#PB10for10: Celebrating Nature

“The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of
the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.”
~ Rachel Carson ~

Thank you to Cathy Mere and Mandy Robek for creating and curating this celebration of picture books. You can read all the lists contributed to this labor of love here. It is teachers like them, and others in this community, who will keep the gift of stories alive for years to come.

There was a story on NPR recently about how science teachers are dealing with push back from students because of fake news. I wasn’t surprised to hear that climate change was a controversial topic, but I was shocked when one teacher said that students were challenging him about the Earth being round. How is such a view even possible? The more I thought about this, the more I began to wonder if such skepticism for long-established scientific facts is related to the decrease in the amount of time kids spend outdoors. Much has been written about “nature deficit disorder,” a term coined in 2005 by Richard Louv in his 2005 book, Last Child in the Woods. I’m sure there are many skeptics about Louv’s theory, but too many students tell me they spend entire weekends inside for me to doubt his theory.

I know reading books is no substitute for spending time outside, but these 10 books should whet anyone’s appetite for sunshine (or moonshine) and fresh air. After all, as Henry David Thoreau once said “we can never have enough of nature.”

1. What Are You Waiting For? by Scott Menchin, illustrated by Matt Phelan (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, 2017)


2. Round by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Taeeun Yoo (Houghton Mifflin Harcort, 2017)

3. Tidy, written and illustrated by Emily Gravett (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2017; first published in Great Britain, 2016)


4. Now, by Antoinette Portis (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, 2017)

5. And Then Comes Summer, by Tom Brenner, illustrated by Jaime Kim (Candlewick Press, 2017)


6. A River, written & illustrated by Marc Martin (Chronicle Books, 2017; first published in Australia in 2015)

7. This Beautiful Day, by Richard Jackson, illustrated by Suzy Lee (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2017)


8. A Perfect Day, by Lane Smith (Roaring Brook Press, 2017)

9. Another Way to Climb a Tree, by Liz Garton Scanlon (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, 2017)


10. The Specific Ocean, by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Katty Maurey (Kids Can Press, 2015)

My previous Picture Book 10 for 10 lists:

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

Poetry Friday: An Avian Tanka

My week has been filled with birds. (If you’re a frequent reader, you might be asking yourself, “What else is new?”) At the beginning of the week, I made may way to a new Audubon Center near my home for an early morning bird walk. Then I finished Mozart’s Starling (which I wrote about here). I really loved this book. Haupt ends by deftly weaving the threads of her starling Carmen, Mozart, and artists of every stripe into a reflection on the nature of creativity. “And what is this wild summons?” Haupt asks. “To listen with changed ears and sing back what we hear.”

Inspired by these words, here is a tanka filled with the sounds from my week.

As the last stars fade,
robins and cardinals sense
dawn’s approaching warmth.
Trills and cheeps float from treetops
chasing away night’s shadows.

© Catherine Flynn, 2017

by John James Audubon [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Please be sure to visit Donna Smith at Mainely Write for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

Poetry Friday: Metamorphosis

How often do we go down rabbit holes in search of one thing, only to come out on the other side with something else altogether? Maybe not as often as we should.

This week I’m reading Lyanda Lynn Haupt’s captivating book, Mozart’s Starling. (Little, Brown, 2017). At one point, she quotes French poet Paul Éluard: “There is another world, but it is in this one.” This idea launches Haupt into a rumination on wonder. Did you know the root of “wonder” is an Old English word, wundrian that means “to be affected by one’s own astonishment”? Isn’t that lovely? Haupt ends this brief passage with this: “For us, the song of the world so often rises in places we had not thought to look.” These are the words of a poet.

Curious about her, I discovered that Haupt “is a naturalist, eco-philosopher, and speaker whose writing is at the forefront of the movement to connect people with nature in their everyday lives.”

But no poetry.

Back to Paul Éluard. The Poetry Foundation has two of Éluard’s poems, but neither of them really appealed to me. What did catch me eye was the poem of the day by Linda Pastan. Pastan is a favorite, so I clicked on the link to find this:

“At the Air and Space Museum”
by Linda Pastan

When I was
nearly six my

opened his magic

doctor bag:

tongue depressors fastened by
a rubber

one flick

Read the rest here.

Even before I finished reading, I could feel my own poem taking shape. The ideas in this poem had been floating around my brain for the last month or so, but hadn’t settled on a form.


When I was
nearly ten

I taught myself
to embroider:

clutched a needle threaded
with magenta yarn

looped chains of stitches
tentative and uneven

until a form emerged:
butterfly wings.

