Poetry Friday: Happy Birthday, Lee Bennett Hopkins!


Today, the KidLitosphere is celebrating poet and anthologist extraordinaire Lee Bennett Hopkins‘s 80th birthday. Although I’ve never met Lee, he has been a guiding light to me for years. Pass the Poetry, Please was one of the first professional books I purchased when I began teaching, and the poetry section of my classroom library is filled with anthologies Lee has edited over the years. More recently, Lee’s wise words have helped me write and polish my own poetry.

It was impossible for me to choose one favorite Hopkins book or poem to share today, so I created a found poem using the titles of some of Lee’s books.

To Lee Bennett Hopkins, on his birthday:

Pass the Poetry, Please!

Good Rhymes! Good Times!
Days to Celebrate:
Hanukkah Lights,
Christmas Presents,
Halloween Howls,
Morning, Noon, and Nighttime, Too!

Wonderful Words:
Hand in Hand
Jumping Off the Library Shelves

I Am the Book
Blast Off!
The Sky is Full of Song,
Full Moon and Star

Sky Magic
Sharing the Seasons
On the Farm
A Dog’s Life,
A Pet For Me

My America
Home to Me
Amazing Places
City I Love

World Make Way
Time to Shout:
Happy Birthday!

Please be sure to visit Robyn Hood Black at Life of the Deckle Edge for a special Poetry Friday Roundup of birthday wishes for Lee Bennett Hopkins!


SOL18: Found Poetry

Last week, my lovely and talented friend, Robyn Hood Black, invited her Poetry Friday friends to find a poem in a passage she shared from Cassell’s Family Magazine. The passage reminded me of a collection of cut outs I have that my grandmother and her sister used as paper dolls that date to 1916 or so. A little digging revealed that most of these came from The Delineator, “an American women’s magazine of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, founded by the Butterick Publishing Company.” (from Wikipedia) I searched my grandmother’s collection for styles that matched the description in the passage Robyn shared, but it’s from the 1890s, so fashions had changed. But I was able to find a few stylish dresses that have some similar features.

Because I live in spring-deprived New England, I found all the weather words to create my poem.  Thank you, Robyn, for this fun exercise!


The long cloak savors of SPRING; it opens at the neck and TRIMS with close feather bands, instead of fur. It is composed of ribbed silk AND EMBROIDERED velvet, the velvet is cut as a Bolero jacket, elongated into panel sides over which fall the long pointed sleeves, embroidered on THE OUTSIDE of the arm, and edged like the jacket with ball fringe in character with the hat. It is a mantle that completely covers the dress. The muff matches the hat, and I notice

women are wearing them WELL ON TO SUMMER, partially because they are so infinitesimal. The floral muffs are often carried by bridesmaids; they are made of satin and COVERED WITH FLOWERS so that little but of the foundation is seen. They let the odour of the flower be easily enjoyed by the holder, and are more to be DESIRED than BOUQUETS because they have a raison d’être.  (From Cassell’s Family Magazine)



Inspired to try found poetry with your students? Don’t miss Linda Mitchell‘s terrific work with her eighth grade library students!

Thank you to StaceyBetsyBeth, KathleenDeb, Melanie, 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.

SOL 18: The MEET MY FAMILY Blog Tour is Here!


“Every family’s different–each family is just right!”
Laura Purdie Salas

Welcome to the latest stop on the Blog Tour for Laura Purdie Salas’s beautiful new book, Meet My Family: Animal Babies and Their Families (Millbrook Press, 2018). When I first read Laura’s heartfelt words and saw Stephanie Fizer Coleman‘s lively illustrations, I knew this book was a perfect mentor text for student writing.

© Laura Purdie Salas and Stephanie Fizer Coleman, 2018

Laura was inspired to write Meet My Family by feelings she had about her own family growing up. In her interview with Kirby Larson (the link is listed below), Laura says that “my family felt very different from other families.” She hopes “this book might erase some of the shame so many kids feel about their families.”

One of my colleagues is the most amazing Kindergarten teacher on the planet, and she welcomed me into her classroom to share Laura’s book with her students and work on this writing project with them. After reading Meet My Family to the children, we talked about all the different kinds of animal families in the book. Then we talked about all the ways our own families are different. After brainstorming together, the kids wrote a sentence about their own family.

