Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Blog Tour: Leaf Litter Critters by Leslie Bulion

Welcome to the next stop on the blog tour for Leslie Bulion's new book, Leaf Litter Critters, illustrated by Robert Meganck and published by Peachtree Press.

You may know Leslie from her previous books, Hey There, Stink Bug!, At the Sea Floor Café; Odd Ocean Critter Poems, or Random Body Parts: Gross Anatomy Riddles in Verse-- all fun, rich science-focused poetry collections. I was honored to create an educator guide for Random Body Parts and had so much fun exploring the biology and the Shakespearean forms in it!  Leslie and poet Allan Wolf interviewed each other (in relation to Random Body Parts) for a previous feature on my blog here. Also, one of my students featured Leslie and her book, At the Sea Floor Café previously here. So, you'll find lots of Leslie love at my blog! I really appreciate her careful science research AND her careful crafting of poetry very much.  

Poetry by Leslie Bulion
Bulion, Leslie. 2006. Hey There, Stink Bug! Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge.
Bulion, Leslie. 2011. At the Sea Floor Café; Odd Ocean Critter Poems. Ill. by Leslie Evans. Atlanta, GA: Peachtree.
Bulion, Leslie. 2015. Random Body Parts: Gross Anatomy Riddles in Verse. Atlanta: Peachtree. 

Now, with Leaf Litter Critters, Leslie has penned 19 engaging, energetic poems in various forms, all about the different "critters" found in the thin leaf litter layer. Who knew that poems about bacteria, litter, mushrooms, protists, rotifers, nematodes, mites, proturans and diplurans, symphylans, millipedes, earthworms, centipedes, beetles, and pseudoscorpions could be so much fun?! Kids will LOVE saying all those words-- as well as reading these poems aloud. Here's my favorite about the nematode, representing 4 out of 5 animals on earth!

Each poem page is accompanied by a prose "Science Note" which provides a nice cross-genre connection for teaching and modeling too. And did I mention the illustrations?  So fun and appealing to young readers. Robert Meganck uses colorful cartoons and line drawings to show each creature clearly enough to identify, as well as hilariously enough to enjoy! Plus, I am a big fan of "back matter" in books, and Bulion provides an extensive glossary (complete with visuals), poetry notes about the forms she employed, suggestions for investigative activities (both in the field and in the lab), a list of resources for further investigation, and my absolute favorite thing: a visual guide to "critter comparison" showing the relative sizes of all the creatures depicted. (So often all the animals shown in a nonfiction picture book all seem to be more or less the same size!)  Now here's a bit of backstory from Leslie herself!


Thank you for inviting me to visit your blog, Sylvia! I’m thrilled to join your inimitable celebration of poetry for young readers!

Researching and writing my newest science poetry collection, LEAF LITTER CRITTERS (Peachtree, March 1), has set me to thinking about sharing passions, the persistent power of ideas and our opportunities to honor and nurture our own ideas and those of others. 
I’ll begin with a story. In 2003 I took a summer course at Cornell Adult University called, “The Way Bugs Work.” Our group of life-long learners tromped over field and stream, peered through microscopes and spoke the language of insects with two uber-enthusiastic passion-sharing professors while I scribbled and sketched in a field notebook—a whole week of my kind of bliss. 

Up to that point I had been writing middle-grade novels but something about these insectly elegant packages of evolution and adaptation begged me to pair them with poems—similarly elegant packages of language, emotion and ideas. My thoughtful and creative fourth-grade teacher had shared her passion for poetry and set me on a poet’s path long ago, but it had never occurred to me to try writing poems for young readers. This insect poem idea grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. Could I combine my passion for our astonishing natural world with a life-long love affair with poetry, wordplay and the language of science? 

When I finally braved sharing a few of my fledgling insect poems with my writing buddies they responded as they always do—with wild enthusiasm, careful listening, support and encouragement. They helped my idea flourish! I continued observing insects with my hands-on catch, sketch and release program. I pored over my field notes, researched juicy science stories, studied all kinds of poetry and created what became my first science poetry collection, HEY THERE, STINK BUG! (Charlesbridge 2006). 

Ten whole years (and several novels and poetry collections with wonderful Peachtree Publishers) later I picked up my old field entomology journal from 2003 and flipped through to this page:

I remembered how captivated I’d been when we collected, then sifted the critters from the litter in that Berlese funnel. I had taken my time observing while making these scrawly drawings of mites, springtails, tiny feather-winged beetle and centipede. Now they jumped off of the page and shook me by my shoulders: their secret, recycler ecosystem under everyone’s feet needed a book! It seemed the idea for LEAF LITTER CRITTERS had been percolating in my brain for ten years. But that estimate of my LITTER CRITTER idea timeline was off by…a lot!

Quite recently a young reader in a World Read Aloud Day Skype asked to hear the first poem I’d ever written. Luckily, I know the answer to this question by heart:

The Grass is Green by Leslie Bulion, Mrs. Brownworth’s 4th grade class

The grass is green, 
The grass is brown,
The grass is waving up and down.

The grass is brown, 
The grass is green,
Under the grass are many things you’ve never even seen.

So…connecting the billions of dots here it seems I’ve actually been thinking about the idea for LEAF LITTER CRITTERS for fifty years

We never know when the seed of an idea will be planted, or when it will germinate and sprout into a sunflower or an oak. Or when that waiting, barely recognizable tun of an idea (tun being the drought-resistant, resting state of an incredible microscopic litter critter—the tardigrade) is going to turn into a living, active “water bear”.

I’ve learned that those patient seed ideas that we honor, protect and care for, that we nourish with shared passions, water and bathe in the warmth of encouragement—those seeds will germinate. They will sprout and grow, often metamorphosing into new forms we may not yet imagine! As readers, writers, educators, colleagues, family and friends we have the awesome power to inspire, encourage and nurture ideas—both in our own lives and in the many lives we have the privilege to share for moments or years along the journey. 

Thank you, Leslie, for sharing this glimpse of your process! So fascinating for grown ups and kids alike. Now, excuse me while I go check out what's hiding outside in that pile of leaves in the corner of the fence! 

Friday, February 23, 2018

NCTE Poetry Notables 2018

You know I always love lists and awards that highlight poetry. It's so helpful to see which poetry books are featured on any "best" list, but a whole list of poetry is the best of all! The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) presents an award for excellence in poetry for children every other year. (Link here.) The lovely Marilyn Nelson was the most recent recipient in 2017. (Don't miss Renee La Tulippe's video series on ALL the award recipients available here.) 

But this same award committee decides a list of Notable Poetry Books every year. You can find a pdf file of the 2018 list of Notable Poetry Books here and below. On top of that, the committee often issues a separate list of notable VERSE NOVELS (see links below). I think NCTE has the only such list-- another great resource! 

2018 Notable Poetry Books Selected by the NCTE Award for Excellence in Children’s Poetry Committee

Animal Ark. Kwame Alexander. Photographs by Joel Sartore. 2017. National Geographic. 
Before She Was Harriet. Lesa Cline-Ransome. Illus. by James E. Ransome. 2017. Holiday House. 
Blue Sky White Star. Sarvinder Naberhaus. Illus. by Kadir Nelson. 2017. Dial Books for Young Readers. 
Cricket in the Thicket: Poems about Bugs. Carol Murray. Illus. by Melissa Sweet. 2017. Christy Ottaviano Books / Henry Holt and Company. 
Family Poems for Every Day of the Week. Fransisco Alarcón. Illus. by Maya Christina Gonzalez. 2017. Children’s Book Press / Lee & Low Books. 
Here We Go: A Poetry Friday Power Book. Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong. Illus. by Franzi Paetzold. 2017. Pomelo Books. 
I Carry Your Heart with Me. E. E. Cumings. Illus. by Mati McDonough. 2017. Cameron Kids / Cameron + Company. 
I’m Just No Good at Rhyming. Chris Harris. Illus. by Lane Smith. 2017. Little, Brown and Company. 
Mrs. Nelson’s Class. Edited by Marilyn Nelson. 2017. World Enough Writers. 
My Daddy Rules the World: Poems about Dads. Hope Anita Smith. 2017. Christy Ottaviano Books / Henry Holt & Company. 
Nothing Rhymes with Orange. Adam Rex. 2017. Chronicle Books. 
One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance. Nikki Grimes. Illus. by Cozbi A. Cabrera, R. Gregory Christie, Pat Cummings, Jan Spivey Gilchrist, Ebony Glenn, Nikki Grimes, E. B. Lewis, Frank Morrison, Christopher Myers, Brian Pinkney, Sean Qualls, James Ransome, Javaka Steptoe, Shadra Strickland, and Elizabeth Zunon. 2017. Bloomsbury. 
Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets. Kwame Alexander. Illus. by Ekua Holmes. 2017. Candlewick Press. 
Poetry for Kids: Carl Sandburg. Edited by Kathryn Benzel. Illus. by Robert Crawford. 2017. MoonDance Press. 
Poetry for Kids: Robert Frost. Edited by Jay Parini. Illus. by Michael Paraskevas. 2017. MoonDance Press. 
Poetry for Kids: Walt Whitman. Edited by Karen Karbiener. Illus. by Kate Evans. 2017. MoonDance Press. 
Read! Read! Read. Amy Ludwig VanDerwater. Illus. by Ryan O’Rourke. 2017. WordSong / Highlights. 
Runny Babbit Returns. Shel Silverstein. 2017. Harper / HarperCollins. 
Song of the Wild: A First Book of Animals. Nicola Davies. Illus. by Petr Horáček. 2017. Candlewick Press. 
That is My Dream!. Langston Hughes. Ill. By Daniel Miyares. 2017. Schwartz & Wade Books. 
Tony. Ed Galing. Illus. by Erin Stead. 2017. Neal Porter / Roaring Brook Press. 
Traveling the Blue Road: Poems of the Sea. Lee Bennett Hopkins. Illus. by Bob Hansman & Jovan Hansman. 2017. Seagrass Press. 
Wake Up. Helen Frost. Photographs by Rick Lieder. 2017. Candlewick Press. 
Watersong. Tim McCanna. Illus. by Richard Smythe. 2017. Paula Wiseman / Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. 
The Watcher: Inspired by Psalm 121. Nikki Grimes. Illus. by Bryan Collier. 2017. Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. 

2018 Notable Verse Novels 
Gone Camping: A Novel in Verse. Tamera Will Wissinger. Illus. by Matthew Cordell. 2017. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 
When My Sister Started Kissing. Helen Frost. 2017. Margaret Ferguson Books / Farrar Straus Giroux. 

NCTE Poetry Committee Members: 
Karen Hildebrand, Chair, Delaware City Schools, Ohio 
Dr. Trish Bandré, USD 305, Salina, Kansas 
Dr. Lesley Colabucci, Millersville University, Pennsylvania 
Dr. Laretta Henderson, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee 
Lisa Muller, Castle High School, Newburgh, Indiana 
Dr. Lisa Pinkerton, Ohio State University, Columbus 

Also, here are links to previous lists:

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Caldecott!!!! (plus poetry connections)

Our 2018 Caldecott Committee and our winning books

Calling the winning illustrators via speakerphone!
I've been celebrating my Caldecott experience for over a week now! What a treat to spend a year poring over picture books published in 2017 and then a whole weekend behind closed doors talking in-depth with 14 other people who love picture books as much as I do!  Just WOW! 
In case you haven't seen the results, we chose Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell as the medal winner! It's such a beautiful, wordless book perfect for sharing with a child on your lap or a whole group during story time. And because, it's wordless, I can envision pairing it with poems, too! For example, selections from some of these winter-themed poetry collections would help set the stage:

Poetry to Pair with Wolf in the Snow
Florian, Douglas. 1999. Winter Eyes. New York: Greenwillow.
Frost, Robert. 1978/2001. Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. Ill. by Susan Jeffers. New York: Dutton.
Gerber, Carole. 2008. Winter Trees. Ill. by Leslie Evans. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge. 
Quattlebaum, Marie. 2005. Winter Friends. Ill. by Hiroe Nakata. New York: Bantam.
Yolen, Jane. 1998. Snow, Snow:  Winter Poems for Children. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong/Boyds Mills.

We chose four Caldecott honor books:
Grand Canyon by Jason Chin

Crown by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James
Big Cat, Little Cat by Elisha Cooper
A Different Pond by Bao Phi, illustrated by Thi Bui

More poetry connections?
The gorgeous nonfiction book, Grand Canyon by Jason Chin (also a Sibert honor book) was one of our honor selections and is a book to pore over for the sweeping landscape, detailed nature drawings, and imagined history. There's a new poetry anthology coming out this year that might work perfectly alongside this book (The Poetry of Us), as well as several others:

Poetry to Pair with Grand Canyon
Bates, Katharine Lee. 2003. America the Beautiful. Ill. by Wendell Minor. New York: Putnam.
Hopkins, Lee Bennett. Ed. 2000. My America: A Poetry Atlas of the U.S. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Hopkins, Lee Bennett, Ed. 2002. Home to Me: Poems Across America. New York: Orchard.
Lewis, J. Patrick. (Ed.) 2018. The Poetry of Us: More Than 200 Poems about the People, Places and Passions of the United States. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic. 
Panzer, Nora, Ed. 1994. Celebrate America in Poetry and Art. New York: Hyperion. 
Siebert, Diane. 2006. Tour America: A Journey through Poems and Art. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle.

We're so excited that Crown by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James has also been recognized with other awards, including a NEWBERY honor for author Derrick Barnes, as well as a Coretta Scott King author honor for him and illustrator honor for Gordon C. James. Impressive, right? It's a celebratory anthem to the power of the haircut and the barber shop in African American life and identity-- full of energy and power and hope. Plus, it's subtitled "An Ode to the Fresh Cut." It begins:

"When it's your turn in the chair,
you stand at attention and forget about
who you were when you
walked through that door.

You came in as a lump of clay,
a blank canvas, a slab of marble.
But when my man is done with you,
they'll want to post you up in a museum!

That's my word."

Connect Crown with poems from some of these wonderful books, especially Crowning Glory by Joyce Carol Thomas:

Poetry to Pair with Crown
Brooks, Gwendolyn. 1956/1984. Bronzeville Boys and Girls. New York: HarperCollins.
Giovanni, Nikki. Coll. 2008. Hip Hop Speaks Children. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks.
Greenfield, Eloise. 2008. Brothers and Sisters: Family Poems. New York: Amistad/HarperCollins.
Grimes, Nikki. 1994. Meet Danitra Brown. New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard. 
Grimes, Nikki. 1999. My Man Blue: Poems. New York: Dial.
Hughes, Langston. 2009. My People. Ill. by Charles R Smith Jr. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Myers, Walter Dean. 1995. Glorious Angels:  A Celebration of Children. New York: HarperCollins.  
Myers, Walter Dean. 2011. We are America; A Tribute from the Heart. Ill. by Christopher Myers. HarperCollins.
Steptoe, Javaka. Ed. 1997. In Daddy's Arms I Am Tall: African Americans Celebrating Fathers. New York: Lee & Low.
Thomas, Joyce Carol. 2002. Crowning Glory. New York: HarperCollins. 
Thomas, Joyce Carol. 2008. The Blacker the Berry. Illus. by Floyd Cooper. New York: Amistad.

Next up? 
Big Cat, Little Cat by Elisha Cooper
This masterful picture book is about cats, yes, but it's so much more! And I found the lyrical, perfectly paced language so poetic, too. It begins:

"There was a cat
who lived alone.
Until the day
a new cat came. 
The cat showed the new
cat what to do.
When to eat,
when to drink,
where to go,
how to be,
when to rest."

See what I mean? And each phrase is spread across each page along with elegant, simple, bold drawings in thick black outlines of two special cats. Do not miss this book. Trust me! And of course there are TONS of poems about cats to pair with this book. Here is just a sampling:

Poetry to Pair with Big Cat, Little Cat
Crawley, Dave. 2005. Cat Poems. Honesdale: Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press.
Florian, Douglas. 2003. Bow Wow Meow Meow: It’s Rhyming Cats and Dogs. San Diego: Harcourt Brace.
Franco, Betsy. 2009. A Curious Collection of Cats. Ill. by Michael Wertz. San Francisco: Tricycle Press.
Kirk, Daniel. 2007. Cat Power. New York: Hyperion.
Lach, William. Ed. 1999. Curious Cats in Art and Poetry for Children. 1999. New York: Atheneum Books.
Rosen, Michael J. 2015. The Maine Coon’s Haiku and Other Poems for Cat Lovers. Somerville, MA: Candlewick. 
Schertle, Alice. 1999. I am the Cat. New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard.
Wardlaw, Lee. 2011. Won Ton; A Cat Tale Told in Haiku. Ill. by Eugene Yelchin. Henry Holt.
Wardlaw, Lee. 2015. Won Ton and Chopstick: A Cat and Dog Tale Told in Haiku. Ill. by Eugene Yelchin. New York: Holt.
Yolen, Jane. 1993. Raining Cats and Dogs. San Diego: Harcourt. 

And finally:
A Different Pond by Bao Phi, illustrated by Thi Bui
This beautiful picture book is part memoir, part graphic novel, and part father-son adventure and totally poignant and memorable. And the author, Bao Phi, is a... POET! A father and his young son make a fishing trip in the wee hours of the morning to catch their dinner, sharing the experience, as well as the father's memories of his past in Vietnam. The story begins:

"Dad wakes me quietly
so Mom can keep sleeping.
It will be hours before
the sun comes up."

and ends...

"And I will smile and nod,
and later, when we sleep,
we will dream of fish
in faraway ponds."

Poetry to Pair with A Different Pond
Frank, John. 2007. How to Catch a Fish. New York: Roaring Brook.
Grimes, Nikki. 1999. Hopscotch Love: A Family Treasury of Love Poems. New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard.
Issa, Kobayashi. 2007. Today and Today. New York: Scholastic.
Livingston, Myra Cohn. Ed. 1989. Poems for Fathers. New York: Holiday House.
Mak, Kam. 2001. My Chinatown: One Year in Poems. New York: HarperCollins.
Park, Linda Sue. 2007. Tap Dancing on the Roof; Sijo Poems. New York : Clarion.
Wissinger, Tamera Will. 2013. Gone Fishing: A Novel in Verse. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Wong, Janet S. 1994. Good Luck Gold and Other Poems. New York: McElderry.
Wong, Janet S. 1996/2008. A Suitcase of Seaweed, and Other Poems. New York: Booksurge.

So, there you go!
Of course poetic connections are not part of the Caldecott selection criteria. Just in case you didn’t know, the Caldecott Medal is an award given annually by the Association for Library Service to children to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children. The Caldecott committee focuses on the "excellence of execution in the artistic technique employed, in the pictorial interpretation of story, theme, or concept, the appropriateness of style of illustration to the story, theme or concept, etc." But many picture books are so poetic, don't you think? The brevity and economy of language is part of the nature of the picture book medium. And of course many picture book collections are currently published in picture book form, too. 

Now that I have completed the process, I am once again at liberty to talk and write about all the picture books I love! Hallelujah! One of the biggest challenges last year was NOT talking and writing about picture books-- all the lovely poetry that was published in picture book form was "off limits" for me in 2017. ALSC is very mindful of any potential conflict of interest and I understand that completely. So, now I look forward to the ALA conference in New Orleans in June when these Caldecott artists will be honored. And I look forward to sharing more ideas for celebrating poetry as we move forward through 2018! 

Don't miss the Poetry Friday gathering hosted by Liz Steinglass this week. See you there!

Friday, February 02, 2018

New Voices, Maham Khwaja and VERSIFY

Did y'all see this news? 

I'm really looking forward to more from this new writer and poet-- and I hope it will be SOON! For more information, go here.

Plus, Kwame Alexander is launching a new imprint with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt that will also be seeking out new voices-- and for poetry, in particular!

Here's a link for more info, FYI.

Exciting times for poetry and diversity!

Now, be sure and check out the rest of the Poetry Friday goodness over at Mainely Write with thanks to Diane for hosting us!