Welcome, Spi-Ku!

“Anything under the sun is beautiful if you have the vision–
it is the seeing of the thing that makes it so.”

~ Nathaniel Hawthorne ~

As I was getting ready to host day four of the blog tour celebrating Spi-Ku: A Clutter of Short Verse on Eight Legs, Leslie Bulion and Robert Meganck’s terrific new book published by Peachtree last month, I conducted an informal survey of my students regarding spiders. I found very few fans. Most didn’t like them because they were afraid of being bitten or thought that spiders are poisonous. Well, an hour or so with Spi-Ku will set the record straight.

This book is bursting with facts and figures about these amazing arachnids. Did you know, for example, that there are more than forty-eight thousand species of spiders in the world?! Or that “spiders have crawled the Earth for more than 400 million years?” Neither did I! The best nonfiction not only teaches new information, it clarifies misunderstandings as well. Virtually every child I shared this book with thought that a daddy longlegs was a spider, but Leslie clears up that confusion right away.

Leslie is a master of playful, informative science poetry for kids. Her previous work includes Superlative Birds, Leaf Litter Critters, and Amphibian Acrobats, among others. Using both poetry and informational text, Leslie closely examines these misunderstood creatures. She creatively weaves together cool details with playful, poetic language. The results are lines like “sun-shimmer silk” and  “…its own family recipe/to make a fly smoothie.” She addresses all aspects of arachnid life, including:

  • Types of spiders and different hunting techniques
  • How spiders move
  • How they eat
  • Types of webs
  • Types of camouflage
  • Spider senses
  • Courtship rituals
  • Egg laying and care of young

These poems can be enjoyed on their own, but the nonfiction notes and back matter, including suggestions for further reading, deepen readers’ understanding of spiders. Leslie has also created a Teacher’s Guide with additional tips and activities. Spi-Ku will spark new questions and send kids off to learn more. One student wanted to know more about how hummingbirds use spider silk in their nests. Another was fascinated by the way pirate spiders lured and trapped other spiders in their own webs!

Robert Meganck’s illustrations let readers get up close and personal with these curious creatures. The whimsical illustrations show spiders on the move, capturing prey, and hanging out in webs, Another feature that will rivet kids’ attention are the pages which show the relative sizes of the spiders described in Leslie’s poems.

Nature lovers of all ages will devour this book. After spending time with Spi-Ku, all readers will learn to appreciate, if not love, our eight-legged friends.

Please visit the other stops on Spi-Ku’s blog tour:

                Monday (4/5): Picture Books 4 Learning
Tuesday (4/6): Storymamas
Wednesday (4/7): The Miss Rumphius Effect
Friday (4/9): TeacherDance

You can also visit Leslie, Robert, and Peachtree Publishers on social media:

Leslie Bulion social handles:

Facebook: @leslie.bulion
Twitter: @LeslieBulion
Instagram: @lesliebulion

Robert Meganck social handles:

Facebook: @rmeganck
Twitter: @r2meganck
Instagram: @r2meganck

Peachtree social handles:

Facebook: @PeachtreePub
Twitter: @PeachtreePub
Instagram: @peachtreepublishing

      

Poetry Friday: Nestlings from the Natural World

At the beginning of each month, my critique group partners and I take turns challenging one another to try a new poetry form. This month, Heidi Mordhorst suggested that we write nestlings: poems found within a single poem that we wrote. Heidi’s challenge was inspired by Irene Latham‘s brilliant and joyous book, This Poem is a Nest. In her introduction, Irene explains that she was inspired by watching “robins build a nest” and realized that “poems are nests–and we poets spend much of our time nest-building. We gather words, ideas, and dreams, and then we set about weaving, arranging, and structuring. “

I love everything about this book: the concept, the poems themselves, the illustrations. Irene mined four “nest” poems (one for each season) and came up with 161 nestling poems. Her creativity shines in the way she organizes her nestlings. There are poems about colors, emotions, months of the year, animals, and more. This book is a treasure and an inspiration. What a fun challenge!

