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Thoughts, opinions, and ramblings about (broadly) children's literature from my perspectives as a writer, parent, and volunteer elementary school librarian. Oh yeah, and poetry of all sorts... with lots and lots of Fibs.
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So, today I voted here in the LA mayoral election... and I got one of those "I Voted" stickers. And I flashed back to childhood.
One day in either late elementary or early middle school, a friend and I had collected enough Chiquita banana stickers to give to everyone in the class and planned that at the top of the hour (I think it was), we'd all put said stickers on our noses and continue class as if nothing had happened.
My memory from here is even hazier, though I seem to recall the teacher continuing to lead the class without really acknowledging anything was amiss, though clearly aware.
What I don't recall was how I felt afterwards or whether the weeks of collecting stickers had paid off for me. I do know I never organized another banana-in. But to this day I have the urge to put stickers from bananas on my nose.
Nothing profound here, but it was a happy flashback for me and something I hadn't thought of in decades. And if you were there (or arranged a similar event!)... well... feel free to add your memories here. (You know... letting me know I'm not alone in my silliness!)
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Well, perhaps it surprises some, but certainly not me - It turns out that the ability to choose what one reads is critical to promoting reading, or so says this Canadian study. This echoes an earlier Scholastic report I mentioned here (and no surprise: the Canadian study looked at prior data and studies to reach conclusions).
I think this plays out a lot with poetry, too, kinda along Lee Bennett Hopkins' idea that you should read kids poetry and get out of the way. Poetry and reading shouldn't be treated as chores - they're pleasures. How this plays out in a classroom is challenging, I know, but take away freedom all over and... well.... Choice, I say!
I miss April already! Thanks so much to the 30 poets who shared their work here this month - 30 Poets/30 Days couldn't happen without you. Big thanks, too, to Carter Higgins for her logo. And to all of you who read along... I can tell you that all the poets and I appreciate you hanging out with us.
In case you missed anything (or even if you didn't), here's a review of the 2013 edition of 30 Poets/30 Days:
Again... thanks for being part of the fun. I hope you stay in touch!
And as always, you can can join my poetry list and get all the poems that appear here emailed out the day they hit my blog. Enter your email address below and click subscribe: Here's to poetry!
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I wanted to mention all the various honors Naomi Shihab Nye has received (multiple Pushcart Prizes, being a Guggenheim Fellow, the 2008 Cybil for Poetry for her book Honeybee) but on some level, I always wonder if that's really necessary... particularly after you've just read Driving Back. I mean... you don't really care about the awards, do you? You just read and that's enough.
I love the way Driving Back conveys so much heart and truth in just 11 words. It's a lesson I constantly have to relearn - brevity, honesty, simplicity, and the right words in the right order are the keys. Luckily, when I need a refresher, I can just turn to the poetry and prose of Naomi Shihab Nye to see all those elements at their best. And whether she's writing for adults or children or novels or standalone poems, she will make you think and feel... which is one reason why I'm so thrilled to have her here today to finish up this year's 30 Poets/30 Days.
Yesterday, Dave Crawley gave us Eye of the Hawk. Tomorrow... a recap of the 2013 edition of 30 Poets/30 Days. Which means it's over! Sigh. It's always a bit sad for me when April comes to an end, though there's much to come here at GottaBook in May and beyond. I hope you stick around to see it... and more than that, I hope your whole year is full of poetry!
First off... congratulations to Dave Crawley, winner of this year's March Madness (poetry style, that is)! Dave ran off a string of created-under-pressure poems based on assigned words (like his tourney ending entry using "bumbershoot" or his semifinal battle where his "sesquipedalian" poem barely topped vs. M. M. Socks' "portmanteau" verse) that was epic, impressive, and a whole lot of fun, too.
