Friday, June 17, 2016

Poetry for Summer

I just got back from a fun TASLA conference meeting with school library administrators from around Texas. What a fun group and productive meeting. I always enjoy being a "groupie" at their functions learning more about what school librarian leaders are doing-- always so innovative and engaging. I spoke about my experiences sharing poetry with students in Guam and debuted my new poetry dress-- photos to come. :-) They also loved the pocket poems I brought of Tricia Stohr Hunt's "Summer Melon" poem-- here-- and also available on Pinterest.

Meanwhile, it feels like summer has truly arrived with hot temperatures across the country. I know it doesn't officially begin till next week, but I thought I might share a handy list of summer-themed poems featured in The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations as well as my list of poetry books about summer from my Poetry Teacher's Book of Lists.

And here's my list of poetry books about summer from my Poetry Teacher's Book of Lists.

Poetry Books about Summer

Summer time is the perfect time to catch up on all kinds of poetry reading of course, but we can kick off our summertime events and gatherings with poems written specifically about summer and typical summer activities. Here are a few examples to get us started.

Alarcón, Francisco X. 1998. From the Bellybutton of the Moon and Other Summer Poems/Del Ombligo de la Luna y Otros Poemas de Verano. San Francisco: Children’s Book Press.
Appelt, Kathi. 2004. My Father’s Summers: A Daughter’s Memoirs. New York: Henry Holt.
Brown, Marc. 2013. Marc Brown’s Playtime Rhymes: A Treasury for Families to Learn and Play Together. New York: Little, Brown. 
Bruchac, Joseph. 1995. The Earth under Sky Bear's Feet: Native American Poems of the Land. New York: Philomel Books.
Carlson, Lori M. Ed. 1998. Sol a Sol: Bilingual Poems. New York: Henry Holt. 
Dotlich: Rebecca Kai 1998. Lemonade Sun and Other Summer Poems Honesdale: Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press.
Dotlich, Rebecca Kai. 2004. Over in the Pink House: New Jump Rope Rhymes. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press.
Esbensen, Barbara Juster. 1984. Cold Stars and Fireflies:  Poems of the Four Seasons. New York: Crowell. 
Fletcher, Ralph. 2001. Have You Been to the Beach Lately? New York: Orchard Books.
Florian, Douglas. 2002. Summersaults: Poems and Paintings New York: Greenwillow Books.
Fogliano, Julie. 2016. When Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All Seasons. Macmillan/Roaring Brook/Porter.
Frank, John. 2007. How to Catch a Fish. New Milford: Roaring Brook Press.
George, Kristine O’Connell. 2001. Toasting Marshmallows: Camping Poems New York: Clarion Books.
Giovanni, Nikki. 1981. Vacation Time: Poems for Children. New York: Morrow.
Graham, Joan Bransfield. 1994. Splish Splash. New York: Houghton Mifflin.
Grimes, Nikki. 2004. Tai Chi morning: Snapshots of China. Chicago: Cricket Books.
Hopkins, Lee Bennett. Ed. 1993. Beat the Drum, Independence Day has Come: Poems for the Fourth of July. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press.
Hopkins, Lee Bennett. Ed. 2005. Days to Celebrate: A Full Year of Poetry, People, Holidays, History, Fascinating Facts, and More. New York: Greenwillow.
Hopkins, Lee. Bennett  Ed. 2010. Sharing the Seasons. Margaret McElderry.
Janeczko, Paul. Ed. 2014. Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.
Katz, Alan. 2011. Mosquitoes Are Ruining My Summer! And Other Silly Dilly Camp Songs. New York: McElderry.
Lansky, Bruce. Ed. 2009. What I Did on My Summer Vacation: Kids' Favorite Funny Summer Vacation Poems. Minnetonka, MN: Meadowbrook Press.
Latham, Irene. 2016. Fresh Delicious: Poems from the Farmers' Market. Highlights/Wordsong.
Lessac, Frane. 2003. Camp Granada: Sing-Along Camp Songs New York: Holt.
Levy, Constance. 2002. Splash! Poems of Our Watery World. New York: Orchard.
Lewis, J. Patrick. 1994. July is a Mad Mosquito. New York: Atheneum.
Michelson, Richard. 2014. S is for Sea Glass: A Beach Alphabet. Chelsea, MI: Sleeping Bear Press. 
Mora, Pat. 1998. This Big Sky. New York: Scholastic.
Schnur, Steven. 2001. Summer: An Alphabet Acrostic. New York: Clarion.
Shaw, Alison, comp. 1995. Until I Saw the Sea: A Collection of Seashore Poems. New York: Henry Holt.
Siebert, Diane. 2006. Tour America: A Journey through Poems and Art. San Francisco: Chronicle.
Singer, Marilyn. 2000. Fireflies at Midnight. New York: Atheneum. 
Singer, Marilyn. 1992. In My Tent. New York: Macmillan. 
Singer, Marilyn. 1989. Turtle in July. New York: Macmillan.
Spinelli, Eileen. 2007. Summerhouse Time. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 
Weatherford, Carole Boston. 2001. Sidewalk Chalk; Poems of the City. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press. 
Wissinger, Tamera Will. 2013. Gone Fishing: A Novel in Verse. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Wong, Janet. 2008. Minn and Jake’s Almost Terrible Summer. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 
Zimmer, Tracie Vaughn. 2005. Sketches from a Spy Tree. New York: Clarion.

