Friday, March 26, 2021

Celebrate NCTE Award Poets

I'd like to highlight the poetry award that recognizes poets who write expressly for young readers and honors them for their entire body of work. That's the NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children. The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) strives to recognize and foster excellence in children’s poetry by encouraging its publication and by exploring ways to acquaint teachers and children with poetry through such means as publications, programs, and displays. As one means of accomplishing this goal, NCTE established its Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children to honor a poet for his or her aggregate work. This award was established in 1977 to honor a living American poet for his or her lifetime achievement in works for children ages 3–13. The award was given annually until 1982, at which time it was decided that the award would be given every three years. In 2008 the Poetry Committee updated the criteria and changed the time frame to every other year. Check out the NCTE website for award updates: 

Award Recipients
2021 Janet S. Wong
2019 Paul B. Janeczko
2017 Marilyn Nelson
2015 Marilyn Singer
2013 Joyce Sidman
2011 J. Patrick Lewis
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

Look for Another Jar of Tiny Stars: Poems by NCTE Award-winning Poets, edited by Bernice Cullinan and Deborah Wooten, an anthology of poems by NCTE Poetry Award recipients (up to the year of the book’s publication). It is an excellent resource, based on children’s votes for their favorite poems by each award winner. It is a very child-friendly collection of some of the best poetry by some of the best poets who have ever written poetry for children. Plus, it includes biographical information about, sketches of, and quotations from the award-winning poets.

You can find wonderful background information about each of the award-winning poets at the NCTE Poets Spotlight Series created by author Reneé M. LaTulippe. She features an in-depth overview of their work, as well as personal interviews with Lee Bennett Hopkins about each poet. Lee was a giant in the field of poetry for young people and received the award himself in 2009. Check out these fascinating profiles of each poet here.

Each one of these poets has a body of work of poetry for young people that is worthy and outstanding-- and they all still have books you can find at libraries and bookstores. As National Poetry Month (April) approaches, see if you can't find, read, and share one poem (or book!) by each of these fantastic and timeless poets! 

Now head on over to Soul Blossom Living where Susan is hosting our Poetry Friday goodness! See you there!

And come back every day in April where I'll be celebrating National Poetry Month with poem videos created by my awesome graduate students. 

Friday, March 19, 2021


I'm happy to host a guest post by author Mark Karlins with the back-story on his recently published book, Kiyoshi's Walk (Lee & Low, 2021), illustrated by Nicole Wong, in which a young boy explores the question, "Where do poems come from?" on a walk with this grandfather who shares his own haiku writing process. 

Here's the scoop on the author and illustrator: Mark Karlins is the author of six picture books, two books of poetry for adults, and a number of reviews and essays on poetry. He runs poetry workshops for children and teenagers and has also taught at a number of colleges, including the MFA Program in Writing for Children and Young Adults at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Nicole Wong is a full-time illustrator with a BFA degree from the Rhode Island School of Design. Her twenty-plus books include Three Lost Seeds: Stories of Becoming; No Monkeys, No Chocolate; and illustrations for Andrea Cheng's Only One Year, published by Lee & Low Books. She lives in Fall River, Massachusetts, with her husband, daughter, two sleepy cats and two hyperactive dogs.

 Mark Karlins writes:

