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Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

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.

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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.

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

How often does one follow a book from its idea to formation? I have been privileged to know Nancy Rust and Carol Stubbs, co-authors of Andrew Higgins and the Boats That Landed Victory in World War II. Nancy and Carol started our local branch of the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). We meet monthly, so I heard about this book from its beginning and was privileged to read multiple drafts. I never imagined the illustrations, however, to be as stunning as the ones from Brock Nicol.

If you ever plan a trip to New Orleans, the World War II museum is a must see. The Higgins Boats are amazing structures. It’s difficult to believe they can actually float. Not only do they float, but they are credited for winning the war.

Andrew Higgins as a child; illustration by Brock Nicol.

Nancy and Carol’s book follows Andrew Higgins from his childhood in Nebraska where his imagination led him to wonder. He did not stick with school, so he became a soldier, truck driver, lumber jack, as he struggled to find his passion.

Through his lumber business, Andrew experienced the difficulty of maneuvering boats through cypress swamps. His mind started working on a design to navigate more easily and quickly. He studied different types of water dwellers, from a Cajun pirogue to a blue whale and spoonbill. He was able to make boats better and faster.

One little known aspect of Andrew Higgins’ character was his commitment to hiring women and men of all races and paying equal pay for equal work. This book highlights the compassion and creativity of a man of history with engaging text and impressive illustrations.

If you are interested in hearing more about this new book, tune into the World War II Museum Young Readers Author Talk on July 22 at 11:00 AM Central. Click here to register.

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

Would you like some wickedly wacky poetry in your life? Reach for Vikram Madan’s book A Hatful of Dragons. I won this hilarious book on Matt Forrest Esenwine’s blog

Reminiscent of Shel Silverstein, I can imagine my students falling into this book of poetry. I love books that help us to see poetry as something fun, fun to read, and fun to write. Vikram Madan plays with language in a unique way: “A hatful of babies? Will leave you crawled! A hatful of barbers? Could shave your head bald! A hatful of dragons???”

The best, though, is the fill-in-the-blank poem. With 7 choices you can fill in 1 blank 7 different ways and you can have 7 different poems, but you have 12 lists of 7 words to choose from. It becomes an exponential number of poems possible. 13.8 billion! Kids will have a blast with this!

Page from A Hatful of Dragons shows the whimsical illustrations that accompany the poems.

All Because You Matter came to me from Scholastic. The release date is Fall 2020. Written by Tami Charles and illustrated by Bryan Collier, this book should be in every early learning classroom. The colors in the illustrations are magnificent. The text is lyrical and poetic.

“They say that matter
is all things
that make up the universe:
energy,
stars,
space…

If that’s the case,
then you, dear child, matter.”

Tami Charles, All Because You Matter

Tamir Charles writes in her Author’s Note that she will not raise her son to walk in fear. Without answers for fixing racial injustice, she begins with this book…”a loving tribute to the greatness that lives within my beautiful, brown-hued, brown-eyes boy and within all children, of all colors, everywhere…YOU MATTER!”

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Poetry Friday round-up is with Irene at Live your Poem! She is gathering a celebration of poet Nikki Grimes.

If memory serves me correctly, I first learned of Nikki Grimes’ work when I bought this book, Words with Wings, at the recommendation of a colleague who knew of my passion for poetry and novels in verse. I brought it home with me this summer for inspiration for writing my own novel-in-verse. Who knows if that will come to fruition, but when I opened the book, this is what I saw:

“May your dreams take flight,” Nikki Grimes.

How’s that for messages from the universe?

Today, Poetry Friday is celebrating Nikki Grimes. I’ve had the privilege to see her at NCTE a few times. Last year, I sat at her table for the Children’s Literature Luncheon where each one of us received a singed copy of Ordinary Hazards, her memoir in verse. I’ve read and listened to this book and have used it as inspiration for my students, too.

I use Nikki’s poetry time and time again to inspire writing with my students. In Words with Wings, there are a number of poems that begin with “Say”. One of them is Butterfly.

from Words with Wings by Nikki Grimes, 2013 Wordsong

Last month I was creating instructional videos for an open channel station that was airing teacher-made videos for students learning at home. I created one around this poem. In doing so, I created a draft of a poem of my own as a model for writing “after Nikki Grimes.”

Margaret Simon, draft

Poets like Nikki give children courage to be writers. Her gentle way of writing the truth echoes in the hearts of young people. If you are looking for a model poem for young writers, turn to Nikki Grimes. Her next book release is exciting to me. Legacy: golden shovel poems inspired by words of Harlem Renaissance Women Poets. It releases in January, 2021. I hope by then I’ll see Nikki again and add another signed book to my collection.

Instructional video on Say Butterfly by Nikki Grimes.

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Poetry Friday round-up is with Jama at Jama’s Alphabet Soup.

Today, I’d like to introduce Laura Purdie Salas’s new book Secrets of the Loon. Released in early May, this book is different in design from her others, yet still holds her amazing poetic voice. Beautifully designed with photographs by Chuck Dayton, Laura takes us on a journey with newborn loon, Moon Loon.

Loons do not live in the deep south. My experience is with wood ducks. Wood ducks will lay a clutch of a dozen or so eggs, while loons only lay two. But I gather that their survival rate is better because the baby loon will ride on its parent’s back to escape danger. On the bayou, wood ducks are prey to birds, alligators, and snakes. I’m not sure of the survival percentage, but it can’t be that great, or we would have wood ducks everywhere.

Secrets of the Loon is written in rhyming verse. I didn’t notice this at first. Other poetic elements jumped out at me; repetition, onomatopoeia, and imagery together create a delightful tour of the lake.

Secrets of the Loon, Minnesota Historical Society Press (5/1/20)
ISBN: 9781681341583

These rocky shores, with trees tipped in gold.
These ripples and currents, fishy and cold.
This dazzling sky, a vivid blue dome.
This spruce-scented bay offers comfort.
It’s home.

Laura Purdie Salas, Secrets of the Loon

Being unfamiliar with loons, I also enjoyed reading the back matter of More Loon Secrets. I hope one day I will see a loon in real life. But for now, Laura’s book takes me to a beautiful lake full of natural sights and sounds.

For more about Laura and Classroom Connections, visit Today’s Little Ditty.

Lagniappe (a little something extra) today is a video I saw on CNN’s Five Things to Know page. Believe me, it was the best thing there. One of my favorite hymns to sing. I first sang Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring in my high school choir. That is why I remember it so well. Ah, youth…

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What a pleasure to take part in the After Dark blog tour. After Dark is a picture book of amazing illustrations by Stephanie Laberis and intriguing poems by David Harrison. Publication date is tomorrow, Feb. 25th. Read more about David and his many books here.

David L. Harrison

David’s poems explore the lives of nocturnal animals. In the end pages you can find more information about each animal. With my students, I started with the end pages. I asked them to select two animals they were interested in. We read the facts and then the poem. “Look for ways the poet wove the facts in with poetic language.” We noticed elements like rhyming, slant rhyme, alliteration, repetition, and others.

This reading and talking piqued our interest in finding out more. I gave students the option to select the same animal or another one to research using Wonderopolis.

Breighlynn wanted to learn more about songbirds. Earlier in the week we had discussed allusion and at the beginning of the month, we read about Maya Angelou. I love seeing all of these lessons come together in Breighlynn’s poem.

The song of a songbird
the morning alarm.
Their vibrant colors
just like a rainbow.
The smallest of birds
 make the loudest of songs.
Now,
I know why the caged bird sings.

Breighlynn, 4th grade

After reading this David Harrison poem about the gray wolf, A.J. wrote a poem contrasting wolves to dogs.

Wolves,
never tamed,
they can’t be blamed.

Dogs,
youngly trained,
though restrained.

Wolves,
running free,
free as can be.

Dogs,
fun won’t end,
with man’s best friend.

A. J. , 6th grade

One of my students asked what was the word for animals who are awake during the day. On a Wonderopolis page, we discovered the word diurnal. In the poem, No Fooling (about the raccoon), David uses assonance, creating slant rhyme. I decided to try out this element in my own poem: Where do Birds Go at Night?

Where Do Birds Go at Night?

At first light, I hear their chatter
flitting about our courtyard feeder.

But once the air of dawn is gone,
I wonder where the birds have flown.

Most birds are diurnal
living their life all day,
but where do they go
once the sun goes down?
Only nocturnal birds hang around.

Some birds find a hole big enough to squeeze in.
Others, like the heron, want some mud to wade in.
Flocks of blackbirds roost in bunches
finding their nighttime safety in numbers.

Every time you go to sleep,
wonder where the birds may be.

Margaret Simon, draft 2020

This post is part of a blog tour. The publisher has offered a free book for comments on this post. I will draw at random from commenters and post the winner’s name on Friday, Feb. 28th on my Poetry Friday post. Please leave a comment by Thursday, Feb. 27th. Winner must live in the continental U.S.

Check out other posts to hear more about this book.

Writing and Illustrating
Beyond Literacy Link
Read, Learn, and be Happy
Poetry for Children
Teacher Dance
Michelle Kogan
Salt City Verse

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Joining the link up for It’s Monday, What are you Reading? At Teach Mentor Texts.

I’m a member of our local (as well as national) SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). In this organization, I am able to meet some wonderful authors. A few years ago I met Leslie Helakoski at ALA or NCTE, not sure which, and found out that her mother lives in our area, and she dances to Cajun and Zydeco music. Turns out, I know her mother from our dancing circle. Small world.

Leslie was involved with the SCBWI in her home state of Michigan. Well, lucky us, she is now splitting her time between the two states, Michigan and Louisiana. She has taught a few picture book workshops in our area, and I greatly admire her talent. Not to mention, she is a very nice person, too.

Leslie’s latest release is as sweet a story as she is. Are Your Stars Like My Stars? is a picture book about colors. No, it’s a book about friendship. No, it’s a book about diversity. All in one, Leslie’s rhyming verse asks the question, “Is your blue like my blue?” Leading us to see through the eyes of a child that we can all see things differently, and that is the best thing of all.

With engaging art from Heidi Woodward Sheffield, any child will be entranced by the coloring book collage style.

Do you splash in a puddle
when the world is washed clean?
Are the leaves fresh and bright?

Is your green…
… like my green?

Leslie Helakoski

You can find out more about Leslie’s books here. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram, @helakoskibooks. If you are in Lafayette, LA on Saturday, January 25th, come by Barnes and Noble and get a personal signed copy.

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I am linking up today to It’s Monday, What are you Reading on Jen Vincent’s site, Teach Mentor Texts. Click on the image to find more blog Kidlit reviews.

With new grandsons to read aloud to, I have taken an interest in books that have rhythmic, poetic language. The words have to go quickly as Leo’s favorite part is turning the page. Buffy Silverman’s new release is just this kind of book. With quick rhyming verse, she takes us through a snow-melting day.

In my part of the world, South Louisiana, we do not get much snow. Yet, we have chickadees at the feeder all winter long. With lively and sharp photographs and bouncing, rhythmic language, we can learn about places that have a distinct seasonal change. Grand sons can point to the cardinal swooping, the rabbits bouncing, and the foxes pouncing.

On a Snow-Melting Day releases on February 4th, 2020. Hop into a delightful book on a marsh mucking, duck dapping day.

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Poetry Friday posts are all gathered by Bridget at wee words for wee ones.

Last weekend at NCTE I had a conversation with Laura Shovan and Chris Barton about novels-in-verse. We discussed briefly how novels-in-verse should be poetry rather than prose written to look like poetry. 

On my long travel day to NCTE, I read Margarita Engle’s novel-in-verse Soaring Earth. Margarita is a poet. Her novel reads like poems with the backdrop of her life experiences from late teen years to adulthood. In each verse, she was processing who she was and who she wanted to be. She rejects then embraces the culture of her life. She has to leave herself to find herself, and it’s all written in beautiful language of poetry. 

Margarita Engle, Soaring Earth


Currently I am reading White Rose by Kip Wilson. Once again, I put on the lens of a poet finding the elements of poetry as well as compelling story. Kip Wilson has successfully drawn me into the story of Sophie, a young adult resistor to Hitler’s Germany. The story takes me to the horrors of the early 40’s. I place myself into the shoes of a girl who knows it’s wrong to kill for any reason. She is keenly aware of what is happening in her country. She finds small joys, so we are not bombarded with terror. I am more than halfway through. I know what eventually happens, yet I keep reading. The lyrical rhythm of verse makes this incredible story a beautiful one.

February 20, 1943
A Golden Bridge

I have nothing
more to say,
Herr Mohr has nothing
more to ask,
and yet the next
time he summons
me, he throws
me a lifeline.

You can still save
yourself, Fraulein
Scholl.

Boom-boom,
boom-boom
.
A sliver of light enters
the room, and I’m certain
the entire world can hear
the pounding in my chest.

Tell me you were only
following your older
brother,

and I’ll recommend
setting you free.

My heart, beating
so confidently moments ago,
whimpers, withers, dies
but my voice gathers
courage:
Nein.

Kip Wilson, White Rose

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