Yolen, Jane. 2000. Color Me a Rhyme: Nature Poems for Young People. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press. 

Let the summer fun begin! 

See you over at Carol's Corner for a lovely gathering of Poetry Friday posts.

Friday, June 10, 2016

GARVEY'S CHOICE by Nikki Grimes

I'm happy to toot the horn for another new novel in verse by Nikki Grimes that is perfect for the intermediate grades (grades 5-8), in particular. It's Garvey's Choice, the story of a nerdy boy whose father wants him to pursue sports rather than the sci fi he enjoys. Fortunately, the discovery of a mutual love of music helps them connect in the end. Plus, Garvey's mom and sister, as well as his old and new friend, round out this engaging story about being true to oneself while respecting the differences in others. Oh, and did I mention that the entire book is written in tanka poems? Very cool! Nikki was kind enough to share a bit of "back story" on the writing of Garvey's Choice for my blog. Enjoy!

by Nikki Grimes

Most often in my work, form follows function, which is to say I begin with character and story, and then determine what form that story will take.  However, in this particular case, form came first.  I'm fascinated with tanka poetry and wondered if it would be possible to write an entire novel using that form.

The idea for the subject matter was easy to arrive at, because body-image is such a fixation in this culture.  You can't turn on the television without hearing commentary on, or seeing a PSA about obesity in general, and childhood obesity, in particular.  It's a growing problem, and the topic is unavoidable.  (This is the second time I've addressed this.  I first took on the topic in Halfway to Perfect, a Dyamonde Daniel chapter book.)

I knew, from the beginning, that I would tell this story from a boy's point of view, rather than a girl's.  Stories on this particular subject are, more often than not, told from a girl's perspective, and I wanted to flip that.

I began with a clear idea and tight focus on theme, rather than character and story, and there's a danger in that.  The first polished draft was a portrait of an overweight boy in which all you learned about him was his experience of being overweight. There needed to be much more to him, and to his story, but I was too close to the material to see that.  Thinking I'd pretty much nailed the topic, I sent the first draft off to one of my editors.  

As it happened, that editor was both the best and the worst person I could have chosen to share this manuscript with. This editor had been an overweight young person, and still keenly felt the wounds inflicted by childhood bullies, still flinched at the memories of body insecurity, and all that came with it.  In fact, the editor found the piece difficult to read, and impossible to edit.  This was hardly the response I had anticipated!  Suddenly worried my text might do readers more harm than good, I set it aside for a year or two and all but forgot about it.

I went on to write books like Planet Middle School and Words With Wings, and after the latter went into production, the editor of that novel-in-verse inquired whether I had any other projects we might work on together.  I thought about that for a few days, and suddenly remembered the tanka manuscript I'd filed away.  "You know," I told her,  "I do have one manuscript that needs some work.  I don't know if you'd be interested in it, but..." I went on to explain a bit about the story, and she invited me to submit it.  I'm glad I did.

Rebecca Davis, an editor I'd worked with for years, not only read the manuscript, but saw what it could be.  She recognized the narrowness of the story's focus, and suggested ways I might broaden the story, and shift its focus so that weight became part of Garvey's story, and not the whole of it.  She posed questions about the emotional life of the character, about his back-story, his family, his relationships, and she challenged me to draft a revision that answered some of those questions.  I looked them over carefully, gulped, and finally agreed.  I knew I had my work cut out for me.

Why did Garvey over-eat in the first place?  That was a key question that helped me shape the story that finally emerged.  I had to come up with a rational, plausible answer, and it was exploring that question that led me into the intricacies of Garvey's relationship with his father.  It was my editor who identified this as the heart of the story.  She was right.

I certainly know what it's like to have a disconnect with a parent.  From the time I was six years old, I dreamed of being a writer.  And yet, my mother did everything she could to dissuade me from pursuing that goal.  My father, on the other hand, both understood and supported my dream.  (In Garvey's Choice, I flip the roles, posing the mother as the supportive parent.) To be fundamentally misunderstood by a parent is very painful, and I was able to draw from my own experience of that pain as I wrote about Garvey's.  As they say, we write what we know.  I may not have grown up as an overweight boy, but I understood Garvey's heart.

Garvey's friendships were also important to his story, as mine were to my story. The friends we let into the inner sanctums of our lives and hearts help to influence the people we become.  In the case of Garvey, his friends not only encouraged him to love himself, but also challenged him to stretch and grow in ways that were good and healthy.  Each recognized potential in Garvey that he, himself, was unable to see.  Our best friends can do that for us.

Little by little, the larger story of Garvey began to come together.  There was a problem, though.   As the manuscript became more complex, writing it entirely in tanka became more difficult.

A five-line poem is not much space in which to convey a complex narrative.  For that reason, my editor suggested I weave in additional poetry forms.  Of course, I was far too stubborn to accept her advice.  I'd set out to write a novel in tanka, alone, and that's what I was committed to doing. For the more compound narrative threads, I decided to try linking two or more tanka poems together. I wasn't sure it would work, but I'm glad it did.  Whew!

In the end, Garvey's Choice stretched me as much as Garvey's journey stretched him.  I hope this story will inspire readers to dare to follow their own dreams, whether or not loved ones choose to go along for the ride.  When we choose to follow our dreams, we discover who we are on the inside, and find the strength to be who we want to be, on the outside. Just like Garvey.

Note from Sylvia: I was also lucky enough to get the assignment to create an educator's guide for Garvey's Choice and I'll share a few nuggets next week. 

Now head on over to Beyond LiteracyLink for the Poetry Friday party this week!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Celebrating Asian American Heritage Month

I didn't realize how many special occasions occurred in May until I worked on our Celebrations book with Janet Wong. Sure, it's the end of the semester and school year (in many places) and the home of Mother's Day and Memorial Day. But it's also National Photo Month, National Bike Month, National Physical Fitness and Sports Month, and the time we celebrate National Pet Week, National Teacher Appreciation Week, Children's Book Week, National Etiquette Week, as well as World Laughter Day, World Red Cross Day, and World Hunger Day (which is close to Red Nose Day also devoted to eliminating hunger). Wow. And of course there are many other occasions, once you start digging. My family teases me that I always find SOMETHING to celebrate!

Today I'd like to pause and celebrate Asian American Heritage Month and Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month-- with a poem of course! I posted this on Facebook and Twitter, so please forgive me if you've been inundated. I love this poem by my pal Janet Wong and what it says about celebrating Asian Americans, as well as our many diverse, blended, and intertwined roots in the U.S. 

