Poetry Friday: Embracing Nature

“Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circles of compassion
to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
~ Albert Einstein ~

I recently finished reading The Invention of Nature: Alexander Humboldt’s New World, by Andrea Wulf. At 400 pages, this book isn’t a quick read, but it’s worthwhile and enlightening. Born in 1769, “Humboldt gave us our concept of nature itself.” In this amazing book, Wulf describes Humboldt’s life and work as well as his influence on Charles Darwin, Henry David Thoreau, and John Muir, and countless other scientists, artists, and writers. In fact, Wulf writes, “Humboldt’s views have become so self-evident that we have largely forgotten the man behind them.”

A “sense of wonder for the natural world” lay at the heart of Humboldt’s work and writings, and is also found in the work of his followers. The importance of sharing and nurturing this wonder feels more urgent today than ever.

With Wulf’s words about Humboldt still swirling in my brain, it felt like serendipity when I came across these much-loved lines from Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself:

Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the
 origin of all poems,
You shall possess the good of the earth and sun—there are
  millions of suns left,
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand,
  nor look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the
  specters in books,
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things
  from me,
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from yourself.

Here’s to listening to the world from all sides and learning the lessons nature is desperately trying to teach us.

Please be sure to visit Violet Nesdoly for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

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Poetry Friday: Whispers at the Edge of Day

This week I’ve been reading poemcrazy: freeing your life with words (1996) by Susan Goldmsith Wooldridge. I found this book as I was scrolling though my Twitter feed a few weeks ago. If you aren’t familiar with it, go find it now. You won’t be sorry.

Sometimes writing poems does drive me crazy, but this book makes you fall-in-love crazy about poetry. Wooldridge is a cheerful, enthusiastic teacher. In the first section of the book, “Following Words”, she urges us to collect words and “create a wordpool.” “The great thing about collecting words,” she writes, “is they’re free; you can borrow them, trade them in or toss them out.” Each short chapter is followed by suggestions for practice. This draft grew out of those suggestions.

The canary sun
sets the sky aglow,
whispering pink
at the edge of day
like a conch,
whispering
the memory
of ocean waves.

Photo by adrian via Unsplash

Please be sure to visit Matt Forrest Esenwine at Radio, Rhythm, & Rhyme for the Poetry Friday Roundup. And to all my friends around the country who are facing hurricanes or fires, please stay safe!

Slice of Life: One School, One Book

For many years, schools across the country have been participating in One School, One Book programs to promote a love of reading and build a reading community. After the Children’s Program Coordinator of our local library contacted our school to discuss ways we could join forces to encourage summer reading, we decided to sponsor a One School, One Book event.

Or rather, a Two Schools, Two Books event. Because I teach in a K-8 school, finding one book for such a broad age range was a real challenge. So we split the school into elementary and middle school grades and chose two books. Students in the lower grades read Tamera Will Wissinger’s heartwarming Gone Fishing, while middle school students read Ghost, by Jason Reynolds. Every child received a copy of a book during the last week of school.

                              

We met twice during the summer to celebrate these books and our reading. Taking a cue from poetry promoter extraordinaire, Sylvia Vardell,  Gone Fishing readers made poem collages (scroll to the bottom of the post) for their favorite poems, then performed some of the poems for two (or three) voices. At our second get-together, the kids wrote acrostics and list poems about fishing or other favorite hobbies. The highlight of this evening was a Skype visit with Tamera. She shared that the idea for Gone Fishing grew out of one poem based on Tamera’s memories of going fishing with her family. Some brave poets then read their poems. Everyone was inspired to write more poems, and one lucky girl went home with a copy of Gone Camping, Tamera’s new book about Sam and Lucy.

Proud poem collage creator
Skyping with Tamera

Readers of the National Book Award finalist, Ghost, by Jason Reynolds had two insightful discussions about Castle, the choices he made, and how he dealt with those choices. These middle schoolers loved performing some of their favorite scenes, especially Ghost’s blow-up at Brandon in the cafeteria. They also had fun making heart maps for Castle. Everyone was disappointed that Patina hadn’t been published yet (we met before the August 29th publication date), but had plenty of recommendations for other books they’d read over the summer.

All of our celebrations were topped off with ice cream sundaes, and everyone went home happy.  Now that school has started, we’ve been discussing how the main characters of both books exhibit Sherman School’s core values of honesty, courage, responsibility, and respectBased on the success of these celebrations, we’re hoping to make our version of One School, One Book an annual event. 

Happiness is ice cream with a friend AND a new book!

Thank you also to StaceyBetsyBeth, KathleenDeb, Melanie, 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.

Poetry Friday: “School”

“In music, in poetry, and in life, the rest, the pause, the slow movements are essential to comprehending the whole.”
~ Maryanne Wolf ~

This past week, I attended a training institute on Structured Literacy Instruction. Although I may have grumbled a bit about the ninety minute drive, now that I’ve had time to rest and pause, I’ve realized the time spent learning with and from colleagues from across the state was both rewarding and enriching. I’ll be sifting through my notes and the presentation slides for weeks to come.

One of the requirements of the institute was to prepare a presentation on a chapter from Multisensory Teaching of Basic Language Skills, 3rd Edition, edited by Judith R. Birsh. At over 700 pages, this book is no light read, literally and figuratively! But, it is an important resource for all teachers. My group chose to present the chapter on vocabulary. We all know the impact of a deep vocabulary on reading comprehension, but some of the statistics shared were astounding. In 2006, Stahl & Nagy stated that “knowing individual word meanings is thought to account for as much as 50% of the variance in reading comprehension.” 

Semantic relationships was discussed at length. Again, this is a topic that I know about and use with my students, but it was helpful to read again about the importance of developing our students’ “word consciousness,” or their “interest and awareness of words.” (Birsh, 339).

Poetry, of course, is ideal for developing all of these skills and more. As I was looking for a poem to share in our presentation to model these ideas, I stumbled across “School,” by David J. Langton. In the end, we chose Thunder Cake, by Patricia Polacco, but Langton’s poem is rich with possibility.

“School”
by David J. Langton

I was sent home the first day
with a note: Danny needs a ruler.
My father nodded, nothing seemed so apt.
School is for rules, countries need rulers,
graphs need graphing, the world is straight ahead.
It had metrics one side, inches the other.
You could see where it started
and why it stopped, a foot along,
how it ruled the flighty pen,
which petered out sideways when you dreamt.
Read the rest of the poem here.
Friends (and cookies) make learning fun!

Please be sure to visit Jone at Check it Out for the Poetry Friday Roundup. Wishing you all a wonderful start of school!

Poetry Friday: Marilyn Nelson’s “1905”

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
~ Nelson Mandela ~

“1905”
by Marilyn Nelson

Looking out of the front page, a wild-haired,
gentle-eyed young German man stands
before a blackboard of incomprehensible equations.
Meanwhile, back in the quotidian,
Carver takes the school to the poor.

He outfits an open truck
with shelves for his jars
of canned fruit and compost,
bins for his croker sacks of seeds.
He travels roads barely discernible
on the county map,
teaching former field-slaves
how to weave ditch weeds
into pretty table place mats,
how to keep their sweet potatoes from rotting
before winter hunger sets in,
how to make preacher-pleasing
mock fried chicken
without slaughtering a laying hen.
He notes patches of wild chicory
the farmers could collect
to free themselves from their taste
for high-priced imported caffeine.

He and his student assistants bump along
shoulder to shoulder in the high cab,
a braided scale of laughter
trailing above their raised dust.

Read the rest of the poem here.

                              

This poem is from Marilyn Nelson’s outstanding Carver: A Life in Poems. George Washington Carver, this poem, and the entire collection are a much-needed reminder of the power of what is possible. Please be sure to visit Kay McGriff at A Journey Through the Pages for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

#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.