The next day, we reread the book, this time looking closely at the subtext on each page. Again, using Laura’s text as a mentor, the students added details to their writing about their family. Some chose to write about activities they do together, others wrote about favorite foods. Everyone gained an appreciation for all the different kinds of families we have!

Illustrations are a very big deal for Kindergarteners, and they couldn’t wait to start drawing their families. We even used the cover layout as a model for the cover of the book we created.

Here is their work:

I live with my mom and dad in my house. We love to babysit my baby cousin.
by R.

I am the only child. And sometimes I go out to walk with my family.
by R.

I have three sisters. I watch TV with my sisters.
by S.

I moved across the country. Sometimes we go on hikes!
by J.

I live with my family. We go to Five Guys for burgers.
by L.

I am the smallest in my family! My family likes to bike together! I like my family!
by K.

I am the youngest in my family. I went with my family in the forest. We had fun.
by A.

I live with my brothers and my baby sister. My family likes to go to the beach.
by I.

I live with my mimi and poppy. We like to go out to dinner.
by Z.

I have one sister. After school we go to gymnastics. It is tiring and it is fun.
by B.

I live with my mom and my brothers. We play Manhunt outside. I am fast.
by L.

My brother is eight and I am five. My baby sister is two. I live with my Nana and my PopPop, my puppy and cats.
by E.

I live with my mommy and dad and my baby sister, too. After school I help mom and dad make chicken for dinner.
by L.

These Kindergarten students are very proud to share their work today, and are already busy planning their next writing project. Thank you, Laura, for writing this informative, inspiring book!

Thanks to Laura’s generosity, one lucky reader will win a copy of Meet My Family! Just leave a comment before midnight, Thursday, March 22nd, to be entered in the drawing.

To find out more about Laura and this wonderful book, be sure to visit the other stops on the Meet My Family Blog Tour:

The tour has two more upcoming stops! Don’t miss them!

A Classroom Guide is available to download here.

Thank you to StaceyBetsyBeth, KathleenDeb, Melanie, 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.

SOL 18: Poetry Is…Revisited

Last week, Slicer Christie Wyman of Wondering and Wandering realized she was writing about a topic she’d written about last year. (Another nor’easter; my New England friends don’t even want to think about the new one brewing for next week!) Christie wondered, “do you have a slice from last year’s SOLC you could revisit because some things never change? Or maybe because they have!”

I had already been considering revisiting an exercise from Karen Benke’s Rip the Page: Adventures in Creative Writing. (Read another post inspired by this book here.) Here’s the explanation of  “Juxtaposition” (found on page 56) from last year’s post:

This exercise begins by folding a piece of paper in half lengthwise, then choosing ten words from one of the many word lists in the book. Next, add a descriptive word in front of each of the chosen words. Turn the paper over and follow the directions for what to write next. When you unfold the paper, write “Poetry Is” at the top. Try various combinations from the assortment of words and phrases you wrote until you find a “juxtaposition…two unlike things (side by side) to wake up your ears and make your mouth smile.”

In response to last year’s post I wrote, Some of these pairings aren’t really a surprise, but I liked the images they conjured.

I did not reread the last year’s poem before starting this year, but some images appeared again anyway. I guess those words and ideas are deeply ingrained in me. Last year’s poem is structured differently from this year’s poem, and I think I like it a little better, but this year’s poem created some images that deserve a poem of their own.

Poetry hides…

In gentle rains of summers past
In rippling, whispering waves
In the soft peaks of a lemon meringue pie

Poetry lurks…

under the slow drift of pale sunshine
inside the molten silver of Wednesdays
behind the secret of cerulean blue

Poetry lives…

inside a cosmic whirl of serenity
in the full moon of my imagination
within the quickening spark of my heart.

© Catherine Flynn, 2018

This activity is exactly what Benke’s subtitle promises: an adventure in creative writing. Students love it for many reasons. Some of the combinations turn out to be very funny. It also provides a structure that reluctant writers find comforting and supportive. Confident writers will appreciate the flexibility they have to play with the format of their poem. The possibilities are endless!

Photo by Jeff Golenski via Unsplash

Thank you to StaceyBetsyBeth, KathleenDeb, Melanie, 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.

