In a separate post, today I’m hosting a stop on the blog tour of In the Middle of the Night: Poems From a Wide-Awake House, by Laura Purdie Salas. (Leave a comment on that post, and you’ll be entered in a drawing for your very own copy!)
There is a direct link between being part of Laura’s blog tour and participating in the March Slice of Life Challenge. I “met” Laura when I responded to a tweet she sent out looking for teachers to write activity guides to a series of poetry books she was self-publishing. Designing activities to support favorite books is something I love to do. But I wasn’t confident I had the writing experience that Laura was looking for. As I worked to summon up the courage to write to Laura, I reread past blog posts and people’s comments, many from fellow Slicers. Indirectly, this community gave the push I needed to send the email. And, miracle of miracles, Laura put her trust in me! A few months later, Wacky, Wild, and Wonderful: 50 State Poems, part of Laura’s “30 Painless Classroom Poems” series, debuted with an activity guide written by yours truly.
Thanks to a supportive administration, I was able to attend NCTE later that year and meet Laura in person. Since then, we’ve seen each other at other conferences and connected online through Twitter and our blogs. This is exactly the kind of supportive friendship that I’ve been fortunate enough to develop with many other teachers and writers, all thanks to everyone, past and present, at Two Writing Teachers!
Welcome to the next stop on In the Middle of the Night’s blog tour! What a whirlwind! If you missed any of the previous stops, click below for interviews with Laura about how she came up the the idea for these “Poems From a Wide-Awake House,” her writing process, and more. There are also suggestions from teachers on different ways to use In the Middle of the Night in classrooms to support and inspire student writing.
When I first read Laura’s book, I immediately noticed her word choice. Laura has chosen exactly the right words to bring so many everyday household objects to life. A “Mixed-Up Mixing Bowl wobble[s] and sway[s]” in a “bowl ballet.” After a day of pounding the floor, an aching basketball’s “head is sore” and he’s sleeping “in ice.” And who can’t relate to “Lidless Marker’s Lament?” With an aching head and a throat that “feels dry,” this marker is “useless since/you lost my lid.” Angela Matteson’s exuberant illustrations capture the wide range of emotions felt by all the wide-awake objects frollicking through this book.
I shared these poems and more with a fourth grade class at my school as a spark for their writing. They loved the poems and were eager to write their own “wide-awake” poems. Here are just a few.
I’m a sneaky button
creeping through the night
clinging to some clothing
to see which one looks right.
Then I see a woodland shirt
that seems to shine with light.
Now the sun is shining
And I am all attached
waiting for my owner
to grab me with with a snatch.
Then we will go fishing
to get a big fat catch.
“Utensils Vs. Pot”
The pot grabbed the spoon
From its napkin cocoon
The fork went to help,
But he began to yelp.
The clock struck four
When Mr. Spoon opened the drawer
He whacked the pot of soup
And it began to droop.
The pot dropped the spoon
and he began to swoon.
Dang! It’s 6AM so soon!
Pineapple feared the big knife
would bring an end to his life.
So he tried to delay
by rolling away.
Now the pineapple
hides out in the stairway.
Your students can write their own wide-awake poems! Laura has created a Padlet where they can share their work and read poems by other students. There are also fun activity sheets available here.
Thank you, Laura and Angela, for this clever, inspiring book! And thank you to Boyds Mills Press for generously donating a copy of In the Middle of the Night: Poems from a Wide-Awake House to one lucky winner. Be sure to leave a comment by Tuesday, March 26th, to be entered in the drawing.
I don’t know if it’s because of the time change or because we had parent conferences at the beginning of the week, which altered our schedule or a combination of these and other events, but I feel like I haven’t gotten much accomplished this week. (Check my recent blog posts for confirmation. Oh wait, I haven’t written since Sunday. I rest my case.)
Last night I was planning a lesson on elaboration for a fifth grade class. I had my teaching point, the basic sequence of the lesson, and the mentor text I wanted to use. But I hadn’t written my model. I knew what I was going to write about, but it was after 10:30 and I was just too tired. Knowing I had time to write it in the morning, I headed for bed.
