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1. Under Construction

A Nice Place In The Sun, is under construction-just for a little while... Thank you for your patience. We'll 'Cowboy Up' soon-

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2. What I Learned From My 8th Graders About Discrimination

There will always be discrimination everywhere about everything because pointing out others’ differences masks people’s own insecurities.” -8th grade girl

The intensity of the themes in To Kill a Mockingbird can get pretty tough to handle when you’re reading it for the first time at 13 or 14 years old. This is why teaching the historical context is so important in order for our young adult readers to gain a better understanding of the novel. I was surprised, though, that I was the one who got a lesson about discrimination from an 8th grader’s perspective. These kids have such strong voices that need to be heard. This is why I’m sharing this teaching/learning experience with all of you.

One of the corresponding lessons in TKAM is learning about Black Tuesday, the Great Depression, the Dust Storm, and Jim Crow laws. We read a selection in our textbook about a list of segregation laws and how they were enforced. After reading, we discussed some issues that could help us connect how different characters in the novel may have felt during this time period. I thought some of their responses were insightful. It made me think of looking at the world through their eyes, so I asked a few critical thinking questions about their own views on discrimination. A couple of questions brought some very interesting responses.

1.       Do you feel there is discrimination at our school? In what ways?
2.       What has your experience with discrimination been? How has it made you feel?

  • ·          “I’m an athlete and in GT (Gifted and Talented – advanced level) classes. People think I suck at sports since they assume I’m a nerd.”
  • ·         “Just because I’m white, people automatically assume I’m wealthy.”
  • ·         “Some people think that all Muslims are terrorists. It upsets me because I wear the hijab, and some people judge us from that one thing.”
  • ·         “My personal experience with discrimination has to do with my race. I am Mexican, but have light skin, freckles, and I don’t speak Spanish. Many of the Hispanic students (and adults, too) say that I’m not a ‘true Mexican.’”
  • ·         “Some students think I’m the smartest person in class because I’m Asian, but I’m really not that smart.”
  • ·          “I have been discriminated against based on my sexual identity, musical choices, intelligence level, and favorite hobbies.”
  • ·         “I have been discriminated against when I went through a voice change in 6th grade. People made fun of my high voice. Now I’m the choir manager for my Advanced Choir group.”

·        This one is a personal favorite of mine:
“There will always be discrimination everywhere about everything because pointing out others’ differences masks people’s own insecurities.”

This girl is so right! Discrimination exists because people believe they are superior to others. Not only that, but it’s obvious to this young teen that narrow mindedness prevents any progress to the development of positive social change.  

What this girl said about discrimination really embraces one of the major themes in the novel. It even sounds like what Scout would say reflecting on how her father would pass on his moral values to her:
 “Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them.” ~To Kill a Mockingbird

Thank you, my dear GT 8th graders in English I, for teaching me what it truly means to "stand in borrowed shoes."

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3. Harvard University Press' bestseller

       Piketty-mania, and articles relating to his new book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century (see the Harvard University Press publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk) continue to appear at an astonishing rate.
       At The New Republic Marc Tracy offers some hard numbers, in Piketty's 'Capital': A Hit That Was, Wasn't, Then Was Again How the French tome has rocked the tiny Harvard University Press. (I note that a Publishers Weekly piece from last year reports that Harvard University Press publishes about 180 new hardcovers annually, which surely is enough for them to be described as something more than ... 'tiny'.)
       The numbers are pretty staggering -- it's: "already sold around 80,000 copies in less than two months, and is currently sold out" -- and: "of the current English-language sales figures, 14,000 come from the United Kingdom and Europe." (my copy came with a press release announcing a 15 April publication date, which they pushed up because of interest and demand -- adding to the logistical difficulties of meeting demand). They're printing another 80,000, and expect to follow that with 35,000 more.
       Pretty neat; pretty impressive.

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4. what does it taste like?

what does it taste like?

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5. Next Wednesday in Brooklyn: Twillerama Animation Screening

Next Wednesday, the animated duo of Jeff Twiller and Randy J. Johnson will host their own animated film screening in Brooklyn. It's a legit line-up of animated shorts, with perceptive cinematic commentary supplied inbetween the films by Twiller and Johnson. Thankfully, they happen to be animation experts.

