Poetry (and raccoons!) in the Bronx

As the school year was winding to a close, I had the delight of returning to P.S. 86 in the Bronx to lead a series of poetry workshops. I attended P.S. 86 as a young child.

The students were all-in– welcoming, and ready to have fun!

We talked about how every writer has obsessions, favorite things in their life that spark stories and poems and other forms of art. I shared some of mine. I encouraged them to tap into their favorite things, and use their “poetry microscopes”  to notice the small details that make poems come alive.

After talking about hope in hard times, we got loud and drummed on tables to my poem “Drum,” from WHAT IS HOPE? (Pomelo Books, 2023).

We talked about noticing signs of nature in everyday moments in the city: a vine climbing up a building, a frisky squirrel, a swoop of sparrows. These are all images that appear in my poem “Glimpses of Green,” published in the amazing online children’s  poetry journal Tyger, Tyger.* The students added their own examples of glimpses of the natural world (raccoons in the Bronx!) and they each illustrated the poem in their own way.

I treasure my visits to P.S. 86. The chance to go back and get to know the students in the Kingsbridge neighborhood of the Bronx brings me joy and was a great way to end the school year! Thank you, school librarian Matt Egan, for welcoming me back to P.S. 86!


*Tyger, Tyger editor Rachel Piercey recently sent out a blog post linking to a bunch of wonderful summer poems for kids– and “Glimpses of Green” is included!

My poem in Radical Teacher– “Still,” about the magic of learning to read!

I wrote a poem about the magic of teaching a child to read, “Still.” It captures why I love what I do as a Literacy Coach in a K-3 school. It’s just been published in the latest issue of Radical Teacher!

Although there are days that I wish I could stay home and write all day, my work feeds me as a writer and a human. I’m grateful for it.

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

Wintry delights: Illustrating Poetry with Young Children

Last week I had the delight of leading a Poetry Friday lesson in a second-grade classroom. I used my poem “Skating with Dad,” featured on the wonderful poetry website Dirigible Balloon. 

After reading the chart together, we had fun using highlighter tape, finding each consonant cluster in the poem… sk in skate, gl in glove, sl in slide… they even found the cr in Cronin!

Then each child illustrated the poem in their poetry notebook. We always talk about how “thinking like an illustrator” means that every illustration in the class will look different. I love all the ways the students brought this poem to life in the illustrations…

from the close-up of the gloves,

to the child and parent skating together,

to the valentine to hockey from the young hockey player,

to the ads on the side of the rink!

Poetry Friday has come alive in my school, and it’s a delight to be a part of it.

I’m wishing all the poets and poetry lovers out there a wonderful and restful holiday break. See you in 2024!

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

Sharing the news of my debut picture book!

The news of my debut picture book was shared on Publishers Weekly this week, and I could not be more excited! LIKE A MOTHER BEAR is a picture book biography of Jeanne Manford, an amazing advocate and mother who founded PFLAG, an advocacy group for parents and loved ones of LGBTQ folks. Back in the early 70s, she stood up for her gay son in a very public way, and became an advocate and mother figure for so many.  To be illustrated by the amazing J Yang, this story about family, queer advocacy, standing up for loved ones, and the power of letter writing will be published by Atheneum/Simon & Schuster.

Jeanne Manford in 1972

 

There are a lot of people to thank for reaching this milestone. Thank you to my editor Feather Flores and the team at Atheneum for your beautiful vision, and to my dedicated agent Lori Steel at Red Fox Literary for championing this story from the very beginning. 

So many hands and hearts helped along the way: Jeanne Manford’s family, the New York Public Library Manuscript and Archives division, my VCFA and Courage to Create community, Boston Authors ClubThe Writing Barn, the 2022 Queer Kidlit Mentorship, Eric Marcus at Making Gay History – The Podcast. Eric interviewed Jeanne Manford and her son Morty while researching his book MAKING GAY HISTORY, and you can listen to the interview on his wonderful podcast.

Finally, thanks go to my core of writing partners and friends, and my family, who never stopped believing.

NCTE Convention 2023: A Sweet Spot!

Have you ever felt like you were in the sweet spot, a place where the two overlapping circles in a Venn diagram meet? That was me, attending the NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) 2023 Convention in Columbus Ohio. 

 

Meeting the authors/illustrator of one of my favorite books, NO VOICE TOO SMALL!

Being at the conference brought together my two worlds– teaching and writing/children’s literature. I had the chance to learn from amazing authors and educators, and to make a brief presentation myself!

My presentation title was Alegria: Celebrating and Elevating Portuguese-speaking Brazilian Students with an Author Visit.

One of the best parts was meeting so many poetry friends…

Georgia Heard receiving her NCTE Poetry Award!
Finally meeting Amy Ludwig VanDerwater was a thrill.

 

Poetry friend Willeena Booker
Rebecca Kai Dotlich!
Seeing Pomelo Books that contain my poems on display was a delight!

Then there was meeting authors whose books I love…

Carole Lindstrom!

 

Lilliam Rivera!

 

Cynthia Levinson!

…plus learning from keynotes by Hanif Abdurraqib, Jacqueline Woodson, and Angie Thomas.

I attended a lot of sessions with my new teacher friend from Missouri, Clayton!

I cannot wait to attend the NCTE 2024 conference. It will be in Boston (closer to home!), and I’m already brainstorming with friends about putting together a panel presentation proposal. All of the energy I gained at NCTE feeds my work as a Literacy Coach in a K-3 Cape Cod elementary school.

In the meantime, I am serving on the This Story Matters Teacher Corps. We will be developing book rationales to help educators and librarians battle book bans and attempts at censorship.

Here’s to finding our sweet spots.

 

 

 

Alegria: Celebrating and Elevating Portuguese-speaking Brazilian students with an Author Visit

As a Literacy Coach in a K-3 school with a large Brazilian population, I was thrilled to win a grant from SCBWI that allowed me to invite Brazilian and American picture book author Ana Crespo to be a visiting author to Cape Cod elementary school M.E. Small in the fall of 2022. Crespo’s picture books include The Sock Thief (Albert Whitman, 2015), set in Brazil, and two books about Brazilian-American siblings set in the U.S: Lia and Luis: Who Has More? and Lia and Luis: Puzzled (Charlesbridge, 2020 and 2023). Crespo’s books provided culturally relevant texts that boosted oral language and increased vocabulary in two languages, while elevating newcomer children and foregrounding multilingual students as experts who could share their cultural knowledge and language expertise. 

M.E. Small is a K-3 elementary school that serves a significant number of English Language Learners, many from Brazil. Ana Crespo represented a mirror experience for many children, giving them the opportunity to meet an accomplished author and engaging role model from their home country. I am honored to present this experience in the Classroom Idea Exchange at the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) convention in November 2023.

Because of the strong connection forged between author, Literacy Coach, and school community, Crespo returned to the school for a second visit in the spring of 2023, and visited two other elementary schools in the district as well. Through extensive pre-planning and collaboration, we crafted an experience that illuminated the talents and experiences of the Brazilian students, deepened empathy for newcomers of all languages and backgrounds, and highlighted the joy and beauty of Brazilian culture.

Here are some specific actions and strategies we utilized to make these author visits a rich and rewarding experience:  

Before the visit:

  • We made sure that all students were familiar with Crespo’s books; providing multiple copies of titles so that teachers could share the books in their classrooms. The SCBWI Amber Brown Grant helped enormously with this in the fall of 2022, as did Rotary Club support for buying books for our students the following spring.

  • I prepared “About the Author” information via a Google slides for classroom use.
  • Before the Zoom visit:  I asked teachers for connecting information about students, ie newcomers from Brazil, students who are passionate about soccer (highlighted in The Sock Thief), a student who particularly loved the story, a first grader known as the “mango artist” in her classroom.
  • In a multi-sensory experience, we sliced and ate mango in the classroom– using a chart to highlight the number of students who were familiar with it and those who were trying it for the first time (we applauded students who were trying out a new food!). 
  • We utilized activities and materials from the author’s website to amplify the voices of Portuguese-speaking Brazilian students, creating experiences in which they functioned as the experts in their classrooms. These activities included learning about the Brazilian flag; tasting the mango and creating a bar graph; learning Portuguese vocabulary from Crespo’s books.
Jaxson tries mango for the first time!
  • In a collaboration with school’s art teacher, students created a large welcome poster for Crespo,  inspired by an art project related to Lia and Luis: Puzzled. 
  • Because Crespo’s books weave Portuguese and English texts seamlessly, they presented rich opportunities for translanguaging, or “the deployment of a speaker’s full linguistic repertoire.” Brazilian students were able to translate for peers and share their own experiences about Brazil to put Crespo’s stories in context.

During the visit:

  • In the initial author visit via Zoom, Crespo met with each grade level separately.  With the help of information provided to teachers by Literacy Coach Mary Cronin, she did shout-outs to students who were newcomers, to a student who was expert in drawing mangoes, and to a Brazilian student who had made his own book inspired by hers, The Mango Thief. These created authentic and joyful connections despite the distance that Zoom can sometimes create.

  • Crespo showed pictures of her childhood home, and locations that were featured in her books, providing an authentic “mirror” connection with students from Brazil while giving other students a glimpse into daily life in Brazil.
  • In her in-person author visit the following spring, school leaders and Crespo involved Portuguese-speaking students in several ways. We had student greeters who welcomed Crespo to our school.
  •  Crespo used a movement activity, Simon Says, utilizing Portuguese, and asked Portuguese speakers to come up to the front of the room to help her lead the activity. These activities served to foreground multilingual students as experts who could share their cultural knowledge and language expertise with their peers in the classroom.
Ana Crespo presenting to a Cape Cod elementary group.
  • For one period mid-day, a group of third-grade multilingual learners was able to meet in a smaller setting with Crespo over lemonade and Brazilian snacks, and they shared details of their lives with Crespo, including family history and immigration status
  • Our school hosted a “Meet the Author” event for families in the evening. Brazilian food was served, Crespo signed books, and families had the chance to buy additional books and chat with the author. 

After the visit:

  • Students wrote notes to Ana Crespo, thanking her and reflecting on their experience with her. “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. Obrigada.”

  • Another student named Cyrus wrote, “Thank you for teaching us a little bit about you and Brazil! I love your books!”
“Dear Ana Crespo, Thank you for being a good person.”
  • We used poetry to shine a light on the gifts and talents of multilingual learners with a school-wide embrace of the poem “Me x 2” by Jane Medina, featured in the Lee Bennett Hopkins anthology Amazing Faces (Lee & Low, 2010).
“Me x 2” by Jane Medina, from the anthology AMAZING FACES.

Why did this author visit work so well? 

Alegria means joy in Brazilian Portuguese, and that captures the overall impact of Ana Crespo’s visits in which student identities were celebrated and seen as strengths. Underlying this author visit was a belief in the genius of our multilingual learners, inspired by Gholdy Muhammad’s Cultivating Genius (2020) and Muhammad’s “humanizing practice” of celebrating our language learners through culturally relevant stories and a dynamic author role model. Brazilian students who were known to be quiet were participating fully in Crespo’s activities with enthusiasm, and speaking at length in Q & A sessions. Vulnerable students shared worries and concerns with Ana.  Family members engaged with the author, speaking in their home language in a joyful evening event. Children who were new to Portuguese and to Brazilian culture learned from peers. All students benefited from two dynamic and joy-filled author visits. 

Interested in contacting author Ana Crespo? Go here.

Poetry Friday Goes to School

Inspired by the lively Poetry Friday community in the blog world, this year I decided to bring that magic into my work as a Literacy Coach in a K-3 school. 

Each Friday, I share a poem via email to our school community. Teachers can choose to share the poem on a screen or print it out so that children can illustrate it. To make it even better, the poem is read aloud each Friday during morning announcements!

The kick-off poem was “Circle of Sun” by Rebecca Kai Dotlich from the wonderful anthology HERE’S A LITTLE POEM. Last week it  was Deborah Ruddell’s “The Cardinal.” The week before, Molly Lorenz’s poem about making friends with a new kid was a big hit– “Lunch” from the book What is a Friend? (edited by Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell of Pomelo Books). 

Weaving poetry into the school day is academically sound, and good for the heart and soul… Happy Poetry Friday, everyone!

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

 

Feeling the beat, feeling the love

Poetry came to life when the very talented music teacher in our Cape Cod elementary school used my poem “Drum” in her exploration of percussion recently. What a delight to read my poem to our K-3 students, to hear children drumming, to listen to them beat out the rhythm of this poem on various types of drums.

Music class in a K-3 school

I was thrilled to collaborate with the music teacher in this effort, and to kick off this school year by celebrating the publication of the new middle-grade poetry anthology from Pomelo Books called WHAT IS HOPE? I made a video of myself reciting the poem so the music teacher could use it in her classes when I was not available to read it to each class in person. So I’ve been getting a lot of “I know your poem!” from children as I walk through the halls. 

I’m grateful to editors Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell for including my poem “Drum” in this lively and full-of-heart book. 100% of the profits from the book go to the IBBY Children in Crisis Fund. Where can you order it? Check here.

Happy Friday, friends!

On Fridays, I love taking part in Poetry Friday when I can, where writers share resources about children’s poetry. Check out the celebration of poetry on Matt Forrest Essenwine’s blog today. 

Finding Just the Right Word

Slipping into someone else’s voice when writing a poem is one of my writerly challenges and delights. In my hospital-themed poetry collection for adults, Unity Hospital, the poems are in the voices of women who intersected with the hospital in some way: nurses, a doctor, a reporter, a candy striper, and more. (It’s out on submission now.)  I love immersing myself in a time period and the particulars of a profession, then trying to find just the right words to convey that time and place and person.

The word “handsy” is a word not used often these days, but I think it is both descriptive and belittling at the same time, and evocative of a certain time period and attitude.  Interviewing a retired nurse, the mother of a friend, gave me the spark for “Call the Doctor,” just published in an online journal from the medical community called Medmic. You can read it here.

In memory of Barbara Maniaci

Barbara, the mother of my dear friend Kathie, worked as a Labor and Delivery nurse for over 40 years. She passed away six months ago, and I’m so grateful I got to learn a little more about her nursing experiences, and about small acts of transgression in the nursing world of the past.

Happy Friday, poetry friends! Here’s to finding our voice, and to small acts of transgression!


On Fridays, I love taking part in Poetry Friday when I can, where writers share resources about children’s poetry. Check out the celebration of poetry on Jama Rattigan’s blog today!

The history of a hospital– in a poetry collection!

Over the past three years, one object of my writing obsession has been the hospital in Brooklyn where my grandmother completed her nurse’s training as a young Irish immigrant. The nurse’s residence was the address on her marriage certificate. It was called Unity Hospital, located in Crown Heights. I dove into newspaper archives, reading tragic and heroic accounts of the role that Unity Hospital played in people’s lives. I’ve written a poetry collection for adults, UNITY HOSPITAL, that spans the 50 years that the hospital was in existence. It’s out on submission now.

The poems are in the voices of an array of women who intersected with the hospital in some way: nurses, patients, a candy striper, a switchboard operator, new mothers, a “pantry girl,” a woman who died from a botched 1952 abortion, a newspaper reporter, a medical clerk, and more. Many of the poems were inspired by news accounts.

 

Passager is a journal and press for writers over 50

And one of the poems was selected for a beautiful journal, out now, called PASSAGER! So here’s a peek at one voice from Unity Hospital– an emergency room nurse in 1947. More to come soon, hopefully!

My poem, “Silent,” from UNITY HOSPITAL

The text of the poem:

SILENT

Emergency room nurse, 1947

 

Barely 20,

he huddles silent on the gurney,

all knuckles and knees.

One eye wide,

one swollen shut.

He’s not talking,

but I can read the story on his body—

abrasions

contusions

lacerations.

Some punks worked him over like a side of beef.

They nearly killed my brother that way—

tried to beat the sissy out of him,

like this kid.

It won’t work, bastards.

It won’t work.

~~~~~~~~~~~

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