But I couldn’t get the lesson out of my head. Sentences from my unwritten model were swirling around in my head. At 2:00 I told myself to just follow my breath back to sleep. At 2:30 I got up for some water. At 3:00 I gave up and got up to write the model. Then I wrote a possible sequence for future lessons. Then I figured that I was on a roll and might as well write a Slice of Life.
So what’s the lesson? Next time, instead of losing at least four hours of sleep, I’ll make myself a cup of tea and power through another half-hour or so of work. I’ll have a much better chance of getting a good night’s sleep!
For the past three days, I have been part of a team of teachers visiting a neighboring district to learn more about this district’s English/Language Arts curriculum and its implementation. This was an incredibly rewarding experience, and I will be thinking about everything I learned there for days and weeks to come.
One of the questions we asked the teachers we visited was “What is the writing life of a student here?” I’ve been thinking about how I would answer this question for students in my district, as well as how I would answer it for myself. This seemed like a good place to begin the 12th annual Slice of Life Challenge.
I can honestly say that I owe my current writing life to the Slice of Life challenge. Late one Friday night seven years ago, I wrote my first slice more on a whim than anything else. That post led to more posts, and eventually I began attending conferences, meeting authors, and ultimately, publishing poems of my own and of my students.
So what is it about Slice of Life that enabled me to build a rich, rewarding writing life? Being part of a community of supportive writers is perhaps the most important thing slicing has given me. From the beginning, the encouraging comments and feedback have nurtured me as a writer and given me the confidence to continue writing. I think about this every day when I confer with my students about their writing.
Another critical quality of slicing is that, in terms of what to write about, the sky is the limit. Writers are free to write about whatever they want, using whatever genre or format that suits their topic. Just as I appreciate being able to make my own choices, I know students want this freedom also. That being said, I also appreciate the suggestions the Two Writing Teacher team members provide throughout the month. Sometimes it’s just hard to face a blank page without any guidelines. This is true for our students as well.
I also appreciate the many mentor texts shared by all slicers. Whether its a line of text that launches a dive into childhood memories, or a poem that provides a structure for a poem of my own, mentor texts are an essential component of any writing life.
These are just my initial thoughts about this question, but I’ll be returning to it over the course of the month. As John Ciardi said, “a good question is never answered. It is not a bolt to be tightened into place but a seed to be planted and to bear more seed toward the hope of greening the landscape of ideas.” I look forward to watching the “greening of the landscape” with you.
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?
As summer winds down, I’ve been thinking not only about what I accomplished (closets cleaned, books read, poems written), but what I didn’t do. For many years, my in-laws had a very rustic cabin on a lake in “down east” Maine.We spent many weeks there over the years. Going to camp was right up there with Christmas and birthdays for my boys. The cabin was sold long ago, but for some reason, I missed it more than usual this summer.
When I was young at the lake, I woke to the sun shining through the trees, making puddles on the floor of the cabin’s loft. I skipped stones across the glassy water and paddled a canoe to the island near our cove. My brother and I ran wild through the forest and built a fort to defend our territory. We swam in the cold water and searched for unusual rocks on the beach.
When I was young at the lake, the air smelled of pine trees and we picked wild blueberries that grandma baked into a pie. On rainy afternoons, as raindrops pinged on the roof, we sat on the porch and put puzzles together. On clear nights, we watched meteor showers from the beach that were better than any fireworks we’d ever seen.
I fished for trout with my grandfather from our rowboat. Grandma always clapped when we presented her with our catch. Then she breaded each fish in cornmeal and fried them in her big cast iron skillet. Once a year, we drove to Machias for lobsters and corn on the cob. On those nights, we felt like kings as pulled tender meat from bright red claws and licked our buttery fingers clean.
When I was young at the lake, we fell into bed, exhausted from the day’s adventures, and drifted to sleep to the lullaby of loons.
Linda explains that “these quickwrites are seeds of ideas, the beginning of a piece to be worked on right away or, at the very least, captured for later use.” I can easily imagine revisiting “When I Was Young at the Lake.” I can imagine a poem emerging from these lines, or maybe a picture book. Even if these memories never get farther than this post, my memories of the lake are always in my “deep heart’s core.” (“The Lake Isle of Innisfree,” by W.B. Yeats)
“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: