Friday, September 26, 2014

ALSC Institute Wrap up: The Science of Poetry


This time last week, I was attending the ALSC Institute in Oakland, California. It was a great event, well-organized by Nina Lindsay and her team, and full of super-librarians full of energy and enthusiasm and a bunch of great author talks. I was honored to present alongside the fabulous Janet Wong, Susan Blackaby, Alma Flor Ada, Isabelle Campoy, and Margarita Engle. Here are a few nuggets from our presentations on The Science of Poetry. Enjoy!

First up, we're so thrilled to be featured on the ALSC Blog. Thank you, Jill Hutchison, for her wonderful summary of our Thursday session here and to Karen Choy, for her lovely write up of our Saturday session here.


Alma Flor Ada, Susan Blackaby, Janet Wong, Isabelle Campoy

Margarita Engle, Susan Blackaby, Janet Wong 

And here are a few short video clips of our poets reading their poetry aloud-- always a treat.
   
video

video

video

From The Poetry Friday
Anthology for Science
From The Poetry Friday
Anthology for Science
We also had heaps of bananas (to go with a banana poem) and heaps of giveaway cards and books like these (with downloadable printables available at PomeloBooks.com).

The next biennial ALSC Institute will be held in 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. Can't wait!

YALSA, the young adult arm of ALA is having its YALSA Institute in November in Austin and I'll be there too presenting alongside: K. A. Holt, Sara Holbrook, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Michael Salinger, Janet Wong, and Jacqueline Woodson. What a line up, right?! Come on by for our presentation on Sun., Nov. 16.

Now head on over to Writing the World for Kids hosted by Laura Purdie Salas for more Poetry Friday fun.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Poet to Poet: Carole Boston Weatherford and Jacqueline Woodson

Congratulations to Jacqueline Woodson who just made the “2014 Longlist for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature” (again!) with her new book, Brown Girl Dreaming. Jacqueline was also kind enough to participate in my ongoing “Poet to Poet” interview series, too. 

Jacqueline Woodson is the award winning author of many amazing novels for young adults (Miracle’s Boys, Hush, If You Come Softly) and for the middle grades (Last Summer with Maizon, Feathers) and picture books for children (The Other Side, Each Kindness, Coming on Home Soon, Show Way) and so many more including previous works that interweave poetry like Locomotion. 

Carole Boston Weatherford
The lovely Carole Boston Weatherford is my poet interviewer. She is the author of many, many books of poetry and other genres including: The Sound that Jazz Makes, Sidewalk Chalk; Poems of the City, Remember the Bridge: Poems of a People, Dear Mr. Rosenwald, Birmingham, 1963, Becoming Billie Holiday, and many more. She is also the recipient of many awards including the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award and Lion and the Unicorn Award Honor for Excellence in North American Poetry for Birmingham, 1963. 

Here she asks Jacqueline three great questions about Brown Girl Dreaming. 

Carole: Why did you choose poetry for your memoir?

Jacqueline: This is how memory comes to me -- In small moments with all of this white space around them.  I didn't think this memoir could be told any other way.  It felt like it would be untrue to the story to try to write a straight narrative out of lyrical memory.  Also, I felt this way best expressed what I was trying to say -- that words have always been coming to me, that I've always been trying to hold on to them, set them free, floating onto the pages.  This form shows them floating, shows the words moving slowly across, down, over the page.

Carole: You allude to Langston Hughes in BGD. What other poets influenced you?

Jacqueline: There've been so many since my first encounter with Langston Hughes -- Gwendolyn Brooks, Maya Angelou, Nikki Giovanni was HUGE for me, Countee Cullen's INCIDENT, was a poem that haunted me and made me think about living as an African American in the United States.  So many poets influenced me both politically and artistically. 

Carole: How did the oral tradition contribute to your development as a writer?

Jacqueline Woodson
Jacqueline: I think the fact that my family was always telling stories really helped me believe I could tell stories even if I couldn't read or write.  Also, the history they held onto that wasn't written down, that was past down from generation to generation really gave me a strong sense of myself in the world and of the people who came before me.  I love the fact that even though as enslaved people we weren't allowed to learn to read and write, that didn't stop us from telling our stories.  That's amazing to me.  And that really gave me a lot of faith in my own ability to tell stories.

