Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Happy El Día de los Niños/El Día de los Libros

Today is El Día de los Niños/El Día de los Libros also known as Children's Day/Book Day. For the annual April 30th celebration, both the Reading Rockets and Colorin Colorado Web sites are offering suggestions for library and classroom activities. The Association for Library Service to Children also lists Día events around the country. As the national home of Día, one of the things ALSC does is to provide a database where people can enter their Día events and/or see what else is going on near them and anywhere in the nation. It's wonderful to see everything that's going on, and to see how this initiative, originally conceived by Pat Mora, with REFORMA as a founding partner, has caught on and grown in the past 12 years.

In addition, Pat Mora, the Grande Dame of Día has established her own blog now-- ShareBookJoy-- which is a wonderful resource on Día and so much more. Pat is a gem and a giant, a force to be reckoned with, and an author, poet and advocate with a gift for storytelling AND empowerment. Be sure to check out her Web site, too.

In honor of Día, I would like to mention a new poetry collection just published by Bloomsbury: Come and Play, Children of Our World Having Fun. The poems are written by children under the guidance of their teacher, Ayana Lowe, in response to photographs that are provided by Magnum Photos, the “most highly celebrated photographic collective in the world.” The images of children come from around the world and from over the last 50 years. Thumbnails, captions, and maps in the backmatter let the reader know a bit more about each photograph. And the poems reflect the clever word coining and fresh abruptness of children’s language. Here’s one example:

A Tight Squeeze
(Accompanying a photo of a crowded beach scene in Wonsan City, North Korea, 1982)

Wet and happy.

The beach is hot.

I’ve saved you a spot.

From: Lowe, Ayana. Ed. 2008. Come and Play; Children of Our World Having Fun. NY: Bloomsbury.

Individual poets are not named, which gives the reader the impression of a collective voice of childhood speaking. (Their energetic signatures cover the end pages!) The oversized format juxtaposes a poem in a large colorful font on a black background on the left with a full-page black and white or color photograph on the right. Very dramatic and accessible. And I love the opening page featuring this quote from Poet Laureate Rita Dove:

“I think all of us have moments,
particularly in our childhood,

where we come alive,

maybe for the first time.

And we go back to those

moments and think,

This is when I became myself.’”

It begs for imitation—gathering photographs from family, magazines, or the Web to prompt children’s own writing, and then creating their own collective books of poetry and pictures.

Happy Día!

Picture credit: and Amazon.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A Poem for Arbor Day

Most states celebrate Arbor Day at some point in April, although the actual date varies somewhat. Arbor Day was started in Nebraska by J. Sterling Morton. Morton missed the trees he had known when he lived in Detroit, so he decided to start planting trees at his new home. In honor of the day, here’s a “tree” poem by Aileen Fisher.

Let’s Plant A Tree
by Aileen Fisher

It’s time to plant a tree, a tree.

What shall it be? What shall it be?

Let’s plant a pine—we can’t go wrong:

a pine is green the whole year long.

Let’s plant a maple—more than one,

to shade us from the summer sun.

Let’s plant a cherry—you know why:

there’s nothing like a cherry pie!

Let’s plant an elm, the tree of grace,

where robins find a nesting place.

Let’s plant an apple—not too small,

with flowers in spring and fruit in fall.

Let’s plant a fir—so it can be
a lighted outdoor Christmas tree.

Let’s plant a birch, an oak, a beech,

there’s something extra-nice in each…

in winter, summer, spring or fall.

Let’s plant a …

why not plant them ALL?

From: Hopkins, Lee Bennett, Ed. 1992. Ring Out, Wild Bells: Poems About Holidays And Seasons. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

*Invite the kids to cheer the words "Let's plant" at the beginning of each stanza; with practice, pairs of kids can each read aloud their own stanza; or create a paper version of pine, maple, cherry, elm, apple, fir and other trees mentioned in the poem and use them as "props" for the read aloud.

Happy Arbor Day!
And for a listing of more "tree" poems, check out my entry for April 22, 2007.

Picture credit: and thanks to Nora Sanchez for poem-finding.

Monday, April 28, 2008


I have always loved collective nouns—those interesting labels that describe groups of things, like “a pride of lions.” I think it’s fascinating to see the connection between the label and the attributes or behaviors of the item, object, or animal. Apparently, I’m not alone. Poet and professor Marjorie Maddox shares my fascination and has created 14 new poems centered around this notion in her 2008 book, A Crossing of Zebras; Animal Packs in Poetry. The table of contents says it all:

A Rumba of Rattlesnakes
A Tower of Giraffes
A Pounce of Alley Cats
An Army of Ants
A Murder of Crows
A Cartload of Monkeys
A Leap of Leopards
A School of Fish
A Crossing of Zebras
A Band of Coyotes
A Scurry of Squirrels
A Pride of Lions
A Crash of Rhinos
A Charm of Butterflies

Maddox uses a variety of poetic forms to capture the characteristics of the animal or the humor in the label, with rhymes, rhythms, and strong sound qualities that are pleasing to the ear. Here’s one example:

A School of Fish
by Marjorie Maddox

A school of fish reads in my swimming pool,

reciting ABCs and golden rules

(look both ways, be nice, no ocean duels).

They know it all—mountains to molecules:

T. rex, magic, Minotaurs, toadstools,

volcanoes, vipers, tricks for April Fool’s,

Egyptian mummies, pirates and their jewels,

strange flying saucers, robots, ghosts and ghouls.

Their dictionaries float, Old Mother Goose

quacks her rhymes and rhythms; it’s so cool

I’m signing a petition at my school—

let’s hold class every summer at the pool.

From: Maddox, Marjorie. 2008. A Crossing of Zebras; Animal Packs in Poetry. Illus. by Philip Huber. Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press, p. 19.

Philip Huber’s scratchboard illustrations add a strange and electric quality to the poems and a “Note from the Author” provides insight into the fascinating, less-than-scientific process used for coining collective nouns. Related books (like Ruth Heller’s A Cache of Jewels) and Web sites are suggested, as an extra bonus. Check it out!