And here are the Take 5 activities that accompany this poem in The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations (Teacher/Librarian edition):

  1. If possible, display a map in the background that features Asia and Pacific Islands while you read the poem aloud, pausing between stanzas. One source is,100,3z.
  2. Share the poem again with pauses so the children can join in on the key words Chinese, Korean, and plucots while you read the rest of the poem aloud.
  3. Talk about how new words are “coined” and how plucot is a combination of plum (plu) and apricot (cot), just as the plucot fruit is a hybrid combination of those two fruits. 
  4. Pair this poem with the picture book Grandfather Counts by Andrea Cheng (Lee & Low, 2000). And for more information about celebrating Asian Pacific Heritage Month, check out the resources at
  5. For another poem about a family with roots in more than one culture, look for “Our Family” by Kate Coombs (November, page 305) as well as poems in A Suitcase of Seaweed by Janet Wong (McElderry, 1996).
Plus, if you'd like even more poetry, here's a list from my book, The Poetry Teacher's Book of Lists.

Asian American Poetry for Young People

Asian and Asian American poetry for young people is not just haiku; there are many lovely, ancient and contemporary works to share with children. Here is a sampling of poetry for young people by Asian and Asian American poets.

Cheng, Andrea. 2005. Shanghai Messenger. New York: Lee & Low.
Ho, Minfong. 1996. Maples in the Mist: Poems for Children from the Tang Dynasty. New York: Lothrop, Lee, & Shepard.
Issa, Kobayashi. 2007. Today and Today. New York: Scholastic.
Izuki, Steven. 1994. Believers in America:  Poems about Americans of Asian and Pacific Islander Descent. Chicago, IL: Children’s Press.
Lai, Thanhha. 2011. Inside Out and Back Again. New York: HarperCollins.
Mak, Kam. 2001. My Chinatown: One Year in Poems. New York: HarperCollins.
Park, Linda Sue. 2007. Tap Dancing on the Roof; Sijo Poems. New York : Clarion.
Wong, Janet S. 1994. Good Luck Gold and Other Poems. New York: McElderry.
Wong, Janet S. 1996/2008. A Suitcase of Seaweed, and Other Poems. New York: Booksurge.
Wong, Janet S. 1999. Behind the Wheel:  Poems about Driving. New York: McElderry.
Wong, Janet S. 1999. The Rainbow Hand: Poems about Mothers and Children. New York: McElderry. 
Wong, Janet S. 2000. Night Garden:  Poems from the World of Dreams. New York: McElderry.
Wong, Janet S. 2003. Knock on Wood: Poems about Superstitions. New York: McElderry.

Wong, Janet S. 2003. Minn and Jake. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
Wong, Janet S. 2007. Twist: Yoga Poems. New York: McElderry.
Wong, Janet. 2008. Minn and Jake’s Almost Terrible Summer. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 
Wong, Janet. 2011. Once Upon A Tiger; New Beginnings for Endangered Animals.
Wong, Janet. 2012. Declaration of Interdependence: Poems for  an Election Year. PoetrySuitcase.
Wong, Joyce Lee. 2006. Seeing Emily. New York: Abrams.
Yep, Laurence, ed. 1993. American Dragons: Twenty-five Asian American Voices. New York: HarperCollins.
Yu, Chin. 2005. Little Green; Growing Up During the Chinese Cultural Revolution. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Now don't miss the rest of the Poetry Friday posts that Margaret is gathering over at Reflections on the Teche. See you there!

Friday, May 13, 2016

You Can Fly

It's no secret, I'm a big fan of Carole Boston Weatherford

She beautiful melds nonfiction and poetry in book after book after book, in addition to many collections of "just" poetry. Previously, I featured an excerpt from her poem, "I am the Bridge," in honor of President Obama's first inauguration here, plus an interview with her about her award winning book, Birmingham, 1963, on the 50th anniversary of the bombing in Birmingham here, as well as many other posts that reference her appearances at the ALA Poetry Blast, TLA Poetry Round Up, and her many other awards and honors. Plus, you can find Carole's "Poet to Poet" interview with Jacqueline Woodson about her National Book Award-winning, Brown Girl Dreaming here.

