Slice of Life: When I Was Young…

As summer winds down, I’ve been thinking not only about what I accomplished (closets cleaned, books read, poems written), but what I didn’t do. For many years, my in-laws had a very rustic cabin on a lake in “down east” Maine.  We spent many weeks there over the years. Going to camp was right up there with Christmas and birthdays for my boys. The cabin was sold long ago, but for some reason, I missed it more than usual this summer.

Maybe that’s because I started thinking about it in June after I received my copy of Linda Rief’s fabulous new book, The Quickwrite Handbook: 100 Mentor Texts to Jumpstart Your Students’ Thinking and Writing. One of Linda’s quickwrite suggestions is to “borrow Cynthia Rylant’s line ‘When I was young in the…’ (or ‘at the’) and write down all that comes to mind about that place you love or that place that you dislike.” Although I never spent time at the lake when I was young, it isn’t hard to imagine this magical spot through the eyes of a child.

When I Was Young at the Lake

(with thanks to Linda Rief and Cynthia Rylant)

When I was young at the lake, I woke to the sun shining through the trees, making puddles on the floor of the cabin’s loft. I skipped stones across the glassy water and paddled a canoe to the island near our cove. My brother and I ran wild through the forest and built a fort to defend our territory. We swam in the cold water and searched for unusual rocks on the beach.

When I was young at the lake, the air smelled of pine trees and we picked wild blueberries that grandma baked into a pie. On rainy afternoons, as raindrops pinged on the roof, we sat on the porch and put puzzles together. On clear nights, we watched meteor showers from the beach that were better than any fireworks we’d ever seen.

I fished for trout with my grandfather from our rowboat. Grandma always clapped when we presented her with our catch. Then she breaded each fish in cornmeal and fried them in her big cast iron skillet. Once a year, we drove to Machias for lobsters and corn on the cob. On those nights, we felt like kings as pulled tender meat from bright red claws and licked our buttery fingers clean.

When I was young at the lake, we fell into bed, exhausted from the day’s adventures, and drifted to sleep to the lullaby of loons.

A rock from the shore of Beddington Lake.

Linda explains that “these quickwrites are seeds of ideas, the beginning of a piece to be worked on right away or, at the very least, captured for later use.” I can easily imagine revisiting “When I Was Young at the Lake.” I can imagine a poem emerging from these lines, or maybe a picture book. Even if these memories never get farther than this post, my memories of the lake are always in my “deep heart’s core.” (“The Lake Isle of Innisfree,” by W.B. Yeats)

Thank you to StaceyBetsyBethKathleenDeb, KelseyMelanie, and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

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Poetry Friday: The Heron

A quick scroll through the photos on my phone would let you know that I am fairly obsessed with birds. So when Christie Wyman, a true kindred spirit and fellow bird devotee, issued a “bird-related poem challenge…to anyone willing to fly along,” I knew I was in.

My contribution to Christie’s feather-filled roundup was inspired by a chance encounter earlier this summer.

The Heron

All at once, a heron
is standing
in the middle of the road.
Maybe she thought flecks
of mica in the pavement
were fish darting back
and forth in a creek.

But no quicksilver fish
swim in this endless
stream of asphalt.

Bewildered, she extends
her graceful neck
like a periscope,
searching.

Suddenly, an alarm
only she can hear
buzzes and
the moment is over.

Without a sound, her wings lift,
beat the air, and she is aloft,
her beak a compass needle
pointing toward true north.

© Catherine Flynn, 2018

Please be sure to visit Christie’s blog, Wondering and Wandering, for her “Birds of a Feather” Poetry Friday Roundup.

Picture Book 10for10 & a Poem: Creative Imaginations

                    

“Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.”
Albert Einstein

For the seventh year, I am participating Picture Book 10for10, which is the brainchild of Cathy Mere of Reflect & Refine: Building a Learning Community and Mandy Robeck of Enjoy and Embrace Learning. During this annual event, now in its ninth year, teachers, librarians, and book lovers create lists of 10 essential picture books. Cathy and Mandy collect and share these lists, and everyone is richer because of their efforts. Be sure to visit their blogs to see their lists, and check out dozens of Picture Book 10 for 10 lists here. Thank you, Cathy and Mandy, for organizing this celebration of picture book love.

http://www.burningthroughpages.org/

When I taught third grade, we began the year with a reading unit called “Creative Imaginations.” (This was at the very start of my career, pre-workshop. Yes, it was in a basal; no, I didn’t hate it. In fact, I loved that unit, and so did my students. but that’s another post.) All the stories involved main characters who used their imaginations to brighten the world for themselves and the people around them. It was a perfect way to inspire my students to explore their own imaginations.