One of the reasons I write picture books is to make discoveries. I want to surprise myself. The surprise can come when the story I’m writing shifts from its original direction and winds up in a place I hadn’t imagined, or when a character reveals parts of him or herself I didn’t expect. Sometimes the surprise emerges in the language itself, in words that open doors. And it is just such alive words that Kiyoshi discovers in the poem he writes near the end of Kiyoshi’s Walk.
    Where do poems come from?” That is the first question Kiyoshi asks his Grandfather Eto. That question forms the emotional heart and structure of the book. The two of them set off on a walk through the city, a walk that proves to be a journey in search of clues for poetry writing. From his grandfather and the haikus his grandfather writes, Kiyoshi learns that poems come from careful seeing, from listening, from imagining. He realizes that poems are all around us in the commonplace things of the world. And, through poetry writing, he draws ever closer to his grandfather.
    In many ways, Kiyoshi (and hopefully the young audience for Kiyoshi’s Walk) learns that poetry writing is a matter of mindfulness. Writing is an act of attention and an act of empathy. At the end of his journey, Kiyoshi, who learns to see the world more clearly, writes a poem. For him, it is a moment of revelation and joy, a charged moment in which he realizes that poems come from a joining of inner and outer worlds.
    Why haiku? Why is this the type of poetry Kiyoshi and his grandfather write? One answer I would give is that the short form of the haiku is accessible to children and the writing of it gives them confidence in their own abilities as writers. This self-assurance is what Kiyoshi discovers. He moves toward mastery and we all need that, young and old, children in the real world and children in picture books. And he does this not by writing haiku about traditional subjects, but by seeing that haiku can be about anything. He engages both with poetry and the world.
    Before writing
Kiyoshi’s Walk
, I had pretty much thought of poetry writing as a private endeavor. While writing the book I discovered that it could be a joint activity, in this case between grandparent and grandchild. It becomes a bridge and helps to bond them. Poetry, I realize, can also bond parents and children. It can bond children to each other in a classroom, particularly through linked poems and through sharing the poetic process, and it can even bond teachers and librarians to children. 
    Perhaps I’m just a poetry idealist, but I like to picture the teacher who offers poetry writing to his or her class as the students’ favorite teacher, the one remembered years after graduation. Such a teacher will not only offer poetry to the class, but she or he will listen to the students and their poems. As a retired teacher myself, I feel that one of the best gifts I gave to students was my ability to really listen to them, to let them know their voices were important.
    I must admit that I enjoyed writing a book in which poetry is front and center. By the mere fact of its centrality, the book is saying that poetry and poetry writing are important. As it does for Kiyoshi, I would suggest that poetry can become an indispensible  part of our lives, that it can deepen us and give us something other than the busyness of contemporary life. Children need this. Poetry can sharpen their perceptions and their ideas about themselves and the world. Maybe I’m lacking in humility and hoping for too much in thinking about poetry as having such a vital role in the lives of children. Maybe it’s just my poetry-idealism that’s speaking. Maybe it’s just my belief in children.

Me: Thank you, Mark, for sharing the story behind the writing of Kyoshi's Walk and for sharing your beliefs about the power of poetry in children's lives. Now head on over to TeacherDance  where Linda is hosting Poetry Friday. 

Monday, March 08, 2021

Girlpower Poetry 2021 for National Women's History Month

Let's celebrate girls and women for International Women's Day and National Women's History Month-- with POETRY!

As I continue to update my 2021 "sneak peek" list of poetry for young people published this year, I am struck by how many poetry collections and novels in verse feature strong, active girls and women striving to make their voices heard, taking active roles in action-packed stories, and making a difference in the world. In fact, there are three poetry anthologies with this very focus: 

Legacy: Women Poets of the Harlem Renaissance by Nikki Grimes 

Pirate Queens: Dauntless Women Who Dared to Rule the High Seas by Lewis, Leigh 

You Do Not Have to Be Everything: Poems for Girls Becoming collected by Diana Whitney

And more than 30 books of poetry and novels in verse are out THIS YEAR featuring strong girls and women-- all kinds, all colors, so many great stories, such powerful imagery. Check them out!

Women’s History Month Poetry

  1. Browne, Mahogany L. 2021. Chlorine Sky. New York: Crown. 
  2. Cane, Tina. 2021. The Road to Alma. New York: Random House/Make Me a World.
  3. Charles, Tami. 2021. Muted. New York: Scholastic.
  4. Elhillo, Safia. 2021. Home is Not a Country. New York: PRH/Make Me a World.
  5. Elliott, David. 2021. The Seventh Raven. Boston: HMH.
  6. Engle, Margarita. 2021. Your Heart, My Sky. New York: Atheneum.
  7. Faruqi, Reem. 2021. Unsettled. New York: HarperCollins.
  8. Fipps. Lisa. 2021. The Starfish. New York: Penguin/Paulsen.
  9. Freeman, Megan E. 2021. Alone. New York: Simon & Schuster/Aladdin. 
  10. Grimes, Nikki. 2021. Legacy: Women Poets of the Harlem Renaissance. Ill. by Ekua Holmes. New York: Bloomsbury. 
  11. Guidroz, Rukhsanna. 2021. Samira Surfs. Ill. by Fahmida Azim. Kokila.
  12. Hagan, Ellen. 2021. Reckless, Glorious, Girl. New York: Bloomsbury.
  13. Kirkwood, Kathlyn J. 2021. Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round. New York: HMH/Versify.
  14. LaRocca, Rajani. 2021. Red, White, and Whole. New York: Quill Tree Books/HarperCollins.
  15. Latham, Irene. 2021. D-39: A Robodog’s Journey. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge.
  16. Lewis, Leigh. 2021. Pirate Queens: Dauntless Women Who Dared to Rule the High Seas. Washington DC: National Geographic Kids. 
  17. Lucido, Aimee. 2021. Recipe for Disaster. Boston: HMH/Versify.
  18. Mann, J. Albert. 2021. Fix. New York: Little, Brown.
  19. McBride, Amber. 2021. Me (Moth). New York: Feiwel & Friends. 
  20. McCullough, Joy. 2021. We Are the Ashes, We Are the Fire. New York: Penguin/Dutton.
  21. Mills, Claudia. 2021. The Lost Language. New York: Holiday House/Ferguson. 
  22. Nelson, Marilyn and Lawson, Tammi. 2021. Augusta Savage: The Shape of a Sculptor's Life. New York: Henry Holt.
  23. Pearson, Debora. 2021. My Words Flew Away Like Birds. Ill. by Shrija Jain. Toronto, Ontario: Kids Can Press.
  24. Robinson, Monica Clark. 2021. Standing on Her Shoulders. Ill. by Laura Freeman. New York: Orchard Books.
  25. Shepard, Ray Anthony. 2021. Runaway: The Daring Escape of Ona Judge. Ill. by Keith Mallett. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
  26. Smith, Colby Cedar. 2021. Call Me Athena: Girl from Detroit. Kansas City, MO: Andrews McMeel.
  27. Sukenic, Lisa. 2021. Miles from Motown. Fitzroy Books.
  28. Sullivan, Mary. 2021. High. Fitzroy Books/Regal House Publishing.
  29. Varela, Alessandra Narváez. 2021. Thirty Talks Weird Love. El Paso, TX: Cinco Puntos Press.
  30. Weatherford, Carole Boston. 2021. Dreams for a Daughter. Ill. by Brian Pinkney. New York: Atheneum.
  31. Weatherford, Carole Boston. 2021. Madam Speaker: Nancy Pelosi Calls the House to Order. Ill. by Chris Hsu. New York: Little Bee Books.
  32. Whitney, Diana. Ed. 2021. You Do Not Have to Be Everything: Poems for Girls Becoming Women. New York: Workman. 
  33. Williams, Kate Munday. 2021. Poet Pilgrim Rebel. Ill. by Tania Rex. Beaming Books.

Now when Friday rolls around let's see what the rest of our Poetry Friday friends are up to over at Heidi's place, A Juicy Little Universe. See you there! 

Thursday, March 04, 2021

ALONE by Megan E. Freeman

I am honored to welcome a guest to my blog today-- author Megan E. Freeman. Her new novel in verse, ALONE, is a powerful story with a strong girl character perfect for Women's History Month. Here she writes about the poetic influences on her work and how, despite a deep love for poetry, she wrote her first middle grade novel in prose-- until she realized what was wrong with that draft-- it must be rewritten in verse form! Welcome, Megan!

