Poetry Friday: Abraham Lincoln


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Poetry is an excellent way to introduce a subject. Concise, yet packed with meaning, poetry can convey the essence of a topic or subject in just a few lines. Often there are questions between those lines, pathways to a deeper knowledge and understanding of a subject.

Marilyn Singer’s poem about Abraham Lincoln, from her collection of poems about our presidents, Rutherford B., Who Was He?: Poems About Our Presidents (Disney-Hyperion, 2013), is just such a poem. 

Abraham Lincoln
(Whig, Republican, 1861-1865)

By stovepipe hat, beard, large size,
       he’s the one we recognize.

By addresses of great note,
       he’s the one we often quote.

By leading through war—wrenching, bloody—
       he’s the one we always study.

By exercising his high station
       to proclaim emancipation,

then meeting such a tragic fate,
       he’s the one we rank as great.

“I am a slow walker, but I never walk back.”

Abraham Lincoln, 1809-1865

© Marilyn Singer, 2013
Shared with permission of the author

By the time kids are in 4th or 5th grade, they know who Abraham Lincoln is, but what is the address we often quote? Which war? What is emancipation? These are great introductory questions to a study of Lincoln and the Civil War.

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Wednesday was the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s death. Our country was in the midst of celebrating the end of that “wrenching, bloody” war when John Wilkes Booth’s assassination of Lincoln plunged us into mourning once again. Young readers get a sense of how profoundly people grieved from Robert Burleigh’s Abraham Lincoln Comes Home (Macmillan, 2008). Burleigh tells the story of a boy and his father, up long before dawn, to travel “miles away” so they could view Lincoln’s funeral train and pay their respects to the fallen president. Wendell Minor’s illustrations depict crowds standing by bonfires along the tracks, waiting to get a glimpse of the train. This scene played out over and over again on the 13 day, 1,600 mile journey from Washington, D.C. to Springfield, Illinois, which is described in more detail in Burleigh’s afterward. There is also a map showing the route the train traveled, as well as a list of interesting facts.

Lincoln’s death inspired some Walt Whitman’s most memorable poetry. Here are the first lines of “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.”

When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d,
And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,
I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.
Ever-returning spring, trinity sure to me you bring,
Lilac blooming perennial and drooping star in the west,
And thought of him I love.
Read the rest of the poem here.
Finally, I’d like to share another poem from our 50 States Poem Project. Although this poem was inspired by Laura Purdie Salas‘s poem about Arlington National Cemetery, it seem a fitting way to close this post.


Please be sure to visit Robyn Hood Black at Life on the Deckle Edge for today’s Poetry Friday Round Up.

Slice of Life: A Villanelle



One of my favorite poetry blogs is Tricia Stohr-Hunt’s The Miss Rumphius Effect. Tricia is an assistant professor of Elementary Education at the University of Richmond, as well as a blogger, poet, and all-around wonderful person. Each April, Tricia chooses a poetry theme, then writes daily posts based on her theme. These posts are incredibly thorough, informative, and inspiring. Yesterday’s post on ekphrastic poetry was no exception.

I had already been thinking about writing some ekphrastic poetry this month because of Irene Latham’s amazing National Poetry Month project, ARTSPEAK! and this painting, Mary Cassatt’s “Children in the Garden (The Nurse)” April’s image on the calendar hanging in my kitchen. The more I studied these people, the more they seemed like the perfect subjects to give voice to.

"Children in the Garden (The Nurse)" Mary Cassatt, 1878 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“Children in the Garden (The Nurse)” Mary Cassatt, 1878 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

As I began jotting ideas about what each person in the painting might be thinking, or dreaming about, it became clear that there would be echoes between the three. Again inspired by Tricia and her compatriots, The Poetry Seven, I decided to try a villanelle. This form has a specific rhyme scheme and pattern of repetition. I’m not in love with the word “done” to describe when lunch is over, but it had more rhyme options than other choices, so I kept it for this draft.