I was reminded of this unit earlier this summer when I came across Mabel and Sam at Home (Chronicle Books, 2018) by Linda Urban, illustrated by Hadley Hooper. Mabel and Sam have just moved into a new home. Everything is in disarray. Movers are carrying furniture. Their parents are busy unpacking. Mabel and Sam have to find a place where they’ll be out of the way. Mabel’s imagination and a cardboard box come the rescue and a day of adventure begins.

And so my theme for this year’s Picture Book 10for10 was born.

As it happens, there has been a bumper crop of picture books celebrating imaginative play and creativity over the past year, so it wasn’t too hard to put this list together. I’m going to begin, though, with my favorite from that old basal.

Roxaboxen, by Alice McLerran, illustrated by Barbara Cooney, was published in 1991. It tells the story of Roxaboxen, the imaginary town created by Marian, her sisters, and all the children of Yuma, Arizona at the beginning of the twentieth century. The children of Roxaboxen had great imaginations that fueled endless exciting adventures on their rocky hill. You can read more about Roxaboxen and the real Marian, McLerran’s mother, here.

Fast forward to the early twenty-first century. Technology is now pervasive in children’s lives, but doesn’t play much of a role in these books. The only “modern” gadget that the three brave explorers in Matt Forrest Esenwine & Fred Koehler’s Flashlight Night (Boyds Mills Press, 2017) is, you guessed it, a flashlight. That’s all they need for a night of exploring. In that glowing beam of light, the space beneath a porch becomes an Egyptian tomb and the backyard pool turns into the high seas. What other adventures await them out there in the dark?

                    

The main character of Beatrice Alemagna’s On a Magical Do-Nothing Day (Harper, 2017; first published in France in 2016) is not happy that he (she? you really can’t tell) and his mom are back “in the same cabin” with “the same rain,” while Dad is “back in the city.” Gameboy seems to be the only option, until Mom takes the game and sends the child outside. The day takes a turn for the worse when the game (retrieved from Mom’s hiding spot) is lost in the pond. With nothing else to do, the child begins to explore the forest. Suddenly, “the whole world seemed brand-new” and he ends up wondering “why hadn’t I done these things before today?”

In A Grain of Sand (Owlkids Books, 2017) by Sibylle Delacroix, the memory of a beach vacation sparks the imagination of a girl who is “as blue as they sea” when her family returns home. Finding a handful of sand in her shoe, she “plants” them. Before her eyes, a field of beach umbrellas to wave hello to the sun” is unfurled. She and her younger brother relive their seaside adventures until the day is done and the sandman claims the sand for its age-old task.

                        

Questions about the memories of an abandoned house are at the heart of A House that Once Was, written by Julie Fogliano and illustrated by Lane Smith. Two explorers find a forgotten home “deep in the woods” and spend the day wandering through the silent rooms wondering about who lived here and “why did they leave here and where were they going?” These questions remain, even as the two return to “a house where our dinner is waiting.”

Finn, the main character in Ocean Meets Sky (Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2018) by Terry and Eric Fan, is a dreamer and sailor who misses his recently deceased Grandfather. “To honor him, Finn built a boat.”  When the boat is finished, Finn is off on magical adventure that takes him to the moon and back. His journey helps him deal with his sadness and come to some very grown-up understandings about death and love.

                         

In Windows (Candlewick Press, 2017), written by Julia Denos and illustrated by E.B. Goodale, a curious boy is attentive to the world around him in “the almost night” as he walks his dog.  But he also wonders about the many and varied lives being lived in all the windows he passes. This book doesn’t fit this theme quite as neatly as the others, but the boy’s consideration of many different possible lives opens a window into empathy and acceptance of others.

Acceptance and understanding are also at the heart of Drawn Together (Disney/Hyperion, 2018), by Minh Lê, illustrated by Dan Santat. The book opens with a series of wordless panels and we see a boy who is clearly unhappy about spending time with his Grandfather, who doesn’t speak English. After a few failed attempts to have a conversation, the boy pulls his sketch book out of his backpack. This gets his grandfather’s attention. Soon the two are communicating through their drawings and discovering they have more in common than they thought.

               

Creativity and quick thinking save the day in Annemarie van Haeringen’s How to Knit a Monster (Clarion, 2018; first published in the Netherlands in 2014). Greta the goat “is a very, very good knitter” and is having fun knitting a heard of goats when Mrs. Sheep arrives to criticize Greta’s knitting skill. Chaos ensues. A sheep-gobbling wolf appears off the ends of Greta’s needles, followed by a tiger, then the monster of the title. All’s well that ends well, though, and Mrs. Sheep never criticizes Greta about her very creative knitting again.

There you have it. Nine very recent books and one old favorite that will take the children in your life everywhere and inspire them to dream up their own adventures.

Although Flashlight Night is a rhyming book, none of these books are books of poetry per se. They are, however, all quite poetic. So because it is Poetry Friday, I created a found poem using one line (with a few minor alterations) from each of these gorgeous books.

Is there anything to do around here?
Adventure lingers, stirs about.
She has an idea.
How about a crop of ice cream,
she daydreams happily.
Or explore an island of giant shells.

Some days become treasure-hunting days.
A window…says climb inside
and…fill me up with stories.
Tomorrow, we will explore and be bold
and build a new world that even words can’t describe.

Please be sure to visit my lovely friend Molly Hogan at Nix the Comfort Zone for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

If you’re curious, here are links to my previous PB10for 10 posts:

2017: Celebrating Nature

2016: Feeding Our Imaginations

2015: Poetry Picture Books 

2014: Friendship Favorites

2013: Picture Books by Jane Yolen 

2012: Wordless Picture Books

Finally, credit where credit is due! Here are the sources for my found poem, in order:

On a Magical Do-Nothing Day
Flashlight Night
How to Knit a Monster
A Grain of Sand
How to Knit a Monster
Ocean Meets Sky
Roxaboxen
The House that Once Was
Windows
Mabel and Sam at Home
Drawn Together

 

Poetry Friday: Dinosaurs

My first published writing was “Invasion of the Dinosaurs” an article that appeared in Connecticut Parent thirty years ago. It was inspired by my son’s love of dinosaurs and my own lifelong fascination with these prehistoric creatures. Although Michael’s interest waned as he grew older, mine never has.

So it was that I spent a hot August afternoon roaming the halls of the American Museum of Natural History. Most of these exhibits are familiar to me, but I still love visiting them. Since my last visit, the museum has added a new resident: the titanosaur!

You can learn more about this truly massive specimen here.

Contemplating all these fossils reminded me of this poem, by Myra Cohn Livingston:

“Dinosaurs”

Their feet, planted into tar,
drew them down,
back to the core of birth,
and all they are
is found in earth,
recovered, bone by bone,
rising again, like stone
skeletons, naked, white,
to live again, staring,
head holes glaring,
towering, proud, tall,
in some museum hall.

Congratulations to Rebecca Herzog, Kimberly Hutmacher, and Amy Warntz! You are the winners of last week’s giveaway of Great Morning! Poems for School Leaders to Read Aloud! Thank you again to Sylvia and Janet for making this giveaway possible!

Please be sure to visit Mary Lee Hahn at A Year of Reading for the Poetry Friday Roundup!

Slice of Life: Habits of Mind and Writing

“Habit is a cable; we weave a thread of it each day, and at last we cannot break it.”
~ Horace Mann ~

One of the professional books I’m reading this summer is Learning and Leading with Habits of Mind, by Arthur L. Costa and Bena Kallick. Published in 2008, this book outlines “a set of behaviors that discipline intellectual processes” and provides teachers with strategies to integrate them into “instruction in every school subject.” (p. 12-13) These habits “are dispositions that empower creative and critical thinking.” Costa and Kallick’s work begins with the same premise behind Carol Dweck’s work with growth mindset. That is, “intelligence is a set of teachable, learnable behaviors that all human beings can continue to develop and improve throughout their lifetimes.” (p. 12) During the coming school year, my colleagues and I will be working to incorporate these habits into our daily work with children. This, of course, will include modeling.

This tweet from Jane Yolen last week instantly provided a modeling strategy for three of the sixteen habits of mind:

* Gathering Data Through All the Senses

* Creating, Imagining, Innovating

* Responding with Wonderment and Awe

Writers won’t get far without these three habits, but we all know we have plenty of students who tell us “I don’t know what to write about.” Kids are so distracted by the world available to them through the myriad of devices to choose from, they can’t concentrate on any one topic for long. By modeling these habits in particular I think we can help our students focus on the world right in front of them. When they do that, they will find plenty to write about.

All of this was swirling around in my head when I went for a walk this morning. As usual, I had my phone with me because, for me, taking pictures is a form of prewriting. It didn’t take long to find five new ideas for writing.

  1. How could you not respond to this view with wonderment and awe? I was reminded of the way the sun streams through the trees at the cabin in Maine where my family spent many summers. My boys canoed to an island in the middle of the lake and spent entire days being wild in the woods. I could write a story about their adventures.

2. Again, a scene of wonderment and awe. This could inspire a poem or be woven into a scene in a middle grade story idea I’ve been playing with.

3. I was truly shocked to see this heron land on the road right in front of me! This is destined to be a poem, I think. It could also inspire a nonfiction piece about herons or birds of the neighborhood. 

4. This is my cat Noodles. He likes to be included and often follows me to the end of the driveway when I leave the yard. Doesn’t he look sad at being left behind? This could inspire a small moment story or a series of adventures Noodles might have throughout the day.

5. This swallowtail butterfly was trying desperately to fly, but appeared to be injured and couldn’t get off the ground. I gently moved him into the grass. When I went back to check on him, he was gone. I hope he was able to fly away after resting.

After sharing these images with my students, I will take them outside so they can respond with wonderment and awe as they gather their images that will inspire them to create, imagine and innovate. I’ve used similar strategies with students in the past with mixed success. Part of the reason for this may have been because we didn’t do this kind of activity often enough. Consistent trips outside to gather ideas will help students develop these behaviors into unbreakable habits. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Thank you to StaceyBetsyBethKathleenDeb, KelseyMelanie, and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

 

It’s a Great Morning! Poetry Friday Is Here! (Plus a Giveaway!)

“Poetry is a lovely gift we give to children that appreciates in value
and lasts throughout their lifetimes.”
~ Maria Brountas ~

Welcome to the Poetry Friday Roundup! I am thrilled to be hosting today because I’m celebrating the book birthday of Great Morning! Poems for School Leaders to Read Aloud, the newest member of Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong‘s Poetry Friday Anthology® Series. What kind of celebration would this be without gifts? Thanks to Sylvia and Janet’s generosity, three lucky readers will receive a copy of Great Morning! just in time for the beginning of the new school year! Everyone who leaves a comment before midnight, July 31st will be entered in the drawing.

For many years, the assistant principal and I have read poems during morning announcements. Usually we’d read poems to celebrate the arrival of a new season, or a fun “National (fill in the blank) Day.” I have dozens (and dozens) of poetry books that are full of wonderful poems that we’ve read over the years, including all of Sylvia and Janet’s previous Poetry Friday® books. And, like all of the Poetry Friday books, Great Morning! is full of poems perfect for sharing.

What makes this book so special is that these poems are tailor-made for every imaginable school occasion. Did you just have a fire drill? Read Janet Wong’s “We’ll Keep Safe” to reassure kids that everything is okay. Starting a recycling campaign? Sharing Susan Blackaby’s “Recycling” is the perfect way to kick off this effort. There’s even a poem, “Testing Blues” by Xelena Gonzalez, to lift everyone’s spirit during those dreaded assessment weeks. There are also poems to celebrate all the people who work so hard to keep schools running smoothly: secretaries, nurses, custodial staff, even volunteers.

Great Morning! is divided into two main sections. The first section includes 39 poems organized by topic. Each poem in this section includes a brief “Did You Know” paragraph that can be read to introduce the poem, as well as a “Follow Up” that encourages teachers and children to think more deeply about the poem and topic. There is also a “Poetry Plus” tip that offers suggestions of appropriate times to share each poem.

The second section of Great Morning! includes a second poem that is linked thematically to each poem in the first section. Also included in this section is a “Poetry Bonus” for every poem. This provides links to many additional resources, including audio versions of some poems, digital postcards, and more.

