Our Wonderful World: The Grand Canyon

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Mary Lee Hahn is celebrating National Poetry Month by celebrating “Our Wonderful World.” Each day, Mary Lee is writing an original poem in honor of either a man-made or natural wonder. Today’s wonder is the Grand Canyon. I have rafted down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon twice, so I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to write a poem about my experience.

We have hundreds of photos from both of these trips, and I kept a journal during each trip. I have shared memories of our adventures in the past, Lava Falls and The Legend of the Sanpodohavatulli Expedition. Before attempting to write this poem, I reread my journals, skimmed through many of the pictures, and jotted many notes. But this poem did not come easily. I didn’t know where to start. Then, after listening to Christopher Leheman’s Teacher Poets online workshop this morning, it became clear that I needed to focus on a small sliver of the entire trip. Our hike to Deer Creek was one of the most memorable, so I focused on this beautiful side canyon.

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The Grand Canyon

From Yaki Point on the South Rim,

the majestic sun-soaked sandstone

is on full display,

the river a ribbon of green a mile below.

But travel deeper,

into the heart of the canyon

to Deer Creek.

Climb the steep trail,

into the slot canyon behind the falls.

For eons, 

this stream

has carved the soft rock

with a sculptor’s precision; 

finding each chink and crack,

washing the sediment away,

grain by grain,

shaping each sensuous curve,

creating this hidden oasis

where today I soak in a clear, cold pool,

immersed in the wonder of it all.

© Catherine Flynn, 2014

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Deer Creek Falls

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Thank you, Mary Lee, for inspiring this poem!

Poetry Friday: Louise Erdrich’s “Advice to Myself”

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I’ve been captivated by Louise Erdrich’s writing for many years, since I first read her middle grade novel, The Birchbark House. This book was a favorite read aloud when I taught third grade.  Since then, I’ve read all of her children’s novels and most of her adult novels. For the past several days, I’ve been reading Erdrich’s National Book Award winning adult novel, The Round House (Harper, 2012).

Often called a “Native American Faulkner”, Erdrich has created in her fiction what Maria Russo calls an “indelible Yoknapatawpha, a fictional North Dakota Indian reservation and its surrounding towns, with their intricately interconnected populations” (New York Times Book Review, Oct. 14, 2012)

Erdrich uses the tools of a poet to tell these finely spun tales. Metaphor, imagery, repetition, and more are skillfully woven together to create passages like this one from The Round House:

“I lay down on the warm wood and the sun went right into my bones. I saw no herons at first. Then I realized the piece of reedy shore I was staring at had a heron hidden in its pattern. I watched that bird stand. Motionless. Then, quick as genius, it had a small fish, which it carefully snapped down its gullet.”

Such craftsmanship isn’t surprising, considering the fact that Erdrich began her writing career as a poet. Many of her poems can be read online, but “Advice to Myself” resonated with me in way the others didn’t after a week of attempting to clear away the clutter of winter.

Advice to Myself

by Louise Erdrich

Leave the dishes.

Let the celery rot in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator

and an earthen scum harden on the kitchen floor.

Leave the black crumbs in the bottom of the toaster.

Throw the cracked bowl out and don’t patch the cup.

Don’t patch anything. Don’t mend. Buy safety pins.

Don’t even sew on a button.

read the rest here

Be sure to stop by Life on the Deckle Edge, where Robyn Hood Black has the Poetry Friday Round Up.

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

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How to Babysit a Grandpa (Alfred Knopf, 2012), by Jean Reagan, with illustrations by Lee Wildish, is a charming story. The book opens with these words of wisdom from a little boy who is about to spend the day with his grandpa.

“Babysitting a grandpa is fun–if you know how.”

Our nameless hero goes on to explain all the highlights of a five-year old’s day: snacks, going outside, playing games, and more. He even suggests “bouncy music” to make clean up easier. Every other page or so provides additional tips for would-be grandpa-sitters, such as snack suggestions and ideas for lots of creative play. (I love that there is a T.V in one illustration, but it is never mentioned, let alone turned on.)

Adding to the appeal of Reagan’s text are Lee Wildish’s digital illustrations. His characters remind me of Melissa Sweet’s non-collage work–imbued with love and a sense of humor about the realities of life as a child. There are crumbs all over the table, and the boy’s tongue is set firmly in the corner of his mouth as he draws a picture for grandpa.

