Friday, November 23, 2007

NCTE and the Poetry Blast

This time last week, I was attending the annual convention of the National Council of Teachers of English in New York City. What fun-- I love that city! One of the highlights of the conference was soaking up the words of the dozen poets who read from their work at the NCTE Poetry Blast hosted by Marilyn Singer and Michael Santangelo. This event debuted as the ALSC Poetry Blast at the ALA convention four years ago (was that in Orlando?) and has also premiered at the International Reading Association convention and now at NCTE. The concept is simple: enjoy a “concert” of poets reading from their own poetry. There’s nothing quite like hearing poems read by their creators—it’s like seeing the actual Mona Lisa, instead of just a picture of the painting in a book. Intimate, visceral, moving. At the New York Blast, we enjoyed the artistry of Lee Bennett Hopkins, Janet Wong, Marilyn Nelson, Lisa Ann Sandell, Curtis Crisler, Joyce Sidman, Alan Katz, John Grandits, Nikki Grimes, Helen Frost, Charles R. Smith, Jr., and Marilyn Singer. What a line up! Here are a few of the highlights:

*Lee Bennett Hopkins read from his own poetry as well as moving selections from his new anthology, America at War by Georgia Heard and Rebecca Kai Dotlich who were in the audience
*Janet Wong offered her poems with her usual wry commentary and even had an audience member demonstrate a yoga pose to accompany a poem from Twist
*Marilyn Nelson shared selections from her latest work, moving poems from the voices of Miss Crandall’s School for Young Ladies and Misses of Color
*Lisa Ann Sandell read from her lyrical verse novel, Song of the Sparrow, a feminist revisioning of the tale of “The Lady of Shallot"
*Curtis Crisler wowed with his powerful words from Tough Boy Sonatas
*Joyce Sidman moved us with two emotional “dog” poems as well as the fresh perspectives in This is Just to Say
*Alan Kratz made us laugh with his self-deprecating humor and verses from Oops and Uh Oh!
*John Grandits provided visuals to help us engage in the clever and witty concrete poetry of Blue Lipstick
*Nikki Grimes introduced us to her cat, Gorilla, featured in her new collection, When Gorilla Goes Walking
*Helen Frost debuted selections from her new novel in verse, Diamond Willow, another layered, lovely work
*Charles Smith pumped us up with words from his poetic biography of Muhammad Ali in Twelve Rounds to Glory
*Marilyn Singer took us around the world with the “timely” words of Nine O’Clock Lullaby
The hours flew by as we took in their voices, poems from their recent works, and got a sneak peak on new and future releases. What a terrific event to include in a conference devoted to teaching and literature.

I love the idea of a poetry “recital” so much that I have imitated the Blast by bringing the concept to the Texas Library Association conference each spring. Next year, I’ll be hosting the fourth annual Poetry Round Up at the conference in Dallas. Save the date: Thursday, April 17, 2008 (10am-12pm). You’re all welcome. Come experience the poetry of John Frank, Juanita Havill, Alan Katz, Linda Sue Park (as a poet!), Adam Rex, and Tracie Vaughn Zimmer up close and personal. And take this idea and plan your own poetry reading event! Ideally, bring the poets to your venue, but even children can have a blast with poetry by standing up and reading their own poetry or favorite poems by poets they love. Celebrate the spoken word, the kids, and the poetry—all at once!

Picture credit: While in New York, I stayed at my best friend Susan’s home near Gramercy Park. She just moved to New York (from Texas) last spring and I am living vicariously through her Big Apple adventures. The photo is the view from her guest room—AMAZING!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Thanks poems

Thanksgiving is coming up soon, so I looked around for some appropriate poems for the occasion. I gathered a collection of titles for a quick list and two poems that represent two distinct perspectives on being thankful. Enjoy!

All in a Word
by Aileen Fisher

T for time to be together, turkey, talk, and tangy weather.
H for harvest stored away, home, hearth, and holiday.
A for autumn’s frosty art, and abundance in the heart.
N for neighbors and November, nice things, new things to remember.
K for kitchen, kettles’ croon, kith and kin expected soon.
S for sizzles, sights, and sounds, and something special that abounds.
That spells THANKS-- for joy in living and a jolly good Thanksgiving.

Fisher, Aileen. “All in a Word.” in Hopkins, Lee Bennett. Side by Side Poems to Read Together. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988. (Thank you for your poetry collections, Lee!)


Our Daily Bread
by Janet Wong

Nine p.m. we close the store,
wash the counter, mop the floor.

Ten p.m. we finally eat.
Father pulls a milk crate seat

to the table and we pray.
Thank you for this crazy day.

Wong, Janet. A Suitcase of Seaweed, and Other Poems. New York: Margaret K. McElderry, 1996. (Thank you for your poetry, Janet!)

More poetry about giving thanks and Thanksgiving:
Bruchac, Joseph. 1996. The Circle of Thanks. Mahwah, NJ: BridgeWater Books.
Carlstrom, Nancy White. 2002. Thanksgiving Day at Our House: Thanksgiving Poems for the Very Young. New York: Aladdin.
Grimes, Nikki. 2006. Thanks a Million. New York: Amistad.
Hopkins, Lee Bennett. 2005. Days to Celebrate: A Full Year of Poetry, People, Holidays, History, Fascinating Facts, and More. New York: Greenwillow.
Livingston, Myra Cohn, comp. 1985. Thanksgiving Poems. New York: Holiday House.
Prelutsky, Jack. 1982. It’s Thanksgiving. New York: Greenwillow.
Rosen, Michael, J., ed. 1996. Food Fight: Poets Join the Fight Against Hunger with Poems about Their Favorite Foods. San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace.
Swamp, Chief Jake. 1995. Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message. New York: Lee & Low Books.
Wing, Natasha. 2001. The Night Before Thanksgiving. New York: Grosset and Dunlap.
Young, Ed. 1997. Voices of the Heart. New York: Scholastic.

