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.

After Dark Blog Tour: The Final Stop

Welcome to the final stop on the blog tour celebrating the publication of After Dark: Poems About Nocturnal Animals, David L. Harrison’s 97th book! Congratulations, David! I am honored to be part of the festivities. Be sure to visit the previous stops (links below) on the tour for interviews with David about where he gets his ideas, his creative process, and more.

Over at No Water River, David told Renée LaTulippe that “being fascinated with the universe” is one of the major influences on his poetry. This fascination is contagious and shines brightly on every page of this gorgeous book. 

One sure-fire way to build students’ curiosity is to introduce topics through poetry. Which is why I was so excited to share After Dark with my students. Each of the 21 poems highlights the nocturnal comings and goings of familiar animals. The beauty of sharing these poems is that they are about animals children will recognize, but will extend their knowledge in playful and engaging ways.

David’s masterful poetry builds vocabulary and will foster a love of language in readers of all ages. First graders loved “Owl Rules,” a perfect mentor text for young writers. They will use this poem to organize what they have learned about animals they are studying. David’s categories are full of humor: “Never work for food,” “Eat whatever,” “Who needs a nest?” and “Tease campers.” Children will be able to adapt these categories or create their own.

Eighth grade students I work with are currently reading A Midsummer Night’s Dream. They quickly recognized similarities between Shakespeare’s play and “The Queen,” which is filled with rich and royal vocabulary: regal, ermine, suitors, serene.

“The Queen”
(Luna Moth)

Like regal monarch of the night
or fairy in the airy light,
richly robed in ermine white,
winged in velvet royal green.

Suitors you have never seen
find you here in woods serene.
You’ve much to do before the dawn
so when your fleeting life is gone,
future queens can carry on.

© David L. Harrison, 2020

Examples of poetic techniques also abound in After Dark. The rambunctious “growly, pouncy, bitey games” played by wolf pups in “The Rehearsal” is a great example of creating adjectives and making words rhyme. My students are excited to try this themselves! Other favorites, “Toothy Grin,” “The King,” and “Hear This! Hear This” focus on prominent features of the kit fox, the Mexican red-knee tarantula, and spring peepers, then emphasize them through repetition. This poetic technique is one that young writers can easily imitate. The possibilities are truly endless!

Observation is the best way to learn about an animal’s behavior and get ideas about a behavior to focus on in their poem. If heading outside to explore isn’t an option, critter cams are a great way to bring the hidden world of animals into your classroom and spark student writing. 

Stephanie Laberis’s expressive digital illustrations are filled with details that are perfectly suited to the personality David emphasizes in each poem. There are two pages of additional facts about each animal at the end of the book. Students could use these fascinating facts in their own poems.

Boyds Mills & Kane has generously donated a copy of After Dark to one lucky reader of today’s post. Thank you! To be entered in the drawing, leave a comment by Saturday, March 7th. If I pick your name at random, a copy of this delightful book will soon be on its way to you. Thank you, David, for inviting me to join in the fun, and for all your wonderful poetry!

Previous stops on the After Dark Blog Tour:

Writing and Illustrating

Beyond Literacy Link

Read, Learn, and be Happy

Poetry for Children

Teacher Dance

Michelle Kogan

Salt City Verse

Reflections on the Teche

Simply 7 Interview

No Water River

A Word Edgewise

Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme

Live Your Poem

Poetry Friday: “The Season’s Campaign”

This week, I’ve been thinking about verbs. Specifically gerunds and participles. (Don’t ask why!) The more I thought about this, I decided why wouldn’t you want to be able to turn power-house verbs into nouns and adjectives. What better way to energize your writing? I also wanted to gather some well-crafted lines showing exactly how gerunds and participles work. Joyce Sidman is one of my go-to mentors, and sure enough, I found several verbals, along with many other examples of fine writing, in this gem.

“The Season’s Campaign”
by Joyce Sidman

I. Spring

We burst forth,
crisp green squads
bristling with spears.
We encircle the pond.

III. Fall

All red-winged generals
desert us. Courage
clumps and fluffs
like bursting pillows.

Read the whole poem here.

“…clumps and fluffs like bursting pillows.”

Please be sure to visit Irene Latham at Live Your Poem for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

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

 

Slice of Life 19: A Writing Friendship

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!

Thank you to StaceyBetsyBethKathleenDebKelseyMelanie, 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.

In the Middle of the Night: Poems From a Wide-Awake House by Laura Purdie Salas & a Giveaway!

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.

“Sneaky Button”
by H.

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”
by E.

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 Escape”
by J.

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.

Blog tour links:

Monday, 3/11 Mile High Reading
Tuesday, 3/12 Reflections on the Teche
Wednesday, 3/13 A Year of Reading
Thursday, 3/14 Check It Out
Friday, 3/15 Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme
Sunday, 3/17 Great Kid Books
Monday, 3/18 Simply 7 Interview/Jena Benton blog
Tuesday, 3/19 My Juicy Little Universe
Wednesday, 3/20 Live Your Poem
Thursday, 3/21 Reading to the Core
Friday, 3/22 KidLit Frenzy       Beyond Literacy Link