Friday, May 29, 2009

Come to the Castle (for free!)

This time last year I fell in love with Linda Ashman’s book of dog poetry, Stella Unleashed, told from the point of view of a “pound puppy.” She wove together a series of independent poems to create a well-rounded picture of one dog’s life in a loving family. Later in the year came M is for Mischief, a completely different kind of poetry collection with alphabetical verses about mischievous, even awful, children (named from A to Z). And now she presents us with a parade of medieval characters in Come to the Castle. This woman has some range!

Come to the Castle is an appealing complement to last year’s Newbery award winning, Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz. Ashman also provides poems from multiple points of view, including an earl, steward, herald, lady, cook, cleaning servant, knight, suitor, daughter, jester, doctor, and the gong farmer—sure to be kids’ favorite for his role in cleaning the “toilet.” (A poem about medieval toilets! Love it!) Some of these are official positions in a castle community and others are roles to be played, but each character reveals roles and attitudes, as well as details about castle life as they prepare to hold a tournament. Strong on rhyme and sly humor, the poems read well aloud and would be fun to perform. Just try this one, for example:

The Cook
by Linda Ashman

I have no fresh capon. No porpoise or eel.

No sumptuous roast for a memorable meal.

Still I must follow the Lady’s command.

A feast in two days? I’ll use what’s on hand:

Gizzards and livers and kidneys and feet—

Grind it up well into mystery meat.

Bind it with egg, mix it with spice,

Throw in some currants and mustard and rice.

Drop it in stews, bake it in pies,

Roll it in balls (or some other disguise).

Toss on some flowers, gild it with gold.

Present it with antlers or feathers. Be bold!

A fine work of art to fill them with awe—

So what if it’s cold, or the meat is still raw?

The perspectives and poems build from one to another to tell a story about castle life, particularly in the context of preparations for special celebrations. The detailed and extensive illustrations by S. D. Schindler correspond beautifully to the poems and extend their meaning and impact. The delicate watercolor paintings on mock parchment paper are in the style of illuminated manuscripts, complete with the decorated opening letter. Taken together, the poems and art make this a poem picture book that will even work with older kids in grades 6-8 as they study world history, as well as for reading aloud with younger audiences intrigued by Arthur tales and Renaissance festivals.

There's also a brief author's note and a thumbnail sketch with a short factual paragraph for each character at the back of the book-- a helpful cast of characters for planning a dramatic reading. And for an interview with Linda Ashman about the book, check out Abby, the Librarian's blog!

PLUS, the publisher, Roaring Brook Press, wants you to know that The Children’s Book Review is giving away signed copies of this book to 5 lucky contest winners. The giveaway ends June 1st, so act quickly. Check it out!

Thanks to Anne Moss with Roaring Brook Press for the tip!

Posting (not poem) by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2009. All rights reserved.

Image credit:

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Another Best Blog List

I recently got word that a list of "Top 100 Poetry Blogs" had been compiled. And of course I was thrilled to be on it. (Check out #85-- which claims that I am a "published poet" which I am not, nor do I aspire to be. I'm just a big fan!) Lists like these are almost as interesting for what they leave OFF, as for what they INCLUDE, so please share your thoughts and opinions. Here's the overview.

Top 100 Poetry Blogs
By L. Fabry
No longer relegated to textbooks, libraries, and anthologies, poets now have an array of options for reading poetry, posting, the latest in news, and more, thanks to the internet. Below are 100 blogs and sites for every poet, from a seasoned professional to a child reading their first poem. The 100 blogs are divided up into the following interesting categories:

Collected Works
Visit the below sites for works of various authors, the latest in poetry news, interviews, and more.

Original Work
These poets use their blogs to display their work, post appearance dates, along with advice, tips, and musings.

For Children
Kids and their parents will enjoy visiting the below sites for original work, writing help, along with loads of fun.

Video and Audio Poetry
Sometimes poetry is just better when read by a professional. Visit the below sites for hundreds of poems with sound, and occasionally pictures and video.

So, check it out:
Top 100 Poetry Blogs

Posting (not poem) by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2009. All rights reserved.

Image credit:

Friday, May 22, 2009

Kid poetry and BOOK LINKS

Please allow me to plug my "Everyday Poetry" column in the May issue of Book Links. In this issue, I focus on celebrating poetry written by young people themselves in "Sharing the Poetry of Children and Teens" (pages 40-41). Here's an excerpt.

As the school year draws to a close, now is a good time to invite children to create or compile class or individual books that can become keepsakes for them to take home to remember the year. Poetry, in particular, can be a lovely form for expressing their growing up feelings.