Carole concludes: Although our upbringings were different there are some coincidences: a Caroline and a gardening printers in the family, storytelling kin, rural roots, handmade first books about nature (butterflies and trees), begging to wear afros, and birthdays a day apart (mine is Feb. 13). Because my father was a printer, I kind of consider publishing the family business. Do you think your grandfather’s career in printing in any way emboldened or destined you to seek publication?

And Jacqueline responds:
Huh -- I hadn't thought of that -- But yes, the fact that there were always words in some form in our lives, words became a part of me.

Thank you both for sharing so openly in my mutual admiration society! 

Image credits: ONCenter.org;JacquelineWoodson.com;cbweatherford.com;NCLiteraryTrails.org

Monday, September 08, 2014

Book Links: Poetry and Social Justice

The September issue of Book Links (companion to ALA's Booklist magazine) is out now and includes my article, "Poetry and Social Justice." I was honored to include an interview with poets, George Ella Lyon and J. Patrick Lewis, as well as their editor, Rebecca Davis, about their new book, Voices from the March. Here are several excerpts from the article and the interview, as well as some "extra" material, FYI.

Poetry and Social Justice: Honoring All Voices
It’s been fifty years since the signing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, when discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin became against the law. It may be difficult for children today to imagine a world where such discrimination was a common practice, but it is important that we recognize the ongoing effects of such prejudice and pause to celebrate the progress we’ve made as a nation. That’s where literature can be especially powerful in capturing the pain of the past, the fight for justice, and our hopes for the future. 
In my experiences working with children, I have found they are usually very aware of issues of justice and fair play, albeit in an often-narrow context. Ask them if they’ve ever stood at a store counter and watched all the grownups get attention while they wait and wait and wait, too shy or afraid to speak up. Or challenge them to think of a time at school or on the playground when they saw someone get picked on and they stood by and said nothing. We’ve probably all had an experience where we witnessed some level of injustice and were unsure or hesitant to respond. This can be a beginning point for a discussion of how justice on a societal scale evolves—and how our individual actions can contribute to the problem or to the solution. 

