On November 20, I will be joining a poetry party in England– and you can come too!
Back in 2016, I visited London and happened upon an enchanting holiday fair. It’s where I took this picture:
Years later, I wrote a poem called “Wintertime Fair,” and it was published on the children’s poetry website The Dirigible Balloon. Edited by Jonathan Humble and based in England, The Dirigible Balloon is a free website chock full of high-quality poems for children. It’s an amazing resource for kids, teachers, and parents– and anyone who loves poetry!
When Jonathan decided to publish an anthology of poems from The Dirigible Balloon, I was delighted that he chose “Wintertime Fair” to be a part of it. (My first trans-Atlantic publication!) The book, CHASING CLOUDS, is launching with a Zoom reading on November 20 at 7 p.m. in England (2 p.m. on the east coast of the U.S!). I will be a part of the reading, and I’ll get to hear the voices and see the faces of many poets I admire and follow as well.
For more information, or to attend the Zoom launch of CHASING CLOUDS, follow The Dirigible Balloon on Facebook or Twitter, or check my social media– I’ll be sharing the link!
When author Ana Crespo made an author visit via Zoom to the school where I work as a Literacy Coach on Cape Cod, the joy in classrooms was palpable. Most children in our K-3 school had never met an author before, and they were excited to meet Ana.
Crespo, a native of Brazil who lives in Colorado, is the author of several picture books, including The Sock Thief,Hello, Tree, and Lia and Luis: Who Has More? She made four presentations over the course of two days, presenting individually to each grade level at the M.E. Small School.
Crespo’s author visit was provided by SCBWI’s Amber Brown Grant, which funds author visits to deserving schools. In my application for the grant, I wrote of the M.E. Small School, “The students at M.E. Small are an enthusiastic bunch. Give them a rich and layered read-aloud experience, and they hang on every page turn. Give them a place to dance, and they dance their hearts out. Provide them with art materials and their creations burst with color. They are ‘all in,’ ready to embrace any new experience given to them.”
More than half of the students at M.E. Small School are English Language Learners, and a significant portion of those students are from Portuguese-speaking Brazilian families. That’s what made Ana’s visit so special. An author of more than seven books for young readers, she began to learn English at the age of 12. She was an embodiment of Rudine Sims Bishop’s windows and mirrors for our students at M.E. Small. Crespo personalized her presentation to each grade, greeting students in Portuguese and calling out special details about children in each grade level.
“I loved your book,” one student named Laura wrote to Crespo after the presentation. “I’m Brasilian too. I read Lia and Luis. Me and my brother are just like them. Obrigado.”
Another student named Cyrus wrote, “Thank you for teaching us a little bit about you and Brazil! I love your books!”
Funding from the Amber Brown Grant allowed each classroom in the school to receive a copy of two of Crespo’s books, The Sock Thief and Lia and Luis: Who Has More? I want to give a special shout-out to SCBWI’s Kim Turrisi, who coordinated all aspects of the grant and made the process so smooth! The impact of the grant goes much deeper than one day’s joy, however. When I think about our young students, I believe the ripples of Ana’s visit will be felt for years to come.
WHAT IS A FRIEND? I am delighted to be a part of a new poetry book for middle graders that answers this question. It’s a collection of poems about all aspects of friendship– getting along, competing, trying out new ventures together. My poem, “Team,” is about a robotics team tinkering and figuring out together how to make things work. It’s dedicated to my friend Brian, who teaches Robotics in a high school on Cape Cod serving a very diverse and high-needs population. Here’s to all the robotics teachers, helping their students to “try, fail, adjust.”
WHAT IS A FRIEND? is edited by Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell of Pomelo Books; it was chosen as a Children’s Book Council “Hot Off the Press” Selection for October! It would be a great gift for a teacher you know, or a young reader in your life. You can order it from Amazon or Bookshop.org. Thank you, Sylvia and Janet, for the dynamic and thoughtful poetry books for young readers that you put out into the world.
Back when he was a new firefighter in 1962, my father helped pull a fellow firefighter to safety as a porch roof collapsed in a Bronx house fire. The moment was captured by a New York Daily News photographer, and it was splashed on the front page the next day. We carefully saved that front page, and my mother must have written to the Daily News and requested the 9-by-12 photo. The photo, and the fragile front page of that long-ago newspaper, are treasured family objects.
Decades later and shortly after my father died, we discovered the book NEW YORK’S BRAVEST: EIGHT DECADES OF PHOTOGRAPHS FROM THE DAILY NEWS. It’s packed with photographs of FDNY firefighting, depicting a range of terrifying, tragic, and quiet moments. And there on the cover is the photograph from 1962… the collapsing front porch of the house on E. 236th Street in the Bronx, the ladder suspended in the air, and my father, there in the window in his Engine 90 helmet, holding on to that firefighter dangling where the porch roof had been.
My father maintained the firefighter ethos of never telling us very much about the scary, heart-pounding, or disturbing parts of his job. Maybe that’s one reason why we love this photograph (and the book) so much. It shows him doing what he loved, and doing it well. On September 11th and always, I bow my head to the many firefighters who lost their lives doing what they loved, and I think of their families, who still miss them so very much.
I know there’s an image of New Yorkers being somewhat hard-boiled when visitors get googly-eyed over the charms and flash of NYC, but on a recent visit, I saw the opposite, thanks to the FDNY.
We were walking past a firehouse not far from Times Square, and the bay was open. The sun was shining and a breeze was blowing. A few firefighters in uniform, all guys, were standing in front of the engine, enjoying a quiet moment and chatting.
Maybe it was the music that got our attention. We turned to see a pedicab going by, blasting Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind,” with the vocals of Alica Keys soaring over the traffic sounds. And in the back of the pedicab, a woman flashed a huge smile at the firefighters and shouted, “Hey, boys!” She held up her phone and snapped a photo as they smiled and waved. No one was trying to play it cool.
It was a small moment, but there was not a trace of “jaded New Yorker” to be seen anywhere. The pedicab continued ferrying its enthusiastic passenger, the firefighters chuckled, and we were left with smiles that lasted more than a few blocks.
This op-ed, reflecting on my 30+ years as an out queer teacher, was cathartic to write. It was equally rewarding to see it shared and reflected upon by friends, colleagues, and family. I’m grateful!
This comment from a former student warmed my heart and made me proud of being an out teacher for all these years, even when it was not easy:
“Please read this vital article by my kindergarten teacher, Mary E. Cronin. I was one of the unbelievably lucky kids whose tears she mopped, who she taught to read, and who she guided into “readiness — readiness for learning, for life in our vibrant and complex society.”
I’m heartened by all of the friends and allies who know the harm these false and harmful stereotypes can create. Thank you for standing with LGBTQ+ educators and parents!
In the midst of this challenging winter, I’m trying to keep warm by surrounding myself with great poetry books.
LION OF THE SKY: HAIKU FOR ALL SEASONS presents a delightful gift to teachers who want to introduce their young writers to poetry writing and haiku. Author/poet Laura Purdie Salas presents a raft of fun haiku, organized by the four seasons. Each illustrated poem is itself a riddle; it’s a haiku written in the voice of an object or place, making it a mask poem. Readers get to guess what the object is! Engaging backmatter invites young writers to try the form, which Salas calls “Riddle-ku.” Published by Millbrook in 2019, it’s perfect for a classroom library.
I love this book for its playfulness, the wonderful illustrations by Mercè López, and the way it deepens our appreciation of seasons and invites us to look closer. Happy Friday!
On Fridays, I love taking part in Poetry Friday when I can, where writers share resources about children’s poetry. This week, Mary Lee hosts the Poetry Friday Roundup today at her blog. Check out the celebration of poetry there today!
Two poets I admire are having a conversion today, and we can all tune in.
The ongoing LATINX KIDLIT BOOK FESTIVAL is happening on youtube, and poets Margarita Engle and NoNieqa Ramos will be talking about how poetry can convey emotion, tone, and drama. This is happening at noon EST. I will be at work at that time, but I am grateful that all of the dynamic presentations of the Latinx Kidlit Book Festival are available on youtube. I am looking forward to learning from these two women this weekend when I watch the recording, and my notebook will be at the ready!
Margarita Engle has written verse novels, picture books, and memoirs, and she was the Young People’s Poet Laureate in 2017-2019. Her poetry collection BRAVO! POEMS ABOUT AMAZING HISPANICS is one of my favorite poetry books. Then there’s the playful and dynamic picture book YOUR MAMA by NoNieqa Ramos, full of poetry and love and feminism and a kick-ass mother-daughter duo.
I can’t wait to hear these two authors in conversation! I hope you tune in, too.
On Fridays, I love taking part in Poetry Friday when I can, where writers share resources about children’s poetry. This week, Cathy hosts the Poetry Friday Roundup today at her blog. Check out the celebration of poetry there today!
Can you picture the house or apartment where you grew up? The texture of the couch, the sound of water in the pipes? Did the windows rattle, and what did the doorknobs look like? Can you draw a map of each room?
So many sensory images come flooding back to me as I read George Ella Lyon’s poetry collection MANY-STORIED HOUSE. She focuses on family, on small moments, on tiny details of her childhood home. Her poems about memory, relationships, and sense of place are beautifully specific and universal at the same time. She’s inspiring me to write about my first home, a two-bedroom apartment in a fourth-floor walk-up on a one-way street in the Bronx. The closet doorknobs were made of glass; the rumble of the subway was our metronome.
Lyon writes for both children and adults, and I’m looking forward to learning from her in an online workshop hosted by poet Georgia Heard in January. You can read about it here. Maybe I’ll see you there!
On Fridays, I love taking part in Poetry Friday when I can, where writers share resources about children’s poetry. This week, Michelle Kogan hosts the Poetry Friday Roundup today at her blog. Check out the celebration of poetry there today!
I recently learned of a book for young readers that combines three of my passions: poetry, history, and social justice. THE TRAVELING CAMERA: LEWIS HINE AND THE FIGHT TO END CHILD LABOR (Getty Publications, 2021) balances these three elements beautifully, along with striking images in both Hine’s photographs and illustrations by Michael Garland. I was lucky enough to interview author Alexandra S.D. Hinrichs about her process of writing this biography in verse.
Alex used lots of primary sources in her research, as well as secondary. Through a book of Lewis Hine’s letters, photo captions, and articles, she immersed herself in his words, his language, his ways of expressing what he had seen in factories, fields, and other settings where children toiled. Hine was a prolific writer fighting to end child labor; Alex also had access to the articles he penned for the Child Labor Bulletin and other newspapers.
Alex uses Hine’s striking images and poetic language to great effect in THE TRAVELING CAMERA. Hine had to make his way into factories and other settings in order to investigate and photograph. He would tell factory managers that he was photographing broken equipment, or a salesman, when in fact he was documenting the children who were working in dangerous conditions at young ages. He used the buttons on his coat to estimate the height of children, describing a child in a factory who was “three buttons tall.” These are the details that Alex employs to great impact in her poetic text.
“Poetry is my first go-to when I’m writing. It’s a natural starting point for me,” Alex explains. “My first full draft was in free verse. I do remember talking to my editor at the outline stage and she encouraged me to play, pretty much gave me free rein to be creative and think outside of the box for how to tell Hine’s story.”
Hine himself was a poetic writer, and his language shines throughout the text of THE TRAVELING CAMERA. A man who was slight in stature, Hine wrote that the clunky large camera was “a heavy load/for a featherweight/ to tote.” He was passionate about ending the injustice of child labor and wanting to humanize the children who were working in factories and fields, “Because the human spirit/ is the big thing/ after all.”
Because she had access to so much of Hine’s writing, Alex decided to weave his words into her verse. Italics mark the words of Hine in the text, and it’s a seamless way to give us a sense of Hine’s voice. I think this is a brilliant decision, and it’s noted in the backmatter.
Alex offers a peek into her process: “My biggest focus was Hine’s voice– how to capture his voice, obviously sometimes using his exact words, and then staying true to his voice even when they were my words. Relatedly, this was my first time writing poetry in a character’s voice and in a different time period. To help with both of these, I made a file of quotes and language where I just made a big list of words, phrases, and sentences he used that seemed distinct to him and/or the time period. As I revised if there were places I wanted to make his voice come through more, I turned to that list.”
I appreciate Alex offering us a peek into her process. Her techniques and craft decisions have much to offer poets and biographers. Be sure to get your hands on this beautiful book– biographies in verse are rare, and this one is especially wonderful. If you want to order a personalized copy, check here. (Be sure to specify how you’d like the book to be signed.)
On Fridays, I love taking part in Poetry Friday when I can, where writers share resources about children’s poetry. This week, Matt Forrest Esenwine hosts the Poetry Friday Roundup today at his blog Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme. Check out the celebration of poetry there today!