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6. Book Review: Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep by David K. Randall

From Goodreads:
In Dreamland, Randall explores the research that is investigating those dark hours that make up nearly a third of our lives. Taking readers from military battlefields to children 's bedrooms, Dreamland shows that sleep isn't as simple as it seems. Why did the results of one sleep study change the bookmakers odds for certain Monday Night Football games? Do women sleep differently than men? And if you happen to kill someone while you are sleepwalking, does that count as murder?

This book is a tour of the often odd, sometimes disturbing, and always fascinating things that go on in the peculiar world of sleep. You ll never look at your pillow the same way again.
Standard pop science fare.  The author does a fine job in researching sleep and the ways it is studied and I had no problems with his methodology or source citation.  It's certainly something that the average reader will find accessible and doesn't get bogged down in medical or scientific terminology.

Entertainment Value
Maybe I'm just super spoiled by authors like Mary Roach, but I didn't get any feel for the author's personality.  It was, to be honest, a bit dull at times.  It was accessible and understandable, but not necessarily entertaining.

This is going on my overwhelmingly average shelf.  Nothing bad to report, no complaints, but nothing exceptionally good to report either.  I expect to have forgotten most of it within the next few months, honestly.  If you're super interested in sleep, maybe it's a good one to try, but it wasn't a home run for me by any means.

0 Comments on Book Review: Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep by David K. Randall as of 4/24/2014 9:15:00 PM
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7. Science Poetry Pairings - Camouflage

When I was young I often wished for clothing that resembled the woods around my home, largely because I wanted to win at hide and seek. I so wanted to be the last person found. Blending in with one's environment can come in handy, particularly when someone wants to make a meal of you. Camouflage is nature's way of hiding animals in plain sight. While those stripes may make a tiger stand out in his/her zoo home, they allow him/her to vanish in that stand of tall grass in the wild.

Whether it's zebra stripes, a body shaped like a stick, or fur that changes color with the seasons, today's book trio highlights the amazing adaptation of camouflage. 

Poetry Book
Where in the Wild?: Camouflaged Creatures Concealed ... and Revealed, written David Schwartz and Yael Schy with photographs by Dwight Kuhn, is a book filled with "eye-tricking photos, poems offering up clues, and information about the organism. The book begins with a brief introduction to camouflage and the book itself. Here is an excerpt.
Imagine that you are an animal in the wild trying to avoid a prowling predator. If it can't find you, it can't eat you.

Now imagine that you are the predator, silently hunting for prey. If you prey does not see you, you can catch it and eat it.
See if you can find the camouflaged animals photographed in their natural habitats. The poems will give you hints. When you think you have found a hidden animal--or if you give up!--open the flap to see "where in the wild" it really is. Then read on to find out more about these amazing animals and their vanishing acts.
What follows are examples of 10 clever uses of camouflage. On the left side of each spread is a poem describing the animal, and in some cases, its location. The outside of the gatefold on the right contains the picture that must be searched. Readers must be keen observes, as some of these animals are hard to find! In the corner of the gatefold is a small circle that says, "Lift to find me!" When the gatefold is opened, the image appears again, this time with everything grayed out except the animal in question. Often times, the appearance of the hidden animal is so startling that the reader must flip back to the original picture to search it out. In addition to the "answer" to photo puzzle, the inside of the gatefold also contains information on the animals subject.

The poems in the book come in a variety of forms, including haiku and concrete. Here is an example.

speckled treasures lie
     bare upon the pebbled bank
          fragile life within
The photograph that accompanies it shows a rocky landscape. Can you guess what is hidden in plain sight?

There is another book that follow on the heels of this one, written in the same form and extending the ideas presented here. It is Where Else in the Wild? More Camouflaged Creatures Concealed...and Revealed. Both of these are great books for looking at animals in plain sight.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the amazing Ruth Heller here. She wrote a series of books that examined camouflage across the animal kingdom. Titles in this series include:
    All of Heller's books were written in verse. On the title page is this opening.
    you take
    a careful look,
    you'll see
    in this book
    and out
    of view—

    Here's an excerpt from HOW TO HIDE A CROCODILE.
    and the
    bear a similarity....
    It he's
    will depend
    how well their colors blend.
    Each page shows the animal in full view, and then again camouflaged in its habitat.