Then reality sunk in and I had to actually choose a poem to work with. After several false starts, I decided to mine several poems I wrote during National Poetry Month last April. My project for the month was a series of poems I called “News from the Natural World.” All of the poems had some connection to nature, both from my yard and across the galaxy. (Links to all the poems can be found here.) I chose to look for nestlings in two of my favorites, “Praise Song for the Natural World” and “An Earth Day ABC.” Like all found poems, the words are in the same order as in the original poem. Titles can be added and don’t have to be in the original poem. Those words are bolded. I might have added an “s” to the end of a word or two. 😉

Praise Song for the Natural World

Each day, wild creatures go about the work of survival.
A vibrant bluebird flits through the undergrowth
in pursuit of an alluring female.

High in a pine, a nesting hawk surveys
the countryside, screeching in protest
at a mob of pesky crows.

All around, color is brightening the drab world.
Brilliant yellow dandelions are open for business
and hungry bees buzz joyously among them.

Violets sprinkle the hillside like confetti
And every shrub and tree is wrapped
In a fine haze of green or pink or red.

In the pond, clumps of frogspawn
are silently, mysteriously on their
journey of transformation.

Praise song for their confidence, their
optimism in the face of a fickle world,
for their honest pursuit of life.

Praise song for every blossom, every nest, every egg.

Draft, © Catherine Flynn, 2020

Nestlings from this poem:

Each morning

bird-bright
joy
confettiwraps
the world

Eyes of a

wild hawk:
round,
brilliant,
mysterious

A mob of crows
buzz trees,
rap their confidence

Yellow lions
hungry, silent.
Journey in
pursuit of life.

Red

Vibrant growth
brightens
hill and shrub:
world blossom

An Earth Day ABC

An atlas of the world can’t
Begin to reveal the
Complexity of connections, the
Diversity of life on
Earth.
For centuries, curious humans have
Grappled with questions, searching across
Hemispheres, seeking
Insights into our home, finding pieces of the
Jigsaw puzzle, gaining
Knowledge and
Learning the lessons
Mountains teach us. The earth
Nurtures and nourishes us. We are
Obligated to
Protect her, preserve her. Our reckless
Quest for riches is irresponsible. Actions
Ripple across the globe, casting
Shadows on life everywhere.
Today and everyday, seek to
Understand the
Vulnerability and vitality of our
Wondrous world.
eXchange hubris for humility. Change begins with
You.
Zoom in and discover nature’s abundant gifts.

Draft © 2020, Catherine Flynn

Nestlings from this poem:

apples
know lessons,
nourish us:
nature’s gift.

Twilight

Shadows–
where 
change 
begins.

The River

ripple
searching
seeking
home

This was a fun and thought-provoking adventure! Dozens of nestlings didn’t make it into this post, but I learned a thing or two about myself as a writer through the process and will approach revision differently in the future. Thank you, Irene, for this amazing book, and thank you, Heidi, for this great challenge! You can read how my other critique group partners approached this challenge at their blogs:

Heidi Mordhorst: My Juicy Little Universe
Linda Mitchell: A Word Edgewise
Margaret Simon: Reflections on the Teche
Molly Hogan: Nix the Comfort Zone

And don’t forget to visit Sylvia Vardell at Poetry for Children for the Poetry Friday Roundup and a sneak peek at what looks to be a bumper crop of children’s poetry arriving in 2021.

 

 

Poetry Friday: Celebrating Janet Wong

In case you haven’t heard, Janet Wong received the NCTE Award for Excellence in Children’s Poetry at NCTE’s virtual gathering last weekend! Hooray! Congratulations, Janet! As Poetry Friday regulars know, Janet is a champion of poetry for children. Along with Sylvia Vardell, she created Pomelo Books, and published the acclaimed Poetry Friday Anthology series, as well as many collections specifically designed to help teachers bring poetry into the lives of students. She has published countless volumes of her own poetry, including my favorite, A Suitcase of Seaweed. I can’t think of anyone more deserving of this honor.

I have had the good fortune to meet Janet on several occasions. She is the friendliest, most generous of humans, and I am forever grateful to her for the nurturing support she has given to me as poet.

Janet has written many incredible poems throughout her career, but I don’t think this one can be shared often enough.

Please be sure to visit Carol at Carol’s Corner for the Poetry Friday Roundup. Stay safe, everyone!

#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: The Roundup is Here!

Welcome to the Poetry Friday Roundup! (Find our more about Poetry Friday in this post by Renée LaTulippe here.)

