Saturday, August 01, 2020

Poetry Friday -- Open to Interpretation

if it's a bow
its string is pulled taut...
summer field

yumi [to] tsuru nara yumi wo hike natsu no hara

"A haiku about hunting. Issa paints us a picture (disturbing for the animals in the field and, I think, to Issa too) of every bowstring pulled back, a notched arrow ready to fly." --David Gerard

David Gerard goes with a literal interpretation of this haiku. I see it figuratively -- that brief moment when everything is ripe and full, or any moment when you're holding your breath, waiting to see what will happen. Based on my interpretation, here are a few versions I would propose:

if it's a bow
its string is pulled taut...
return to school plan

if it's a bow
its string is pulled taut...

if it's a bow
its string is pulled taut...
cat in the window

What's your take on this haiku? I hope you'll share your version in the comments.

Catherine has this week's Poetry Friday roundup at Reading to the Core.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Poetry Friday -- Summer of 2020

photo via Unsplash

Summer of 2020

Happiness is morning light
and -- except for birdsong -- silence.
A book to get lost in,
and a cup of tea to begin

a day soaked by rain.
It will not stay
cool, but at least starts
pleasantly, unmarked

by stress and worry
about all that is unsure.
Hold this moment close.
Capture this fragment of hope.

©Mary Lee Hahn, 2020

Margaret has the Poetry Friday roundup this week at Reflections on the Teche.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Poetry Friday -- Say Her Name

This is SUCH an important book, and it is incredibly humbling to realize that I am not the intended audience. What a (white) privilege it is, that for almost all of my life I could open any book and find some version of me or a life somewhat like mine between the covers. As I read this book, I humbly looked over the shoulder of my BIPOC students and colleagues to read the "Poems to Empower" that were written with them in mind.

In the acknowledgements, Zetta Elliott shares that discovering Black women writers was a recent experience for her, too, but a very different experience from mine: "When you realize that your small, soft voice is actually part of a chorus, you begin to sing with more confidence." From the introduction: "We do have allies, but some days it feels like all we have is each other. This book of poetry is for us. I love us."

The book begins with a trio of haiku, and then every seven (or so) poems there is another set of three haiku. I love how these three short punches slow the reader down to breathe and process. After the final three haiku, there are notes for many of the poems that illuminate Elliott's mentors (Audre Lorde, Lucille Clifton, Nikki Giovanni, James Brown, James Baldwin, Nina Simone, Gwendolyn Brooks [her two poems inspired by "We Real Cool" are AMAZING], and many others).

Here is the final haiku:

stop killing us stop
killing us stop killing us
stop killing us STOP

©Zetta Elliott, 2020

This book is best suited for middle school and high school students, and adults.

Jan has this week's Poetry Friday roundup at Bookseed Studio.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Poetry Friday -- Fallibility

image via Unsplash


I am flawed. I make mistakes. I fail.
Miserably, and in cringe-worthy ways. All
the time. Yet I lift
myself up and flail
away at life, flatly
refusing to give up, refusing to take the bait
of “good enough.” I have the ability
to see the light in my aspirations, so I need to stand tall
and not bail
myself out with an alibi.
not be a liability.
and try
until I fly.
Until we all fly.

©Mary Lee Hahn, 2020

I tried the new poetry form introduced by April Halprin Wayland at Teaching Authors last May -- In One Word. I started with the word FALLIBILITY. I used an online word generator to find all the words that are inside FALLIBILITY. Then I wrote my poem, using those words as the last word in each line.

Doing the internal work of antiracism is hard. It's painful to unpack privilege, to understand that I have harmed children (and colleagues) with my blindness, to lose my individuality and take group responsibility as a white person for systems of inequity perpetuated by whiteness. No matter how hard the work is, no matter how many times I fail, I have to get right back up and keep going. I have to stick with it for the long haul.

Ruth has the Poetry Friday roundup this week at There is no such thing as a God-Forsaken town.

Friday, July 03, 2020

Poetry Friday -- If

photo via Unsplash

If it weren't for the fireflies'
Nightly silent
I might have forgotten how much we
Need even tiny sparks of magic
In our lives
To remind us of the size of

©Mary Lee Hahn, 2020

It has been so delightful to spend the week with the word IF! Thank you, Charles and Irene for the call for poems using IF as the first word of the first line.

I have poem notes and drafts in my writer's notebook between notes from Phil Bildner's talk on BookLove, Dr. Paul Thomas' NCTE/LLA talk "Teaching Without a Deficit Lens," Kelly Gallagher and Julia Torres' talk on BookLove, Cornelius Minor's NCTE Member chat, and April Baker Bell's NCTE talk about her book Linguistic Justice: Black Language, Literacy, Identity and Pedagogy. It's been the kind of week that has needed poetry woven throughout.

This poem got a lot of love when I polled adults and former students. But the more I thought about Heidi's feedback, the more I realized that it was the other one that needs to be submitted...after I revise the ending. Thanks, Heidi!

Linda has the Poetry Friday roundup this week at A Word Edgewise. She's got an In One Word Poem for us today.

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

It's Time to Get Rid of Some "Classics" in Elementary Classrooms

Recently I read this article in School Library Journal--Weeding Out Racism's Invisible Roots: Rethinking Children's Classics by Padma Venkatraman. There is a lot to think about in this article and a lot of actions to take once we do that thinking.

