Friday, December 31, 2010

Favorite Poetry of 2010

Better late, than never, here are my picks for my favorite poetry books of the year 2010. For me, it is all about the poetry “package,” if you will. The poems, of course, are number one, and they should be interesting, thoughtful, distinctive, and rhythmic. I also value poetry that reads well out loud since I believe that is so crucial in connecting with children. But I also value the design and illustration of each book, since the presentation of the poems as a set provides an essential context for entering, enjoying, and remembering the poems. So many of today’s poetry works do this so well—creating inviting visuals, well-designed layouts, and a distinct combination of art and language.

I also seek out poetry for a range of ages and sophistication levels-- for the very youngest listeners to historical novels in verse for older readers. I look for anthologies that showcase many poets (old and new), as well as collections featuring the works of a single poet. I like picture book compilations, as well as longer anthologies (as scarce as hens teeth nowadays!). I'm also intrigued by bilingual collections of poetry and poetry by writers outside the U.S. and wish there were WAY more of those (in many languages). Finally, I'm also intrigued by the art and illustration within works of poetry and what impact those images have in perceiving the imagery evoked by the language. All in all, I'm pleased to offer you a smorgasbord of my 20 favorites from the year along with brief annotations and connections. Enjoy!

1. Ada, Alma Flor and Campoy, Isabel. 2010. Muu, Moo! Rimas de animales/Animal Nursery Rhymes. Rayo/HarperCollins.
*A bilingual (Spanish/English) collection of 16 playful nursery rhymes taken from Argentina, Puerto Rico, Mexico and Spain together with some original verses, with Zubizarreta (the translator) retaining the musicality of the originals. Simple, rhythmic poems vary in length and featuring not cows, but a conejito (rabbit), a burro (donkey) and una lechuza (an owl), among other appealing animal characters.

2. Argueta, Jorge. 2010. Arroz con leche/Rice Pudding: Un poema para cocinar/A Cooking Poem. Ill. By Fernando Vilela. Groundwood.
* Remember Argueta’s Bean Soup (Sopa de frijoles) last year? Here’s a follow up recipe poem picture book for dessert! This time, the lyrical language introduces us to one of the world’s staples (rice) and how to prepare this popular and delicious dish. Argueta’s fresh phrasing and Vilela’s multi-media illustrations are the perfect pairing for this bilingual food-focused poem book in both Spanish and English.

3. Atkins, Jeannine. 2010. Borrowed Names; Poems About Laura Ingalls Wilder, Madam C. J. Walker, Marie Curie, and Their Daughters. Henry Holt.
*Three contemporaneous women from history (Wilder, Walker and Curie) and their relationships with their daughters are showcased in this remarkable collection of poems that weave together like a novel-in-verse. Well researched, lyrical and compelling, these women, their daughters, and their times come to life in unique ways that connect and cross over.

4. Brown, Calef. 2010. Hallowilloween; Nefarious Silliness. Houghton Mifflin.
*This is classic Calef with his usual interplay of wordplay and artplay in this fun collection of poems perfect for Halloween and beyond. His clever use of point of view and relentless rhyme create irresistible poem portraits about mummies, witches, and “vumpires.” Stylized, full-color art creates the perfect stage for his poems, full of details kids will notice and enjoy. Read these aloud together; the humor is completely infectious.

5. Elliott, David. 2010. In the Wild. Ill. by Holly Meade. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick.
*In the Wild is a perfect companion to Elliott and Meade’s previous work, On the Farm. This time the expansive, double-page spreads feature 14 wild cousins such as the lion, elephant, giraffe, zebra, etc. Elliott’s short rhymes offer a musical and succinct blend of facts and feelings, with a riddle-like wrinkle spread across Meade’s beautiful painted woodblock prints.

6. Engle, Margarita. 2010. The Firefly Letters; A Suffragette's Journey to Cuba. Henry Holt.
*In Engle’s fourth historical work in verse, she brings together three memorable female characters from different strata of society as they grapple with issues of freedom and choice. Based on primary sources from Swedish suffragist Fredrika Bremer and set in Cuba in 1851, Engle once again offers multiple overlapping dramatic points of view captured in the most lyrical imagery and language.

7. Florian, Douglas. 2010. Poetrees. Simon & Schuster.
*As a former Girl Scout and leader, I confess I love trees and identifying various species, so I thoroughly enjoyed the art and wordplay in another engaging Florian picture book collection, Poetrees. Once again, he is so clever in both his creation and arrangement of art AND words in depicting 18 trees from around the world. And don’t forget to check out the “glossatree!”

8. Hemphill, Stephanie. 2010. Wicked Girls; A Novel of the Salem Witch Trials. HarperCollins.
*Hemphill has created a tour de force poetic slice of history with Wicked Girls, a totally compelling multi-point of view depiction of the Salem Witch Trials in 1692. Using the varying perspectives of the girls themselves and a formal language that evokes the period, she manages to deftly suggest The Crucible meets “Mean Girls,” revealing the ageless conflicts and group dynamics that underlie interactions and relationships between girls (and others) across time.

9. Hopkins, Lee Bennett. (Ed). 2010. Amazing Faces. Ill. by Chris Soentpiet. Lee and Low.
*This appealing new collection of 16 “portrait” poems by an assortment of largely contemporary poets celebrates diversity in our population with details and examples that will resonate with children and readers of all ages and backgrounds. Sumptuously illustrated by Chris Soentpiet, it’s the perfect ice-breaker for reading aloud, getting acquainted, and prompting further sharing and writing.

10. Hopkins, Lee. Bennett. (Ed.) 2010. Sharing the Seasons. Margaret McElderry.
*Illustrated with David Diaz’s vivid color palette, this expansive and generous anthology of 48 poems (12 for each of 4 seasons) gives one time to soak up each poem, a selection and blending of poems and voices. This notion of poems throughout the calendar year has such appeal to adults who want to infuse poetry into daily life, yet the poems rise above the mere curricular connection (fall = pumpkins, for example) with fresh language and images (e.g., “one brew of wind”).

11. Lawson, JonArno. 2010. Think Again. Kids Can Press.
*A slim volume of poetry destined for many middle school (and high school) library shelves and surreptitious boy-girl sharing, it’s built upon a series of 48 quatrain poems, almost story-like, in revealing the tenderness, angst, confusion, and exhilaration of fledgling first love. Black and white ink drawings by Julie Morstad “people” the book, suggesting the tentative sketching of a young artist doodling and journaling. Lawson’s clever wordplay and sometimes syncopated rhythms keep the poems from veering into sentimentality and make them open-ended enough to stand on their own as thoughtful and contemplative.

12. Levy, Debbie. 2010. The Year of Goodbyes; A True Story of Friendship, Family and Farewells. Hyperion.
*Based on her own mother’s childhood sharing of 1938 autograph-style/sticker albums in WWII Germany, Levy has created a graphic novel in verse with a childlike look and voice with a strong narrative pull. Be sure to also visit the book’s interactive companion web site, The Poesiealbum Project.

13. Mora, Pat. 2010. Dizzy in Your Eyes; Poems About Love. Knopf.
*The inter-generational points of view provide a powerful frame for the topic of love for young readers—and readers of all ages. There is clearly a youthful point of view and voice, but the poems reference love of parents, friends, family, pets—acknowledging the depth of feeling in many relationships and at many stages of life. Plus, it’s chock full of many poetic forms (and notes about form) which teachers will enjoy.

14. Paschen, Elise and Raccah, Dominique. (Comp.) 2010. Poetry Speaks; Who I Am. Sourcebooks.
*The anthology is filled with more than 100 remarkable selections for ages 12–14 from a wide variety of poets. From Dickinson to Collins to Clifton and beyond, this anthology features both classic and contemporary selections and includes an audio CD (be sure to listen to the CD) with poets reading their own work. A journey of discovery through remarkable poets in a graphic teen-friendly format that looks deceptively like a journal of doodlings.

15. Raczka, Bob. 2010. Guyku: A Year of Haiku for Boys. Ill. by Peter Reynolds. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
*This book really surprised me with its blending of the haiku form (often more formal and prescriptive) and the informal cartoon style of the art and hand-lettered look of the type. That juxtaposition, played out against a clean white background, creates a focused simplicity that is appealing and almost lyrical. The poems themselves are also clever, personal, and loose in feeling, but tightly structured with the clearest of phrasing. In a first person voice, they move us through the year in universal vignettes of boyhood. This book manages to be boy-friendly poetry, while being an engaging example of contemporary nature haiku, too.

16. Sidman, Joyce. 2010. Ubiquitous; Celebrating Nature's Survivors. Houghton Mifflin.
*Another powerful blending of poetry (and prose paragraphs) and art with the double-page spreads of Beckie Prange’s hand-colored linocut prints and Sidman’s distinctive information-rich, yet always evocative poems. You can open to any page and have a poster-like introduction to one of nature’s “ubiquitous” phenomenon presented in 3 ways—poem, explanation, and visualization—each complementing the other. “Ubiquitous” is a word that kids will love learning and saying and then the poems (and amazing art and endpapers) will guide them in conceptualizing that construct and give them a window into the natural world that is understandable and uplifting.

17. Sidman, Joyce. 2010. Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night. Houghton Mifflin.
*This collection of poems about the forest at night—owls, moths, porcupines-- is the last in the trio of “ecosystem poetry books” that began with Song of the Water Boatman (pond) and continued with Butterfly Eyes (meadow). It also offers a parallel layout with beautiful linoleum prints in a double-page spread for each of 12 poems, alongside an accompanying prose paragraph. This marriage of lyrical poetry, science-focused topics, and beautifully executed art has become a Sidman (and collaborating illustrator) trademark!

18. Singer, Marilyn. 2010. Mirror, Mirror. Dutton.
*This picture book collection of clever "reverso" poems reinvents familiar fairy tales in clever, puzzle like fashion. Each tale/poem is two poems, read down the page for one point of view, then up the page for another; such as Red Riding Hood or the Wolf, for example, or Snow White vs. the Wicked Queen, etc. Witty and irreverent, these pithy poems read well out loud and challenge children to imitate the formula, complete with an author's endnote for guidance.

19. Weinstock, Robert. 2010. Can You Dig It? Disney-Hyperion.
*Weinstock is a relative newcomer to creating poetry books for children and has an excellent sensibility for the wild and wacky. Here he once again creates both the dense and cartoon-like art, as well as the clever and quirky poetry, all focused on dinosaurs and paleontology, always a popular topic. He incorporates “big words” and well as sometimes gross humor in strong and rhythmic rhyming poems.

20. Yolen, Jane and Peters, Andrew Fusek. 2010. Switching on the Moon; A Very First Book of Bedtime Poems. Candlewick.
*A companion to Here’s a Little Poem, Yolen and Peters have created a wonderful early years anthology of poems for bedtime, nap time, and other moments for quiet contemplation. With 60+ poems, the range of voices and styles adds richness and the illustrations by Brian Karas (along with the book’s overall design) invite repeated browsing and sharing. 

+More of the best
I was also honored to serve on the Cybils nominating committee for poetry and our shortlist included these gems:
  • Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature's Survivors by Joyce Sidman
  • Sharing the Seasons: A Book of Poems ed. by Lee Bennett Hopkins
  • Borrowed Names: Poems About Laura Ingalls Wilder, Madam C.J. Walker, Marie Curie, and their Daughters by Jeannine Atkins
  • Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse by Marilyn Singer
  • Switching on the Moon: A Very First Book of Bedtime Poems, ed. by Jane Yolen and Andrew Fusek Peters
  • Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night by Joyce Sidman
  • Scarum Fair by Jessica Swaim
Our panel also included: Bruce Black, Elaine Magliaro, Gina Ruiz, Laura Purdie Salas and organizer extraordinaire, Kelly Fineman. Thanks, all! The next round of judges will select a single poetry title as "best of the year" and they will post those selections on Valentine's Day (Feb. 14). Stay tuned...

The ALA (ALSC, YALSA) Awards will be announced shortly (Jan. 10) and I'll be combing those lists and plugging the poetry selections soon.

Also, I'm assembling my usual "sneak peek" list of poetry books to anticipate in 2011. I have 20 titles on my list so far and plan to post that list shortly, too.

So, best wishes for plenty of poetry in 2011!

Saturday, December 04, 2010

LIVE Poetry readings

I'm launching something new today-- video clips of poetry readings (by the poets themselves and shared with their permission). I have a new, easy-to-use Flip video camera and I took it with me to the recent NCTE conference and filmed the four poets on my panel reading from their works. I'm very excited to feature (in order below) new poet Jame Richards, reading an excerpt from her new novel-in-verse, Three Rivers Rising, Lee Bennett Hopkins, reading from his moving poem memoir, Been to Yesterdays, Marilyn Singer, reading the forward-backward reverso poem, "In My Hood" from Mirror, Mirror, and Pat Mora, reading "Sisters" from her 2010 poetry collection, Dizzy in Your Eyes.

Jame Richards

Lee Bennett Hopkins

Marilyn Singer

Pat Mora

There is nothing quite like hearing a poem read by its creator, don't you agree? Since I'm such an advocate for the oral sharing of poetry, I am tickled pink to add this new feature to my blog-- and I hope to include many more clips in the future.

P.S. Congrats to Laura Purdie Salas and Jeannine Atkins-- commenters on previous postings about the NCTE conference prep. They are winners of free autographed copies of books by Pat Mora and Jame Richards. Just contact me with your mailing addresses and I'll send your books your way!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

2011 NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children

I am excited to share the news about the newest recipient of the NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children just announced today at the conference. The next recipient of this prestigious award for a poet's body of work is... drumroll... J. Patrick Lewis!

Congratulations, Pat!
You so richly deserve this distinction.

NCTE established its Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children in 1977 to honor a living American poet for his or her aggregate work for children ages 3–13. You'll notice that NCTE gave the award annually until 1982 and every three years until 2009. In 2008 the Poetry Committee updated the criteria and changed the time frame to every other year.

Pat joins a select list of 15 prior recipients:
2009 Lee Bennett Hopkins
2006 Nikki Grimes
2003 Mary Ann Hoberman
2000 X. J. Kennedy
1997 Eloise Greenfield
1994 Barbara Esbensen
1991 Valerie Worth
1988 Arnold Adoff
1985 Lilian Moore
1982 John Ciardi
1981 Eve Merriam
1980 Myra Cohn Livingston
1979 Karla Kuskin
1978 Aileen Fisher
1977 David McCord

I was thrilled and honored to serve on this committee previously and co-chaired the committee that presented the award to Nikki Grimes. The current committee is chaired by Barbara Ward and includes Terry Young, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Jonda McNair, Mary Napoli, and Elaine Magliaro. Well done, committee! The actual award will be presented to Pat at next year's NCTE convention in Chicago (at the Books for Children luncheon). What a day it will be!

About Pat (excerpted from Poetry People)
J. Patrick Lewis and his twin brother were born on May 5 in Gary, Indiana. Lewis earned his bachelor’s degree at St. Joseph's College in Indiana, his master’s degree from Indiana University, and his Ph.D. in economics from The Ohio State University. While working on his doctorate, he became an International Research and Exchanges Fellow, and he and his family spent a year in the former USSR. Later, he and his family participated in cultural exchanges, and they returned to Moscow and St. Petersburg for ten shorter visits. For over twenty years, Lewis taught Economics at Otterbein College in Westerville, Ohio, retiring in 1998. While teaching, he published widely in academic journals, newspapers, and magazines on the topic of economics.

Lewis then turned to writing children’s poetry and took three years to study the craft of poetry on his own. His first book of poems for children, A Hippopotamusn’t, was published in 1990 and he has followed with nearly 70 more children’s books since then, most of which are poetry. He is also a contributor of children's book reviews for the New York Times and a frequent speaker at schools and conferences.

The themes and subjects of J. Patrick Lewis’ poetry collections are incredibly wide-ranging with a frequent focus on science related and historical topics. In addition, he enjoys experimenting with poetic form and wordplay and has authored everything from narrative poems to concrete poetry to limericks to riddles to haiku.

Award Criteria
Meanwhile, in case you are not familiar with the NCTE Excellence in Poetry award, here are the criteria:
Literary merit (art and craft of aggregate work)
  • Imagination
  • Authenticity of voice
  • Evidence of a strong persona
  • Universality; timelessness
Poet's contributions
  • Aggregate work
  • Evident potential for growth and evolution in terms of craft
  • Excellence
Evolution of the poet's work
  • Technical and artistic development as evidenced in the poetry
  • Evidence of risk, change, and artistic stamina
  • Evidence of different styles and modes of expression
Appeal to children
Evidence of childlike quality; yet poem's potential for stirring fresh insights and feelings should be apparent. Although the appeal to children of a poet's work is an important consideration, the art and craft must be the primary criterion for evaluation.

I'm also pleased that the committee has continued the practice of selecting a (now annual) list of "Best Books of Poetry for Children" that we began with my committee in 2006. They shared some of their choices for 2010 at the conference yesterday and I look forward to seeing their whole list soon.

Meanwhile, hip hip hooray callou callay for J. Patrick Lewis, an excellent poet indeed!

Friday, November 19, 2010

The NCTE Panel is a hit!

Well, it was standing-room-only for our panel of poets and bloggers at the NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) convention in Orlando today. Yay! I was so pleased at the turn out and with our wonderful, diverse panel. Here's the lowdown (and a copy of our handout).


Lee Bennett Hopkins

Pat Mora
Jame Richards
Marilyn Singer


Tricia Stohr Hunt; The Miss Rumphius Effect

Elaine Magliaro; Wild Rose Reader

Your truly, Sylvia Vardell; PoetryforChildren
Be sure to check out each of these blogs (if I do say so myself) for the before- and after- conference coverage they provide about our panelist poets.


Hopkins, Lee Bennett, comp. 2005. Days to Celebrate: A Full Year of Poetry, People, Holidays, History, Fascinating Facts, and More. Greenwillow.
Hopkins, Lee Bennett, comp. 2006 Got Geography! Greenwillow.
Hopkins, Lee Bennett, comp. 2007. Behind the Museum Door. Abrams.
Hopkins, Lee Bennett, comp. 2008. America at War. McElderry.
Hopkins, Lee Bennett, comp. 2008. Hamsters, Shells, and Spelling Bees. HarperCollins.
Hopkins, Lee Bennett. 2009. City I Love. Abrams.
Hopkins, Lee Bennett, comp. 2009. Incredible Inventions. HarperCollins.
Hopkins, Lee Bennett, comp. 2009. Sky Magic. Dutton.
Hopkins, Lee Bennett, comp. 2010. Amazing Faces. Lee and Low.
Hopkins, Lee Bennett, comp. 2010. Give Me Wings. Holiday House.
Hopkins, Lee. Bennett, comp. 2010. Sharing the Seasons. Margaret McElderry.
Mora, Pat. 1996. Confetti: Poems for Children. Lee & Low.
Mora, Pat. 2000. My Own True Name: New and Selected Poems for Young Adults, 1984-1999.Pinata Books.
Mora, Pat., Ed. 2001. Love to Mama: A Tribute to Mothers. Lee & Low.
Mora, Pat. 2007. Yum! Mmmm! Que Rico!: America's Sproutings. Lee & Low.
Mora, Pat. 2009. Book Fiesta! Celebrate Children's Day/Book Day; Celebremos El día de los niños/El día de los libros. Rayo.
Mora, Pat. 2010. Dizzy in Your Eyes; Poems About Love. Knopf.
Mora, Pat. 2010. Zing! Seven Creativity Practices for Educators and Students. Corwin.
Richards, Jame. 2010. Three Rivers Rising. Knopf.
Singer, Marilyn. 2002. Footprints on the Roof: Poems About the Earth. Knopf.
Singer, Marilyn. 2002. The Company of Crows. Clarion.
Singer, Marilyn. 2003. Fireflies at Midnight. Atheneum.
Singer, Marilyn. 2003. How to Cross a Pond: Poems about Water. Knopf.
Singer, Marilyn. 2004. Creature Carnival. Hyperion.
Singer, Marilyn. 2005. Central Heating: Poems about Fire and Warmth. Knopf.
Singer, Marilyn. 2005. Monday on the Mississippi. Henry Holt.
Singer, Marilyn. 2008. First Food Fight This Fall. Sterling.
Singer, Marilyn. 2008. Shoe Bop! Dutton.
Singer, Marilyn. 2010. Mirror, Mirror. Dutton.

THANK YOU to our poets and my fellow bloggers, of course, but thank you also to the publishers and their representatives for bringing the poets to the conference. This includes Michelle Fadlalla and Laura Antonacci at Simon & Schuster, Lisa Nadel at Random House; Scottie Bowditch and Rasshahn Johnson-Baker at Penguin.

Be sure to check our blogs one more time next week as we share our thoughts about the conference experience in our follow-up postings. I hope to share some video footage!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Q & A with Jame Richards

Thank you, Readers, for your comments and questions for our guest poets. Jame Richards has offered her responses here below.

From Andromeda Jazmon

What would happen if we mixed up the ethnicities of the actors so that it wasn't so monochromatic? What would that do to the story? Would it make a difference? Better, richer, more universal or somehow not?

Jame responds:
Thanks for your question Andromeda—it is a thought-provoking one. I’ll start by saying that all art is enriched by diversity, however, my job specifically as a writer of historical fiction (as opposed to that of a movie producer) is to be as accurate as possible, starting with research and reflecting it in my storytelling. The facts tell us that the Johnstown area was settled by German and Welsh immigrants and descendants. Though I didn’t choose last names for most of my characters, I imagined that Peter was Welsh and Kate was from a Penn Dutch background in another part of Pennsylvania. By the time the flood occurs, there are quite a number of Irish and Scotch-Irish in the Conemaugh Valley, and I mention briefly that Joseph came over to the U.S. from Ireland as a baby. A newly expanding population in Johnstown was Hungarian and the fear was that they would take the all the jobs for less money, a familiar tune in the 1880s. So, Johnstown was considered ethnically diverse, though not by our standards today and certainly not as far as casting a movie. The movie producer would have to decide between historical accuracy and something along the lines of color-blind casting used in musical theater, which can be very exciting, challenging your preconceived notions about the story.

In short, it was my dream to tell the stories of these unique people in this time and place in history—perhaps it will be someone else’s dream to write about freed slaves in Johnstown during the flood, for example, and I hope that writer follows their dream because I for one would love to read it! And see the movie version!

From Jeannine Atkins
I’d love to hear an example of perhaps a minor historical incident found in research that pulled together a poem for you.