Looking at history
For example, these anthologies gathered by Lee Bennett Hopkins provide a panorama of U.S. history that offers a helpful context for framing discussion or can serve as reference tools for understanding key events in our country’s history. 
  1. Hopkins, Lee Bennett. 2000. My America: A Poetry Atlas of the United States. New York: Simon & Schuster.
  2. Hopkins, Lee Bennett. 2008. America at War. New York: McElderry.
  3. Hopkins, Lee Bennett. Ed. 1994. Hand in Hand: An American History through Poetry.  New York: Simon & Schuster.
  4. Hopkins, Lee Bennett. Ed. 1999. Lives: Poems about Famous Americans. New York: HarperCollins.
  5. Hopkins, Lee Bennett. Ed. 2002. Home to Me: Poems Across America. New York: Orchard.
In addition, other comprehensive collections of poetry use the span of U.S. history to shape the selection and arrangement of poetry, including:
  1. Meltzer, Milton. Ed. 2003. Hour of Freedom: American History in Poetry. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press.
  2. Robb, Laura. Ed. 1997. Music and Drum:  Voices of War and Peace, Hope and Dreams. New York: Philomel Books.  
  3. Siebert, Diane. 2006. Tour America: A Journey through Poems and Art. San Francisco: Chronicle.
  4. Singer, Marilyn. 2013. Rutherford B., Who Was He?: Poems About Our Presidents. Ill. by John Hendrix. New York: Disney-Hyperion.
  5. Whipple, Laura. Ed. 1994. Celebrating America: A Collection of Poems and Images of the American Spirit. New York: Philomel.
Invite students to work together to locate poems from any of these collections that address justice issues. They can read their selected poem aloud to the group and identify the issue as they perceive it, citing language from the poem to support their case. Make a chalkboard chart of these various issues (racial discrimination, gender discrimination, poverty, etc.) and note where each poem fits. Talk about how the poet approaches the topic using point of view, past or present time, specific examples, and so on. 
     Older students may be able to dig deeper into poetry that presents conflicts of the past. Collaborate with the history or social studies teacher to discuss poems from these works and place them in context on a historical timeline. Talk about how people of various backgrounds were treated, what role gender played in their struggles, and how they were able to prevail and be heard.
  1. Alexander, Elizabeth and Nelson, Marilyn. 2007. Miss Crandall’s School for Young Ladies and Little Misses of Color. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong.
  2. Bernier-Grand, Carmen T. 2004. César: Si, se puede! Yes, We Can! New York: Marshall Cavendish.
  3. Engle, Margarita. 2006. The Poet Slave of Cuba: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano. New York: Henry Holt and Co.
  4. Engle, Margarita. 2010. The Firefly Letters; A Suffragette's Journey to Cuba. Henry Holt.
  5. Engle, Margarita. 2013. The Lightning Dreamer. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
  6. Engle, Margarita. 2014. Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
  7. Littlechild, George. 1993. This Land Is My Land. San Francisco, CA: Children’s Book Press.
  8. McKissack, Patricia. 2011. Never Forgotten. Ill. by Leo and Diane Dillon. New York: Schwartz & Wade.
  9. Nelson, Marilyn. 2009. Sweethearts of Rhythm; The Story of the Greatest All-Girl Swing Band in the World. New York: Dial. 
  10. Rampersad, Arnold and Blount, Marcellus (Eds). 2013. Poetry for Young People: African American Poetry (reissued, reillustrated). Ill. by Karen Barbour. New York: Sterling. 
  11. Weatherford, Carole Boston. 2002. Remember the Bridge: Poems of a People. New York: Philomel. 
Connecting past and present
It is also important to point out that justice issues are not just in our past, but remain with us even now. Explore how people today experience injustice or empowerment in these poetry selections. 
  1. Ada, Alma Flor and Isabel F. Campoy. 2013. Yes! We Are Latinos. Ill. by David Diaz. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge.
  2. Katz, Bobbi. 2000. We the People. New York: Greenwillow.
  3. Myers, Walter Dean. 2011. We are America; A Tribute from the Heart. Ill. by Christopher Myers. New York: HarperCollins.
  4. Wong, Janet. 2012. Declaration of Interdependence: Poems for an Election Year. PoetrySuitcase.
Invite students to find news articles that address a social justice issue and encourage them to create “black out” poems by drawing through all unwanted words in their news articles with a thick, black marker, so that the remaining words create a “justice” poem. 

One Book: One Study
It can also be meaningful to dig collectively into one book that addresses this timely topic. One powerful example worthy of group study is Voices from the March: Washington, D.C., 1963 by J. Patrick Lewis and George Ella Lyon. This poetry collection focuses specifically on the march on Washington, D.C. on August 28, 1963, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. Six fictional characters tell their tales on this historic day in cycles of linked of poems alongside the perspectives of historic figures and other march participants for a rich tapestry of multiple points of view. The authors and editor of this new work were kind enough to respond to several interview questions that provide helpful insight into the creation of this book and into the events that shaped the authors’ perspectives. The responses below are from George Ella Lyon (GEL), J. Patrick Lewis (JPL), and editor Rebecca Davis (RD). 

BL: Where did the idea for this book come from? How did you decide to focus on the march of August 28, 1963, in particular?

George Ella Lyon
GEL: First, I wanted to write a book about Mary Travers, activist-singer of the folk group Peter, Paul and Mary. For many reasons, that impulse morphed into writing about Mary and Odetta and Joan Baez singing at the March on Washington. My idea was that I could explore how they became powerful young women who whose lives and voices intersected that day. 
For various reasons, that project didn’t take hold, but through my research I became fascinated with the March itself.  I imagined something for older readers, a sprawling, multi-voiced book. Because I’m first of all a poet, and because the intensity of poetry fits the intensity of the day, I began writing poems.
What happened was that on March 1st I flew to California to speak at The Charlotte S. Huck Literature Festival at the University of Redlands. Pat Lewis, whom I’d met briefly before, was also on the program, too, and we had a great time talking. As we were leaving for the airport, Pat asked if I wanted to collaborate on a collection of poems, perhaps focusing on famous women. I was thrilled with this possibility, but after I got home it occurred to me to suggest the March as our subject since I was already working in that direction. Typical of Pat, he took off with this idea and drafted five poems in the week between coming home from California’s job and traveling to another one in Boston. (Having already written several books connected with the Civil Rights movement, Pat had done much of the research that I was just beginning.)

