Poetry Friday: Questions for the Author

Over the summer, all our students in grades five through eight read Restart, by Gordon Korman. The kids loved the book, and have had some amazing discussions about its characters and themes. Earlier this week, as a culminating event, we had a  Skype visit with Mr. Korman, who entertained us with stories and writing advice. Before our visit, the kids came up with many insightful questions. Their thoughtful wonderings inspired this poem. (Which was also inspired by Naomi Shihab Nye‘s ditty challenge for September on Michelle Heidenrich Barnes’s blog, Today’s Little Ditty.)

To the Author Of My Favorite Book:

What made you write this story?
What gave you this idea?
How did you find the just-right words
to show the way I feel?
Did you peek inside my diary,
or spy on me each day?

Were you ever lonely?
Were you ever blue?
Did someone ever write a book
that felt like a friend to you?

Do you think I can be happy
like the girl inside your book?
You made her come alive,
you gave me a new friend.
Please write more of her story
so our friendship never ends.

© Catherine Flynn, 2018

Please be sure to visit Carol Varsalona at Beyond Literacy Link for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

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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

 

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.

Slice of Life: Welcome to the Bayou Teche

“One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.”
John Muir

Welcome to the second stop on the blog tour for Margaret Simon‘s new book, Bayou Song: Creative Explorations of the South Louisiana Landscape (University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press, 2018)! Over the past few years, I’ve been lucky to get to know Margaret both as a writer and a friend through our online critique group. Sharing early drafts of your writing with another person is an act of trust, but it is also an invitation. An invitation to learn more about the truth of that person’s heart. The south Louisiana landscape is woven into Margaret’s heart and has always been integral to her writing. So it was no surprise when she first mentioned her idea for this book. Watching Bayou Song grow from that tentative glimmer to a published book and been a thrill and an honor.

Annie Dillard once wrote “there is no such thing as an artist–only the world lit or unlit, as the world allows.” I’m not sure I agree with the first part of this thought, but Margaret is definitely someone who sees “the world lit.” This light shines throughout Bayou Song, creating a brilliant mosaic that brings Margaret’s beloved Bayou Teche magically to life.

© Anna Cantrell, 2018

This book is an invitation to linger and get to know the Bayou Teche. From the opening pages, where we learn legend of the bayou’s origin, to “Bayou Sunset Tanka,” the collection’s final poem, we are captivated. “I Am a Beckoning Brown Bayou” literally invites us to “stay awhile” and get to know the many moods of this mysterious world.

Margaret’s poems introduce us to the many plants and animals who make their home in the bayou. Nutria, with their “bright orange tusks” were unfamiliar to me. Other inhabitants were familiar, but Margaret’s vivid images helped me see them in a new light. I will never think of crawfish again without thinking of their “round peppercorn peepers.” And of course baby egrets are “feather-glistening,” “worm-juggling,” and “nest snuggling.”

© Anna Cantrell, 2018

Anna Cantrell’s illustrations and Henry Cancienne’s photographs complement Margaret’s words beautifully, bringing the bayou to life in a way any one medium couldn’t individually. Their collaboration is similar to the collaboration of our critique group. The work of each member makes the others stronger. Henry Cancienne’s photos provide visual support for readers who aren’t familiar with the diverse inhabitants of the bayou. Anna Cantrell’s watercolors, from two-stepping herons to “mischievous” raccoons bring Margaret’s whimsical images to life.  Together, they create a tapestry of “paper-lace fragments of butterfly wings” and the “waving leaves of cypress trees”

The inclusion of factual information about the plants and animals who call the bayou home adds another dimension to this incredible resource. Through the “Write It” and “Sketch It” sections, Margaret extends an invitation to readers to learn more about their own environment. This appeal to write and draw will help readers see the similarities between the animals that live in habitats familiar to them–raccoons, toads, turtles–as well as understand the adaptability of these animals that allow them to thrive in a variety of habitats.

I am grateful to Margaret for inviting me to share this journey with her. Of our group she writes, “You hold me up. You give me…confidence…” Our words are our own, but by sharing and letting others help us shape them, they become stronger, we become stronger. Strong enough to write an amazing book like Bayou Song.

Don’t miss the next stops on Margaret’s blog tour to learn more about Bayou Song!

Friday, June 22:
Michelle Kogan

Friday, June 29:
Ruth Hersey at There is no such thing as a God-forsaken town

Friday, July 6:
Kimberly Hutmacher at Kimberly Hutmacher Writes

Friday, July 13:
Linda Mitchell at A Word Edgewise

Tuesday, July 17:
Laura Shovan 

Tuesday, July 24
Amanda Potts at Persistence and Pedagogy

Friday, July 27:
Carol Varsalona at Beyond LiteracyLink

Monday, July 30
Linda Baie at Teacher Dance

Friday, Aug. 3
Dani Burtsfield at Doing the Work that Matters

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.

SOL 18: The MEET MY FAMILY Blog Tour is Here!

 

“Every family’s different–each family is just right!”
Laura Purdie Salas

Welcome to the latest stop on the Blog Tour for Laura Purdie Salas’s beautiful new book, Meet My Family: Animal Babies and Their Families (Millbrook Press, 2018). When I first read Laura’s heartfelt words and saw Stephanie Fizer Coleman‘s lively illustrations, I knew this book was a perfect mentor text for student writing.