If you follow #DisruptTexts, they've also really pushed my thinking about the books I have in my classroom, the books I read aloud, the books I recommend to students. We are so lucky to have Tricia Ebarvia, Lorena German, Dr. Kim Parker, and Julia Torres pushing our thinking and sharing their expertise. Their mission (stated on their website) it is:

"Disrupt Texts is a crowdsourced, grass roots effort by teachers for teachers to challenge the traditional canon in order to create a more inclusive, representative, and equitable language arts curriculum that our students deserve. It is part of our mission to aid and develop teachers committed to anti-racist/anti-bias teaching pedagogy and practices."

Much of the work around rethinking the canon is connected to secondary classrooms. When we think of the "canon" we think of high school English classes. But there is definitely a canon in elementary schools. There are classic books that we have deemed "must have/must read" titles for our students. There are books that are grade level reads across a school or district. There are books that as individual teachers, we have committed to reading every year in our own classrooms. We hold onto them because we say, "Every child needs to read this book because I loved it." or "Every child needs to read this book because every class I've read it to has loved it."

Much of our commitment to these classics is about nostalgia. I love The Secret Garden and A Little Princess. My mother read both to me when I was in elementary school and I have great personal memories of them. I imagine during my first years of teaching I probably read them aloud to my 4th graders because I believed it was important to share books I loved so my students too could love reading. But when I revisit these books now, I realize the racist (and other) issues in both and would never read them aloud to students now. Dr. Laura Jiménez was the person who helped me understand the role of nostalgia in teacher book choice. In the article, The Overwhelming White, Straight, and Able Face of Children's Literature (Michigan Reading Journal, Fall 2018) she says, "Literacy gatekeepers want to share their experiences with important literature with their students." She then adds, "One major issue literary gatekeepers have is the assumption that a book that was good for them is good for all readers."

I have been thinking about my own personal nostalgia since listening to what Dr. Jiménez says about nostalgia. I have also been thinking of teacher nostalgia. I realize there are several books that were staple read-alouds during my early years in the classroom. I remember reading these books aloud to children and remembering them as anchors for joy around reading. I also remember these books as being popular with students in the years I did not read them aloud.  The Indian in the Cupboard and Touching Spirit Bear are two that stand out to me. At the time, I would have considered these fabulous choices for read aloud and independent reading. They were well reviewed by professional journals, well loved by students and really invited lots of incredible conversations. It didn't take me long to see the racism in The Indian in the Cupboard but in all honesty, it took me a while to give up Touching Spirit Bear. This misrepresentation in this book was less visible to me, but just as harmful. I am thankful for Dr. Debbie Reese's blog for helping me see the things I missed.

There are so many books that we hold onto as teachers and we have to stop. I have learned to recognize and ignore my own nostalgia when choosing books to share in the classroom.  I have learned that I can't let nostalgia get in the way of my professional responsibility. The nostalgia I have for certain books--either from my childhood or as a teacher -- cannot be the excuse I use to justify keeping these books in my classroom. 

Dr. Seuss and Laura Ingalls Wilder are just two authors that elementary teachers tend to hold onto. I recently read this NPR article about the reasons classics have such staying power. One point was, "And when planning lessons from year to year, it's easier for teachers to prioritize books they're already familiar with. But when these books include offensive stereotypes, teachers have to decide whether to continue teaching them and how."

It's time we all take a hard look at our classroom libraries and really look at the books we have, the books we hand to children, the books we use in mini lessons, and the books we choose to read aloud.   We have to ask ourselves questions like --Am I keeping this because I loved it as a child? Am I reading a book aloud because I always start the year with this one? We have to be honest with ourselves about the reasons we keep them.

And then we have to let some of our old favorites go. 

We don't have to let go of the happy memories we personally have of these books, But we must look past our own nostalgia to disrupt the elementary "canon" in our schools and classrooms. 

I am going to end with one more quote from Dr. Laura Jiménez, "You can hold onto the stories that build you at the very same time you are reaching for stories that will help the next generation of readers see themselves and others in this complex world."

Monday, June 29, 2020

White Fragility Cannot Stand Alone

This weekend I posted this piece on Facebook that Dr. Sonja Cherry-Paul had shared--Glorifying White Authors like DiAngelo Erases Decades of Black Writing on Whiteness. As a white woman who has read and recommended White Fragility often, I have been reading and listening to the critiques over the last week. These words from the article stuck out to me:

"Ultimately, the problem here is not that people are eager to read Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility per se but that way too many newcomers to the racial justice movement fail to take the rest of the Black intellectual work as seriously. When white race scholars are revered and seen as exceptional, well-intentioned white Americans risk reading a trendy book by a white expert and not picking up a book by an established Black author at all."

I do see a few people on social media asking us not to read or recommend the book, but most of the messages suggest not reading this one book by a white author INSTEAD OF books by Black scholars who have been studying race and whiteness for decades. We cannot ignore the race work of Black scholars.

For me, White Fragility was an important book. It was a book that helped me see my place in all of this and begin to recognize and change my responses and actions. It may not have been the book, but it may have been the facilitated conversations I had around the book that was important. One important conversation was facilitated by Dr. Laura Jiminez at a Highlights Foundation workshop last summer. So I am not sure if it was the book or the conversations around the book. All I know is that it was one of many books that has been important to my own internal work.

After reading the concerns about the book over the weekend, I wanted to speak to other white women about our reading lives. I think as readers it is time we audit and change our reading lives. Until about 5-10 years ago, most of my reading was centered on white authors. I never really thought about it. I read books recommended by friends, books I noticed in bookstores and books that were reviewed in journals or that made it to a best seller list. What a limited reading life I had.

Then I audited my classroom library and committed to really paying attention to the authors I was bringing into the classroom. But that step alone did not change my life as a reader.

I've had to be honest with myself about a lot of things as a reader. Over the years I've asked myself the following questions:

  • When I look at my reading, do I read mostly books written by white authors?
  • Do I read adult fiction by authors of color? 
  • Is most of my professional reading centered on white authors and experts?
  • Why are most of the books that appear in my social media feeds written by white writers? What does that tell me about my social media feeds? How can I change that?
  • How much of my professional reading life am I committing to reading and learning from scholars of color? 
  • Where does reading about whiteness and anti-racism fit into my reading life?
  • When I recommend books to others, are they mostly books by white authors because those are the books I know best?
  • Who do I rely on for book recommendations?
  • How committed am I to #ownvoices in my personal reading life?

These are just a few of the questions I've been asking myself and I hope others have been too. They are hard questions and I am not always happy with my honest reflections. Although White Fragility was an important book for me on my journey to learn about whiteness and racism, it was only one very small step on the journey. 

I have been working hard over the last few years to unlearn much of what I understand about the world, I've tried to read a variety of authors and to put my trust into those scholars who have been doing this work for decades and decades. In the process I have realized all of the brilliance I have been missing as a reader. I have missed so much --not only in my professional reading but in the fiction books I read. 

This is a stack of books from one of my bookshelves. Some have been read, some are waiting to be read, some have been read several times. I have this huge stack because after finding one book, I hear about others that seem too good not to add to my stack.  My (reading) life is richer because of this. Sadly, I had no idea what I was missing. But what I find is that one book leads me to another which leads me to another which leads me to a new-to-me favorite author, which leads me to new book reviews on Instagram which leads me to more books......

I may change my thoughts about White Fragility. I certainly understand the worries and the criticism and I am going to continue to reflect on those.  One thing I know for sure is that it cannot stand alone. 

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Poetry Friday -- Sand Creek Cottonwoods

Credit for photo

Sand Creek Cottonwoods

At first
the shade
of the gnarled cottonwoods
lining the dry creek bed
is a relief.

Sun blazes
in the cloudless azure sky.

At first
the rustle 
of the cottonwood leaves
in the near-constant wind
is a susurrus.

in the wide silent plains.

But suddenly
the age
of the gnarled cottonwoods
and the dates on the battleground marker
sink in.

These trees witnessed

And now
the rustle 
of the cottonwood leaves
repeats the names of slaughtered elders, women, and children
in a dirge.

in the wide silent plains.

©Mary Lee Hahn, 2020

Back at the end of May, The Poetry Sisters invited All the Rest of Us to join them in their monthly challenges. The challenge for June was to write a poem using the imagery of thick woods and the word susurrus. This got me thinking about how Ohio was 95% forest (actual statistic) before the Europeans got here and made this land into 90% corn and soybean farms (not an actual feels that way, but the Internet tells me it's closer to 50%). I did some research on the bits of old growth forest that remain in Ohio (it might be worth it to visit them all), and learned that they are so old that they are aging out. The oldest (400+ years) oaks and hickories are coming to the end of their lifespans and are being replaced by maples and beeches.

Research is all well and good, but I don't have a natural affinity with thick woods because there aren't that many trees on the arid high plains of eastern Colorado where I grew up. So I was a little stuck. Then, last weekend, I got unstuck in a completely roundabout way. I attended the (virtual, of course) Inclusive STEM/CS Summit. Two of the presenters began with a slide stating, "I am presenting on land stolen from the...(insert name of tribe)." This got me thinking about the Native inhabitants of eastern Colorado. Why didn't I know who they were without asking Google? (Arapaho and Cherokee) Why didn't I learn about them in school? Why had I never heard about the Sand Creek Massacre? 

When I read that some of the cottonwoods along Sand Creek date back to the mid-1800's and so could possibly have witnessed the massacre...well, I knew I had my poem, even if the woods there aren't thick in an "East of the Mississippi" way.

Karen has the Poetry Friday Roundup this week at Karen's Got a Blog!

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Dictionary for a Better World--You Will Want More Than One Copy of This Book!

I cannot be a bigger fan of Dictionary for a Better World by Irene Latham and Charles Waters.  WOW!  I was excited about this book when I saw it at NCTE in Baltimore and I spent lots of time skimming and scanning over the past few months. But this week, I sat down to read it cover to cover. And WOW!  I am so glad I gave this book the time it deserved.

This book is brilliant for so many reasons. It seems to me that it belongs in every classroom K-12 and honestly, I don't think one copy of this book will be enough. There is so much here! Irene Latham, Charles Waters and illustrator Mehrdokht Amini have collaborated to create this brilliant piece of writing and art.  

First of all, the book is longer than I realized. I couldn't read it in one sitting as I intended. It is 120ish pages long and each page is worth savoring. 

Jennifer Orr seems to have a great strategy for reading this one:

Wish I had thought of this--it may be my strategy for a rereading.  Each two-page spread is definitely worth savoring.  So much to think about and so many fabulous visuals to add to each idea.

So, the book is set up as an ABC type book--a dictionary in alphabetical order.  Here is the Table of Contents to give you a sense of all that is here.

So, each two-page spread focuses on one of these words--these words that are really big ideas. The word/idea is explored with a poem, a quote, a connected story from either Irene or Charles, amazing illustrations and something to try. It is pretty incredible all that is included on each page-a deep dive into an important idea for a better world.  

I see so many possibilities for this book.  Sharing a two-page spread each day would be an incredible way to start conversations.  There are also conversations about action and narratives that move us to understanding that would come out of this.

I also see this as a mentor for writers. Each poem is a different type of poem and the authors teach us about those forms as we go.  I also think there is a lot for writers to study in terms of short, powerful narratives like the ones included on each page.  And the whole layout and creating a message with several different kinds of writing and images is so powerful. The word choice alone can become the basis for a year of study.

I could not love this book any more.  I am sorry to say I didn't make time to read it cover to cover before this week. Before this week, I knew it was good, but this week, I realized that it is more than good, it is brilliant for so many reasons.

As an added bonus, you can hear Charles Waters share several of the poems in the book here.

This is definitely a book you want to make time for this summer. It is one you will want for your home, classroom or library.  Order lots!

(I am happy to know I will be able to talk to others about this book as part of the Book Love Foundation's Summer Book Club this month!)

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Poetry Friday -- WOKE

"To be WOKE is to understand that equality and justice for some is not equality and justice at all. We must stay alert. We must ask hard questions. We must stand for what is right--even when it is difficult and scary." --Mahogany L. Browne in the Introduction to WOKE: A Young Poet's Call to Justice

This collection of 24 poems by Mahogany L. Browne, Elizabeth Acevedo and Olivia Gatwood (plus an introduction poem by Jason Reynolds) is a primer for young people and their elders as we move into a new era of social justice. These are poems for self-acceptance and the acceptance of others, poems for both action and introspection.

More than anything, these are poems that encourage the reader to use their voice to make change in the world.

Pair these poems with National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, Jason Reynold's "GRAB THE MIC: Tell Your Story" platform through the Library of Congress.

Teachers, get ready to listen more and to encourage your students to talk back, to own and use their voices. Be ready to say to them
...stand up straight
lock your shoulders
open your chest
and say your human things so I can hear
you 'cross the room
'cross the world
over all this noise. 
(From Jason Reynold's introduction poem. Read the whole poem here.)

Tricia has this week's Poetry Friday Roundup at The Miss Rumphius Effect.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Poetry Friday -- Celebrating Nikki Grimes

Peonies have passed the baton to primroses in my garden.

In My Yard

Cat stalking the fledgling on the fence has thievery
in mind. The young bird is
ill-equipped for flight, never
mind lacking the defenses to
protect itself from tooth and claw. Luckily, I will be
the disrupter. In my yard, the value of all lives is condoned.

©Mary Lee Hahn, 2020

This week, the Poetry Friday community celebrates poet and author, Nikki Grimes. One of my favorite of Nikki's books is One Last Word. I fell in love with the golden shovel form through this book, and it taught me so much about the Harlem Renaissance at the same time. 

Today's poem uses the golden shovel form, and the striking line comes from one of the poems Nikki posted on Twitter recently:

is never to be condoned.
Still, let's do some review:
Master muggers
Africa's antiquities,
pirated her ore,
heisted her humans,
and stole the land
on which we stand—
for starters.
TV nabbers?
Amateur grabbers.

Copyright 2020 by Nikki Grimes 6/1/20

Nikki frequently shares about her love of her garden and of nature, so I chose my own garden at the setting for this poem. Nikki is not shy about taking a stand with her poetry. In this poem, "my yard" stands for every place I have influence. I originally used the word "intercessor" instead of "disrupter," but that seemed like too much of a "White Savior" word. I like aligning myself more with those who are disrupting the narrative of White Supremacy, disrupting the canon of Western literature, disrupting the downward spiral of our democracy.

It was Irene's idea that we celebrate Nikki Grimes today, and she's got the Poetry Friday roundup at Live Your Poem.

(There's one slot still open on the roundup schedule for July-December...)

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

If You Change Nothing, Nothing Will Change

I love this story.

It used to mean just one thing to me: the importance of the individual, working against all odds to make change.

It still means that, but now it means so much more. I am learning to read the world through a more critical lens. I understand that framing action with individuality is a privilege that comes with my white skin. Now I see the hummingbird as Black people working tirelessly to put out the fires of racism while all the other animals are transfixed and made helpless by the raging fire. Especially the elephant. The elephant in the room. The elephant of Whiteness and white privilege, who holds so much power and could easily make a big difference in putting out the fire.

Now this story is reminding me that no matter how much good I (an individual) do in the world, the real power is in the We (lots of us working together).

That brings me to the quote in the title of this post, which has been haunting me these past several weeks as I thought of myself as the I, rather than the We. In my life in the past several weeks, nothing much has changed. Oh, I'm reading more, learning more, planning for better units of study, volunteering, protesting, donating...but my life has not been substantially changed by the events of the past month. Not by the police brutality, not even (too much) by the pandemic. Me, me, me.

However, when I look at myself as a part of different groups (We), I know that collectively, WE are making a difference.

I belong to NCTE, and WE are making a difference in centering the scholarship and expertise of Black members in all kinds of ongoing events that educate and empower teachers to address issues of race and justice in our classrooms and to work to change the systematic racism in education.

I belong to a Blessings in a Backpack delivery team, and WE are making a difference in our school community by delivering food to families in need on a weekly basis.

I belong to a local community who will no longer patronize a favorite restaurant that has left in place problematic policies and has refused to support Black employees. WE are making a difference by carefully choosing what businesses to support.

Perhaps my life doesn't seem to have changed much (me, me, me), but OUR world is changing.

WE are making a difference.
We ARE making a difference.
We are making a DIFFERENCE.

Every hummingbird drop of change makes a difference. Hummingbird drops of change can inspire elephant trunks full of change. It all matters. Every action toward justice is necessary.

Saturday, June 06, 2020

Who Am I Learning From Today?

When I cleaned out my classroom last month, I grabbed this sign that was at the front of our classroom. It was one that we talked about often, formally and informally.  The idea that thinking with other people grows individual and collective understanding is a huge idea I want my students to leave the year with.  I also want them to see the power in thinking with different individuals--to not only working with their good friends or people they knew well.  I brought the sign home and hung it on the bulletin board in my office as a reminder to me, to hold myself accountable to that same thinking when it comes to my own learning.

Many of us have done better at diversifying the children's literature in our classrooms. We've been intentional about that thanks to groups like We Need Diverse BooksThe Brown BookshelfLee & Low#disrupttexts and many other organizations and groups who are doing this work. Many of us have also started reading more about issues of race and racism. Last week, I wrote about books that have been critical to my internal work toward being anti-racist (You Can't Be Neutral).  For me, reading books has become a commitment to study and a commitment to daily action and I shared a bit of that thinking too. (Beyond Reading Books About Race and Racism) But this week, I've been thinking about intentionally expanding my network--really thinking about who it is that I learn from and with professionally. I have been thinking about this for a while but again, I have not done enough. These were just the first steps that I am going to build on.

Last year, the May 2019 #31DaysIBPOC blog posts were so important to my own learning.  These posts pushed my thinking and learning every day. And I realized in the middle of May last year, that this series was about far more for me than the individual blog posts.  Each day, I was introduced to someone who had a whole body of work. So even though I knew a handful of the contributors last year, I added 15-20 new educators to my list of people I learn from.  (If you don't know #31DaysIBPOC, you can read the statement from their website below.). You can read more about the initiative here.

This year, May was a busier than usual with the end of the school year and remote learning. So I didn't have the time I needed for #31DaysIBPOC.  I had hoped to read these posts each day as they were published, but I missed far too many days. So over the next two weeks, as I catch up on the posts, I also want to catch up on getting to know the writers and their work.  I glanced at the page and I know the work of about half of the people who wrote this year.  So in these next two weeks, I'll be reading the 31 blog posts and I'll also be intentional about catching up on the work of the writers I know and also studying the work of those I don't know.  I'll find them on social media and follow and I'll try to read some of their other work. There is so much expertise out there and I am committing time each day to learning from people I've known and new people I discover through experts I've come to trust.

Dr. Tracey Flores is another person who has introduced me to people through her Scholar Stories series.  In each post, Dr. Flores introduces us to a scholar with questions and answers we can learn from. She also includes Twitter handles or other social media links so that we can  continue to learn from these incredible women.  I caught a few of these on Facebook as Dr. Flores shared, but I want to really spend time digging into the work of these incredible educators.

And of course, there are the hashtags. I have recently relied on #educolor, #cleartheair, #disrupttexts and #diversityjedi So many important conversations happening on social media.  And it's not just about following a hashtag--these hashtags have been a starting place for me to see how limited my professional circle has been and to grow it intentionally.  To listen and learn from those speaking in these spaces, to pay attention to resources they offer and to follow people that they shout out.

In my talk at NCTE  in November, I said,

We have to expand our networks to honestly reflect on the day-to-day work we are doing in our classrooms and schools. Whether it is being open to learning so that we can find books that better represent the students we teach, or whether the learning helps us rethink the school traditions we have around Thanksgiving or whether the learning helps us to revise the ways we are using technology to better match what it means to be literate today. We need to listen in a way that allows us to grow and change our thinking. That won’t happen unless we intentionally expand the circles of people we learn from and with.

When we think about our own literacy, we have to be reflective and make sure we are the learners we want our students to be. As Peter Johnston reminds us, “Listening is the foundation of conversation and it requires that we are open to the possibility of changing our thinking. A turn to talk is not simply an opportunity to say what you have to say and allow someone else to do the same” (102). I think this is true for the students in our classrooms and for us as educators in real or virtual spaces. Am I joining the conversation with a learner stance or am I just looking to confirm my own beliefs or waiting for my turn to talk?

I've learned that so much of my work as a white woman is about listening and learning. So, I revisit my own words often to check myself.  Am I doing (every day) the things I committed to doing to grow my network? Am I doing enough listening and learning? Am I turning my learning into action?

There are lots of ways to grow your network and lots of questions to ask ourselves as educators. These are the questions I've been asking myself over the last year:

  • Who am I learning from professionally? What are the professional books that I'm reading? Am I reading and learning from the same people over and over or am I committed to finding resources that push my thinking and expand my understandings?

  • What workshops and webinars am I attending? Do I typically learn from panels of white educators who have been doing work around literacy? Am I listening to the same people/circles of people over and over?

  • Who am I reading when it comes to adult fiction and children's literature? Whose social media accounts do I follow to find new books? How can I expand that? 

And this week, I am asking myself new questions based on my realizations and the gaps I have noticed in the last two weeks:

  • Where am I buying my books? Which companies am I supporting? Am I supporting independent booksellers that have common values or am I buying from companies who support racist policies?

  • Who do I know in my local community? How can I find the leaders locally and find ways to support local efforts? Which community leaders do I not know or learn from yet?

Going back to my question Who Am I Thinking With Today? is a way to hold myself accountable to expanding my network and doing more listening and learning from others who have committed their professional lives to this work. 

Thursday, June 04, 2020

Poetry Friday -- Call for Roundup Hosts

It's that time again. Six months have passed since last we queued up to host the Poetry Friday roundups.

If you'd like to host a roundup between July and December 2020, leave your choice(s) of date(s) in the comments. I'll update regularly to make it easier to see which dates have been claimed.

What is the Poetry Friday roundup? A gathering of links to posts featuring original or shared poems, or reviews of poetry books. A carnival of poetry posts. Here is an explanation that Rene LaTulippe shared on her blog, No Water River, and here is an article Susan Thomsen wrote for the Poetry Foundation.

Who can do the Poetry Friday roundup? Anyone who is willing to gather the links in some way, shape, or form (Mr. Linky, "old school" in the comments-->annotated in the post, or ???) on the Friday of your choice. If you are new to the Poetry Friday community, jump right in, but perhaps choose a date later on so that we can spend some time getting to know each other.

How do you do a Poetry Friday roundup? If you're not sure, stick around for a couple of weeks and watch...and learn! One thing we're finding out is that folks who schedule their posts, or who live in a different time zone than you, appreciate it when the roundup post goes live sometime on Thursday.

How do I get the code for the PF Roundup Schedule for the sidebar of my blog? You can grab the list from the sidebar here at A Year of Reading, or I'd be happy to send it to you if you leave me your email address. You can always find the schedule on the Kidlitosphere Central webpage.

Why would I do a Poetry Friday Roundup? Community, community, community. It's like hosting a poetry party on your blog!

And now for the where and when:

3    Linda at A Word Edgewise
17  Jan at Bookseedstudio w/optional theme: FLOAT
24  Margaret at Reflections on the Teche
31  Catherine at Reading to the Core

14  Molly at Nix the Comfort Zone
21  Ramona at Pleasures from the Page

4   Carol at Beyond LiteracyLink
11  Kiesha at Whispers From the Ridge
18  Matt at Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme
25  Jone at Deo Writer

9   Bridget at wee words for wee ones
16  Janice at Salt City Verse
23  Jama at Jama's Alphabet Soup
30  Linda at TeacherDance

6    Susan at Soul Blossom Living
20  Suzy at The Poetry Garden
27  Carol at Carol's Corner

4    Mary Lee at A Year of Reading
11  Buffy at Buffy Silverman
18  Michelle at Michelle Kogan
25  Irene at Live Your Poem

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

Lessons From a Bike Ride

There are two kinds of hills on my morning bike rides. 

There's one that's a short but intensely steep climb. Yesterday, I had to stand up on my pedals to make it to the top, and when I got there, a jogger cheered for me, impressed that I made it all the way.

The other is the long, steady incline that gets me home. I made it to the top of that one, too, but there was no one there to cheer for me or be impressed by me.

I've been thinking about those two hills while I continue to process the words of Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds during Sunday's The Author Village livestream, especially the comparison of living with my own racism to an addict living with their addiction. An alcoholic's work is never complete. They are never not an alcoholic. Every day is a long, steady incline. The same is true of my racism. I can't expect to get to the top of one steep climb (with cheerleaders at the top) and be done. Every day I need to wake up asking myself, "What will you do today to recognize and correct your own racism and the racism of the society in which you live?"

There are two kinds of hills on my morning bike rides.

Both kinds of hills will make me a stronger biker. There are also long sections where the way is flat and the riding is easy. I will not let those parts make me complacent. I will not seek out rides that are completely level. Because, while I know that

there are two kinds of hills on my morning bike rides,

I also know that there are mountains out there to scale as well. Let's get going.

Monday, June 01, 2020

Beyond Reading Books About Race: A Lifelong Commitment to Study and Action

Last week, I posted a list of books that have been helpful to me on this journey toward anti-racism.  Over the past several years, I have committed a great deal of time to reading books and learning, unlearning, relearning, reflecting. I have realized that reading books is not enough, not even really enough as a first step and I wanted to share my thinking about that today.

A few weeks ago I picked up the book Lifting as We Climb: Black Women's Battle for the Ballot Box.  It was a book recommended by Julia Torres (@juliaerin80). I buy pretty much anything Julia recommends.  I know that I do not know enough about women's history and a friend called me out/in a few years ago for not knowing the history between white and black women.  And I've been trying to understand that history for years. I have been trying to learn more and this book seemed perfect. Since it was middle grade I figured it would be a quick read.

But it ended up that this book is REALLY difficult for me. It is brand new information. Names and events that I know almost zero about. I felt like I was back in high school reading a science textbook about a topic I had zero background knowledge for.  And I felt a lot of shame and guilt and sadness and anger. How could I be in my mid 50s and not know these things? How could I be having so much trouble understanding all of the important information in this book that I so wanted to read? How could these stories have ALL been missing from the women's history work that I've read and learned over a lifetime.

So, I made a new plan for getting through the book. I now have the book in three formats--audio, eBook and hardback. And I will take it slowly and give myself time to really understand it, cross reference, reread and research/dig in when needed.  I also ordered two other books (Hood Feminism and They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South (thanks to Shekema Dunlap for sharing) and have committed to spending a chunk of time this summer relearning much of what I thought I knew about women's history with a focus on race issues.

Because here's the thing. When people share books, it is not about just reading books. I do not share these books in the same ways I share great read aloud or new series books I've discovered.  For me, this work is about STUDY.  It is about a long-term commitment to study and learn and grow and act.  The books I shared on my list are not quick reads, they are not easy reads. They are not the books you read for leisure. These are books that become part of a study because  study is part of the commitment.

Yesterday I was fortunate to be able to attend The Author Village event with Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. I always learn when I hear these two speak and share their understandings and insights. So many things said by both Jason and Brendan yesterday pushed my thinking. Two things that Brendan said really stuck with me.

Brendan Kiely said part of the work is asking himself this question, "What are you doing today? Have I done enough?"

With this question, he reminds us that this is lifelong work. Both internal work and external work. That we will never do enough. But it's a commitment to do something EVERY DAY.

And then he says that part of this work is asking yourself:

"How much of my day do I spend learning so I can speak to it when asked to?"

How much of my day do I spend learning?