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Friday, November 09, 2007

Poetry for National Children’s Book Week

Coming up next?
Children's Book Week: November 12-18, 2007, a “celebration of the written word” designed to “introduce young people to new authors and ideas in schools, libraries, homes, and bookstores,” according to the Children’s Book Council, the sponsor of this event since 1919. It’s also the perfect time to gather and share poems about books and reading. As it happens, I have also been invited to offer a regular column on “Everyday Poetry” for Book Links magazine (published by the American Library Association). My column debuts this month and features “Everyday Poetry: Celebrating Children’s Book Week.” Here’s an excerpt:

Poets have been writing about the power of reading and books for generations. With a focus on books and reading, these poems are the perfect way to open a storytime or read-aloud session. In fact, reading or reciting a favorite book poem could become the ritual that gathers children together for these activities. Linking poems about books with books and reading helps underscore the value of literature and making time for reading. Who can resist the following seven activities, great for celebrating each day of Children’s Book Week or any other occasion that highlights the pleasures found in reading and poetry? Just like holding a special party to acknowledge a birthday or anniversary, these moments have a magic all their own and create happy memories related to reading and poetry.

Choral Reading: Upper-elementary students can share “Anna Marie’s Library Book and What Happened to It” by Celia Barker Lottridge from When I Went to the Library: Writers Celebrate Books and Reading (Groundwood, 2002) as a choral reading. This poem begs for multiple readers as many voices detail how one library book is passed from reader to reader to reader. A choral reading of the poem would be appealing for an open house, parents’ night, or any function with readers of various ages. Or, pair up this poem with a reading of Lauren Child’s picture book, But, Excuse Me, That Is My Book (Dial, 2005), about Lola’s search for her favorite library book.

Bilingual Poetry: The poem “Books” by Francisco X. Alarcón in his book Angels Ride Bikes and Other Fall Poems /Los angeles andan en bicicleta y otros poemas de otoño. (Children’s Book Press, 1999) is a poetic celebration of books written in both Spanish and English. If you or an audience volunteer speak Spanish, read the poem in Spanish first and follow with a reading in English by another volunteer. Then have both readers read their versions simultaneously. Encourage the readers to pause at the end of each line and start the next line together. The effect is quite stunning and really communicates the music of language.

Poetry Chant: The poem “Good Books, Good Times” by Lee Bennett Hopkins, from his book Good Books, Good Times! (HarperCollins, 1990), first appeared on a Children’s Book Week bookmark and then became the theme for his anthology of book-related poems. This poem is perfect for chanting with two groups of early elementary–age children in a back-and-forth fashion. Performed like a cheer for books and reading, it’s ideal for opening or closing a read-aloud session.

Read the article for the rest of the 7 tips!

One more scoop: Book Week is moving. Beginning next year, Children’s Book Week will be celebrated in May, specifically May 12 – 18, 2008. So celebrate now and again in the spring with bookends of book poetry!

For more poetry at the Poetry Friday Round Up go to A Wrung Sponge this week.

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Saturday, November 03, 2007

Wisdom from Yuyi Morales and Señor Tlalocan

I’m posting from sunny Tucson where I am attending the 7th Regional Conference of the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY), hosted by the U.S. section (USBBY) of which I am the past president. What a terrific event! It’s a gathering of a few hundred people dedicated to promoting international understanding through children’s literature, a cause near to my heart. Our first speaker was the effervescent artist Yuyi Morales who inspired me with her odd and clever juxtapositions of Mexican folk art and wisdom, pop culture connections, and pithy use of language. She used a colorful character, Señor Tlalocan (rooted in Mexican folklore) to guide us through her presentation and presented various prayers of this character both visually and verbally. Here was one of my favorites:

Señor Tlalocan's Prayer

“Mighty impulses of mine, give me the courage to follow you always. Might I remember that there is no right or wrong decision, but only commitment to what I choose. Help me stick with my favorite option and work on it with conviction and passion so as to make everyone believe it was the only choice I had.”

I love this thought and I send it out to all of you and especially to my daughter in honor of her 24th birthday today. And here’s a poem that echoes that conviction, as crazy as the connection might seem.

God Went to Beauty School
by Cynthia Rylant

He went there to learn how
to give a good perm
and ended up just crazy
about nails
so He opened up His own shop.
"Nails by Jim" He called it.
He was afraid to call it
Nails by God.
He was sure people would
think He was being
disrespectful and using
His own name in vain
and nobody would tip.
He got into nails, of course,
because He'd always loved
hands were some of the best things
He'd ever done
and this way He could just
hold one in His
and admire those delicate
bones just above the knuckles,
delicate as birds' wings,
and after He'd done that
He could paint all the nails
any color He wanted,
then say,
and mean it.

From God Went to Beauty School by Cynthia Rylant (HarperColllins, 2003)

Emily, just be who you want to be where you want to be it. All the rest will take care of itself. Thinking about you…

I know it's late to join the Poetry Friday round up, but here's the link for those who are interested.
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