Now, I am honored to participate in a blog tour featuring her new nonfiction book in verse, You Can Fly: The Tuskegee Airmen (Simon & Schuster, 2016), which pairs her poems with the scratchboard illustrations created by her son, Jeffery Weatherford, their first collaboration as mother and son. It celebrates "the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, pioneering African American pilots who triumphed in the skies and past the color barrier." Carole and Jeffery were kind enough to agree to an interview-- asking each other questions about their collaboration.

JEFFERY: Why did you want to write this book?
CAROLE: My parents came of age in the 1940s, so I am nostalgic about that era. My father fought in WWII. The Tuskegee Airmen’s saga resonated with me. It is stirring—historically, politically and emotionally. As a children’s literature professor, I knew of an historical fiction picture book and of several informational books about the Tuskegee Airmen. I thought the narrative would work as a sequence of poems. 

CAROLE: What was your inspiration for the illustrations?
JEFFERY: My inspiration was documentary photographs from the Library of Congress. While researching picture references, I had some dreams of meeting Tuskegee Airmen. I also watched the movie Red Tails.

JEFFERY: The text is in second person. Whose voice is the narrator’s?
CAROLE: I’m not sure. I may have channeled First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt or abolitionist Frederick Douglass. After completing and titling You Can Fly, I was doing picture research and found an account of Mrs. Roosevelt’s flight with Tuskegee instructor Chief Anderson. Afterwards, the First Lady said, “You can fly.” Much later, I read Frederick Douglass’s Civil War editorial calling for African Americans to join the U.S. Colored Troops to end slavery. He urged black men to “fly to arms.” You can’t make this stuff up.

CAROLE: What is your favorite poem from the book?
JEFFERY: The first poem, “Head to the Clouds,” is my favorite. Another favorite is "The Fight Song." It is the actual fight song of the 99th Fighter Squadron.

JEFFERY: What is your favorite illustration from the book?
CAROLE: I can’t choose just one. I have three favorites: the portrait of an Airman, the picture of three planes and the picture of the boy who is lying in the grass and gazing at the sky. The Airman looks heroic, the picture of the boy resembles an etching, and the planes are straight out of a comic book.

CAROLE: How did you come to illustrate children's books?
JEFFERY: For my senior project in high school, I illustrated one of my mother’s manuscripts entitled Which Way to Dreamland? It’s based on a question that I once asked: How do dreams get in your head? After college graduation, my mom asked me to create some art samples for her manuscript You Can Fly.

JEFFERY: Share something about your experiences with planes or flying.
CAROLE: I loved planes as a girl. On Sundays, my family went to Baltimore’s Friendship Airport to watch planes take off and land. That was long before I ever boarded a plane.

More Resources
WWII by the numbers: Of nearly 1,000 Tuskegee pilots, half went overseas and fewer than 10 were captured or killed.

From the archives:
Tuskegee Airman Edward Gleed at air base in Italy.

Check out the comprehensive review at "The Children's War: A Guide to Books for Young Readers About World War II" available here.

Now watch the book trailer here:

Do not miss this powerful book of 33 poems and lots of heart and history, already getting starred reviews from Publishers Weekly ("wields the power of poetry to tell a gripping historical story") and Kirkus ("A masterful, inspiring evocation of an era"). 

Now head on over to Violet Nesdoly's place for more Poetry Friday news. 

Thursday, May 05, 2016

TGIPF: Thank Goodness It's Poetry Friday!

Welcome, poetry friends! I'm happy to host Poetry Friday once again right here. Jump to the bottom and link your post below courtesy of Mister Linky. Meanwhile, Mother's Day is coming up, so I thought I might take a moment to share some poetry resources for celebrating the moms and grandmoms in our lives-- and other women who are special to us. So, in that spirit, here is a list of 10 of my favorite books of poetry about mothers. (You can find many more in my Poetry Teacher's Book of Lists. FYI)

Diverse Poetry Books about Mothers

What better tribute for a mother, aunt or grandmother than a well-chosen poem? Poets have given us words with which to honor the women in our lives in many poetry books in picture book form or in novels in verse or in anthologies of poems by many poets. 
  1. Atkins, Jeannine. 2010. Borrowed Names; Poems About Laura Ingalls Wilder, Madam C. J. Walker, Marie Curie, and Their Daughters. Henry Holt.
  2. Grimes, Nikki. 2015. Poems in the Attic. Ill. by Elizabeth Zunon. New York: Lee & Low. 
  3. Holt, K. A. 2015. House Arrest. San Francisco: Chronicle.
  4. Lewis, J. Patrick. 2005. Vherses: A Celebration of Outstanding Women. Mankato, MN: Creative Editions.
  5. McCall, Guadalupe Garcia. 2011. Under the Mesquite. New York: Lee & Low.
  6. Mora, Pat. 2001. Ed. Love to Mamá: a Tribute to Mothers. New York: Lee & Low Books.
  7. Smith, Hope Anita. 2009. Mother: Poems. New York: Henry Holt.
  8. Thomas, Joyce Carol. 2001. A Mother’s Love: Poems for us to Share. New York: Joanna Cotler.
  9. Wong. Janet S. 1999. The Rainbow Hand: Poems about Mothers and Children. New York: McElderry.
  10. Yolen, Jane and Heidi E.Y. Stemple. 2001. Dear Mother, Dear Daughter: Poems for Young People.  Honesdale, PA: Wordsong/Boyds.
Plus, I hope you'll also indulge a plug for the many poems about mothers in The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations, including the poem that Janet Wong wrote especially for Mother's Day. (And yes, that is my own mom holding me as a newborn in the photo!)

Now, let's see what poetry goodness awaits us at other lovely blogs! Mister Linky will gather all our posts below. Thanks for sharing!

Saturday, April 30, 2016

El día de los niños/El día de los libros 20th anniversary

Today is officially El día de los niños/El día de los libros, celebrated every April 30. And today is particularly special, since it’s the 20th anniversary of Día. This special celebration was conceived by and established by founder Pat Mora, author, poet, and literacy advocate. In March 1996, while being interviewed in Tucson, Arizona, she learned about the holiday El día de los niños celebrated in Mexico. Realizing that the United States had nothing similar, Pat proposed linking Children's Day, the celebration of childhood and children, with literacy and bilingualism, creating a new holiday: El día de los niños/El día de los libros.

Earlier this month, Pat also delivered the prestigious May Hill Arbuthnot Lecture in Santa Barbara, CA, “Bookjoy! Alegria en los Libros!” the Garvin Theatre at Santa Barbara City College. Fortunately, they recorded her talk and you can watch it in its entirety here

Meanwhile, here’s the official description of Día from the ALSC sponsor website: “El día de los niños/El día de los libros (Children's Day/Book Day), commonly known as Día, is a celebration every day of children, families, and reading that culminates yearly on April 30. The celebration emphasizes the importance of literacy for children of all linguistic and cultural backgrounds.”

Check out the ALA/ALSC website for
free downloadable materials, tips for starting a book club, booklists, toolkits, and more. You can find even more info, help, and celebration videos at Pat’s websitePlus lesson plans here and even more resources here.

Share Pat’s celebratory picture book all about Día, Book Fiesta! and her poem about Día in The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations (below) to celebrate this special anniversary of this special day.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Science + Poetry = Earthworms

Here is the final installment in my series of science poetry tied to science-themed picture books. My graduate student, Elizabeth Zelenak (in my "Poetry for Children" class) selected the focus on “earthworms from the series of professional resource books, "Picture Perfect Science Lessons" by Karen Ansberry and Emily Morgan (and published by the National Science Teachers Association). Here are her three infographics centered around learning about earthworms. The focus picture book pair is:
  • Diary of a Worm by Doreen Cronin
  • Wiggling Worms at Work by Wendy Pfeffer
The poem that works perfectly with this book is “Reliable, Pliable Worms” by Celia Warren from her book Don’t Poke a Worm till it Wriggles. Below is a graphic featuring this book pair and others, followed by the featured poem, and then the Take 5 activities to accompany the poem along with a "bonus" poem, “Soil Inventory” by Kate Coombs from The Poetry of Science. Enjoy! Also, don't forget to check out the rest of the Poetry Friday posts all hosted by Buffy at her blog here.

Science of poetry graphics created by Elizabeth Zelenak

Image credit: