Poetry Friday: Murmurations

Last spring, I decided to finish reading a couple of books that I’d abandoned for one reason or another. One of these, H is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald, was a book that I felt I should love but just couldn’t. Macdonald’s writing is poetic and full of reverence for nature, and I appreciated the beauty of her writing. But the story was full of pain, so maybe it wasn’t the best choice for the dark days of April.

Then, in July, an essay from Macdonald’s new book, Vesper Flights, appeared in The New York Times Magazine. Here, the kindred spirit I’d glimpsed in H is for Hawk was in full view. Like the swifts she’s describing, this piece was “magical in the manner of all things that exist just a little beyond understanding.” I pre-ordered the book immediately.

I have been savoring these short essays one at a time, every couple of days. They are every bit as magical as the essay that was in the paper. Even the titles are lyrical, so I decided to create a poem from them. I know found poems are supposed to be kept in order, but these are not. I have added a few articles and prepositions to the beginning of some lines for clarity.

The numinous ordinary
murmurations
of sunbirds and cashmere spheres
rescue
the vesper flights
of the human flock.

Thinking about “Murmurations” made me realize I couldn’t remember the last time I saw one. Then, on the way to work on Tuesday morning, a flock of starlings flew across the sky, begging me to write them a poem. How could I refuse?

A ribbon of starlings
unspools from a giant oak,
trimming the sky .

Draft, © Catherine Flynn, 2020

Please be sure to visit Jone Rush MacCulloch at her beautiful new website for the Poetry Friday Roundup!

#PB10for10: Picture Books and Environmental Awareness

“To describe the world more fully is to change it.
To let the world go undescribed is, in some way, not to know it, at one’s peril.”
~ Elif Batuman ~

I know. It’s August 12th. The tardiness of this post is due entirely to Tropical Storm Isaias and the havoc it wrecked on the power grid here in western Connecticut. Thank you for your patience, and thank you, as always, to Cathy Mere and Mandy Robek for creating and curating this celebration of picture books. Please be sure to visit Mandy’s blog, Enjoy and Embrace Learning 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.

Like many of you, I have watched the events of the past several months in shock. There are days when I can’t bear to listen to the news, afraid of whatever fresh horror has unfolded overnight. There are other days when I read voraciously, looking for answers, solutions, actions I can take that will make a difference. But honestly, most days I feel quite helpless. 

But deep in my heart I know the best action I can take is to educate my students. There have been so many important #BLM lists shared already this summer about picture books, chapter books, YA books and more, I knew I couldn’t add to or improve any of those. So I decided to take a different approach. One aspect of our current crisis is the environment. There are researchers who believe one reason the novel coronavirus made the leap from animals to humans is because of habitat loss. There have also been numerous reports about how environmental disasters disproportionately affect BIPOC communities.

In her book How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy, Jenny Odell states that “Simple awareness is the seed of responsibility.” Caring begins with attention. People don’t, indeed can’t, care about something they have no knowledge of. So I decided to build my list around the environment, because, ultimately, the fate of Black lives, Latinx lives, Indiginous lives, all lives, are inextricably intertwined with the fate of our planet. 

Because of Covid, I experienced most of these books online, through read-alouds graciously permitted by publishers this spring. I look forward to soon being able to hold these books in my hands and share the beauty of these “descriptions of the world” with my students. 

Ocean Speaks: How Marie Tharp Revealed the Ocean’s Biggest Secret, written by Jess Keating, illustrated by Katie Hickey (Tundra Books, 2020)

                

If You Come to Earth, written and illustrated by Sophie Blackall (Chronicle Books, Sept. 15, 2020)

We Are Water Protectors, written by Carole Lindstrom, illustrated by Michaela Goade (Macmillin Publishers, 2020)

            

Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera, by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Eric Rohmann (Neal Porter Books, 2020)

Most of the Better Natural Things in the World, by Dave Eggers, illustrated by Angel Chang (Chronicle Books, 2019)

          

Green on Green, written by Dianne White, illustrated by Felicita Sala (Beach Lane Books, 2020)

A New Green Day, written and illustrated by Antoinette Portis (Neal Porter Books, 2020)

        

Outside In, by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Cindy Derby (HMH Books for Young Readers, 2020)

My Friend Earth, by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Francesca Sanna (Chronicle Books, 2020)

           

Over and Under the Rainforest, by Kate Messner, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal (Chronicle Books, 2020)

My previous #PB 10 for 10 posts:

2019: Follow Your Heart

2018: Creative Imaginations

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: “Worth” by Marilyn Nelson

It no longer seems appropriate to say, “What a week!” It seems that every single day brings some new mind-boggling occurrence. This week, at least, the bad news has been balanced by two momentous Supreme Court decisions. Still, my heart hurts for our entire country. Recently, The New York Times acknowledged the power of poetry to bring us “solace, strength, and power” by asking many prominent poets, including Kwame Alexander, Joy Harjo, and Arthur Sze, what poets and poetry they have turned to during these tumultuous days. I read many of the poems recommended, thinking I would find some to share with the my middle school students. As I read, a link to Marilyn Nelson’s poetry came up. Marilyn Nelson, former Poet Laureate of Connecticut, is the author of many powerful books of poetry for young people and has long been a favorite of mine. This poem is from Miss Crandall’s School for Young Ladies & Little Misses of Color (WordSong, 2007), which she co-authored with Elizabeth Alexander.

