A Beagle On Your Lap (Holt 1993) or Every Day's a Dog's Day: A Year in Poems (Dial 2012) alongside the informative A Dog's Gotta Do What a Dog's Gotta Do: Dogs at Work (Holt 2000) or How to Talk to Your Dog (HarperTrophy 2003) by Jean Craighead George.
Nature is the dominant theme in her poetry collections, Turtle in July (Macmillan 1989) and Fireflies at Midnight (Atheneum 2003)—which make an excellent “text set” for teaching. In these two parallel works, Singer mimics the rhythms and sounds of the animals she portrays. Each poem begs to be read aloud, perhaps with simple motions or a costume cap portraying the frog, the robin, the turtle, etc. I would also add more recent works to this category including A Full Moon is Rising (Lee & Low, 2011) and A Strange Place to Call Home: The World’s Most Dangerous Habitats and the Animals That Call Them Home, among others.
Marilyn Singer has authored three other poetry collections that make a powerful environmental (text) set. Each is a lovely narrow size (9 X 5) illustrated with elegant minimalist India ink paintings on rice paper by Meilo So.
*Footprints on the Roof: Poems About the Earth (Knopf 2002) *How to Cross a Pond: Poems About Water (Knopf 2003) *Central Heating: Poems About Fire and Warmth (Knopf 2005) These free verse poems are gems of description and imagery and may inspire young writers to look for the elements of earth, water, and fire that surround them in their everyday lives. Partner this set with Joan Bransfield Graham’s books of concrete poetry, Splish Splash (Houghton Mifflin 2001) and Flicker Flash (Houghton Mifflin 2003) to inspire children to create their own visual representations of earth, water, or fire.
For humor and nonsense, seek out Singer’s poetry books, Creature Carnival (Hyperion, 2004) and its companion book, Monster Museum (Hyperion, 2001). Children may be surprised to find that poems can be about Godzilla, vampires, Bigfoot and other creepy characters. Accompanied by gleefully gruesome cartoon illustrations by Gus Grimly, these fun poems are full of wordplay and absurdity. Don’t be surprised if these collections inspire imitations. Have a set of Halloween “monster” masks handy for children to wear during the “creature feature” read aloud. Conclude with poems from Douglas Florian’s Monster Motel (Harcourt 1993) or Bobbi Katz’s Monsterologist (Sterling, 2009).
Family is the focus for two other Marilyn Singer collections, In My Tent (Macmillan, 1992) and Family Reunion (Atheneum 1994). These poems about family campouts and reunions show children that even common everyday life experiences can also be the subject of poetry. They can also be fun for reading aloud during family programs and events. Pair them with Kristine O’Connell George’s collection, Toasting Marshmallows: Camping Poems (Clarion 2001) or Nikki Grimes’ Hopscotch Love: A Family Treasury of Love Poems (Lothrop, Lee & Shepard 1999). Plan a poetry picnic for sharing these and other family poems outside spread out on a tablecloth or under a big tent.
Because Singer is so prolific, it is possible to pair many of her works (poem book and poem book, poetry with nonfiction, poetry and fiction) for added impact. Children can see how an author’s ideas spill over beyond a single book and in many different directions. Whether reading her “geography” poems in Monday on the Mississippi (Holt 2005) or her poems from the perspectives of two young girls, All We Needed to Say: Poems About School from Tanya and Sophie (Atheneum 1996), an in-depth study of one featured poet can be helpful for aspiring young writers. Simply through examining Marilyn Singer’s body of work, children can begin to see how a poet’s thinking takes shape.
The Poetry of Marilyn Singer Here’s a nearly complete list of all of Marilyn’s poetry for young people. (Please let me know if I have missed any.)
Singer, Marilyn. 1976. The Dog Who Insisted He Wasn’t. New York: Dutton.
Singer, Marilyn. 1989. Turtle in July. New York: Macmillan.
Singer, Marilyn. 1992. In My Tent. New York: Macmillan.
Singer, Marilyn. 1993. It’s Hard to Read a Map with a Beagle on Your Lap. New York: Holt.
Singer, Marilyn. 1994. Family Reunion. New York: Atheneum.
Singer, Marilyn. 1996. All We Needed to Say: Poems about School from Tanya and Sophie. New York: Atheneum.
Singer, Marilyn. 2000. A Dog’s Gotta Do What a Dog’s Gotta Do: Dogs at Work. New York: Holt.
Singer, Marilyn. 2001. Monster Museum. New York: Hyperion.
Singer, Marilyn. 2002. Footprints on the Roof: Poems about the Earth. New York: Knopf.
Singer, Marilyn. 2003. Fireflies at Midnight. New York: Atheneum.
Singer, Marilyn. 2003. How to Cross a Pond: Poems about Water. New York: Knopf.
Singer, Marilyn. 2004. Creature Carnival. New York: Hyperion.
Singer, Marilyn. 2005. Central Heating: Poems about Fire and Warmth. New York: Knopf.
Singer, Marilyn. 2005. Monday on the Mississippi. New York: Henry Holt.
Singer, Marilyn. 2008. First Food Fight This Fall. New York: Sterling.
Singer, Marilyn. 2008. Shoe Bop! New York: Dutton.
Singer, Marilyn. 2010. Mirror, Mirror. New York: Dutton.
Singer, Marilyn. 2011. A Full Moon is Rising. New York: Lee & Low.
Singer, Marilyn. 2011. A Stick Is an Excellent Thing. New York: Clarion.
Singer, Marilyn. 2011. Twosomes: Love Poems from the Animal Kingdom. New York: Knopf.
Singer, Marilyn. 2012. A Strange Place to Call Home: The World’s Most Dangerous Habitats and the Animals That Call Them Home. San Francisco: Chronicle.
Singer, Marilyn. 2012. The Boy Who Cried Alien. New York: Hyperion.
Singer, Marilyn. 2012. The Superheroes Employment Agency. New York: Clarion.
Singer, Marilyn, 2012. Every Day's a Dog's Day: A Year in Poems. New York: Dial.
Singer, Marilyn. 2013. Follow, Follow: A Book of Reverso Poems. New York: Penguin.
Singer, Marilyn. 2013. Rutherford B., Who Was He?: Poems About Our Presidents. New York: Disney-Hyperion.
In addition, many of Marilyn’s poems are featured in anthologies of poetry. I’m so proud to say her lovely poems are part of our Poetry Friday Anthologyseries, too. Plus, if all that weren’t enough, Marilyn is also a tremendous advocate for poetry for young people and initiated the Poetry Blast (along with Barbara Genco)featuring poets reading their works aloud at the annual conference of the American Library Association more than a dozen years ago. It was that event that inspired me to launch a parallel event featuring poets reading their poetry in the Poetry Round Up at the annual conference of the Texas Library Association that has now featured more than 50 poets who write for young people. The ripples of her influence are far and wide and her work continues to touch readers of all ages!
Now head on over to These 4 Corners where Paul is hosting this week's Poetry Friday this week!
At my house tomorrow it is Nicklaus Day (St. Nicholas Day) and we celebrate with stockings and treats—a fun preview of the Christmas celebrations to come. It’s a perfect moment to celebrate a new book from Lee Bennett Hopkins, Manger (Eerdmans, 2014). Beginning with gorgeous endpapers, we journey through fifteen beautiful double-page spreads each featuring a lyrical poem from an animal’s perspective about the arrival of Jesus as a baby in the manger. Beautiful pictures, beautiful poetry, beautiful moments to savor. And it’s not just an artful, contemplative book, it’s also very child-friendly, perfect for sharing with a little one on your lap or with a group of kids sitting around you on the floor.
As a gift to you, here is my free mini-guide for Manger for sharing this special book with the children in your life. 1. There are fourteen different animals presented in this book:
endpapers featuring the animal characters +
This just begs for dramatic interpretation, beginning with making, finding (online), and recording animal noises and pictures. Or gather or create simple puppets or masks for each of these creatures (with paper bags or paper plates) to use as you read each animal poem aloud. You can also find coloring pages here or use the animals featured on the end pages of the book. Then read each poem aloud using the animal sounds to start or end the reading—inviting the kids to make those sounds with you. Use your animal puppets or mask to “tell” the poem, too. Then display the animal pages or puppets along with the book. (For younger children, you may also have to explain what a "manger" is and what it looks like.)
final poem/excerpt in the book
Older children may enjoy creating their own poems that add animals to this mix. What other animals might be present in this barn setting? Hint: there are a few animals pictured in the endpapers and in the illustrations that are NOT represented with their own poems. See if the kids can figure out which ones (e.g., rabbit) and challenge them to create a poem for that animal. How might each of those animals react to a baby’s birth or to this special night? What unique animal attributes might be incorporated into the poem? Point out to your young writers that some of the poems in Manger rhyme and some do not, so they can experiment with creating their poems rhyming or free verse. In addition, note that the final poem in the book is an excerpt from a traditional Christmas carol. So, that’s another approach to try—looking at familiar Christmas songs that include animals and choosing a stanza or stanzas as stand-alone poems.
Finally, link this book with others that feature Christmas poetry, expecially Mary’s Song, also by Lee Bennett Hopkins. Here’s a sampling of poetry books about Christmas from my book, The Poetry Teacher’s Book of Lists:
Aigner-Clark, Julie. 2001. Baby Santa’s Christmas Joy! A Celebration of the Holiday Spirit in Poetry, Photography, and Music. New York: Hyperion.
Alarcón, Francisco X. 2001. Iguanas in the Snow and Other Winter Poems/ Iguanas en la Nieve y Otros Poemas de Invierno. San Francisco, CA: Children’s Book Press.
Angelou, Maya. 2008. Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem. New York: Schwartz & Wade.
Bennett, Jill. 2003. Poems for Christmas. New York: Scholastic.
Bronson, Linda. 2002. Sleigh Bells and Snowflakes: A Celebration of Christmas. New York: Henry Holt.
Bunting, Eve and Leonid Gore. 2000. Who was Born this Special Day? New York: Atheneum.
Causley, Charles. 2000. Bring in the Holly. London: Frances Lincoln.
INTERVIEW Lee was also kind enough to answer a few questions for me. He also shared the photo here and notes: "This photo is with my younger brother, Donald, visiting Santa Claus in a Newark, NJ department store. The photo is reproduced in LEE BENNETT HOPKINS: A CHILDREN'S POET by Amy Strong (Franklin Watts, 2003)."
What are some of your most vivid memories of this holiday from your childhood?
My younger sister, younger brother and I grew up with a single-parent mother after my father left us. We never had much money but we saved to buy each other what gifts we could afford. I remember one year I saved to buy my mother a musical powder box from Woolworth's five-and-ten-cent store-- our Tiffany's! I brought it home. Mother was scrubbing the floor. I almost slipped. As I caught myself the music began to tinkle through the bag. I wanted to die. I so wanted this to be the biggest surprise for her. Mother pretended she didn't hear it, but I knew she did. Funny -- a powder box memory-- a gift to a hard-working woman who did what she could to make us happy.
Did any of these memories inform the creation of this book (Manger)? How?
We always had a manger at Christmas. Shockingly we had an over-abundance of manger figures! At one time Mama worked at Woolworth's in Newark, NJ. I describe the scene in my first novel, Mama (Boyds Mills Press) and how so many figures appeared including eighteen Wise Men. In essence I was a young fence.
What are your favorite Christmas holiday traditions that you continue today?
Christmas present has become lush and love-filled. Our house is decorated to the hilt. It is a time when we hold a large gala, a special evening with family and friends each December. Songs are sung, poems are shared, and prose about Christmas is read. This year Manger will be read; afterwards "Away in a Manger" will be sung by all.
What do you wish for Christmas poetry future? There is so much traditional Christmas poetry: words in favorite songs; words in favorite hymns. It is a time for "Sleigh Bells," hope for a "White Christmas," and warm thoughts of a "Silent Night,' an "O Holy Night." This year, many children will be introduced to new poetry via Manger by some of our top poets writing today including Marilyn Nelson, X. J. Kennedy and Joan Bransfield Graham. A special guest will be Jude Mandell who will read her poem "Curious Cat" from the book. With the publication of Mary’s Song and Manger, you have quite a lovely duo. Are there any plans for more poetry focused on the nativity or Christmas?
I hope so. I am working on a manuscript about the Magi as well as more Christmas poetry presents for the future.
Merry Christmas to all of you who celebrate this special time. And happy holidays to everyone enjoying this season of giving.
Now join the rest of the Poetry Friday crew over at Anastasia's place. See you there!
Just a few weeks ago, I was at the YALSA Symposium in Austin TX-- such a great event. I was lucky to gather a fantastic panel of poets and authors (Janet Wong, KA Holt, Michael Salinger, Sara Holbrook, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, and Jacqueline Woodson) all talking about their work and reading and performing excerpts. I was able to videotape a few nuggets to share with you here. Enjoy!
K A (Kari) Holt talking about her new novel in verse, Rhyme Schemer
Jacqueline Woodson reads an excerpt from Brown Girl Dreaming
Guadalupe Garcia McCall shares her poem, "The Cafe," from The Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School.
Sara Holbrook and Michael Salinger read from More Than Friends (by Sara Holbrook and Allan Wolf) [an excerpt]
There will be another YALSA Symposium next year and it will be held in Portland, OR in 2015. The focus will expand to include literature, programming AND youth services. Should be fun! Add a Comment
Last week I was at the NCTE conference (so fun!) presenting alongside Janet Wong and Eileen and Jerry Spinelli on the topic of kindness. Here's a tiny glimpse of our session-- a video of Eileen reading her original poem, "Get a Life" from The Poetry Friday Anthology (K-5).It's perfect for this crazy Black Friday, too.
And here is the text of the poem: Get a Life by Eileen Spinelli There are books to read. And birds to feed. And awesome facts for learning. There are yards to weed. And friends in need. And dreams to set us yearning. There are trails to hike. And films to like. And stories made for swapping. What I mean to say in this poem today is there’s more to life than shopping! And here are the Take 5! activitiesthat accompany this poem: 1. Prior to sharing the poem, jot numbers on a piece of paper or list on the board (1, 2, 3, etc.) as if you are making a to-do list. Then read the poem aloud, pausing for a moment after each line.
2. Share the poem again, inviting students to join in on the final two lines (isthere’s more to life than / shopping!) while you read the rest aloud.
3. For discussion: What are some of your favorite activities to do during holiday breaks?
4. Lead students in considering how repeating key words and phrases, particularly at the beginning of each line (There are; And), helps build a poem and can add to the distinctive rhythm of the lines. Then read the poem out loud together again, listening for the patterns. 5. Link this poem with another thoughtful poem by Eileen Spinelli, “Today” (4th Grade, Week 29, page 215 in The Poetry Friday Anthology).Add a Comment
While attending the NCTE conference, I’ll also be participating in the annual “Master Class” coordinated by the Children’s Literature Assembly of NCTE (such a great organization). The focus is poetry across the curriculum and I’m responsible for the social studies area. I’ll be sharing sample poems, teaching tips, and activity suggestions. Sharing poetry in the context of social studies is a natural given the topics that make up this content area. The National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) Curriculum Standards quickly reveal the poem connection possibilities with Thematic Strands that focus on culture, people, places, identity, government, technology, society, and civic ideals.Here are the bare bones of my presentation. (We were charged to come up with only 5 examples in each category-- because I would have shared way more than 5, if possible!)
CLA Master Class: Poetry Across the Curriculum
SOCIAL STUDIES AND POETRY
5 GREAT SOCIAL STUDIES POETRY BOOKS
Corcoran, Jill. Ed. 2012. Dare to Dream… Change the World. San Diego, CA: Kane Miller.
Engle, Margarita. 2008. The Surrender Tree. New York: Holt.
Hopkins, Lee Bennett. 2008. America at War. New York: McElderry.
Myers, Walter Dean. 2011. We are America; A Tribute from the Heart. Ill. by Christopher Myers. New York: HarperCollins.
Singer, Marilyn. 2013. Rutherford B., Who Was He?: Poems About Our Presidents. New York: Disney-Hyperion.
5 SOCIAL STUDIES-TEACHING TIPS
Talk about “Today’s Document” at the National Archives (at Archives.gov).
Create “found” poetry from news articles.
Examine facsimiles of primary source documents (at Jackdaw.com).
Use Google Maps to locate places you’re reading about.
Look for “Ten Poetry Collections for Social Studies Not to Be Missed” in Poetry Aloud Here (Vardell, 2014) as well as lists of poetry collections organized by topics such as Presidents’ Day, women’s history, U.S. history, world history, war and peace, plus multicultural and international poetry booklists in The Poetry Teacher’s Book of Lists(Vardell, 2012).
Others will be presenting parallel examples in the areas of math, science, arts, games & sports.
Learn more about the Children’s Literature Assembly here.
PLUS: Of course I’m absolutely thrilled that our book for middle school, The Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School, was selected as a Poetry Notable by the NCTE Excellence in Poetry Committee. Here’s that link.
There will also be a BUNCH of poets in attendance at the conference and I hope to cross paths with many of them including: Irene Latham, Laura Purdie Salas, Mary Lee Hahn, Jacqueline Jules, Sara Holbrook, Michael Salinger, Heidi Mordhorst, J Pat Lewis, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, Georgia Heard, Rebecca Dotlich, Paul B Janeczko, Pat Mora, Linda Kulp, Jane Yolen, Heidi Stemple, Leslie Bulion, Rene Saldana, Eileen Spinelli, Joseph Bruchac, and George Ella Lyon. What fun, right?! I hope to share photos afterward.
And finally, they’ll be announcing the next winner of the NCTE Poetry Award at the conference too! Stay tuned.
I’m off to the annual conference of the National Council of Teachers of English and looking forward to presenting (twice!). My first session is “Sharing Random Books of Kindness: The Power of Story” alongside Eileen Spinelli, Jerry Spinelli, and Janet Wong.
We’ll be talking about all kinds of books related to the theme of kindness—including poetry, of course. Here are some of the resources I’ve gathered on our topic.
PROFESSIONAL RESOURCE BOOKS
Ferrucci, Piero. 2007. The Power of Kindness: The Unexpected Benefits of Leading a Compassionate Life. Tarcher.
Goldman, Carrie. 2012. Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear. HarperOne.
Laminack, Lester and Wadsworth, Reba. 2012. Bullying Hurts: Teaching Kindness Through Read Alouds and Guided Conversations. Heinemann.
Mah, Ronald. 2013. Getting Beyond Bullying and Exclusion, PreK-5: Empowering Children in Inclusive Classrooms. Skyhorse Publishing.
Pearson, Ferial. 2014. Secret Kindness Agents: How Small Acts of Kindness Really Can Change the World. WriteLife.
Rice, Judith Ann. 2013. The Kindness Curriculum: Stop Bullying Before It Starts. Redleaf Press.
Rue, Nancy. 2014. So Not Okay: An Honest Look at Bullying from the Bystander (Mean Girl Makeover series). Nelson.
And there are some excellent web resources on teaching kindness and compassion too.
I’ll also be participating in the annual “Master Class” coordinated by the Children’s Literature Assembly of NCTE (such a great organization). That session is focused entirely on poetry! I'll post more details about that tomorrow.
Our program title: Keepin’ it Real: Sharing Poetry with Tweens and Teens
Session Description: What is true and relevant in providing meaningful connections between students and poetry? As they are poised between childhood and adulthood, we seek out poems that are fresh and authentic, along with approaches that are engaging and interactive. This session will feature a diverse panel of published poets talking about their poetry, their process, and their inspiration, as well as the educator perspective on sharing poetry using the latest media and technology for promoting involvement and participation.
Of course we’ll be featuring our middle school anthology of poetry, The Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School, with 110 poems by 71 poets for grades 6, 7, and 8, along with “Take 5” activities for every poem. We're so proud that this book was selected as a Poetry Notable book by NCTE. Here are a few tips from the book:
Poem Read-Aloud Strategies
Take the lead, be the first to read the poem, and don’t be afraid to “ham it up.” Take the pressure off students by showing how the poem sounds, how words should be pronounced, how the meaning and emotion might be conveyed. Don’t ask them to do anything you wouldn’t do yourself.
Useprops whenever possible to make a concrete connection to the poem, focus attention, and add a bit of fun. Choose something suggested by the poem. It’s even worth planning ahead to have a good prop ready beforehand. Students can then use the props too as they volunteer to join in on reading the poem, taking the focus off of them and giving the audience something specific to look at while listening—the poetry prop.
Try usingmedia to add another dimension to the poetry experience. Look for digital images or videos relevant to the poem to display without sound as a backdrop while reading the poem aloud, or find music or sound effects suggested by the poem to underscore the meaning or mood as you read the poem aloud.
Offer choices as you invite students to join in on reading the poem aloud with you. They can choose a favorite line to chime in on or volunteer to read a line or stanza of their choice or ask a friend to join them in reading a portion aloud. The more say they have about how they participate in the poem reading, the more eager and comfortable they will be about volunteering.
Make connections between the poems and their lives and experiences, between one poem and another, and between poems and other genres like nonfiction, short stories, newspaper articles, and songs). We provide example questions and poem connections for each poem, but once you have established that pattern, be open to the connections the students themselves make first.
We also connect poetry with a lot of technology—so appealing to young readers. Here are a few of my favorite websites that we use in the Take 5 activities to introduce or extend the poems.
