Poetry Friday: Bells


At the beginning of May, Michelle Heidenrich Barnes, of Today’s Little Ditty, posted a lovely interview with Nikki Grimes. At the end of the interview, Grimes challenged readers to write a “wordplay exercise and create your own free verse poem” based on a word chosen from a short list. Be sure to head over to Michelle’s blog to read all of the poems contributed for this challenge.

I’ve been playing with this all month. First I picked lemon, but wasn’t happy with the results. Once I started thinking about bell, the possibilities and references in popular culture seemed endless. If I had more time, I think it would be fun to create a found poem just from lines in songs and movies. Here is my current draft:

Bell is a heralding word—
Whether pealing in joy
or tolling in grief;
clanging on trains
or ding-donging on doors,
a bell says, “Listen to me!”

Bells are blue in the garden
and silver on sleighs.
Bells of brass
sound on ships at sea.

Bells wake us each morn,
they urge us to flee;
they can jangle our nerves
or proclaim angels’ new wings.

Once the town crier,
now they ping on our phones.
Whatever song they send
through the sky,
Bells cry out “Listen to me!”

© Catherine Flynn, 2015

Please be sure to visit Margaret Simon at Reflections on the Teche for the Poetry Friday Round Up.

Slice of Life: Sprouting Words


Words sprout from my pen
like weeds in my garden,
crowding my thoughts
and obscuring what I really
want to say.

If I keep at it long enough,
will I one day know
how to show and not tell
as easily as I can spot
a purple coneflower
hidden among the grasses?

I’ve been gardening for a long time. Some of my earliest memories are of helping my grandmother in her garden. Both of my grandmothers were expert gardeners, and they taught me the names of favorite flowers and the basics of gardening. Many of my peonies, iris, and poppies came from their gardens, and I feel confident when I’m caring for these hardy plants.

My writing is a different story. I didn’t keep notebooks when I was growing up, and I haven’t always wanted to be a writer. In fact, for a while I seriously considered majoring in horticulture. Although I keep at my writing, it’s easy to become frustrated and want to give up. In the garden, I know which weed to pull. In my writing, I go back and forth, changing this word and deleting that one, until all that’s left is an unintelligible pile of gibberish.

And yet, from time to time, I see a glimmer of hope. A turn of phrase that is good, not just one I think is good because I wrote it. I feel something, some awareness or knowledge that I can’t even name, begin to take root in my brain. The gardener in me knows I have to nurture this fragile shoot. It needs watering and feeding. It needs the right amount of sunlight. This nascent writing requires the same kind of attention I give my newly sprouted plants. If I leave them for too long, they’ll be choked out by dandelions and other hardier plants.

In his memoir Practicing: A Musician’s Return to Music, Glen Kurtz writes that practicing is “a process of continual reevaluation, an attempt to bring growth to repetition…that teaches us the sweet, bittersweet joy of development, of growth, of change.” The process of growing and changing isn’t easy, but the rewards are many. So I’ll keep practicing as faithfully as I tend my garden. Who knows what will sprout up?

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.

Slice of Life: The Art of Leonard Weisgard


In Minders of Make: Idealists, Entrepreneurs, and the Shaping of American Children’s Literature (Houghton Mifflin, 2008), Leonard Marcus writes, “To those who worked in the children’s book industry of the early 1940’s, New York could seem as small as a fairy-tale village.” By the 1950’s and early 1960’s, many writers, illustrators, and editors of the children’s book world had moved to my corner of Connecticut, trading one fairy-tale setting for another. Renowned illustrator Leonard Weisgard was among them.  Although I didn’t know until Saturday that he had lived nearby, Weisgard’s books were a staple of my childhood.

51YWWHu6C5L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_  1947_The_Little_Island

Weisgard illustrated classics such as The Golden Egg Book and The Golden Bunny. My sister and I loved Pussy Willow so much we wore out several copies. Weisgard won the Caldecott Medal in 1947 for The Little Island, written by Golden MacDonald, a pseudonym for Margaret Wise Brown. 

Last Saturday, neighbors, friends, and family gathered for “Modernist in the Nursery: The Art FullSizeRender-2of Legendary Illustrator Leonard Weisgard, a talk by children’s literature historian Leonard Marcus. (Connecticut is still a mecca for the children’s book world; I sat next to Lane Smith!) Marcus talked about Weisgard’s love of color and nature. He discussed Weisgard’s many collaborations with Margaret Wise Brown and how her work at the Bank Street Writers Laboratory influenced his art. Weisgard loved folk art, and Marcus shared several examples of how that love influenced his art.

Weisgard's daughter, Abby, with Leonard Marcus
Weisgard’s daughter, Abby, with Leonard Marcus

 When Marcus concluded his remarks, Weisgard’s  daughter, Abby, answered questions and shared  memories of her father. Neighbors and friends   shared recollections of Weisgard’s generosity and humility, then told stories of  wonderful meals with Weisgard and his family.

 Throughout the afternoon, it was clear from both his art and everyone’s  memories that Weisgard respected children and trusted their ability to “see  and hear and feel with simple intensity.” In his Caldecott Medal Acceptance  Speech, Weisgard said that “books…have always been a source of real magic in  this wildly confusing world.” Thank you, Leonard Weisgard, for sharing your singular magic with the world.

 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.