BL: How did you decide who would write which poems on which topics from which points of view?

J. Patrick Lewis
GEL: We didn’t. We just let it unfold. I don’t think we ever discussed parceling out the poems.

JPL: Our respective visions carried us through. And not surprisingly, we found that we had not repeated each other’s evocations of our fictional “voices.”

GEL: When Rebecca (Davis, the editor) began working with us, we gained a third (gifted and tireless) eye who could look at the whole and help us see what worked, what was missing, and what we could do to make our vision more compelling.

BL to Rebecca Davis, Editor: What was your role in facilitating this project?

RD: I fell in love with this manuscript the first time I read it. As I read it, I kept finding myself involuntarily saying out loud "Wow" after this poem or that poem. It contained *so* many powerful poems. 
I suggested to Pat and George Ella that they take some of the characters and develop their personal stories a bit further in the course of the manuscript, so that readers would see the impact that the experience of being part of the March had on these characters. I thought this might make what was already a personal and powerful manuscript even more personal and immediate.
In the final book, six of the characters have cycles of poems (ranging from four to eight poems each) that are braided amongst the chorus of voices in the manuscript. As the editor, I edited individual poems and also looked for balance in the collection as a whole. Part of the magic in this collection is in the many voices and points of view that it captures. The six characters--we've been referring to them as soloists in the chorus--couldn't take over the book; their individual melodies needed to blend in and harmonize with the whole.
It seemed to me, too, that an introduction was needed to help put the poems into historical perspective for young readers, and that it would be good to have back matter that would help readers sort the fact from the fiction in the story. We decided that it made sense to organize the back matter as a "Guide to the Voices," providing information about the historical figures who appear and/or are mentioned in the poems (under the heading "Historical Voices") and also listing the fictional characters (under the heading "Imagined Voices").

BL: What is the connection between poetry and social justice?

GEL: Poetry is spirit expressed in body: rhythm, sensation, thought, song. So while a lyric poem may be intimate, a heart-cry, it can also be addressed to the community. This happens especially in times of collective tragedy. I think of the poems posted near Ground Zero after 9/11. They were deeply personal, but they called out to be shared, to express trauma and grief and assure poets and readers that we are not alone. To claim a voice is in itself a form of activism.

JPL: I like to think that we are bearing witness, albeit in absentia, to Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Dream” speech and all that it entails.


CLASSROOM CONNECTIONS
Setting the Scene
Help students visualize the setting for the historic march on August 28, 1963, by showing images of Washington, D.C., especially the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument and the Reflecting Pool in between the two. Look for the stunning picture book, Capital, by Lynn Curlee (Atheneum, 2003) or use images from online sources such as Washington.org, NationalMall.org, NPS.gov, or Google Maps.

Readers Theater and Voice
Because Voices from the March: Washington, D.C., 1963 is rich with the perspectives of multiple characters, it begs to be performed “readers theater” style with individual students taking on a persona and reading those poems aloud as that character. Wearing a simple sign with their character’s name can be helpful and if simple props are available (hats, necklace, necktie, etc.) those can be fun visual aids, too. For an even more ambitious presentation, display a slideshow of images as a backdrop for the reading (and student volunteers can research images from that time period or that suit their characters; e.g., Lena Horne, Joan Baez, Coretta Scott King, Rosa Parks, Marian Anderson, Charlton Heston, Malcolm X all attended the march!) Record their readings using VoiceThread. Or look for audio and/or video recordings of performances and speeches from the march. For example, you can listen to (and watch) Dr. Martin Luther’s King speech at multiple locations, including YouTube.

Voices from the March: Washington, D.C., 1963 features these main parts:
SIX SOLOISTS, fictional characters with multiple poems throughout the book
  1. Annie Ross, a student at Spelman College for Women in Georgia
  2. Raymond Jarvis, educated but unemployed, from Texas
  3. Renée Newsome, a high school sophomore in Washington, D.C.
  4. Dan Cantrell, a high school junior in Georgia
  5. Emma Wallace, farm hand from Iowa
  6. Ruby May Hollingsworth, a first grader from Arkansas
With many other characters popping up in other poems such as “Among the Marchers” and in many individual poems

HISTORIC FIGURES, a group of “real people” that became known as the “Big Six” 
  1. A. Philip Randolph
  2. John Lewis
  3. Roy Wilkins
  4. James Farmer
  5. Whitney Moore Young Jr.
  6. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
+ Bayard Rustin, the March’s chief organizer of the march 

Hearing actual voices reading can assist in discussing the title of the book and the concept of “voice” in poetry. Who is speaking? Whose point of view is represented? Why is it so important to be heard? How are the concepts of justice and voice linked? Connect this book with other works of poetry told from multiple perspectives such as Karen Hesse’s Witness (Scholastic, 2001) or Walter Dean Myers’ Here in Harlem (Holiday House, 2004). How would these works be different if told from a single point of view?  

Music, Poetry and Form
Like poetry, music can play a pivotal role in expressing the dreams and hopes people have. Several specific songs are referenced in Voices from the March (e.g., “Creed (Song),” “Pigs are Flyin’ (Song),” “Anthem for Rosa Parks,” “Ballad for Martin Luther King, Jr.”) and many musicians and performers were present at the march. Talk about how music influences movements, uniting people, rallying enthusiasm, sharing disappointments. Consult these resources to study the role of music throughout our history. Talk about what kinds of songs today capture students’ current concerns and hopes for the future.
  1. Carawan, Candie and Guy. 1990. Sing for Freedom: The Story of the Civil Rights Movement Through Its Songs. Bethlehem, Pennsylvania: A Sing Out Publication. 
  2. Cohn, Amy L. Ed. 1993. From Sea to Shining Sea: A Treasury of American Folklore and Folk Songs. New York: Scholastic. 
  3. Rappaport, Doreen. 2006. Nobody Gonna Turn Me 'Round: Stories and Songs of the Civil Rights Movement. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.
  4. Stotts, Stuart. 2010. We Shall Overcome: A Song that Changed the World. Ill. by Terrance Cummings. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
  5. In addition, NPR (National Public Radio) has created a resource of “Songs of the Civil Rights movement” with audio files and background information (http://www.npr.org/2010/01/18/99315652/songs-of-the-civil-rights-movement)
This can also lead to a discussion of form in self-expression. Why does one person write a poem and another person writes a song and yet another person writes a news article or speech? What forms can students identify in the works of poetry they have consulted (free verse, anthems, ballads, shape poems, protest poetry, etc.) and which “speak” to them most deeply? 

Other Related Works of Poetry
Link with other works of poetry that also address justice issues. For example, the poetry of Langston Hughes is mentioned in Voices from the March. Encourage students to seek out examples of his work such as his anthology, The Dream Keeper (Knopf, 2007), or picture book versions of single poems such as I, Too, Am America, illustrated by Bryan Collier (Simon & Schuster, 2012). Older students can explore the compelling poetry gathered by Gail Bush and Randy Meyer in Indivisible: Poems for Social Justice (Norwood House, 2013). Plus, Voices from the March co-author, J. Patrick Lewis has also authored additional poetry collections on this topic including:
  1. Lewis, J. Patrick. 2013. When Thunder Comes: Poems for Civil Rights Leaders. San Francisco: Chronicle.
  2. Lewis, J. Patrick. 2000. Freedom like Sunlight: Praisesongs for Black Americans. Mankato, MN: Creative Editions.
  3. Lewis, J. Patrick. 2005. Heroes and She-roes: Poems of Amazing and Everyday Heroes. New York: Dial Books For Young Readers.
  4. Lewis, J. Patrick. 2005. Vherses: A Celebration of Outstanding Women. Mankato: Creative Editions.
The Years 1963-1964
For a completely different approach, we might also dig deeply into the years of this historic civil rights victory (1963-1964), with a cross-genre approach. All of these various works (in addition to Voices from the March) focus on this pivotal time.
  1. Curtis, Christopher P. 1998. The Watsons Go to Birmingham 1963. Hudson, MA: Pathways Publishing.
  2. Evans, Shane W. 2012. We March. New York City: Roaring Book Press.
  3. Levinson, Cynthia. 2012. We've Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children's March. Atlanta, GA: Peachtree.
  4. Rubin, Susan Goldman. 2014. Freedom Summer: The 1964 Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi. New York: Holiday House.
  5. Weatherford, Carole Boston. 2007. Birmingham, 1963. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press.  
  6. Wiles, Deborah. 2001. Freedom Summer. Ill. by Jerome Lagarrigue. New York City: Simon & Schuster.
  7. Williams-Garcia, Rita. 2010. One Crazy Summer. New York City: HarperCollins.
Talk about what we glean from the language and art of a picture book, from the characters and story of a novel, from the facts and details in a work of nonfiction, and from the language and emotions of poetry, of course. 

Related Websites
And if you’re looking for additional online resources to help you study this period, this historic event, and social justice issues in our country, there are many helpful tools available. 
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/eyesontheprize/tguide/elem.html 
This PBS “Eyes on the Prize” site offers lesson plans with links to video and audio clips, primary sources and interactive sites.

http://www.history.com/topics/black-history/civil-rights-movement 
This History.com link offers an abundance of information on a variety of civil rights topics. 

http://www.tolerance.org/kit/starting-small
The “Starting Small” teaching tool at Teaching Tolerance is helpful and free.

http://rg.bcri.org/gallery
This Birmingham Civil Rights Institute includes oral histories, a timeline and images of primary resources. 

http://www.civilrightsmuseum.org/
At this site of the National Civil Rights Museum, students can research what it was like “Before the Boycott.”

http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/presentationsandactivities/presentations/civil-rights/ 
This Library of Congress offers timelines and findings from primary sources.

Just for Fun
In the poem, “Lessons” (p. 51) in Voices from the March: Washington, D.C., 1963, they wear rings that say “Let Freedom Ring.” Invite students to create their own rings that symbolize freedom to them using simple craft materials (like red, white, and blue construction paper or pipe cleaners).

Conclusion
In Voices from the March, Lewis and Lyon offer several poems that look to the future (“The One and Only Malcolm X,” “August 28, 2013,” and “At Grandma Rascal’s Grave, January 19, 2015”). Challenge students to identify unresolved social justice issues that face us all now. How can we give those issues “voice” and make a difference for the future? Collaborate on a group poem that raises questions or paint a poem-picture of the future looking back to today and put that aside in a time capsule to revisit at a designated future date. 

You'll also find more tips for teaching with this book in the Educator's Guide provided by Boyds Mills Press. 



Image credits: ALA Book Links; Boyds Mills Press; VTNews.vt.edu; CivilRightsMuseum.org; library.howard.edu; GeorgeEllaLyon; JPatrickLewis;LeeBennettHopkins

Friday, August 29, 2014

Poet to Poet: Julie Larios and Skila Brown

It's time for another installment of my "Poet to Poet" series-- in which one poet interviews another poet about her/his new book. Today, Julie Larios (author of the marvelous Yellow Elephant and Imaginary Menagerieasks Skila Brown three questions-- about her new book, Caminar, a novel in verse set in Guatemala, about her childhood memories, and about writing that inspires her.
JL: This question won't surprise you, Skila, because you know I struggle with it. You're drawn to both poetry and fiction, and your story Caminar (which is so well-written - and haunting) took the form of a verse novel. What do you think poetry can do to a reader, and what can fiction do, and what can the verse novel do that is distinct from either of these? 

