Archive for June, 2016

Poetry Friday round-up is with Diane at Random Noodling.

Poetry Friday round-up is with Diane at Random Noodling.


summer poetry swap (2)

Receiving a gift is exciting, and Tabatha Yeatts knows this.  Each summer she organizes a poetry swap.  She sends each participant a list of names and addresses, dates, and prompts.  Then the fun begins.

This week I received a gift from Doraine Bennett of Dori Reads.  Her poem gift was an original recipe for summer break.  In the poem-recipe, she mentions blowing bubbles, a good book, and a cup of tea, so her gift included these goodies: a selection of teas, a bubble blowing kit, and an old book, The Poet’s Homecoming by George MacDonald.  She collects MacDonald’s books. “George MacDonald is one of my favorite authors. He has a remarkable ability to impart the love of God through fiction. I’ve collected all of his books over the years and given many away.”  The original publication date is 1887.  What a thoughtful gift!

Recipe for Summer Break

Take one blue sky.
Place yourself gently
underneath the grand expanse.
Allow the azure to settle like goose down.
Watch it shift from moonstone to sapphire
and soften to a light cornflower haze.
Add a good book. One by an author
who knows what he knows and kneads
his wisdom with gentle, but sure hands.
Simmer with the scent of water,
pink orchids, and wisteria.
Sprinkle with long walks, quiet
conversations, and bird song.
Reserve some time to listen
to the one who knows you best.
Blow bubbles.
Find a puddle,
splash until done.
Heap with grace.
Enjoy with a strong cup of tea.

–Doraine Bennett, all rights reserved.

Summer Poetry Swap gift from Dori.

Summer Poetry Swap gift from Dori.

Read Full Post »

Join the Two Writing Teachers blog for the Slice of Life Challenge.

Join the Two Writing Teachers blog for the Slice of Life Challenge.


E Roosevelt quote


Teenagers are in the midst of brain development, and sometimes that part that says “This is dangerous” doesn’t work as well as it does in adults.  My sister knows this and embraces it.  My niece, Taylor, wanted to pose a photo shoot on an old historical road near my parents’ home in Mississippi.

I said, “How do you take a picture on a road without getting hit by a car?”

Taylor responded with complete confidence, “You wait until there are no cars.  Then you run out into the street and snap a picture.  It’s exhilarating!”

I actually think my sister is a brilliant mother.  She encourages this dangerous behavior.  She told me outside of Taylor’s earshot, “If that’s the most dangerous thing she wants to do, and she chooses to do it with me, I’m all in!”

I had to admit I wanted to be a part of it, too.  So we set out to find Old Agency Rd.  Luckily, a high school is located on the same road, so we found a safe place to park.

Old Agency Rd. sign

Traffic was light, so we got out and hiked through the brush on the side of the road.


Old Agency Rd. 1

Taylor has a GoPro camera that she used to take her road selfie.  The rest of us were on lookout duty.

Taylor road 2

A nice young mother-type stopped her SUV next to me and rolled down her window.  She wanted to warn me about the dangers of this road.  “I’ve seen many cars run off the road.  I live around here.  You could get hit in seconds.”

“I know, we know.”  I explained my niece’s idea and that we wouldn’t be long.  She felt compelled to tell us.  I understand.  I’m a mother, too.

We survived.  Taylor got her shot.  And we did something that scared us that day.  Actually, it was just. plain. fun.

Taylor Road pic

Seize the day!


Read Full Post »

On the left is Augusta Scattergood. We met in person at NCTE '14.

On the left is Augusta Scattergood. We met in person at NCTE ’14.

I met Augusta Scattergood face to face at NCTE in 2014, but I knew of her and her writing back in 2012 when a neighbor and friend of my parents came to a book signing for my book Blessen. He told me about growing up with her in Cleveland, MS. and how she had had a book signing for Glory Be just a few weeks before. I had to get the book and wanted to meet her from that moment on.

