Posts Tagged ‘Thanhha Lai’

Poetry Friday round-up with Sylvia at Poetry for Children

Poetry Friday round-up with Sylvia at Poetry for Children

Catch your breath

If you are a teacher, here is another poetry book to add to your collection. I am a big fan of Laura Purdie Salas. She has a good voice for children. This new book is small and rich. I have been doing an activity every few days or so with my students. The activities only take about 15 minutes of your writing time, and yet they build strong poetry muscles.

I recently listened to a podcast, On Being, about creativity in which the neuropsychologist Rex Jung suggests that the way to creativity is through practice. What this suggests to me as a teacher who wants creativity to stay in my curriculum is I must model the practice daily.

Laura’s book introduced my students to the author Thanhha Lai who wrote Inside Out & Back Again. I loved that book, but never thought of using it as a mentor text for writing poetry. Using a short 4-lined verse from the book, we see imagery and the craft move of showing, not telling. How can you show an emotion without using the emotion word?

I am sharing two poems today, one from Jacob (2nd grade) and one from Vannisa (6th grade). Each of these students wrote about their younger sisters using imagery to describe an emotion. We talked about how the words you use not only describe an image, but they also inform the tone (emotion).

When I re-read the pages to prepare for this post, I realized that Laura does not use the words imagery and tone in her “Your Turn” writing activity; however, through this simple poetry lesson, I can tell the students that they are practicing creative moves that writers make.

My sister’s face lights up
like a nightstand lamp.
You can tell by her eyes,
though they don’t crinkle,
that she is smiling.
Her toothless smile giggles.
My sister’s tiny smile.

–by Vannisa, 6th grade

My sister's face lights up!

My sister’s face lights up!

My baby sister’s face
opens up
like a confetti egg.
I appeared out of nowhere
and said, “Rahhh!”
She wants me
to do it again.

–Jacob, 2nd grade

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Poetry Friday is hosted today by Carol at Carol's Corner.

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Carol at Carol’s Corner.

Last week for Poetry Friday, Mary Lee had a feast of verse novels. These have attracted my interest lately. While I read Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse years ago and have shared Love that Dog, Love that Cat, and Heartbeat by Sharon Creech with my students, the genre feels new.

This week I read Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai. The book is based on her own life story of coming to America from Vietnam. The verse was simple, yet moving. In a verse novel, each chapter/verse/poem should stand alone yet hold the whole together. Lai does this. The novel made me think about 1975 when refugees were coming in to my own city. I don’t remember how I reacted. I hope I was kind. Not everyone in Lai’s book is kind. Our students can learn from Lai that not everyone looks the same or speaks the same, but everyone should be kind.


Wet and Crying

My biggest papaya
is light yellow,
still flecked with green.

Brother Vu wants
to cut it down,
saying it’s better than
letting the Communists have it.

Mother says yellow papaya
tastes lovely
dipped in chili salt.
You children should eat
fresh fruit
while you can.

Brother Vu chops;
the head falls;
a silver blade slices.

Black seeds spill
like clusters of eyes,
wet and crying.

–Thanhha Lai from Inside Out & Back Again

Last year during Teachers Write camp (which, by the way, begins Monday), Gae Polisner had Caroline Starr Rose, author of May B, as a guest on her Friday Feedback blog post. I was turned on to writing in verse. I have a WIP (Work in Progress) that hasn’t gone anywhere in years, and by turning to verse, I was able to revive it. I am attracted to this genre because it’s a way to combine my love of poetry and writing for children. Here’s a sample verse from my WIP Dear God:

Dear God,
Winter can be so boring,
short days, long nights.
But today, snow fell
for hours.
No school.
I watched the snow from the window,
picture perfect,
piling onto the bare tree branches,
sparkling, gleaming.
Benjie and I bundled up,
headed over to the hill by the park.
Neighborhood kids were there with sleds
and makeshift sleds of cardboard.
I helped Benjie climb onto the sled and pushed him off,
down the hill, twenty times at least.
When we finally headed home,
my nose and fingertips were frozen solid.
Mom made us hot chocolate and vegetable soup.
Simone could not play in the snow.
When we passed by, she waved at us from her window seat.
She wore a knit cap and a scarf around her neck,
looking like a snowman herself, pale and hairless.
She wasn’t sad, though.
Her smile was big and sparkled like the snow.

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