Children in the Garden,
after “Children in the Garden (The Nurse)” by Mary Cassatt, 1878

On a June afternoon, when lunch is done,
baby dreams a sweet milk dream
as she dozes in the warm summer sun.

As she knits yellow wool, finely spun,
nurse’s eyelids droop in the sun’s bright gleam
on a June afternoon, when lunch is done.

I play in the garden, watched by no one.
Tipping my watering can, I pour a stream
of water, glistening, into the warm summer sun.

Bumblebees dart in and out, their work just begun;
welcomed by iris and roses; it’s part of nature’s scheme
this June afternoon, when lunch is done.

Spying a cricket, I give chase. I won!
My prize safe in my palm, my smile’s a beam
as bright as the warm summer sun.

Breezes stir; I’ve had my fun.
I snuggle next to nurse, soft as cream,
on a June afternoon when lunch is done
and doze in the warmth of the summer sun.

© Catherine Flynn, 2015


Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

Poetry Friday: Read Across America Poetry Doors




Our Read Across America celebration last month incorporated Laura Purdie Salas‘s Wacky, Wild, & Wonderful: 50 State Poems. (Read more here) Classes chose poems from Laura’s book related to their curriculum and used them to inspire their own poetry and door displays.

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Laura’s poem about our state, “Connecticut: Storm Warning,” inspired many doors, including the two above from Kindergarten.

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One first grade class was also inspired by “Connecticut: Storm Warning,” while another used “Vermont: Sugar Season” as the theme for their door.

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Second grade wrote acrostics about our town, while two third grades, below, connected “New Mexico: Recipe for a B-Earth Day Cake” and “Hawaii: Pele’s Fire” to their study of landforms.

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Another third grade connected Connecticut’s weather poem to their study of character traits. Fourth grade studies regions of the United States and Washington, D.C. One class was inspired by “South Dakota: Mountain Men” to create their own versions of Mt. Rushmore. Another, below, used “Virginia: Tombstones” to create their own tribute to Arlington National Cemetery.

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One fifth grade also used “South Dakota: Mountain Men” and linked it to their biography unit. Students wrote opinions about why their subject was worthy to be included on Mt. Rushmore.

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One of the fifth grade science units is about how the Earth’s revolution around the sun causes the seasons, so they were inspired by “New Hampshire: White on Orange” to write seasonal haiku.

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Sixth grade voted to determine their favorite state, and Florida was the winner. Seventh grade has been reading Shakespeare, so one class wrote couplets about our town.

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Another seventh grade was also inspired by “Hawaii: Pele’s Fire” to create this festive door. Eighth grade has been studying civil rights, and “Louisiana: Cornet Survivor” inspired them to create this poem about the birth of jazz.

This was supposed to be a door decorating contest, but it was impossible to choose winners from all these amazing doors. It would be impossible to share all the wonderful poems the kids wrote in one post, so I’ll be sharing more over the next few weeks.

Laura is hosting the Poetry Friday Round Up at her blog, Writing the World for Kids, today so please be sure to head over to her blog to read more poetry.


Slice of Life: Poetry is Everywhere!


11454297503_e27946e4ff_h When the weather cooperates, my weekend routine includes a walk with my dear friend, Colette, of Used Books in Class. After a winter of snow, cold, and wind, we were happy to walk every day over the Easter weekend.

Our walk takes us through the fairgrounds behind the firehouse, and as we rounded a corner on Saturday morning, this unusual sight caught my eye:


Maxine Greene urged people to see the world with “wide-awake eyes.” Naomi Shihab Nye wrote that  “poems hide. In the bottoms of our shoes…” I always share these wise words with my students and try to follow this advice myself. So of course I had to take a picture and write a poem.

A bumper crop of used commodes
Sit in the morning sun.
And although the fair is months away,
They’re ready for some fun.

Outside the information booth,
They form a jagged line,
Looking for the exhibition tent,
Ready for a turn to shine.

Alas, no ribbons will they win;
A sad, cruel fate awaits.
Their usefulness is now long passed.
They are ushered through the gate.

Last stop: the dump.