What I am realizing is that books and reading have been so important to my learning. But the fact that this journey is a lifelong commitment to study and action means that books are just a piece of the study.  When we commit to this work, we commit to talking to others, being intentional about who we follow on social media, being intentional about who we learn from and with, intentional about listening and learning.  We commit to spending time studying the work of people who have been doing this work for decades instead of reading a fun novel by our favorite author.  We make this work a priority-something we commit to every day. It is all of those things and so much more.

Jennifer Gonzalez (@cultofpedagogy) said it well in her Twitter thread this weekend.

Somewhere along the way, I realized that I've progressed from reading a book and talking about it with others to making a lifelong commitment to do this work.  To every day think about what I don't know and how I can fix that.  And then as Brenden Kiely said, "so I can speak to it when asked to". I hope all of this reading and all of these books help give me more knowledge and understanding to speak up.

One of my favorite quotes is from Laura Jimenez (@booktoss).

"This is why it is called THE WORK and not cake."

Once this quote appeared on a t-shirt, I purchased one immediately. It is so true.

When I see things like the Me and White Supremacy Challenge  and Dayton's YWCA's 21-Day Challenge (Thanks Stella Villaba for sharing), I see that it is a way to commit every single day.  It is a way to commit to study and to learning. It is a hope that these 21 days build a habit of study that continues for a lifetime.

I've realized that since writing the post sharing books, that this work must be about more than reading a few books.  As a white woman trying to learn all that I don't know and to understand so much, the move from going from reading books to committing to study and commitment was a subtle one but so important for my own internal work.

So if during this week, you decided to buy a book or a few books and you decided to read them alone,  or with friends, be honest about the commitment you are willing to give to this work. How can it become a priority every day? Think about the question Brendan Kiely asked on the webinar last night:

"How much of my day do I spend learning 
so I can speak to it when asked to?"

Thursday, May 28, 2020

The Poetry Friday Roundup is Here!

Gene Luen Yang was the National Ambassador of Young People's Literature way back in 2016, but his "Reading Without Walls Challenge" is as important as ever. He challenged readers to 
1. Read a book about a character who doesn’t look like you or live like you.

2. Read a book about a topic you don’t know much about.

3. Read a book in a format that you don’t normally read for fun. This might be a chapter book, a graphic novel, a book in verse, a picture book, or a hybrid book.
I spent this morning Reading Without Walls while learning about the poet Marilyn Chin. She doesn't look like me or live like me, and I was not familiar with her poetry. I "read" in a format I don't normally "read" for fun: I watched an hour-long video! The Library of Congress "Life of a Poet" session featuring Marilyn Chin being interviewed by Ron Charles of the Washington Post is worth every minute. 

Marilyn Chin identifies as a activist poet, exploring the issues of the day as well as the intersection of Asian and American worlds through her roots in Hong Kong (she lived there until the age of 7) and Portland, Oregon. The themes/topics of language (loss of language, loss of culture, loss of ancestors), names, identity, culture, and feminism shine through as you watch the "Life of a Poet" session. Plus, she's witty, sarcastic, and quick to laugh!

Here are a couple of Marilyn Chin's poems you should know (if you don't already):

How I Got That Name
by Marilyn Chin

an essay on assimilation

I am Marilyn Mei Ling Chin 
Oh, how I love the resoluteness 
of that first person singular 
followed by that stalwart indicative 
of "be," without the uncertain i-n-g 
of "becoming." Of course, 
the name had been changed 
somewhere between Angel Island and the sea, 
when my father the paperson 
in the late 1950s 
obsessed with a bombshell blond 
transliterated "Mei Ling" to "Marilyn."

The Floral Apron
by Marilyn Chin

The woman wore a floral apron around her neck,
that woman from my mother’s village
with a sharp cleaver in her hand.
She said, “What shall we cook tonight?
Perhaps these six tiny squid
lined up so perfectly on the block?”

(read the rest at

In her career as a poet, Marilyn Chin has won just about every award, but the one that impresses me most is the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, which she was awarded in 2015. Am I the last person on the planet to have heard of this award? It is the national prize for literature that confronts racism and examines diversity. Why is this not the most celebrated book award in the nation? Why is there not a version for children's literature?

So...what inspired me to learn about Marilyn Chin today? NCTE is offering a webinar conversation with Marilyn Chin, in conjunction with the Library of Congress, and I get to be the member who facilitates this conversation! The event is open to both members and nonmembers of NCTE, so sign up and join us on June 11!

Now let's hear what you're thinking and learning about! Share your link in the comments and I'll round us up old-school!

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Stop over and wish Michelle Kogan a Happy Birthday!


Michelle has the Poems of Presence Wrap Up Celebration at Today's Little Ditty.

Molly shares another week of poems of presence, some paired with photos at Nix the Comfort Zone.

Linda's poems of presence have given her some "at-ease" time this month. Find a few recent poems at A Word Edgewise.

Christie, at Wondering and Wandering, rounds up her #poemsofpresence for the week.


The Poetry Sisters are looking back, and Tricia, at The Miss Rumphius Effect, has an EPIC look-back at a crown sonnet that didn't happen. Spoiler alert -- there's a happy ending to the story.

Sara, at Read Write Think, gave herself multiple throwback challenges with a new numeric poem to pair with an older alphabetic poem. The final result is a stunner with Big Truth in the conclusion.

Tanita, at [fiction, instead of lies], revisits the lai form from the Poetry Sisters’ 2017 challenge.

Poetry Princess Laura, at Poems for Teachers, found a poem inside one of her previous poems that sends positive vibes to her sister on a ventilator in ICU.

Liz, at Liz Garton Scanlon, wrote the pantoum she didn’t write in 2018.