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Reagan and Wildish have teamed up again for How to Babysit a Grandma (Alfred Knopf, 2014), and it is every bit as engaging as How to Babysit a Grandpa. The style and tone are the same (the boy and his grandpa even make a cameo appearance at the park), but our heroine has her own ideas for activities to “keep a grandma busy.”

Both of these books are perfect mentor texts for Kindergarteners and first graders learning to write how-to books. Children could also come up with their own versions of the lists Reagan has included, or add their ideas to hers. These books could just as easily be enjoyed as read-alouds, or shared in September in honor of Grandparents Day. The possibilities are endless. One thing is certain, though. If you have a 4-6 year old, know one, or teach them, these books should be on your list of How to Entertain a Child.

Don’t forget to visit Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee at Unleashing Readers to find out what other people have been reading lately. Thanks, Jen and Kellee, for hosting!

Why Poetry?

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Chris Lehman recently invited teachers to join him in an online poetry workshop, TeacherPoets. He also invited people to respond to the question “Why poetry?” Many smart, insightful responses have been shared here. How to answer this question without restating what so many have already contributed? I decided to read through a few of my favorite poetry resources and create a found poem (some lines are slightly altered to work in the sequence).

By Phyzome is Tim McCormack (Own work) , via Wikimedia Commons

By Phyzome is Tim McCormack (Own work) , via Wikimedia Commons

Why Poetry?

Feel in touch with that universal rhythm.

Lift the veil from the hidden beauty of the world;

Find the mystery in everyday things and objects.

Rekindle a latent sense of wonder.

Have a good eye and a sharp ear.

Find your own voice.

Discover the perfect word for your purpose.

Use fresh imagery that rattles the senses and

Some wordplay that makes it sparkle.

Group them together in a shape or rhythmical structure.

Poems hum,

The breathings of your heart.

And words are nets to capture

The secrets you didn’t know you were keeping.

Here are the authors and sources of these lines, in order:

Lillian Morrison, Seeing the Blue Between: Advice and Inspiration for Young Poets, compiled by Paul B. Janeczko; Candlewick Press, 2003

Percy Bysshe Shelley, A Defence of Poetry

Robert Farnsworth, Seeing the Blue Between: Advice and Inspiration for Young Poets, compiled by Paul B. Janeczko; Candlewick Press, 2003

Joyce Sidman, “Touching the World: The Importance of Teaching PoetryRiverbank Review, Spring 2002

Karla Kuskin, Seeing the Blue Between: Advice and Inspiration for Young Poets, compiled by Paul B. Janeczko; Candlewick Press, 2003

Michael Dugan, Seeing the Blue Between: Advice and Inspiration for Young Poets, compiled by Paul B. Janeczko; Candlewick Press, 2003

Mary Ann Hoberman, Seeing the Blue Between: Advice and Inspiration for Young Poets, compiled by Paul B. Janeczko; Candlewick Press, 2003

Nikki Grimes, Seeing the Blue Between: Advice and Inspiration for Young Poets, compiled by Paul B. Janeczko; Candlewick Press, 2003

Jane Yolen, Take Joy: A Writer’s Guide to Loving the Craft; Writer’s Digest Books, 2006

Lillian Morrison, Seeing the Blue Between: Advice and Inspiration for Young Poets, compiled by Paul B. Janeczko; Candlewick Press, 2003

Julie Larios “Playing with Poetry

William Wordsworth

Muhammed al-Ghuzzi, “The Pen

Robert Farnsworth, Seeing the Blue Between: Advice and Inspiration for Young Poets, compiled by Paul B. Janeczko; Candlewick Press, 2003

 

 

 

Poetry Friday: “I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud”

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Signs of spring are finally showing up here in my corner of Connecticut, and spring break begins TODAY! In honor of the season, I’m sharing “I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud” by William Wordsworth. This is one of the first “adult” poems I remember reading in high school that I really liked. Who wouldn’t want to be dancing with daffodils?

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

 

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

 

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

 

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
By Myrabella (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Parc de Bagatelle, Paris By Myrabella, via Wikimedia Commons

Happy Blog Birthday to Michelle at Today’s Little Ditty! Be sure to visit and help her celebrate and to read the Poetry Friday round up.

Slice of Life: The Leaning Tower of Pisa

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In honor of National Poetry Month, I’m sharing a slice of poetry today. I was inspired by Mary Lee Hahn‘s “Our Wonderful Word” poetry project. Each day during the month of April, Mary Lee is writing an original poem in honor of either a man-made or natural wonder. Today’s wonder is the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

I briefly considered becoming an architect when I was in high school, and although I chose a different path, my fascination with architecture remains. Not long after reading Brunelleschi’s Dome by Ross King, I found Tilt: A Skewed History of The Tower of Pisa, by Nicholas Shrady. When I pulled the book off my shelf last weekend, I was struck by how much the tower looked like a wedding cake. And although I’m sure I’m not the first person to make that comparison, it was the spark I needed for this poem.

Wikimedia

Wikimedia

Were I to bake

a wedding cake, 

festooned with frill and flower

it would list and tilt

like Pisa’s famous tower.

Each tier more precarious

than the one below,

how to keep it upright,

Heaven only knows.

Although it’s not perfection,

once topped with groom and bride,

my flour and sugar confection

will stand askew with pride.

© Catherine Flynn, 2014

Thank you, as always, to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for hosting Slice of Life each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

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I feel like I’m late to the party for A Snicker of Magic (Scholastic, 2014), Natalie Lloyd’s debut middle-grade novel. Even though it’s only been out for a little over a month, A Snicker of Magic has gotten oodles of love on Twitter and kid lit blogs. This love is well deserved. 

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A Snicker of Magic is one of those “good stories” that “take your heart someplace else.” Felicity Pickle, a 12 year old who “sees words everywhere,” is the heart of Lloyd’s story. After years of being “sweet gypsies,” Felicity, her mother, and sister arrive in the tiny town of Midnight Gulch, Tennessee. Tired from years of wandering, Felicity is ready to stay, but fears her mother will become restless and want to leave again at any moment. Midnight Gulch “used to be a secret place… because the people who lived there had magic in their veins.” But the magic is gone. Felicity is curious about why it left and where it went. With the help of her new friend, Jonah, and a colorful cast of characters, she does her best to find the magic and return it to the town. 

Felicity is a poet who knows that she holds “the finest magic, words worth spinning, stories worth telling.” Hope has perched in her soul, and she uses her gift with words to heal the pain caused by a century of anger and misunderstanding. Lloyd has spun a story filled with magic, a story well worth telling. A Snicker of Magic is a good choice for a read aloud in fourth or fifth grade and will likely inspire many students to become word collectors and poets themselves.

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Educational Leadership, the monthly journal published by ASCD, always has timely articles by leading researchers, and the April issue is no exception. Devoted to “Writing: A Core Skill,” contributors include Carol Jago, Mary Ehrenworth, Kelly Gallagher, Penny Kittle, and more. I’m still reading, but can see already that this issue is a valuable resource. The articles I’ve read offer a succinct introduction to many elements of good writing instruction, including using mentor texts, teaching craft rather than formulas, types of writing, and more. I plan on sharing Jeff Anderson’s contribution, “What Writing Is & Isn’t,” with my colleagues. This article is the perfect springboard for a discussion about our understanding of writing instruction.

Don’t forget to visit Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee at Unleashing Readers to find out what other people have been reading lately. Thanks, Jen and Kellee, for hosting!

Slice of Life: Bo, the Outdoor Cat

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Two cats live at our house. Two fluffy orange cats. Every afternoon when I get home, Noodles, our indoor cat, is waiting for me at the front door. He darts out before the door is even open all the way, anxious to be out in the fresh air and sunshine. Noodles is always ready to come back inside, though, and curl up with me on the couch.

Bo is an outdoor cat. He adopted us; just started hanging around. At first we tried to shoo him away, but he kept turning up. I asked the neighbors if anyone was missing their cat, but no one knew anything about him. So I started feeding him. My husband was against this, said we didn’t need a stray hanging around. But Bo looked so sad. He’d clearly been in his share of fights, and his coat was matted and unkempt.

At first he scurried away whenever we were outside. He found a way into a ramshackle storage shed behind the garage and made a home for himself there. Whenever I left food on the porch, he’d slink up, gobble down the kibble, then run away to his hiding place after he was full.

Then he started sleeping on the wicker settee on the porch if the weather was fine. He still ran away if he saw us, but not all the way back to the shed. He stopped hissing at me when I brought food out for him.

Now, he’s part of the scenery. I named him Bo because I thought he was very bold to just make himself at home here. His hardscrabble looks also made me think of the song “Mr. Bojangles.” He waits by the front door every morning for his breakfast and doesn’t run away when I come outside. He seems content enough, but still doesn’t let me get close enough to pet him. And I’ve noticed that he always sleeps with his legs under him, ready to bolt at the first sign of danger.

He reminds me of a student who lived in our town for a short time a few years ago. He had been in a series of foster homes, and had a tough, gruff exterior. He didn’t act out or cause trouble, but he never looked completely comfortable or relaxed. He always looked ready to bolt.

I won’t ever know where Bo got his scars or how he landed on our doorstep. All I do know is that he needed a home and someone to care for him. I hope someday he’ll let me pet him. In the meantime, he reminds me everyday that sometimes the children who put up the toughest barriers are the ones who need our love the most.

Bo outside his shed.

Bo, outside his shed.

Thank you, as always, to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for hosting Slice of Life each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

SOLC 2014: Things to do if You’re a Writer

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How to write this final post of the 2014 Slice of Life Challenge? Yesterday’s post was reflective and full of thanks to everyone who made this challenge possible and who encouraged me through their generous comments. I had planned to do a standard “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?” post, but as often happens, life intervened and I knew that plan wasn’t going to work. 

I spent much of the day revising our fifth grade poetry unit and thought I could write about that, but that didn’t seem appropriate for my final slice. “In the end,” I decided to use a list poem (another list!) I read today, “Things To Do If You Are The Sun,” by Bobbi Katz, as a model for a poem that sums up how participating in this challenge has changed me as a writer.

Things To Do If You’re a Writer

Let words envelop you and swirl inside your head.

Look at a flower bud and see a diver poised on the brink of the board.

Hear an owl hooting and wonder what coded message he’s sending out

into the night.

Bite into a pear and taste summer in its sweetness.

Touch a puppy’s ear and feel the satiny edge of a well-loved blanket.

Breathe in the late winter air and sniff a hint of spring.

Gather these bits and pieces, like a magpie, and weave them

into something wonderful.

Share your creation with friends, who, through reading your words,

know what is in your heart.

© Catherine Flynn, 2014

Thank you, everyone, for an amazing month.

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If you’d like to read “Things to do if You Are the Sun,” it can be found in Falling Down the Page: A Book of List Poems (Roaring Brook Press, 2009), edited by Georgia Heard. If you’d like to read other list poems and gather more ideas for using them as mentor texts with children, read Elaine Magliaro’s post at Wild Rose Reader.

SOLC 2014: The Perils and Pleasures of Writing

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“…there is nothing more wonderful than a list…”

~ Umberto Eco ~

As this month draws to a close, it seems natural to reflect on what I’ve learned. Lists have been popular this year.  I love lists and have tried a few different formats myself, and thought a compare/contrast style list would work to organize my jumbled thoughts about writing each day for the past 30 days. 

 The Perils of Writing Every Day

  • Chocolate on the computer–I guess as long as it doesn’t work its way into the keyboard or USB port, it really can’t hurt.
  • Almost driving into a snowbank as I watched a bobcat cross the road. (Thankfully, the snow is gone!)
  • Being so tired from reading and writing (not to mention life) that I could hardly see straight, yet when I finally got into bed and closed my eyes, words floated into my brain and I had to get up to write them down.
  • Washing my hair with body soap because I was still tired and distracted by my thoughts.
  • There was something else, but I can’t remember what it was because I didn’t write it down!

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The Pleasures of Writing Every Day

  • Finding exactly the right words to express my thoughts.
  • Reflecting on daily events through writing. This has helped me learn and deepen my understanding about a many topics.
  • Learning about myself as a writer–being conscious of my bad habits and trying to improve my writing.
  • Having the satisfaction of letting go of some self-doubt and accomplishing a goal — sharing an original poem each Friday was scary.
  • Being part of this supportive, nurturing community. Your comments and feedback have encouraged me and made me brave.

I am so grateful to Stacey, Tara, Dana, Anna, Betsy, and Beth for providing this space for us to share our writing, and to everyone on the support team who helped with all the details. I can only imagine the time and effort that have gone into making this month-long challenge a success. Thank you all for your generosity!

Finally, I am in awe of all of you. The writing that you have shared in response to the SOL challenge has been amazing. Your words have moved me to laughter and tears, and have given me new insights and understanding into life. Thank you so much for sharing.

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