© Catherine Flynn, 2015


Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

Poetry Friday: Neruda’s “Ode to My Socks”


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“To feel the affection that comes from those whom we do not know … widens out the boundaries of our being, and unites all living things.”
~ Pablo Neruda ~

A confession: I can’t remember ever reading a poem by Nobel Prize winner Pablo Neruda until I read The Dreamer (Scholastic, 2010), which won the Pura Belpré Award in 2011. Pam Muñoz Ryan’s prose and Peter Sís’s illustrations work together seamlessly to tell the story of Neftali, a boy with deep curiosity about the natural world and a vivid imagination. This boy adopted the pen name Pablo Neruda to avoid the disapproval of his father, and the rest, as they say, is history.

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Just a year later, Monica Brown and Julie Paschkis created Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People (Henry Holt, 2011), a gorgeous picture book biography about Neruda. 

Together, these books are a wonderful introduction to Neruda’s poetry, which is infused with his “spirit of inquiry” as Ryan describes it in her author’s note to The Dreamer. In an interview with Robert Bly, Neruda advises young poets to “discover things, to be in the sea, to be in the mountains, and approach every living thing.” (This interview can be found in Neruda and Vallejo: Selected Poems, Beacon Press, 1971, edited by Robert Bly) Many of Neruda’s poems are perfect for sharing with children. Along with his directive “to look deeply into objects at rest,” they will inspire children to create their own “odes to common things.”

Ode to My Socks
by Pablo Neruda

Mara Mori brought me
a pair of socks
which she knitted herself
with her sheepherder’s hands,
two socks as soft as rabbits.
I slipped my feet into them
as if they were two cases
knitted with threads of twilight and goatskin,
Violent socks,
my feet were two fish made of wool,
two long sharks
sea blue, shot through
by one golden thread,
two immense blackbirds,
two cannons,
my feet were honored in this way
by these heavenly socks.
They were so handsome for the first time
my feet seemed to me unacceptable
like two decrepit firemen,
firemen unworthy of that woven fire,
of those glowing socks.
Read the rest of the poem here.
To discover more wonderful poetry, please be sure to visit Amy Ludwig VanDerwater at The Poem Farm for the first Poetry Friday Round Up of National Poetry Month.

More Reasons to Write a Poem




Happy National Poetry Month, everyone! To kick off this month-long celebration of poets and poetry, I used Bob Raczka’s contribution to The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations,  “Some Reasons To Write A Poem” as a model, and came up with my own list of reasons to write a poem.

More Reasons to Write a Poem

Because a dew-laden branch looks like
a string of diamonds in the morning sun

Because mixing soap and water creates
iridescent bubbles

Because the ice is gone and swans have
returned to the river

Because the fluffy orange cat curled up
next to you is purring

Because the moon is hanging in the afternoon sky
like a gauzy cotton ball

Because you surprised your mother with
a bouquet of yellow roses

and she smiled.

© Catherine Flynn, 2015

Les Roses jaunes, Pierre Laprade, 1920  [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Les Roses jaunes, Pierre Laprade, 1920 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Looking for resources and ways to celebrate National Poetry Month? Head over to Jama’s Alphabet Soup, where Jama Rattigan has collected a treasure-trove of helpful links.

Slice of Life: A Month of Discoveries




My One Little Word for this year is discover. What have I discovered over the past month? Many things, but I have to confess this slice has eluded me for the past two days. It’s been hiding, making me work to discover what I wanted to say about a month of blogging every day. In the end, I thought about what is necessary to being open to and making discoveries. Carol Dweck’s “Growth Mindset” came to mind, so I decided to frame it in terms of Dweck’s basic tenets.


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Embrace the challenge. We made it! Thirty-one days, thirty-one slices.

Be inspired by the success of others. I am in awe of the talented writers who have shared their writing this month. Your writing has inspired and humbled me. I have discovered several new blogs and new voices and am excited to continue to learn from all of you.

Thrive on feedback. I cannot thank you all enough for your kind and encouraging comments. I feel so fortunate to be part of this incredible, supportive community!

Support and encourage each other. I have loved reading all your slices and have left as many comments as possible. But one of the downsides of this challenge is that there just isn’t enough time to do my own writing AND read all the slices that sound so interesting.

Expect excellence. I have strived each day to create a piece of writing that was worth sharing with you. This has given me more insight into my writing. Sometimes I feel pretty slow about these discoveries and think, “Duh, you’re just figuring this out now?” But at least I figured it out, right? After all, that’s what this journey is about.

Be resilient and overcome obstacles. Many times this month, I’ve started a piece of writing with one idea in mind, but ended up with something very different from what I envisioned. This was often frustrating and never easy. But I did it.

Accept hard work, effort, & deliberate practice. Like all of your, over the course of the month I have struggled to find the right word, rearranged a paragraph after I thought a piece was finished, and tried new forms I wasn’t comfortable with. But all those struggles were worth it.

Congratulations, everyone, for this incredible accomplishment!

Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for your dedication and the hard work it took to make this challenge possible. You are all an inspiration to me!

Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

SOL: Interactive Writing with Natalie Louis


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I have been attending Saturday Reunions for almost ten years and I am always amazed at how much information and inspiration Lucy Calkins and her team of staff developers manage to pack into six short hours. Natalie Louis is now a Lead Staff Developer, but when I first heard her present, she was fairly new at the project. Her passion, intelligence, and practicality was apparent immediately, though, and I have attended as many of her sessions as possible over the years. I am a much better teacher because of what I have learned from Natalie.

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So on Saturday morning, I made my way to the 10th floor of Riverside Church for her session, “Tap the Power of Interactive Writing to Help Readers Surge Forward.” One thing you should know about Natalie Louis. She could have had a career in stand up comedy. She has a terrific sense of humor, but when it comes to doing what best for children, she’s absolutely serious.

Natalie began her session acknowledging the reality of first grade: we have students with a wide range of abilities and background knowledge, and sadly, many who have little experience with books and little motivation to read them. But they love to write. She encouraged us to get in there and “make stuff” with our students. “What kids doesn’t want to make stuff?” Louis wanted to know.

Interactive writing was on the schedule every day in Louis’s classroom because writing is a natural way to teach reading. Writing with first graders (or Kindergarteners or second graders) is developmentally appropriate because kids at this age love to tell stories about themselves. It’s also appropriate because there is an entry point for every child, regardless of their skill level. If they can only draw pictures, then they draw. If they know initial consonants, that’s what they write, and so on.

“The beginning of literacy is all about talk and finding meaning in our lives,” Louis reminded us. We have to help students find “stuff in their life that worth writing down.” This may mean creating a shared experience to talk and then write about. This helps kids learn that “when we do things in our lives, we have to remember them, we have to tell the story about what we did.”

Once you and your students have a shared experience, tell the story orally, for “talk is the basis of all writing.” Natalie assured us that at first “only the talkers will talk,” but that’s okay. By listening to the talkers, the “ummers” are internalizing the structure and language of the story.

After the kids have told the story many times, maybe as long as a month, write the story down. Louis urged us to “talk a rich picture book, but write it more like a leveled text.” This will ensure that students will be able to read it on their own. Say the sentence and reinforce the idea that “here’s our message.” Then count the words together.

Because this is interactive writing, share the pen with children, but only when the word is in their zone of proximal development. If a word is too hard, you should write it, and if a word is too easy, such as a word wall word, direct their attention to the word wall to find the word.

Louis had a great list of suggestions of how to keep the kids who aren’t writing engaged. You can lead them in skywriting the word or lip syncing the letters in the word. Other options include writing the word on their hand, on the rug, or whispering to a partner. Natalie said she only used white boards on Friday because it takes time to distribute and collect them, and they can be  distracting. She assured us not to worry about the child with the pen, they will probably make a mistake, but then you’ll help them fix it.

Corrections can be made after each word is written down. Louis suggested that “amazing intellectual work” is done when we give kids a chance to analyze their mistakes. She recommended that we say “Can I show you all the things you did right?” This is especially helpful if other children are laughing and an error. Rereading the sentence after each word is written is excellent reinforcement and practice.

Natalie’s realism about teaching our youngest readers and writers was clear when she advised us not to “be obsessed with levels. Level growth is not the only measure of growth; we have to look at the skills within the levels.”

Thank you, Natalie Louise, for sharing your wisdom with us last Saturday. I can’t wait to get back into the classroom to “do stuff, tell stuff, write stuff,” with kids.

Thank you also to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each day during the month of March and on Tuesdays throughout the year. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

SOL: Finding Ourselves in Others


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I think the first Patricia Polacco book I ever read was Pink and Say (1994), but I can’t be certain. I do know that Chicken Sunday was in the literature anthology my school adopted in 1996.  At once I knew Patricia Polacco was a master storyteller whose books conveyed important themes through stories of intergenerational and multicultural friendship and caring. These themes evoked compassion and allowed readers to see “the other” in themselves.

FullSizeRenderAt the 88th Teachers College Reading and Writing Project Saturday Reunion, held yesterday, teachers from across the country braved swirling snow and freezing temperatures to hear Patricia Polacco deliver the opening keynote. She told us that “the greatest heroes in our counry are classroom teachers.” She shared the story of her hero, George Felker, the real Mr. Falker. Mr. Felker was the first teacher to recognize Patricia’s dyslexia and was instrumental in getting her the help she needed to learn to read. Polacco described him as a man who was “beautiful in his heart.”


Polacco also shared the story of The Keeping Quilt. I know I wasn’t the only member of the audience moved to tears as Patricia told of her great-grandmother, Anna, who left the Ukraine as a small child. The dress and headscarf, or babushka, she wore eventually became part of the keeping quilt. Anna’s mother sewed the quilt so that when Anna felt homesick she could “just touch the quilt, and you’ll keep home” in your heart.


Hearts were the thread running through Polacco’s speech. She thanked the thousands of teachers filling Riverside Church for devoting “our lives to educating the minds and hearts of others.” In closing, Polacco told us that she was proud to “walk this earth” with us, and that she holds our hearts in her good keeping. 

Kylene Beers’s closing keynote, “What Matters Most,” was the perfect bookend to Polacco’s opening address. Kylene began by talking about how literacy is about power and privilege. She went on to say that “power is the ability to reach someone with your message” and that “power is about being connected.” What connects us better than stories? Stories like The Keeping Quilt and Dear Mr. Falker.

Beers also told us that “we must have more compassion” and that we “get to compassion best and easiest through the teaching of literature.” Brain research supports this, as well as the role of literature in creating empathy, something that is sorely lacking in our society today. “The humanities should humanize us,” Beers said, and the best way to achieve this is to read. Children should read widely and read books of their choosing, because “want-ability will always be more important that readability.” Children should read widely because through literature “we learn how to navigate our lives by navigating the lives of others.”


With characters as diverse as a slave and soldier of the Civil War, Russian immigrants, Holocaust survivors, and everyday African-American kids, Patricia Polacco has given us literature that enables us to, as Kylene Beers put it, “become what we are not.” Great teachers will share these books with their students because they will help children become curious, creative, and compassionate. They will share them because “great teachers are our best hope for a better tomorrow.”

Thank you to Lucy Calkins and everyone at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project for making the Saturday Reunion possible, and thank you to Patricia Polacco and Kylene Beers for your confidence, faith, and above all, your words of inspiration.

Thank you also to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each day during the month of March and on Tuesdays throughout the year. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

Slice of Life: What a Day!


A brief poem about my day at the TCRWP Saturday Reunion:

Time to see friends old and new,
and to learn a thing or two.

Patricia Polacco moved us to tears,
You “are our best hope for a better tomorrow” said Kylene Beers.

Dinner in Brooklyn, then time to leave,
Little did I know the roads would freeze!

So now it’s late and I haven’t sliced,
But don’t want my streak to be sacrificed.

Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each day during the month of March and on Tuesdays throughout the year. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.






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