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!

Friday, August 15, 2014

GUIDE for Silver People by Margarita Engle

One hundred years ago today, the first ship passed through the newly completed Panama Canal changing the route through the Americas forever. Although this was and is celebrated as a technological achievement, I wasn't aware of the cost in human lives and ecological impact till I read Margarita Engle's vivid and compelling novel in verse, Silver People

I was fortunate enough to read an early copy of the book and create an educator's guide for sharing the book with young readers. You can download the guide here. To whet your appetite, here are just a few components to explore.

To set the stage for reading this novel in verse, identify the time frame (1906-1914) for the story’s setting as well as the place and geographical location (Panama). Talk about what was going on in the world at this time (during Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency and prior to World War I) and locate Panama and the surrounding countries (particularly Cuba and Jamaica) on a map. Look for Bottle Alley, Lake Gatun, the Chagres River, the Gaillard Cut, and the island now known as Barro Colorado extensively studied by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. Look for historical photos and documents that help provide a context for understanding the building of the Panama Canal. One resource is a jackdaw of facsimiles of primary source documents available at, specifically this collection: “Panama Canal: Building the 8th Wonder of the World.” This includes many maps, blueprints, ship’s dockets, personal letters and telegrams, ledgers, health records, period postcards, etc.

As students read or listen to this novel in verse, encourage them to visualize each of the main characters and talk about what they look like, what country they are from, what language they speak, how they feel about these events, and what dreams or goals they each have. Work together to draw character sketches or find magazine or web-based images for these characters.
  1. Mateo, from Cuba (our protagonist and a canal laborer who aspires to be an artist)
  2. Anita, from Panama (an orphan and herb girl, sweetheart of Mateo)
  3. Henry, from Jamaica (digger, friend of Mateo)
  4. *John Stevens (Chief Engineer) p. 43
  5. Old Maria (surrogate mother to Anita) p. 83
  6. *Theodore Roosevelt (U.S. President) p. 95
  7. Augusto (New York scientist and artist originally from Puerto Rico) p. 115-117
  8. *George W. Goethals (Chief Engineer) p. 149
  9. *Jackson Smith (Manager) p. 151
  10. *Gertrude Beeks (Welfare Department) p. 163
  11. *Harry Franck (Census Enumerator) p. 213
(*These characters are actual historical figures.)
Students could also each choose a favorite character and read aloud the poems from her/his perspective readers theater style.

Animals of the Panama Jungle
Each of the following animals is featured with a poem from its perspective. Students can choose one of these to prepare for oral reading, researching (online) images and sound effects to accompany their reading. One helpful resource is
  1. Army ants p. 137
  2. Bullet ants p. 138
  3. Capuchin p. 200
  4. Crocodile p. 105
  5. Giant hissing cockroach p. 104
  6. Giant swallowtail butterflies p. 201
  7. Glass frogs p. 26
  8. Howler monkeys (see separate listings)
  9. Jaguar p. 106
  10. King Vulture p. 202
  11. Monkey-eating eagle p. 58
  12. Mosquitoes p. 172
  13. Poison Dart Frogs p. 231
  14. Poison dart tadpoles p. 245
  15. Quetzal p. 244
  16. Ruby-throated hummingbird p. 136
  17. Scarlet macaws p. 230
  18. Three-toed sloth p. 59
  19. Tree Viper p. 60
  20. Vampire bats p. 173-174
  21. Violet-Green swallows p. 175
Check out the GUIDE for more information on:
  • Teaching figurative language
  • Making STEM Connections: Engineering, Machinery, Math
  • Exploring themes
  • Offering literature links
Now head on over to Heidi's place for more Poetry Friday fun.

Image credits:;;;;

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Poet to Poet: Joyce Sidman and Irene Latham

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, Joyce Sidman asks Irene Latham three questions about her new book, Dear Wandering Wildebeest and Other Poems from the Water Hole. 

Joyce Sidman is a Newbery honor author whose beautiful poetry often focuses on the natural world. Her ecological trilogy including Song of the Water Boatman, and Other Pond Poems, Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow, and Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night offers sensitive depictions of animal life in verse. The poems in This is Just to Say: Poems of Apology and Forgiveness have inspired children (and parents) to write their own apologies and Red Sings From Treetops; A Year in Colors brings the seasons to life through all the senses. Her latest book What the Heart Knows is an exquisite collection of laments, spells, chants, blessings, songs, and more. Here Joyce poses three questions for Irene Latham to consider with a particular focus on Irene's new book of poetry, Dear Wandering Wildebeest.

Joyce asks: The jacket copy for your wonderful new poetry book, Dear Wandering Wildebeest And Other Poems from the Water Hole mentions wildlife photographs from Kenya that inspired the book. Can you tell us more about the genesis of this project—what was it about this subject or these photographs that made you want to go forward?

Irene responds: It wasn't just the photographs Greg du Toit captured – though they are amazing, and you can view them here – it was the story of how he struggled to capture the images. Because the lions were too shy to approach the water hole while du Toit was upright or even crouched on the shore, he made a daring move by submerging himself in the water hole. So, basically, he changed perspectives. And it worked! With only du Toit's head above the water, the lions came right to the water's edged and drank their fill, allowing him to get those amazing shots. And that's poetry. Changing perspectives is what poetry is all about. Looking at something differently. It filled me with a sense of freedom and kind of gave me permission to write about animals, even when the reigning wisdom about publishing poetry for kids in today's market is, no animals. Well, I love animals! And how amazing and unique is the African grassland ecosystem? The water hole gave me a focal point and a new perspective. Fortunately for me, my experience didn't result in three months in the hospital as it did for du Toit.

Joyce asks: In Wildebeest, you’ve used such a satisfying format: pairing poems with nonfiction notes. One of my favorite poems, “What Rhino Knows”, has an equally delightful and poetic nonfiction note. Can you talk a bit about the interplay between these two types of text and how you feel each contributes to the book as a whole?

Irene answers: This question makes me smile as you, Joyce, are the Queen of this format! And your collections are what made me fall in love with books that feature poetry and nonfiction notes. It's important to me to write a poem that's poetic, which means not throwing in every single thing I learn about the animal – only the facts and details that speak to me personally and lend themselves to poetic treatment using images and analogy and language. But that means leaving out a world of research! My hope is that the poems make a reader want to know more – and that's where the nonfiction note comes in. I tried to include information relevant to the poem as a way to expand the reader's experience and to instantly satisfy the reader's curiosity. The notes were actually the most frightening and difficult part of creating this collection – I'm so grateful to amazing editor Carol Hinz whose keen eye (and ear!) and expertise helped shape them.

Joyce says: I truly admire authors who can work in different genres. You are an adult poet, children’s poet, and middle grade novelist. Do these different kinds of writing come from different places in yourself?

Irene responds: Thank you! The joke around my house is that I've never met a genre I didn't like. It's kind of a hazard for a writing career – every book feels like starting over. But the world is so big and there's so much out there that interests me... and isn't the endless learning curve one of the most seductive and satisfying things about being a writer? 

As to the whole where-it-comes-from part of the question, it's something I love to think about. It's one of life's mysteries, isn't it? For me, writing is spiritual practice, which is about one-ness with the world, and living in the now. I'm not really interested in separating out parts of myself in order to write. And I will admit to a preference for literature that is timeless and classic, with appeal to all ages. I join Lee Bennett Hopkins in championing this type of poetry. 

One of the big aha moments for me on the journey to writing poetry for children was attending an SCBWI-sponsored poetry retreat with Rebecca Kai Dotlich (arranged by the amazing Robyn Hood Black) and discovering I don't have to be Shel Silverstein; I can write the way I write for adults – striving to create art and beauty-- except in a way that appeals to children. Sometimes I really struggle when editing my own work (and working with editors) to pull away from the wise, adult voice and to approach a subject with the more-innocent, world-as-wonder child's voice. I find that this is more a matter of choosing the right angle and analogy than worrying about elevated language. (You'll notice WILDEBEEST has lots of big words – and a glossary.) To what would the child-me compare the water hole? What moment in a lion's life is most interesting to the child-me? I still feel like a beginner, and I am so grateful for the warmth, grace, and enthusiasm of the Poetry Friday community. What wonderfully diverse and inspiring voices! I'm honored to be be a part of it.

Thanks so much, Joyce, for the thoughtful questions, and for being one of my poetic heroes. And Sylvia, your passion for poetry is changing the world! Thank you for including me on your blog. Happy day to both!

Sylvia says: THANK YOU BOTH for sharing your time and talents! And of course I'm proud as punch to feature poems by both Joyce and Irene in The Poetry Friday Anthology series that Janet (Wong) and I have compiled. :-)

Join the rest of the Poetry Friday gathering at A Year of Reading. See you there!

 Image credit:

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Poetry Friday Party is HERE!

Welcome to the Poetry Friday party!

Today is the perfect day to go public with our plans for our next installment in The Poetry Friday Anthology series! Drum roll…

The Poetry Friday Anthology for CELEBRATIONS!

We’ll be gathering poems related to more than 100 holidays (like Halloween and July 4th), occasions (like graduation and the first day of school), and odd and interesting events (like Left Handers Day or National Yo-Yo Day). Our audience will be young children and the librarians, teachers, and families who care for them. Once again, we’ll provide “Take 5” activities for every poem.

Plus, this time we’ll be experimenting with multiple formats, each containing separate poems that, together, will form the whole book:

*some poems in paperback
*some poems presented digitally
*some poems on Pocket Poems™ cards

Ready, set, write!
If you’re interested in contributing a poem, we’ll be sharing our guidelines in September; you can email us after Sept. 1 at info@pomelobooks if you'd like to know more then.

Meanwhile, here’s just a sample of what we’re planning—a sample poem and Take 5! activities to accompany the poem. What’s the celebration? It’s National Dog Day! Coming up on August 26, we’ll be celebrating the 10th anniversary of this canine commemoration, first initiated in 2004 by the National Dog Day Foundation.

Hooray for Dogs!
by Janet Wong

Hooray for
search-and-rescue dogs
who help us 
when we’re lost

Hooray for
dogs we boss around
who don’t mind 
being bossed

Hooray for
dogs who sit and stay
and play fetch
with a ball

Pugs and poodles,
mutts and labs—
we love you,
drool and all!


1. Before reading this poem aloud, display some picture books about dogs or a stuffed animal dog as a backdrop or prop. Read the poem aloud slowly and pause briefly between each stanza.

2. Share the poem again and invite children to chime in on the word, “Hooray” with zest and enthusiasm while you read the rest of the poem aloud.

3. Talk about the story behind this celebration also known as International Dog Day and National Dog Appreciation Day and how dogs are helpers: working with police, assisting those with visual or other impairments, in drug detection, searching for lost people, and pulling victims from wreckage, for example. (FYI:

4. Pair this poem with this picture book:
When You Wander: A Search-and-Rescue Dog Story by Margarita Engle and illustrated by Mary Morgan (Holt, 2013). Read the book aloud and talk about the recommended steps for what to do when lost.

5. Follow up by reading aloud more poems about dogs, such as selections from:
*Ashman, Linda. 2008. Stella, Unleashed. New York: Sterling.
*Florian, Douglas. 2003. Bow Wow Meow Meow. San Diego: Harcourt.
*Franco, Betsy. 2011. A Dazzling Display of Dogs. Berkeley, CA: Tricycle.
*Rosen, Michael J. 2011. The Hound Dog’s Haiku and Other Poems for Dog Lovers. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.
*Singer, Marilyn, 2012. Every Day's a Dog's Day: A Year in Poems. New York: Dial.

And don’t forget to check out our previous installments (each featuring previously unpublished poems and related Take 5! activities for every poem):

Now let us know what you’re up to on this Poetry Friday in the COMMENTS section below. We’ll be rounding up throughout the day.

Here's what our Poetry Friday party-goers are up to this week:

First up is Buffy Silverman who has posted an original poem that appears in this month's Ladybug Magazine. Congratulations, Buffy! Check it out here

Laura has a poem from J. Patrick Lewis and George Ella Lyons' forthcoming collection, VOICES FROM THE MARCH ON WASHINGTON over at TeachingAuthors.

Linda is featuring a poem from INNER CHIMES over at WriteTime.

Monica has reviewed a rhyming picture book, BY WATER'S EDGE by Kay Barone, here.

Irene is sharing some of wonderful Walter Dean Myers's poems here

Liz has an original poem about hummingbirds and hope here.

Matt entertains us with an original tanka here.

Laura is announcing a new series, "Summer Reads: Chapter & Verse," and is looking for guest bloggers to pair their favorite summer books with a poem. Her sample post pairs a historical YA with Edna St. Vincent Millay's "First Fig." Check it out!

Michelle is wrapping up a month of tribute and parody poems and giving away a copy of Tamera Wissinger's THIS OLD BAND. Look for it!

BJ has an original fractured-fairytale poem, illustrated by the wonderful Julie Rowan-Zoch. Clever!

Carol is setting the stage for her new gallery of artistic expressions with a poem based on two photos of driftwood. Interesting!

Tabatha is featuring a John Keats poem today.

Mary Lee's summer travels have led her to this Journey poem.

Diane has a Sketchbook Project poem called "Shadows" from the point of view of a young girl millworker over at Random Noodling.

She's also featuring a fun poem, "Potato," by Jane Kenyon at Kurious Kitty

Catherine bravely shares an original poem about things gone wrong while the husband is away here

Kate is talking about how she uses Poetry Friday in her third grade classroom complete with a student poem.

Margaret has a Summer Poem Swap gift from Donna Smith posted today.

Donna shares an original poem, "Sea Memories," along with pictures here.

Keri has an original poem about butterflies up today

Check out "Ozymandias" by Percy Bysshe Shelley over at Bildungsroman

Catherine is sharing E. L. Aveline's poem, "Flowers of the Sea" here

Kelly has a post on putting together a poetry chapbook over here.

Bridget is back with an original poem about her dog's favorite past-time, chasing lizards. Check out "Endless Game of Chase."

Janet is celebrating National Day of the Cowboy (Sat., July 26, 2014) with David L. Harrison's poem, "Cowboys: Voices in the Western Wind" here

Crystal has an original poem over at Reading Through Life.

Heidi has three insta-haiku from her family vacation here.

Fats Suela is sharing a ten-year-old refugee's vision of peace from I Dream of Peace: Images of War by Children of Former Yugoslavia found here

Karen is featuring Wendell Berry today.

Tricia has a gem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow for us here.

And Joy has a poem entitled "Storm" here

One more: Lorie Ann has a poem, "Nearly Fifty" complete with fun photo here! 

I think that's everybody. I'll check back and add any others who join us. Meanwhile, happy Poetry Friday, everyone. Thanks for stopping by! 

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