© Catherine Flynn, 2017

Thank you for following me down the rabbit hole! Please be sure to visit my friend and critique group partner, Linda Mitchell, at A Word Edgewise for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

A Slice of My Summer Learning Journey

“Learning is a journey; art is a map”
~ Tom Lee ~

One frustration I often have after attending workshops or conferences during the school year is that when I get back to school, I’m immediately caught up in day-to-day demands. This leaves little time to process and implement what I’ve learned. Presenters always advise to “pick one strategy or activity” to weave into your practice, but this too can be a challenge. So I’ve loved having some uninterrupted time to process my learning from the four days I spent at the Yale Center for British Art, which I wrote briefly about here

I’ve also been reading Vicki Vinton’s wise and thought-provoking new book, Dynamic Teaching for Deeper Reading: Shifting to a Problem-Based Approach (Heinemann, 2017). The reverberations between Vicki’s book and my learning from YCBA are striking. Having met Vicki, attended many of her sessions at conferences and reading her book, written with Dorothy Barnhouse, What Readers Really Do, this really didn’t surprise me.

As I reread my notes, some overarching ideas stood out:

  • possibility
  • observing
  • thinking
  • understanding
  • skill development

I created a document with five columns, sorting my notes according to these ideas. I quickly realized that I was “tackling complexity” by “putting the pieces together, rather than taking them apart, [which allowed me] to see connections, relationships and patterns of interactions.” (p. 4) It was deeply satisfying to see these relationships emerge.

Vicki’s underlying argument is that, in our rush to scaffold our students for success, we have deprived our students of opportunities to engage in critical thinking. They need many opportunities to engage in “productive struggle…the process of thinking, making sense and persevering in the face of not knowing exactly how to proceed” (p.13).

Visual literacy teaches children that, as Linda Friedlaender, Senior Curator of Education at YCBA, pointed out  “images have an underlying narrative.” They automatically provide an accessible text that allow students to engage in productive struggle. Images allow students to think “for themselves, with a minimum of scaffolding.” (Vinton, p. 27). Reading images develops the same skills readers need when they read any text, including vocabulary, identifying key details, precise word choice, observation, and formulating and defending a thesis. (What Vicki and Dorothy refer to as “first-draft” thinking). Importantly, visual literacy makes abstract comprehension skills more concrete.

By incorporating visual literacy into our regular literacy routines, we create opportunities for students “to wonder, generate questions, and form hypotheses, then to test out those hypotheses, using reasoning and logic, to arrive at a final judgment or claim” (Vinton, p. 37).

Give it a try. What do you see in this painting? Images such as “The Young Anglers,” by Edmund Bristow, offer students a chance to orient themselves to the narrative of the image, just as readers have to orient themselves when reading  written text.

Edmund Bristow, 1787–1876, British, The Young Anglers, ca. 1845, Oil on panel, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

After observing and gathering information, students share their thoughts. Just as with a piece of writing, students’ ideas have to be grounded in the details of the painting. Again, the process of reading a painting parallels and supports what we do when we read a book. If someone says they think the dog above belongs to the two boys, they have to share the exact detail from the painting that makes them think that. This is a critical step. As Vicki states, “the more opportunities students have to talk about their thinking, the more likely they are to transfer that thinking from one text to the next” (p. 77). This is true for images as well as written texts, and will also transfer from images to written texts.

Once students have developed an understanding of the narrative of the painting, the response options are limitless. Students can sketch or draw their response, write about their thinking, or (ideally), both. And, just as writing deepens our understanding of a text we’ve read, sketching deepens our understanding of visual images by drawing us ever deeper into the fine details.

The possibilities incorporating visual literacy into our classrooms are endless, and I’m excited to get back to school and working with students to build their thinking skills. In the meantime, I’m going to finish reading Vicki’s book and continue gathering images that will “give [students] a chance to build up the muscle to deal with the problems texts like this pose” (p. 79). 

Thank you to the incredible educators and speakers at YCBA, including Jaime Ursic, Patti Darragh, Tom Lee, James Shivers, and Darcy Hicks, for your insights on incorporating visual literacy in the classroom.

Poetry Friday: How Many Greens Can One Day Hold?

According to Marcel Gleiser, Carlo Rovelli’s Reality is Not What It Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravitiy “is a gem. It’s a pleasure to read, full of wonderful analogies and imagery and, last but not least, a celebration of the human spirit, in ‘permanent doubt, the deep source of science.’” What it is not, however, is a beach read. (Krista Tippett’s interview with Rovelli here is worth listening to.) That didn’t stop me from picking it up at the library a few weeks ago. While some of the science confused me, the poetry of Rovelli’s prose was immediately apparent. I decided right away that this book was perfect for the “Collaborative Cut-Up” exercise, shared by Anne Waldman in The Practice of Poetry, that my critique group partner, Margaret Simon, shared on her blog last week.