Generally, my goal in sharing poetry with children is to focus on reading, performing, and discussing it, rather than on writing it; on the experience of poetry rather than the production of it. After all, everyone can enjoy poems, but not everyone will grow up to be a poet. Children shouldn’t be expected to write poetry until they’ve had some experience reading or listening to it, but many children will naturally experiment with writing poetry when they are immersed in reading and talking about it. Sharing published poetry written BY kids can be especially appealing because it inspires children to think of themselves as possible creators of poetry.

Poetry By Children
Several poets who have worked in schools, libraries, and with other youth projects have gathered anthologies of poetry written by children of all ages. Collections such as Salting the Ocean edited by Naomi Shihab Nye, vibrantly illustrated by Ashley Bryan, or Ten-Second Rain Showers and Soft Hay Will Catch You both edited by Sanford Lyne, show the range of thought and feeling that children can express in writing. Invite children to choose a favorite poem by an age-mate to read aloud, recopy and remember, or respond to.

Bring a camera to school to capture kids at work and play (you may already have photos of the year’s activities handy). Invite students to compose poems to accompany the photos and create a class book. For a wonderful example, look for teacher Ayana Lowe’s Come and Play; Children of Our World Having Fun. If you take digital photos, you can even “publish” simple books using commercial tools from photoprocessing sources (like Kinko’s or

Poetry by Teens
There are even more examples of published poetry by teen writers, including two volumes from the WritersCorps: Paint Me Like I Am and Tell the World and two other pocket-sized graphic poetry collections, Movin’: Teen Poets Take Voice compiled by Dave Johnson and Angst! Teen Verses from the Edge edited by Karen Tom, Matt Frost, and Kiki. Poet Betsy Franco has assembled several notable collections of poetry written by teens including Things I Have to Tell You (by girls) and You Hear Me? (by boys), plus the recent Falling Hard: 100 Love Poems by Teenagers, and Night is Gone, Day is Still Coming; Stories and Poems by American Indian Teens and Young Adults, compiled with Annette Piña Ochoa and Traci L. Gourdine-- all books full of unsentimental and authentic young voices.

I also write about poetry contests and about helping young people submit their original poems for possible publication. Be sure to help aspiring poets become familiar with the protocol for submitting manuscripts (style, format, etc.) and prepare them for the competitive process and for possible rejection. Outlets for their writing are also suggested. I also mention "Poetry Writing Resources" written specifically for young writers, including:

Inside Out: Children's Poets Discuss Their Work by JonArno Lawson and Pizza, Pigs, and Poetry; How to Write a Poem by Jack Prelutsky. Older students will enjoy Kathi Appelt’s Poems From Homeroom: A Writer's Place To Start or Ralph Fletcher’s Poetry Matters: Writing A Poem From The Inside Out.

As the school year ends, let’s share the words of children and teens—either in published works of young people’s writing or by creating homemade books to cherish or to add to the library for others to enjoy.

Once again, I'm thrilled that Book Links is featuring a previously unpublished poem to accompany the column. This month's poem features a fresh voice in Donna Marie Merritt. This poem challenges readers to step into a secret world and dream big. As a culminating activity for the school year, students can express their dreams in poems, writing individually or with a friend. Then compile them all into a time capsule to be opened at the end of the following year.

The Open Door

by Donna Marie Merritt

Truth sails across great spaces
Of invitations,
Offering images, which before,
Have only been mine in dreams…
The chance to be everywhere, anywhere, nowhere
At once.

Who else knows of this wonder?
Has it popped up like a mushroom,
Stirring the silent earth
In the quiet of the night?
Where does this enchantment begin?
Do its delights ever end?

I step through
The open door
As other seekers appear, then
Disappear along myriad, marvelous paths
Into that secret world of possibilities…
The library.

Image credits:

Posting (not poem) by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2009. All rights reserved.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Poetry News Potpourri

It’s time to catch up on a variety of poetry news items that I’ve been saving up.

FIRST, from Children’s Bookshelf at Publishers’ Weekly: Mary Ann Hoberman, who was appointed Children’s Poet Laureate by the Poetry Foundation last fall, is taking poetry to the masses via the Internet. The Children’s Poet Laureate Presents is a video-podcast series in which Hoberman reads from both her own books and from classic works of children’s poetry. The series can be viewed at the Poetry Foundation’s Web site. In the first three podcasts, Hoberman reads from William Jay Smith’s Laughing Time, The Collected Nonsense of Edward Lear and Hoberman’s own I Like Old Clothes.

Also at the Poetry Foundation: the Poetry Out Loud Project. The National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation have partnered with State Arts Agencies of the United States to support the expansion of Poetry Out Loud, which encourages the nation's youth to learn about great poetry through memorization and performance. This exciting program helps students master public speaking skills, build self-confidence, and learn about their literary heritage. About:

SECOND: Carol Ann Duffy has been named British poet laureate, the first woman to receive that honor. Her children's collections include Meeting Midnight (1999) and The Oldest Girl in the World (2000). Fun fact: we share the exact same birthday, she and I (day, month AND year!).

THIRD: Thanks to Jenny Schwartzberg at the Newberry Library for information about a special online poetry exhibit. The BBC online has 6 pictures of illustrations from the exhibit at the British Library on 400 years of children's poetry.

FOURTH: The International Youth Library in Munich, Germany is holding a poetry forum on June 25-26 in celebration of its 60th anniversary. During the two-day international forum, writers, illustrators, publishers, literary critics, and specialists will discuss the importance and the enduring quality of children’s poems and the challenge of illustrating them. The aim of the conference will be to present different variants of current children’s poetry, to become acquainted with several approaches and perspectives, and to analyze the interaction between text and illustration. In addition to the talks, a kaleidoscope of poems and images will be presented to the audience. Presenters include German poet Jutta Richter, British poet Andrew Fusek Peters, Dutch poet Ted van Lieshout, Austrian poet Gerda Anger-Schmidt, and French poet Lionel Le Neouanic. I’ll thrilled to say that I’ll be attending and presenting about poetry in the U.S.!

FIFTH: Help spread the word about Reading Is Fundamental's (RIF) 2009 Read with Kids Challenge, aimed at bringing attention to the importance of adults reading with children. Check it out. This year they have raised their goal to 5 million minutes read with kids, over 3 months.
Honorary team captains include children's book authors Mo Willems, Sandra Boynton, Al Roker, and others. Follow the Read with Kids Challenge on Twitter @rifweb Use hash tag #readwithkids

SIXTH: Check out the Teachers' Domain at WGBH, a digital library of free media resources which features an online Adolescent Literacy Collection targeting struggling readers in grades 5-8, as well as a poetry collection based on the PBS series Poetry Everywhere.

SEVENTH: If you’re attending the ALA conference in Chicago in July, DO NOT MISS the annual ALSC Poetry Blast #6 on July 13, 5:30-7:30 p.m. The line-up of poets sounds fantastic: Carmen T. Bernier-Grand, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, David Harrison, Bobbi Katz, Laura Purdie Salas, Jon Scieszka, Joyce Sidman, Marilyn Singer, Hope Anita Smith, Susan Marie Swanson, Joyce Carol Thomas. Check out the web page and become a “friend” on Facebook!

Posting (not poem) by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2009. All rights reserved.

Image credit:

Friday, May 08, 2009

Happy birthday, Constance Levy

May is a terrific month for poet birthdays:
2 Bobbi Katz
5 J. Patrick Lewis
6 Kristine O’Connell George; José-Luis Orozco
7 Michael Rosen
8 Constance Levy
12 Edward Lear
17 Eloise Greenfield
25 Joyce Carol Thomas

We can celebrate their work all month long! And today, in particular, I’d love to highlight the lyrical and often subtle work of Contance Levy. I’ll share a bit of info about her excerpted from my book, Poetry People. Levy is a former teacher and a frequent speaker at schools and educational conferences. She has won many honors including Bank Street College’s Children’s Book of the Year, Boston Globe Horn Book Honor Award, American Booksellers Pick of the List, several National Council of Teachers of English Notable Book in Language Arts citations, New York Library’s Select 100 Titles for Children’s Books and the Lee Bennett Hopkins Award for the best poetry book of the year for Splash! Poems of our Watery World.

Many of Levy’s poems use “nature” as a theme and depict everything from butterflies to weeds with a sense of wonder and playfulness. Her poetry collections include:

I’m Going to Pet a Worm Today and Other Poems (McElderry 1991)
A Tree Place and Other Poems
(McElderry 1994)
When Whales Exhale and Other Poems
(McElderry 1996)
A Crack in the Clouds And Other Poems
(McElderry 1998)
Splash!: Poems of Our Watery World (Orchard 2002)

So many of Levy’s poems link beautifully with picture books of fiction and nonfiction. Their directness and effective use of first person or question/answer format invite engagement and interaction. For example, her collection, A Crack in the Clouds, includes a gamut of “cloud” poems that convey the awe and adventure experienced by Lindbergh in the first transatlantic flight in Flight: The Journey of Charles Lindbergh by Robert Burleigh (Philomel 1991). Gather other factual books about flight and airplanes (such as Seymour Simon’s The Paper Airplane Book, Puffin 1976) and invite the children to create displays of clouds, paper planes, and matching poems.

For younger children, take a step outside to look at real clouds and share the classic picture book, It Looked Like Spilt Milk by Charles Shaw (HarperCollins, 1988). Read aloud some of Levy’s cloud poems and then have students tear white paper into corresponding cloud images and mount them on blue paper—imitating the illustrations of Shaw’s book.

The poems in her award winning collection, Splash! Poems of our Watery World, offer a similar smorgasbord of poems, but this time the topic is water in its many forms. Two of the poems, “Flood Line” and “River Games” describe the river as a living thing, almost with a personality. Tie these together with Jane Kurtz’s picture book poems, River Friendly, River Wild (Simon & Schuster 2000) about a young girl’s ordeal during North Dakota’s Red River Valley Flood in 1997. Or children may enjoy connecting Levy’s “water” poems with the concrete poetry about water in Joan Bransfield Graham’s Splish Splash (Houghton Mifflin 2001). They can try creating their own water, flood, or river poems on shaped paper. Here’s one sample poem to demonstrate Levy’s gift for sound, image, and rhythm:

Ocean Rhythms
by Constance Levy

Wave after wave,
Each wave
a beat
each beat
each stretch
This Earth's old wild heart


Constance Levy offers more nature poems in A Tree Place and Other Poems (McElderry 1994) and I’m Going to Pet a Worm Today and Other Poems (McElderry 1991). Her style compares nicely with Kristine O’Connell in her poetry collection, Old Elm Speaks: Tree Poems (Clarion 1998) or Aileen Fisher’s Sing of the Earth and Sky: Poems about Our Planet and the Wonders Beyond (Boyds Mills Press 2003). For a fun follow up activity, share “Birdseed Song” from I’m Going to Pet a Worm Today and provide materials for making small, individual bird feeders. For example, spread peanut butter on the outside of a pine cone and then roll it in birdseed and hang it outdoors on a string as a homemade bird feeder. Be sure to look for her work in many anthologies as well as in her own, small delicate collections.


Posting (not poem) by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2009. All rights reserved.

Friday, May 01, 2009

April in Review + Kid Poetry

It’s May 1! Woo hoo! I promised a book-review-a-day for National Poetry Month and I can’t believe I delivered! That was exhausting and rewarding. And if you’re looking for info on new poetry for kids, here’s a summary of the poetry books I reviewed last month (followed by a poem by a nine-year-old from Poland!). Of course, I'll keep reviewing as I get my grubby paws on more new poetry books, but in the meantime, here's April in review(s):

April 30, 2009— Wright, Danielle (Ed). 2008. My Village; Rhymes from Around the World. Wellington, NZ: Gecko Press.
April 29, 2009
— Katz, Bobbi. 2009. More Pocket Poems. Ill. by Deborah Zemke. New York: Dutton.
April 28, 2009
— Carter, James and Denton, Graham. 2009. Wild! Rhymes That Roar. Ill. by Jane Eccles. London: Macmillan.
April 27, 2009
— Myers, Walter Dean. 2009. Amiri & Odette: A Love Story. Ill. by Javaka Steptoe. New York: Scholastic.
April 26, 2009
— Salas, Laura Purdie. 2009. Stampede! Poems to Celebrate the Wild Side of School! Ill. by Steven Salerno. New York: Clarion, p. 4-5.
April 25, 2009
— Luján, Jorge. 2008. Colors! Colores! Translated by John Oliver Simon and Rebecca Parfitt. Ill. by Piet Grobler. Toronto: Groundwood.
April 24, 2009— Schmidt, Amy. 2009. Loose Leashes. Ill. by Ron Schmidt. New York: Random House.
April 23, 2009
-- Salinger, Michael. 2009. Well Defined; Vocabulary in Rhyme. Ill. by Sam Henderson. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press.
April 22, 2009
-- Ruddell, Deborah. 2009. A Whiff of Pine, A Hint of Skunk. Ill. by Joan Rankin. New York: Simon & Schuster.
April 21, 2009-
- Argueta, Jorge. 2009. Sopa de frijoles/ Bean Soup. Ill. by Rafael Yockteng. Toronto, ON: Groundwood.
April 20, 2009
-- Shahan, Sherry. 2009. Fiesta!; A Celebration of Latino Festivals. Ill. by Paula Barragan. Atlanta, GA: August House.
April 19, 2009-- Hoberman, Mary Ann. 2009. Strawberry Hill. New York: Little, Brown. [Not-poetry by a poet]
April 18, 2009
-- Mecum, Ryan. 2008. Zombie Haiku. Cincinnati, OH: How Books.
April 17, 2009-
- Oelschlager, Vanita. 2009. Ivy in Bloom. Ill. by Kristin Blackwood. Akron, OH: Vanitabooks.
April 16, 2009
-- Florian, Douglas. 2009. Dinothesaurus. New York: Simon & Schuster.
April 15, 2009-
- Agee, Jon. 2009. Orangutan Tongs; Poems to Tangle Your Tongue. New York: Disney-Hyperion.
April 14, 2009-- Lewis, J. Patrick. 2009. Countdown to Summer: A Poem for Every Day of the School Year. Ill. by Ethan Long. New York: Little, Brown.
April 13, 2009-
- Hopkins, Lee Bennett. (Comp.) 2009. Incredible Inventions. Ill. by Julia Sarcone-Roach. New York: HarperCollins.
April 12, 2009
-- Greenfield, Eloise. 2009. Brothers and Sisters: Family Poems. Ill. by Jan Spivey Gilchrist. New York: Amistad/HarperCollins.
April 11, 2009
-- Hughes, Langston. 2009. The Negro Speaks of Rivers. Ill. by E. B. Lewis. New York: Disney-Hyperion.
April 10, 2009-- Hughes, Langston. 2009. My People. Ill. by Charles R. Smith Jr. New York: Simon & Schuster.
April 9, 2009
-- Katz, Alan. 2009. Going, Going, Gone!: And Other Silly Dilly Sports Songs. Ill. by David Catrow. New York: Simon & Schuster.
April 8, 2009
-- Wilson, Karma. 2009. What's the Weather Inside? Ill. by Barry Blitt. New York: Simon & Schuster.
April 7, 2009-
- Fehler, Gene. 2009. Change-up; Baseball Poems. Ill. by Donald Wu. New York: Clarion.
April 6, 2009
-- Maddox, Marjorie. 2009. Rules of the Game. Ill. by John Sandford. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press.
April 5, 2009
-- Smith, Hope Anita. 2009. Mother; Poems. New York: Henry Holt.
April 4, 2009-- Lewis, J. Patrick. 2009.
The Underwear Salesman: And Other Jobs for Better or Verse. Ill. by Serge Bloch. New York: Simon & Schuster/Atheneum.
April 3, 2009
-- Zimmer, Tracie Vaughn. 2009. Steady Hands: Poems About Work. New York: Clarion.
April 2, 2009-
- Franco, Betsy. 2009. Curious Collection of Cats. Ill. by Michael Wertz. San Francisco, CA: Tricycle Press.
April 1, 2009-
- Heard, Georgia. 2009. Falling Down the Page; A Book of List Poems. New York: Roaring Brook.

However, it’s not Poetry Friday without an actual poem, so allow me to share another nugget I gleaned from that amazing trip to the Bologna Children’s Book Fair in Italy in March. I met a woman named Jet Manrho (based in the Netherlands) whose life’s work-- Poem Express-- is traveling the world conducting workshops with kids to promote poetry appreciation, poetry writing, and creating posters in response to poetry. AMAZING! She regularly publishes a full color poster-size book of their work, featuring original poems by kids from around the world. Each page is a poem poster with an original poem written by a child along with the art she/he creates to go with the poem. Each poem appears below the art in four languages (Dutch, English, French, German). It’s a collection of real quality and ingenuity.

I have Volume 15 which includes 110 poem posters in fourteen languages from 29 countries. I’d like to highlight this somewhat snarky poem by a 9-year-old Polish boy. I love the attitude!

Al span ik me nog zo in,
toch kan ik voor geen goud
een gedicht verzinnen.

No matter who hard I tried,
even if you paid me,
I could never write
a poem.

J’ai beau essayer
meme pour tout l’or du monde
je n’arriverai jamais
a inventer un poeme.

Auch wenn ich mich noch so anstrenge,
fuer kein Geld der Welt kann ich mir
ein Gedicht ausdenken.

by Piotr Sochaczewski, age 9, Poland
(Here is Piotr with his poster and poem!)

Poem Parade 1992-2006; Poster Book Poems by Children. ISSN 0926-3985; ISBN 90-73657-64-4, p. 16.

There are more opportunities for kids to continue participating on the Web, as well as more information about this very ambitious project! I thought this might be a particularly fun choice for today since our Poetry Friday Host is Allegro, an 11 year old poet herself. Thanks for hosting, Allegro.

Image credits: poem-express

Posting (not poem) by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2009. All rights reserved.