SOL: A Happy Accident

“Chance favors the prepared mind.”
Louis Pasteur

My One Little Word for 2018 is focus. At school, I’ve been focused on incorporating the growth mindset stances laid out by Kristine Mraz and Christine Hertz in their book, A Mindset for Learning, as well as the habits of mind explained in Learning and Leading with Habits of Mind, by Arthur L. Costa and Bena Kallick. This means I’m constantly on the lookout for opportunities to weave these habits into my lessons.

In Costa and Kallick’s work, this focus would fall under the habit of “creating, imagining, and innovating.” Maybe it’s the poet it me, but I prefer to think of this as “serendipity,” those happy accidents of chance that occur when we’re paying attention. Yesterday, such a moment occurred.

As I was working with a second grader, he noticed The Day the Crayons Quit in a basket on a nearby bookshelf. “Can we read this, too?” L. asked as he pulled the book from the basket. “Mr. M. read it to us in Library and it’s really funny.”

“Absolutely,” I replied. “Let’s finish our other work first.” He agreed, and I presented How Bear Lost His Tail from Fountas & Pinnell’s Leveled Literacy Intervention kit.

He wasted no time in reminding me that he’d already read this book. The advantages of rereading are well-known and many. Among other benefits, rereading increases fluency and deepens comprehension, my goal in this case. I explained to him I knew he’d read the book before, but that readers always find something new when they read a book a second, third, or even fourth time.

He launched into the book, and because it was his second read, he read it fairly fluently and with good expression. When he finished, I asked him if he had an idea about why Fox tricked Bear. He replied, “Maybe Fox was sad.” Seeing an opportunity to develop his vocabulary, I asked him if there were any other words he could use to describe how Fox felt. “Upset?” he said, with a hint of a question.

“Why would he be upset?” I asked him.

“Because Bear’s tail is bushier than his,” he replied, this time with more confidence.

I asked him if he knew the word “jealous.” He said he didn’t. I explained that if someone has something you would like to have, you might be jealous. I asked him if his sister ever had anything he wanted but couldn’t have. He remembered that at her last birthday party, he’d been upset that she was getting so many presents. “That’s what it feels like to be jealous,” I explained.

Seizing the opportunity he’d presented me with when he asked to read The Day the Crayons Quit, I asked, “Do you think any of the crayons were jealous?” He shrugged and said he couldn’t remember. “Let’s find out,” I suggested.

Working together, we reread the first few letters of protest from Duncan’s crayons. Lo and behold, there was Beige, feeling very left out because Brown got to color all the “bears, ponies, and puppies.”

“He’s jealous,” L. announced proudly.

From The Day the Crayons Quit, by Drew Daywalt, pictures by Oliver Jeffers

New learning sticks when learners apply “past knowledge to new situations” (Costa & Kallick, p. 28). Granted, this new situation was within five minutes of L.’s introduction to the word, but he made the connection between the two characters on his own and was articulated his thinking clearly. It’s unlikely that I would have planned this sequence of events ahead of time. But L. is more likely to remember this new vocabulary because a number of conditions were in place that engaged him in a meaningful way. Serendipity at its finest.

Thank you to StaceyBetsyBeth, KathleenDeb, Melanie, 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.

SOL: Focus

After eight weeks of trying it on for size, I’ve decided “focus” is the right OLW for me in 2018. We develop our own understanding of words throughout our life, so I was curious about what the dictionary had to say about my word. The first definition listed in my old Merriam Webster states that focus is “the point where rays of light, heat, etc, or waves of sound come together, or from which they spread.” Although my original thinking had more to do with “to concentrate, as to focus one’s attention,” I love the image of rays of light coming together or spreading out as I pour my energy into two projects, one personal, the other work-related, that are the real impetus for me choosing this word.

In a recent blog post, Vicki Vinton, author of Dynamic Teaching for Deeper Reading, invited her readers to become “protagonists in their own learning” by adopting an inquiry based approach to a problem or question. Over the past few months, my colleagues and I have been focused on cultivating a growth mindset in our students. This is challenging, ongoing work that easily lends itself the kind of action-research Vicki advocates.

Following Vicki’s model, we have our question: How can we cultivate a growth mindset in our students? We have done research, although this is really ongoing process, and have a hypothesis: Modeling growth mindset behavior and embedding growth mindset stance vocabulary into our daily interactions with children will cultivate their own growth mindset.

Our research began by reading Carol Dweck’s foundational book on the subject, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (Random House: 2006). Two books are guiding us as we move forward. Learning and Leading with Habits of Mind: 16 Essential Characteristics for Success, (ASCD, 2008) edited by Arthur L. Costa and Bena Kallick is an incredible resource, filled with suggestions for creating “thought-full” environments, assessing students’ (and our own!) attitudes and ideas about mindset, as well as lists of additional resources. Kristine Mraz and Christine Hertz’s A Mindset for Learning: Teaching the Traits of Joyful, Independent Growth (Heinemann, 2015) has guided our K-3 teachers in making the stances of mindset accessible to our youngest learners.

Through surveys, we gathered information regarding how students perceive their current mindset. To encourage reflective thinking about these stances, we asked them to include specific examples of when they engage in a particular behavior. The results were a mixture of brutal honesty (I am not persistent when my math homework is hard.) and responses that need a bit more reflection. (I am always persistent.)

Read-alouds are one way we are embedding the vocabulary of growth mindset into our day. Children’s literature is filled with determined, resilient, flexible characters who overcome incredible odds to achieve their goals. My personal favorite is Brave Irene by William Steig, which has been my go-to book for teaching character traits since it was published, but there are hundreds of worthy titles to choose from. Nonfiction is also full of inspiring stories of people who didn’t give up on their dreams. (This post from 2013 has a short list of a few of my favorites.)

We are still in the process of testing our hypothesis, and will be for months to come. As Costa and Kallick point out, “we never fully master the Habits of Mind…we continue to develop and improve them throughout our lives.”

I’ll let you know how well I’m doing staying focused and share any glimmers of light spreading out from our work.

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.


“You can develop this ability to see. You just have to know what to look for…and where to look.”
Erlin Olafsson *

It seems astonishing to us in the modern age, when microscopes and telescopes have revealed so many wonders, that not that long ago, people didn’t know where butterflies came from. When Maria Merian was born in 1647, a majority of people still believe Aristotle’s theory of “spontaneous generation…that insects did not come from other insects, but from dew, dung, dead animals, or mud.” Growing up “in a household filled with growing things,” Maria became curious and “from youth on [she was] occupied with the investigation of insects.”

Joyce Sidman’s engaging and colorful biography of Maria Merian, The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018), is itself a wonder. Each chapter opens with a poem chronicling the lifecycle of a butterfly. These poems, told from the insect’s perspective, mirror Merian’s own transformation from a curious girl helping in her stepfather’s art studio to a pioneering thinker who lead the way for future scientists. As Sidman writes, “she saw nature as an ever-transforming web of connections—and changed our view of it forever.”

Sidman’s clear, poetic prose, interspersed with Merian’s own words from her field notes, brings Maria and her world to life. The book is lavishly illustrated with Merian’s intricately detailed paintings and Sidman’s own photographs of the metamorphosis cycle. Maps and period paintings of daily life in Germany and the Netherlands provide young readers with clear images of 17th century Europe. Additional information about aspects of daily life at the time, including “Women: Unsung Heroes of the Workforce,” “Science Before Photography,” and “Slavery in Surinam,” among others, place Maria’s life and accomplishments in a broader context. A glossary, timeline, and suggestions for future reading are also included.

At one point, Sidman explains that “Maria had decided that insects belonged to plants and plants to insects. Together, they formed a community of living things that nurtured one another.” In this book, Sidman has woven together many strands from art and science that enhance each other to create a stellar example of what is possible in nonfiction for young readers.

The Girl Who Drew Butterflies is a true gift to readers. Maria Merian was a remarkable woman who overcame the constrictions of society to achieve her dreams, dreams that have left a legacy still with us today. She deserves this book and our children need to hear her story. They need to know that miracles and mysteries are all around them, just waiting to be discovered.

Maria Sibylla Merian [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Teachers can download a study guide here. After students finish The Girl Who Drew Butterflies, be sure to direct them to Jeannine Atkins’s gorgeous novel in verse, Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science.

Please be sure to visit Jen Vincent at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee Moye of Unleashing Readers for more book recommendations.

(quoted in Life on Surtsey: Iceland’s Upstart Island, by Loree Griffin Burns)