Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

A few months ago in the midst of holiday time, I was reading poetry books for the round one judging for CYBILS (Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers’ Literary Awards). Our committee selected 7 finalists. You can see them here.

This post is about the one that got away. One of my favorite poetry collections was left off the short list: The Dirt Book by David L. Harrison.

Underneath our feet is a whole world. Looking at interesting underground nature is the topic of David L. Harrison’s The Dirt Book. The format of the physical book is unique. Rather than landscape orientation, it is oriented as portrait. The illustrations by Kate Crosgrove dance along the pages. 

As a grandmother of toddler boys, the first page grabs their interest with the words “This Book is about Dirt.” Each poem features facts as well as lyrical language. “Scraggly twisted clusters/ creep/ thirstily,/ dig deep,/ branch out/ in crooked slants,/ mine water/ for their plants.” From At the Roots of Things.

As a teacher of elementary students, I will use this book to inspire students to explore the natural world, ask questions about the animals living there, and write their own language-rich poems. 

The Dirt Book is more than dirt; It offers a loving look at the world we live in and invites us to be present in it. The final poem, And Now We Know, begins with “Beneath our feet, beyond our sight,/ below the roots where green grass grows,/ there’s more to dirt than we’d suppose.” Take your students, your children, grandchildren, and yourself on a trip below the earth and find an intriguing world waiting. 

Read Full Post »

Poetry Friday round-up is with Linda Baie at Teacher Dance.
I am reading poetry for Round One of Cybils. To see the nominations for 2021, click here.

This week I read the verse novel Starfish by Lisa Fipps. I’m amazed that this is her debut novel. She uses verse effectively; It’s not a prose story told with line breaks. I was drawn in by the story and by the character of Ellie, but I also enjoyed each verse as its own poem.

Starfish by Lisa Fipps

I sent this poem to my friend- Inkling writer Linda Mitchell. She is a librarian in a middle school in Virginia and I know she is the type of librarian who would create a safe place for kids like Ellie.

Below is my review on Goodreads:

Starfish by Lisa Fipps

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I have never been a fat person until I read Starfish by Lisa Fipps. I became Ellie and felt every pain of the torture her family and classmates put her through. Reading this book, I was reminded of the bullying I endured as a skinny teenage girl with a flat chest. No bullying is pretty and it happens to lots of different people for lots of different reasons.

The way that Lisa Fipps can magically place you into the body and mind of Ellie through sparse, yet powerful verse is transformative. It made me as an adult examine the language that I use to talk to others. Like Wonder by R.J. Palacio, I want to place this book into the hands of all my students in middle grades. There is an important message here: “I deserve to be seen./ To be noticed./ To be heard./ To be treated like a human./ I starfish./ There’s plenty of room/ for/ each/ and/ every/ one of us/ in the world.” You matter. Ellie matters. I matter.





View all my reviews

Read Full Post »

Legacy by Nikki Grimes (on Amazon)

I was the lucky winner of a free copy of Legacy by Nikki Grimes. I would have, should have a copy of this book, but hadn’t bought it yet. I recently subscribed to Chris Barton’s newsletter, and low and behold, was the winner of this book on my first month. You can be lucky, too. Subscribe here. His newsletters are full of stuff, author interviews on “This Book is Dedicated to”, promotional materials, and links to more.

In Legacy, Nikki Grimes uses the golden shovel form to celebrate women poets of the Harlem Renaissance. Each Renaissance poem is accompanied by a golden shovel and an illustration by a Black woman artist. It’s beautifully pulled together into 3 sections: Heritage, Earth Mother, and Taking Notice.

The poems I am featuring today are about poetry, the writing of poems. The fancy term is ars poetica.

Notice the tactile in this poem, kneel, wriggling, and my favorite “water which satisfies, soothes, tickles–what wet word/ pours itself into the vessel that/you call thought?” Nikki Grimes calls us to notice it all and make poetry.

And this one I will print out for my brown girl writers this year.

I love the instruction to “Write chocolate poems!” Can’t you taste it? I’ll bring in Dove chocolates, the kind with a message on the wrapper and hand them this poem. Yes! I’m excited to start a new year of teaching with this book in my hands. Thanks, Chris Barton and Nikki Grimes!

Read Full Post »

Let’s get real; I took on the Sealy Challenge to get smarter, to read more poetry, to fill the well. The reality is I am challenged. Challenged not because I don’t have enough poetry books. Not because I can’t read a poetry book each day. I am challenged because poetry is not like fiction that carries you through with a narrative. Poetry requires a different kind of reading. You can’t skim poetry. You have to sit with a poem, and read it again and again to let it sink in. This takes time.

The latest books I’ve read are Irene Latham’s The Sky Between Us and Tracy K. Smith’s Life on Mars. Irene gave me her little chapbook years ago. Since then I’ve followed her blog, bought most of her books, and become friends with her. The Sky Between Us is a love song.

In the “Author’s Note”, Irene wrote “One of the great joys of my life continues to be the discovery of all the beauty this life offers, both in the natural world and in relationships.” In this way, The Sky Between Us slides in beside and between the pages of Life on Mars.

“Marriage in a Bottle” by Irene Latham

In 2017, Tracy K. Smith served as Poet Laureate of the United States. I loved her poetry podcast, The Slowdown. Her book Life on Mars (2011) won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. This book was written as an elegy to Smith’s father who was an astronomer who worked on the Hubble telescope. But, of course, it’s so much more. The poem I chose to share sits beside Marriage in a Bottle. I’ve tucked away the last line for stealing. Celebrating my 39th wedding anniversary this weekend has put me in the mood for marriage poems, poems that speak to the complexity and simplicity of loving another human for a lifetime.

Song by Tracy K. Smith
Photo by Jasmine Carter on Pexels.com

Read Full Post »

I first heard of Ilya Kaminsky in a Poetry Unbound podcast episode. Commentator Pádraig Ó Tuama said he read Deaf Republic three times on the airplane flying home to Dublin. Three times! I thought that would not be me. I don’t usually read books more than once, but when I bought it on Kindle, I had to read it at least twice to have any kind of understanding. In pulling together this post, I’ve read many of the poems a third time.

Deaf Republic is not a book of poems for kids or for the faint of heart, even. It was a difficult book. Violence and sex are not topics I choose to read, but I became intrigued by the characterization of deafness and sign language. The townspeople, after witnessing the shooting of a deaf boy, use an assumed deafness and create a sign language as opposition to the occupying forces.

I’ve learned that Ilya Kaminsky is deaf himself. It’s important to know this when listening to him read. I had a chance to see him present in the Poetry Teachers Institute from the Poetry Foundation last week.

The poem I’ve chosen to feature today is “Alfonso Stands Answerable”.

Alfonso Stands Answerable

My people, you were really something fucking fine
on the morning of first arrests:

our men, once frightened, bound to their beds, now stand up like human masts—
deafness passes through us like a police whistle.

Here then I
testify:

each of us
comes home, shouts at a wall, at a stove, at a refrigerator, at himself. Forgive me, I

was not honest with you,
life—

to you I stand answerable.
I run etcetera with my legs and my hands etcetera I run down Vasenka Street etcetera—

Whoever listens:
thank you for the feather on my tongue,

thank you for our argument that ends, thank you for deafness,
Lord, such fire

from a match you never lit.

Ilya Kaminsky, Deaf Republic

There is so much to notice in this poem. I notice the varying line lengths, first person narrative, and a strong simile is “deafness passes through us like a police whistle.”

A craft move that I would not consider in my own poetry because of the possibility of confusion is the direct address to different characters outside of the poem. “I was not honest with you, life–” and then “Whoever listens” To whom is the narrator testifying to? me, the reader? or the enemy?

I also wonder about the word “etcetera” repeated. I like the way it sounds when read aloud. But why, when the line means the same without the word?

This poem lands with power. As a poet, I rarely hit that mark.

I wonder about using this poem to teach poetry. For my students, I would remove the curse word and draw attention to repetition as a craft move and wonder about the word “answerable”. What does it mean? Why is the narrator answerable?

Honestly, the more I wonder about, the less I know. I probably need to read the book again.

Read Full Post »

When something comes across my radar multiple times, I pay attention. This is the first year I’ve heard of the Sealy Challenge. It is a challenge to read a poetry book each day in the month of August. I read poetry books for more than one purpose.

  1. To enjoy lyrical language
  2. To inform my own writing practice
  3. To get ideas for teaching

The first book I read was Jacqueline Woodson’s Before the Ever After which accomplishes all three goals.

I picked up the book at a new local independent bookstore, and it was signed! Ha! What a find!

Before the Ever After is a middle grade novel-in-verse. To read a review, click here.

For my take on the Sealy Challenge, I’d like feature one poem and respond to it.

This poem captures a few themes of the verse novel. ZJ’s father is suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and his friends help him through the struggle. Football is a major topic, but ZJ is a musician and has troubled feelings about football due to his father’s illness. The repetition of “Used to” effectively communicates ZJ’s continued struggle about how things used to be before his father was ill.

Craft moves I love in this poem are the repetition (anaphora) of “Used to be” as well as that ending. “Just feels like that.” becomes “Just. Feels. Like. That.” This craft move is something I can try in my own writing and I can show kids how to use it with effectiveness.

Jacqueline Woodson, while being a master of craft, does not overuse any literary element. It just feels natural. It’s. Just. Natural.

Pin on winkies

Read Full Post »

#MustReadin2021

Round up of Must Read posts are with Leigh Anne at A Day in the Life.

I’m a joiner and whether or not it’s good for me, I tend to join things at the beginning of the year. For example, this morning I will go out in the cold to an outdoor yoga class. I also like to support friends who are trying new (or old) initiatives. Leigh Anne Eck has taken on the round up originated by Carrie Gelson of Must Read posts. The idea is we make a list of books we didn’t get to in 2020, and commit to reading them in 2021. I recently took a quiz on The Four Tendencies and discovered (or rather, affirmed) I was an Obliger, so having a group to report back to may give me motivation to get it done.

I walked around my house collecting books I had placed here and there, the bedside table, my school backpack, the study, and placed them in a pile. I have a reason for each book in the stack, a reason to read and a reason I haven’t read them. I’ll keep them close. Wish me luck.

My Must Read 2021 stack

Read Full Post »

Find more links to reading children’s literature at Jen Vincent’s blog.

For as long as I’ve been teaching elementary kids, I’ve use “Mrs. Simon’s Sea” as a classroom theme. I’ve decorated with sea-themed everything, from nametags to notepads. Even our blog was called “Mrs. Simon’s Sea.” So naturally I am pleased by sea-themed poetry.

Matt Forrest Esenwine sent me an email announcement of a new anthology of poetry, Friends & Anemones: Ocean Poems for Children from The Writer’s Loft.

This anthology has a little bit of everything you could want in a poetry book, poems in rhyme, poems in form, and poems that tell a story. These poems will put you under the ocean alongside sea turtles, sharks, and octopuses. You’ll feel the storms, the rhythm of the waves, and sing along with fish. One of my favorite fiction authors, Linda Mullaly Hunt, tells a story of a clever seal who outsmarts a shark.

Children can learn facts about ocean life through zippy and lyrical language. The illustrations by a variety of artists are delightful.

A book launch event is scheduled for November 15th at 4:00 EST sponsored by Peter Reynolds and Blue Bunny Books.

Read more about the book design here.

Read Full Post »

Poetry Friday round-up is with Janice Scully at Salt City Verse.

Today I am thrilled to be a stop on the blog tour for Hop To It: Poems to Get You Moving, the latest anthology from the dynamic duo, Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong of Pomelo Books. The call went out earlier this year for poems that children can experience with their bodies. When the pandemic hit, Sylvia and Janet, who are known for responding to world events with poems, gathered pandemic poetry as well. This book is an inspiration for poets, teachers, and children.

Order copies here with a limited time discount.

I have written a collection of mindfulness poems that have yet to find a home, so I submitted a few to Sylvia and Janet, who selected Zen Tree. I absolutely love how the side bar bubbles give more information as well as a paired poem. This added touch is what makes Pomelo Books unique and teacher-friendly.

Heidi Mordhorst and Catherine Flynn, two friends from my Sunday Night Swaggers writing group, also have poems included. Catherine’s birthday is today, so hop over to her post to wish her Happy Birthday and to read her Mental Floss poem. Heidi gave me permission to share hers here. We are bouncing, flossing, tickling, and breathing along with 90 poets. What an amazing party!

Next stop Poetry for Children, blogspot for Sylvia Vardell, for more fun news about this book.

Read Full Post »

When I was an Alligator released by UL Press.

Since I joined the local SCBWI, I’ve had the privilege of watching a few books go from idea to draft to published. I met Gayle Webre a few years ago as we were both attending our region’s critique meeting. We had the teaching of gifted students in common. But Gayle was hiding another talent, picture book writer. I remember the first time she read this manuscript aloud I loved it. Now when I have it in my hands, the charm of her imaginative story has grown with the addition of illustrations by Drew Beech.

Drew has taken Gayle’s idea and created an adorable Cajun girl who wears glasses and wonders what life would be like as different animals in the swamp. The wide round glasses appear on each animal to help our young readers understand that this Cajun girl was once an alligator, a heron, an opossum, and more.

I invited Gayle to answer some questions about herself and her writing process.

What was your path to becoming a writer?

As a student I was pretty good at writing. My teachers and professors encouraged me, yet I didn’t consider writing as a career. I stumbled into a career as a teacher and loved it. I wrote lesson plans, letters of recommendation, and grant proposals. I read lots of children’s literature. Still I did not consider writing for children. When I retired, I thought I might give it a try, and I had no idea where to begin. By “chance” I found our local SCBWI group who offered support, encouragement, and friendship.

What do you do with your time?

I read, host gatherings for family and friends (pre COVID), travel, visit my kids and grandkids in the New Orleans area, and ride my trike. And I try to write!

What inspires you?

People inspire me.  Their stories, their struggles, their personalities, their histories, their approaches to life…. 

What book would you recommend?

For adults?   I just read The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abe Dare. Set in Nigeria in 2014, it’s a beautifully told story of a young girl’s struggle to survive incredible hardships and get an education.  

Tell us about your journey from idea to published book.

When my 5th grade students and I met with scientists at the National Wetlands Research Center in Lafayette, I was impressed with the importance and fragility of our coastal wetlands.  We learned about the severity of coastal land loss and the work being done to mitigate it. (Nutria tracking was a favorite!)  A few years later, four-year old Sawyer walked into my house and spouted, “Aunt Gayle, when I was an alligator…”  A few years after that, the idea to write When I Was an Alligator surfaced.

SCBWI helped me with the polishing and submitting process. I sent the manuscript to publishers and got lots of rejections. Finally Devon Lord and the team at UL Press saw the potential, let me choose an artist, and now we have a book!

Why do you write? 

I enjoy the creative process; writing is fun and challenging. And I think I have some stories that need to be told.

Describe your writing habits.

I don’t think it could be called a habit.  When I get an idea, I jot it down and write a pretty bad first draft. (Ask the SCBWI critique group!)  My research for When I Was an Alligator took lots of time.  I can spend half an hour choosing one word.  I enjoy the whole process. 

What is your favorite spread of your book and why?

Drew did a great job on all the art, so it’s hard to pick one spread.  I especially like this one.  After all the curious Cajun kid has been through, she’s more than a little flustered, and she finds that she likes being herself!

How much, if any, communication did you have with the illustrator?

I met Drew at an SCBWI regional conference in New Orleans. Drew now lives in Chattanooga, so we’ve not met in person to work on the book, but we had lots of interaction through the whole process. In fact, we are still working together.  

What is the best advice you’ve ever gotten?

The answer to that changes often. Today it’s: “O, small beloved person, it is not all up to you.”

What advice do you have for writers?

Make time to write, find some folks who support you, and join SCBWI if you are writing for children.

Finally, I have a teaching idea for you. With books like Gayle’s, students can find a pattern working throughout. A student can use this book as a mentor text to write their own imaginative book. What animals do you wish you could be? Using onomatopoeia to describe what it would be like to turn into that animal.

Page from When I was an Alligator by Gayle Webre
Leo, 22 months, is also a curious Cajun kid who loves crawfish and peanut butter. He says, “crawfish, yum!” and “Ba-butter” for peanut butter.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »