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1. Flashback to the ALA Poetry Blast

Before the summer gets away from me, I wanted to post tiny video clips of the poets reading at the Poetry Blast at the ALA convention in San Francisco in June hosted by Marilyn Singer and Barbara Genco. It's always fun to hear poets read their own work aloud-- I never get tired of that. And if you couldn't join us, this is the next best thing-- if you'll forgive the mediocre skills and equipment here. 

First up: Betsy Franco reading from her brand new book, A Spectacular Selection of Sea Critters (Millbrook Press).


Next, Nikki Grimes read from Poems in the Attic (Lee & Low Books).

Then, Rebecca Kai Dotlich read selections from Grumbles from the Forest: Fairy Tale Voices with a Twist in collaboration with Jane Yolen (Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press).

Marilyn Nelson was next, reading from her memoir, How I Discovered Poetry (Dial).
 

Alma Flor Ada read an excerpt from Yes! We Are Latinos! co-authored with F. Isabel Campoy (Charlesbridge).

Then, F. Isabel Campoy read from Poesia eres tu (Poetry is You) (Alfaguara). 
 

Marilyn Singer wrapped it all up by reading a few selections from her book, A Strange Place to Call Home (Chronicle Books).

What a fun way to spend an hour, right? 

If you get to attend the ALA (American Library Association) conference NEXT summer (in Orlando), be sure to put the Poetry Blast on your schedule. It's usually held on Sunday afternoon and it's a wonderful gathering of poets and poetry lovers. See you there!

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2. International Day of Friendship

I ran an errand this week and saw that school supplies are already on sale! I was both surprised that stores were already stocking school supplies AND excited to get a great price on new scissors, glue, and spiral notebooks! (I love school supplies even though I don't have young children in school any more.) I thought it might be fun to post a poem from our CELEBRATIONS book that is perfect for an upcoming holiday as well as back-to-school sharing. Did you that July 30 is the International Day of Friendship? That's one of the special occasions that we discovered when we created The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations: Holiday Poems for the Whole Year in English and Spanish (2015). It's a United Nations celebration designed to encourage governments, organizations, and community groups to hold events, activities and initiatives that promote solidarity, mutual understanding and reconciliation. 

Here's a brand new poem from the CELEBRATIONS book, "How to Make a Friend," by Jane Heitman Healy that's perfect for celebrating this holiday-- and for kicking off a new school year, too-- in English AND Spanish, plus with the Take 5 activities for sharing this poem and linking with picture books and poetry books, too. Enjoy!






















Now head on over to Reflections on the Teche where Margaret is hosting our Poetry Friday gathering. See you there!

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3. Presenting at ILA on TRANSMEDIA

I'm heading to St. Louis for the International Literacy Convention this weekend. Formerly the International Reading Association, this big organization has also moved its annual conference from May to July, so it will be interesting to see the difference. I'm looking forward to seeing friends and presenting alongside Janet Wong, Rose Brock, and Cynthia Alaniz. Originally, Mary Lee Hahn was also supposed to present with us, but she needs to be with her mom-- which we understand completely. We'll miss her!

Our talk is on "transmedia" and how we can use all kinds of media alongside books in print to build literacy (Saturday, July 18, 3-4pm America's Center room 106). We'll be talking about social media, audiobooks, apps, ebooks, videos, games, cards, and more. Very cutting edge! And of course, we'll weave POETRY throughout all this too-- with poetry apps, ebooks, videos, games, etc. Here are just a few nuggets with a sneak preview from my part of our session.



Speaking of new media, Kimberley Moran is hosting Poetry Friday this week over at Google+. That's fun! See you there-- here's the link.

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4. Celebrate Pride!

It's Gay Pride weekend in San Francisco where the ALA conference is going strong. Tomorrow is officially Gay Pride Day and the Supreme Court has made their historic ruling. What a confluence of moments! Celebrate with this fun poem:


And here are the Take 5 activities that go with this poem: 
  1. Play marching band music in the background as you read this poem aloud enthusiastically. One source is SoundCloud.com/lumarchingband.
  2. Read the poem again and invite children to cheer along with the phrase Hip Hip Hooray! as you read the rest of the poem.
  3. Share experiences watching, attending, or participating in a live parade.
  4. Pair this poem with the picture book This Day in June by Gayle E. Pitman (Magination, 2014) and explore the details and diversity in the illustrations.
  5. Connect with another “parade” poem, “Independence Day” by Linda Dryfhout (July, pages 186-187); selections from Poems to Dream Together/Poemas para sonar juntos by Francisco X. Alarcón (Lee & Low, 2005); or the picture book Heather Has Two Mommies by Lesléa Newman (Candlewick, rereleased, 2015).

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5. YALSA at ALA in San Francisco


It's time for the annual conference of the American Library Association, this time in San Francisco, California! I'm lucky enough to be presenting alongside an amazing panel, thanks to YALSA. Here's the lowdown:
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The WeNeedDiverseBooks movement challenges us to help young people connect with their passions, desires, and interests by embracing diversity. A panel of scholars, authors, and practitioners including Professors Sylvia Vardell and Antero Garcia, librarian Marianne Follis, and authors Janet Wong, Margarita Engle, and Lesléa Newman will discuss how diversity is key—in literature, media, and programming and in embracing and exploring questions of cultural and sexual identity.

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Our program weaves together the perspective of scholars, authors, and practitioners combining the expertise and context of each unique setting, highlighting the potential for collaboration. In addition, the focus on diversity is crucial, examining the spectrum of cultural and sexual identity in literature, media, and programming showing how a cross-cultural, cross-platform focus meets the needs of today’s teens in meaningful ways.

If you're at the conference, come join us!


A Select Bibliography of Books by Presenters


1. Dietzel-Glair, Julie and Follis, Marianne. 2015. Get Real with Storytime: 52 Weeks of Early Literacy Programming with Nonfiction and Poetry. Libraries Unlimited. 
2. Engle, Margaret. 2006. The Poet Slave of Cuba. Holt.
3. Engle, Margarita. 2008. The Surrender Tree. Holt.
4. Engle, Margarita. 2009. Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba. Holt.
5. Engle, Margarita. 2010. Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian. Holt.
6. Engle, Margarita. 2010. The Firefly Letters: A Suffragette's Journey to Cuba. Holt.
7. Engle, Margarita. 2011. Hurricane Dancers: The First Caribbean Pirate Shipwreck. Holt. 
8. Engle, Margarita. 2012. The Wild Book. Houghton Mifflin.  
9. Engle, Margarita. 2013. Mountain Dog. Holt.
10. Engle, Margarita. 2013. The Lightning Dreamer. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
11. Engle, Margarita. 2014. Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal. HMHarcourt. 
12. Engle, Margarita. 2015. Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
13. Engle, Margarita. 2015. Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings: A Memoir. Atheneum.
14. Engle, Margarita. 2015. Orangutanka: A Story in Poems. Holt. 
15. Engle, Margarita. 2015. The Sky Painter: Louis Fuertes, Bird Artist. Two Lions. 
16. Garcia, Antero and Haddix, Marcelle. 2015. “Reading YA with ‘Dark Brown Skin': Race, Community, and Rue’s Uprising.” ALAN Review, (Winter, 2015).
17. Garcia, Antero and Middaugh, Ellen. 2014. “Lost, Sweaty, and Engaged in Dialogue: The Civic Opportunities of Geospatial Play” in #youthaction: Becoming Political in the Digital Age edited by Ben Kirshner and Ellen Middaugh. Information Age Publishing.
18. Garcia, Antero and Middaugh, Ellen. 2015. “Race to the White House.” Civic Media Project. Accessed at http://civicmediaproject.org/works/civic-media-project/racetothewhitehouse 
19. Garcia, Antero. 2013. Critical Foundations in Young Adult Literature: Challenging Genres (Critical Literacy Teaching: Challenging Authors and Genre). Sense Publishers.
20. Garcia, Antero. 2014. Teaching in The Connected Classroom (DML Research Hub Report Series on Connected Learning Book 3). Digital Media and Learning Research Hub.
21. Mirra, Nicole; Garcia, Antero and Morrell, Ernest. 2015. Doing Youth Participatory Action Research: Transforming Inquiry with Researchers, Educators, and Students (Language, Culture, and Teaching Series). Routledge.
22. Newman, Lesléa and Dutton, Mike. 2011. Donovan’s Big Day. Tricycle Press.
23. Newman, Lesléa and Ferguson, Peter. 2007. The Boy Who Cried Fabulous. Tricycle Press.
24. Newman, Lesléa. 1996.  Fat Chance. PaperStar/Putnam & Grosset.
25. Newman, Lesléa. 1997. Still Life with Buddy. Pride & Imprints.
26. Newman, Lesléa. 2003. Write from the Heart. Ten Speed Press.
27. Newman, Lesléa. 2004. Hachiko Waits. Holt.
28. Newman, Lesléa. 2005. Jailbait.
Random House.
29. Newman, Lesléa. 2014. Here is the World: A Year of Jewish Holidays. Abrams.
30. Newman, Lesléa. 2015. Heather Has Two Mommies. Candlewick.
31. Newman, Lesléa. 2015. I Carry My Mother. Headmistress Press.
32. Newman, Lesléa. 2012. October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard. Candlewick.
33. Vardell, Sylvia and Wong, Janet. Eds. 2011. Gift Tag. PoetryTagTime.com.
34. Vardell, Sylvia and Wong, Janet. Eds. 2011. P*TAG. PoetryTagTime.com.
35. Vardell, Sylvia and Wong, Janet. Eds. 2011. PoetryTagTime. PoetryTagTime.com.
36. Vardell, Sylvia and Wong, Janet. Eds. 2012. The Poetry Friday Anthology K-5. Pomelo Books.
37. Vardell, Sylvia and Wong, Janet. Eds. 2013. The Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School. Pomelo Books.
38. Vardell, Sylvia and Wong, Janet. Eds. 2014. The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science. Pomelo Books.
39. Vardell, Sylvia and Wong, Janet. Eds. 2015. The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations: Holiday Poems for the Whole Year in English and Spanish. Pomelo Books.
40. Vardell, Sylvia. 2007. Poetry People: A Practical Guide to Children’s Poets. Libraries Unlimited.
41. Vardell, Sylvia. 2012. The Poetry Teacher’s Book of Lists. Pomelo Books. 
42. Vardell, Sylvia. 2014. Poetry Aloud Here 2: Sharing Poetry with Children (Second Edition). American Library Association.
43. Wong, Janet S. 1994. Good Luck Gold and Other Poems. McElderry Books.
44. Wong, Janet S. 1996/2008. A Suitcase of Seaweed, and Other Poems. Booksurge.
45. Wong, Janet S. 1999. Behind the Wheel:  Poems about Driving. McElderry Books.
46. Wong, Janet S. 1999. The Rainbow Hand: Poems about Mothers and Children. McElderry Books.
47. Wong, Janet S. 2000. Night Garden:  Poems from the World of Dreams. McElderry Books.
48. Wong, Janet S. 2003. Knock on Wood: Poems about Superstitions. McElderry Books.
49. Wong, Janet S. 2003. Minn and Jake: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
50. Wong, Janet S. 2007. Twist: Yoga Poems. McElderry Books.
51. Wong, Janet. 2008. Minn and Jake’s Almost Terrible Summer. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 
52. Wong, Janet. 2011. Once Upon A Tiger: New Beginnings for Endangered Animals. OnceUponaTiger.com. 
53. Wong, Janet. 2012. Declaration of Interdependence: Poems for an Election Year. PoetrySuitcase.

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Special thanks to Candlewick Press, Simon & Schuster, and Pomelo Books for their support!

We have an amazing slideshow and our session will be audio-taped plus we have heaps of freebies to give away too. I hope to share some nuggets from our session later-- and attend the Poetry Blast and report on that next week too. Meanwhile, happy Poetry Friday, everyone! Head on over to Carol's Corner where she is hosting our gathering this week. 

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6. Poet to Poet: Amy Ludwig VanDerwater Interviews Lee Wardlaw

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 Amy Ludwig VanDerwater and Lee Wardlaw who have very generously volunteered to participate. Both of these women write poetry in picture book form that are so endearing, fun and thoughtful for young readers.

Amy Ludwig VanDerwater’s work has appeared in multiple anthologies and she is a frequent and popular workshop presenter and literacy consultant. She is a former fifth grade teacher and her current blogs, Poem Farm and Sharing our Notebooks are both highly regarded resources on the writing and teaching of poetry. Her first full-length book for children was the lovely walk-through-the-woods, Forest Has a Song and the forthcoming poetry collection, Reading Time. 

Lee Wardlaw grew up in Santa Barbara, CA, and wrote her first book in second grade. She continued to write poems, stories and plays all through elementary school. She worked as a teacher for five years before deciding to write full-time and the award-winning author of close to 30 books for young readers, including Won Ton: A Cat Tale in Haiku; Red, White and Boom; 101 Ways to Bug Your Friends and Enemies, among others. She is also a frequent presenter of workshops and programs for children, teachers, and parents.

Here, Amy asks Lee all about her passion for cats and her creation of her new book, Won Ton and Chopstick, and Lee reciprocates with many images of her process along with her fascinating responses.

Amy: As a person who lives with many animals, both canine and feline, I admire the way you reveal Won Ton's purrsonality through poems. We playfully speak in the voices of our own cats and dogs here at home, but you take things to a new level writing two books in Won Ton's voice. Are Won Ton and Chopstick modeled after real animals you have known?  And if not, how did you do this?  Do you study your friends' pets and practice speaking as they might speak?  Do you do this out loud?

Lee: I speak fluent Cat. It’s been my second language since I was a toddler, when my mother used to read me Pussy Willow by Margaret Wise Brown. Since then, I’ve shared my life with 30 cats of every flavor imaginable, so it was easy to slink into Won Ton’s head and tell tales from his point of view.

Wait – I take that back. Writing in a cat-ly voice didn’t come easily at first, not until I switched from prose to haiku. That’s when Won Ton’s purrsonality really pounced off the page. I think that’s because cats and haiku have so much in common (as you can see from my analysis, below). I firmly believe that if cats were to speak human, they would do so in haiku.
Yes, Won Ton is modeled after several of my previous cats (with a bit of my own persnickety-ness thrown in). Won Ton – A Cat Tale Told in Haiku is actually based on the sweet, affectionate relationship that my son and his cat, Papaya, developed over the last decade.
Papaya and my son, Patterson, at age 8 and at age 18.
True Confession #1: I’ve never owned a dog. So Chopstick is not modeled after any pup I’ve know personally. For him, I actually had to do research! 

I interviewed my author-friend Bruce Halewho has a dog, Riley. Bruce filled me in on many canine characteristics, such as: they love to dig, they love to chew, and they love to dig and chew.

I also interview Amy Shojai a fellow member of the Cat Writers’ Association. Amy is a certified animal behavior consultant (CABC). She supplied me with amazingly helpful info about the common emotional, physical and social dynamics between a resident cat and a new puppy that invades his turf. 
Illustration from Won Ton and Chopstick, illustrated by Eugene Yelchin
My long-time writer-buddy Dian Curtis Regan passed along a great anecdote about her elderly kitty, Gracie, and her new puppy, Nellie, which inspired this poem:

Proper cats prefer
playthings with feathers or fur.
So whose toys are these?

Amy: How did you come to choose the Japanese senryu form for Won Ton's voice?

Lee: True Confession #2: I didn’t know I was writing senryu! I’d never even heard of senryu – until I stumbled upon the term while working on Won Ton. It was an a-ha! moment, because I knew that my poems weren’t true haiku – and that worried me. I tend to be a rule-follower, so I had this irrational fear that the Haiku Police were going to break down my office door and confiscate my manuscript.

For your readers who don’t know, haiku (HI-koo) and senryu (SEN-ree-yoo) are similar. Both traditionally feature three unrhymed lines containing a grand total of 17 syllables (5-7-5, respectively) – and are written in the present tense. Each also captures the essence of a moment. In haiku, the moment is of nature; in senryu, the foibles of human nature (or, in my case, feline nature) are the focus, expressed by a narrator in a humorous, playful or ironic way. That’s Won Ton! 

Amy: Won Ton and Chopstick, like Won Ton, is collection of poems with a clear story-structure.  What is your process in drafting a poetry collection that follows a narrative arc?  

Lee: My process is the same as drafting a novel or a picture book – at least in the beginning.

First, I brainstorm ideas for the characters, which includes various aspects of their personalities: their needs, fears, wants, likes, loves, hates and – of course – their names. 
‘Name-storming’ for the puppy in Won Ton and Chopstick
I even made extensive notes on the types of sounds cats make, which is more than just meowing, growling or purring. (There’s also trilling, chattering, and chirruping, to name just a few.) I have notebooks scattered all over the house, in my purse, in my car. If I don’t have a notebook handy (rare, but it happens), I brainstorm on the back of grocery store receipts, bank deposit forms, napkins and restaurant placemats.
Random notes I made in the middle of dinner out with my family. 
(Yeah, they’re used to me ignoring them when the muse strikes.)
It’s crucial for me to understand not only who or what my characters are, but also why. In other words, I have to understand my characters’ motivations: the values, beliefs, emotions, fears, etc., that drive them to action. Without these motivations, I can’t create conflict or plot. And without conflict and plot, well, there’s no story.

Once I’ve created my characters, then I outline the plot. It’s a rough outline, because when I’m doing the actual writing, I like to allow myself to play, experiment, and explore; to scamper off, or sniff out intriguing tangents. But I always, ALWAYS know exactly how my story ends – even if the journey there changes somewhat along the way.

Then, finally, FINALLY, I start writing the poems. I think I ended up with 80 poems for Won Ton and Chopstick, which was 40 too many. So I printed each one out separately, and spread them across the floor of my family room, arranging and rearranging them into plot sections, such as “The Routine”, The Sneaking Suspicion”, “The Surprise”, “The Altercation”, “The Vindication”, etc.  (This took a while, because whenever Papaya spies any piece of paper on the floor, he must immediately come lie down upon it.)
Next, things got rough. That’s because I was now forced to “kill my darlings” (to quote William Faulkner). Meaning, I had to banish a lot of poems I adored because they either slowed the story pace, or didn’t increase the conflict, or failed to portray a necessary emotion, or sounded “author-y”. And, of course, each haiku had to be honed many, many times, because every single one is almost like a little story all on its own. (The final version of Won Ton and Chopstick has 37 poems; Won Ton has 33.)

Amy: Would you please talk a little bit about the last poem in the book?

Lee: In the first book, our hero is bemused by Boy’s name choice for him:

Won Ton? How can I
be soup? Some day, I’ll tell you
my real name. Maybe. 

By the end of the story, the reader knows that Won Ton has grown to trust and love his human:

“Good night, Won Ton,” you
whisper. Boy, it’s time you knew:
My name is Haiku.

In the second book, Won Ton is clear about his dislike for the new puppy:

Don’t bother barking
your real name. I’ve already
guessed. It must be…Pest!


But that dislike eventually erodes, transforming into trust and affection. I mirror that growth and depth of feeling in the last poem, when Won Ton says to Chopstick:

Your secret revealed.
What kind of name is Bashō?
I shall call you…Friend.

Although each book can stand alone, this last poem contains a surprise that connects it to the original story. In this way, I honor the fans of Won Ton – and also pay homage to Matsuo Munefusa (1644-1694), the Japanese haiku master whose pseudonym was Bashō.

Amy: Do you imagine more collections about either or both of these two friends? 

Lee: I’m pleased with this Dynamic Duo, but I wouldn’t say no to a trilogy! I actually have an idea for a third book, and I’ve received a lot of fan mail from kids begging for one more adventure, so maybe…


Sylvia: Wasn't this wonderful? I love Amy's questions about cat, form, and process and Lee's answers are so personal and honest-- complete with fantastic images that help us visualize her thinking. What a treat to share with young aspiring writers, too. 


Meanwhile, head on over to Jama’s Alphabet Soup for our blueberry-themed Poetry Friday party! See you there!


Image credits: LeeWardlaw, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, Smithsonianapa.org

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7. New Young People's Poet Laureate: Jacqueline Woodson

I'm so excited to announce that the next Young People's Poet Laureate has been selected. It's Jacqueline Woodson!

Jacqueline is the multi-award winning author of approximately 30 books for children and teens-- including the recent National Book Award winner, Brown Girl Dreaming, her memoir in verse-- which you know was one of my favorite books of the whole year! She also published Locomotion (2003) and Peace, Locomotion (2010) featuring a poetry writing character, Lonnie (nicknamed "Locomotion") with poems woven throughout the narrative. And of course her novels and picture books are built on beautiful, poetic language and memorable characters and true-to-life moments. 

Here's one of my favorite moments from Brown Girl Dreaming:

stevie and me (pp. 227-228)

Every Monday, my mother takes us
to the library around the corner. We are allowed
to take out seven books each. On those days,
no one complains
that all I want are picture books.

Those days, no one tells me to read faster
to read harder books
to read like Dell.

No one is there to say, Not that book,
when I stop in front of the small paperback
with a brown boy on the cover.
Stevie.

I read:
One day my momma told me
“You know you’re gonna have
a little friend come stay with you.”
And I said, “Who is it?”

If someone had been fussing with me
to read like my sister, I might have missed
the picture book filled with brown people, more
brown people than I’d ever seen
in a book before.

The little boy’s name was Steven but
his mother kept calling him Stevie
my name is Robert by my momma don’t
call me Robertie.

If someone has taken
that book out of my hand
said, You’re too old for this
maybe
I’d never have believed
that someone who looked like me
could be in the pages of the book
that someone who looked like me
had a story.
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 From: Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (Penguin, 2014)

Here's more about the award...
Formerly, the Children's Poet Laureate, now the Young People's Poet Laureate, this award was established by the Poetry Foundation in 2006 to raise awareness of the fact that children have a natural receptivity to poetry and are its most appreciative audience, especially when poems are written specifically for them. The Young People's Poet Laureate receives a $25,000 cash prize and a medallion that includes the inscription “Permit a child to join,” taken from an Emily Dickinson poem. The Young People's Poet Laureate serves as a consultant to the Foundation for a two-year period and gives at least two major public readings for children and their families, teachers, and librarians during his/her term. He/She also serves as an advisor to the Poetry Foundation on children’s literature, and may engage in a variety of projects and events to help instill a love of poetry among the nation’s youngest readers.

Recipients
2015 Jacqueline Woodson
2013 Kenn Nesbitt
2011 J. Patrick Lewis
2008 Mary Ann Hoberman
2006 Jack Prelutsky

The official announcement is here. And you'll find an interview with Jacqueline and Stacey Lynn Brown here. In this article, Jacqueline is brilliant, as always-- I loved this excerpt in particular: 

"I think one thing I want to do as young people’s poet laureate is make sure all people know that poetry is a party everyone is invited to. I think many people believe and want others to believe that poetry is for the precious, entitled, educated few. And that’s just not true. Our children’s first words are poems—poems we and our listeners are delighted to hear and eager to understand. Rap is poetry. Spoken word is poetry. Poetry lives in our everyday. I’ve read some of the most poetic tweets, listened to poetic voice messages and snippets of dialogue between teenagers. In terms of what distinguishes poetry from other genres—it wastes no time, and I love that. Poetry doesn’t meander—well, a lot of poetry doesn’t. It says, “Understand me now because what I need to say is urgent.” And this urgency, this sense of getting the moment on the page and then letting silence fill the white space, is one of the many things I love about poetry. I would love for everyone to listen to the poetry inside of them. I would love for everyone to believe that they have a poem to write, say, sing, rap, dance..."

I applaud this choice and look forward to what Jacqueline does next! Meanwhile, it's not too late to check out the Poetry Friday posts over at Buffy's Blog!

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8. Poet to Poet: Holly Thompson interviews Margarita Engle

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 Holly Thompson and Margarita Engle who have very generously volunteered to participate. Both of these women write verse novels (and other works) that explore the intersection of the cultural and the personal. 

Holly Thompson is a poet and author who originally hails from Massachusetts, but lived in Japan for 20 years and writes about this cross-cultural, inter-cultural experience in sensitive and thoughtful novels in verse like Orchards, The Language Inside, and the forthcoming Falling into the Dragon's Mouth

Margarita Engle is the award-winning author of many novels and biographical works in verse such as The Poet Slave of Cuba, The Surrender Tree, Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba, The Firefly Letters; A Suffragette's Journey to CubaHurricane Dancers; The First Caribbean Pirate ShipwreckThe Wild BookMountain Dog, The Lightning Dreamer, and Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal. Her new book is Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings: A Memoir-- perhaps her most personal book yet! 

Here, Holly asks Margarita about writing, memoir, childhood and culture in a series of very compelling and thoughtful questions and responses. Enjoy!

Holly: Enchanted Air! This memoir covers your early years to your teens and encompasses some huge political intrusions on your young life as well as influences of artistic parents from different cultures. The book is large in scope yet focused on little moments. How did you balance the specific with the global as you set about writing this memoir? How did you keep from getting bogged down by background information about the major historical and political events and circumstances?

Margarita: Thank you so much for your interest in these details of the writing process, Holly.  I didn’t consciously set out to aim for balance.  This profoundly personal verse memoir was not planned in any structured way, but was simply scribbled from a time-ripened blend of raw emotions and natural instincts. I closed my eyes and remembered the aspects of my childhood that were important to me. Then I wrote about them.  Instead of trying to work facts and figures into the poems, I moved most of the political and historical surrealism of U.S.-Cuba relations to a timeline at the end of the book. The actual events of the Cold War are so hard to believe that I wanted to write them myself, before they are romanticized by writers of the future.

Holly: The Cuba of your childhood is vividly portrayed. Here is an excerpt that I love:

Tropical Windows

In this centuries-old house,
each floor-to-ceiling window
is truly an opening—no glass,
just twisted wrought iron bars
that let the sea breeze flow in
like a friendly spirit.

At night fireflies blink inside rooms,
and big, pale green luna moths float
like graceful wisps of moonlight.

In the morning, all those night creatures
vanish, replaced by cousins and neighbors
who peer in through the barred windows
to greet me and chat.

Holly: Throughout the poems, whether located in Cuba, the U.S. or Europe, the natural world is a touchstone, the discovery of flora and fauna in the wild a source of constant comfort for your young self. Family is also a thread in many of the poems. Can you discuss these two elements which are so central and often intricately woven together?

Margarita: I’m the daughter of artists, but ever since I was very little, I’ve been part poet, and part scientist. Tropical nature and the extended family were my two big personal discoveries during those childhood summers in Cuba, the two aspects of life that constantly astonished me. It would be fair to say that I fell in love with both the nature and culture of Cuba “at first sight,” just as my parents fell in love with each other at first sight. Childhood summers in Cuba determined my future. I studied botany, and became an agronomist.  I remembered family, and became a poet.

Holly: With a mother from Cuba, your childhood was deeply affected by the cold war and the extreme chill in U.S.-Cuba relations. The loss of your other home in Cuba is palpable in Enchanted Air. How might you speak to your young self about the recent, at last, warming/softening of relations between the two countries?

Margarita: The advanced review copy of Enchanted Air landed on my doorstep just as President Obama was making his December 17, 2014 announcement about a thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations. For me, it felt like a prayer answered. I cried with joy. In the last paragraph of the historical note at the end of the manuscript, I had written:  “My hope is that by the time Enchanted Air goes to press, normal travel and trade might begin to be restored.” Amazingly, that is exactly what happened! I know God must have plenty of other written prayers to read, but in this case it felt like He might have glanced down at my scribbling, smiled, and said, “Oh, yeah, it’s about time those two stubborn countries stopped holding a grudge.” Of course, now I have to revise the historical note, something I’m doing with incredible gratitude. I just returned from a family visit to Cuba.  Diplomatic relations, travel, and trade aren’t completely normal yet. Most aspects have not yet actually changed, but just knowing that the process has started inspires hope. For the first time, during all my many return visits to Cuba since 1991, I was able to relax and go birdwatching, instead of just worrying about how to understand history, and how to help relatives.

Holly: As a teen, you traveled one summer with your family in Europe and spent a month in Spain. There, you seemed to discover that home can be in more than just two places, the U.S. and Cuba, and you seemed to gain an appreciation for your two languages. Can you speak about the comfort that travel brought you? How did your early experiences traveling between Cuba and the U.S. impact that later discovery of solace in new places?

Margarita: We visited several European countries that summer, but I only felt “at home” in Spain, partly because of the familiar language, and partly because we stayed in one town long enough to get to know people. During subsequent years I started traveling earnestly, first hitchhiking all over the U.S. during my late teens, and then, beginning in my early twenties, traveling all over Latin America on buses, trains, donkeys, and dugout canoes. It took decades for me to realize that wherever I went, a part of me was always searching for Cuba. Returning to the island in 1991 began a long, slow process of becoming whole again.  I am finally myself now, half American and half Cuban, just as I was during childhood.  Traveling helped me heal.

Sylvia: As a fellow traveler, I love that idea: of healing through travel. Thank you, Holly and Margarita for sharing so generously and for all your works that consider the intersection of the cultural, the personal, and the political. I am a big fan of you BOTH! And I think Enchanted Air is an amazing book, a beautiful blend of personal memories and a slice of history, as well as a coming-of-age story. I'm lucky enough to be able to dig deeply into this book to create a reader's guide for Enchanted Air-- more info on that later. 

Meanwhile, head on over to Radio, Rhythm, and Rhyme where Matt Forrest is hosting Poetry Friday and has some good news of his own to share.


Image credits: YAReview.net; MargaritaEngle.com; Commons.Wikimedia.org; authorsforphilippines.wordpress.com; NoWaterRiver.com; blogs.mccombs.utexas.edu

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9. The Symbiosis of Science and Poetry

Janet and I were so thrilled to get an article published in the latest issue of ALSC's Children and Libraries. The focus is on science and poetry and begins like this:

Sometimes unlikely partners can benefit each other in surprising ways. For example, dogs offer protection and companionship to humans, who in turn provide food and shelter for dogs. This “give-and-take” relationship is called symbiosis, referring to relationships that have mutual benefit. 

That’s true for the disciplines of science and poetry, too. Science is rich in content and poetry offers powerful language; together they can both inform and inspire. 

For some of us, however, science is a little intimidating because of the unfamiliar vocabulary, abstract concepts, and the text-heavy format of many science books. But people who feel uncomfortable with science often feel very comfortable with language arts, so a poem might be the perfect way to introduce a science topic.

Then we go on to highlight some recent works of science-themed poetry, including The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science:


Finding Science Poetry
There are many wonderful science-themed works of poetry to choose about animals, weather, seasons, and space. In addition to short, visually-appealing poetry collections such as Water Sings Blue: Ocean Poems by Kate Coombs, Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature’s Survivors by Joyce Sidman, and A Strange Place to Call Home: The World’s Most Dangerous Habitats and the Animals That Call Them Home by Marilyn Singer, you can also find comprehensive anthologies such as The Tree That Time Built: A Celebration of Nature, Science, and Imagination compiled by Mary Ann Hoberman and Linda Wilson, The National Geographic Book of Animal Poetry compiled by J. Patrick Lewis, and our own The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science, a recent “NSTA Recommends” title endorsed by the National Science Teachers Association. It features 218 poems about solar power and hybrid cars, gears and robots, hurricanes and the human body, video games and glaciers, famous scientists and everyday inventions, and more (along with learning activities for every poem). Using these science poetry resources and many others, it’s possible to find a short “poem match” for almost any elementary science topic to provide a moment of learning that is also a fun break in the routine. 

One helpful selection resource is the annual list of Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K–12, co-sponsored by the Children’s Book Council and the National Science Teachers Association. This annotated bibliography typically includes a few new books of science-themed poetry every year, sometimes in the form of rhyming picturebooks and verse novels. 

In addition, many children’s science-themed magazines and serials, such as Ranger Rick, Owl, Chirp, Chickadee, National Geographic Kids, and Kids Discover, regularly feature poems, In fact, magazines are often the first medium in which many new poets get their work published.

We address the science curriculum standards and how to address them through poetry.  And we also talk about how to address research skills, as well as different approaches to publishing science-themed poetry-- including pairing prose and poetry. Finally, we offer a few examples of how to maximize science-poem moments:

 *A “Galactic Glossary” in Comets, Stars, the Moon, and Mars: Space Poems and Paintings by Douglas Florian defines everything from “the minor planets” to “the great beyond,” with a sprinkling of especially kid-friendly facts.

*Face Bug by J. Patrick Lewis not only provides exceptional close-up photos of insect faces, but also ends with a section in which each of the insects featured in a poem has a first-person statement about “Where I Live,” “How I Grow,” “What I Eat,” and “What Eats Me.” (The Pearl Crescent Butterfly says, “I count robber flies . . . and, of course . . . BIRDS on my Most Scary List” while the venomous Saddleback Caterpillar says, “Go away, if you know what’s good for you!”)

*Nature Notes in the back of Avis Harley’s poetry collection African Acrostics feature informative paragraphs alongside thumbnail photos of each of the animals highlighted in the book; Susan Blackaby provides similar information about each of the animal habitats she showcases in the poems of Nest, Nook & Cranny. In addition, both Harley and Blackaby provide a section about the poetic forms they employ in the poems, too.

You can find more info about this excellent journal HERE

Now head on over to Random Noodling where Diane has the Poetry Friday party going strong! 

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10. Celebrating World Red Cross Day

Today, May 8, is World Red Cross Day and of course we have featured it in our new book, The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations. Our featured poem, "Look for the Helpers," is by Michelle Heidenrich Barnes and it's a lovely, sensitive poem that helps children focus on the helping nature of this important organization-- and how they can help right where they are. In addition to writing this beautiful poem, Michelle created a video too! And even got the Red Cross organization involved! She has posted it on her blog today too, so check out her poem video HERE. It's a wonderful way to share a poem in a one-minute movie complete with visuals and audio, too. 

Take 5!
As you surely know, we also provide mini-lessons or "Take 5" activities for every poem in all our books, so here are the Take 5 activities for THIS poem, "Look for the Helpers" by Michelle Heidenrich Barnes in The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations.






Now head on over to Michelle's blog, Today's Little Ditty, for the rest of the Poetry Friday party! 

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11. May 4-8, 2015 Celebrating Teacher Appreciation Week


Yes, April 2015 is over now, but that doesn’t mean we’re “done” with poetry! Not in my corner of the cybersphere!  First, I have one more video created by my hard-working graduate students. This one is by Jennifer M. and she has taped two young boys reading “A Teacher Knows” by Eric Ode (pronounced O-Dee) in celebration of National Teacher Appreciation Week. They are absolutely adorable and they taught me something I’ve never noticed before—that understanding poetry is in the EYES, not just the VOICE. When you watch these boys, you can really tell they GET it! And it’s not just their expressive reading—which is great—but it’s in their faces. Watch and see:


What a lovely way to celebrate teachers during National Teacher Appreciation Week (May 4-8, 2015)! If you’d like to know more about this special week, click HERE.

And for an extra treat, here's the poet Eric Ode SINGING his poem in this video here:


Or if you prefer accessing a Vimeo copy of this video, click HERE.

For the full text of this poem and 150+ more (all in English AND Spanish), order your own copy of The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations HERE and for more Poetry Celebrations fun, click HERE

Thanks for joining me in celebrating National Poetry Month (and beyond) with homemade videos of young people reading and reciting poetry. It reminds me of Robert Pinsky’s “Favorite Poem Project” and I think it will be wonderful in years to come for these young people to see themselves when they were children, hear their young voices, and revisit the poems they enjoyed while growing up before our eyes!

Now head on over to Ellen’s place at SpaceCityScribes for more Poetry Friday sharing.

Next, I’ll be sharing more “Poet to Poet” interviews, clips from the 11th annual Poetry Round Up at the recent Texas Library Association conference, excerpts from my BOOK LINKS article on verse memoirs, and much more! Stay tuned...


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12. Celebrating Poem in Your Pocket Day


Another big celebration of children and books is coming up soon:
National Children’s Book Week, 
May 4-10, 2015 

It used to be in November, but it’s been a May event for awhile now and I’m happy to report that we have a poem for Book Week in our CELEBRATIONS book. It’s “Treasure Hunt” by Sandy Asher. Laura D. has recruited a young reader to perform this poem in both English and Spanish. 


For more information about National Children’s Book Week, check out the Children’s Book Council site HERE. It's full of fun resources! And we’re excited to be one of the publishers offering a POETRY-themed “Event Kit” for Book Week this year. It includes reproducibles, game and coloring pages, bookmarks, and a word search featuring the word “poetry” in 20 different languages! Click HERE for our Book Week poetry kit.

For the full text of this poem and 150+ more (all in English AND Spanish), order your own copy of The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations HERE and for more Poetry Celebrations fun, click HERE. Plus for more on National Poetry Month, click HERE.

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13. May 4-10, 2015 Celebrating Children’s Book Week


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14. April 30: Celebrating Children’s Day, Book Day


In just a few days, we’ll be celebrating El día de los niños, El día de los libros; Children’s Day, Book Day. It’s officially on April 30, but you can certainly celebrate books and children any day! Día (for short) originates with poet, author, and literacy advocate Pat Mora and we are so thrilled to have a poem in honor of this multicultural celebration of children and books penned by Pat herself. 


Here’s Pat talking about the Día celebration: 


And for more about Pat Mora, click HERE and for more about celebrating Día, click HERE.  

For the full text of this poem and 150+ more (all in English AND Spanish), order your own copy of The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations HERE and for more Poetry Celebrations fun, click HERE. Plus for more on National Poetry Month, click HERE.


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15. Celebrating Summer Reading


Summer is right around the corner and we want to be sure to encourage kids to keep reading even after school is out. Here’s a poem that celebrates Summer Reading Month in June. It’s “Oh, Summer Books” by Diana Murray and Kaela L. has recruited a young volunteer who reads the poem with such expression that she really captures the spirit of the poem.


For the full text of this poem and 150+ more (all in English AND Spanish), order your own copy of The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations HERE and for more Poetry Celebrations fun, click HERE. Plus for more on National Poetry Month, click HERE.




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16. Celebrating Jokes


I read once that kids laugh on average 400 times a day! And adults only laugh about 15 times a day! And since laughter is supposed to be good for the heart, nervous system, and even digestion—not to mention our emotions and well-being—I think we need a lot more laughter in our lives. 

Watch these young readers performing “No Kidding” by Michelle Schaub in celebration of National Tell a Joke Day which occurs every August 16. (Make plans now!) Here’s the video created by Brooke H. I love that she got two students involved who come from other countries originally—reading both the English and the Spanish versions of the poem. And don’t miss the blooper footage complete with music!



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For the full text of this poem and 150+ more (all in English AND Spanish), order your own copy of The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations HERE and for more Poetry Celebrations fun, click HERE. Plus for more on National Poetry Month, click HERE.

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17. Celebrating Thrift Shops


In this age of "reduce, reuse, recycle," it's a good reminder that thrift shops help us do that with material goods-- as consumers and as providers. And children can start young with the notion of donating to help others. Here April Halprin Wayland conveys a child's mixed feelings in a very clever and tender way in her poem, “Box for the Thrift Shop." Juli P. has her two young performers reading both the English and Spanish versions of this lovely poem here.


Plan now to donate goods (and/or visit a thrift shop) on August 17, National Thrift Shop Day. And encourage children you know to participate with you, too.

For the full text of this poem and 150+ more (all in English AND Spanish), order your own copy of The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations HERE and for more Poetry Celebrations fun, click HERE. Plus for more on National Poetry Month, click HERE.


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18. Celebrating Etiquette


Coming soon: a whole week to celebrate good manners and being considerate of others! Yes, May 11-15 is officially National Etiquette Week and we are celebrating with the poem “Things Not to Do” by the always-considerate poet Eileen Spinelli. Here Veronica V. has challenged her young readers to perform the poem in both English and Spanish. Check it out:


And would you like to know what Emily Post has to say about National Etiquette Week? Click HERE.

For the full text of this poem and 150+ more (all in English AND Spanish), order your own copy of The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations HERE and for more Poetry Celebrations fun, click HERE. Plus for more on National Poetry Month, click HERE.

Now, head on over to No Water River where the amazing Renee La Tulippe is organizing all our Poetry Friday contributions. And remember your manners! ;-)

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19. Celebrating Breakfast Cereals


This video of Andy reading "Picky Eater" by Matt Forrest Esenwine is hilarious. Watch him keep his composure as boxes of breakfast cereal are tossed at him! Plus, he reads both the English AND Spanish versions of this poem beautifully! Thank you, Cynthia A. for this awesome video! 


Yes, there is an actual National Cereal Day on March 7, but this poem is fun to share on any day you're eating cereal-- and that's nearly every day for me! Want to know more about this unique holiday? There's a dedicated website, of course. Just click HERE.

For the full text of this poem and 150+ more (all in English AND Spanish), order your own copy of The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations HERE and for more Poetry Celebrations fun, click HERE. Plus for more on National Poetry Month, click HERE.

And head on over to Life on the Deckle Edge where Robyn is hosting our Poetry Friday gathering this week. (In the spirit of full disclosure, I'm honored to be interviewed there-- along with Janet.) Click HERE to go there! (And thanks so much, Robyn-- all around!)

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20. Celebrating Letter Writing


Letter writing may be a dying art, but it's still important to know how to communicate, whether by email, text, tweet, note, OR letter. Need a model of how to? Check out this poem, "Sincerely" by Robyn Hood Black. Here, the narrator in Jenny G's video has really captured the spirit of the poem with such a great smile and clear enunciation. And don't miss the hilarious blooper bits too!


You can share this lovely poem next March during National Write a Letter of Appreciation Day or ANY DAY when you want to nudge children to try writing someone they care about. You'll find a Pocket Poem card version of this poem at Pinterest too right HEREWe have a whole "board" of CELEBRATION Pocket Poems there to share and enjoy. Just click HERE.


For the full text of this poem and 150+ more (all in English AND Spanish), order your own copy of The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations HERE and for more Poetry Celebrations fun, click HERE. Plus for more on National Poetry Month, click HERE.

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21. April 19-25, 2015 Celebrating National Coin Week


When I was a little girl, I loved collecting pennies and putting them in those hard blue folders with the circles for holding each penny. (I still have that collection more than 50 years later!) And I love keeping a coin from each country I visit too. So I was tickled to discover there is a bona fide holiday celebrating COINS! And that holiday starts TODAY! Yes, it is National Coin Week this week, April 19-25, 2015. 

To celebrate, let's pause for a poem about coins. Cynthia H. has gathered a group of four young readers with each girl taking one stanza of the poem, reading with a lot of enthusiasm and in both English and Spanish. Plus, Cynthia has added visuals, music, and sound effects (clinking coins!). Enjoy their reading of "Pocket Change" by Kelly Ramsdell Fineman.


And do you want to know more about such numismatic events? For more information about National Coin Week, click HERE.

For the full text of this poem and 150+ more (all in English AND Spanish), order your own copy of The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations HERE and for more Poetry Celebrations fun, click HERE. Plus for more on National Poetry Month, click HERE.



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22. Celebrating Daylight


Want to help children learn about the time change every March? Here's a poem to help you remember and to pull out again in October when it's time to switch again. Elena B. has gathered readers the library to read the poem “Daylight Saving Time” by Shirley Duke in both English and Spanish. Enjoy!



As always, we suggest "Take 5" activities for every poem in The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations. For THIS poem, here are the suggested "Take 5" activities:

TAKE 5

  1. Use a real or toy clock or watch as your poetry prop as you read this poem aloud. 
  2. Invite children to join in on the first line of each stanza (Spring forward! and Fall back!) while you read the rest of the poem aloud.
  3. Talk about the pros and cons of changing the clock twice a year based on the details in this poem. One resource is TimeAndDate.com.
  4. Pair this poem with the picture book Now & Ben: The Modern Inventions of Benjamin Franklin by Gene Barretta (Square Fish, 2008) and talk about the many ways Ben Franklin’s ideas have shaped our lives today.
  5. Connect this with another poem about the changing of seasons, “The Rollerbears” by Jack Prelutsky (October, pages 260-261), and with poems from Once Around the Sun by Bobbi Katz (Harcourt, 2006) or Sharing the Seasons edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins (McElderry, 2010).

For the full text of this poem and 150+ more (all in English AND Spanish) along with "Take 5" activities for every poem, order your own copy of The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations HERE and for more Poetry Celebrations fun, click HERE. Plus for more on National Poetry Month, click HERE.

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23. Celebrating Water


California is experiencing severe drought conditions and rationing water. It's a good reminder of what a precious and essential resource water is. Poet George Ella Lyon feels passionately about this topic and has authored a poem about it, “World Water Day," as well as a beautiful picture book, All the Water in the World by George Ella Lyon (Atheneum, 2011). Here, Sharon T. has recruited a teenager to read George Ella's beautiful poem. 


March 22 is officially World Water Day and you can learn more about this United Nations celebration HERE

For the full text of this poem and 150+ more (all in English AND Spanish), order your own copy of The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations HERE and for more Poetry Celebrations fun, click HERE. Plus for more on National Poetry Month, click HERE.


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24. April 22: Celebrating Earth Day


Today is Earth Day

Want to know more about this special day? Click HERE.

Want a poem to celebrate this day and our planet? 
Look for Mary Lee Hahn's "Earth, You Are" 
in The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations.

Want to see a global selfie” that NASA created to celebrate Earth Day?


For the full text of this poem and 150+ more (all in English AND Spanish), order your own copy of The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations HERE and for more Poetry Celebrations fun, click HERE. Plus for more on National Poetry Month, click HERE.


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25. Celebrating the Farmer’s Market


Cheryl T. has recruited two very young readers to perform Buffy Silverman's poem, "At the Farmers’ Market” here even talking about their favorite fruits and vegetables at the end. 


Pull this poem out again to share August 8-15, 2015 in honor of National Farmer's Market Week."  And if you want to follow up with "Take 5" activities, here you go:

Take 5

  1. Add a bit of fun to sharing this poem in honor of National Farmers’ Market Week with a poetry prop—show a piece of fruit or a vegetable (or an empty shopping bag) before reading the poem aloud. If you have enough to share and eat, even better! 
  2. Invite children to select their favorite fruit or vegetable named in the poem and to chime in just on that word while you read the rest of the poem aloud.
  3. Talk about the difference between a grocery store and a farmers’ market (where produce is usually sold by the producer). 
  4. Pair this poem with the picture book To Market, To Market by Nikki McClure (Abrams, 2011) and encourage children to share their own experiences with gardens or markets. 
  5. Connect with “A Marching Band of Vitamins” by Michele Krueger (June, pages 158-159) and with poems from Busy in the Garden by George Shannon (Greenwillow, 2006) and In Our Backyard Garden: Poems by Eileen Spinelli (Simon & Schuster, 2004).

For the full text of this poem and 150+ more (all in English AND Spanish) along with "Take 5" activities for every poem, order your own copy of The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations HERE and for more Poetry Celebrations fun, click HERE. Plus for more on National Poetry Month, click HERE.


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