Rebecca, at Rebecca Holmes, looks back to the moment she knew she'd be a scientist, but still didn't know she'd be the physicist she is today.


Ruth, at There is no such thing as a God-forsaken town, shares Langston Hughes’ “Let America Be America Again,” a poem that is as true today as it was when it was published in 1936.

Jone, at Deo Writer, finds her thoughts about the current news continuing to churn, even when she seeks solace in nature.

Jama, at Jama’s Alphabet Soup, has two poems and a gallery of portraits honoring our elderly.

Alan, at Poetry Pizazz, is on the same wavelength as Hubby – missing his coffee shop, but adapting/flourishing at home.

Joyce, at Musings, shares a poem by Emily Dickinson that reminds us we don’t need to be in a building to worship.

Janice, at Salt City Verse, speaks out against the death of George Floyd, but finds solace, optimism, and symbolism in her garden.

Catherine, at Reading to the Core, found the perfect poem to inspire her online learners.

MSheehan, at A Few Words, wrote an inspirational poem of personal conviction based on recent events.

Linda, at TeacherDance, took April’s challenge last week at Teaching Authors and wrote an In One Word poem that knocks it out of the ballpark.

Margaret, at Reflections on the Teche, also took April’s challenge and wrote an In One Word poem that takes shelter in an EMBRACE.


Liz, at Liz Steinglass, wrote from Marjory Maddox’s book INSIDE OUT.

Heidi, at my juicy little universe, was inspired by Billy Collins’ Master Class.

Linda, at Write Time, has a poem about the robins outside her window.

Amy LV, at The Poem Farm, has a delightful free verse poem and offers us the invitation, “to begin a poem with the lines, "If you need someone..."

Leigh Anne, at A Day in the Life, wrote about her mother’s struggle with early dementia.

Tim, at Yet There is Method, is in with a poem about intention and roots. 

Rose, at Imagine the Possibilities, captured (literally) a very sweet moment with a wren.

Bridget, at Wee Words for Wee Ones, has a puppy poem (and pictures), plus some more Wee-sources.

Karen, at Karen’s Got a Blog!, is enjoying her garden extra-much this year.

Amy, at Book Buzz, shares a poetic memory of her grandmother’s teacups.

Carol, at Beyond LiteracyLink, has a mini-gallery of woodside goodness for calming our spirits today.

Matt, at Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme, dusts off a post from seven years ago that feels as fresh as yesterday!

Sally, at Sally Murphy, is mourning the damage done to “her” beach after recent storms…but she’s also looking for a silver lining.

Buffy, at Buffy Silverman, intended to write a poem of NOW, but wound up with a beautiful poem of THEN.

Irene, at Live Your Poem, writes the truth in her newest ArtSpeak: RED poem.

Susan, at Soul Blossom Living, found inspiration for both art and poetry in the bunnies she encountered on the sidewalk.

Donna, at Mainely Write, checks in with a poem of struggle and hope.


Tabatha, at The Opposite of Indifference, shares a poem by the Australian poet Judith Wright that makes a very reasonable request of This Year.

Little Willow, at Slayground, shares a fun excerpt of a Marge Piercy poem.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

You Can't Be Neutral

Yesterday, I couldn't get anything accomplished. I spent the day horrified and angry by the events of the day.

Just weeks after two men were arrested for killing Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd was killed by police officers in Minneapolis.

And then Amy Cooper.  I watched the video of Amy Cooper calling 9-1-1 and then read Ibram X. Kendi's words on Twitter.

And, I have been thinking about the words and Ibram X. Kendi's response to Amy Cooper's apology.

And then I read this important piece by Ibram X. Kendi's in The Atlantic, 

"You can either be racist or you can be antiracist. 
You can't be neutral."

As a white woman, I have learned that much of being anti-racist has to start with a commitment to do a lot of internal work. I am grateful for the many people writing and sharing and having honest conversations with me,  so that I can begin the internal work needed to be anti-racist.

For me, reading and reflecting has been important for starting this internal work.  A few years ago I started a Padlet where I collected articles and posts that were important--that helped me reflect and begin to unlearn.

But it's the books, the deep dives into the issues of race, white fragility and racism that have been most powerful for me. This is a lifelong journey and these books have helped me begin. I've shared these books over and over and over in workshops and professional meetings.

These books are not easy reads. They are books that pushed me to reflect and realize and unlearn. These are the books that have been important to me so far and I highly recommend each one.  And I highly recommend following each of these authors on social media and then following people whose work they cite and share. And when you finish with these. find more to read and study and unlearn all of the racist ideas you may have.

Stamped by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi

White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo

This Book is Anti-Racist by Tiffany Jewell

My first step in this anti-racist work is to do my own internal work and these books have been helpful so far.  I've read them and I've also bought them for people I know. But this is only the first step.
As I mentioned early, this is a lifelong journey. So much catching up to do in this work. So I have a summer stack started.  I have found that audiobooks are a great way to experience some of these books. I have also found that I can't read these books cover to cover--I need time as I read to process, reflect and reread.  These are not quick reads.  I have found that every book and author I find leads me to another. So, on my stack this summer I have:

(finish) How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi (I've started the on audio but need to spend more time with it each day so that I can finish it.)

An Indigenous People's History of the United States for Young People by Jean Mendoza, Debbie Reese and Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz (I've started this one but need to finish and reread more deeply.)

Me and White Supremecy by Layla F. Saad

Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall

Lifting as We Climb by Evette Dionne

Dark Sky Rising by Henry Louis Gates Jr.

I can't think about yesterday's news without connecting these two events and without doing something. I know reading is not enough but it has been an important step for me and one I hope more people take.