Finally, as if all this weren’t enough, there are almost 30 pages of ideas and tips for using poetry throughout the day, as well as information to share with parents. There are also lists with a plethora of additional resources.

This book, like all of the Poetry Friday® books, is a treasure. Great Morning! is unique because it’s aimed directly at school leaders. In the introduction, Sylvia and Janet write “our goal is to provide support for those who might be unfamiliar with today’s poetry for young people and might need guidance in how to begin.” By supporting school leaders in this way, this book will help send the message to students that they are valued so much we want to share the gift of poetry with them each and every day.

I love this book for all these reasons, but I am also extremely honored that a poem of mine is included. “Walking For a Cause” is especially meaningful for me because our school has held several 5Ks to raise money for a foundation started in memory of a beloved student who lost her battle with aplastic anemia.

“Walking For A Cause”

Hey, kids! Have you heard?
We are walking for a cause.
Ask your parents, neighbors, too,
if they would like to share.
Dollars, quarters, nickels, dimes,
every penny shows we care.

We’re spreading hope with every step,
supporting friends in need.
So lace your sneakers, tie them tight.
Come and help our walk succeed!

© Catherine Flynn, 2018

Mr. Schoefer and I getting ready to read “How to Make a Friend.”

I am excited to read these poems throughout the year with my enthusiastic Assistant Principal, Andy Schoefer, during our morning announcements. Here is the poem we’ve chosen for the first day of school, “How to Make a Friend,” by Jane Heitman Healy:

“How to Make a Friend”

You start by saying Hi there,
Hello, Aloha, Ciao–
If someone answers back to you,
Smile and nod and bow.

You might try saying Hola,
Salut, Goddag, Shalom.
If someone answers back to you,
They might be far from home.

A friend begins by greeting
Those they meet along the way
To make them feel welcome
At home, at school, at play.

© Jane Heitman Healy, 2018

Thank you, Jane, for allowing me to share your poem today. I think it is perfect for letting all students know they are welcomed and valued in our school. Poet Elizabeth Alexander calls poems “handbooks for human decency and understanding.” Thank you, Janet and Sylvia, for creating Great Morning! and all the Poetry Friday Anthology® anthologies and filling our schools with volumes and volumes of “decency and understanding.”

Want to know more? Read this post about Great Morning! Poems for School Leaders to Read Aloud at Sylvia’s website, Poetry for Children.

Thank you for stopping by to help celebrate Great Morning! Please leave your link below. Don’t forget to comment if you’d like to be entered in the giveaway.

Slice of Life: A Better View

A few weeks ago, I happened to notice a hummingbird perched near the top of a tree in our yard. I hurried for my camera. Of course she had flown away by the time I settled myself in front of an open upstairs window. But I’d seen her near this tree several times during the week, so I waited, hoping she’d return.

My patience was rewarded and she posed for me at the top of a branch. Unfortunately, the photos weren’t great. Only the bird’s silhouette was visible. So I moved over to the other window. Bingo. Now her colors were clearly visible. She even hovered for a moment, showing off her delicate wings.

           

As I looked at the pictures after she flew off, I was grateful I’d moved to the other window. Shifting myself a few feet, changing my perspective just slightly, gave me not just a clearer view, but a more complete image. I recalled the wisdom of Clare Landrigan and Tammy Mulligan in their book, Assessment in Perspective: Focusing on the Reader Behind the Numbers (Stenhouse, 2013). If you have any questions about literacy assessment, this book is a must read. But more importantly, Clare and Tammy explain in detail the importance of “triangulating …multiple sources of [assessment] data to illuminate, confirm, or dispute what you learned from an initial analysis of one piece of data. (Italics added.) How often does a child’s performance in the classroom not match data we have gathered through an assessment? Too often.

The key is to gather information from multiple vantage points, including informal and/or qualitative data gathered through observation. Pulling all this information together provides a much clearer image of who our students are as learners, as readers, as people. When we have this deep understanding, or what Clare and Tammy call “the stories of our readers,” we can plan and provide instruction that is responsive to their needs.

As July turns to August, I’ll be spending time thinking critically about which assessments I use to gather the information I need to get a clear, complete image of my students. Only then will I be well equipped to do the most important work of all: to help my students grow as readers, as thinkers, as people.

Thank you to StaceyBetsyBethKathleenDeb, KelseyMelanie, and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.