News From the Natural World: Specimen

Today’s poem was inspired by Lab Girl, by Hope Jahren, The Overstory, by Richard Powers, and The Hidden Life of Trees, by Peter Wohlleben.

“Specimen” (with a nod to Walt Whitman)

On a summer day, sit against a tree
in the shade of its vibrant green umbrella.

Settle into the peace of the day.
A slight breeze ruffles the leaves.

And then everything seems still.
But appearances are deceiving.

Beneath the scaly bark,
Water is being drawn up, up, up.

In the leaves above, sunlight stirs cells,
creating a coursing stream of sugar.

This fresh new food is pumping
through every part of the silent giant.

Grass tickles the back of bare legs.
Listen for the hum of life.

A whole hidden world
lies just beneath the soil.

Roots and mycorrhizal networks
branch off in every direction.

Sharing food, sending messages,
Communicating, cooperating.

Quietly going about the business
Of making life on earth possible.

Catherine Flynn, Draft @ 2020

Photo by Jan Huber on Unsplash

Poetry Friday: “Authors”

I am a creature of habit. I crave routines to keep my life in order. Needless to say, habits, routines, and order are out the window. We are all trying to make some sense of our new reality.

The habit of Poetry Friday is now deeply ingrained in me, and yet I couldn’t manage a post last week. I resolved not to let this week go by, too.
At the beginning of the month, Tabatha Yeatts was in Michelle Heidenrich Barnes’s TDL Spotlight and challenged readers to “write a poem about a game.”

There are several games I love to play, but my husband is NOT a game player. Now that my children are grown, I don’t play games as often as I’d like, so I really had to dig deep for an idea for this challenge. Not surprisingly, afternoons spent with my grandmother came to the rescue. My sister often joined in the game, but for today, it’s just me and my grandmother.

“Authors”

One deck of cards
one me, one you
can chase away the blues.

Shuffle, shuffle
four cards each,
Time for the big reveal.

I’ve got Jane Austen.
Here’s Shakespeare. Tennyson
and Hawthorne
, too.

In your hand you hold
Dickens, Balzac, Alcott,
and your favorite, Sir Walter Scott.

Back and forth,
we trade our cards
and slowly build our sets.

The last card is drawn.
Again, you’ve won.
Play once more? You bet!

© Catherine Flynn, 2020

Please be sure to visit Tabatha at her blog, The Opposite of Indifference, for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

Poetry Friday: The Question is Why

I spend my days helping kids learn to read. This is incredibly rewarding, but given the nature of how we learn, it can also be frustrating. Kids may read words with long vowels effortlessly one day, then forget they exist the next. So when one of my students was unable to read the word why (a word she knew the day before) not once, not twice, but three times in a row, I knew she needed a poem starring the word why!

There are at least 100 books of poetry in my classroom. I know I’ve seen a why poem somewhere. But after searching through the most likely volumes, I had nothing. Rather than spend any more time looking, I decided to write one. I quickly jotted down a list of why questions, using words that included a number of different phonics patterns we’ve worked on recently. She read it beautifully and loved it.

Fast forward to Sunday. As I was getting ready to meet with the Sunday Night Swaggers, I realized that our monthly challenge was coming up this week! I didn’t even remember what challenge Margaret had posed. A question poem! What on earth could I write about? I’m embarrassed to admit that it took me a few minutes to realize I’d already written one!

This draft is a more polished version of the poem I wrote for my student. It’s not perfect, but she likes it. And she now knows the word why.

Why?

Why do ships sail on the sea?
Why is the sky so blue?
Why do fish swim in the pond?
How I wish I knew!

Why does the moon shine at night?
Why is the grass so green?
Why do bees buzz in the garden?
Why won’t my room stay clean?

Why do ducks say quack, quack, quack?
Why can’t I answer back?

Draft © 2020, Catherine Flynn

Photo by Jenny Bess on Unsplash

What questions are my fellow swaggers asking? Find out by visiting their blogs:

Molly Hogan at Nix the Comfort Zone
Linda Mitchell at A Word Edgewise
Heidi Mordhorst at My Juicy Little Universe
Margaret Simon at Reflections on the Teche

Then head over to Rebecca Herzog’s blog, Sloth Reads, for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

In case you missed it earlier in the week, there is still time to be entered in my giveaway of David L. Harrison’s new book, After Dark. Read my post about using this book in the classroom here.

PB 10 for 10: Follow Your Heart

“Never lose your curiosity about everything
in the universe–
it can take you to places you never
thought possible!”

~ Sue Hendrickson ~

Thank you to Cathy Mere and Mandy Robek for creating and curating this celebration of picture books. Please be sure to visit Cathy’s blog, Reflect and Refine to read all the lists contributed to this labor of love. It is teachers like them, and others in this community, who will keep the gift of stories alive for years to come.

Coming up with a theme for this year’s PB 10 for 10 celebration was difficult. There were several new picture books that I loved, but at first I didn’t see an obvious connection between them. As I read and reread, though, patterns began to emerge. A path presented itself, and I followed. Each book I’ve chosen to share this year involves a journey or exploration. Some of these journeys cross the globe, others plumb the soul, some do both. All enlarge our imagination.

My Heart Is a Compass, written and illustrated by Deborah Marcero (Little, Brown, 2018), was my starting point this year. I have always loved maps, so this book appealed to me immediately. Maps show us the way, help us know we’re not alone and we don’t always have to rely on our own wits to help us find the path. In one way or another, these books may help readers find their way–even if it’s encouragement that sometimes we have to create our own paths and that’s okay, maybe even essential. They also help us understand that wherever we are on our path, someone else has been in a similar spot before, maybe are in a similar spot right now. How we respond and react to the spot we’re in is what matters. Getting love and giving love makes the journey so much easier.

Rose is on a quest: “Her heart was set on discovering something that had never been found…” Marcero’s rich language and evocative illustrations carry us along on this journey. Rose’s flights of imagination are distinguished from “real life” by use of a gorgeous blue that reminds me of cyanotypes. Her maps are worth poring over; a scientifically correct sky map is also filled with fancy–including “big dreams,” “empty thoughts,” and “first lines of poems” as well as a “brainstorm.” Close observers will recognize features of Rose’s journey covering the floor of her room before she embarks on her travels. This book will inspire readers to explore their own inner worlds. It is also a perfect choice to pair with Georgia Heard’s Heart Maps, (Heinemann, 2017).

How to Read a Book, by Kwame Alexander with illustrations by Melissa Sweet (Harper, 2019) is a love letter to the joys of reading. Alexander encourages readers not to rush: “Your eyes need time to taste. Your soul needs room to bloom.” This is advice we all should heed. Sweet’s illustrations of “watercolor, gouache, mixed media, handmade and vintage papers, found objects including old book covers, and a paint can lid” (and at least one map) add layers of meaning and wonder that will keep readers coming back to this book again and again. A Teacher’s Guide is available here.

                                   

Poetree, by Shauna LaVoy Reynolds, illustrated by Shahrzad Maydani (New York: Dial Books for Young Readers, 2019) stars a dreamer and poet named Sylvia. The book begins with Sylvia writing a poem about spring. She “…tied her poem to a birch tree…hoping that it didn’t count as littering if it made the world more splendid.” Poetry brings two children together and helps them move past the misunderstanding at the center of the story. Reynolds sneaks in sly humor adult readers will appreciate: characters are named Sylvia and Walt, a dog named Shel, and a teacher, Ms. Oliver. There is also a nod to Joyce Kilmer: “I never thought that I would see/such lovely poems from a tree…” Maydani’s graphite pencil and watercolor illustrations of soft greens and yellows (is that Amy Krouse Rosenthal‘s yellow umbrella?) add to the overall gentleness and love of this book.

Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré, by Anika Aldamuy Denise, illustrated by Paola Escobar; (Harper, 2019) is a lovely biography of Pura Belpré, the first Latina librarian in New York City. When Belpré first traveled to New York, “words travel[ed] with her” and libraries were “ripe for planting seed of the cuentos she carrie[d].” This metaphor of a garden of stories is carried throughout the book and is echoed in Escobars gorgeous digital illustrations. The words she brought from Puerto Rico took root and “grew shoots into the open air of possibility, (emphasis mine) have become a lush landscape…” Her legacy is honored through the Pura Belpré Award. A select bibliography is included, as well as suggestions for further reading and a brief description of Pura Belpre’s own stories. A teaching guide is available here

                             