When our world came screeching to a halt last March, my local indie bookstore, The Hickory Stick Bookshop, soon reopened for phone orders and curbside pickup. I was happy to keep them busy. But I was even happier when they reopened for in-person (with masks, plenty of hand sanitizer, and social distancing, of course) shopping. On my first trip, I found this book on the display table in the children’s section.

I have been a fan of Emily Winfield Martin’s work since I first discovered it several years ago. To have a whole book of her fanciful, dream-like images felt like a gift. The fact that there were “little scraps of larger stories” included with each image was an added bonus.

Since I brought The Imaginaries home, I have delved deep into the images and the ideas and feelings they stir in me. They have inspired quite a few poems, and I can’t wait to share Winfield-Martin’s paintings and words with my students. Here is one of my favorite images from the book and the poem it inspired.

“She never told anyone what she saw at the edge of the world.” Emily Winfield Martin

“The Edge of the World”

At the edge of the world
rocks rise from the fathomless
blue-green sea
spangled with starfish
forming countless constellations
that glimmer in the sun.

Explorers, untethered
from home, follow
limitless wonderings
to this far horizon,
braving perilous shoals
searching for secret songs
and untold stories
seeking unimaginable creatures,
discovering this truth:

Here there be mermaids.

© Catherine Flynn, 2020

Please join in the roundup by sharing your link here:

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter

https://fresh.inlinkz.com/js/widget/load.js?id=9c9b10dbdecdfb9300b0

 

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: Farewell to My Students

What to say this week? My heart hurts. The images of pain and anguish are unbearable. But we must bear them. So much has been lost. We must acknowledge this loss and take steps to repair the damage inflicted by events of the past week. Make that events of the past four centuries.

I was filled with thoughts of all this loss as I searched for a way into the challenge Heidi Mordhorst set for our Sunday Night Swaggers this month. Heidi’s original challenge was to write a poem of farewell to our students, but she then encouraged us to say goodbye to whatever we needed to. In spite of, or perhaps because of, what has unfolded in our country this week, I do want to say this to my students.

Lost & Found

By the beginning of June,
the lost and found bins
are overflowing
with coats
and sweatshirts
and lunchboxes.

But this year,
those bins aren’t as full.
This year,
we lost
days,
weeks,
months,
of time together.

As we tiptoe cautiously
into summer,
these are my hopes
for you:

Lose your Google password.
Go outside.
Find a patch of grass.
Lie down.
Look up.
Find a cloud shaped
like a cat,
or an elephant,
or a whale.

Lose the unfinished homework.
Find a book that pulls you in.
Read for hour,
after hour,
after hour.

Lose your sorrow
over missed parties
and games.
Find joy
chasing butterflies,
blowing bubbles,
eating ice cream.

Never lose your memories
of our time together.

I will never lose
my memories of you.

Draft © Catherine Flynn, 2020

Fellow Swagger Margaret Simon is hosting the Poetry Friday Roundup today at Reflections on the Teche. Read what she’s saying goodbye to there, then visit our partners in poetry to read more poems of farewell.

Molly Hogan at Nix the Comfort Zone
Linda Mitchell at A Word Edgewise
Heidi Mordhorst at My Juicy Little Universe

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.

Poetry Friday: The Comfort of Pie

Tomorrow is Pi day (3.14). We were going to celebrate at school today with a smorgasbord of pies. Instead, we are all home, hoping that closing our school will help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. We received word last night, before I made the chocolate cream pie my family loves. I was still too filled with worry and the stress of the week to bake last night. I may make it later this afternoon. After all, a piece of pie seems like a reasonable way to soothe the soul. 

We were also going to write Pi poems with the kids today, so I went ahead and wrote one that I hope I will be able to share with them soon. 

Chocolate
pie,
topped with dollops
of
whipped cream; nestled in
a crust of chocolaty crumbs. Divine.

From House of Nash Eats. Here’s their recipe: https://houseofnasheats.com/chocolate-cream-pie/.

Be well, my friends.

Please be sure to visit Matt Forrest Esenwine at Radio, Rhythm, and Rhyme for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

Here are other Pi day poems I’ve written over the last few years:

2018
2017
2016

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.