Category: Community connections

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 in the Bronx!

It was a joy to be the Visiting Poet at PS 86 in the Bronx last week!

I attended kindergarten there, and PS 86 was also the polling place in our neighborhood. I have many memories of accompanying my parents to vote, and of my mother working as an election worker there. Returning to the school, meeting the vibrant staff and wonderful children– what a delight!

I led three sessions of poetry workshops, meeting with a third-grade class, fourth-graders, and fifth-graders. The students were well-prepared, engaged, and excited. The fifth-grade students even brought their own poetry books with them so they could show me, and I was blown away by their poetry! We met in the library, which was chock full of beautiful books.

In my workshops, I shared several of my poems, and then we focused on one: “Cousins,” from the anthology What is a Family? (Pomelo Books, 2022). We talked about how family members may look alike or have different skin tones. We talked about the word “cousins” in different languages. We talked about how some people have many cousins, and some just a few (or none). And we talked about how some of us don’t see our cousins often if they live in a different country. 

I challenged the students to “think like an illustrator,” and each student illustrated the poem “Cousins.” As they drew, they spoke of their families with tenderness, or told funny cousin stories. I listened to students from Yemen, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic as they shared their family stories with me. 

I left PS 86 with a full heart and deep appreciation for the staff there: Assistant Principal Stephanie Fitzpatrick, Librarian Matt Egan, Literacy Coach Cara Midlige, and the other teachers and staff who welcomed me warmly and shined with enthusiasm even as we approach the last lap of the school year. I hope to return to PS 86 next year, and I left with a feeling of deep, deep joy.

Students reading from WHAT IS A FAMILY? and THINGS WE DO (Pomelo Books)

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!

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!

I’m on the Bronx Heroes podcast!

What a delight and honor to be invited as a guest on the “Bronx Heroes” podcast!

My conversation with hosts Dan Zauderer and Rina Madhani was far-ranging. I got to talk about my deep affection for my home borough, growing up in a firefighting family, and how I try to stay connected to the Bronx. As I told the podcast hosts, “I don’t consider myself a Bronx hero… I’m the product of Bronx heroes.”

With hosts Rina Madhani & Dan Zauderer

It’s available for listening now! I really enjoyed the conversation, and it touches on so many topics I have written about. I hope to share some good news about THAT in the near future!

Available on Apple or Spotify podcasts.

Find episode on Apple Podcasts here:…/bronx…/id1672880977…

Find episode on Spotify here:…


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!

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.


Does Your Child’s Bookshelf Reflect the World?

One of the best things about my recent article in the Cape Cod Times about Black Lives Matter and children’s books is that I’ve heard from parents and educators who are inspired about making mindful book choices for the children in their lives. 

One delightful spark is that I heard from a guy who was here on Cape Cod– the father of Marley Dias! He shared a diverse book list that Marley developed for Parade Magazine.

The article also led the owner of a new bookstore (about to open) to contact me, and ask if I would consult with her about making rich and diverse choices for their children’s section. I’m excited to collaborate in the birth of a new bookstore on Cape Cod. More on that soon!

As always, We Need Diverse Books is a great source for book titles!

My poem in an anthology: “Studying Rachel Maddow in Provincetown”

Being part of an anthology is an honor—being part of an LGBTQ+ anthology is a party! My poem, “Studying Rachel Maddow in Provincetown” is included in the new anthology Hashtag Queer vol. 2, published by Qommunity Press.

“Studying Rachel Maddow in Provincetown” was inspired by an incredible portrait of Rachel, displayed last year in Jo Hay Open Studio, a Provincetown gallery.

Marveling at Jo Hay’s portrait; at Jo Hay Open Studio in Provincetown

When I saw the vivid portrait by artist Jo Hay, I began imagining the impact this work would have on LGBTQ+ kids… seeing a role model like Rachel in a larger than life scale.

“Studying Rachel Maddow in Provincetown” is a tribute to the striking portrait, to out role models like Rachel, and to parents who do the right thing for their queer kids. I’m so delighted that it’s part of Hashtag Queer vol. 2! The anthology features short stories, poetry, and essays, and you can order it online or ask for it in local bookshops like WomenCrafts and East End Books.