Canterbury, CT 1833-1834

“Worth”

for Ruben Ahoueya

Today in America people were bought and sold:
five hundred for a “likely Negro wench.”
If someone at auction is worth her weight in gold,
how much would she be worth by pound? By ounce?
If I owned an unimaginable quantity of wealth,
could I buy an iota of myself?
How would I know which part belonged to me?

Read the rest of the poem here.

Amira Abdel-Aal and Shawna Coppola led a session on The Ed Collaborative this spring about ways to maximize student engagement with their writing. One of their suggestions was to share “provocations,” rather than prompts. They suggested that provocations are intended to “provoke thoughts, discussions,and questions.” This poem will do all of that and more.

Please be sure to visit Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

Poetry Friday: Finding Light with Nikki Grimes

At NCTE last November, I had the pleasure of sitting with Nikki Grimes at her table at the Children’s Book Award Luncheon. Everyone at the table received a copy of her extraordinary verse memoir, Ordinary Hazards (WordSong, 2019). I have long been a fan of Nikki’s poetry, but reading the story of her childhood and teen years left me with a deeper admiration for Nikki.

Recently, Irene Latham announced that she wanted to celebrate Nikki Grimes when she hosted Poetry Friday today. Irene said,

Nikki has won all kinds of awards lately, and due to covid, there haven’t been in-person events, so this gives us all an opportunity to say:

I knew immediately that I wanted to write a Golden Shovel to honor Nikki. This is a form Nikki made popular through her stunning book, One Last Word, using the words and “wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance” for her strike lines. Nikki’s poetry abounds with gorgeous language and words of wisdom, but I thought these lines, from the end of Ordinary Hazards, would speak to us all during our troubled times.

Thank you, Nikki Grimes, for sharing your light with us. And thank you, Irene, for hosting today’s celebration of this amazing woman.

Poetry Friday: “How to walk around the block” by Michael Salinger

When school closed in March, there were no answers to a million questions. We had no idea how long school would be closed. No idea if distance learning was possible. And if it was, who knew what it would look like. There was one thing I did know: I needed my most trusted books and resources with me at home. One of the first books I put pulled off my shelf was Poems Are Teachers: How Studying Poetry Strengthens Writing in All Genresby Amy Ludwig VanDerwater. I know most people in the Poetry Friday community are familiar with this book (and many have their own poems published in its pages), but if you don’t know this book, do yourself a favor and order it today.

Just as I suspected, I have turned to Amy’s gentle wisdom about writing many times over the past ten weeks. Recently, as the weather has turned from a cold, dreary spring into glorious summer-like days, cabin fever has started to set in. I could sense a restlessness in my students (and in myself, for that matter). They needed an adventure.

Amy’s book is full of poems to inspire and strengthen student writing. In it, I found the perfect poem to launch my would-be travelers on an exploration of their neighborhood in Michael Salinger‘s poem, “How to walk around the block.” Michael’s poem invites readers to see their neighborhood, and themselves, with fresh eyes. My student’s couldn’t wait to go for a walk around their block to find what awaited them out there.

“How to walk around the block”
by Michael Salinger

Wear shoes.
If they have laces, make sure they are tied.
Pick a direction and go.
Double foot hop
over sidewalk cracks,
then stop and pick up a rock.
No snooping in your neighbor’s mailbox
(You’ll get in trouble if you get caught.)
Woof bark woof bark woof bark woof;
ask before you pet that dog.
That stick could use a new location.
Remember,
where you started is your destination.
‘Cause ’round the block
is a circle
(even if it’s really a square).
Arriving back at your front door,
you’ll be a different person
when you get home.

© 2018, shared with permission of the author

Many of you have also been writing #PoemsofPresence this month. Using Michael’s poem to encourage my students to find their own #PoemsofPresence fills me with hope as we head into a summer filled with unknowns. I hope we all can see the coming months as a time of discovery. Discoveries about our block, our neighbors, and most importantly, ourselves.

Thank you to Michael Salinger for allowing me to share his poem, and thank you to Amy Ludwig VanDerwater for her wonderful book. Please be sure to visit Mary Lee Hahn at A Reading Year for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

One of my recent discoveries on my block.
a hawk feather on the path
reminds me
I’m not the only one
who calls this place home.

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.