Category: Cape Cod

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.

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. 

Watching an Author Make Magic

At the school where I work, the vast majority of children qualify for free and reduced lunch. A quarter of our K-3 students are English Language Learners, many from Brazil. Most of the children had never met an author, or had a book signed… until author Ana Crespo rolled into town! The author of eight picture books with more on the way, Ana is Brazilian-American. She lives in Colorado, and because of the wonders of Zoom and the support of the Amber Brown Grant from SCBWI, she made a virtual visit to our school in October 2022. That’s when she decided she liked our school and district so much that she would travel from Colorado to Cape Cod to celebrate the publication of her latest book, Lia and Luis: Puzzled from Charlesbridge.

Ana visited all three K-3 schools in our district this week. Her easy-going manner, warmth, and focus on her young readers were wonderful to behold. She even came to an evening event at our school to meet families and sign books. (Thank you to Brewster Bookstore for selling books at our evening event!) There were certain newcomer students, still learning their new language, who talked a blue streak to Ana in Portuguese. They asked insightful questions, sharing their experiences, wonderings, and feelings. She captivated the entire range of our K-3 students, and our Brazilian students were glowing!

Such a memorable day!

Vitamin P: A Poetry Workshop for Teachers

This week I led a professional development session for teachers, “Vitamin P: Boosting the Use of Poetry in the Literacy Block.”

“Animal Talk” by Charles Ghigna

For three hours, we played with poetry! We talked about how to infuse poetry across the curriculum, find rich and meaningful poems, and present poetry in different ways– charts, slides, big books, and more.

THINGS WE DO anthology by Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell

The teachers perused a huge selection of poetry books and made poetry charts for their classrooms, choosing poems that were just right for their students. 

“All Kinds of Kids” by Elizabeth Steinglass
“My People” by Langston Hughes. Book illustrated by beautiful photographs by Charles R. Smith Jr.

It was joyful, creative, and energizing. And the teachers’ feedback was amazing…

“You are so passionate about poetry! It is infectious :)”

“It’s so exciting to reignite the power of poetry in the classroom, especially to spark SEL conversations.”

“I really feel that poetry helps to level the playing field for many struggling readers and kids who may feel unsure of themselves, as well as a powerful place for higher level thinking.”

“This filled my soul! I needed ‘permission’ to use poetry again!”

*****As a presenter, it was an exciting and delightful day.

As a poet, I was thrilled to reignite the poetry flame in many of the teachers.

We all left the workshop with an elevated dose of “Vitamin P!”

“Ask” by Janet Wong

On Fridays, I love taking part in Poetry Friday when I can, where writers share resources about children’s poetry. This week, check out the Poetry Friday Roundup here

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!

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 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!

Teaching teachers: Poetry in the early childhood classroom

When you get to combine teaching with a topic you’re passionate about– that’s the sweet spot! I just finished teaching one of my favorite courses at the community college, “Poetry in the Early Childhood Classroom.”

In this class, we dove deep into poetry: how to infuse it throughout the curriculum, how it can foster social-emotional growth, how a poem can be a window, mirror, or sliding glass door for a child.

One of the assignments of the course is “Author Study of a Poet.” This summer, my students (who all teach in early childhood) focused on Nikki Giovanni, Janet Wong, and Douglas Florian, among others. They also completed Poetry Portfolios to use in their classrooms, and made big beautiful poetry charts for shared, choral reading.

It was a creative, fun class, and their final reflections show that! Here are some of their postings:

**My view on poetry in the preschool classroom has changed dramatically.  Prior to this class I would have considered myself not a fan at all.  I had no idea how helpful the addition of poetry could be to introducing and elevating the curriculum in the classroom.  I love the idea of adding connections to the subject at hand by utilizing poetry to enhance the topics.  I am also intrigued by the humor that can be added by selecting the right poem. I love to make the kids laugh.

**I never really took the time to read poetry, but now after taking this class, it has really opened my eyes to all the different ways poetry is useful. Especially tonight’s class and listening to Mary explain how poetry can be used, like as a dipstick to see what children know, or to preview a topic. I like how poetry can also be used as an emotional rehearsal. Things can always be related to poems or vice versa.

**The same way I sometimes underestimate the power of a walk through nature is the way I can “overlook” the power of poetry in the classroom.

**I will definitely take away from this class the idea of servicing through teaching in a new light.  The idea of helping a child with transitions by utilizing poetry and books as windows hit me in a whole new way.  I also will take away the positive impact that poetry can have on speech development and shyness.

I had that hit of “mission accomplished” as I read these comments, and I hope they inspire any teachers who read this to add more poetry to their teaching.

Happy summer, everyone!

Radio Round Table on Diversity and Children’s Books

It was a delight to be part of a (remote) round-table discussion this week on WCAI-FM (the Cape and Islands NPR station) about children’s literature and diversity. On “The Point” program hosted by Mindy Todd, I was joined by an educator from the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe,  Jennifer Weston of the Wampanoag Language Reclamation Project. We were also be joined by two librarians and the co-owner of Eight Cousins Books in Falmouth, Sara Hines. 

What a dynamic conversation touching on race, LGBTQ+ people, native stories, and windows and mirrors.  I was able to share rich conversations I’ve had with my students at Cape Cod Community College. We received great comments and suggestions from listeners, too. Thank you, WCAI, for hosting this important conversation!

You can listen to the recording on the link here.


A Note Meant to Silence

I don’t think it’s an accident that I received a strange note in the mail recently. It was postmarked on the day after my article appeared in the Cape Cod Times.  The headline in the print edition was “Black Lives Matter: does your child’s bookshelf reflect the world?”

I like to think that my appeal to teachers and parents to think critically about what books we offer our children might have rattled someone’s defenses a bit. Might have perforated their comfort zone or upended their sense of order or privilege. Apparently my essay advocating that we place stories with Black characters front and center was a bit too much for someone, prompting them to take pen to paper (nice stationery, though!).

The letter, mailed to my workplace,  isn’t threatening, exactly– just unsettling in an off-kilter way. It made me think of the quote by activist Maggie Kuhn:


“Leave safety behind…Stand before the people you fear and speak your mind–even if your voice shakes. When you least expect it, someone may actually listen to what you have to say. Well-aimed slingshots can topple giants.” –Maggie Kuhn


I know there are authors and artists, political leaders and journalists who receive hate mail and threats every day. This isn’t that. To me, it’s simply a reminder of how important this work is– educating the rising generation to be actively engaged in a multi-racial and just society. That’s what I do, as a community college educator who teaches about children’s literature, about early education, about writing.


It might unsettle me, but it won’t keep me from the joyful intersection of social justice and children’s literature. 


“Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”

~~Rep. John Lewis