Friday, August 27, 2021

Guest post: Chris Baron: THE MAGICAL IMPERFECT

I'm thrilled to feature professor and author Chris Baron in a guest post about his latest novel in verse, The Magical Imperfect. Here, he shares a few poems that were NOT included in the book, along with a bit of backstory. I love how this gives you a bit more insight into the characters. See what you think! 

Chris writes:
Every book is a new experience. Writing The Magical Imperfect forced me to develop new and practical strategies for drafting.  The story is full of so many complex layers, intergenerational relationships, faith, magic, chronic illness, the sacred, baseball, earthquakes, and so much more! Writing this story stretched me in every possible way as a writer, researcher, father, and husband… but it’s been worth it. And as in any manuscript there are poems (literally thousands of words) left out…

Here are a few poems that I absolutely loved, but that didn’t quite fit with the story in its current form.

Etan, as an artist, is a huge part of the story. I wrote a lot of poems about his artwork. While I like the poem so much, it didn’t fit or move the story as it needed to.


It’s a known fact

that crayons are 

two parts wax

one thousand parts magic

so it makes perfect sense

on a thirsty July morning

to wet the tip of your finger

and smear the wax

until it becomes

what you need it to be,

to quickly draw a container

to hold the juice before 

it runs out over the page

And of course, BASEBALL!  So much of the book is wrapped up in baseball and friendship. The friendship between Etan and Jordan was very important early on. They grew up playing baseball together, and in early drafts of the book, Jordan moved away.  But the character of Jordan changed A LOT. This is often the hardest part of creating stories… when we love characters and their relationships, but then we have to transform them into something else. This short poem didn’t make it in, but it helps deepen the empathy for Etan and his life as an outcast as we learn about how his friend moved away. I think we can all relate to the way this feels.

New School

The day after Jordan

broke the record

for stolen bases,

we went to his house

to help him pack.

Do you think they’ll have baseball 

at your new school? I ask.

No, they have swimming.

I’m supposed to start that.

It’s impossible to imagine Jordan

NOT playing baseball.

Why do you have to move there at all?

I don’t know, it sucks.

I guess it’s closer 

to where my father's Law firm is.

We finish our cokes.

You can visit me, Etan, in the city?

Yeah. I fake smiled.

Then we kept packing

somehow knowing

how hard it would be.


Writing about Malia was complicated. Eczema is very complicated. For people who haven’t experienced it--it can be difficult to understand. Most people have rashes that itch, but as my wife explains it, she has “itches that rash.” Ella has suffered from extreme eczema off and on her whole life. Her memoir, Itchy Brown Girl Seeks Employment (2009) is about a life lived with this skin disease. It’s something we know well. It’s something we don’t learn about often enough in books. 

In The Magical Imperfect, Malia suffers a similar flare-up of eczema. It’s so bad that she is isolated from school because of the way other kids treat her--calling her “the creature.” But it’s really about her own discomfort. I wrote numerous poems about Malia dealing with her eczema. I wanted to make sure that in some way, her actions and reactions would be true and help be a window and a mirror for readers. But of course, not every word makes it into the book! Much of this poem is in there, but there are more severe versions like this one…

I look at Malia, 

and I notice something  

I hadn’t seen before. 

She’s scratching 

the arm inside her blanket

and blood is coming through.

I never realized it 

because it’s been hidden  

but I can see the way 

her arm moves, 

she scratches, 

has been scratching 

almost the whole time. 


This last poem is part of a HUGE group of what I named “The Golem” poems.  (maybe a picture book one day)! One of the core themes of the book is that, “you are not alone.” I wrote chapters about the golem being born and immediately running away and hiding scared and feeling alone until Etan and Malia start to try to connect with this being they brought to life from ancient clay..  Obviously, this didn’t fit within the limits of THIS book, but here is a taste of that alternate world where maybe it might have.

New friend

Somewhere in the forest

beneath the redwoods

the golem waits 

for his creators.

He folds clovers 

in his muddy hands

twisting yellow flowers

into tiny bouquets

and leaving them 

on the sitting stones

When Etan and Malia

come to sing and draw

they find the stones

covered in clover stems

and dried mud.

Footprints sink

deep into the muck

near the pool.

Etan leaves drawings

of not two, but three friends

sitting together on the stones.

Malia sings in the warm afternoon

and they wait

for the moment 

when the shy and swirling light

of bright and watery eyes

will come up from the mud

and whisper, friend.

Thank you, Chris. This is so moving, fascinating, and powerful. I love the added layers that these poems give us in reading The Magical Imperfect. I hope we see that Golem picture book one day, too. Thanks so much for sharing these poems and this glimpse with us.

Now, head on over to Unexpected Intersections where Elisabeth is hosting Poetry Friday.

Monday, August 23, 2021

Back-to-School Poetry

It's time for me to head back to school! My semester starts today and it's a perfect moment to pause and gather a list of recent collections of poetry and novels in verse all about life in school. Here are 20 poetry books about school published in the last few years-- and there are even more if you want to go further back. It shouldn't be a surprise that school is a popular topic in books for young people since it's an important subject for kids who spend most of their daytime in school. I have found it to be a good topic for starting with poetry in the classroom-- very timely and relevant as a new school year begins-- whether in person or virtually! 

Here's a bibliography of these titles too:

Poetry about School
  1. Apel, Kathryn. 2019. Bully on the Bus. Tulsa, OK: Kane Miller.
  2. Beck-Jacobson, Darlene. 2020. Wishes, Dares and How to Stand Up to a Bully. Berkeley, CA: Creston.
  3. Bowles, David. 2018. They Call Me Güero: A Border Kid's Poems. El Paso, TX: Cinco Puntos Press.
  4. Boyce, Jo Ann Allen and Levy, Debbie. 2018. This Promise of Change: One Girl's Story in the Fight for School Equality. New York: Harper.
  5. Cannon, Nick. 2015. Neon Aliens Ate My Homework and Other Poems. New York: Scholastic.
  6. Coombs, Kate. 2018. Monster School. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle.
  7. del Rosario, Juleah. 2018. 500 Words or Less. New York: Simon Pulse. 
  8. Derby, Sally. 2017. A New School Year. Charlesbridge.
  9. Farrey-Latz, Benjamin. 2018. I Can Learn Social Skills! Poems About Getting Along, Being a Good Friend, and Growing Up. Minneapolis: Free Spirit.
  10. Groban, Betsy. (Ed.) 2018. Totally Middle School. New York: Delacorte Press.
  11. Harrison, David L. 2018. Crawly School for Bugs. Honesdale, PA: Boyds Mills Press.  
  12. Holt, K. A. 2020. Ben Bee and theTeacher Griefer. San Francisco: Chronicle Books. 
  13. Rooney, Rachel. 2018. A Kid in My Class. New York: Feiwel & Friends.
  14. Shields, Carol Diggory. 2015. After the Bell Rings: Poems about After-School Time. Ill. by Paul Meisel. New York: Dial.
  15. Shovan, Laura. 2016. The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary. Random House.
  16. Steinberg, D. J. (reprint edition) 2019. Preschool, Here I Come! New York: Penguin/Grosset & Dunlap.
  17. Steinberg, D. J. 2021. How to Be Kind in Kindergarten. Ill. by Ruth Hammond. New York: Penguin/Grosset & Dunlap.
  18. Trillin, Calvin. 2016. No Fair! No Fair! And Other Jolly Poems of Childhood. Ill. by Roz Chast. Scholastic/Orchard. 
  19. Vardell, Sylvia and Wong, Janet (Eds.). 2018. Great Morning!: Poems for School Leaders to Read Aloud. Princeton, NJ: Pomelo Books.
  20. Winters, Kay. 2018. Did You Hear What I Heard? Poems About School. Ill. by Patrice Barton. New York.
Here's hoping that we can create a meaningful year of school experiences for young people despite all the challenges we face. Hang in there and share school poetry!

Friday, August 20, 2021

Guest Post: Poetry PLUS by Janet Wong

I've taken a long summer break (and welcomed my first grandchild!), but it's time to gear up for the new school year. First, I'm happy to host a guest post by my friend and collaborator Janet Wong about the workshop we led last week-- along with great ideas about how to envision poetry projects. Here's our beautiful group of poets who participated:

Janet writes: Last week Sylvia and I felt honored to lead a very talented group of poets, most of whom are already published, in our #Anthologies101 workshop. Fellow anthologists and editor-friends: please let us know if you'd like us to connect you with these talented poets! 

You can see a synopsis of the workshop's content here. Over the next few weeks we'll provide a more detailed look at some of the topics that we discussed and will discuss again in our repeat sessions, such as the forthcoming October 16th workshop. Based on the tremendous praise we received, the workshop is almost full—but you can get on the waitlist and the list for future sessions by sending an email to

This week I'd like to look at one of the basic topics that we covered: anthologies that are "poetry PLUS."

An important decision for poets (creating collections of their own poems) or anthologists (creating anthologies of poems by many poets) is whether there will be any content other than poems. Will there be a mix of poems, essays, stories, or quotes? Will there be supplemental text accompanying poems? If so, will you place that supplemental text on each page, or will you create front matter and back matter? 

The "PLUS" element could be creative activities and writing prompts, such as in the interactive material in our Poetry Friday Power Book series. The "PLUS" might be curricular connections, such as the social studies or STEM resources in The Poetry Friday Anthology series. Or, in the case of our most recent book HOP TO IT: Poems to Get You Moving, an anthology of 100 poems by 90 poets, the "PLUS" might take the form of poetry performance tips, picture book pairings, poetry skills, and fun facts that bring each poem alive.

These "PLUS" tidbits not only help adults who are looking for ready-made mini-lessons, but they can also deepen the enjoyment for children who are reading the book by themselves. If you are a fourth grader who is reading HOP TO IT on your own and you come across the funny poem "Wiggle Your Ears!" you might find this intriguing: scientists have found that approximately 15% of humans can wiggle their ears. (If you don't have the book yet, you can watch a 30-second video of Jay Brazeau reading "Wiggle Your Ears!" here.) Becoming aware of this fact might prompt a child to do some quick research on genetics, expanding their interest in STEM and making the book even more fun.

Here's another example: Play a 30-second video of Padma Venkatraman reading her powerful poem "At the Eye" and then share that the eye of the storm is the small area of calm in the middle of a hurricane, and the eyewall of winds around the eye is the worst part of the storm.

Or take a minute to share the video of Xelena González reading and leading us in dance with "Chair Dancing" and then talk to kids about The Rollettes, a team of wheelchair dancers who gained attention while traveling the world. They became famous for their belief that "dance is dance, whether you're walking or rolling."

There are 101 fun facts in HOP TO ITThe facts are such a key part of the content, you'll find this book on the list of nominees for the "Ages 8-12: Best Book of Facts" category of the #KidsBookChoiceAwards, a children's choice award sponsored by The Children's Book Council and Every Child a Reader.

Individual children and groups (such as classrooms) can vote right now (through September 8th) to determine the five finalists in each category. Voting takes just one minute! Click here to vote and send the message, loud and clear, that kids love Poetry PLUS!

FINALLY: be sure to join the Poetry Friday gathering hosted by Carol at TheApplesinMyOrchard. Se you there!