Winter has blown in this week, even in Texas, and the temperatures have dropped significantly. What happens to the bees in temperatures like these? Ask Joyce Sidman! Her new book, Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold was just published and it’s a beautiful look at how a variety of plants and animals of the north cope with winter weather. If you’re familiar with Joyce’s work, this new book is parallel to three of her others that examine creatures in a designated ecosystem—through lyrical poetry, informative prose paragraphs, and evocative illustrations:
Sidman, Joyce. 2005. Song of the Water Boatman and Other Pond Poems. Ill. By Beckie Prange. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Sidman, Joyce. 2006. Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow. Ill. by Beth Krommes. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Sidman, Joyce. 2010. Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night. Ill. by Rick Allen. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
And now with FOUR STARRED REVIEWS already:
Sidman, Joyce. 2014. Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold. Ill. by Rick Allen. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
I was lucky enough to create a readers’ guide for this book that you’ll find here (along with Common Core skill connections).
Just to whet your appetite, here are a few excerpts from the guide.
Set the stage
Before exploring this book, talk with students about winter and how they experience this season. Ask: Is it cold where we live? Is there snow or ice? Or is it a warm place with mild weather? What animals and insects do you notice in your communities and neighborhoods and what do those creatures do during the winter? Explain that in Winter Bees, the poet Joyce Sidman explores what winter is like for a dozen plants and animals of the north through poetry and prose paragraphs.
Notice that the illustrator Rick Allen has featured the red fox in nearly all of the illustrations, even when other animals and plants are the focus of the poem. Can you spot the fox? Rick Allen uses prints to create the art for these illustrations, particularly linoleum cuts and wood engravings. Students may enjoy trying their own printmaking with simple potato prints (carving simple designs into a half potato with adult supervision) or cardboard prints (cutting corrugated cardboard into simple shapes). Or even simpler—try making paper snowflakes with blank white paper folded multiple times and then snipped and shaped with scissors.
Students can work with a partner or in a small group to create a “found” poem about a winter animal. They can choose a favorite animal from Winter Bees, read the prose paragraph provided, and then choose their favorite words or phrases from the paragraph and rearrange them into a “found” poem of their own. Remind students that poems don’t have to rhyme.
Make a list of the dozen plants and animals featured in this book. Students can then investigate which of these are found in their own communities and what winter is like for them in their region. Add animals that are unique to your own area and research images of them at sources like Animals.NationalGeographic.com or videos on YouTube. Challenge students to research and write their own nonfiction prose paragraphs about a selected plant or animal in winter similar to those Sidman provides in Winter Bees.
And there are discussion questions for each individual poem too. Here are a few examples.
1. “Snake’s Lullaby”
What is a lullaby? Why might this poem be titled a “lullaby”? Notice how the poet uses rhyme and rhythm to suggest the song-like qualities of a lullaby. Why is it important for snakes to sleep in winter?
2.“Big Brown Moose”
In this persona poem, the poet is writing as if she were the moose. How do you know that? Which lines and words signal that point of view? Notice how she also coins new words (like “slumberous”) to describe the moose. What might “slumberous” mean in this context?
Why do you think this whole book of poetry is titled after this particular poem? What do you learn about bees in winter here? Why is that so central to this whole book?
What animals live “under ice” in this poem? Why is the poem not named after them in this case? In this poem, the poet repeats from one stanza to the next. Can you find each repeated line (beginning with “made of ripped chips and thrashing twigs”)? Use the glossary to help you understand the pantoum form, if needed.
5.“What Do the Trees Know?”
Why did the poet include this poem about trees, instead of featuring another animal? What roles do trees play in the animal world? Why does the poet title this poem with a question? Notice that the poet repeats that title question line twice in the poem. Why do you think she does that?
Which is your favorite animal depicted in this book? Which is your favorite poem? Why? Are these the same (poem+animal) or different? What did you learn about animals in winter that especially surprised you? What do you like to do in winter to help you “survive” and thrive during this season?
I write a regular column on poetry for Book Links magazine and every now and then they double-up and feature it in Booklist Online, too. This is one of those times! My November article, "Classroom Connections: Exploring Science with Poetry" appears in the print issue of Book Links and online at Booklist here.
It starts off:
As literacy expert Bernice Cullinan (1995) reminds us, “Scientists observe with a clear eye, record their observations in precise, descriptive language, and craft their expressions. Poets do the same thing.” Maximizing that reciprocal relationship between how scientists observe and describe the world and how poets do so presents a unique opportunity for us as we work with children. But where do we begin? Select a science-themed poem, read it aloud, then work with students to identify all the sensory words and descriptions (sights, sounds, smells, textures, tastes). Then select a news article on the same science topic and identify the descriptors in that piece. Work together to create a simple Venn diagram showing how poets and scientists overlap in their use of language to record and report their observations. Sandy Buczynski and Kristin Fontichiaro suggest, “For the many educators who feel comfortable using literature in the classroom but are timid about their science expertise, using books to build a bridge to science can yield impressive results for teaching and learning” (2013). How can you make science more accessible and "friendly"? Try a short science poem, of course!
It then includes an annotated list of poetry for life science and earth science.Here's the short version of the list with a few additional titles:
Blackaby, Susan. Nest, Nook & Cranny
Bulion, Leslie. At the Sea Floor Café: Odd Ocean Critter Poems
Bulion, Leslie. Hey There, Stink Bug!
Coombs, Kate. Water Sings Blue: Ocean Poems
Florian, Douglas. Dinothesaurus
Florian, Douglas. UnBEElievables: Honeybee Poems and Paintings
Sidman, Joyce. Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold
Singer, Marilyn. A Strange Place to Call Home
Spinelli, Eileen. Polar Bear, Arctic Hare: Poems of the Frozen North
VanDerwater, Amy Ludwig. Forest Has a Song
Wolf, Allan. The Blood-Hungry Spleen and Other Poems about Our Parts
Wong, Janet. Once Upon a Tiger:New Beginnings for Endangered Animals
Yolen, Jane. Birds of a Feather
Yolen, Jane. Bug Off! Creepy Crawly Poems
Yolen, Jane. Least Things: Poems about Small Natures
Earth & Space Science
Bruchac, Joseph. The Earth under Sky Bear’s Feet: Native American Poems of the Land
Bruchac, Joseph. Thirteen Moons on Turtle’s Back: A Native American Year of Moons
Florian, Douglas. Comets, Stars, the Moon, and Mars
Lewis, J. Patrick. Galileo’s Universe
Salas, Laura Purdie. Water Can Be
Salas, Laura Purdie. And Then There Were Eight: Poems about Space
Salas, Laura Purdie. Seed Sower, Hat Thrower: Poems about Weather
Singer, Marilyn. Footprints on the Roof: Poems about the Earth
Singer, Marilyn. How to Cross a Pond: Poems about Water
There are also suggested activities (along with the Common Core State Standards identified for each):
Science activities Hands-on activities can make combining science and poetry fun and experiential and science experts encourage kids to become engaged by “doing” science. A science-themed poem can be a launching pad for such active learning. Here are just a few examples:
Discuss the role of weather reporting in current events and how it helps us keep up with changes in weather from day to day. Talk about the recognizable weather patterns that are described in the poems of Laura Purdie Salas in Seed Sower, Hat Thrower: Poems about Weather such as humidity, clouds, thunder, lightning, and rain. Challenge students to describe today’s weather and how it may have changed from yesterday. Record temperatures and weather for 5 straight days to look for patterns and contrast with weather reports online or on television.
Talk about the steps we might follow in inventing or making something new: gathering materials, consulting books, looking things up online. What kinds of things can students imagine creating? Refer to Wikihow.com, a multilingual how-to site for ideas. Use sample poems like “Tinker Time” (from PFAS) or selections from Eureka! Poems about Inventors by Joyce Sidman to promote creative thinking.
Collaborate to create a quick glog, a digital interactive poster (using Glogster.com), pulling together images and key words from a science-themed poem in a new visual representation of the poem’s topic. Show students the choices of text, fonts, color, graphics, and even animation, if possible, while you input those items and create the finished product together.
Use the details in the poem “Go Fly a Kite” (in PFAS) to talk about factors that influence kites in flight: pressure, streaming, breezes, lift, and drag. Check out NASA’s “Beginner’s Guide to Aerodynamics” for help, available here: GRC.NASA.gov/WWW/K-12/airplane/bga.html Contrast this with poems about bird flight found in Jane Yolen’s Birds of a Feather or The Cuckoo’s Haiku and Other Birding Poems by Michael J. Rosen.
Share moon-themed poems (such as “Queen of Night” in PFAS or selections from Comets, Stars, the Moon, and Mars by Douglas Florian) to talk about what we know about the Moon, beginning with attributes of the Moon and then considering tides, seasons, and the observable appearance of the Moon over time during its phases. Consult the NASA web site: SolarSystem.NASA.gov/planets/profile.cfm?Object=Moon
Use poems to jumpstart a discussion of Earth's renewable resources, including air, plants, water, and animals; and nonrenewable resources such as coal, oil, and natural gas; and the importance of conservation. Consider “Solar Power” (in PFAS) or selections from Water Sings Blue: Ocean Poems; Footprints on the Roof: Poems about the Earth, or How to Cross a Pond: Poems about Water. Work together to find more information on using the sun as a source of electricity at SolarEnergy.org/answers-younger-kids
Talk about how scientists use a variety of tools to collect information and conduct investigations. In studying the human body, one measure of overall health is pulse rate. Demonstrate how to take a pulse and compare results while resting or exercising after sharing “Moving for 5 Minutes Straight” (from PFAS) or selections from The Blood-Hungry Spleen and Other Poems about Our Parts by Allan Wolf.
And here are a few suggested resources that were not included in the article OR online, an extra bonus!
Websites for science fun The discussion of science topics nearly always leads to exploration (of objects, of the world, of technology) and fortunately there are many excellent online resources that can provide helpful guidance and encourage discovery and playfulness. They offer many ideas for follow up activities to accompany a poem for five minutes of science fun. Many of the science activities listed in the “Take 5” activities for each poem in The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science, for example, suggest websites to match specific poems to expand science learning. Here are just a few favorites.
Teaching resources In addition, as we connect poetry and science, it can be helpful to know about resources that provide background for building science understanding. This select list focuses on science teaching with children and includes blogs, websites, videos, and more.
And of course there are even more resources and 200+ science-themed poems in The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science. Get your copy now, if you haven't already! We're so proud to earn the "NSTA Recommends" status for our book from the National Science Teachers Association, too!
We’re breaking weather records for warm days here in Texas with the temperature hitting 90 degree today. Ugh. We’re all ready for cooler Fall weather here, especially with Halloween and November right around the corner. So, to get in the spirit, I thought I’d share alist of poems about superstitions, beliefs, luck, magic, dreams, and nightmares from my book, The Poetry Teacher’s Book of Lists. I’ve even updated the list to add a few recent titles. Enjoy! Poetry Books about Superstitions, Beliefs, Luck, Magic, Dreams, and Nightmares Many works of poetry promote a sense of wonder. These titles focus especially on the world of superstitions, beliefs, luck, magic, dreams and nightmares-- all interpreted in a variety of ways. Alarcón, Francisco X. 2005. Poems to Dream Together/ Poemas para Sonar Juntos. New York: Lee & Low.
Berry, James. 1991. Isn’t My Name Magical?: Sister and Brother Poems. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Clayton, Dallas. 2012. Make Magic! Do Good! Somerville, MA: Candlewick.
Corcoran, Jill. Ed. 2012. Dare to Dream… Change the World. San Diego, CA: Kane Miller.
Congratulations to Jacqueline Woodson whose book, Brown Girl Dreaming, was just named a finalist for the National Book Award. You know how much I love this book and already featured Jacqueline in a Poet to Poet interview with Carole Boston Weatherford. But did I mention that I also find it so intriguing that a memoir-in-verse is getting all this recognition? I think that’s wonderful! And I loved how Jacqueline said, “This is how memory comes to me -- In small moments with all of this white space around them.” That seems to be true for many poets and I thought it might be interesting to gather a list of other memoirs told in poem or verse form.
For example, have you seen Marilyn Nelson’s latest book, How I Discovered Poetry? It’s a memoir in 50 sonnets! And it’s a perfect partner to Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming in its exploration of family, identity, racism, and writing. Don’t miss it! Plus, I hear that Margarita Engle will be publishing her own memoir in verse next year (2015). Can’t wait!
It’s also interesting to explore how memoir is adapted for other poetic perspectives. Naomi Shihab Nye wove autobiographical poems and passages alongside science-themed entries in her evocative, Honeybee (Greenwillow, 2008). Carole Boston Weatherford created a fictional verse memoir to tell the first-person life story of the legendary jazz singer Billie Holiday in Becoming Billie Holiday (Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press, 2008).
And for a comic twist, look for Bobbi Katz’s engaging, mock memoir with the most beautiful retro cover and scrapbook-like interior perfect for Halloween sharing, The Monsterologist; A Memoir in Rhyme (Sterling, 2009). Or for younger readers, another mock memoir presented as if written in a student notebook by Gary Crew, Troy Thompson’s Excellent Peotry [sic] (Kane/Miller, 2003). Hilarious!
And any look at memoir merits a discussion of biography, autobiography, and history captured through poetry. For example, J. Patrick Lewis and Jane Yolen create a vivid biography in poems for artist Marc Chagall in Self Portrait with Seven Fingers: A Life of Marc Chagall in Verse (Creative Editions, 2011). Gorgeous Chagall art included!
Writers Guadalupe Garcia McCall and Thanhha Lai wrote award-winning novels in verse that were largely autobiographical and truly compelling:
Guadalupe Garcia McCall's Under the Mesquite (Lee & Low, 2011).
Thanhha Lai's Inside Out and Back Again (HarperCollins, 2011).
And let’s not neglect novels in verse that are grounded in true stories and historical events like:
Allan Wolf's The Watch That Ends the Night; Voices from the Titanic (Candlewick, 2011)
In honor of Teen Read Week (Oct. 12-18), I’d like to promote this year’s selection of poetry for young adults. As usual, I find that about a third of each year’s list of poetry published for young people targets the teen audience and most of those are novels in verse. That’s true once again this year. I would also add that you’ll find some of the most risk-taking and inventive writing here, by a diverse crop of writers, too. I’ve written about many of the titles below in previous postings, but here’s a round up of all the teen poetry this year, as far as I know. And of course, many of the poetry books that target children (ages 0-12) are also eminently suitable for tweens and teens. That’s one of the things I love about poetry, in particular, that poetry is so little age-bound or limited by grade level or readability. So be sure to look at ALL the poetry published for young people available here. 1.Alexander, Kwame. 2014. The Crossover. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Twin 12 year old boy protagonists love playing basketball and are growing up-- and maybe apart-- as they cope with middle school, girls, and the expectations of their parents. Teacher’s guide here. 2.Brown, Skila. 2014. Caminar. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.
*Set in Guatemala in 1981 when conflicts between Communist soldiers and guerilla fighters were at a crossroads, the love of a mother for her son is a beautiful thread throughout this powerful story of war, courage, and survival. Poet to Poet interview here. 3.Crowe, Chris. 2014. Death Coming Up the Hill. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
*It's a historical novel in verse about a teenage boy who is navigating high school, first love, and parental conflict during the Vietnam War and it highlights issues of conflict, resistance, and racism. It's built entirely upon haiku poems with a total of 16,592 syllables, one syllable as a tribute to each soldier's death in 1968 during the Vietnam War, the year with the highest casualties during the war. Poet to Poet interview here. 4.Engle, Margarita. 2014. Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
*From the young “silver people” whose backbreaking labor built the Panama Canal to the denizens of the endangered rain forest itself, this novel in verse tells the story of one of the largest and most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken. Teacher’s guide here. 5.Frank, Lucy. 2014. Two Girls Staring at the Ceiling. New York: Schwartz & Wade.
*“This novel-in-verse—at once literary and emotionally gripping—follows the unfolding friendship between two very different teenage girls who share a hospital room and an illness." 6.Heppermann, Christine. 2013. Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty. New York: HarperCollins/Greenwillow.
*”In fifty poems, Christine Heppermann confronts society head on. Using fairy tale characters and tropes, Poisoned Apples explores how girls are taught to think about themselves, their bodies, and their friends. The poems range from contemporary retellings to first-person accounts set within the original tales, and from deadly funny to deadly serious.” 7.High, Linda Oatman. 2014. Otherwise. Costa Mesa, CA: Saddleback.
*A love story set “in a near-future United States, unisex gender presentation becomes mandated by law.” 8.High, Linda Oatman. 2014. Teeny Little Grief Machines. Costa Mesa, CA: Saddleback.
*“When her semi-friends start bullying her… Lexi can't handle school any more. Lexi breaks down and the new counselor calls in the hospital - Lexi has a rehabilitating stay in the mental health ward. Suddenly, she is reborn.” 9.Holt, K. A. 2014. Rhyme Schemer. San Francisco: Chronicle.
*”Rhyme Schemer is a touching and hilarious middle-grade novel in verse about one seventh grader's journey from bully-er to bully-ee, as he learns about friendship, family, and the influence that words can have on people's lives.” 10.Hopkins, Ellen. 2014. Rumble. New York: Margaret K. McElderry/Simon & Schuster.
*“Rumble explores bullying and suicide in a story that explores the worth of forgiveness and reconciliation.” 11.Kuderick, Madeleine. 2014. Kiss of Broken Glass. New York: HarperTeen.
*“When fifteen-year-old Kenna is found cutting herself in the school bathroom, she is sent to a facility for a mandatory psychiatric watch. There Kenna meets other kids like her—her roommate, Donya, who's there for her fifth time; the birdlike Skylar; and Jag, a boy cute enough to make her forget her problems . . . for a moment.” 12.Lewis, J. Patrick and Lyon, George Ella. 2014. Voices from the March: Washington, D.C., 1963. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press.
*This poetry collection focuses specifically on the march on Washington, D.C. on August 28, 1963, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. Six fictional characters tell their tales on this historic day in cycles of linked of poems alongside the perspectives of historic figures and other march participants for a rich tapestry of multiple points of view.” Teacher’s Guide here. 13.Nagai, Mariko. 2014. Dust of Eden. Chicago: Whitman.
*"'We lived under a sky so blue in Idaho right near the towns of Hunt and Eden but we were not welcomed there.' In early 1942, thirteen-year-old Mina Masako Tagawa and her Japanese-American family are sent from their home in Seattle to an internment camp in Idaho. What do you do when your home country treats you like an enemy?" Poet to Poet interview here. 14.Pattou, Edith. 2014. Ghosting. Skyscape.
*”On a hot summer night in a midwestern town, a high school teenage prank goes horrifically awry. Alcohol, guns, and a dare. Within minutes, as events collide, innocents becomes victims—with tragic outcomes altering lives forever, a grisly and unfortunate scenario all too familiar from current real-life headlines.” 15.Phillips, Linda. 2014. Crazy. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
*Laura is a typical fifteen-year-old growing up in the 1960s, navigating her way through classes, friendships, and even a new romance. But she’s carrying around a secret: her mother is suffering from a mental illness.” 16.Winters, Ben H. 2014. Literally Disturbed #3: More Tales to Keep You Up at Night. New York: Penguin/Price Stern Sloan.
*”Ben H. Winters continues to scare readers in this collection of 30 creepy rhyming stories about the things that haunt your nightmares!” 17.Woodson, Jacqueline. 2014. Brown Girl Dreaming. New York: Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin. *Woodson’s poetic memoir reflects her dual upbringing in her extended family in South Carolina and in New York City, growing up African American in the 1960’s and 1970’s, experiencing difficulty with reading, but a passion for words, stories, and writing. Poet to Poet interview here. 18.Yolen, Jane. 2014. Sister Fox’s Field Guide to the WritingLife. Papaveria Press.
*”Jane Yolen brings us this delightful new collection of poems on the art and craft of writing. Sometimes whimsical, often amusing, and always a wonder and a delight.” 19.Nelson, Marilyn. 2014. How I Discovered Poetry. Ill. by Hadley Hooper. New York: Dial.
*”Looking back on her childhood in the 1950s, Newbery Honor winner and National Book Award finalist Marilyn Nelson tells the story of her development as an artist and young woman through fifty eye-opening poems.” Be sure to seek out all these intriguing, diverse works and buy them now, plus multiple copies for your library. And if I missed any YA titles, please let me know!
Of course I hope you'll look for last year's book, The Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School, a NCTE Poetry Notable, with poems by 70+ poets and "Take 5" mini-lessons for every poem. And check out the other poetry books published in recent years-- you'll find new links to comprehensive lists in the sidebar of this blog.
Here's another installment in my "Poet to Poet" series of interviews between poets who write for young people. This time, Helen Frost interviews Chris Crowe about his new book just published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Death Coming Up the Hill. It's a historical novel in verse about a teenage boy who is navigating high school, first love, and parental conflict during the Vietnam War and it highlights issues of conflict, resistance, and racism. It's built entirely upon haiku poems with a total of 16,592 syllables, one syllable as a tribute to each soldier's death in 1968 during the Vietnam War, the year with the highest casualties during the war. Isn't that astonishing all by itself? Here's the opening entry for this compelling book:
Week Fifteen: 204
There's something tidy
in seventeen syllables,
a haiku neatness
that leaves craters of
meaning between the lines but
what matters most. I
don't have the time or the space
to write more, so I'll
write what needs to be
remembered and leave it to
you to fill in the
gaps if you feel like
it. In 1968,
sixteen thousand five
American soldiers died
in Vietnam, and
one syllable to each soul
as I record my
own losses suffered
in 1968, a
year like no other.
As I'm sure you know, Helen Frosthas created a body of poetry for young people that has already garnered several of the most prestigious literary awards, including a Printz honor for Keesha's House. In her carefully crafted novels in poems, she even invents new poetic forms and uses existing forms in very creative ways. That impressive repertoire includes: Keesha's House, Spinning through the Universe (Room 214: A Year in Poems), The Braid, Diamond Willow, Crossing Stones, Hidden, Salt, and the poem picture books, Step Gently Out and Monarch and Milkweed.
Chris Crowe is a fellow professor like myself, but has also authored books for young people, including the historical novel, Mississippi Trial, 1955 and a companion book of nonfiction, Getting Away with Murder: The True Story of the Emmett Till Case, as well as the picture book, Just as Good: How Larry Doby Changed America's Game and many professional books. His new book, Death Coming Up the Hill is his first venture into publishing poetry and it's an interesting story about how this story and this form emerged.
Chris, before I ask my three questions, could you give a little background about your work in general terms, and talk a little about what was new territory for you in Death Coming Up the Hill?
My work for YA readers has been primarily historical, so 1968 is nothing new for me; however, this book is less focused on African American and/or civil rights history than some of my other books. What is new is writing in verse. I never aspired to write a novel in verse, and I've never considered myself any kind of poet (though I do claim the title of being the best Bad poet in my English department). I do admire poetry and poets because poetry is such a demanding and exacting art form, a form I've never felt that I had any particular talent for.
I have to say that you do exhibit considerable talent for poetry in this book. Sorry if it makes you lose your Best Bad Poet status. I'd like to ask a personal question regarding the historical background of the book. I remember the late 60's and early 70's as such an important time. Could you share some of your memories of those years, particularly in relation to the war in Vietnam and the peace movement?
I was a high school freshman in Tempe, Arizona, during the 1967-68 school year, so I have some memories of that era, but let's face it, I was a freshman, a knucklehead who was only vaguely aware of what was happening in the wider world. But in those days, even an out-of-touch knucklehead knew about Vietnam. The evening news almost always had some segment relating to the war or protests about the war, and some of my older brothers' friends got drafted---or enlisted---and were shipped over to Vietnam. In the summer of 1969, I landed a job digging sprinkler trenches for a new hotel going up in Tempe, and the other guy working there had recently returned from 'Nam. He was the first person I'd ever met who had really been there, fighting in the jungles, dealing with Army bureaucracy, fearing for his life every day. He had plenty of stories to tell---and this was after all the news of the My Lai Massacre broke---and he gave me a first-hand education about the war. But even with that, I was still pretty much a self-absorbed teenager who didn't pay a lot of attention to national and world events. The peace movement was a different story. My dad was a patriotic, flag-waving WWII veteran, and he was firmly "My country, right or wrong." He couldn't abide hippies, peaceniks, or anyone who protested the war. My siblings and I all knew where he stood when it came to student protests and/or anti-war protests.
Thanks, Chris. I'd love to talk with you in greater depth about that sometime, but there are two other things I'd like to touch on here. I loved the relationship between Ashe and Angela, refreshingly straight-forward, not angst-filled, yet still so authentic as a high school romance. Can you say something about that, and, if you like, relate it to your own life experience?
I was no Romeo in high school, but my first big crush unfolded as quickly as Ashe and Angela's. Some of my friends were much more experienced with girlfriends, and I never saw or heard that finding a girl required a very long or complicated courtship. I suppose what's most different about Angela and Ashe's relationship is that they turn out to be such soul mates. I see that as the luck of the draw or Fate or whatever it is that lines up such compatible matches. BTW, I met my wife in my 10th grade English class, and we started dating the next year. That kind of early and long-term relationship might have skewed the way I portrayed the relationship between A and A.
Thanks, Chris. I think that's a good relationship for YA readers to see in a book.
My last question is about the form you discovered that helped you tell the story. In your endnotes, you describe how the number 17 shapes the story--it's not at all arbitrary, and beautifully executed. I know how challenging that must have been. What did you discover about language as you worked so extensively in such a precise book-length form based on the traditional syllable count of haiku?
I discovered that language is complicated and various. Writing in haiku stanzas sometimes felt like writing with handcuffs on, especially when I had to make revisions to a key word or line. But in others ways, the narrow confines of 5-7-5 felt freeing and expansive. Once I settled into a routine of composing in fixed chunks, some creative gear clicked into place, and my writing really flowed. But that flow required me to pay careful attention to words, to rely on my trusty Roget's International Thesaurus, and to consider word choice more scrupulously than I have ever before. I also learned, because my editor demanded it, that I had to be consistent in my use of syllable count, that I could not cite poetic license when it was convenient---for example, counting 'camera' as a two-syllable word instead of three. This language demanded my full attention.
Again, I'd love to talk with you in more depth about this sometime. For now, let me just say that, like you, I have come to love editors and copyeditors who are willing to engage in syllable-counting, and hold us to the rules we set for ourselves.
Thanks, Sylvia, for initiating this conversation, and thank you, Chris, for these thoughtful responses to my questions, and for your beautiful and important book.
Sylvia: Thank you, Helen and Chris, for engaging in this fascinating conversation and for all your work for young people.
Now treat yourself to a stop at Jama's Alphabet Soup for our Poetry Friday gathering. See you there!
It's time for another installment of my "Poet to Poet" series-- in which one poet interviews another poet about her/his new book. Today, Joyce Sidman asks Irene Latham three questions about her new book, Dear Wandering Wildebeest and Other Poems from the Water Hole.
Joyce Sidman is a Newbery honor author whose beautiful poetry often focuses on the natural world. Her ecological trilogy including Song of the Water Boatman, and Other Pond Poems,Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow, and Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night offers sensitive depictions of animal life in verse. The poems in This is Just to Say: Poems of Apology and Forgiveness have inspired children (and parents) to write their own apologies and Red Sings From Treetops; A Year in Colorsbrings the seasons to life through all the senses. Her latest book What the Heart Knows is an exquisite collection of laments, spells, chants, blessings, songs, and more. Here Joyce poses three questions for Irene Latham to consider with a particular focus on Irene's new book of poetry, Dear Wandering Wildebeest.
Joyce asks: The jacket copy for your wonderful new poetry book, Dear Wandering Wildebeest And Other Poems from the Water Hole mentions wildlife photographs from Kenya that inspired the book. Can you tell us more about the genesis of this project—what was it about this subject or these photographs that made you want to go forward? Irene responds: It wasn't just the photographs Greg du Toit captured – though they are amazing, and you can view them here – it was the story of how he struggled to capture the images. Because the lions were too shy to approach the water hole while du Toit was upright or even crouched on the shore, he made a daring move by submerging himself in the water hole. So, basically, he changed perspectives. And it worked! With only du Toit's head above the water, the lions came right to the water's edged and drank their fill, allowing him to get those amazing shots. And that's poetry. Changing perspectives is what poetry is all about. Looking at something differently. It filled me with a sense of freedom and kind of gave me permission to write about animals, even when the reigning wisdom about publishing poetry for kids in today's market is, no animals. Well, I love animals! And how amazing and unique is the African grassland ecosystem? The water hole gave me a focal point and a new perspective. Fortunately for me, my experience didn't result in three months in the hospital as it did for du Toit.
Joyce asks:In Wildebeest, you’ve used such a satisfying format: pairing poems with nonfiction notes. One of my favorite poems, “What Rhino Knows”, has an equally delightful and poetic nonfiction note. Can you talk a bit about the interplay between these two types of text and how you feel each contributes to the book as a whole?
Irene answers: This question makes me smile as you, Joyce, are the Queen of this format! And your collections are what made me fall in love with books that feature poetry and nonfiction notes. It's important to me to write a poem that's poetic, which means not throwing in every single thing I learn about the animal – only the facts and details that speak to me personally and lend themselves to poetic treatment using images and analogy and language. But that means leaving out a world of research! My hope is that the poems make a reader want to know more – and that's where the nonfiction note comes in. I tried to include information relevant to the poem as a way to expand the reader's experience and to instantly satisfy the reader's curiosity. The notes were actually the most frightening and difficult part of creating this collection – I'm so grateful to amazing editor Carol Hinz whose keen eye (and ear!) and expertise helped shape them.
Joyce says:I truly admire authors who can work in different genres. You are an adult poet, children’s poet, and middle grade novelist. Do these different kinds of writing come from different places in yourself?
Irene responds: Thank you! The joke around my house is that I've never met a genre I didn't like. It's kind of a hazard for a writing career – every book feels like starting over. But the world is so big and there's so much out there that interests me... and isn't the endless learning curve one of the most seductive and satisfying things about being a writer?
As to the whole where-it-comes-from part of the question, it's something I love to think about. It's one of life's mysteries, isn't it? For me, writing is spiritual practice, which is about one-ness with the world, and living in the now. I'm not really interested in separating out parts of myself in order to write. And I will admit to a preference for literature that is timeless and classic, with appeal to all ages. I join Lee Bennett Hopkins in championing this type of poetry.
One of the big aha moments for me on the journey to writing poetry for children was attending an SCBWI-sponsored poetry retreat with Rebecca Kai Dotlich (arranged by the amazing Robyn Hood Black) and discovering I don't have to be Shel Silverstein; I can write the way I write for adults – striving to create art and beauty-- except in a way that appeals to children. Sometimes I really struggle when editing my own work (and working with editors) to pull away from the wise, adult voice and to approach a subject with the more-innocent, world-as-wonder child's voice. I find that this is more a matter of choosing the right angle and analogy than worrying about elevated language. (You'll notice WILDEBEEST has lots of big words – and a glossary.) To what would the child-me compare the water hole? What moment in a lion's life is most interesting to the child-me? I still feel like a beginner, and I am so grateful for the warmth, grace, and enthusiasm of the Poetry Friday community. What wonderfully diverse and inspiring voices! I'm honored to be be a part of it.
Thanks so much, Joyce, for the thoughtful questions, and for being one of my poetic heroes. And Sylvia, your passion for poetry is changing the world! Thank you for including me on your blog. Happy day to both!
Sylvia says: THANK YOU BOTH for sharing your time and talents! And of course I'm proud as punch to feature poems by both Joyce and Irene in The Poetry Friday Anthology series that Janet (Wong) and I have compiled. :-)
One hundred years ago today, the first ship passed through the newly completed Panama Canal changing the route through the Americas forever. Although this was and is celebrated as a technological achievement, I wasn't aware of the cost in human lives and ecological impact till I read Margarita Engle's vivid and compelling novel in verse, Silver People. I was fortunate enough to read an early copy of the book and create an educator's guide for sharing the book with young readers. You can download the guide here. To whet your appetite, here are just a few components to explore.
To set the stage for reading this novel in verse, identify the time frame (1906-1914) for the story’s setting as well as the place and geographical location (Panama). Talk about what was going on in the world at this time (during Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency and prior to World War I) and locate Panama and the surrounding countries (particularly Cuba and Jamaica) on a map. Look for Bottle Alley, Lake Gatun, the Chagres River, the Gaillard Cut, and the island now known as Barro Colorado extensively studied by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. Look for historical photos and documents that help provide a context for understanding the building of the Panama Canal. One resource is a jackdaw of facsimiles of primary source documents available at Jackdaw.com, specifically this collection: “Panama Canal: Building the 8th Wonder of the World.” This includes many maps, blueprints, ship’s dockets, personal letters and telegrams, ledgers, health records, period postcards, etc.
As students read or listen to this novel in verse, encourage them to visualize each of the main characters and talk about what they look like, what country they are from, what language they speak, how they feel about these events, and what dreams or goals they each have. Work together to draw character sketches or find magazine or web-based images for these characters.
Mateo, from Cuba (our protagonist and a canal laborer who aspires to be an artist)
Anita, from Panama (an orphan and herb girl, sweetheart of Mateo)
Henry,from Jamaica (digger, friend of Mateo)
*John Stevens (Chief Engineer) p. 43
Old Maria (surrogate mother to Anita) p. 83
*Theodore Roosevelt (U.S. President) p. 95
Augusto(New York scientist and artist originally from Puerto Rico) p. 115-117
*George W. Goethals (Chief Engineer) p. 149
*Jackson Smith (Manager) p. 151
*Gertrude Beeks (Welfare Department) p. 163
*Harry Franck (Census Enumerator) p. 213
(*These characters are actual historical figures.)
Students could also each choose a favorite character and read aloud the poems from her/his perspective readers theater style.
Animals of the Panama Jungle
Each of the following animals is featured with a poem from its perspective.Students can choose one of these to prepare for oral reading, researching (online) images and sound effects to accompany their reading. One helpful resource is Animals.NationalGeographic.com
As we "crossover" from summer to back-to-school, I want to encourage you to put Crossover, a novel in verse by Kwame Alexanderon your must-share list for the new school year-- particularly if you work with kids in 4th - 8th grade. It's such a fresh story with twin 12 year old boy protagonists who love playing basketball and are growing up-- and maybe apart-- as they cope with middle school, girls, and the expectations of their parents. The poems are full of energy and propel the story forward energetically. But I especially loved the picture of family life that comes across as each boy is trying to carve out his own identity, their dad (a former pro basketball player himself) is a hilarious character with a big story arc of his own, and their mom is the school's vice principal-- more savvy than they give her credit for. The family dynamics are lively and authentic and the picture of life at school rings true too. I'm calling it part Love That Dog meets The Watsons Go to Birmingham meets Slam. <!--[if gte mso 9]>Normal0falsefalsefalseEN-USJAX-NONE<![endif]--> Here are just a few nuggets from the Readers' Guide I developed for the book and you'll find the whole guide here.
1. As students read or listen to this verse novel,encourage them to visualize each of the main characters and talk about what they look like and how they talk and act. Work together to draw character sketches or find magazine or web-based images that look like these characters:
Jordan (JB) Bell
Josh (“Filthy McNasty”) Bell
Dad: Chuck Bell (“Da Man”), a former professional basketball player
Mom: Dr. Crystal Stanley-Bell, the assistant principal at the boys’ school (Reggie Lewis Junior High)
Talk about how the twins are alike and how they are different. For example, Jordan (JB) and Josh (“Filthy McNasty”) are identical twins, but JB shaves his head bald and plays shooting guard and Josh has shoulder length dreadlocks (at first) and plays forward. It is usually Josh’s point of view we see as the story unfolds.
5. Several of the poems in this novel lend themselves to readers theater performance, so that students can get a sense of the characters’ voices. The following poems offer text in two parts: plain text and italicized text for two volunteers or two groups to read aloud in turn.
“The game is tied” p. 36
“Mom doesn’t like us eating out” pp. 41-42
“The inside of Mom and Dad’s bedroom closet” pp. 44-47
“Dad Takes Us to Krispy Kreme and Tells Us His Favorite Story (Again)” pp. 63-65
“Mom calls me into the kitchen” pp. 96-98
“Phone Conversation (I Sub for JB)” pp. 106-109
“Suspension” pp. 138-141
“I run into Dad’s room” pp. 165-167
“School’s Out” pp. 188-189
“Santa Claus Stops By” pp. 207-209
“Questions” pp. 210-211
7. The author also introduces crucial vocabulary terms through twelve key poemspresented at critical intervals throughout the book.
“cross-o-ver” p. 29
“ca-lam-i-ty” p. 38-39
“pa-tel-la ten-di-ni-tis” pp. 48-49
“pul-chri-tu-di-nous” p. 55
“hy-per-ten-sion” p. 76
“i-ron-ic” p. 104
“tip-ping point” pp. 118-119
“chur-lish” pp. 142-143
“pro-fuse-ly” p. 154
“es-tranged” p. 187
“my-o-car-di-al in-farc-tion” p. 201-202
“star-less” p. 229
Talk with students about how the poet uses the usual dictionary format in presenting the vocabulary term: the word is shown in syllables, with a pronunciation guide, the part of speech is indicated, and the poem provides a kind of definition along with examples of the meaning of the word (using the phrase “as in:”). Working together, look up some of these words in a dictionary (or online) and compare your findings with the vocabulary poem. Challenge students to write their own “vocabulary” poems for a new word they encounter in the book using Alexander’s “formula.”
Plus, the Readers Guide pinpoints:
poems in rap,
incorporates the power of nicknames,
connects with YouTube videos of sports and music figures in the book,
looks at the role of rules in the novel,
showcases various forms and types of poetry that are included,
It's time for another installment of my "Poet to Poet" series-- in which one poet interviews another poet about her/his new book. Today, Julie Larios (author of the marvelous Yellow Elephant and Imaginary Menagerie) asks Skila Brown three questions-- about her new book, Caminar, a novel in verse set in Guatemala, about her childhood memories, and about writing that inspires her.
JL: This question won't surprise you, Skila, because you know I struggle with it. You're drawn to both poetry and fiction, and your story Caminar (which is so well-written - and haunting)took the form of a verse novel. What do you think poetry can do to a reader, and what can fiction do, and what can the verse novel do that is distinct from either of these? SB: Fiction gets in your head. A good story feels real while you’re reading it. The people, the setting, the relationships—it can all suck you in, alter your mood, give you a new perspective, and build a bridge between you and somewhere you’ve never been. Not just a place, but also a kind of character you can suddenly empathize with. Fiction—good fiction—is difficult to read slowly. It’s like a delicious meal when you’re hungry, and you’re consciously trying to eat slower than you’d like.
Poetry, I think, feels like a beautiful mountain. You can enjoy it from so many different levels. But the more you climb, the more you work, the more you can see. It requires work on the reader’s part, work to shake off preconceptions, carefully consider new meanings and uses for words, and think about other possibilities. It’s often a jolt to your senses. It can be populated with images and descriptions that are real and vibrant and unique. It encourages lingering.
A verse novel can do both. It’s a versatile form that allows the reader to get sucked in to the story, rapidly turning the pages to find out what happens next. Or it provides the space and the weight for a pause, maybe an image or a metaphor that is so sharp the reader stays with that poem for a bit and savors it. Novels in verse allow the reader to choose how to digest the story, and, because of that, it can appeal to a wider audience.
JL: If given a wish now, as adults, we might wish for world peace or for our children to be healthy and happy - grand, important, sweeping wishes, full of fear and hope. But I'm interested in whether we can really capture what we were like as children. So I'd like you to do this: Close your eyes and pretend that it's your tenth birthday (plus or minus a year is fine) - you have a cake in front of you with candles on it, and if you blow those candles out with one breath, your wish will come true. Here comes a multi-part question: What do you wish for and why and how much do you want it and how much do you believe it will come true?
SB: So, Julie. I remember my tenth birthday very well. It happened to be the birthday in which I closed my eyes, made a wish, leaned over my cake to blow out my candles…and then promptly lit the edges of my hair on fire.
I smelled it before I felt it. In that tiny third of a second before the corner of my eyes filled with the flame and my ears filled with everyone shouting and telling me what to do, there was the smell. This terrible burning chemical odor that filled up my nostrils because I’d just spent hours the day before sitting in a chair, with little plastic curlers on my head, and enough chemicals to burn my eyes for a week. I’d gotten a perm.
I’d gotten a perm because I’d just moved into a new house and a new school and the kids in this school all did everything differently than the kids in the school I’d attended before. Suddenly the things about me that made third graders like me were the very things that made fourth graders hate me. I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. And maybe I thought my curl-less hair was part of the problem.
I don’t remember what my specific wish was that day, that second before my hair caught on fire. I’m sure it wasn’t a sweeping wish, like “Let people like me.” Or “Let me make friends.” But I think it was a ten-year old’s version of that. “I wish I’d get a Walkman just like Jenny’s.” or “I wish I’d get picked first tomorrow at recess.” Or “I wish we’d never play dodge ball again because it’s humiliating the way everyone aims for me, always me, only me.”
However I might have vocalized the wish, whatever specific thing I might have fixated on, the root of it was really that I wished I fit in. I wished people liked me. I probably spent a decade of my life wishing that wish, in some form. And yes, it came true, over and over again. I think that wish, like a lot of sweeping big wishes, falls in and out of True over the course of a life. I’ve had lots of friends, lots of good circles of support, lots of people who have loved me and love me still. But there have been many times I’ve felt lonely and unseen and without a shoulder to lean on.
I think it’s a rare kid who doesn’t wish for this very thing at some point in her life. But the luckiest of us will outgrow it. And instead of wishing for “people to like me”, we’ll wish instead to find the village that is our own.
JL: Do you remember a book you read (as an adult or as a child) where you finished it and said, "That's what I'd like to do - I'd like to be able to write like that"? What book was it, and what made you feel that? (Give me details!)
SB: Oh, I love it when that happens. It happens to me a lot, actually. Jandy Nelson’s The Sky is Everywhere is the first book I remember reading, closing the book, and then immediately opening it back up to page one and starting again. The book made me ache. I remember thinking I wanted to write a story that makes people ache.
Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens gave me instant writer-envy. I’m a huge fan of satire. And I’m a very opinionated person when it comes to social, moral, and political issues. I hope to one day be able to tell a story that’s both entertaining but also squirm-inducing, just like that one.
David Levithan’s The Lover’s Dictionary is another book that made me green. I really love stories that are told in an unusual form. Many times I think unusual forms get in the way of the story, but sometimes they are the perfect complement. And the story is all the richer. * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * Thank you, Julie and Skila (pronounced Sky- luh) for sharing so personally and generously! Be sure to check out their sites and blogs at Julie Larios (A Drift Record) and Skila Brown(full of photos and quotes) and don't miss Caminar, a very compelling story of war and childhood, family and honor.
Meanwhile, head on over to Jone's place for more Poetry Friday fun. Check it out!
The September issue of Book Links (companion to ALA's Booklist magazine) is out now and includes my article, "Poetry and Social Justice." I was honored to include an interview with poets, George Ella Lyon and J. Patrick Lewis, as well as their editor, Rebecca Davis, about their new book, Voices from the March. Here are several excerpts from the article and the interview, as well as some "extra" material, FYI.
Poetry and Social Justice: Honoring All Voices It’s been fifty years since the signing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, when discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin became against the law. It may be difficult for children today to imagine a world where such discrimination was a common practice, but it is important that we recognize the ongoing effects of such prejudice and pause to celebrate the progress we’ve made as a nation. That’s where literature can be especially powerful in capturing the pain of the past, the fight for justice, and our hopes for the future.
In my experiences working with children, I have found they are usually very aware of issues of justice and fair play, albeit in an often-narrow context. Ask them if they’ve ever stood at a store counter and watched all the grownups get attention while they wait and wait and wait, too shy or afraid to speak up. Or challenge them to think of a time at school or on the playground when they saw someone get picked on and they stood by and said nothing. We’ve probably all had an experience where we witnessed some level of injustice and were unsure or hesitant to respond. This can be a beginning point for a discussion of how justice on a societal scale evolves—and how our individual actions can contribute to the problem or to the solution.
Looking at history For example, these anthologies gathered by Lee Bennett Hopkins provide a panorama of U.S. history that offers a helpful context for framing discussion or can serve as reference tools for understanding key events in our country’s history.
Hopkins, Lee Bennett. 2000. My America: A Poetry Atlas of the United States.New York: Simon & Schuster.
Hopkins, Lee Bennett. 2008. America at War. New York: McElderry.
Hopkins, Lee Bennett. Ed. 1994. Hand in Hand: An American History through Poetry. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Hopkins, Lee Bennett. Ed. 1999. Lives: Poems about Famous Americans. New York: HarperCollins.
Hopkins, Lee Bennett. Ed. 2002. Home to Me: Poems Across America. New York: Orchard.
In addition, other comprehensive collections of poetry use the span of U.S. history to shape the selection and arrangement of poetry, including:
Meltzer, Milton. Ed. 2003. Hour of Freedom: American History in Poetry. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press.
Robb, Laura. Ed. 1997. Music and Drum: Voices of War and Peace, Hope and Dreams. New York: Philomel Books.
Siebert, Diane. 2006. Tour America: A Journey through Poems and Art. San Francisco: Chronicle.
Singer, Marilyn. 2013. Rutherford B., Who Was He?: Poems About Our Presidents. Ill. by John Hendrix. New York: Disney-Hyperion.
Whipple, Laura. Ed. 1994. Celebrating America: A Collection of Poems and Images of the American Spirit. New York: Philomel.
Invite students to work together to locate poems from any of these collections that address justice issues. They can read their selected poem aloud to the group and identify the issue as they perceive it, citing language from the poem to support their case. Make a chalkboard chart of these various issues (racial discrimination, gender discrimination, poverty, etc.) and note where each poem fits. Talk about how the poet approaches the topic using point of view, past or present time, specific examples, and so on.
Older students may be able to dig deeper into poetry that presents conflicts of the past. Collaborate with the history or social studies teacher to discuss poems from these works and place them in context on a historical timeline. Talk about how people of various backgrounds were treated, what role gender played in their struggles, and how they were able to prevail and be heard.
Alexander, Elizabeth and Nelson, Marilyn. 2007. Miss Crandall’s School for Young Ladies and Little Misses of Color. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong.
Bernier-Grand, Carmen T. 2004. César: Si, se puede! Yes, We Can! New York: Marshall Cavendish.
Engle, Margarita. 2006. The Poet Slave of Cuba: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano. New York: Henry Holt and Co.
Engle, Margarita. 2010. The Firefly Letters; A Suffragette's Journey to Cuba. Henry Holt.
Engle, Margarita. 2013. The Lightning Dreamer. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Engle, Margarita. 2014. Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Littlechild, George. 1993. This Land Is My Land. San Francisco, CA: Children’s Book Press.
McKissack, Patricia. 2011. Never Forgotten. Ill. by Leo and Diane Dillon. New York: Schwartz & Wade.
Nelson, Marilyn. 2009. Sweethearts of Rhythm; The Story of the Greatest All-Girl Swing Band in the World. New York: Dial.
Rampersad, Arnold and Blount, Marcellus (Eds). 2013. Poetry for Young People: African American Poetry (reissued, reillustrated). Ill. by Karen Barbour. New York: Sterling.
Weatherford, Carole Boston. 2002. Remember the Bridge: Poems of a People. New York: Philomel.
Connecting past and present
It is also important to point out that justice issues are not just in our past, but remain with us even now. Explore how people today experience injustice or empowerment in these poetry selections.
Ada, Alma Flor and Isabel F. Campoy. 2013. Yes! We Are Latinos. Ill. by David Diaz. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge.
Katz, Bobbi. 2000. We the People. New York: Greenwillow.
Myers, Walter Dean. 2011. We are America; A Tribute from the Heart. Ill. by Christopher Myers. New York: HarperCollins.
Wong, Janet. 2012. Declaration of Interdependence: Poems for an Election Year. PoetrySuitcase.
Invite students to find news articles that address a social justice issue and encourage them to create “black out” poems by drawing through all unwanted words in their news articles with a thick, black marker, so that the remaining words create a “justice” poem.
One Book: One Study It can also be meaningful to dig collectively into one book that addresses this timely topic. One powerful example worthy of group study is Voices from the March: Washington, D.C., 1963 by J. Patrick Lewis and George Ella Lyon. This poetry collection focuses specifically on the march on Washington, D.C. on August 28, 1963, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. Six fictional characters tell their tales on this historic day in cycles of linked of poems alongside the perspectives of historic figures and other march participants for a rich tapestry of multiple points of view. The authors and editor of this new work were kind enough to respond to several interview questions that provide helpful insight into the creation of this book and into the events that shaped the authors’ perspectives. The responses below are from George Ella Lyon (GEL), J. Patrick Lewis (JPL), and editor Rebecca Davis (RD).
BL: Where did the idea for this book come from? How did you decide to focus on the march of August 28, 1963, in particular?
George Ella Lyon
GEL: First, I wanted to write a book about Mary Travers, activist-singer of the folk group Peter, Paul and Mary. For many reasons, that impulse morphed into writing about Mary and Odetta and Joan Baez singing at the March on Washington. My idea was that I could explore how they became powerful young women who whose lives and voices intersected that day. For various reasons, that project didn’t take hold, but through my research I became fascinated with the March itself. I imagined something for older readers, a sprawling, multi-voiced book. Because I’m first of all a poet, and because the intensity of poetry fits the intensity of the day, I began writing poems. What happened was that on March 1st I flew to California to speak at The Charlotte S. Huck Literature Festival at the University of Redlands. Pat Lewis, whom I’d met briefly before, was also on the program, too, and we had a great time talking. As we were leaving for the airport, Pat asked if I wanted to collaborate on a collection of poems, perhaps focusing on famous women. I was thrilled with this possibility, but after I got home it occurred to me to suggest the March as our subject since I was already working in that direction. Typical of Pat, he took off with this idea and drafted five poems in the week between coming home from California’s job and traveling to another one in Boston. (Having already written several books connected with the Civil Rights movement, Pat had done much of the research that I was just beginning.)
BL: How did you decide who would write which poems on which topics from which points of view?
J. Patrick Lewis
GEL: We didn’t. We just let it unfold. I don’t think we ever discussed parceling out the poems.
JPL: Our respective visions carried us through. And not surprisingly, we found that we had not repeated each other’s evocations of our fictional “voices.”
GEL: When Rebecca (Davis, the editor) began working with us, we gained a third (gifted and tireless) eye who could look at the whole and help us see what worked, what was missing, and what we could do to make our vision more compelling.
BL to Rebecca Davis, Editor: What was your role in facilitating this project?
RD: I fell in love with this manuscript the first time I read it. As I read it, I kept finding myself involuntarily saying out loud "Wow" after this poem or that poem. It contained *so* many powerful poems.
I suggested to Pat and George Ella that they take some of the characters and develop their personal stories a bit further in the course of the manuscript, so that readers would see the impact that the experience of being part of the March had on these characters. I thought this might make what was already a personal and powerful manuscript even more personal and immediate.
In the final book, six of the characters have cycles of poems (ranging from four to eight poems each) that are braided amongst the chorus of voices in the manuscript. As the editor, I edited individual poems and also looked for balance in the collection as a whole. Part of the magic in this collection is in the many voices and points of view that it captures. The six characters--we've been referring to them as soloists in the chorus--couldn't take over the book; their individual melodies needed to blend in and harmonize with the whole.
It seemed to me, too, that an introduction was needed to help put the poems into historical perspective for young readers, and that it would be good to have back matter that would help readers sort the fact from the fiction in the story. We decided that it made sense to organize the back matter as a "Guide to the Voices," providing information about the historical figures who appear and/or are mentioned in the poems (under the heading "Historical Voices") and also listing the fictional characters (under the heading "Imagined Voices").
BL: What is the connection between poetry and social justice?
GEL: Poetry is spirit expressed in body: rhythm, sensation, thought, song. So while a lyric poem may be intimate, a heart-cry, it can also be addressed to the community. This happens especially in times of collective tragedy. I think of the poems posted near Ground Zero after 9/11. They were deeply personal, but they called out to be shared, to express trauma and grief and assure poets and readers that we are not alone. To claim a voice is in itself a form of activism.
JPL: I like to think that we are bearing witness, albeit in absentia, to Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Dream” speech and all that it entails.
CLASSROOM CONNECTIONS Setting the Scene Help students visualize the setting for the historic march on August 28, 1963, by showing images of Washington, D.C., especially the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument and the Reflecting Pool in between the two. Look for the stunning picture book, Capital, by Lynn Curlee (Atheneum, 2003) or use images from online sources such as Washington.org, NationalMall.org, NPS.gov, or Google Maps.
Readers Theater and Voice Because Voices from the March: Washington, D.C., 1963 is rich with the perspectives of multiple characters, it begs to be performed “readers theater” style with individual students taking on a persona and reading those poems aloud as that character. Wearing a simple sign with their character’s name can be helpful and if simple props are available (hats, necklace, necktie, etc.) those can be fun visual aids, too. For an even more ambitious presentation, display a slideshow of images as a backdrop for the reading (and student volunteers can research images from that time period or that suit their characters; e.g., Lena Horne, Joan Baez, Coretta Scott King, Rosa Parks, Marian Anderson, Charlton Heston, Malcolm X all attended the march!) Record their readings using VoiceThread. Or look for audio and/or video recordings of performances and speeches from the march. For example, you can listen to (and watch) Dr. Martin Luther’s King speech at multiple locations, including YouTube.
Voices from the March: Washington, D.C., 1963 features these main parts: SIX SOLOISTS, fictional characters with multiple poems throughout the book
Annie Ross, a student at Spelman College for Women in Georgia
Raymond Jarvis, educated but unemployed, from Texas
Renée Newsome, a high school sophomore in Washington, D.C.
Dan Cantrell, a high school junior in Georgia
Emma Wallace, farm hand from Iowa
Ruby May Hollingsworth, a first grader from Arkansas
With many other characters popping up in other poems such as “Among the Marchers” and in many individual poems
HISTORIC FIGURES, a group of “real people” that became known as the “Big Six”
A. Philip Randolph
Whitney Moore Young Jr.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
+ Bayard Rustin, the March’s chief organizer of the march
Hearing actual voices reading can assist in discussing the title of the book and the concept of “voice” in poetry. Who is speaking? Whose point of view is represented? Why is it so important to be heard? How are the concepts of justice and voice linked? Connect this book with other works of poetry told from multiple perspectives such as Karen Hesse’s Witness (Scholastic, 2001) or Walter Dean Myers’ Here in Harlem (Holiday House, 2004). How would these works be different if told from a single point of view?
Music, Poetry and Form
Like poetry, music can play a pivotal role in expressing the dreams and hopes people have. Several specific songs are referenced in Voices from the March (e.g.,“Creed (Song),” “Pigs are Flyin’ (Song),” “Anthem for Rosa Parks,” “Ballad for Martin Luther King, Jr.”) and many musicians and performers were present at the march. Talk about how music influences movements, uniting people, rallying enthusiasm, sharing disappointments. Consult these resources to study the role of music throughout our history. Talk about what kinds of songs today capture students’ current concerns and hopes for the future.
Carawan, Candie and Guy. 1990. Sing for Freedom: The Story of the Civil Rights Movement Through Its Songs. Bethlehem, Pennsylvania: A Sing Out Publication.
Cohn, Amy L. Ed. 1993. From Sea to Shining Sea: A Treasury of American Folklore and Folk Songs. New York: Scholastic.
Rappaport, Doreen. 2006. Nobody Gonna Turn Me 'Round: Stories and Songs of the Civil Rights Movement. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.
Stotts, Stuart. 2010. We Shall Overcome: A Song that Changed the World. Ill. by Terrance Cummings. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
This can also lead to a discussion of form in self-expression. Why does one person write a poem and another person writes a song and yet another person writes a news article or speech? What forms can students identify in the works of poetry they have consulted (free verse, anthems, ballads, shape poems, protest poetry, etc.) and which “speak” to them most deeply?
Other Related Works of Poetry
Link with other works of poetry that also address justice issues. For example, the poetry of Langston Hughes is mentioned in Voices from the March. Encourage students to seek out examples of his work such as his anthology, The Dream Keeper (Knopf, 2007), or picture book versions of single poems such as I, Too, Am America, illustrated by Bryan Collier (Simon & Schuster, 2012). Older students can explore the compelling poetry gathered by Gail Bush and Randy Meyer in Indivisible: Poems for Social Justice (Norwood House, 2013). Plus, Voices from the March co-author, J. Patrick Lewis has also authored additional poetry collections on this topic including:
Lewis, J. Patrick. 2013. When Thunder Comes: Poems for Civil Rights Leaders. San Francisco: Chronicle.
Lewis, J. Patrick. 2000. Freedom like Sunlight: Praisesongs for Black Americans. Mankato, MN: Creative Editions.
Lewis, J. Patrick. 2005. Heroes and She-roes: Poems of Amazing and Everyday Heroes. New York: Dial Books For Young Readers.
Lewis, J. Patrick. 2005. Vherses: A Celebration of Outstanding Women. Mankato: Creative Editions.
The Years 1963-1964 For a completely different approach, we might also dig deeply into the years of this historic civil rights victory (1963-1964), with a cross-genre approach. All of these various works (in addition to Voices from the March) focus on this pivotal time.
Curtis, Christopher P. 1998. The Watsons Go to Birmingham 1963. Hudson, MA: Pathways Publishing.
Evans, Shane W. 2012. We March. New York City: Roaring Book Press.
Levinson, Cynthia. 2012. We've Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children's March. Atlanta, GA: Peachtree.
Rubin, Susan Goldman. 2014. Freedom Summer: The 1964 Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi. New York: Holiday House.
Wiles, Deborah. 2001. Freedom Summer. Ill. by Jerome Lagarrigue. New York City: Simon & Schuster.
Williams-Garcia, Rita. 2010. One Crazy Summer. New York City: HarperCollins.
Talk about what we glean from the language and art of a picture book, from the characters and story of a novel, from the facts and details in a work of nonfiction, and from the language and emotions of poetry, of course.
Related Websites And if you’re looking for additional online resources to help you study this period, this historic event, and social justice issues in our country, there are many helpful tools available. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/eyesontheprize/tguide/elem.html This PBS “Eyes on the Prize” site offers lesson plans with links to video and audio clips, primary sources and interactive sites.
Just for Fun In the poem, “Lessons” (p. 51) in Voices from the March: Washington, D.C., 1963, they wear rings that say “Let Freedom Ring.” Invite students to create their own rings that symbolize freedom to them using simple craft materials (like red, white, and blue construction paper or pipe cleaners).
Conclusion In Voices from the March, Lewis and Lyon offer several poems that look to the future (“The One and Only Malcolm X,” “August 28, 2013,” and “At Grandma Rascal’s Grave, January 19, 2015”). Challenge students to identify unresolved social justice issues that face us all now. How can we give those issues “voice” and make a difference for the future? Collaborate on a group poem that raises questions or paint a poem-picture of the future looking back to today and put that aside in a time capsule to revisit at a designated future date.
You'll also find more tips for teaching with this book in the Educator's Guide provided by Boyds Mills Press.
Image credits: ALA Book Links; Boyds Mills Press; VTNews.vt.edu; CivilRightsMuseum.org; library.howard.edu; GeorgeEllaLyon; JPatrickLewis;LeeBennettHopkins
Congratulations to Jacqueline Woodson who just made the “2014 Longlist for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature” (again!) with her new book, Brown Girl Dreaming. Jacqueline was also kind enough to participate in my ongoing “Poet to Poet” interview series, too.
Jacqueline Woodson is the award winning author of many amazing novels for young adults (Miracle’s Boys, Hush, If You Come Softly) and for the middle grades (Last Summer with Maizon, Feathers) and picture books for children (The Other Side, Each Kindness, Coming on Home Soon, Show Way) and so many more including previous works that interweave poetry like Locomotion.
Carole Boston Weatherford
The lovely Carole Boston Weatherford is my poet interviewer. She is the author of many, many books of poetry and other genres including: The Sound that Jazz Makes, Sidewalk Chalk; Poems of the City, Remember the Bridge: Poems of a People, Dear Mr. Rosenwald, Birmingham, 1963, Becoming Billie Holiday, and many more. She is also the recipient of many awards including theLee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award and Lion and the Unicorn Award Honorfor Excellence in North AmericanPoetry for Birmingham, 1963. Here she asksJacqueline three great questions about Brown Girl Dreaming.
Carole: Why did you choose poetry for your memoir?
Jacqueline: This is how memory comes to me -- In small moments with all of this white space around them. I didn't think this memoir could be told any other way. It felt like it would be untrue to the story to try to write a straight narrative out of lyrical memory. Also, I felt this way best expressed what I was trying to say -- that words have always been coming to me, that I've always been trying to hold on to them, set them free, floating onto the pages. This form shows them floating, shows the words moving slowly across, down, over the page.
Carole: You allude to Langston Hughes in BGD. What other poets influenced you?
Jacqueline: There've been so many since my first encounter with Langston Hughes -- Gwendolyn Brooks, Maya Angelou, Nikki Giovanni was HUGE for me, Countee Cullen's INCIDENT, was a poem that haunted me and made me think about living as an African American in the United States. So many poets influenced me both politically and artistically.
Carole: How did the oral tradition contribute to your development as a writer?
Jacqueline: I think the fact that my family was always telling stories really helped me believe I could tell stories even if I couldn't read or write. Also, the history they held onto that wasn't written down, that was past down from generation to generation really gave me a strong sense of myself in the world and of the people who came before me. I love the fact that even though as enslaved people we weren't allowed to learn to read and write, that didn't stop us from telling our stories. That's amazing to me. And that really gave me a lot of faith in my own ability to tell stories.
Carole concludes: Although our upbringings were different there are some coincidences: a Caroline and a gardening printers in the family, storytelling kin, rural roots, handmade first books about nature (butterflies and trees), begging to wear afros, and birthdays a day apart (mine is Feb. 13). Because my father was a printer, I kind of consider publishing the family business. Do you think your grandfather’s career in printing in any way emboldened or destined you to seek publication?
And Jacqueline responds:
Huh -- I hadn't thought of that -- But yes, the fact that there were always words in some form in our lives, words became a part of me.
Thank you both for sharing so openly in my mutual admiration society!
This time last week, I was attending the ALSC Institute in Oakland, California. It was a great event, well-organized by Nina Lindsay and her team, and full of super-librarians full of energy and enthusiasm and a bunch of great author talks. I was honored to present alongside the fabulous Janet Wong, Susan Blackaby, Alma Flor Ada, Isabelle Campoy, and Margarita Engle. Here are a few nuggets from our presentations on The Science of Poetry. Enjoy!
First up, we're so thrilled to be featured on the ALSC Blog. Thank you, Jill Hutchison, for your wonderful summary of our Thursday session here and to Karen Choy, for your lovely write up at the ALSC Blog here.
Alma Flor Ada, Susan Blackaby, Janet Wong, Isabelle Campoy
Margarita Engle, Susan Blackaby, Janet Wong
And here are a few short video clips of our poets reading their poetry aloud-- always a treat.
From The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science
From The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science
We also had heaps of bananas (to go with a banana poem) and heaps of giveaway cards and books like these (with downloadable printables available at PomeloBooks.com).
The next biennial ALSC Institute will be held in 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. Can't wait!
YALSA, the young adult arm of ALA is having its YALSA Institute in November in Austin and I'll be there too presenting alongside: K. A. Holt, Sara Holbrook, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Michael Salinger, Janet Wong, and Jacqueline Woodson. What a line up, right?! Come on by for our presentation on Sun., Nov. 16.