A portrait of Octavia Butler in poems: Ibi Zoboi’s STAR CHILD

There’s one book I can’t stop thinking about– STAR CHILD: A BIOGRAPHICAL CONSTELLATION OF OCTAVIA ESTELLE BUTLER by Ibi Zoboi.

The brilliant combination of poetry and nonfiction is what drew me to Zoboi’s amazing middle-grade biography of author Octavia Butler. Telling the story of a life in poems requires such precision and artistry. Zoboi does this in a way that is seamless and spare and beautiful. 

This is one of my favorite books for young readers that I’ve read recently. Zoboi acts as a sculptor—paring, shaping, and providing just the right detail in just the right words to deliver a poetic portrait of a powerful woman and commanding writer. This beautiful book recently won an Honor in the We Need Diverse Books 2023 Walter Awards.

Don’t miss it!

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

 

Playing with Poetry– A Circle of Sun

Playing with poetry in the classroom– that’s one of the best parts of my job as a Literacy Coach in an elementary school. 

Recently, I introduced the poem “Circle of Sun” by Rebecca Kai Dotlich in the first-grade classroom I work in each morning. It’s the opening poem in the outstanding poetry book HERE’S A LITTLE POEM, collected by Jane Yolen and Andrew Fusek Peters, illustrated by Polly Dunbar.  One reason I love this book for use in the classroom is that it’s a generous size, perfect for reading aloud to a group. 

HERE’S A LITTLE POEM (Candlewick, 2007)

“Circle of Sun” is chock full of vivid images and lively verbs, with beautiful lines like “I’m earth’s many colors” and “I’m honey on toast”– perfect for the multiracial, multicultural school community in which I teach. It’s a joy to read aloud!

But then came the best part– we made a classroom book. Each child took a line from the poem and illustrated it.  This made the poem more meaningful– each first grader focused on image and word choice in their line of the poem and used that as their springboard for illustrating.


Now we have a beautiful classroom book, celebrating our diversity and love of poetry. Thank you to Rebecca for crafting such a meaningful and memorable poem!

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

Chasing Clouds- a Poetry Party!

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!

Editor Jonathan Humble

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!

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!

Winning a grant is a pretty great feeling… and then watching the impact of that grant on young children is just joyful.

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.

Finding Poetry in Robotics? Yes!

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. 

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

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!