Picture credit: Amazon

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Brand new: Ruth Sanderson’s Mother Goose

Every year brings new collections of Mother’s Goose rhymes—some re-envisioned in modern contexts, others harkening back to a more classic interpretation. Ruth Sanderson’s new collection falls into the latter category, and offers a pretty, romantic backdrop of illustrations for an extensive gathering of nearly 70 nursery rhymes, plus a handful of poems with poets attributed (like “The Purple Cow”) that all fit together beautifully. An introduction provides interesting background information on Sanderson's selection and illustration process, and reminds us that “repeating the verses makes learning to speak a great game.” Thus, Sanderson has featured rhymes simply and directly with single stanzas and colorful illustrations that make the verses accessible and memorable for the very young child. Images of children in pinafores and knickers alongside delicate fairies and whimsical trolls, in settings of inviting meadows and forests, add a quaint and magical element. I probably don’t have to share a sample Mother Goose rhyme since these are so widely familiar, but I was pleased to find a new “Mary” rhyme to accompany the familiar “Mary had a little lamb.” At least, it was new to me!

Mary Had a Pretty Bird

Mary had a pretty bird,

Feathers bright and yellow;

Slender legs, upon my word,

He was a pretty fellow.

The sweetest notes he always sang,

Which quite delighted Mary;

And near the cage she’d always sit

To hear her own canary.

From: Sanderson, Ruth. 2008. Mother Goose and Friends. New York: Little, Brown, p. 56.

Picture credit:

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Baseball in poetry: BEANBALL

I’m a lazy fan of baseball, I’ll admit. I love going to games, enjoying the slow pace, soaking up the ambience, cheering with the crowd, enjoying the junk food, but I don’t follow the sport very seriously and have a slim grasp of stats and plays. Nevertheless, I enjoy seeing the sport celebrated in poetry, too. I posted a lengthy baseball-themed entry last year (April 27, 2007 Baseball in poetry) with a list of poetry books on the topic of baseball. This year I’d like to highlight a new book out this spring: Beanball by Gene Fehler. It’s a small novel in verse told through the points of view of 28 people, both players and others, all centered around a gifted player who endures a catastrophic injury. Here’s one teammate’s description of our hero at the beginning.

Andy Keller, Oak Grove backup infielder
by Gene Fehler

I’ll take credit for Luke’s nickname:

The Wizard.

Oh, yeah.

I started calling him that
‘cause he’s a wizard with the mitt.

I’ve known him since fifth grade,

and the times I’ve seen him drop a ball,
even in practice,

I could count on one hand.

Hey, I’d even have a few fingers left over.

He can outrun any fly ball,

and once he gets to it, it sticks to his glove

like a piece of fuzz to a sweater.

I bet there aren’t many big leaguers
who can play the outfield better.

From: Fehler, Gene. 2008. Beanball. New York: Clarion. p. 8

Unfortunately, Luke is hit by a “beanball,” a pitch that goes wild, hits him in the head, and causes a life-threatening injury. The narrative that unfolds weaves together the remainder of the baseball season with Luke's slow recovery process to create a riveting story, reminiscent of Mel Glenn’s verse novels, such as Jump Ball: A Basketball Season in Poems. How each character views his or her relationship with baseball and with Luke himself shifts and evolves believably, and ‘tween and teen readers will find it realistic and compelling.

Picture credit: Amazon

Friday, April 25, 2008

Janet Wong and the License Plate Game

On this date in 1901, New York became the first state to require license plates for cars. Each plate carried the initials of the car’s owner and cost $1. In honor of this occasion, I have a not-yet-published poem by Janet Wong to share with her permission. She was kind enough to write the following poem for my “Everyday Poetry” column for Book Links magazine scheduled to be published in July. When I asked her if I could post it, she suggested I share some of the different versions she went through as she revised the poem and we dialogued back and forth about it. What a great idea and such a generous gesture! So, this is for all of you who work with children—who, in my experience, are often shocked and surprised to see that adults don’t create perfect poems in single drafts. Showing them the PROCESS of writing can be helpful and eye-opening. Here are SEVEN, count ‘em, seven versions of Janet’s poem about the age-old favorite car game, the License Plate Game.

First version:
(Notice the couplets with some end rhyme)

by Janet S. Wong

Take the letters

in a license plate—



And see what you can say.

Play with words:

Rest Stop Now!
Milk Shake Time!

Find words to steer

the driver’s mind

to places where

you want to go—

You can use

The License Plate Game

to disengage
the cruise control.

Second version:
(Notice the new title)

by Janet S. Wong

1RBT296 could mean

one Really Boring Trip.

Or if you’re hungry, just think quick:
say, it’s Really Burger Time!

The license plate letters game

lets you steer the driver’s mind.

Nothing jams a driver’s ear

more than asking, “Are we there?”

Find some letters, play things smart,

use your words to take aim:

the License Plate Letters Game.

Third version:
(Back to the old title; notice fewer words, the tighter structure)

by Janet S. Wong

1RBT296 could be

one Really Boring Trip.

So brainstorm silly things,

think quick:

Root Beer - Thirsty?

Rest - Burger Time!

Use words to steer

the driver's mind

to the destinations

that you name:

you control the cruise

with the License Plate Game.

Two fourth versions:
(Notice the shift from couplets to tercets in the first option)

by Janet S. Wong

When you’re aching

to complain,

when the drive is driving you insane,

play with the letters

in a license plate.

Think silly things, concentrate.

If the plate says
RSN 225,

you might suggest the family drive

to a nearby ReStauraNt.
Or what about a Rest Stop Now?

It really doesn’t matter how

you play the game.

Just try to find

words to steer the driver’s mind.

When you’re aching to complain,

and your legs are numb and your seat’s aflame,
why not try The License Plate Game?



by Janet S. Wong

Take the letters in a license plate—



and see what you can say.

Play the License Plate Game!

All three letters in one word:

RaiSiN, ReStauraNt, gingeRSNap

MuSTard, MySTery, druMSTick

Or choose a string of three:

Rest Stop Now

Milk Shake Time

The trick is, you have got to find

words to steer the driver’s mind.

When you’re aching to complain,

it’s time to try the License Plate Game.

Fifth version:
(Notice the tercet form prevails, but the end lines come from the second version)


by Janet S. Wong

When you're aching

to complain,

when the drive is driving you insane,

play with the letters

in a license plate.

Think silly things, concentrate.

Suppose you see

RSN 325.

You might suggest the family drive

to a nearby ReStauraNt.

Or what about a Rest Stop Now?
It really doesn't matter how

you play. Three words? OK.

Or use just one.

The thing is, try to have some fun

and search

and search until you find

words to steer the driver's mind.

When you're aching to complain,

all numb feet and seat aflame,
don't forget: The License Plate Game.

Final version:
(Notice the new ending stanza)

by Janet S. Wong

When you’re aching

to complain,

when the drive is driving you insane,

play with the letters

in a license plate.

Think silly things. Concentrate.

Suppose you see

RSN 325.

You might suggest the family drive

to a nearby ReStauraNt.

Or what about a Rest Stop Now?

It really doesn’t matter how

you play. Three words? OK.

Or use just one.

The thing is, try to have some fun

and search

and search until you find

words to steer the driver’s mind.

When your toes are numb

and your bottom’s blue,

the LPG will rescue you!

Thank you, Janet, for writing and sharing your poem and your poetry writing process!

For more poetry gems, check out the Poetry Friday Round Up at The Miss Rumphius Effect.

Picture credit:

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Poetry, the newspaper, and J. Pat Lewis

The first American newspaper, the Boston News-Letter, was published by John Campbell, a postmaster, on this day in 1704. I wrote about this last year (April 24, 2007) along with describing one of my favorite poem-creating activities: “found” poems. So, it’s time to make another poem-newspaper connection. Here’s a fun poem from a new collection by J. Patrick Lewis, The World’s Greatest: Poems, illustrated by Keith Graves (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2008).

The Smallest American Newspaper
Roseberg, Oregon

3 x 3 ¾ inches


by J. Patrick Lewis


Business section -- Funnies News

Crossword puzzle -- Book reviews

Here’s who died -- Latest sports

Want ads -- Weekly farm reports

Weather (cloudy) -- Women’s wear

The BANNER world’s a 3-inch square!

From: J. Patrick Lewis, The World’s Greatest: Poems, illustrated by Keith Graves. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2008, p. 13.

*Kids may want to create their own miniature newspapers, books, or poems. Or, they can explore other Guinness records and create poems to highlight the details.

These 25 poems are inspired by various facts and factoids from the Guinness Book of World Records and focus on the odd and unusual detail that kids find so fascinating. These are not poems about the fastest runner or the strongest lifter. No, here we encounter the stone skipping record and the most live scorpions eaten by a human. Crazy, but true! And Lewis turns each statistic into a humorous poem in a variety of poetic forms. Keith Graves’ illustrations are the perfect match, giving each poem an even zanier twist. And if you like this collection, look for Lewis’s A Burst of Firsts; Doers, Shakers, and Record Breakers (New York: Dial, 2001), another fun poetic tribute to the weird and wonderful.

Picture credit:

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Going Barefoot for National Garden Month

Among all the other month-long celebrations, April is also National Garden Month with people planting and pruning all around me. Since we moved into this home last December, we are working to get the landscaping renewed and refreshed—watering and fertilizing and planting perennials. We put in a whole new lawn in the backyard where a large shade tree had killed all the grass (and we’re cutting the tree back a bit, too, of course). One of my favorite parts of this process is walking barefoot on the new, soft, cool lawn (of St. Augustine grass).

Going barefoot is such a treat in childhood—freeing and often forbidden (unless you can't afford shoes-- which is another story). A new poetry collection celebrates those barefoot feelings and experiences: Barefoot; Poems for Naked Feet by Stefi Weisburd, illustrated by Lori McElrath-Eslick (Honesdale, PA: Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press, 2008). It includes 27 poems in a variety of forms with appealing watercolor illustrations expanding each one. Many of the poems address the fun, obvious aspects of feet at play, in babyhood, in shoes, jumping, dancing, walking, at the beach, in the pool, plus footrubs, pedicures, and even Mehndi painting. What a fun example of a topic that children can explore in concrete ways from multiple perspectives.

Here’s just a sampling:

Shoe Tattoo

by Stefi Weisburd

Tight shoes,

ribbed socks,

leave lines


Streams and hills,

fields of wheat.

A tiny landscape

on my feet!

From: Barefoot; Poems for Naked Feet by Stefi Weisburd, illustrated by Lori McElrath-Eslick. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press, 2008, p. 27.

This is Stefi’s first book for young people, although she has published much notable poetry for adults. Watch for more from this fresh voice.

For more poetry about body parts and movement:
Adoff, Arnold. 1979. I am the Running Girl. New York: Harper & Row.
Brown, Calef. 2000. Dutch Sneakers and Flea Keepers: 14 More Stories. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Cole, Joanna, comp. 1989. Anna Banana: 101 Jump-Rope Rhymes. Illus. by Alan Tiegreen. New York: HarperTrophy.
Creech, Sharon. 2004. Heartbeat. New York: HarperCollins.
Dotlich, Rebecca Kai. 2003. In the Spin of Things: Poetry of Motion. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press.
Grimes, Nikki. 2000. Shoe Magic. New York: Orchard Books.
Mayo, Margaret. 2002. Wiggle Waggle Fun: Stories and Rhymes for the Very Very Young. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick.
McCord, David. 1999. Every Time I Climb a Tree. New York: Little Brown.
Sierra, Judy. 2005. Schoolyard Rhymes: Kids’ Own Rhymes for Rope Skipping, Hand Clapping, Ball Bouncing, and Just Plain Fun. New York: Knopf.
Wolf, Allan. 2003. The Blood-Hungry Spleen and Other Poems About Our Parts. Ill. by Greg Clark. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick.
Wong, Janet. 2007. Twist: Yoga Poems. McElderry.

Try going barefoot again this month!

Picture credit: BestWebBuys

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

New poetry for Earth Day

It’s Earth Day and everyone is going green! It’s nice to see this become a “trend,” but I hope we can translate our current fascination into real, lasting action. In honor of the day, I would like to feature a new poetry collection with a focus on the Florida Everglades. It’s The Seldom-Ever-Shady Everglades; Poems and Quilts by Sue Van Wassenhove (Honesdale, PA: Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press). It’s a dynamic picture book poem collection with 17 poems set in the Florida Everglades and accompanied by quilts created by the poet with rich colors and textures. The poems focus primarily on the birds native to this setting, including several different kinds of heron, the cormorant, egret, mockingbird, and anhinga, with brief informational captions provided. The poems themselves are rich in information, too, with facts incorporated into rhyming and rhythmic verses. My favorite? The “Professor Heron,” of course!

Professor Heron
by Sue Van Wassenhove

Our Professor,

the great blue.

That black, slicked-back hairpiece

and subtle, mottled cravat

hide his bony neck.

A dusty, gray tweed jacket

with rusty academic shoulders and elbows

tops long, lock-kneed legs

and polished wing tips.

But his yellow-eyed stare

and gripped, tight-lipped silence

can outwait


squirming indignities

we try to submerge.

From: Van Wassenhove, Sue. 2008. The Seldom-Ever-Shady Everglades; Poems and Quilts. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press, p. 12

Sue’s Web site reveals more about her influences and interests, including a talent for making Ukranian Easter eggs, Swiss paper cuttings, and designing beadwork. Her eye for detail and line shows itself in her quilt illustrations, too. In her presentations, she can address the topic of poetry writing, or the Everglades, or the art of turning photographs into quilts. Such diversity!

And for more on the habitat of the Everglades check out the national park Web site. Everglades National Park is the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States. The area boasts rare and endangered species, such as the American crocodile, Florida panther, and West Indian manatee. It has been designated an International Biosphere Reserve, a World Heritage Site, and a Wetland of International Importance, in recognition of its significance to all the people of the world.

Happy Earth Day!

Picture credit: Amazon

Monday, April 21, 2008

A Poem for Kindergarten Day

According to the Web site, Recess, this month we also celebrate Kindergarten Day, in honor of Friedrich Froebel who was born on April 21, 1782, and who started the first Kindergarten in Germany in 1837. The school was built upon a series of innovative principles that used the innate curiosity and interests of children to guide them to see what Froebel believed to be the harmonious, interconnectedness of all things -- through song and play (which was unheard of in earlier schools); daily lessons in drawing, design, and other artistic activities; and learning through active doing and close contacts with the natural world -- many of the kindergartens actually had real gardens attached to them that the children tended and in doing so, Froebel believed, cultivated their own inner lives.

I attended kindergarten in Germany, long before I knew the connection between Froebel, Germany and kindergarten. This just happened to be where my grandparents lived and where we were staying when I was 5. What are my memories of kindergarten? My best friend’s name was Christina and when I received a beautiful doll that Christmas, I named the doll after her. (I still have that doll!) I remember the annual Christmas program and singing carols in German by candlelight. I remember being scolded for being too loud and giggly (a recurring theme throughout my life!). I remember being equal parts exhilarated and intimidated by this new setting and experience.

Kindergarten is such a big step for the young child. A step away from home and into the world of others—without the comfort of family beside you. Here’s a poem to celebrate this momentous life experience.

“How are you today?”
by Stephanie Calmenson

Good morning!

Who’s sleepy?

Who’s sniffly?

Who’s jumpy?

Who’s grumpy?

Who’s silly?
Who’s happy?

Who’s listening?

Who’s ready to learn?

Who’s ready to play?

Who’s ready to start

Our kindergarten day?

From: Calmenson, Stephanie. 2005. Kindergarten Kids: Riddles, Rebuses, Wiggles, Giggles, and More! New York, NY. HarperCollins Publishers.

*This poem begs to be read with pantomimed motions and expressions: sleepy, sniffly, jumpy, grumpy, silly, happy, listening, learning. Brainstorm which gestures and expressions to use together and then re-read the poem with accompanying actions.
*To follow up: Kids can discuss their first day of kindergarten. Was it a positive or negative experience? Were they happy or sad, excited or afraid? What about other memorable days or experiences in kindergarten? Any fun photos or drawings to share?

[With thanks to Nora Sanchez for finding and sharing this poem.]

Picture credit: Me in kindergarten in Germany

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Monarch’s Progress and Avis Harley

Avis Harley has a new book of poetry out this spring: The Monarch’s Progress; Poems with Wings (Honesdale, PA: Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press). Once again, she approaches a nature topic through a variety of poetic forms, including haiku, alphabet poems, acrostics, sonnets, cinquains, limericks, and more—all about the monarch butterfly. Plus, there are interesting endnotes that correspond to each poem. Here’s my favorite, the final poem:

by Avis Harley

The butterfly was there
before any human art was made.
Before cathedrals rose in prayer,
the butterfly was there.
Before pyramids pierced the air
or Great Wall stones were laid,
the butterfly was there.
Before any human, art was made.

From Harley, Avis. 2008. The Monarch’s Progress; Poems with Wings. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press. p. 27

*Invite kids to join in on the repeated line as you read it aloud.
*Pair with the Orbis Pictus award winning nonfiction picture book, An Extraordinary Life: The Story of a Monarch Butterfly by Laurence Pringle and Bob Marstall

And for more about Avis Harley and her work, check out Poetry People. Here’s an excerpt:
Avis Harley’s poetry writing is characterized by its diversity and experimentation. She enjoys trying poetry in all its different formats and is adept at demonstrating poetic form for children. Her first collection Fly With Poetry: An ABC of Poetry (Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press 2000) includes twenty-seven original short poems, generally one for each letter of the alphabet such as acrostics, blank verse, cinquain, etc. In addition, a brief definition of the form is provided as a caption at the bottom of each page. Fourteen additional poetic forms are shared in the back of the book. This is a tremendous resource for children who want to try their own hands at creating poetry. Harley’s poem examples are brief, vivid, and clear.

Harley has a second volume of poetry organized around the same alphabet theme, Leap Into Poetry (Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press 2001). In this book, she provides 26 poems about insects, each demonstrating another poetic form or literary term, such as "jargon" or "karanamala." Once again, each term is also defined in a single line across the bottom of the page.

Avis Harley used color photographs as the centerpiece for her book Sea Stars: Saltwater Poems (Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press 2006) illustrated by Margaret Butschler. Each of these 27 poems was inspired by a photograph of a sea creature, and again Harley incorporates a variety of poetic forms–including rhyming couplets, haiku, tanka, and nursery rhyme parody. The poems are brief, well-crafted and clever, full of wordplay and accompanied by exquisite images. Brief endnotes provide additional information about each sea creature.

For playing with form and language, Avis Harley is a poet to watch!

Picture credit: Amazon

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Reviewing the TLA Poetry Round Up

I’m still riding the high of my Poetry Round Up at the Texas Library Association conference this week! Five fabulous poets, John Frank, Juanita Havill, Alan Katz, Linda Sue Park, and Adam Rex, worked their magic on an audience of nearly 200 participants. It was fantastic! John Frank read from How to Catch a Fish and his new collection, Keepers, in his deep and steady voice. Juanita shared excerpts from her new novel in verse, Grow, that brought several audience members to tears. Alan Katz had us in stitches laughing over poems from his new book, Oops, and his upcoming follow up, Uh-Oh. What fun to feature Linda Sue Park as a POET as she read her sijo poems from Tap Dancing on the Roof, plus a brand new sijo on explaining baseball to an alien. And Adam Rex wrapped it up for us with his deadpan delivery accompanied by slides from his hysterical collection, Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich, as well as the upcoming sequel, Frankenstein Bakes a Cake. (Thank you ALL for coming and sharing!) [Unfortunately, poet Tracie Vaughn Zimmer was not able to come due to an illness, but we hope she is well soon and will join us for the Round Up next year!]

What fun! What variety! The different voices, styles, and approaches helped the audience see the tremendous range of poetry available for young people today. PLUS, the experience of HEARING poetry was moving and exhilarating. People stopped me throughout the rest of the conference to tell me how much they had enjoyed the session. One woman said, and I’m paraphrasing, “I loved just soaking up the words of the poets, sitting back and taking it all in. But I also realized that I was getting ideas about how to share the poems with kids, how to connect the poems with various activities, and get kids involved.” EXACTLY! We spend so much time at conferences attending informational sessions, learning new strategies, networking, etc. But so little time just reveling in literature, hearing the lyrical language of literature, remembering what motivates us all to work as librarians and teachers—sharing our love of literature with kids and hoping they’ll love it too. And in my experience, nothing captures that quite so well as experiencing the literature firsthand through reading and listening—especially to literature read by the creator. It’s primal!

I’m proud to say we’ve brought 26 poets to Texas over the last four years including: John Frank, Juanita Havill, Alan Katz, Linda Sue Park, Adam Rex, Jaime Adoff, Tony Crunk, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Charise Mericle Harper, Heidi Zingerline Mordhorst, Eileen Spinelli, Marilyn Singer, Calef Brown, Felipe Herrera, Kathi Appelt, Nikki Grimes, Stephanie Hemphill, Carole Boston Weatherford, Walter Dean Myers, Joyce Sidman, Quincy Troupe, Lee Bennett Hopkins, Janet Wong, Kurt Cyrus, Pat Mora, Susan Pearson. What an embarrassment of riches! Each voice has been a delight. I encourage you all to seek out poets and poetry and share them OUT LOUD with kids you care about. There’s nothing quite like it. It’s like a rock concert experience, a night at the theater, or meeting the President (any president!).

Some of the most interesting literature for children today can be found in poetry-- from humorous rhymes to verse novels. How do we create a welcoming environment for poetry? Poet and teacher Georgia Heard put it this way, “Kids need to become friends with poetry…. They need to know that poems can comfort them, make them laugh, help them remember, nurture them to know and understand themselves more completely” (1999, p.20). This session helped participants become familiar with some of the best poets writing for young people today with a panel of acclaimed poets sharing favorites from their own work through reading aloud or performance. Modeled after the “Poetry Blast” session first sponsored by ALSC at the 2004 ALA convention, this session reminds us all of the pleasures to be found in the spoken word. Look for it again next year at TLA in Houston—and in Anaheim at the ALSC Poetry Blast on Monday, June 30. See you there!

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Friday, April 18, 2008

Poetry for Laundry Day

On this date in 1934, the first Laundromat, called a “washeteria” was opened in Fort Worth, TX. Right in my own backyard, so to speak. [Thanks, Lee BH, for that tidbit from Days to Celebrate: A Full Year of Poetry, People, Holidays, History, Fascinating Facts, and More (New York: Greenwillow, 2005).]

How about some poetry about laundry?

Sock Eater
by Betsy Rosenthal

On laundry days

my mother says

the dryer is a crook.

It’s all because

a sock is gone—

the one the dryer took.

I tell my mom she shouldn’t

let the dryer

see us eat.

It’s sure to munch a sock or two

because it craves a treat.

From: Rosenthal, Betsy R. 2004. My House is Singing. Illus. by Margaret Chodos-Irvine. San Diego: Harcourt.

I’ve written about this anthology before and cited “My House’s Night Song” as my tribute poem when I moved into my new home last December. I continue to find more gems as I pore over this collection. And if you need more laundry poetry, look for:

Janeczko, Paul B., comp. 2001. Dirty Laundry Pile: Poems in Different Voices. illus. Melissa Sweet. New York: HarperCollins. (however not ALL the poems are about laundry!)

As we say in Texas—who’da thunk it? Poetry about laundry?!

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Support Teen Literature Day, TBD, and more

Celebrate the first national Poem In Your Pocket Day today, April 17. The idea is simple: choose a poem during National Poetry Month to carry and share with friends, co-workers, family, even strangers on April 17. Get ideas for creating your own Poem In Your Pocket Day event, and or browse for the perfect pocket poem.

Today is also Support Teen Literature Day. Readergirlz and YALSA have organized Operation TBD (Teen Book Drop): a massive, coordinated release of 10,000 publisher-donated YA books into the top pediatric hospitals across the country. You can celebrate Support Teen Lit Day, too. Start by downloading a readergirlz/YALSA bookplate for Operation TBD (Teen Book Drop) that you’ll find at the readergirlz Web site along with booklists and bookmarks.

Then drop a Book! Leave one copy of a YA book on April 17th in a teen gathering spot in your community. Place it where the book will be found, taken, and read (i.e. a coffee shop, the park, a community center, a bus stop.) And make sure you've placed an Operation TBD bookplate inside. Celebrate at the TBD Post Op Party: Party with readergirlz and YA authors on their online two-hour book bash hosted at the readergirlz MySpace forum, on April 17th from 6-8pm PDT / 9-11pm EDT. Win books and prizes, chat with other book lovers, and celebrate literacy.

Final tidbit: Readergirlz selected Kelly Bingham's book Shark Girl to celebrate Operation TBD and National Poetry Month. Her novel in verse chronicles a girl's life after a shark attack and her loss of an arm. Readergirlz will host a LIVE chat with Kelly (the author) on April 24th, at 6:00 p.m. PDT / 9:00 p.m. EDT.

More FYI from the press release:
This unprecedented teen literacy program, coined “Operation TBD”, will put free books—altogether valued at more than $175,000—donated by 20 book publishers into the hands of many of the teens most in need of solace, entertainment and a sense of personal accomplishment. After all, long-term hospital stays can be difficult on many levels—for teenagers and their families.

Justina Chen Headley, co-founder of readergirlz and award-winning novelist, wanted to find a way to support teen patients going through such difficulties through a massive book drop. “While touring my local children’s hospital to research my novel, Girl Overboard, I couldn’t help noticing that teen patients didn’t seem to have the comfort objects that the little ones did,” she said. “As an author, I knew that YA books—books with exceptional characters and fabulous stories—could provide teen patients with some of the escape and inspiration they needed. And I knew that readergirlz and YALSA were just the groups to spearhead a teen literacy program of this magnitude.

ALSO: Wish me luck with my 4th annual TLA Poetry Round Up today. I'll let you know how it goes...

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Adam Rex to Rock Poetry Round Up

Check out Adam Rex’s Web site or blog and you’ll see he is an artist with a vivid imagination and a writer with a sense of the outrageous. You’ll also learn that he loves pie, but not flying beetles, studied illustration at the University of Arizona, created art for the Dungeons & Dragons game, sculpts many of his book characters, and currently lives in Philadelphia with his physicist wife, Marie, and two cats as “big as buffalos.”

His first children's book was illustrating The Dirty Cowboy written by Amy Timberlake published in 2003, followed by several in the Lucy Rose series by Katy Kelly. In just a few short years, he has written and illustrated almost a dozen works, including his recent poetry collection, Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich, a New York Times bestseller. School Library Journal said "The book is fresh, creative, and funny, with just enough gory detail to cause a few gasps. Kids will eat it up." And Kirkus gave it a *starred review*, saying "Readers will relish every gross and hilarious entry in this monstrous menu of misadventures. Here’s a read-aloud candidate sure to elicit loud screams--but not of fright."

Here is just a sample (about my favorite character, the Phantom, who is plagued with a variety of song tunes that he just can’t get out of his head):

If the Phantom of the Opera Can’t Get “Pop Goes the Weasel” Out of His Head HE’S GOING TO FREAK OUT
by Adam Rex

All around the Opera House

the Phantom throws a tantrum.

The song won’t die—he doesn’t know why.

“Stop!” goes the phantom.

From: Rex, Adam. 2005. Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich. San Diego: Harcourt, p. 21
[And of course, you have to SING this poem, too!]

For more “monster” poems, look for:
Ciardi, John. 1966. The Monster Den; or, Look What Happened at My House --and to It.
Philadelphia: Lippincott. 1991. Reprinted: Honesdale, PA: Wordsong.
Florian, Douglas. 1993. Monster Motel: Poems and Paintings. San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace.
Hopkins, Lee Bennett. 1977. Monsters, Ghoulies, and Creepy Creatures: Fantastic Stories and Poems. New York: Albert Whitman.
McNaughton, Colin. 2002. Making Friends with Frankenstein. Cambridge: Candlewick.
Prelutsky, Jack. 2001. Awful Ogre’s Awful Day. New York: Greenwillow.
Prelutsky, Jack. 1999. The Gargoyle on the Roof. New York: Greenwillow.
Prelutsky, Jack. 2000. Monday’s Troll. New York: HarperTrophy.
Prelutsky, Jack. 1976. Nightmares: Poems to Trouble Your Sleep. New York: Greenwillow. Reprinted, New York: Mulberry Books, 1993.
Sierra, Judy. 2005. Gruesome Guide to World Monsters. Cambridge: Candlewick.
Sierra, Judy. 2001. Monster Goose. San Diego: Gulliver Books.
Sierra, Judy. 2006. Thelonius Monster's Sky-High Fly-Pie. New York: Knopf.
Singer, Marilyn. 2004. Creature Carnival. New York: Hyperion.
Singer, Marilyn. 2001. Monster Museum. New York: Hyperion.

Who knew there were so many poetry books about monsters?

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

National Library Week: A new Pat Lewis library poem

This week is also National Library Week (April 13-19)! First sponsored in 1958, National Library Week is a national observance sponsored by the American Library Association. And of course, I have to share a library poem (perhaps my favorite topic of all). This time, I’m lucky enough to have a new, original poem to share from the always generous and prolific, J. Pat Lewis. Enjoy!

The Librarian

by J. Patrick Lewis

After school one day I was talking to Mr.
Butterwinkle, the school librarian.
"Can you
Define ABECEDARIAN?" I asked.
"Easy," he said. "But
First I think you should
Go to Webster's Unabridged Dictionary, and...
Hmm, here's one," he said. "Now,
Isabelle, when you're looking for sparkling word
Jewels, try to
Keep them spit-shined, ready to go. A dictionary's
Like a trap, an irresistible
Mind trap.
Nobody can discover
One beaut without two more
Popping up-fifty-cent
Quality words-in
Xerox them. Hang them in your locker. Now
You're in the
Zone. Oh, I forgot. ABECEDARIAN. Look it up."

Used with permission from J. Patrick Lewis.