Jame responds:
Thanks for the question, Jeannine. One line in my research mentioned in passing that the 1888 season at the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club was cut short due to a scarlet fever scare. So many families were affected by epidemics in those days, often losing several children at once— it isn’t hard to imagine that any hint of disease would send people scurrying. This was one of those details that had an awful lot of potential, so I filed it away in the old gray matter. When Celestia needs to create a distraction from rumors about her sister in 1888, she fakes scarlet fever so club members evacuate before they have a chance to gossip. So, there’s a little detail from history unearthed to become a plot point.

From Maclibrary
When writing in verse, how do you handle dialog?

How did you go about the researching of the Johnstown Flood (which was an amazing and tragic disaster).

How did you decide your line breaks?

Jame responds:
Thanks for your questions Maclibrary! I’ll just take them one at a time.

Dialog: Verse is a distilled form of storytelling, so dialog, like everything else, must be brief and to the point. At the same time, it must characterize the speaker and move the plot along. You can see how a verse novelist must really make every word count. But I would tell any writer to combine a balanced blend of Dialog, Action and Description (DAD), letting dialog and action do the work for you, with description evenly sprinkled throughout.

Also, dialog must sound natural and the best way to check is to read it aloud. Many poetry lovers already consume poetry with their ears, but it’s a great way for any writer to identify the clunky spots.

Research: My earliest research began with internalizing the story of the flood after watching a documentary in high school. I also read so much Jane Austen and Edith Wharton over the years that I became reasonably fluent in their language, so to speak, and the culture and customs of their time. By the time I was ready to start writing 3RR, I surrounded myself with all the books and movies I could find for reference, but I pretty much knew by then what I wanted to include in the story. In 3RR’s back matter, we included a list of recommended reading for anyone who wants more information about the flood, or other fiction to enjoy.

Line breaks: Although in prose, we have paragraphing, section breaks, and chapter breaks, I’m very fond of the extra nuance of line breaks and line spacing that we have in verse. The simplest answer is that a line break is a pause and a line space is an even bigger pause. Sometimes I use a line break to slow the reader down, to make you think. Those I sometimes divide by phrases or clauses, often making a long sentence easier to understand by nature of visually breaking it up into units of meaning (great for comprehension/reluctant readers).

My favorite use is to have the reader consider a line in isolation for a second before adding the meaning of the following line to it: that way you get two relevant meanings at once.

Oh, and let’s not forget the impact of a one-word line!

Revisiting dialog as it relates to line spacing: I do try to begin a stanza for a new speaker or new exchange. Otherwise, line spacing often corresponds to a new thought direction much like starting a new paragraph.

On to Orlando
Thanks again to my two guest poets, Pat Mora and Jame Richards, and to you, Readers, for reading and responding. I'll announce the two winners of the free autographed copies of Pat's and Jame's recent books soon. Now, we make our way to Orlando for the annual convention of the National Council of Teachers of English. Jame and Pat will be part of my panel that also includes fellow bloggers, Elaine Magliaro at Wild Rose Reader who has been featuring Lee Bennett Hopkins and Tricia Stohr-Hunt at the Miss Rumphius Effect who has been featuring Marilyn Singer. We'll all be speaking Friday morning at 9:30 at our session A.9 POETS AND BLOGGERS UNITE: USING TECHNOLOGY TO CONNECT KIDS, TEACHERS, AND POETRY in the Baja Room at the Coronado Springs Resort. If you can come, please say hi, and if not, keep an eye on our blogs for follow up information on our session next week.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Pat Mora responds

Thank you, Readers, for your comments and questions for our guest poets. Pat Mora has offered her responses here below. (I'll share Jame's later this week.)

Question from Andromeda Jazmon

I wish I could be there with you at NCTE! It is going to be great. I am wondering about ideas for using bilingual Spanish/English picture books in our library. We are developing our collection in this area. We teach Spanish from Pre-K to 8th grade, but most teachers don't speak it and neither do I. I am working with the Spanish teacher for collaborative ideas using tech tools like the SMARTboard and interactive websites or apps. Do you have any ideas? We have looked on YouTube and read books together. What else could we be doing? How does a monolingual librarian promote bilingual books?

Response from Pat Mora
Your question is about such an important issue. Most teachers and librarians are not bilingual. The number of bilingual students in our schools keep growing. I wrote a series of four easy reads, MY FAMILY-MI FAMILIA, when a foundation director made me aware that such books aren't that available. Last year I asked teachers at an IRA session how they felt about bilingual books. I encouraged them to be candid, and I'm grateful to the teacher who said, "They intimidate me." Here's our challenge. Many of our students need to see themselves in books and delight in seeing their home language in books, and yet many educators are reluctant to buy or use the books. Dive in! Display the books prominently letting students know that you value such books. Find a Spanish speaking partner (a parent, an older student, a college student) to join you in some paired reading. As I say in ZING, educators are powerful people. The books you promote affect the student's opinions of those books.

Comment from Elizabeth

Thanks for your post. I am a former middle and high school English teacher (and NCTE member!), currently staying at home with my 3 young children. I ran across a Pat Mora children's poetry book today when volunteering in our lower school library. Loved it and tonight found your blog through an internet search. I loved your interview with her and her comments about creating quiet and needing the stillness to explore. Those quotes really resonated with me. Thanks for sharing.

Response from Pat Mora
Thanks for your comment, Elizabeth. The years that I was home with my three
children are among the happiest years of my life.

Question from Laura Purdie Salas
Pat is so delightful--a joy in person (so fun to read right after you at TLA this year, Pat, even if you did have everyone, including me, in tears...a tough act to follow) and on the page.

I'm rereading Dizzy in Your Eyes right now, and I'd love to know more about your poetry process on an individual poem.

The poem "Kissing," where the father sees the daughter and her boyfriend kissing and is upset about it is one of my favorites in Dizzy. Could you share a bit about the process of writing that poem or any other single poem from Dizzy? Where did the idea come from? How did you start? How many drafts, etc.?

Response from Pat Mora
Hi Laura, thanks for your generous words. I smiled at your question about
"Kissing." Often it's hard for me to remember how a poem actually began. When I first started writing poetry--first for adults and then years latter for children and then years later for teens--I wrote poems individually without a book in mind. Some years back, I began conceiving a book project first and then moving to the poems. When the seed for "Kissing" began to grow, I was already writing a collection of love poems in the voices of teens and that I wanted to have diverse voices speaking about all kinds of love. Of course, I wanted to have romantic love as a major theme. I think this poem may have started when driving in Santa Fe where I now live when school had just let out, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a group of teens was at a bus stop, a couple probably kissing, and I wondered, "What if? What if her dad drove by?" I think that's the genesis for that poem that went where I certainly didn't expect it to go. I love to revise so tweak and tweak. Keep writing, Laura!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Jame, Rivers, and Movies

Jame Richards’s first novel in verse, Three Rivers Rising, is a historical tale based on a true event (the Johnstown Flood) weaving multiple story threads toward a vivid climax. It has already been nominated for the ALA Best Fiction for Young Adults 2011 list and you’ll find a downloadable reader’s guide for the book on Jame’s web site.

Here's just a snippet to give you a taste of the book. It's from the long opening passage from the protagonist's (Celestia's) point of view:

Now about me--
if I am not the fun-loving beauty,
then I must be the serious one,
the one who would toss the croquet ball back,
wave and sigh,
but be more infinitely more fascinated
with my book
than with the superficial cheer
of the society crowd.
The one who gets the joke
but does not tolerate it.
The one who baits the hook
and guts the fish
with Peter,
the hired boy.

From: Richards, Jame. 2010. Three Rivers Rising. Knopf, p. 5-6.

One of my favorite activities to use with tweens and teens is to discuss the possible adaptation of a book into film, particularly the casting of the main characters. It really helps them visualize the characters and discuss their attributes. So, I tossed the challenge to Jame, as the author of the book.

If they were to make a movie of THREE RIVERS RISING, whom would you want to cast in the leads?

Jame: Naturally when Hollywood calls they’re going to be on pins and needles waiting for me to help them cast the leads, right? How fun would that be—I can’t wait. I hope Hollywood has a time machine handy, though, because all my picks would be too old to varying degrees. So qualify all my choices as “in the vein of…”

I love when films are cast so that family members truly look similar. So for Celestia and Estrella, I picture Natalie Portman or Keira Knightley or young Winona Ryder in some combination.

For Peter, whoever’s the next Brad Pitt, I guess. He has that golden quality and he’s a good actor.

For Kate, I like Chloe Sevigny because she has that monochromatic coloring, long narrow face and heavy rope braid.

And, for contrast, I picture Maura having a rounder or square face and curly or wavy hair—so Keri Russell.

What do you think? I’m sure there are readers who know the young stars out there better than I do—I’d love to hear their thoughts!

Challenge kids to create a digital book trailer for the book, using actor images they choose for the characters’ portrayals, archival photos of the Johnstown area and flood, period music, and/or other elements to make the story come alive visually.

More historical novels-in-verse
I also like to link books, one to another, to keep kids reading. So, if they like Three Rivers Rising, they may also enjoy the work of Helen Frost, particularly Crossing Stones, which also includes romance, conflict, and societal pressures. And of course, they should look for Karen Hesse’s Out of the Dust (the inspiration for Jame’s use of the verse novel format) as well as Witness. Paul Janeczco’s novel in verse, Worlds Afire offers another counterpoint, with its focus on a real life disaster, the horrible circus fire in Hartford, CT. And I’ve heard through the grapevine that Allan Wolf is publishing a novel in verse about the voyage and sinking of the Titanic—out next year. Other novels in verse set in the U.S. (1850-1950) include Walter Dean Myers’s Here in Harlem: Poems in Many Voices (coming out shortly in a new audiobook format), Carole Boston Weatherford’s Becoming Billie Holiday or Marilyn Nelson’s Carver: A Life in Poems. To follow up, create a Poetry Timeline and place these titles in chronological order based on their settings.

Come meet Jame at our session at the upcoming NCTE convention in Orlando, A.9 POETS AND BLOGGERS UNITE: USING TECHNOLOGY TO CONNECT KIDS, TEACHERS, AND POETRY on Friday, Nov. 19 (9:30-10:45am).

Be sure to check out my fellow bloggers’ sites featuring fellow presenters, Lee Bennett Hopkins (at Elaine Magliaro's Wild Rose Reader) and Marilyn Singer (at Tricia Stohr-Hunt's Miss Rumphius Effect). And for more Poetry Friday fun, go to Scrub-a-Dub-Tub hosted by Terry.

Last chance: Post questions for Jame Richards or Pat Mora (in the Comments area below) or simply comment and win a chance at a free autographed copy of Three Rivers Rising (by Jame) and Dizzy in Your Eyes (by Pat). I'll post responses from Jame and Pat next week and will follow up on our joint session AFTER the NCTE conference. Thanks!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Featuring new poet Jame Richards

You’ll see from her web site, that new poet Jame Richards grew up a reader. She wanted to be an artist as a child, but was told there was no job market for artists. Then she read Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great and so began her reading life and eventually her writing life. In 2008, she received the Susan P. Bloom Children's Book Discovery Award for emerging writers from PEN New England Children's Book Caucus for the work that became her first published book, Three Rivers Rising (published by Knopf, 2010). It’s the story-in-poems of the catastrophic Johnstown (Pennsylvania) flood of 1889. It’s a fast read and compelling story, a Titanic kind of love story about star-crossed lovers from different classes set against an actual disaster that occurred in Pennsylvania near the turn of the twentieth century. It’s already been nominated for the ALA Best Fiction for Young Adults 2011 list and you’ll find a downloadable reader’s guide for the book on her web site.

Be sure to check out Jame’s blog, too. One of my favorite features is her regular column of adorable “Frances-isms” capturing the clever, intuitive ways that children express themselves with their evolving vocabularies vis a vis her own young daughter. One example is: "A rhombus is a rectangle in a hurry."

Jame will be one of our panelists at our upcoming NCTE session. She was kind enough to agree to a mini-interview. Here are her responses.

Can you tell us a little about yourself? Where you grew up? Your family? Where you live and work now?

I grew up in a small town in the Catskills along the Hudson River. My dad taught industrial arts at the high school and my mom coordinated an adult literacy program. I have two older sisters. Books were big in our house—every morning at the breakfast table was like an impromptu book club.

Because my dad was a teacher in our town, we had the same school vacations and used them to travel to just about every historic site, monument and museum in the great 48. I like to say I could walk into any restoration, slap on a bonnet and start carding wool…yeah, it gets into your blood.

I live in Southwestern Connectic
ut now and I like to torment my own two daughters in a similar manner. This summer we visited Hudson River mansions Wilderstein and Springwood, the FDR estate, what I like to call the Fala Tour. (Wilderstein was the home of FDR’s cousin Daisy who gave him Fala as a gift.) The next question is—Are they big readers like you were? You bet. They are happiest with a spilling-over armload of books. My husband, too, though he prefers nonfiction.

As a new poet, I’m wondering what led you to write in this genre? To create a novel in verse, in particular? I read on your Web site that your mother giving you Out of the Dust to read influenced you greatly. Care to elaborate?

Among my earliest attempts at creative writing, poetry was by far most successful, but I kept hearing people say my poems were too long! And I was secretly wanting them to be even longer, to tell even bigger stories! The idea of writing one long poem—book length, let’s say—made me queasy, but I gradually became acquainted with the idea of writing self-contained vignettes like The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. I could write the essential scenes of a story, out of order even, and move them around later, which is how I eventually wrote early drafts of 3RR. Unfortunately, I still didn’t have a breakthrough until reading Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse. The style that comes naturally to me suddenly had an outlet, and all my writing quirks were permissible. So, the revelation was “Oh, now I know what to do!”

Can you tell us a little about the story behind Three Rivers Rising—particularly the research involved?
My interest in the Johnstown flood began at the age of my target audience: high school. A documentary about the flood kept me riveted for three days. I felt like the flood had happened yesterday—it was so vivid and immediate in my mind, I couldn’t understand how anyone was talking about anything else! After that I continued to feel like it was “my story” somehow and I kept an ear to the ground for any new information about the flood.

A few years later, as I was heading off to grad school for writing, I saw the documentary again on TV, purely by coincidence. I was struck by the juxtaposition of the ladies in white lounging on the boardwalks of the resort while the gritty steel mills chugged away in the valley below. I remember saying, “This needs a Romeo and Juliet story! This needs to be a novel!”
The biggest break you could hope to get as far as research is if David McCollough wrote a book about your subject. After thorough readings of The Johnstown Flood, I had a springboard to start my own story. Then I could verify individual facts as needed. I found a nice new obsession in checking words for date of origin. “Loophole,” for example, sounds vaguely corporate and yet possibly Biblical… hmm, better look it up. 

What can we look forward to from you next?
I have a number of works in progress including a middle grade novel—another historical in verse—set during WWII. Don’t want to jinx it though, so cross your fingers for me!

Any questions for Jame? Use the comments area (below) and I’ll gather them and see if Jame has a moment to respond. An autographed copy of her new book will be sent to a random commenter, so post please any time before the conference (Nov. 19)! And if you’re coming to the NCTE convention, you’re welcome at our Friday morning poetry session. Jame will be there!

Be sure to check out my fellow bloggers’ sites (Elaine at Wild Rose Reader and Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect) featuring fellow presenters, Lee Bennett Hopkins and Marilyn Singer.

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Sunday, November 07, 2010

Mora and YALSA

¡Hola! from the biennial YALSA Symposium (sponsored by the Young Adult Library Services Association, a division of the American Library Association) currently wrapping up in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I was honored to host a presentation here that included a panel of five fantastic poets who write wonderful works for young adult audiences. This included our focus poet Pat Mora, as well as Jen Bryant, Ann Burg, Margarita Engle, and April Halprin Wayland. (Betsy Franco had hoped to be part of our panel, but had to be in NYC to act in her son, James Franco's movie! Cool, huh?)

The Symposium theme asks, “Does today's young adult literature reflect the many different faces, beliefs and identities of today's teens?” And I would argue YES, that poetry for teens, in particular, reflects great diversity in both form and content, from art-based anthologies to novels-in-verse, by mainstream poets, as well as poets of color. It also offers an invitation to and model of self-expression that is especially appealing to readers in their teen years.

Since this Symposium is a smaller, more intimate gathering of some of the most cutting-edge YA librarians, we tried something a little different with our session. We spent half the session on a kind of pre-planned Q&A or mock interview, and half the session on a somewhat pre-planned “poetry improv.”

Here are the questions I gave our poets (in advance). Some answered one question, some another, some piggy-backed on each other’s responses.
• What were you like as a teenager?
• If you were to build a poetry timeline of your life, which poems, poetry books or poets most influenced you at which points in your life?
• Describe your poem writing process. What is your favorite writing place like?
• How do you know if you are writing a poem collection vs. a novel in verse? Why do you choose or prefer one format over the other?
• If you were to pair your poetry with music, what music would you choose? With a movie? (An individual book or your body of work)
• Tell us about the teens in your life. About teens who have responded to your work.
• What are you reading right now? Writing right now? Listening to right now?

If you’re working with teens, these questions could be helpful as they reach out to their favorite poets or as they respond to favorite works of poetry or as they attempt their own poem writing.