    Nonfiction Picture Book
    Hide and Seek: Nature's Best Vanishing Acts, written by Andrea Helman with photographs by Gavriel Jecan, is a book organized by habitat that highlights the features of the location and describes how a handful of animals in each use camouflage to survive. What's interesting about this book is that readers won't find the answers to what they're looking for until they get to the back of the book! In a section entitled The Back Story, readers see a thumbnail version of the photograph with the animals circled. They will also find a bit more information about each animal photographed.

    Readers will find savanna/grasslands, sea, desert, Arctic, forest and mountains. Here's an excerpt from the mountains section.
    Elliot's Chameleon 
    Motionless, the colorful and crafty chameleon stays still, disappearing into tree bark in the Rwanda mountains. Its bulging eyes rotate in different directions, searching the turf for tasty treats. Aha! It focuses both eyes to judge the distance and position of an insect. Zap! The sticky-tipped tongue shoots out at 20 feet per second. Success! Chameleons are nature's quick change artists, exchanging one color for another to protect themselves from predators and become invisible prey.
    Readers will spend a great deal of time examining the photos in this one, and will learn about a wide range of animals while doing so.

    Perfect Together
    All three of these books, and really any other title about camouflage, are about what you can see. I love that the poems in Schwartz and Yael's book offer up clues to the animals hidden in the photos. I might start with a book by Heller to give students an opportunity to see how animals move from visible to hidden. This might offer clues to finding animals in actual photographs. Once you've had a chance to look these over, ask students to categorize the types of camouflage animals use. Then give them a paper butterfly to decorate and hide in the classroom. See how well they can hide their butterflies in plain sight!

    For additional resources, consider these sites.
    • Let your kids try this camouflage game, where they get to choose an animal and a background. Then they try different fur colors, shadings, and patterns to see which ones work best in different habitats.
    • The camouflage field book lets kids learn about animals hidden in different environments.
    • Seeing Through Camouflage is a game that asks kids to identify the four different types of camouflage and identify animals belonging to each one.
    • Hide & Seek Sea is an illustration that contains 22 animals. Once students find them all, they can click on the animals to see pictures and learn more about them.
    • Nature Works has a great article on deceptive coloration.

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    8. Connecting with Other Writers

    I had the pleasure of speaking about "Curating and Cultivating a Virtual Community of Writers" with the members of the Chester County Reading Association this afternoon. I talked about the ways blogging, microblogging, other digital technologies allow teacher-writers to interact with each other worldwide.

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    9. This OPEN MIC Book Trailer Rocks My World

    I usually try and create trailers for my books but what with our big move to California, I didn't get one together for OPEN MIC: RIFFS ON LIFE BETWEEN CULTURES IN TEN VOICES (Candlewick). That's why I was delighted when K.T. Horning of the University of Madison-Wisconsin's Cooperative Children's Book Center told me about this trailer created by Ali Khan, a brilliant, funny teen writer in the Madison Public Library's "Bubbler." I think you'll enjoy it as much as I did:

    Ali, I love you! I will be the little old lady who hobbles up for an autograph some day, so don't forget me. Here's another video he made about rejecting stereotypes:

    About the book trailer project:

    Thanks to a recent Madison Civics Club Youth Grant, Madison Public Library and the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) were able to pilot an 8-week workshop series with teen writers at Simpson Street Free Press. The project highlighted titles from Read On Wisconsin, CCBC's literacy program that promotes high-quality books for children and teens throughout Wisconsin.

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    10. Haven't I see you someplace before? Dueling twinkling lights


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    11. Romance

    Question: How do you write romance in stories? I've been wanting to include it in some of my stories, but I always come up with something boring and silly.

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    12. Pulitzer sales-effect

           I would have expected that Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch has been selling just fine, but apparently there is a sales-effect from a 'big' prize such as the Pulitzer: as Publishers Weekly reports, Tartt's 'Goldfinch' Doubles Sales Following Pulitzer Win:

    According to Nielsen BookScan, the book sold 15,079 copies last week, compared to 7,095 the week before the Pulitzer win
    Publisher Little, Brown reported that total Goldfinch sales -- print and digital combined -- are nearing 1.5 million and that it has gone back to press for another 150,000 copies.
           In percentage terms the poetry winner got a much bigger Pulitzer-push -- but ... yikes:
    3 Sections by Vijay Seshadri, the 2014 poetry winner, went from 11 copies to 81 copies (353 copies sold to date).

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    13. Hollering

    Christine Marie Larsen Illustration People standing in water hollering

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    14. Friday Feature: Don't Even Think About It by Sarah Mlynowski

    Don't Even Think About ItWe weren't always like this. We used to be average New York City high school sophomores. Until our homeroom went for flu shots. We were prepared for some side effects. Maybe a headache. Maybe a sore arm. We definitely didn't expect to get telepathic powers. But suddenly we could hear what everyone was thinking. Our friends. Our parents. Our crushes. Now we all know that Tess is in love with her best friend, Teddy. That Mackenzie cheated on Cooper. That, um, Nurse Carmichael used to be a stripper.

    Since we've kept our freakish skill a secret, we can sit next to the class brainiac and ace our tests. We can dump our boyfriends right before they dump us. We know what our friends really think of our jeans, our breath, our new bangs. We always know what's coming. Some of us will thrive. Some of us will crack. None of us will ever be the same.
    So stop obsessing about your ex. We're always listening.

    My thoughts:
    *I received a copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

    I loved the premise of this book. First, since the characters wind up with ESP (and call themselves the Espies), they ALL narrate the story, together. I loved that. It's not each character taking designated chapters. They tell it together as "we" and name each character they are talking about. I've never read a book told in this format and it was amazing.

    The story begins with a homeroom of teens who are scheduled to get their flu shots that day. All but two get the shots and after that, everything changes. They begin hearing the thoughts of people around them and their eyes take on a purplish tint. At first they are freaked out about this, but some of them soon learn they can use this new ability to their advantage. The problem is, they hear things they don't want to hear, and secrets don't exist between them anymore. All their inner-most thoughts are now public knowledge for this group and that will destroy some of them.

    This book reads like contemporary even though it has a fantasy element to it. It's sort of the best of both worlds. There's not a lot of action, but there didn't need to be because it unraveled the characters from the inside out in a way that made me keep turning the pages. I definitely recommend this book and hope there will be a book two.

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    15. Lest We Forget...

    By Felice Arena. Published with permission.

    Taken this morning by wonderful children's writer Felice Arena(interviewed on this blog late last year by my students).

    This is such a lovely, thoughtful picture which says what this day is about without needing words at all. For those of you outside Melbourne, that's the Shrine Of Remembrance in the background. 

    If you ever throw in the writing, Felice, you have a whole new career ahead of you.

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    16. Environmental Book Club

    We're experimenting with an Environmental Book Club logo. It may be changing, so don't get attached.

    This week I'm directing you to the blog Picture Books Help Kids Soar where earlier this month Vivian Kirkfield reviewed Water Can Be by Laura Purdie Salas. You'll find an excerpt, synopsis, and a list of ways it can be used.

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    17. Pelican Bill – A Sickeningly Good Yarn!

    Kids love stories about pirates. Kids also love to laugh. What’s funnier than a pirate who gets seasick? Wouldn’t your child want to read a story like that? That is exactly what children’s author Fran Sivers and illustrator Leilani Coughlan have created in their book Pelican Bill. But they need our help. They’ve begun a KickStarter campaign in order to raise the necessary funds they need to bring Pelican Bill and his pirate crew to life in a children’s picture book. Please go to their KickStarter page, https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1163027881/pelican-bill-a-sickeningly-good-yarn, watch the short video clip, read about the project (you can even read the entire rollicking, rhyming, jolly good story), and consider supporting their campaign. If you cannot help financially, at least spread the word about this really great cause. I’m sure Fran and Leilani will appreciate any assistance you can give.