I love this ABC connection, don’t you? Paul Janeczko writes about this poetic form in Poetry from A to Z: A Guide for Young Writers (New York: Bradbury, 1994). I have posted about the link between the ABCs and poetry before on April 21, 2007, last year. Just as a refresher, here are some poetry collections that are organized alphabetically ala the dictionary.

Ada, Alma Flor. 1997. Gathering the Sun: An Alphabet in Spanish and English. Lothrop, Lee, & Shepard.
Bryan, Ashley. 1997. Ashley Bryan's ABC of African American Poetry. Atheneum.
Harley, Avis. 2000. Fly with Poetry; An ABC of Poetry. Wordsong/Boyds Mills.
Harley, Avis. 2001. Leap into Poetry: More ABCs of Poetry. Wordsong/Boyds Mills.
Hopkins, Lee Bennett. 2003. Alphathoughts. Boyds Mills Press.
Hopkins, Lee Bennett. 1994. April Bubbles Chocolate. Simon & Schuster.
Janeczko. Paul, comp. 1994. Poetry from A to Z: A Guide for Young Writers. Bradbury.
Merriam, Eve. 1995. Halloween ABC. Aladdin.
Schnur, Steven. 1997. Autumn: An Alphabet Acrostic. Clarion. (See also: Winter: An Alphabet Acrostic; Spring: An Alphabet Acrostic; and Summer: An Alphabet Acrostic all by Steven Schnur)
Sierra, Judy. 2004. There's a Zoo in Room 22. Voyager.
Wilbur, Richard. 2001. The Disappearing Alphabet. Voyager.

Do you know of any other alpha-poems or alpha-poem collections? Visit your library during library week and let me know if you find any!

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Monday, April 14, 2008

Young People’s Poetry Week (April 14-20), TLA & Tracie Vaughn Zimmer

This third week of April was designated as Young People’s Poetry Week (by the Children's Book Council), so I’m tickled that my TLA Poetry Round Up occurs this week. One of the panelists for our Round Up is the up-and-comer Tracie Vaughn Zimmer. A former teacher of kids with special needs, and the author of many teaching and discussion guides for books by other writers, Tracie grew up in Ohio with a twin sister and a big family. Early teachers encouraged her writing and she published her first book, a poetry collection, Sketches from a Spy Tree, in 2005, a New York Public Library Best Book.

Last year’s book, Reaching for Sun, is a wonderful coming-of-age story about a girl growing up with cerebral palsy, told through free verse poems. It is also the winner of the Schneider Family Book award. School Library Journal hailed its “poetic structure” and “imagery” and Booklist noted that this “appealing story will capture readers' hearts with its winsome heroine and affecting situations.”

Tracie’s newest poetry book, 42 Miles, is about a girl who is turning thirteen and lives a life divided between her city apartment with her mom and the family farm with her dad. Tracie’s first work that is not poetry is also debuting this year, A Floating Circus, a historical novel set on a circus boat in the 1850's. What diversity!

For a taste of Tracie’s writing, here is a sample poem from Reaching for Sun:

by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer

What do you want to be?
adults always ask,

as if you know
by fourteen

what you want to be doing

at forty-five.
I used to make up stuff:



all the people

I knew my mom
wanted to hear.

I know

more what I don’t want to be:

a single parent,


stuck behind some desk

or in school longer than

I need to go.
And that will have to be


for now.

From Zimmer, Tracie Vaughn. 2007. Reaching for Sun. Bloomsbury (p. 175-176).

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

Happy birthday, Lee Bennett Hopkins, on Scrabble Day

April 13 is supposedly Scrabble Day, one of my favorite word game/board games. Scrabble was created in 1938 by Alfred Mosher Butts. For a fun poetry connection, see how Mike Keith has used the scrabble squares to create a poem: A Scrabble®-Tile Anagram Poem by Mike Keith (2000).

Even more importantly, April 13 is Lee Bennett Hopkins’ birthday. Happy birthday, Lee! He has been the focus of discussion on the CCBC listserv recently as we’ve considered his enormous contributions to the field of poetry for young people. Check out my April 13 posting from last year for more information about Lee, his life, and his work. This year I’d like to talk about his latest anthology, America at War. It’s a beautiful, moving collection with more than fifty poems and paintings divided into eight sections featuring each “American” war, from the American Revolution to the Iraq War. Classic poems by the likes of Walt Whitman and Carl Sandburg appear alongside contemporary voices such as Rebecca Kai Dotlich and Georgia Heard.

However, the book is not about war, as Hopkins points out in his poignant introduction. “It is about the poetry of war…. America at War presents the raw emotions of warfare as seen and felt by poets.” The design and layout of the book are also perfectly tuned to the tone of the work, with each poem appearing to be engraved upon the large, creamy page accompanied by expansive watercolor illustrations that convey a historical sweep that evokes the WPA murals of the past. Together, the poems and art capture both specific details of each conflict as well as deep and tender emotions that sadly cross the ages. Here’s one example:

by Cynthia Cotten

My brother is a soldier
in a hot, dry,

sandy place.

He’s missing—

missing things like

baseball, barbecues,

fishing, French fries,

chocolate sodas,
flame-red maple trees,

blue jays,

and snow.

I’m missing, too—


his read-out-loud voice,

his super-special

banana pancakes,
his scuffed up shoes

by the back door,

his big-bear

good night


There are people

with guns
in that land of sand

who want to shoot

my brother.

I hope

they miss him,


From Hopkins, Lee Bennett, comp. 2008. America at War. New York: Margaret K. McElderry.

Be sure and look for Lee’s other poetry anthologies with a focus on U.S. history and geography:
Hopkins, Lee Bennett, comp. 1994. Hand in Hand: An American History through Poetry. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Hopkins, Lee Bennett, comp. 1999. Lives: Poems about Famous Americans. New York: HarperCollins.
Hopkins, Lee Bennett, comp. 2000. My America: A Poetry Atlas of the United States. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Hopkins, Lee Bennett, comp. 2002. Home to Me: Poems Across America. New York: Orchard.

Thank you for your continuing contributions to children, reading, and poetry, Lee!

Picture credit: Me!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Linda Sue Park comes to Texas

You may have heard of Linda Sue Park. She picked up a little thing called the Newbery Award for her book, A Single Shard, a historical novel set in twelfth-century Korea. But for the upcoming Texas Library Association Poetry Round Up she dons a different hat, that of poet. But first, a bit of background info. She was born in Illinois, is a Stanford grad, married an Irishman, is the mother of two, worked as a journalist and teacher, and is an avid reader, reviewer and blogger. Her previous works include: the novels: Seesaw Girl, The Kite Fighters, When My Name Was Keoko, Project Mulberry, Archer’s Quest, the unique collaboration Click, and her latest book, a "sports" novel set in 1950’s Brooklyn, Keeping Score. She also has several picture books to her credit including The Firekeeper’s Son, Bee-Bim Bop, and Yum! Yuck!

When it comes to poetry, she has long been a contributor to literary journals and has now published her first work of poetry for young people, Tap Dancing on the Roof; Sijo Poems—a unique collection of traditional Korean poems with surprises in the last line. Her extensive author's note at the end is especially wonderful and offers history, advice and encouragement. Here’s a lovely sampling:

by Linda Sue Park

For someone to read a poem
again, and again, and then,

having lifted it from page
to brain-- the easy part—

cradle it on the longer trek
from brain all the way to heart.

From: Park, Linda Sue. 2007. Tap Dancing on the Roof; Sijo Poems. Clarion.

Isn't that beautiful? It reminds me of other poems about poetry-- a topic I love. Here are two other favorites:

The Poem as a Door
by Eve Merriam

A door
is never
A door
is always

You cannot skip over,
you cannot crawl under;
walk through the wood,
it splits asunder.

If you expect it to be bolted,
it will be.

There is only one opening:
yourself as the key.

With a sigh of happiness
you pass through
to find on the other side
someone with a sigh of happiness
welcoming you.

from Merriam, Eve. 1992. The Singing Green: New and Selected Poems for All Seasons. New York: HarperCollins.


The Bridge
by Kaissar Afif
translated by Mansour Ajami

Poetry is a river
And solitude a bridge.

Through writing
We cross it,
Through reading

We return.

From Nye, Naomi Shihab. comp. 1998. The Space Between Our Footsteps: Poems and Paintings From the Middle East. New York: Simon & Schuster.

What are your favorite poems about poetry?

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Friday, April 11, 2008

Juanita Havill and GROW

Time to plug my TLA poetry panel again. Coming to Texas next week: Juanita Havill. In 1986, Juanita Havill introduced readers to a young African-American girl named Jamaica in her first published picture book, Jamaica's Find. She was a hit! Over a dozen years later, together with sometime-friend Brianna, brother Ossie, and assorted teachers and classmates, Jamaica has continued to entertain readers in at least six picture book stories. Juanita Havill has authored at least 10 other picture books, as well as three novels for young readers. Her work has been recognized with several Child Study Children's Book Awards from Bank Street College, Children's Choices citations, and the Ezra Jack Keats New Writer award. Her previous poetry collection, I Heard It from Alice Zucchini, and Other Poems about the Garden, (Chronicle Books, 2005) was described as a “a bountiful harvest of lyrical poems” by School Library Journal, with “flawless rhythms and storytelling narratives.” Her newest work, Grow, A Novel in Verse, continues the garden theme in a verse novel about a girl struggling with who she will be and become, nurtured by a neighbor who works to create a garden in a public space. As they plant and weed and tend the garden, neighborhood relationships evolve and grow, too. Here’s a sample poem:

Bolting Lettuce
by Juanita Havill

Some of the big early tomatoes
are red,
round, and juicy.
Radishes picked
and crunched,
their spicy cool

in my mouth.

If we give it

half a chance,

the lettuce

will bolt.

(Berneetha’s word.)

When she tells me

about bolting,

I think I feel

what the lettuce feels.

People have finally quit

pulling the leaves off
here and there,

cutting me down to size.

They let me have my head,

let me grow, grow, grow
into what
I’ve been wanting

to be all along—

a flower.

From Grow, A Novel in Verse (Peachtree, 2008; p. 123-124)

Check out my previous posting on April 29, 2007 for Children’s Poetry for National Garden Month for more poetry books about gardens and gardening.

For even more poetry connections, go to the Poetry Friday Round Up hosted by Cloudscome at A Wrung Sponge.

Picture credit: Amazon

Thursday, April 10, 2008

National Siblings Day: Alan Katz and OOPS

One week from today: The Poetry Round Up at the Texas Library Association annual convention. One of the featured poets will be Alan Katz, a multiple-Emmy-nominee for his work on The Rosie O'Donnell Show and Disney's Raw Toonage as well as several editions of the Grammy Awards and Tony Awards, Kids Are People Too, Nickelodeon projects, network specials, and game shows. He has also written hundreds of comic books, trading cards and other special projects for kids and their parents. He lives with his journalist wife, Rose, and their four children in Weston, Connecticut. His poetry is part nonsense rhyme and part sing along silly songs, including:

Take Me Out of the Bathtub. Margaret K. McElderry, May, 2001.
I’m Still Here in the Bathtub. Margaret K. McElderry, April, 2003.
Where Did They Hide My Presents? Margaret K. McElderry, October, 2005.
Are You Quite Polite. Margaret K. McElderry, 2006.

His newest book is Oops! (Margaret K. McElderry, 2008) illustrated with wonderfully cranky cartoons by renowned New Yorker cartoonist Edward Koren. Katz lampoons kids’ foibles, as well as parents and grownups of all stripes and types. I particularly like the last 30 pages of the book (the “Oops, There’s More!” section) where Katz lets the reader into his poetry process, sharing his first poem from fourth grade, photographs of childhood report cards, awful sketches, and hilarious stream of consciousness poet musings. Check it out. And in honor of National Siblings Day, enjoy this poem by Katz from Oops:

No Sale
by Alan Katz

I put my brother on eBay,
but nobody made a bid.
Perhaps it’s ‘cause I listed him
as “A Really Stinky Kid.”

I knew it’d be hard to sell him,
but not quite as hard as this.
I think I’d better lower the price…
and maybe throw in our sis.

From Oops (Margaret K. McElderry, 2008, p. 68)

Picture credit: and Amazon