A new school year fills me with hope– hope for fresh starts, open hearts, new learning. I’m back to work in my job as an elementary school Literacy Coach. How perfect to kick off this school year by celebrating the publication of a new middle-grade poetry anthology from Pomelo Books called WHAT IS HOPE?
I’m delighted to have a poem included in this collection. “Drum” was fun to write, and I’m hoping to collaborate with the music teacher in our school to do something together with the students around percussion and this poem!
I’m grateful to editors Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell for including my poem 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.
My wish for you is that this new school year, and this new season, starts with hope.
On Fridays, I love taking part in Poetry Friday when I can, where writers share resources about children’s poetry. Check out the Poetry Friday gathering at Amy Ludwig VanDerwater’s blog today!
Last week while visiting Ireland, I found myself in the strange position of answering my cousins’ questions about gun violence in America. As we sat around the table with little cousins running in and out of the room, the adults wondered–how can we tolerate having lockdown drills with young children, hiding in the corner of a darkened classroom, beseeching them to remain silent? How do we normalize all of the school shootings? There are no answers.
I tend to “telescope” when something bad happens, as a way of coping, I suppose. I usually fasten my attention on one particular person, and I root for them and pray for them and worry for their safety or solace. That’s why I wrote this poem, “Red Blouse,” for Kimberly Mata-Rubio, whose daughter Lexi was killed in her school in Uvalde, Texas. It was published last week in The Rise Up Review. Lexi was recently remembered at an End Gun Violence event in Fenway Park, pictured below. The photo shown at Fenway, which was shared by her family on social media, was taken at an awards ceremony on the morning preceding the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
So begins “Tenth Month,” a poem about October by Irene Latham in the just-published 10-10 POETRY ANTHOLOGY. I found so many poems that would be perfect for a middle-grade English Language Arts classroom. In Irene’s poem, for instance, there is both playfulness and reverence for nature; plus it’s packed with great verbs!
Science teachers will find wonderful content in Janice Scully’s brief yet descriptive poem “The Floating Water Strider,” about how an insect manages to skate across the surface of water.
Poet Moe Phillip’s description of a tug-of-war competition will have children laughing in recognition– “Heels dig in, teeth are bared, toes to temples taut.” It’s brimming with juicy language that will inspire young writers!
Bridget Magee created THE 10-10 POETRY ANTHOLOGY around ten themes or prompts, including the words tentative, tenderness, and tenacity.
My poem, “Necessary In-Tent,” is included in this collection. It’s inspired by a memory of going camping for the very first time as a 12-year old (tentative!). I was used to city living and city sounds, and the nighttime woods were a bit scary for me! Many of the poets who I follow on Poetry Fridays and elsewhere are included in this collection, including Jay Brazeau, Linda Baie, Janet Fagal, Marilyn Garcia, Mary Lee Hahn, Michelle Kogan, Carmela Martino, Linda Mitchell, Aixa Perez-Prado, Laura Purdie Salas, Buffy Silverman, Eileen Spinelli, Linda Kulp Trout, Janet Wong, Tabatha Yeatts, and more!
There are many riches to explore in this anthology– and it would make a great gift for the teacher in your life.
On Fridays, I love taking part in Poetry Friday when I can, where writers share resources about children’s poetry. This week, Bridget Magee (editor of the 10-10 Anthology!) hosts the Poetry Friday Roundup today at her blog Wee Words for Wee Ones. Check out the celebration of poetry there today!
Those are words LGBT advocate Cyd Zeigler and his husband exchange each day. Part affirmation and part words of gratitude, Zeigler’s words electrified the audience of student-athletes, coaches, advocates, and educators. We had gathered in Hyannis, MA for a summit to discuss the intersection of student athletes, LGBTQ diversity, and anti-bullying.
Zeigler had returned to his native Cape Cod to share his own story: teased for being gay years before he came to the realization himself, Zeigler didn’t come out until well after his high school years. A lifelong athlete, Zeigler recognized after he came out that there wasn’t much overlap between the realm of sports fans/athletes and the gay community. He set out to do something about it by co-founding OutSports.com. You can read more about OutSports here.
Student-athlete Braeden Lange also presented. Imagine a thirteen-year-old boy holding a conference room in thrall with his positive message and poised responses to questions. A lacrosse player, Braeden spoke about coming out as a sixth grader, how ostracized he felt, and how connecting to Andrew Goldstein, a well-known gay lacrosse athlete who is out, saved his life and gave him hope. Braeden shared that those connections are what keep young LGBTQ students from feelings of despair and isolation. This is one of the goals of the short documentary about him and Andrew, The Courage Game, that was shown at the conference. You can view the ESPN feature here. (13 min.) It’s amazing!
Zeigler also emphasized the power of connection and coming out: he often hears from athletes who are deeply fearful of being ridiculed and ostracized by their teams. Often it is the opposite that happens, Zeigler recounted: athletes feel the support of teammates and coaches, and the liberation of no longer harboring a secret.
As Braeden said, “living your truth…you don’t have to have that weight on your shoulders.”
State Representative Sarah Peake spoke about her own coming out process, her memories of being a student-athlete, and her appreciation for the positive messages of Zeigler and young Braeden.