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    18. By the Tungabhadra review

           The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Saradindu Bandopadhyay's By the Tungabhadra.
           Of course what I really want to cover are Bandopadhyay's Byomkesh Bakshi-stories, but I haven't come across any copies. (I snapped up By the Tungabhadra as soon as I saw it -- used, but still the most I've paid for a book in months.)

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    20. Tadeusz Różewicz (1921-2014)

           Tadeusz Różewicz, the last of the old guard of great Polish poets that included Zbigniew Herbert and Nobel laureate Wisława Szymborska (and, before them, Czesław Miłosz), has passed away; see, for example, the Polskie Radio report, Poet Tadeusz Rozewicz dies, aged 92.
           The only one of his works under review at the complete review is Mother Departs.

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    21. The Enchanted Barn

    Cloudy Jewel isn’t on the shelf I thought it might be on, which means it’s in a box at my mom’s house, waiting to be moved to my apartment. So I continued my exploration of the work of Grace Livingston Hill with The Enchanted Barn. The Enchanted Barn is the story of a young secretary, Shirley Hollister, who needs to find a cheap home for her family for the summer, and ends up renting a stone barn.

    First things first: at one point in this book, Shirley is reading  From the Car Behind. I’m not trying to cast aspersions on The Enchanted Barn when I say that that was genuinely the most exciting moment for me.

    Aside from that, and the two foilings of plots that showcase Shirley’s extreme competence late in the book, mostly The Enchanted Barn is about the Hollisters’ new landlord, Sidney Graham, giving them things and falling in love with Shirley. But the improvements he makes to the barn, with and without their knowledge, aren’t balm to my materialistic soul in the same way as, say, Aunt Crete’s boatload of department store clothes.

    I’ve been trying to figure out why that is, and I’ve come up with some theories. Bear with me though, because I’m basically making this all up.

    There are three acceptable ways for characters to heap material benefits on people in novels:

    1. By dying. Ideally, the person who dies should be vastly wealthy and unknown (or almost unknown) to the beneficiary of their will, but it’s also acceptable for the heir to just not know how wealthy the dead person was (Mr. Bingle), or not to expect to be given the bulk of the fortune (The Year of Delight).

    2. In arranged marriages. It’s great when a not entirely willing husband lavishes gifts on the heroine of a novel, but only if he isn’t in love with her yet, or doesn’t know he is. Fake engagements might also come under this heading (Patricia Brent, Spinster).

    3. From a family member or anyone else who is absolutely never going to be the protagonist’s love interest. Elderly ladies giving Patty Fairfield things. Aunt Crete‘s nephew pampering her.

    These options have a couple of things in common: first, the gifts can’t be construed as charity. And second, they can’t be intended to get anything from the main character; they have no strings attached, or are treated as a matter of course. And that’s why the giver of the gifts has to be either unequivocally not a love interest or already married, because if they’re wooing the heroine, or might somewhere down the line, the gifts could be construed as part of the wooing. And that kind of ruins it.

    The things Sidney Graham does for Shirley and her family fail on both counts. Part of his interest in Shirley is his attraction to her, right from the beginning, which makes it really difficult to see him as disinterested. And then, while Hill makes a point of Shirley being very sensitive about accepting charity, but she can’t back that up. I mean, she can tell us that both Shirley and Sidney are young and kind of dumb, but that doesn’t make Sidney’s putting staircases and walls and chimneys and windows into the barn anything other than a gift to her.

    It lessens the impact of the family living in a barn, too. I mean, they’ve got furniture and stairs and curtains and stuff, and, while it’s still largely a barn, there’s no camping out feel to it. It’s less the story of a family roughing it in a barn for the summer and more the story of a family moving from a cramped city apartment into a big house in the country.

    It’s a fun story — I don’t want to suggest that I didn’t enjoy it. The baby’s baby talk was awful, but the next youngest kid’s slang made up for it. And while the living in a barn aspect and the being given nice things aspect weren’t satisfying, the bits where Shirley was extremely competent and earned everyone’s admiration really were. I just spend an excessive amount of time thinking about tropes, and about how fiction functions. It may be an attempt to justify my extremely lowbrow reading choices.

    Tagged: 1918, gracelivingstonhill

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    22. April showers bring … wet books?