I sent her a message letting her know I would love an ARC of her latest book, Making Friends with Billy Long. Officially, the book will be out in August. You can pre-order a copy here.

My Goodreads and Amazon review:

Making friends sounds like it would be easy, but there is nothing easy for Azalea Morgan. Azalea starts her summer resenting the fact that she must leave her home and friends in Texas to help her grandmother who lives in Paris Junction, Arkansas. When Grandma Clark gathers a group of children to help in her garden, Azalea feels like an outsider. She is cautious of Willis DeLoach, a bully, and doesn’t warm up to Melinda Bowman, a girly girl. Yet Billy Wong is an outsider like her.

As Azalea adjusts to life in Paris Junction, she comes to understand her grandmother and enjoy spending time with Billy. Willis appears grumpy and mean, but Azalea knows his real problem is finding a safe place to live with his younger sister. While Azalea looks forward to going back home to Texas, her life is forever changed by her summer in Paris Junction.

This book will appeal to children ages 8-11 as they, too, navigate complicated relationships and learn how to accept others for who they are.


new Billy Wong hires Cvr

I am always curious about the decisions authors make in writing their books. I interviewed Augusta Scattergood about the writing of Making Friends with Billy Wong.

I am a collector of good opening lines for books, my favorite being E. B. White’s opening line for Charlotte’s Web, “Where’s Papa going with that ax?”

Your first line for Making Friends with Billy Wong is “All it took to send my summer on the road to ruin was a fancy note and a three-cent stamp.” Can you talk about your process of getting to that line and if you had any other contenders?

What a great question! I also love first lines and yes, there were many contenders. What helped me settle on that final first line was the three-cent stamp mention which hinted at the time period, and the worry Azalea felt about meeting her grandmother and spending time with her.

Until I read something from somebody about not starting with a “Hello, my name is” opening, this was one of my early favorites. (I’m terrible about reading writing advice and thinking I must follow it. I need to work on this.) Though I do still like this one of (many) early drafts, it was possibly too abrupt to announce this tidbit before we actually know much about the story or the characters:

My name is Azalea Ann Morgan, and I’ve already heard all the jokes. Yes, I was named for a pink-flowered bush blooming outside the Kings Daughters’ Hospital room when Mama first laid eyes on me.

Making Friends is written mainly from the point of view of Azalea, (great name, BTW); however, we hear from Billy Wong in small sections of verse. What made you decide to include his voice and why verse?

Originally, I tried to write in THREE points-of-view, and a character named Noble was the third. He was much too strong to take a back seat to anybody. He was taking over the story! I’m saving him for another day. My critique group often comments on how I give characters the ax. Or combine their traits with another’s. I do a lot of wandering around before I figure out my stories.

I started writing Billy’s voice as straight narrative. It was awful, a huge info dump. I gave up. Now I was down to Azalea telling the story, but I despaired of losing Billy. There were certain things, events, impressions that only he could tell us. Plus, such a nice kid!
One day, I sat with a notebook doodling Billy Things (I even wrote that at the top of the page). What would Billy Wong be interested in? I doodled lists, newspaper notes, letters, Billy’s dreams, and I filled up a notebook with ideas. A true aha! moment.
I don’t think of them as verse exactly, but they spilled out with a certain poetic quality, and I liked that.

A peek into Augusta's notebook as she thought about Billy.

A peek into Augusta’s notebook as she thought about Billy.

You grew up in the segregated South. Billy Wong lives in Arkansas and Azalea is from Texas. Were you intentional about the setting? How does the setting influence the events in the story?

I love reading books where setting is a crucial part of the story. Right now, I’m reading THE HIRED GIRL, which takes place in Baltimore where I lived for a while. And that city is so wonderfully portrayed.