Jonathan Peters, a senior at Sturgis Charter School who spearheaded the event, closed with words of gratitude and inspiration. He thanked Cyd Zeigler and Braeden for traveling to the Cape for the event that attracted participants from as far as Rhode Island. He spoke about his own process, saying that rather than using the term “coming out,” he prefers, “invite the world in.”
That’s exactly what happened in that conference room. The world was invited in. Student athletes, advocates, principals, coaches, educators, and allies came together. The power of connection was affirmed. And everyone left that room feeling a little braver, more connected, and optimistic about the intersection of LGBTQ diversity and sports.
Getting an invitation to talk about children’s books and summer? No way I’d turn that down!
I had the chance to join host Mindy Todd and Falmouth librarian Jill Erickson at WCAI-FM (Cape and Islands NPR station) recently, and we talked about so. many. books!
The topic was kids and summer reading.
**the importance of letting kids make their own choices in the summer, to read exactly what they want to read
**the library is a parent and child’s best friend… a no-cost, community-oriented way to grow a reader
**taking on the Reading Without Walls Challenge is a great way to add some spice and excitement to your summer reading, either for a kid or an adult! The Reading Without Walls Challenge is brought to us by Gene Luen Yang, the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature.
Here is a list of books I mentioned on the program:
Summer Reading Recommendations for WCAI- The Point
SURF’S UP by Kwame Alexander
FRED STAYS WITH ME by Nancy Coffelt… divorce/separation story
LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET by Matt de la Peña
WHEN GREEN BECOMES TOMATOES (Poems for All Seasons) by Julie Fogliano
Deborah Ruddell’s TODAY AT THE BLUEBIRD CAFÉ (bird poem, including the cardinal poem I read)
THIS DAY IN JUNE by Gayle Pitman (Gay Pride)
POEM RUNS by Douglas Florian (baseball poems, including the first base poem I read)
Middle Grade book (for ages 8 to about 12)
DRAMA by Raina Telgemeier… (graphic novel, theater kids)
Donna Gephardt’s LILY AND DUNKIN…transgender character, “outsiders”
Varian Johnson’s THE GREAT GREENE HEIST… main character is Jackson Greene (a smooth operator), a middle school caper reminiscent of Oceans 11. Sequel is TO CATCH A CHEAT. Varian visited Falmouth library and schools this past fall.
PAX by Sara Pennypacker… an animal story… a boy main character…. local author.
DISTANCE TO HOME by Jenn Barnes… baseball, girl athlete main character, will appeal to fans of Cape Cod Baseball League
Kekla Magoon’s CAMO GIRL…. a story about popularity, loyalty, friendship, middle school
Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s FISH IN A TREE… a girl battles with reading difficulties, adopting a trouble-making personality as a smoke screen, until a teacher makes a difference
ONE CRAZY SUMMER by Rita Williams-Garcia…Three African American sisters go to visit the mother who left them, in 1968 Oakland, California….the first book in a trilogy.
Young Adult– teen books
Ellen Wittlinger’s LOCAL GIRL SWEPT AWAY… a juicy Provincetown story… a story of four friends, one of whom gets swept away in stormy weather…. a mystery unravels.
K. A. Barson’s CHARLOTTE CUTS IT OUT… two girls who are juniors in a cosmetology arts program enter a competition, and Charlotte makes a bet with her mother that she’ll win…her mom wants her to give up cosmetology for college.
SIMON VS. THE HOMOSAPIENS AGENDA by Becky Albertalli… Simon struggles to come out to himself and his wonderfully quirky family, approaches a new romance and unravels the mystery behind some secret messages.
There are some other books that I was prepared to talk about on The Point, but we ran out of time!
A few more picture books:
SLICKETY QUICK: POEMS ABOUT SHARKS by Skila Brown
DRUM GIRL DREAMS by Margarita Engle…the main character is told that girls cannot be drummers…but she dreams and practices and becomes a star drummer in this colorful picture book set in Cuba.
More middle grade titles:
RAYMIE NIGHTINGALE by Kate DiCamillo…a friendship story set in the South… three girls, baton twirling and pageants, and more
GOODBYE STRANGER by Rebecca Stead… perfect for parent and kid to read together; captures the complexity of middle school so well
Mike Jung’s UNIDENTIFIED SUBURBAN OBJECT…Chloe Cho, a Korean-American 7th grader, wants to get in touch with her family history…they are the only Asian family in town… funny, touching, great twist!
Laura Shovan’s THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY… 18 kids try to rescue their school from the wrecking ball… a novel in verse.
Kate Messner’s THE SEVENTH WISH… 12-year-old Charlie catches a magical wishing fish and tries to use her wishes to solve some challenges, but her wishes go awry. Charlie is an Irish step dancer and wishes for a new dress for competition. On a more serious note, she longs for a solution when it’s discovered that her older sister has become addicted to heroin; Charlie grapples with the limits of magical thinking. This subplot is handled sensitively and may resonate with a lot of middle grade readers.
One more YA novel…
Sona Charaipotra’s SHINY PRETTY THINGS…Juicy ballet story, with three characters, it has been likened to “Black Swan meets Pretty Little Liars”…. it has a sequel, SHINY BROKEN PIECES. Diverse cast of characters and lots of drama for those who love ballet!
Thank you, Mindy Todd and WCAI-FM, for hosting this fun conversation about reading!