Now, if you followed March Madness or have read any of Dave Crawley's books, you'll know that he's got an incredible ability to make folks laugh. He turns a phrase and plays with words like nobody's business. In fact, he sent me a very funny poem as well as Eye of the Hawk, but I chose the latter because what I think often gets lost for those of us who write funny is that, well... I mean, look at the word choice, the imagery, the hidden rhymes and all that good stuff! It's there in all his funny stuff, too, but if you ignore it here, well, you'll end up prey, I tell ya!
I step off my soapbox with an entreaty that you find Dave Crawley's books and re-read his Madness poems. Or just enjoy the Hawk and see why I'm thrilled to have him here as part of 30 Poets/30 Days.
Perhaps some or all of the six names in Lesléa Newman's Teen Angels were familiar to you before you read the poem, but I'd be willing to bet that now you'll remember them all the next time you see them... and you'll know why. What a powerful piece of writing!
Today's poem could easily be a companion to Lesléa Newman's most recent book, October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shephard, a novel-in-verse that deals with some similar themes and issues (and uses many points of view (including many of the silent witnesses to Matthew Shephard's death, such as the fence to which he was tied). I just read it recently, and I have to say it simply sticks with me. Another book I highly recommend.
Whether in her standalone poems, novels, or picture books (over 20 of them, by the way, including the oft-challenged Heather Has Two Mommies), I think it's safe to say that Lesléa Newman writes from her heart, and we're the lucky beneficiaries. It's a phrase say frequently in April, but, darn it, it's true: I'm an unabashed fan... and I'm thrilled to have her here today as part of 30 Poets/30 Days.
Dear editors who read GottaBook - would you please contact John Foster and inquire about turning the above poem into a picture book? It is very, very clever and even I, the non-visual guy, can see wonderful illustration potential. Thank you.
Word play is a recurring joy in John Foster's poetry, as is what I'd best describe as "smarts." (Note: I was going to make some reference to a letter S and turning marts into smarts, but geez... it's hard to do what he has done up above in a coherent way!). Head on out to read a couple poems at his site and while you're there, listen to him reading/performing a few poems, too. If you choose to attempt your own performance of Sean Short's Short Shorts, don't blame me if you have to ice your tongue after....
Besides being a wordsmith in his own right, John Foster also puts together fantastic anthologies, an art in and of itself. This means y'all have a lot of options when you leave this post... but in the meantime, I hope you share my happiness at having him here today as part of 30 Poets/30 Days.
Today marks the third 30/30 poem in a row by a Lee Bennett Hopkins Promising Poet Award winner - this time, G. Neri, the 2010 recipient (based on the strength of his Chess Rumble, a free verse gem about poverty, death, and chess).
Now, having just recently re-read the I-can't-count-how-many-awards-winning graphic novel Yummy, I have to admit I was not expecting a poem quite like June Bug Bash from Greg Neri. So you can add "the unexpected" to the ever-growing list of what I love about poetry and poets. I love the fun, the rhythms, and the wild imagination of the June bugs... and love the speedy world tour, too, to send my brain to where my body currently isn't.
Again, not to sound like a broken April record, but if by some chance you haven't read G. Neri's work or shared it with your middle grade/YA loving reading friends, well, the time is now. I find all his books to date to be poetry in their own way, and I'm genuinely thrilled to have him here today as part of 30 Poets/30 Days.
Wedding Photo Richmond, Virginia by Joyce Lee Wong
Just married, poised on the courthouse steps Baba wears a suit and tie and Mama has on a sky-blue dress.
A smile blooms on Mama’s lips as she looks past the photographer, her eyes fixed on something in the distance, giving her face a dreamy look. Does she miss her sisters and brothers, her parents in Taipei? Does she imagine the sharp floral notes of incense, the rub of silk, as the courthouse tulips dance, bobbing their scarlet and yellow heads with the gusting April wind?
Baba turns toward her, offering his arm, his hand over hers, his touch careful as if he were holding something fragile as an egg, its shell shining impossibly blue; a robin’s nest, its intricate tangle of twigs forming an airy house in the pines; or the first dogwoods unfurling tender and new, green as hope, white as a promise.
Wanna know how to make Greg happy? Do what Joyce Lee Wong did when she asked if I wanted to use the above poem... which had been cut from her novel in verse Seeing Emily. Uh... yes! Not only do I get to revisit the world of her fabulous debut, but the poem, clearly, stands wonderfully on its own.
I find the language of Wedding Photo so evocative - the strong, fresh images and way the words just work together and pull me in. Add in the depth in the writing as well and I think you can see why she was the Lee Bennett Hopkins Promising Poet Award winner in 2007. If you haven't found Seeing Emily before, you should go read it... then come back and add this poem into the story.
Joyce Lee Wong is another one of the contributors to last year's Dare to Dream anthology, and is someone whose work I always look forward to reading. I look forward to whatever comes next, and I'm thrilled to have her here today as part of 30 Poets/30 Days.
Four starving swallows caw and squawk in their nest. Hour after hour, day after day, their parents came and Went, went and came. Feathers flapping, tails snapping, Feeding mouths that would not stay fed.
Today, there is nothing save the incessant squawking, The emptiness that shocks. A black widow spider scuttles by, Dragging behind her a silken sack, while a giant moth sleeps Peacefully beside the nest, her wings splayed out widely.
Debajo del Toldo por Guadalupe Garcia McCall
Quatro golondrinas ambrientas gorgear y graznasen en su nido. Hora tras hora, dia tras dia, sus parientes fueron y vinieron, Vinieron y fueron, agitando plumas, castañeando rabitos, Alimentando bocas que no se hartaban.
Hoy, no hay nada salvo el graznido incesante, el vacio que asusta. Una araña viuda negra se escabulle, arrastrando detras de ella Un saco de seda, mientras una polilla enorme duerme tranquilamente Al lado del nido, sus alas desplegadas ampliamente.
And, I'd add, if you read today's poem, you'll get a glimpse into why such recognition keeps on coming. Read the poem aloud and feel the crispness and power of the language (I suspect in either language, actually!). There is such great specificity in the images... as if this scene must have been witnessed to be described so clearly.
Whether she's writing novels-in-verse or in prose, Guadalupe Garcia McCall's work will draw you in. It took me too long to discover her books, and I don't want you to make that same mistake. So go on out and find them. In the meantime, I'm just incredibly happy to have her here today as part of 30 Poets/30 Days.
Up until reading this poem, I had been unaware that there was any feline law at all - cat behavior seeming random to me - so I must thank Renée LaTulippe for casting light on this little known hierarchy. Unless... wait a second... she's not making this up, is she???? Impossible!
I first got to know Renée's poetry through the blogosphere and saw a lot more of it through March Madness these past two years. I've always loved her playful way with words, her quirky sense of humor sneaking in. I suspect there's no topic she can't find an angle on, and it'll be a fresh angle that you and I hadn't likely thought of. You can see her work on display in the Poetry Friday Anthology (Middle School Edition!), and I am pretty darn sure we'll be seeing more and more of her poetry in print soon enough.
I also want to point you to her blog where she puts up amazing posts (like her video on performing poetry) during her copious free time between writing, acting, editing, and living. It's great stuff all around, and just one of many reasons I'm thrilled to have Renée LaTulippe here at 30 Poets/30 Days.
when the sea levels rise the Arctic cap melts and we all, tearfully, wave goodbye to the polar bears and the Pacific Islands, when storms batter our conscience and tornadoes, out of season, uproot the mango trees, when raging floods drown our riverside houses and Aunt Emma, when it snows in summer and our crops lay frozen in the fields, when millions of refugees are lost at sea or starving on land, remember that in the Year 2013, we were more concerned about gas prices the new iPhone school fees and who was going to win American Idol.
I think that Steven Herrick has come up with some of my favorite book titles ever: Love, Ghosts, and Nose Hair and My Life, My Love, My Lasagna among them. Who wouldn't pick up those novels? Exactly my point. You can see a full listing of titles - YA novels-in verse! Books for younger! Books for adults! - at his website... where you should also check out the links to videos of him performing (including 10 Things your parents will never say to you - again with the great titles!).
I think today's poem shows how some themes are universal... and that a poet's eye and ear know no geographical boundaries. Steven is from Australia, yet I'm posting his poem here in the U.S. on Earth Day because, well, talk about driving a point home with a timely, true bit of crisply worded, perfectly observed verse. Doesn't matter where the poem's written: we can all relate.
Yes, that's another thing to add to the list of what Greg loves about poetry! And in this specific case, when I got this poem in my inbox, it was yet another reason I was so excited to have Steven Herrick here as part of 30 Poets/30 Days.
We're going to win and I’m in the game and my mind is a swirl of words and slogans I have heard all of my life, and I am suddenly aware that standing here at second base . . . it really does seem better.
And I start to think that this might be enough just being out here for the final out, enough more than I ever dreamed, even, I don’t need to make a play.
(It’s not enough.)
So I am jealous when the ball bounces to short even though the shortstop, the star, i s my one real friend on the team – a new friend made suddenly close, because he knows. About me.
He fields the ball and looks to me for the force, the beautiful force that I forgot all about . . . He looks to second, to me because after all, I am second base.
And I am there. I am there receiving the throw, the perfect throw right to my glove, the final out.
And I know that I am one of the boys.
I have been one of the boys all of my life, I have known this forever, but today, this moment, might be the very first time that the whole wide world and everyone in this perfect game knows it, too.
Yay! Baseball! OK, sure... Maria Testa has written a poem here that's about more than baseball. And really, those of us who write about baseball are almost always writing about more than the sport itself. But that being said.... Yay! Baseball!
First Game Ever, Perfect is not the first time Maria Testa has written about baseball, a subject she's featured in novels (both prose and in verse). And as always, it's never just about the ballgames or how great a player Joe DiMaggio was, but also about family, or being a girl playing a boy's game, or the Italian-American experience. Yes, and baseball, natch, but I think it's those deeper themes and her ability to capture feelings with perfect pitch that make her books so readable.
And, of course, she doesn't just write about baseball or just write novels. Tackling everything from picture books to YA and MG novels to short stories to poetry with tremendous power, fantastic word choice, and storytelling skill, Maria Testa is a five-tool writer, if I may borrow a phrase, and I am thrilled to have her here today as part of 30 Poets/30 Days.
True story - I knew the book Punctuation Celebration which is illustrated by one Jenny Whitehead (and written by Elsa Knight Bruno). And I ran into a book called Holiday Stew, a collection of holiday and seasonal poems written by one Jenny Whitehead. And, yeah, illustrated by her, too, but it's not like the book explicitly SAYS that, ya know? Sigh.
Anyway, I'm glad I figured out they were one and the same person, because I love the way Jenny turns a phrase and the way she makes one come to life visually. The Litterbug is a great lead in to Earth Day (coming up Monday) with its lovely twist on bugginess. And yeah, doesn't the poem simply scream out to be illustrated? Anyone have a suggestion for who might do that? Anyone?
I hope you get a chance to check out Jenny Whitehead's books, particularly knowing her dual identity! I'm glad I found them, and I'm incredibly happy to have her here at GottaBook as part of 30 Poets/30 Days.
I see a title like "Pronoun" and I think I'm getting a grammar poem... and, of course, I am... but oh my, Kristin Elizabeth Clark delivers so much more. This, you'll probably not be shocked to hear, is yet another item on my list of "things Greg loves about poetry."
In her YA debut novel in verse Freakboy, coming out in October, Kristin writes about a gender-fluid kid... and you can see how pronoun issues can take on a very deep meaning. I think everyone who struggles with being labeled and finding their identity can relate, too, even if the journey and triggers are different. (For those on this particular journey, Kristin's new website has a nice list of resources to go with the book, as well.)
Yes, I do love the range of powerful poetry out there. So I'm excited to be able to share Kristin Elizabeth Clark's verse here with you today, looking forward to her October debut, and thrilled to have her as part of 30 Poets/30 Days.
So, it's Poem in Your Pocket Day, and Irene Latham has provided us with 10 short verses in case you have many pockets that need filling. Or you can keep it all together in one pocket for an Octopoetic series, too. Sweet!
I love the way Octopus Postcards comes across as, well, an octopus' postcards - little snippets that collectively tell a bigger story than each one does by itself. You can read 'em as fun. You can read 'em as educational. You can read 'em as a character study. No surprise, though, when you look at the rest of Irene Latham's work - a range of poems and novels with strong characters and an eye for detail that "teaches" you what you need to know to make her stories work.
Beyond bringing joy with her novels and poetry, Irene has brought a new tradition to the Kidlitosphere with her April-long Progressive Poem (with which you can follow along through her blog sidebar). Though it often confounds my expectations, I know I look forward each day to seeing what's next in the poem. A nice parallel, really, as I also know I've been looking forward to having Irene Latham here today as part of 30 Poets/30 Days.
If you don't know Robert Paul Weston - and you should, I say to you - just go now and find a copy of Zorgamazoo. (Heck, listen to Alan Cumming perform a bit of it if you somehow doubt my idea). It's a novel, yes... and a novel entirely in rhyming couplets! Funny, a little dark, and with a strong story, it's amazing as a read-aloud or read-alone.
No one rhyming novel wonder (Prince Puggly of Spud and the Kingdom of Spiff is likewise in verse), Robert Paul Weston also has a noirish novel in prose and, clearly, writes shorter poems, too. I love the rhythms of Freddy and the Yeti and the way the words slip and slide off my tongue when I say 'em. I like the silliness, too, but to me it's the package that silliness is wrapped up in that makes it work.
I'm excited to see that there's a new novel on the way in November (The Creature Department from Razorbill), and I look forward to seeing what comes after that, too. In the meantime, I'm thrilled to have Robert Paul Weston here today as part of 30 Poets/30 Days.
Yup! That's the cover, alright! I am exceeeeeedingly fond of it. To me it says "hey, there's a fun, funny novel in here about friends, Fibs, fibs, math, poetry, and pie." Of course, I could be biased :-)
Did I mention that The 14 Fibs of Gregory K. comes out in October from Arthur A. Levine Books? And that the above is the cover and that I'm super excited???? And it's even available for preorder but no one has this lovely cover yet? I did? Good!
I can't be sure, but I think Debbie Levy was writing about me in the above poem. Except that I even kill weeds... though I sure follow the idea of not hoeing, mowing, or sowing!
So many of the poets who are part of this annual 30/30 shindig have a great amount of range, but I think you could find Debbie Levy pictured in the dictionary's definition. Obviously, she can bring the funny (and has published such) and nail what a younger child would love. She also writes non-fiction (in verse and out of verse). And middle grade. Yeah, that too.
And guess what? Her novel Imperfect Spiral coming out in July (from Walker Books/Bloomsbury)? Right. It's YA, dealing with themes and topics far afield from weed-gardening... but guaranteed to be just as effective. That's amazing to me, I gotta say. I love that range... and it's just one reason I'm so happy having Debbie Levy here today as part of 30 Poets/30 Days.
The mark for the highest high-jump on the planet, Is held by a lady from Newark named Janet. When she jumped, it was almost as if she could fly. In a flash, she was just a small dot in the sky. The judges, they waited, but soon they got bored, ‘Cause she never came down to collect her award.
Jon Agee's picture books (like Milo's Hat Trick, The Retired Kid,My Rhinoceros and, most recently for me, The Incredible Painting of Felix Clousseau) are staples both at home and when I read in the school library. And then there are his books of word wizardry. Oh, yes, indeed.
Palindromania! and Go Hang a Salami! I'm a Lasagna Hog! demonstrate Jon Agee's palindrome mastery (recently recognized again with his wins in the SymmyS!) which would be enough to forever endear him to me. But he's done oxymorons and anagrams and spoonerisms and tongue tangling poems (in Orangatan Tongs), too. And all of it accompanied by his own wonderfully fun illustrations, no less! Like how can his brain do all that???
I recently got to hear Jon speak, and wouldn't you know that he was funny, clever, and as likable as his books? I bet kids would never forget a Jon Agee visit. In fact, I wish I could have him here presenting to y'all right now, but since I can't... I'm just thrilled to have a poem from him here today as part of 30 Poets/30 Days.
One of the many things I love about poetry is that there are really no subjects it can't cover and no age ranges it can't be written for. Thalia Chaltas clearly isn't writing for a younger crowd here, but her images and turns of phrase and focus on choosing the exactly right words... well... it's what makes for poetry I love to read regardless of where it's aimed.
If you've read Thalia's novels in verse, you'll know that she often deals with difficult subject matter and always in a way that, at least for me, commands attention rather than pushes me away. Her ability to give insight into characters with tremendous brevity and clarity... often surprising me with what she reveals... is something I wish I shared, I must say.
I love the perspective Thalia brings to the issues she deals with, and whether she's writing in verse or going full on prose, I look forward to whatever comes next. And in the meantime, I'm thrilled to have her here today as part of 30 Poets/30 Days.
Let's go to the archives and see... yes... yes... welcome Stephen W. Cahill, the first poet from Ireland to be part of 30 Poets/30 Days!
So, a little more than a year ago, Stephen entered Ed DeCaria's March Poetry Madness contest in its inaugural year. He'd never really concentrated on poetry before, but... well... why not have some fun? Since sometimes life is just like the movies, you know what happened next: he won! He became the very first recipient of The Thinkier (except that he didn't actually receive it as it never made it to Ireland. But that's another story entirely!).
Stephen's verses are wonderfully full of whimsy, finding that great balance of silly with smarts underneath. It was a blast being in the Madness with him, and I, for one, am so happy that he's kept writing and sharing his poems. I look forward to when we're talking about his books. Until then, I'm happy to be talking about his poetry here as part of 30 Poets/30 days.
You can add to the list of things I love about poetry: I can learn from it AND when written well, as Emily Jiang demonstrates here, a poem's language and imagery can paint a picture of something the reader might not already know. Because I admit, I didn't know what a guzheng was... but in reading the poem, my lack of specific knowledge mattered not one whit: I got it.
A guzheng is one of the instruments featured in Emily's debut book, coming later this year, called Summoning the Phoenix. I was lucky enough to get a sneak peak when I saw Emily in March, and the book is both beautiful and fun. You can see a preview of the art at illustrator April Chu's blog, far more than the gorgeous little snippet you see here. You really should go see it. Really.
Emily is also a composer and performer, and her upcoming book is a clear example of how our different passions can all mix together to create art. I'm always happy to get a reminder of that myself... and it's just one reason I'm so happy to have Emily Jiang here today as part of 30 Poets/30 Days.
Poetry can lift my spirits or, dare I say, make them climb and soar when someone like Laurel Snyder lays down a verse. The anthropomorphized wind keeps me sailing on (well, until I meet Susan, of course, but then I sail on with her!). And I gotta say - to me i screams "picture book!!!!!" Who's with me?
Of course, it'd be no surprise to see a picture book from Laurel Snyder: she's had many published. And it'd be no surprise to see prose from her, either, as she's written novels and commentary and more. Oh, and poetry, of course she writes poetry. And in all of it, there's an honesty, an openness, and an underlying feeling of hope that always makes me want to read on.
One of my favorite parts of hosting this event is I get to say publicly stuff like... "I'm an unabashed fan!" Which I only say it because it's true! And that fandom is one big reason I'm thrilled to have Laurel Snyder here as part of 30 Poets/30 Days.