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? Marilyn’s Monster


When I was a kid, my imaginary friend was nameless and unacknowledged. Sure that others, including my parents, would think I was weird, I never mentioned my imaginary friend to anyone.

How times have changed! Not only are there plenty of picture books about imaginary friends, Dan Santat’s The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend (Little, Brown, 2014) won this year’s Caldecott Medal. So much for weird.

                         imgres     51MDBfXWDGL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_

Marilyn’s Monster (Candlewick Press, 2015), by Michelle Knudsen, with illustrations by Matt Phelan is a variation on having an imaginary friend. Knudsen’s heart-felt storytelling and Phelan’s expressive illustrations work together to create a satisfying emotional journey all children will recognize.

Having a monster is “the latest thing,” but Marilyn doesn’t have one yet. “Your monster has to find you.” Soon, Marilyn is “the only one left without a monster.” At first she’s sad, and “tried to be the kind of girl no monster could resist.” Then she gets mad and tries to convince herself she doesn’t need a monster. Deep in her heart, though, Marilyn knows she wants a monster “more than she could say.” She defies the rules and takes matters into her own hands. She follows her instinct, faces her fears, and sets off in search of her monster. Along the way she discovers, like Beekle, that sometimes it’s necessary to push back against conventional wisdom to achieve your goal.

Marilyn’s happiness at the end of the book is more than just satisfaction at having found her monster. It’s far deeper than that. It’s happiness that comes from the confidence gained by overcoming her fears and accomplishing her goal by herself.

Marilyn’s Monster is an endearing book that young audiences will love, but I would share it with second and third graders, too. Not only will they enjoy the story, they will learn much about word choice, tension, and character growth from Knudsen’s masterful writing. In addition, Marilyn’s Monster and The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend are a perfect pairing for comparing and contrasting point of view and setting. Most importantly, though, the theme that when you follow your heart, anything is possible is one worth sharing again and again.

Candlewick has an interview with Michelle Knudsen and Matt Phelan here, and an activity guide here.

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!

Poetry Friday: Emily Dickinson’s “The Grass so little has to do–“


The Grass so little has to do–
A sphere of simple Green
With only Butterflies to brood
And Bees to entertain–

And stir all day to pretty Tunes
The Breezes fetch along–
And hold the Sunshine in its lap
And bow to everything–

And thread the Dews, all night, like Pearls–
And make itself so fine
A Duchess were too common
For such a noticing–

And even when it dies–to pass
In Odors so divine–
Like Lowly spices, lain to sleep–
Or Spikenards, perishing–

And then, in Sovereign Barns to dwell–
And dream the Days away,
The Grass so little has to do
I wish I were a Hay–

Emily Dickinson

Evelyn Simak , via Wikimedia Commons
Evelyn Simak , via Wikimedia Commons

Please be sure to visit Diane Mayr at Random Noodling for the Poetry Friday Round Up

Slice of Life: My Pro Tool


This morning there was a story on Marketplace called “Pro Tool.” Host David Brancaccio caught my attention when he referred to a pair of scissors as “dear.” This usage of the word, meaning “high or exorbitant in price” is uncommon these days. As I continued to listen, though, Brancaccio’s use of the word made perfect sense. Hairdresser Lauren Popper was clear that these shears, as calls them, were indeed “highly valued, precious” to her. After all, without the right tools, this hairdresser wouldn’t be able to do her job effectively. My husband, a toolmaker, and my son, a cabinetmaker, both have favorite tools that they would feel lost without. And I have my favorite bowl, knife, etc. in the kitchen. But what about my job? Do I have a tool without which I couldn’t teach?

In fact, I do. I can’t imagine teaching without books. The books I read as a kid instilled a sense of curiosity in me and made me want to learn more. Books have pushed me to be a more compassionate and empathetic person. Then there are books I have depended on to learn this craft of teaching.

Books have helped me be an effective teacher in another way. They’ve helped me build relationships with students and colleagues. Reading a book with a group of students is one of the best ways I know to build a community. Sharing the experiences of characters we come to love brings us together. After crying together when Charlotte dies, or cheering for Auggie during his standing ovation, we are a team. Without the healthy, trusting relationships that books help us forge with our students, we wouldn’t accomplish much.

Some may argue that computers are indispensable to teaching. They do make life much easier (most of the time), and I love how technology has broadened my horizons. But I love the people next to me everyday more. I love that my first grade students are taking off as readers and that the seventh grade writers met their writing goals. I love that when children see me in the hallway, they tell me what book they’re reading. These people and moments are all precious to me. They, and the books we share, are dear.

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: Spring Blossoms


Spring has finally arrived in Connecticut. The weeping cherry trees, magnolias, and apple trees are in full bloom. Their beauty, and this painting by George Inness, inspired today’s poem.

Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of George A. Hearn, in memory of Arthur Hoppock Hearn, 1911
Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of George A. Hearn, in memory of Arthur Hoppock Hearn, 1911

After “Spring Blossoms, Montclair, New Jersey” by George Inness, 1891

Beneath a sea of blue,
the orchard has unfurled
a delicate veil
of pink and white,
and the bees are all abuzz.

Under silken petals,
that soon will fall
like snow,
a farmer strides
toward the barn,
ready to tend
the newborn lambs.

© Catherine Flynn, 2015

Please be sure to visit Michelle Heidenrich Barnes at Today’s Little Ditty for the Poetry Friday Round Up.