The Important Thing About Margaret Wise Brown, by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Sarah Jacoby (New York: Blazer + Bray, 2019) is, like its subject, an unconventional biography. Barnett gets to the heart of the matter quickly, though: “The important thing about Margaret Wise Brown is that she wrote books.” (p. 2) The truth is that Margaret Wise Brown had something to say and she didn’t let anyone stop her from saying it. The information Barnett includes underscores the fact that writers are real people. He includes possible origins of her stories: ”When Margaret Wise Brown was six or seven and she lived in a house next to the woods, she kept many pets.” (p. 7) Barnett asks thought-provoking questions, including “Isn’t it important that children’s books contain the things children think of and the things children do, even if those things seem strange?” These expand the range of who will appreciate this book. He also highlights important truths: “…in real lives and good stories the patterns are hard to see, because the truth is never made of straight lines” and “She believed children deserve important books.” (emphasis mine). Jacoby “used watercolor, Nupastel, and Photoshop magic to create the illustrations for this book” that give them a dreaminess we want to step into. Read and interview with Mac Barnett and Sarah Jacoby about the creation of this book here.

Picturing America: Thomas Cole and the Birth of American Art, by Hudson Talbott (Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Random House, 2018) takes us on another journey of discovery. Like many immigrants, when Thomas Cole and his family arrived in the US in 1818, they didn’t have much. Through hard work and sacrifice, Thomas discovered that “he had something to say and he was on his way to find it.” This book not only provides a brief introduction to the birth of the Hudson River School of painting, it helps children understand we all have something to say. Finding out what that something is and how best to express it is the journey of our life, it’s what gives our life meaning. Over the course of his life, Cole realized “he simply wanted to show what it meant to be human.”

    .     

In The Word Collector (Orchard Books, 2018), Peter H. Reynolds extolls the joy and power of words. We learn about Jerome and his passion for words: “Words he heard…words he saw…words he read.” Jerome uses his words in poems and songs, and ultimately, shares all his words. After all, isn’t that words are for? This book will inspire word collectors of all ages. Resources are available here.

 

When Sue Found Sue: Sue Hendrickson Discovers Her T. Rex, by Toni Buzzeo, illustrated by Diana Sudyka. (New York: Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2019) This biography is a celebration of curiosity, exploration of the natural world, and following your dreams. “Sue Hendrickson was born to find things.” Buzzeo tells the story of how Sue’s whole life lead to the moment in 1990 when she discovered “the world’s largest, most complete, best preserved, Tyrannosaurus rex fossil discovered so far.” Named in honor of her discoverer, “Sue” is now on display in Chicago’s Field Museum. A Teacher’s Guide is available here.

                    .  

What is Given from the Heart, by Patricia C. McKissack, illustrated by April Harrison (New York: Schwartz & Wade Books, 2019) is the “final, magnificent picture book from three-time Coretta Scott King Award winner and Newbery Honor author Patricia McKissack.” James Otis and his mother have had “a rough few months.” When a neighbor’s home is destroyed by fire, James Otis’s church rallies to help them. But he can’t imagine how he and his mother can help when they “aine got nothing ourselves.” After much searching and consideration, James Otis finds exactly the right gift for his neighbor. Harrison’s mixed media illustrations add depth to the emotions of James Otis, his mother, and their neighbors.

We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga, by Traci Sorell, illustrated by Frané Lessac. (Charlesbridge, 2018) This book honors the Cherokee Nation’s tradition of otsaliheliga, an expression of gratitude that “is a reminder to celebrate our blessings and reflect on struggles–daily, throughout the year, and across the seasons.” A loving depiction of Cherokee culture, this is exactly the book we need right now: a reminder to be grateful for our family, our friends, and the many gifts of the earth.  

I am grateful for these books, their creators and the publishers who bring them into the world and make it a more beautiful place.

Note: I am editing my original post to include concerns about Home Is a Window. My original post included this paragraph about this book:

Home is a Window, by Stephanie Parsley Ledyard with illustrations by Chris Sasaki (New York: Near Porter Books/Holiday House, 2019) is an ode to the comfort of what is familiar: a favorite blanket or chair, a daily routine, a color. It also celebrates the fact that home isn’t necessarily a physical place; rather, it’s a feeling you have because of “the people gathered near.” This creative, comforting book is a perfect launching point for students to create their own definitions of home.

Cathy Mere also included this book on her list, but removed it after a reader raised “some concerns over the images in the text.” Cathy shared this link to CrazyQuiltEdi explaining her concerns about the images of several characters. 

My previous #PB 10 for 10 posts:

2017: Celebrating Nature
2016: Feeding Our Imaginations
2015: Poetry Picture Books
2014: Friendship Favorites
2013: Jane Yolen Picture Books
2012: Wordless Picture Books

 

Poetry Friday: Found Haiku

My friend and critique group partner, Linda Mitchell, was in the “spotlight” at Michelle Heidenrich Barnes’s blog, Today’s Little Ditty, last week. Linda challenged Poetry Friday friends to “create a ‘found haiku’ from “an interesting article.” This challenge appealed to me immediately and I found two article in last weekend’s New York Times that had potential. The first article is “Kids Need a Digital Detox: A Ball,” by Nellie Bowles.

digital detox:
playing with blocks and painting
live fully present

Perfect advice, don’t you think?

The next article, “Letter of Recommendation: Dinghy Rowing,” by Heidi Julavits, made me want to go buy a dinghy. It was a joy to read and reread this exquisite piece of writing, finding just the right lines for this haiku.

Full confession: I did have to rearrange some phrases slightly to meet the 5-7-5 syllable count in both haiku.

Thank you, Linda and Michelle, for this fun challenge!

Please be sure to visit Jone MacCulloch at Deo Writer for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

Slice of Life 19: By the Book

For the past two years, I’ve done a post modeled on the “By the Book” that runs each week in The New York Times Book Review. This column, subtitled “Writers on literature and the literary life,” interviews authors about what they’re currently reading, which books they love, and other interesting questions related to their reading. The column asks about a dozen questions, but my favorite is always the first: “What books are on your nightstand?”

I always have at least a dozen stacked by my bed and a dozen more by my desk. At the moment Sharon Creech’s new middle grade novel, Saving Winslow is at the top. Creech’s Newbery Award winning Walk Two Moons is one of my favorite books of all time, so I’m really looking forward to reading about “a sickly newborn mini donkey.”

I picked up Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters by Anne Boyd Rioux at the library last week. I’m only on the first chapter, but this book is already full of fascinating information about one of the most influential books in American literature.

A Primer for Poets and Readers of Poetry by Gregory Orr, who is a professor of English at the University of Virginia, is next. This book is pushing my writing and thinking about poetry in unexpected directions.

There is always at least one book that I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve never read. This year, it’s Opening Minds: Using Language to Change Lives by Peter H. Johnston. Johnston’s message, that through our language, we “construct the classroom worlds for our students and ourselves” and that “the worlds we construct offer opportunities and constraints” is a powerful one. If you haven’t read this book, find it and read it as soon as you can.

What books are on your nightstand?

Thank you to StaceyBetsyBethKathleenDebKelseyMelanie, 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.

Poetry Friday: “Daybreak”

 

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been reading A Primer for Poets and Readers of Poetry, by Gregory Orr. In the Preface, Orr describes the book as “one poet’s informal exploration of language and self in relation to the impulse to write lyric poetry.” The book includes in-depth analysis of poems through different lenses, as well as prompts and exercises. I found the chapter “Lyric and Narrative: Two Fundamental Ordering Impulses” especially thought-provoking. Orr offers this fundamental distinction between the two:

The narrative poem is searching for something and won’t be happy (complete, unified) until it has found it. By contrast, the lyric poem has a different shape. It constellates around a single center. (p. 82)

Orr goes on to describe the shape a lyric poem as “that of a snowflake or crystal–an intense geometric concentration around a center.”

Isn’t that a wonderful image? As often happens, while searching for one poem, I found another. Although I’ve read and loved “Daybreak” by Galway Kinnell many times, this week I read it with a new appreciation for how Kinnell’s words “constellate around a single center.”

“Daybreak”
by Galway Kinnell

On the tidal mud, just before sunset,
dozens of starfishes
were creeping. It was
as though the mud were a sky
and enormous, imperfect stars
moved across it slowly
as the actual stars cross heaven.
All at once they stopped,
and as if they had simply
increased their receptivity
to gravity they sank down
into the mud; they faded down
into it and lay still; and by the time
pink of sunset broke across them
they were as invisible
as the true stars at daybreak.

 

Please be sure to visit Tara Smith at Going to Walden for the Poetry Friday Roundup.