The Choice to Write ALONE in Verse

by Megan E. Freeman

The first novel in verse I ever read was Karen Hesse’s masterpiece, Out of the Dust. I had been hired to teach middle school English at a new school, and it was on the summer reading list for my incoming students. When classes started in the fall, Out of the Dust was the focus of our first unit. The book is comprised of small moments interwoven in narrative harmony to tell a brutal and breathtaking story. Teaching that semester, I realized the power of verse novels, and how they appealed to reluctant and enthusiastic readers alike. I also discovered how the individual poems could be leveraged as mentor texts to inspire students to write their own poetry in response to their reading or in response to the many complicated aspects of their lives.

A few years later, I was accepted to a summer of professional development with the National Writing Project (NWP) at Colorado State University, and during that time I recommitted to writing my own poetry. I had been a poet since elementary school, but life as a teacher and a mother had caused me to put writing further down on my list of priorities. Time with the NWP fellows reiterated how important it was for my students and for me that I continue my writing practice, and that I let my students see me as a practitioner right alongside them. I made a new commitment to bringing poetry into my classroom on a regular basis. I read my students many different poets, and I shared my poems and encouraged them to share theirs. We created “a state of constant composition,” as described in the NWP’s excellent book, Because Writing Matters (Nagin, 23).

And yet, despite all this commitment to poetry, when I felt moved to begin writing my debut middle-grade novel, ALONE, I wrote the entire first draft in prose. It never even occurred to me to write it in verse. I revised and polished it, and I went out on submission to agents. I received a lot of initial interest—a contemporary re-telling of Island of the Blue Dolphins is a compelling hook—but I didn’t get any offers of representation. I analyzed the feedback I had amassed over a few years of querying and manuscript critiques, and I attended a workshop with the author Melanie Crowder. She had recently published her beautiful verse novel, Audacity, and in the workshop, she demonstrated the process she used in writing that book. In a singular moment of operatic clarity, I knew what was wrong with my manuscript. I knew I needed to rewrite the entire thing in verse.

I went home and began, and the moment I started writing, I could feel the difference the verse made. I was much more fluent in poetry than I was in narrative prose, and the story expanded and became three-dimensional. The poetry invited a sensory exploration of the main character’s world and an intimate tour through her interior life. I found myself writing deeply into her physical and emotional experience in ways the prose had never approached. The story started to sing off the page.

Once I was finished and sought critiques and feedback again, the response was overwhelmingly encouraging. The manuscript resonated with people in ways the prose draft never had. Through a series of conference conversations with publishing professionals, I was introduced to my agent. After another small revision, we went out on submission, and
ALONE found its home with Simon & Schuster/Aladdin. 

In hindsight, it seems absurd that it didn’t occur to me to write the whole story in verse from the beginning. Now it’s hard to imagine the book in any other form, and looking back at the original drafts is painful, to say the least. But the creative imagination is mysterious, and stories need authors to stay playful and open-minded. When we welcome inspiration and experimentation, we see our work in new ways, and we open the door for the stories to sing.

In addition to ALONE being written in verse, poetry factors in the plot, as well. Maddie spends a great deal of time reading, and she explores the poetry section of the library. She discovers Mary Oliver and Emily Dickinson and takes comfort in their work, as in this excerpt from the final section of the book:

Summer Advice

As the days pass

and the light elongates

the temperatures reach upward 

and I reach back

to the poets

to Mary Oliver’s summer

advice to fall down in the grass

though the grass in Millerville 

grows riotously long

after so many seasons

with no tending.

I stroll through the fields

play with feeling idle and blessed

ponder my one wild and precious life

Could my life be any wilder?

Or more precious?

If Emily Dickinson’s hope

is a thing with feathers

then there are many

flocks of hope flying overhead

nesting noisily

in the trees and hedges 

all around.

The beginning 

of my fourth year

alone in this place

yet Mother Nature insists

on optimism.

>>>Now, head on over to Kat Apel's blog where she is hosting Poetry Friday this week-- all the way from Australia-- which is no distance at all in the digital poetry universe!