Next, we had a poetry reading. I had the following prompts printed on individual slips of paper all jumbled in a jar and invited audience members to draw randomly from this selection of topics. The poets were then invited to share one of their poems (or novel-in-verse excerpts) that fit that topic in some way. Sometimes the topic connected with several poets and poems, sometimes only one. Sometimes one poem prompted another poem.
• School sucks
• The perfect Christmas gift
• An awkward first date
• My parents always argue
• What am I good at?
• My best friend “gets” me
• No one “gets” me
• The future scares me
• I feel so alone
• I love to laugh
• I wish I could be a little kid again
• My current Facebook status
• My secret hope
• Girls have it so much easier
• Boys have it so much easier
• The struggle continues
• My heart is aching
• I wish I were free
• How can I go on?
• My family

This session was a hit, if I do say so myself, and the response was so positive. The poets did a terrific job—interacting easily with one another, sharing honestly about their work, their process, even their failures, and giving us moving poetry readings to take home with us. Pat shared the musical structure that emerged in creating the poetry for Dizzy in Your Eyes. Margarita revealed the new writing life that emerged when she injured both wrists in a zipline accident in Costa Rica. Ann bravely shared from a manuscript that she decided should NOT be published. Jen openly discussed the phases of her process and the tactile way she interacts with poetry. April shared her daily poetry writing discipline and the serendipitous discoveries along the way. We were all completely absorbed!

I was so pleased that YALSA included so much poetry on the docket of presentations and that our session, in particular, could offer such an amazing range of voices, with Pat Mora and Margarita Engle who channel their cultures in unique and universal ways, Jen Bryant and Ann Burg who create masterful historical novels-in-verse, and April Halprin Wayland who offers a visually graphic poem compilation. The audience learned about the variety of teen poetry available today, about the poets who create it, heard it read aloud, experienced creative ways to promote poetry with teen audiences, and left with a list of the best new poetry for teens.

Thanks to these marvelous poets for their whole-hearted participation and preparation and again to the publishers who supported this session: Tracy Lerner & Random House, Tim Jones & now Lucy Del Priore & Henry Holt/Macmillan, Jenny Choy & Candlewick, Stephanie Nooney and John Mason & Scholastic-- for bringing these poets to Albuquerque for the Symposium.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Pat Mora: On the Web and in Print

Many poets writing for young people maintain rich and lively web sites. They offer interesting biographical information, current booklists, and ideas and strategies for connecting kids with poetry, even for promoting poetry writing. Plus, they have an appealing look that engages kids. Some even provide opportunities for interaction and communication with the poet. There are book covers, photographs, and even audiofiles. These sites help budding poets see how poets live and work. Conversely, they can also help the poetry-phobic (teacher or librarian) feel less intimidated about poetry. It seems so friendly on the web. Pat Mora has such an exemplary web site with many resources to support poetry sharing. Not only does she offer information about all her books (for all ages) including activities and lesson plans, but you’ll find a wealth of resources for educators and librarians, too. Her site has even been recognized as one of the "Great Web Sites for Kids" by the Association of Library Service to Children!

Plus her blog, ShareBookjoy, is a gem of inspiration and information—always new and updated. Check out the current interview with Jeanette Larson (fellow Texas and UberLibrarian) talking about her connections with Pat and with the growing El dia de los ninos/El dia de los libros movement, the annual celebration of children and books on April 30. Jeanette has a new book about this coming out with ALA in the spring: El día de los ninos/El día de los libros: Building a Culture of Literacy in Your Community through Día (ALA, 2011). Pat also mentions a brand new grant opportunity for public libraries that want to promote Día. Check it out!

And just in case you’re not familiar with Pat’s body of work, here’s a compilation of all her books for children and young adults. Each one has such a fond place in my heart—I have a “brown bag book report” for Tomás and the Library Lady that I think I have used a million times!
  • A Birthday Basket for Tia
  • A Library for Juana: The World of Sor Juana Inés
  • Abuelos
  • Agua, Agua, Agua
The Bakery Lady/La señora de la panaderia
  • Book Fiesta
  • Confetti: Poems for Children
  • Delicious Hullabaloo/Pachanga Deliciosa
  • Dizzy in My Eyes
  • Doña Flor: A Tall Tale About a Giant Woman with a Great Big Heart
  • Hands; The Ways We Celebrate Life
  • Listen to the Desert/Oye al desierto
  • Love to Mama: A Tribute to Mothers
  • Maria Paints the Hills
  • ¡Marimba! Animales A-Z
  • My Own True Name: New and Selected Poems for Young Adults, 1984-1999
  • Pablo's Tree
  • Piñata in a Pine Tree: A Latino Twelve Days of Christmas
  • Song of St. Francis
  • The Desert is My Mother/El Desierto es Mi Madre
  • The Gift of the Poinsettia: El regalo de la flor de noche buena
  • Gracias- Thanks
  • The Night the Moon Fell
  • The Race of Toad and Deer
  • The Rainbow Tulip
  • This Big Sky
  • Tomás and the Library Lady
  • Uno Dos Tres, One, Two, Three
  • Yum! Mmmm! Que Rico!: America's Sproutings
***Plus, her “My Family--Mi familia" series of bilingual easy readers

Finally, a student of mine led me to this YouTube videoclip of Pat talking about her beginnings as a writer, the role of culture in children’s literature, and about the creation of her ingenioius food-focused haiku, Yum! Mmmm! Que Rico!: America's Sproutings. It was created by the book’s publisher, Lee and Low (a terrific publisher of multicultural books for children).

If you have any questions for Pat, post them below in the COMMENTS area and I’ll post her responses Monday, November 15, just before the NCTE conference session. Next week, I’ll be featuring new poet Jame Richards, also a member of our fantastic poetry + bloggers panel. Meanwhile, hop over to the weekly Poetry Friday gathering at Teaching Authors hosted by author JoAnn Early Macken.

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