© Laura Purdie Salas and Stephanie Fizer Coleman, 2018

Laura was inspired to write Meet My Family by feelings she had about her own family growing up. In her interview with Kirby Larson (the link is listed below), Laura says that “my family felt very different from other families.” She hopes “this book might erase some of the shame so many kids feel about their families.”

One of my colleagues is the most amazing Kindergarten teacher on the planet, and she welcomed me into her classroom to share Laura’s book with her students and work on this writing project with them. After reading Meet My Family to the children, we talked about all the different kinds of animal families in the book. Then we talked about all the ways our own families are different. After brainstorming together, the kids wrote a sentence about their own family.

The next day, we reread the book, this time looking closely at the subtext on each page. Again, using Laura’s text as a mentor, the students added details to their writing about their family. Some chose to write about activities they do together, others wrote about favorite foods. Everyone gained an appreciation for all the different kinds of families we have!

Illustrations are a very big deal for Kindergarteners, and they couldn’t wait to start drawing their families. We even used the cover layout as a model for the cover of the book we created.

Here is their work:

I live with my mom and dad in my house. We love to babysit my baby cousin.
by R.

I am the only child. And sometimes I go out to walk with my family.
by R.

I have three sisters. I watch TV with my sisters.
by S.

I moved across the country. Sometimes we go on hikes!
by J.

I live with my family. We go to Five Guys for burgers.
by L.

I am the smallest in my family! My family likes to bike together! I like my family!
by K.

I am the youngest in my family. I went with my family in the forest. We had fun.
by A.

I live with my brothers and my baby sister. My family likes to go to the beach.
by I.

I live with my mimi and poppy. We like to go out to dinner.
by Z.

I have one sister. After school we go to gymnastics. It is tiring and it is fun.
by B.

I live with my mom and my brothers. We play Manhunt outside. I am fast.
by L.

My brother is eight and I am five. My baby sister is two. I live with my Nana and my PopPop, my puppy and cats.
by E.

I live with my mommy and dad and my baby sister, too. After school I help mom and dad make chicken for dinner.
by L.

These Kindergarten students are very proud to share their work today, and are already busy planning their next writing project. Thank you, Laura, for writing this informative, inspiring book!

Thanks to Laura’s generosity, one lucky reader will win a copy of Meet My Family! Just leave a comment before midnight, Thursday, March 22nd, to be entered in the drawing.

To find out more about Laura and this wonderful book, be sure to visit the other stops on the Meet My Family Blog Tour:

The tour has two more upcoming stops! Don’t miss them!

A Classroom Guide is available to download here.

Thank you to StaceyBetsyBeth, KathleenDeb, Melanie, and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every day in March and each Tuesday throughout the year. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

SOL: On Meeting Ursula Nordstrom

I took a circuitous route to the classroom. Although I always knew I wanted to be a teacher and writer, I considered other career options along the way, including interior decorator. However, when I graduated with my A.S. in 1980, jobs in this field were few and far between. Desperate for a job, I started working as a receptionist in a doctor’s office. In my mind, this was a temporary situation. I would find my dream job soon.

As the saying goes, everything is temporary. My stint at the doctor’s office only lasted fourteen years. But it turned out to be a good training ground for teaching. Dealing with parents is nothing compared to patients! I also met some pretty interesting people over the years, including William Styron. But one encounter I will never forget was with Ursula Nordstrom.

Ursula Nordstrom was, in the words of Maria Papova, “a fearless custodian of the child’s world and imaginative experience.”  An editor at Harper & Row (now HarperCollins) for many years, she edited classics such as Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Web, and Where the Wild Things Are. When Ms. Nordstrom came into our office, I was writing terrible picture book manuscripts on a weekly basis, and for me, it was as if the patron saint of all I aspired to had just walked in the door.

Of course, there are rules of professionalism that have to be followed, so I greeted her calmly and asked her to have a seat. She chose a seat quite close to the window, which was a little unnerving. We were very busy that day: the phone wouldn’t stop ringing, charts had to be typed, (Yes, typed, as on a typewriter. This was in the mid-80s.) and other patients needed attention.

During one lull in the action, she looked over at me and said, “You handle everything very well.” (Or something like that.)

In that brief moment I wanted to say, “I write picture books, too!” But of course I didn’t. I thanked her, and then answered the phone again.

Ms. Nordstrom didn’t return to our office, and passed away soon after this brief encounter. If you’re not familiar with her work, Leonard Marcus gave the world of children’s literature a gift when he published Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom (HarperCollins, 2000). Included in the book is correspondence between Nordstrom and E.B. White, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Margaret Wise Brown, among many, many others. I read Dear Genius when it was first published and was inspired by Nordstrom’s wit, intelligence, and compassion. Do yourself a favor and read this book. Spend time with “a deeply lovable spirit” who helped create the world of children’s literature as we know it today.

Thank you to StaceyBetsyBeth, KathleenDeb, Melanie, and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every day in March and each Tuesday throughout the year. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.