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.