    It’s a given. If I’ve got outreach, the weather’s going to be bad. What’s your worst (or funniest) weather-related outreach story?

    rainy outreach

    Wishing you all “May flowers” and a happy Friday!

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    23. A Feast for Crows

    My Kindle counter said I was only 91% of the way through George R.R. Martin’s Feast for Crows so I was very surprised while waiting for my bus to arrive at the train station and take me home this afternoon to click the next page button and discover I had finished the book. What? Turns out the rest of the book is made up of appendices, a who’s who of characters, relationships and houses. Well that was unexpected. Good thing I have plenty of other books on my Kindle and I already knew what one to read next.

    Feast for Crows is the fourth book in the Song of Ice and Fire series. Is it bad of me to say I did not like it as much as the first three? Martin does a great job of continuing to develop characters and letting them change and grow or, in the case of some of them, dig their own graves. And the religious conflicts in the book between three different religions is really fascinating and well done. I also liked that most of the focus in this book is on female characters.

    But the book ends in an arbitrary place with cliffhangers galore and no promise that they will be resolved in the next book. Because the next book focuses on the characters that were left out of this book. Martin found he was writing too much and so spilt what was the fourth book into two books, deciding to also split the stories of the characters. At the moment I don’t like that decision. I might change my mind after I read the fifth book. For now though it has left me with an unsatisfied feeling mixed with a little grumpiness.

    Yes, I am watching the TV show of Game of Thrones that is currently airing. I started reading the series before the show began and had my own idea of what the characters looked like and all that. Now when I am reading I can’t remember my conception of them and instead have the TV characters’ images stuck in my head. Also, it is difficult to reconcile the way the book tells the story with how the show does. Some things stick closely to the book and others leave me gawping and muttering wtf? It’s always a risk one takes with books to screen.

    I’ll be taking a break for a few months before I read A Dance with Dragons. And maybe by then Martin will have finished the sixth book and I can tie up the ends of all these dangling threads book four has left.

    Filed under: Books, Reviews, SciFi/Fantasy

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    24. Poetry Friday - Lines Written for Gene Kelly to Dance To

    Today I'm sharing an excerpt of the first stanzas from Lines Written for Gene Kelly to Dance To. You can find the entire poem in The Complete Poems of Carl Sandburg (pp. 704-705).

    Lines Written for Gene Kelly to Dance To
    by Carl Sandburg

    Spring is when the grass turns green and glad
    Spring is when the new grass comes up and says hey, hey, hey, hey.
    Be dizzy now and turn your head upside down and see how the world looks upside down
    Be dizzy now and turn a cartwheel and see the good earth through a cartwheel.

    Tell your feet the alphabet
    Tell your feet the multiplication table
    Tell your feet where to go, and watch ‘em go and come back

    Can you dance a question mark?
    Can you dance an exclamation mark?
    Can you dance a couple of commas?
    And bring it to a finish with a period?

    Can you dance like the wind is pushing you?
    Can you dance like you are pushing the wind?
    Can you dance like slow wooden heels??
    And then change to bright and singing silver heels.
    Such nice feet, such good feet.

    And since you've all probably seen Gene dancing in Singin' In The Rain, here's a video of him tap dancing on roller skates. It's one of my favorites, and yes, you can dance an exclamation mark!

    I do hope you'll take some time to check out all the wonderful poetic things being shared and collected today by Margaret at Reflections on the Teche. Happy poetry Friday friends.

    0 Comments on Poetry Friday - Lines Written for Gene Kelly to Dance To as of 4/25/2014 1:07:00 AM
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    25. In the Background

    Here’s to all the room arrangers,
    Cleaner-uppers, waste bag changers;
    Those who make things fresh and neat
    So all is perfect when we meet.

    From the background, they emerge,
    Break time an unheard-of splurge,
    Doing all that must be done
    So rooms get ready, one by one.

    Under radar, unobserved,
    They work without what they’ve deserved –
    Our heartfelt thanks and gratitude,
    Presented with much latitude.

    So much in life that we expect
    Is done by those whom we neglect
    But sometimes we must leave the page
    To thank the ones who set the stage.

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