For me, setting is a huge part of my own writing. I don’t think I could set a book in the frozen north (though I did live in New Jersey for over 25 years, come to think of it), if I tried!
My childhood was bike rides, climbing trees to read a book, playing kick-the-can till it got dark. I can still feel the mosquito bites (and smell the DDT truck, sadly). Those are the details I know, and yes, they seem very southern.

But there were other things we didn’t see, or took for granted. There was a white side of my town and a black side. I learned from research that the Chinese often fit into both worlds. Even if I’m not describing some of these details, they slip subtly into my writing.
Perhaps I don’t write the kinds of books that could take place anywhere. But I think I write about family and friendship and feelings that are universal.

Willis DeLoach is an unlikable character, yet you build in some obvious reasons for his meanness. Willis does not change during the course of the novel. I was hoping he would somehow “see the light” and change his ways. Can you tell us about your impression of Willis and his character arc?

In my mind, Willis has small hints of seeing the light! But he’s a product of the times (1950s) and his environment. He worries that somebody’s going to take his place in his small world, replace him in school sports, usurp his tree hideaway. Unlikeable yes, yet he has a soft spot for his little sister. I think his eyes will open this year in school. Remember, before that time most people had never crossed paths with anybody who was different from them. Cross cultural and interracial friendships were not encouraged, and actually, there was little opportunity for someone like Willis DeLoach to truly know a boy like Billy Wong until the schools allowed Chinese American students to attend. I had to make his story true to the times.

Also, my book only spans a few weeks at the end of a summer. I decided it would be unrealistic to have Willis do a complete about-face and change his ways in that brief moment.

In the author’s note, you write about the research you did for historical context. Were there any surprises for you as you did this research?

As I mention in my note, I started writing after reading a very poignant essay written by a friend, Bobby Joe Moon, who also grew up in Cleveland, Mississippi. Children and even teenagers in the early 1960s in small southern towns could be oblivious to what was happening all around them. Bobby’s essay about the difficulties of growing up Chinese in the Deep South surprised me and made me think about sharing this story with young readers.

Many readers of my author’s note may be surprised to learn how many Chinese immigrants came to the south to open grocery stores. I’d shopped almost every day with my grandmother or my mother at those same stores and I knew they were there. But I was fascinated to discover why this happened. My research and my unrelenting questions posed to Chinese American friends uncovered so many fascinating details. I could not have told this story without asking a lot of questions.

All three of my novels have been historical fiction, requiring reading and digging deep, which I love. Uncovering surprises is really the best part of research, isn’t it?


Read Full Post »

Poetry Friday round-up  is with Carol at Carol's Corner.

Poetry Friday round-up is with Carol at Carol’s Corner.

Deer in woods near New Castle Lake.

Deer in woods near New Castle Lake.

I’m feeling a little guilty sitting on the porch on the lake in Mississippi surrounded by my loving family and a blanket of warmth (highs already reaching upper 90’s). There is so much happening in the world that feels out of control, out of my reach of consciousness. And yet I look at nature and see the connections.

On my drive here to my parents’ house, I listened to podcasts. On the TED radio hour episode titled Becoming Wise, I heard the word mbuntu. In this story, South African Boyd Varty speaks about how animals already know this concept, that I am because we are.

I think we all need more mbuntu in our lives. We need to turn our focus on each other to be fully who we are.

The kayaker doesn’t look up
to see me watching him,
seeing how his body,
his paddle,
the water are one.
Stroke right, stroke left
sends a ripple from the water
to the trees,
where light dances like fine feathers.

Branches spread from bald cypress
to shade the grass,
hide the tree frog,
nest the swallow.
A bird calls
Cicadas buzz
like maracas at a Spanish festival.
The sun rises
to the sound of Samba.

–Margaret Simon


Read Full Post »

Join the Two Writing Teachers blog for the Slice of Life Challenge.

Join the Two Writing Teachers blog for the Slice of Life Challenge.


As many of you are, I am having trouble getting my head around another mass shooting.  What scares me most is the rhetoric that surrounds this tragic event. The talk of intolerance that perpetuates racism and fear.

I decided to look for hope.  In the midst of tragedy, we must have hope.  Hope is not denying the fear or the sadness.  Hope allows for something new to come forth.  Hope is like opening a window and hearing the cardinal singing.  Hope is smelling the fresh air after the rain and knowing a rainbow is up there somewhere.  Hope never fails.


Lin-Manuel Miranda’s acceptance speech at the Tony’s gives voice to what I am feeling.

We rise and fall and light from dying embers, remembrances that hope
and love last longer
And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love
cannot be killed or swept aside.

From a letter written by R. J. Palacio, author of Wonder, to the school district of Round Rock on disinviting Phil Bildner to their schools:

The truth is, I’m tired of intolerance. I’m tired of the unkindness that breeds intolerance. I’m tired of the ignorance that fuels it and the fear that spreads it. We must all—authors, publishers, teachers, librarians, and school administrators—work together to stop intolerance in its tracks when we see it. Kindness can never grow where intolerance has taken root.

If all you did was watch TV news or scroll through social media, you may think that our world was in dire trouble. Terrorism, racism, hatred, intolerance…

But I look to my students, my own children, my colleagues, my friends and I see love, hope, and light. Please, please, please look for the light. Find the helpers. See the good in others. Hope is everything, my friends. Hold on tight to that feather.

hope quote

Read Full Post »

Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

Into every day, a cloud must come. Here's hoping all your clouds are this filled with light.

Into every day,
a cloud must come.
Here’s hoping all your clouds
are this filled with light.

How often do you post on social media?  Once a day?  Once a week?  Occasionally?

I am curious about what makes us connect and why some share more than others.  And when I read a post, on Facebook or Twitter, who am I really seeing?

If I am honest, I am a pretty free sharer of my life.  I probably post at least once a day on Facebook.  I’m not as active on Twitter or Instagram, but I have a presence there.  And then there’s this blog right here.

I am partial to my blogging space.  I feel safe here.  I open the draft and spill out onto the page whatever is on my mind.

I’ve been reading Katherine Bomer’s book The Journey is Everything: Teaching Essays That Students Want to Write for People Who Want to Read Them.   In Chapter 4, Living Like an Essayist,  Katherine makes a case for the Writer’s Notebook as a place to think and generate ideas.  While I am determined to give this a good shot next school year, trying it out myself was not easy.  I have gotten better and better at typing and backspacing, type, delete, copy, paste, highlight, spellcheck.

The notebook has lost some of its usefulness to me, at least for writing rough drafts.  I still take notes in a notebook and apparently this is good for my brain.  NPR posted an article about the advantages of hand-written notes in college. But unless I need those notes for something I am writing, they get lost in the pages of my notebook.

From this chapter, I gleaned five ways to make use of notebook time.  (I think I’ll call it Notebook Time in my classroom.)

  1. Write daily for 12-15 minutes: Free writing that may lead to a good essay topic.
  2. A thinking space for slow pondering, not rushing toward an end product.
  3. Share notebook writing with a partner or small group.  Reading aloud what you have written can validate or deepen thinking.
  4. Writing leads to more writing.  Ideas lead to ideas.  Allow for this free range thinking time.
  5. Write what is true.  This space should be used to explore the deep dark corners of our lives.  Shake it all out.  Don’t write only what makes you look good. Be authentic on the page.

I truly believe in sharing our lives.  By putting our true selves out there, we can find connections in new and exciting ways.  As I read and think about what I want for my students, I am more convinced that writing your truth makes you a stronger person, reaches out to others, and creates a caring world community.

DigiLit Sunday will be on hiatus for the next 6 weeks as I will be traveling.  We will be back on July 31st.  Have a wonderful summer!

<!– start InLinkz script –>

<a rel=’nofollow’ href=”http://www.inlinkz.com/new/view.php?id=640618″><img style=”border:0px” src=”http://www.inlinkz.com/img/wp/wpImg.png”></a&gt;

<!– end InLinkz script –>

Read Full Post »

Poetry Friday round-up is with Carol at Beyond LiteracyLink.

Poetry Friday round-up is with Carol at Beyond LiteracyLink.


Allan Wolf…
Just like the animal
Allan Wolf…
Just like the animal

We chanted these words back and forth in a delightful performance at the Lydia library. Allan Wolf performs and teaches about poetry with pizazz. He makes poems sing, shake, and shine.

I invited my students to join me in seeing Allan Wolf’s performance at the library. Four of them came. I loved seeing them and catching up on what they are reading and doing this summer.

Allan Wolf engages the audience.  Through singing and dancing, he demonstrates how poems are musical. We all wiggled, made sound effects, and echoed to participate in the fun of poetry.

In this video he is showing kids how nursery rhymes are our first exposure to poetry, and they work because they rhyme. But mostly, the kids are just enjoying his humor when he gets the words wrong.

My students write a lot during the school year and for Poetry Month, they write a poem every day. Kaiden wanted to share his favorite poem “Wonder” with Allan Wolf. After the performance, Allan continued to engage with my students. Erin told him about our Slice of Life challenge and how she hates having to write an SOL every day.

Allan turned to a box on the table that he hadn’t used in the performance. He was sharing a secret with just us. He opened it to show two vials, one looked like water, the other thick syrup. He explained the process of getting syrup out of the tree sap. The sap must be boiled down. Then he showed them a gallon jug of tree sap. “It takes this much sap to make that much syrup.” That’s how writing is. You have to write and write to get the best, sweetest writing.

Allan Wolf did more in that metaphor moment to bridge the summer to next school year than any summer program could. His performance was fun, but the time he took to interact with my students and me afterwards was invaluable. Authors are my heroes.

Allan Wolf maple syrup

At the beginning of his performance, Allan points to words on a makeshift clothesline to introduce himself. When he talks about the word “author”, he pronounces it with two gestures: “Aw” with sweet eyes and soft voice, and “Thor” with a raised arm as if he is holding a torch and a strong voice. Because authors are both sensitive and brave. Allen Wolf is a true “Aw-Thor”!

A selfie with Allan Wolf and Sami Sion, the best librarian ever!

A selfie with Allan Wolf and Sami Sion, the best librarian ever!

Read Full Post »

Join the Two Writing Teachers blog for the Slice of Life Challenge.

Join the Two Writing Teachers blog for the Slice of Life Challenge.

Reading, reading, reading...

Reading, reading, reading…

The unmistakable voice of my daddy checked me out of the Anxious Hotel and back into reality. Elizabeth Tow, 8th grade

In the midst of the stacks of student-written stories about monsters and disasters and parents dying in car crashes, there were a few gemstones.

Monday was the annual LA Writes judging at my home. Teachers gathered around fruit and muffins and coffee to read 622 entries from Kindergarten to 12th grade writers from around our state.

Amidst the state standards and curriculum mandates, we writing teachers hold out hope that someone is cultivated creative writing in their classrooms. Interestingly, most of the best writers came from only a few teachers. Either these are the teachers keeping writing alive or these are the teachers who take the time to enter students in contests.

I have been coordinating the LA Writes contest for a dozen years, and I look forward to this day every year. I get to see some of my favorite teacher-friends and share my home with them. We talk and read, read and talk.

We find favorite lines. My friend, Nettie picked these lines to share.

The radio comes alive like low heeled boots. By Lily Adam

Alone together in a room for all
A kiss meets lips like stroking midnight buds. by Jasper Koelbel

Resting on the back of a goose wing, trying to blend into the cream colored feathers. By Rangasri Narayanamoorthy

When we started this contest, we created an acronym for our judging criteria with the word VOICES.

Originality/ surprise
Imagery/ figurative language
Significance/ insight

As a teacher, I am in tune to these elements and encourage my young writers to reach not only for clear and precise writing, but writing that sings and makes the reader look at something in a new and surprising way. These elements are hard to teach, but we all know good writing when we see it. My students know good writing. They don’t always know how to name it, but they know it when they see it.

Yesterday we culled the stacks and stacks of writing down to 5-10 in each category in each grade-level division. It was hard work. It was good work. We will send these finalists on to our author judges, authors from our state including our new state poet laureate. We hope that they will see the gemstones that we saw and enjoy the looking.

Read Full Post »

Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

The past few days I have been cleaning out an upstairs “art studio.” I put art studio in quotes because that is what I call it, but it has become a gathering place for stuff. Usually artsy stuff, but the stuff was turning into clutter.

Recently I read a blog post co-written by Kari and Christina. They outlined five essential questions for cleaning out your classroom. They asked their readers to post before and after pictures to Twitter with the hashtag #ReImagineEd. While my classroom was packed away a few weeks ago, I decided to participate with my studio. It needed doing.

As I cleaned out the cabinets, I listened to podcasts. Podcasts make me feel smarter. I love listening to Penny Kittle talk about her experiences as a writing teacher. I also enjoy Krista Tippet with On Being.

In the clutter, I found a few treasures: old pictures, a bookmark made by my youngest daughter, and birthday cards. I saved some paintings I thought I could re-work. And I made piles: trash, classroom, and give-away.

A serious donut maker, my daughter in pre-K or Kindergarten.

A serious donut maker, my daughter in pre-K or Kindergarten.

There is something reflective and valuable in cleaning out. You see stuff in a different way. Is it useful? sentimental? creative? Does it bring me JOY?

Reflecting on the things we hold and store is cleansing, renewing, and relaxing. I can look up at the loft and see space for re-imagination.

Where in your life can you de-clutter and re-imagine? Join in the conversation with Kari Yates and Christina Nosek at #ReImagineEd.

Art studio Before

Art studio Before

Art studio After

Art studio After

Post DigiLit Sunday posts here:

Read Full Post »


Geno Delafosse

Geno Delafosse

La Poussiere means “the dust.”  The dance hall by this name in Breaux Bridge, LA was so named because the original floor was dirt, so when Cajuns danced a jig, the dust would fly.

Geno Delafose and the French Rocking Boogie sing a song entitled “She Makes the Dust Fly.”

Last night, my husband and I were Zydeco dancing to Geno at La Poussiere.

Twenty years ago, Geno would not have been welcome in La Poussiere.  There were strict unwritten rules against black people entering the club.  In 1996, The New York Times featured an article about a lawsuit that required La Poussiere to drop its policy and open its doors to black patrons, even on Saturday night.  Comments from locals stated that this was the way it’s always been.  There was an undercurrent of acceptance of racial discrimination.  However, as Breaux Bridge became more of a tourist area, these traditions came in to question.

Today, blacks and whites not only dance at La Poussiere, they often dance together. The cultures are becoming mixed and more accepting.  Last night, there was a Cajun man playing the triangle on stage with the all black band.

Yesterday, my friend Tara Smith posted about addressing civil rights issues with her students.  She teaches in an affluent, mostly white area.  She said, “As I have found in years past, none of my students had ever heard of Emmett Till, a boy not much older than they are, who lost his life to hatred and racism.   Few history text books seem to mention Emmett Till, and we can now add the names of Travon Martin and Tamir Rice (to name just two) to our country’s long legacy of racism and the heartbreaking violence it breeds.  But, teaching history demands that we seek the truth so that we can do better.”

Teaching demands that we do better.  We all need to do better.   We need to look at our neighbors as persons worthy of respect and honor whether we are dancing, having a meal, going to church, or driving on the highway.

Dancing and music are great equalizers. We are all comrades enjoying the parade.  Turn up the music, hear the beat, and remember always, always to be kind.


Read Full Post »