SB: Fiction gets in your head. A good story feels real while you’re reading it. The people, the setting, the relationships—it can all suck you in, alter your mood, give you a new perspective, and build a bridge between you and somewhere you’ve never been. Not just a place, but also a kind of character you can suddenly empathize with. Fiction—good fiction—is difficult to read slowly. It’s like a delicious meal when you’re hungry, and you’re consciously trying to eat slower than you’d like.
Poetry, I think, feels like a beautiful mountain. You can enjoy it from so many different levels. But the more you climb, the more you work, the more you can see. It requires work on the reader’s part, work to shake off preconceptions, carefully consider new meanings and uses for words, and think about other possibilities. It’s often a jolt to your senses. It can be populated with images and descriptions that are real and vibrant and unique. It encourages lingering. 
A verse novel can do both. It’s a versatile form that allows the reader to get sucked in to the story, rapidly turning the pages to find out what happens next. Or it provides the space and the weight for a pause, maybe an image or a metaphor that is so sharp the reader stays with that poem for a bit and savors it. Novels in verse allow the reader to choose how to digest the story, and, because of that, it can appeal to a wider audience.
JL: If given a wish now, as adults, we might wish for world peace or for our children to be healthy and happy - grand, important, sweeping wishes, full of fear and hope.  But I'm interested in whether we can really capture what we were like as children. So I'd like you to do this: Close your eyes and pretend that it's your tenth birthday (plus or minus a year is fine) - you have a cake in front of you with candles on it, and if you blow those candles out with one breath, your wish will come true. Here comes a multi-part question: What do you wish for and why and how much do you want it and how much do you believe it will come true? 
SB: So, Julie. I remember my tenth birthday very well. It happened to be the birthday in which I closed my eyes, made a wish, leaned over my cake to blow out my candles…and then promptly lit the edges of my hair on fire. 
I smelled it before I felt it. In that tiny third of a second before the corner of my eyes filled with the flame and my ears filled with everyone shouting and telling me what to do, there was the smell. This terrible burning chemical odor that filled up my nostrils because I’d just spent hours the day before sitting in a chair, with little plastic curlers on my head, and enough chemicals to burn my eyes for a week. I’d gotten a perm. 
I’d gotten a perm because I’d just moved into a new house and a new school and the kids in this school all did everything differently than the kids in the school I’d attended before. Suddenly the things about me that made third graders like me were the very things that made fourth graders hate me. I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. And maybe I thought my curl-less hair was part of the problem. 
I don’t remember what my specific wish was that day, that second before my hair caught on fire. I’m sure it wasn’t a sweeping wish, like “Let people like me.” Or “Let me make friends.” But I think it was a ten-year old’s version of that. “I wish I’d get a Walkman just like Jenny’s.” or “I wish I’d get picked first tomorrow at recess.” Or “I wish we’d never play dodge ball again because it’s humiliating the way everyone aims for me, always me, only me.”
However I might have vocalized the wish, whatever specific thing I might have fixated on, the root of it was really that I wished I fit in. I wished people liked me. I probably spent a decade of my life wishing that wish, in some form. And yes, it came true, over and over again. I think that wish, like a lot of sweeping big wishes, falls in and out of True over the course of a life. I’ve had lots of friends, lots of good circles of support, lots of people who have loved me and love me still. But there have been many times I’ve felt lonely and unseen and without a shoulder to lean on. 
I think it’s a rare kid who doesn’t wish for this very thing at some point in her life. But the luckiest of us will outgrow it. And instead of wishing for “people to like me”, we’ll wish instead to find the village that is our own. 
JL: Do you remember a book you read (as an adult or as a child) where you finished it and said, "That's what I'd like to do - I'd like to be able to write like that"? What book was it, and what made you feel that? (Give me details!)
SB: Oh, I love it when that happens. It happens to me a lot, actually. Jandy Nelson’s The Sky is Everywhere is the first book I remember reading, closing the book, and then immediately opening it back up to page one and starting again. The book made me ache. I remember thinking I wanted to write a story that makes people ache. 
Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens gave me instant writer-envy. I’m a huge fan of satire. And I’m a very opinionated person when it comes to social, moral, and political issues. I hope to one day be able to tell a story that’s both entertaining but also squirm-inducing, just like that one. 
David Levithan’s The Lover’s Dictionary is another book that made me green. I really love stories that are told in an unusual form. Many times I think unusual forms get in the way of the story, but sometimes they are the perfect complement. And the story is all the richer. 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 
Thank you, Julie and Skila (pronounced Sky- luh) for sharing so personally and generously!

Be sure to check out their sites and blogs at Julie Larios (A Drift Record) and Skila Brown (full of photos and quotes) and don't miss Caminar, a very compelling story of war and childhood, family and honor.
Meanwhile, head on over to Jone's place for more Poetry Friday fun. Check it out!

