My Father in the Window: a Glimpse into Firefighting

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.

A Smile from the FDNY

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. 

Photo by Holger Woizick on Unsplash

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. 

Photo by Morgane Le Breton on Unsplash

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.

Standing up to Fearmongers and Hate

My message to those stirring fears and hatred toward LGBTQ+ teachers was published this week in The Advocate Magazine: “Stop Calling Us Groomers and Quit Making Us Your Prey.”

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!

Poetry Friday- Haiku Riddles!

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 by Laura Purdie Salas

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!

Poetry Alert at the Latinx KidLit Book Festival!

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!

Poetry of place: where did you call home?

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!

POETRY FRIDAY: TELLING A LIFE IN VERSE- LEWIS HINE by ALEXANDRA S.D. HINRICHS

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.” 

Alexandra S.D. Hinrichs

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!

Poetry Friday: What’s “Poetry PLUS?”

I’ve learned so much about what it takes to put together a poetry anthology by taking classes from Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell. “Poetry PLUS” is one aspect of the art and craft of assembling an anthology that fascinates me as a poet and an educator.

Sylvia Vardell & Janet Wong

On the Pomelo Books website, Janet and Sylvia define it this way:

We believe in “Poetry Plus”—poetry PLUS writing, poetry PLUS language arts mini-lessons, poetry PLUS curriculum connections for social studies and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), poetry PLUS mindfulness and movement, and poetry PLUS lots more fun!

There is even a packed page of Poetry PLUS treasures on their Pomelo Books website!

Janet and Sylvia’s latest anthology, THINGS WE DO, is a beauty. I may be biased since I have a poem in this collection! THINGS WE DO is an alphabetic book of playful poems bursting with children in action– from Ask to Zoom! Each spread in this book features a vivid photo of a child doing something active, accompanied by a poem such as Invent, Dance, Fly, and Type.

But beyond those 26 poems, there’s more! This is where the PLUS comes in. There is a section for parents, caregivers, and educators called “Tips for Readers” that details “strategies for sharing poetry with children” such as using props and “echo reading.”

The “Fun Activities to Try” section features suggestions on extending the poetic experience with movement, learning letters, writing poetry, reading a poem at breakfast time, and sharing with special family members. 

But there’s even more to the PLUS! So many gems are highlighted in the web resources, including Reading Rockets and We Need Diverse Books. And finally, there is an “About the Poets” section, with a tidbit of info about each of the poets. 

I have a poetry collection out on submission now (fingers crossed!), and I included “Poetry PLUS” by featuring juicy facts, almost like side-bars, to add some nonfiction heft to each poem. That’s one way to add more “Plus” power to poetry. But THINGS WE DO has inspired me to consider other ways of adding to the poetry experience for readers. 

What might you add to your poetry? Or what have you included? STEM connections, craft activities, maps, timelines, or something more? The possibilities are exciting! Thanks to Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell for the inspiration.

On Fridays, I love taking part in Poetry Friday when I can, where writers share resources about children’s poetry. 

My poem “Moss” on a fun poetry website!

Don’t you love moss? When I’m on a trail walk, surrounded by lots of moss, it just makes me happy. I’m going to focus on that today instead of the storm-related stresses that have dominated the week here on Cape Cod!

 There is a delightful website all about children’s poetry; it’s based in England and called “Dirigible Balloon.” It’s a fun source of poetry for kids, parents, and teachers, with no advertising or other clutter… just poems that are fun, funny, meditative, lyrical, and more!

A mossy photo I took in Ireland!

My poem “Moss” is now up on Dirigible Balloon. This one’s for you, all my fellow moss fans!

On Fridays, I love taking part in Poetry Friday when I can, where writers share resources about children’s poetry. This week, Linda hosts the Poetry Friday Roundup today at her blog TeacherDance. Check out the celebration of poetry there today!

 

THINGS WE DO- a playful A to Z book of poems for children!

It’s publication day for a very special poetry anthology for young children. THINGS WE DO is an alphabetic book of playful poems bursting with children in action– from Ask to Zoom! Each spread in this book features a vivid photo of a child doing something active, accompanied by a poem such as Invent, Kick, Jump, and Clap. Published by Pomelo Books, THINGS WE DO is now available by ordering from QEP Books, and will soon be available on Amazon. It’s perfect for PreK through first grade.

Many poets contributed to this A-Z collection, including some very well-known poets! My poem, “Type,” is inspired by my work as a K-2 Literacy Coach. Each day I get to see children making letters, then their names, then words… it’s a magical process that made its way into my poem. I can’t wait to share it with the first graders I work with each morning!

Poet Janet Wong and poetry expert Sylvia Vardell assembled this anthology, and they are a joy to work with. It was a revelation to be part of their Anthologies 101 and 201 classes and to watch how they encourage and guide poets in the creative process. Vardell and Wong are donating all the profits from THINGS WE DO to the IBBY Children in Crisis Fund. You can see their fun video about the book here (and you can also see why they are a delight to work with!).

THINGS WE DO has been selected as “Hot Off the Press” books for October by the Children’s Book Council! (along with Janet Wong’s  brand-new book Good Luck Gold & MORE)

THINGS WE DO is a beautiful and playful book of poems, perfect for the young child or teacher in your life. Be sure to add it to your holiday shopping list!

On Fridays, I love taking part in Poetry Friday when I can, where writers share resources about children’s poetry. This week, Jama Rattigan hosts the Poetry Friday Roundup today at her blog Jama’s Alphabet Soup. Check out the celebration of poetry there today!