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.”
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.
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.”
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.
Resolutions really aren’t my thing. I’m much better at setting goals and working toward them. That way, I’m always making progress.
At school, we always challenge our students to, in the words of Lucy Calkins, “outgrow themselves as readers.” January is the perfect time to check our progress and set new goals. Knowing that many of our students need help choosing titles, we’ve adapted The Strand Book Store’s “Reads-olutions” (I know; I said I don’t like resolutions, but this is too catchy to pass up.) to guide them.
I always tell kids that these categories are only suggestions, and really, as long as they keep reading, they’re achieving their goal. I do share with them my reads-olutions (aka goals), and tell them that I almost never read every book I plan to, but always read many more that I didn’t know about when I made my list.
With that in mind, here are several titles I hope to read in 2019:
A Newbery Award winner: Although I haven’t read every Newbery winner, I’ve read many of them. Kira-Kira, by Cynthia Kadohata is the most recent winner I haven’t read. Of course, if I haven’t read this year’s winner, I’ll add that to my list.
As always, I’ll continue to chip away at the mountains of books already scattered around my house, waiting to be read! Thanks to Betsy Bird for her fabulous blog, A Fuse 8 Production, and her incredible series, 31 Days/31 Lists. Many of these titles came from these posts. The Nerdy Book Club also has wonderful year-end lists if you need more suggestions.
What books are you looking forward to reading in 2019?
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.
“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.
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:
“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!
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.
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.
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.