Photo credits: skilabrown.com, numerocinqmagazine.com; 100itrecruitment.uk.co

Friday, August 22, 2014

GUIDE for Crossover by Kwame Alexander

As we "crossover" from summer to back-to-school, I want to encourage you to put Crossover, a novel in verse by Kwame Alexander on your must-share list for the new school year-- particularly if you work with kids in 4th - 8th grade. It's such a fresh story with twin 12 year old boy protagonists who love playing basketball and are growing up-- and maybe apart-- as they cope with middle school, girls, and the expectations of their parents. The poems are full of energy and propel the story forward energetically. But I especially loved the picture of family life that comes across as each boy is trying to carve out his own identity, their dad (a former pro basketball player himself) is a hilarious character with a big story arc of his own, and their mom is the school's vice principal-- more savvy than they give her credit for. The family dynamics are lively and authentic and the picture of life at school rings true too. I'm calling it part Love That Dog meets The Watsons Go to Birmingham meets Slam. 

Here are just a few nuggets from the Readers' Guide I developed for the book and you'll find the whole guide here


1. As students read or listen to this verse novel, encourage them to visualize each of the main characters and talk about what they look like and how they talk and act. Work together to draw character sketches or find magazine or web-based images that look like these characters:
  • Jordan (JB) Bell
  • Josh (“Filthy McNasty”) Bell
  • Dad: Chuck Bell (“Da Man”), a former professional basketball player
  • Mom: Dr. Crystal Stanley-Bell, the assistant principal at the boys’ school (Reggie Lewis Junior High)
Talk about how the twins are alike and how they are different. For example, Jordan (JB) and Josh (“Filthy McNasty”) are identical twins, but JB shaves his head bald and plays shooting guard and Josh has shoulder length dreadlocks (at first) and plays forward. It is usually Josh’s point of view we see as the story unfolds.


5. Several of the poems in this novel lend themselves to readers theater performance, so that students can get a sense of the characters’ voices. The following poems offer text in two parts: plain text and italicized text for two volunteers or two groups to read aloud in turn.
  1. “Conversation” pp.17-19
  2. “The game is tied” p. 36
  3. “Mom doesn’t like us eating out” pp. 41-42
  4. “The inside of Mom and Dad’s bedroom closet” pp. 44-47
  5. “Dad Takes Us to Krispy Kreme and Tells Us His Favorite Story (Again)” pp. 63-65
  6. “Mom calls me into the kitchen” pp. 96-98
  7.  “Phone Conversation (I Sub for JB)” pp. 106-109
  8. “Suspension” pp. 138-141
  9. “I run into Dad’s room” pp. 165-167
  10. “School’s Out” pp. 188-189
  11. “Santa Claus Stops By” pp. 207-209
  12. “Questions” pp. 210-211
7. The author also introduces crucial vocabulary terms through twelve key poems presented at critical intervals throughout the book.
  • “cross-o-ver” p. 29
  •  “ca-lam-i-ty” p. 38-39
  •  “pa-tel-la ten-di-ni-tis” pp. 48-49
  • “pul-chri-tu-di-nous” p. 55
  • “hy-per-ten-sion” p. 76
  •  “i-ron-ic” p. 104
  • “tip-ping point” pp. 118-119
  • “chur-lish” pp. 142-143
  •  “pro-fuse-ly” p. 154
  • “es-tranged” p. 187
  •  “my-o-car-di-al in-farc-tion” p. 201-202
  • “star-less” p. 229
Talk with students about how the poet uses the usual dictionary format in presenting the vocabulary term: the word is shown in syllables, with a pronunciation guide, the part of speech is indicated, and the poem provides a kind of definition along with examples of the meaning of the word (using the phrase “as in:”). Working together, look up some of these words in a dictionary (or online) and compare your findings with the vocabulary poem. Challenge students to write their own “vocabulary” poems for a new word they encounter in the book using Alexander’s “formula.”

Plus, the Readers Guide pinpoints:
  • poems in rap, 
  • incorporates the power of nicknames, 
  • connects with YouTube videos of sports and music figures in the book, 
  • looks at the role of rules in the novel, 
  • showcases various forms and types of poetry that are included, 
  • and examines the "crossover" themes. 
Check it out here.

There is also an audiobook version of this novel in verse available. It's narrated by Corey Allen and produced by Recorded Books. Here's one more way to get kids into the book-- by listening to a pro read it aloud! It's available on CD or as a download here.

Now head on over to Irene's place, Live Your Poem, for more Poetry Friday nuggets!