Tuesday, July 02, 2019


Welcome to a new series I'm launching on my blog: EXTRA! EXTRA! 
I'm inviting poets to share a poem that did NOT end up in their published book-- and provide a bit of backstory about the choice not to include that particular poem. Did you know that poetry collections and novels in verse are often built upon large selections of poetry and the poet and editor OMIT some of those poems? Yes, indeed! And of course poems may also be edited, moved around, and expanded too. But I'm always curious about that initial selection of poems that MIGHT become a book and how that changes along the way. So, here we go. My friend and collaborator, Janet Wong, has graciously agreed to share one poem that was not included in the original publication of A SUITCASE OF SEAWEED in 1996. 

In Janet's words:

The manuscript for A SUITCASE OF SEAWEED was originally published in 1996 by Margaret K. McElderry Books/Simon & Schuster. We recently reissued it as A SUITCASE OF SEAWEED & MORE under the Yuzu imprint of Pomelo Books. When deciding on the format of this reissue, I toyed with the idea of including poems that were omitted from the original manuscript, but decided that it would be best just to feature new material for each published poem. In this new book, each poem now faces a prose piece that gives insight into the poem. The prose piece is on the same page as a very short writing prompt that encourages readers to dive into their own experiences.

The original manuscript contained several poems that my editor Margaret McElderry decided to omit. Margaret was an icon in children’s publishing. People didn’t just revere her; they obeyed her unconditionally. When she told you to omit something from a book, she usually gave only a very short explanation, but I understood her “omit” orders to be complete rejections of those poems. I did challenge her a few times on various things, but it was made clear, especially in our face-to-face meetings and phone calls, that it would be better to just do what she said. When the poem “American Daughter” was rejected, I put it in a box of poems and correspondence that I have ignored for more than twenty years.

copyright ©2019 by Janet S. Wong
It’s hard to see, but Margaret’s comments on this poem read: “omit (mng. [meaning] too subtle for young readers who don’t know the Chinese tradition).” She has also written in “Grand?” (presumably to suggest changing the word “Daughter” to “Granddaughter” if the poem were to be used).

Note re “young readers”: When Margaret asked me what age range I thought this book was for, I said, “Well, GOOD LUCK GOLD [my first book] was probably for ages 8 and up, but this book seems older.” Margaret corrected me immediately by saying, “GOOD LUCK GOLD was for ages 9 and up.” I thought it was funny that she had such a clear idea of the bottom age; it was even funnier when the two books finally came out (GOOD LUCK GOLD in Fall 1994 and A SUITCASE OF SEAWEED in Spring 1996) and the jackets listed them both for “10 and up."

Some reflections on this poem:

I used “Daughter” because this was a conversation that the girl was having with her mother. Her mother was teaching her how to be humble—so she would know better than to carelessly accept her grandparents’ compliments.

I needn’t have limited it to “Chinese,” especially since my Korean mother definitely felt this way about humility and boasting. Asian children generally (and girls, especially) are expected to be modest to the point of self-deprecating. Saying thank you for a compliment is a sign of conceit.

Janet Wong at age 5 outside her grandparents' apartment
Would this poem’s meaning have been too subtle for children, as Margaret thought? Probably. Margaret was probably right. But I’ll bet some children, not just Asian children, would recognize this scenario instantly. They would feel good that someone understood. Also, maybe, people who tried to compliment an Asian girl—only to have that compliment rebuffed by her or her family—would gain some insight. I have read that in various cultures all over the world (in the past), people would say bad things about babies, even giving them negative names, so that the gods would not take them away.

The final line in this poem is really important: the grandparents would’ve been proud. What’s important in a traditional Asian family is pride (or unfortunately more important, shame). Love? Togetherness? Fun? These are unnecessary; happy parents are the ones whose children make them proud.

From Sylvia: Thank you, Janet, for sharing so honestly. I love how this short poem says so much about family and cultural expectations-- things we all cope with, but in different ways. Your poem has made me think more deeply about what makes proud parents and happy families and how quick I may be to judge what I think that "should" mean. Wonderful how a single poem (and your honest back-story) make us question our own beliefs and remember our own experiences. Janet's book, A Suitcase of A Seaweed & More was recently selected for the CBC Showcase Family Heritage. With this new pairing of poetry and prose pieces throughout, it's a gem of a reading experience and a fantastic teaching tool.  

Now don't miss the Poetry Friday gathering hosted by Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect

Friday, June 21, 2019

Coretta Scott King Award & Honor POETRY BOOKS

As you may know, this is the year we celebrate FIFTY YEARS of the Coretta Scott King Award, given annually to "outstanding African American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values." In addition, the award "commemorates the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and honors his wife, Mrs. Coretta Scott King, for her courage and determination to continue the work for peace and world brotherhood." (You can find our more about this important award at the CSK Blog here.) We'll be celebrating all weekend long at the annual conference of the American Library Association in Washington DC-- at a gala, the annual breakfast, and at multiple sessions. 

I follow this award closely because it showcases new and favorite names of creators of books I admire and enjoy. BUT, I especially love this award because it consistently honors quite a lot of poetry for young people, too. I'm sure the award committee members are not necessarily singling out poetry for the award, but that's how it often turns out. What does that say? Does the African American community have a big heart for poetry? YES! Do African American writers have a gift for writing poetry? YES! Should we all be grateful for their contributions and leadership in giving young audiences more and more wonderful, powerful poetry on a regular basis? YES! YES! YES! 

So, I thought it might be meaningful to pause and highlight the poetry selections from the last fifty years of CSK awards here. There are 35 books of poetry to note! (As a point of comparison, only 14 books of poetry have been recognized in 100 years of the Newbery award (including honor books). And this amazing CSK selection of poetry includes anthologies, single poet collections, picture book collections, novels in verse, biographies in verse, and more. And look at the names!  Jacqueline Woodson, Marilyn Nelson, Nikki Grimes, Eloise Greenfield, Joyce Carol Thomas, Angela Johnson, Lucille Clifton, and others-- each winning multiple CSK awards, as well as Newbery, Printz and other awards and honors, too. It's a "who's who" of poetry and during the last 20 years, in particular, we're seeing poetry garner more and more awards. Happy dance!  So, without further ado, here is the list of works of poetry that have earned the Coretta Scott King Author Award or Author Honor recognition. Do yourself a favor, and please keep the Coretta Scott King Award on your radar in the future, particularly if you seek out quality poetry for young people. You won't be disappointed. 

Coretta Scott King Author Award and Honor Books of POETRY
Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds 
Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan illustrated and written by Ashley Bryan
brown girl dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson 
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
How I Discovered Poetry by Marilyn Nelson
Words with Wings by Nikki Grimes
Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America by Andrea Davis Pinkney 
Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson
The Great Migration: Journey to the North by Eloise Greenfield
Never Forgotten by Patricia C. McKissack
Keeping the Night Watch by Hope Anita Smith
The Blacker the Berry by Joyce Carol Thomas
Becoming Billie Holiday by Carole Boston Weatherford
Twelve Rounds to Glory: The Story of Muhammad Ali by Charles R. Smith
Dark Sons by Nikki Grimes
A Wreath for Emmett Till by Marilyn Nelson
Fortune’s Bones: The Manumission Requiem by Marilyn Nelson
The First Part Last by Angela Johnson
Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson
Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes 
Talkin’ About Bessie: The Story of Aviator Elizabeth Coleman by Nikki Grimes
Jazmin’s Notebook  by Nikki Grimes
The Other Side: Shorter Poems by Angela Johnson
Brown Honey in Broomwheat Tea by Joyce Carol Thomas
Night on Neighborhood Street by Eloise Greenfield
When I Am Old with You by Angela Johnson
Nathaniel Talking by Eloise Greenfield
Everett Anderson’s Goodbye by Lucille Clifton 
Don’t Explain: A Song of Billie Holiday by Alexis De Veaux
Africa Dream by Eloise Greenfield
Everett Anderson's Friend by Lucille Clifton
I Am a Black Woman by Mari Evans
Every Man Heart Lay Down by Lorenz Graham
The Voice of the Children by June Jordan and Terri Bush

For more Poetry Friday adventures, go to A Word Edgewise where Linda is hosting this week. 


Thursday, June 06, 2019

Wichita Falls Workshop

Janet (Wong) and I ended the school year with an all-day workshop for the teachers of Region 9 in collaboration with Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas. All the teachers had finished the school year with their students, so I expected them to be exhausted and ready to rest. But we had a wonderful audience of enthusiastic and articulate teachers who were fully engaged! And we covered a wide range of topics:

Session 1: Creating a Positive School Culture with Poetry
Successful educators build regular “touch points” into their routines to create a safe and engaging learning environment. Poetry can be a powerful tool for offering a shared literary experience in just a few minutes, providing both curricular benefits and emotional connections.

Session 2: Poetry, TEKS, and Take 5!
The Take 5! approach featured in The Poetry Friday Anthology series allows teachers to share poetry—as well as connections to the TEKS and the details and patterns specific to poetry—in simple and meaningful ways. Step-by-step instructions and a wide variety of examples across grade levels will give teachers confidence in using these mini-lessons right away.

Session 3: Building Basic Language Skills with Poetry 
The Poetry Friday Power Book series provides easy-to-implement mini-lessons in prewriting, writing, and basic language skills such as spelling and punctuation. We’ll demonstrate creative strategies to engage students in reading and writing poetry while integrating these basic skills.

Session 4: Poetry Across the Curriculum
We will show how infusing poetry across the curriculum can serve to jump-start or introduce a topic, present examples of terminology or concepts, provide closure that is concept-rich, or extend a topic further. The brevity of poetry is less intimidating to children who may be overwhelmed by streams of new vocabulary, especially students acquiring English as a new language. 

Session 5: Thinking Deeply with Poetry Collage

Taking the time to “unpack” a poem, think about it deeply, and represent it visually is a way to integrate reading and thinking, and develop skills AND creativity. In this final session, we’ll engage in a collage activity that helps students think visually, expand their imaginations, and develop higher level skills of interpretation and critical thinking.

We demonstrated tons of strategies and activities and shared poetry from many different sources. We had crazy prizes to give away and challenged people to find a poem that would go with the prize and they would win it! this included a baseball bat, toy cars, bubbles, etc. That was such fun! And getting crafty with poetry was a great way to end the day-- taking poems apart and then visualizing them with images, color, lettering, etc. 

It just goes to show you that poetry can be a great way to start the year, but it's not a bad way to end it either! 
Now head over to Reflections on the Teche where Margaret is hosting our Poetry Friday summer fun! 

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

The Poet X

One last poetry video to close out our digital celebration of National Poetry Month, but this time it's highlighting a novel in verse, rather than the text of a single poem. This one was also created by one of my graduate students, Rose B., and also used with her permission. I think she captures the spirit of Elizabeth Acevedo's powerful and award-winning book, The Poet X (Harper, 2018). Check it out!

Monday, April 29, 2019

Freedom Over Me

National Poetry Month is coming to a close, but it's not too late to highlight one more powerful poetry video. This one was created by Itunu S. and is a trailer for a picture book, rather than featuring a single poem. It's a powerful introduction to Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan (Atheneum, 2016), told through narrative poetry and amazing art. Check it out!

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Summer Reading

Spring is in full swing and we're thinking about the end of the school year and the summer ahead. Here's the perfect poem video to send the students into the summer. 
It's "Summer Reading" by Janet Wong from GREAT Morning! Poems for School Leaders to Read Aloud (Pomelo Books, 2018). This video was created by Michele H. and is so fun and engaging!

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Field Day Fun

April means National Poetry Month, but for many children it also brings field day fun outdoors. 

Here's a poem that captures that special event, "Field Day Fun" by Elizabeth Steinglass from GREAT Morning! Poems for School Leaders to Read Aloud (Pomelo Books, 2018). Amy W. has created a fun digital poem video for Liz's poem complete with authentic photos of kids having fun at a real field day!

Click this link to watch.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Gym Teachers

Ready to get up and stretch?
Watch this video of the poem, "Gym Teachers" by Darren Sardelli from GREAT Morning! Poems for School Leaders to Read Aloud (Pomelo Books, 2018). Tiffany W. has created a fun poem video full of active kids and with a lovely nod to the gym teachers who guide them. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

What Does a Reading Specialist Do? (2.0)

Double your fun with this second interpretation of the poem, "What Does a Reading Specialist Do?" by Linda Kulp Trout from GREAT Morning! Poems for School Leaders to Read Aloud (Pomelo Books, 2018). Here, Kelsea R. uses a clever dog to show the way! 

Tuesday, April 23, 2019


Time for one more pet-themed poem!

This time, poet Helen Frost's poem, "Disappointed" is brought to life in this video created by Amy T. and cleverly narrated by kids! You'll find this poem in Pet Crazy: A Poetry Friday Power Book (Pomelo Books, 2017).