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Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

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!

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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

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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.

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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

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#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

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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.

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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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