Rovelli’s text definitely “utilize[s] a vocabulary not [my] own.” Less apparent was what lines of my own I would “intercut” them with. Then, as I sat on my porch one afternoon, the answer was obvious. My yard and the woods and fields around it are a riot of green at this time of year, and I asked the question out loud. Lucy, my trusty beagle, looked up at me, but had no reply.

How Many Greens Can One Day Hold?

How many greens can one day hold?
I’m not sure.

As many greens as blades of grass, lit by sun-
light falling on a surface like a gentle hail shower?
Or ferns, reaching toward the sky, forming
small diaphanous clouds
of vibrant, growing green.

Nothing stays still.
Glossy green treetops
tremble like the surface of the sea.

Step into the unknown,
where coolness hides.
The truth is in the depths
of shadowy green pines.

Fireflies’ neon green signals
speak with the voice of nature,
blink on and off, whisper goodnight,
accept living immersed in mystery.

© Catherine Flynn, 2017 (italicized lines by Carol Rovelli and translators Simon Carnell and Erica Segre)

If quantum gravity isn’t a topic you’re anxious to learn more about, this book isn’t a good choice. But in the last chapter, “Mystery,” Rovelli asks some serious questions about the nature of knowledge and what we can know with certainty. He states “to seek to look further, to go further, seems to me to be one of the splendid things that gives sense to life.” Splendid, indeed.

Photo by Aaron Burden via Unsplash.com

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

Stars: A Fibonacci Poem

Dava Sobel‘s The Glass Universe continues to inspire me. Although I couldn’t find any direct relationship between stellar spectra and the Fibonacci sequence, a mathematical form seemed appropriate for this topic.

in white light.
Spectral lines reveal
elemental composition
and temperature to sleuths who probe their mystery.

© Catherine Flynn, 2017

Star Spectra by Secchi, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Writing poems in a specific form can be a fun yet challenging way to summarize learning in any subject area. The concision of poetry forces kids to hone in on the essential aspects of a topic, book or article. It also provides an authentic purpose for using subject-specific vocabulary.  As I wrote this poem, I found my biggest challenge wasn’t the basic science behind the stellar spectra, but getting the right words to match the syllable count of a Fibonacci poem.

 Thank you, Laura, for once again being so generous with your time and talents.  Thank you also to StaceyBetsyBeth, KathleenDeb, MelanieLisa and Lanny for creating this community and providing 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.

SOL 17 & Poetry Friday: “Feather, Celebrating Valerie Worth”


“The deepest secret in our heart of hearts is that we are writing because we love the world.”
~ Natalie Goldberg ~

Last week, I shared Kwame Alexander, Chris Colderly, and Marjory Wentworth’s inspirational new poetry collection, Out of Wonder. Each poem is a celebration of another poet, either written in their style or about a topic dear to them.

Of course I wanted to try my hand at this. I found a lone turkey feather in the snow after the blizzard a few weeks ago that had been calling to me. I decided Valerie Worth’s “small poems” were the perfect model to use for a poem about this little gift.

After reading and rereading All the Small Poems and Fourteen More, I watched Renée LaTulippe’s interview with Lee Bennett Hopkins about Valerie Worth. Lee described Worth’s poems as “sharp, solid, eloquent evocations of ordinary objects” that “causes us to see the everyday world in fresh, insightful, larger-than-life ways.” Easy, right?

Of course not. Lee also said that Worth was “truly a craftsperson, who wrote, revised, wrote, and revised.” Knowing that no poem is ever finished, I have written and revised, written and revised my attempt at a “small poem” about a feather.

celebrating Valerie Worth

On turkey’s back,
a feather is
filaments of color
weaving a cloak
of shadow and light
that hides and

Fallen on the snow,
this downy tuft
transforms into
whispering secrets
of the woods.

© Catherine Flynn, 2017

It seems appropriate that this final day of the 2017 Slice of Life Challenge is on a Friday. I’m certain I wouldn’t ever have had the confidence to write and share poetry if it hadn’t been for this supportive community. My heartfelt thanks to you all, especially StaceyBetsyBeth, KathleenDeb, MelanieLisa and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every day in March and on Tuesdays throughout the year. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts. Also, be sure to visit Amy Ludwig VanDerwater at The Poem Farm for the Poetry Friday Roundup.