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