Thursday, April 30, 2009

Poetry Month -- Zorgamazoo

by Robert Paul Weston
illustrated by Victor Rivas
Penguin Young Readers Group, 2008

Yes, I know I already reviewed this book. That was before I read it aloud to my fourth graders. That was before it was selected for the short list of the E.B. White Read Aloud Awards. That was before I heard the author reading the first couple of chapters on his blog. (You can read the first chapter here, and the Zorgamazoo website is here.)

I'd like to end the 2009 National Poetry Month by encouraging the ABC Booksellers who are voting for the winner of the E.B. White Read Aloud Award to choose Zorgamazoo, and by encouraging every teacher of grades 3-6 to read this book aloud.

You've never read anything like it (283 pages of rhyming verse) but it won't take long at all for you to see how fun it is to read aloud (it positively lends itself to dramatic expression). Your students might start off as slightly reluctant listeners, but it won't take long at all for them to be drawn into the story, to notice the irony of Morty becoming a hero by winning the hero lottery rather than doing something heroic, to predict why all the creatures are imprisoned on the moon by Dullbert Hohummer, the Third, and to cheer when it's time for read aloud every day.

Happy Poetry Month 2009! It's been great fun!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Poetry Month -- all the small poems and fourteen more

all the small poems and fourteen more
by Valerie Worth
illustrated by Natalie Babbitt
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1994

Are you ready for Poem in Your Pocket Day tomorrow? If not, grab this classic and open to any page to find a small poem just right for tucking in your pocket to share with anyone who will listen!

Here's a perfect one to celebrate those wildflowers which have been appearing in our lawn the last couple of weeks, and which so many of us have such a hard time loving:


Out of
Green space,
A sun:
Bright for
A day, burning
Away to
A husk, a
Cratered moon:

In a week
To dust:
The infinite
Lawn with
Its starry

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Poetry Month -- Basketball

Hoop Kings
by Charles R. Smith
Candlewick Press, 2004

Hoop Queens
by Charles R. Smith
Candlewick Press, 2003

I don't know much about basketball, but I do know that these two books pass the test with the sports fans (mostly boys) in my classroom. They are pulled in by the famous players, the bold colors, and the action photography. Once they're hooked, they find poems of many forms, including rhyming, free verse, acrostic, and rap.

Here's part of Sheryl Swoopes' poem, "All That:"

The Point Leader
Stat Line Feeder,
OT Buzzer-Beater.
The Board Snatcher
Bullet Pass Catcher,
charging hard
The Lane Spinner
championship Winner,
coast to coast
finger-roll finisher.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Poetry Month -- Imaginary Menagerie

Imaginary Menagerie: A Book of Curious Creatures
by Julie Larios
illustrated by Julie Paschkis
Harcourt, 2008

Sometimes you just have to be patient and know that the right books will find the right readers eventually. IMAGINARY MENAGERIE has been in my poetry collection the whole school year, but last Friday it was "discovered."

Two girls chose it for Poetry Friday and asked to read a poem without telling us the title to see if we could guess what it was about. Many of the students guessed. Can you?

How can a beast speak
with a stone tongue,
with a stone throat?
My mouth is a rainspout. I screech. I shout.
How can a beast fly
with stone wings?
I fly when the bells ring and the hunchback is home.
Does a stone beast sleep
in a stone nest?
I am on guard. I never rest.

Did you guess Gargoyle? If you did, you were right!

I think we'll come back to this poem next week. When we wrote acrostics, we made the rule that you couldn't use your "key word," your vertical word, anywhere in the poem. The poem had to be about that word without using it. That's exactly what Julie Larios does in each of these poems. That's exactly what we want our young writers to do when we ask them to, "Show; don't tell."

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Poetry Month: What Can You Do With An Old Red Shoe?

WHAT CAN YOU DO WITH AN OLD RED SHOE by Anna Alter is not a poetry book. But a poem introduces each page.  This book is "a green activity book about reuse".  Each 2 page spread starts out with a short poem--often a rhyming poem--one that tells the story of something that happened so that something can no longer be used for its original intent.  For example, one flip flop gets lost, a shirt gets tattered, and crayons get worn out from use.  

Following each poem is a question such as "What can you do with bits of old crayon?"

The rest of the two-page spread gives us instructions (with adorable illustrations) on something to make in order to reuse the item. We learn to make a planter from an old shoe, a pillow from an old t-shirt and more.

I love a lot about this book. It has great examples of how-to writing. Step by step instructions written with details and illustrated too. I also like the predictable format.  The idea that a poem can start each page by setting up the story is a fun one and I think kids could try this in their own writing.

A book that isn't quite a poetry book, but one that uses poems in an innovative way. And I love the message about reusing objects.  At the end of the book are more ways you can support reuse and recycling as well as hand-sewing tips.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Poetry Month -- Omnibeasts

Omnibeasts: Animal Poems and Paintings
by Douglas Florian
Harcourt, 2004

A. It wouldn't be National Poetry Month without Douglas Florian.

B. It's time to get ready for Poem in Your Pocket Day.

C. OMNIBEASTS has 44 short animal poems, each one perfect for carrying in your pocket.

My classroom copy of this book has no less than 6 sticky notes flagging student favorites. Here's one of my favorites, which, coincidentally, features a pocket:

The Kangaroo

The kangaroo loves to leap,
Into the air it zooms,
While baby's fast asleep
Inside its kangaroom.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Poetry Friday -- 15 Words or Less

The little orange fur-ball
stuck in a cage,
the little orange fur-ball
sleeping in a rage.


The cat is tiny
all bright and gold
while it lays in its 


The Game
The game 
where the
cat stares
vicious thoughts
and the dog


I stare at you
you stare back.
When my 
owner comes
you get 
kicked out.


The cat looks at me.
I wag my 
I think he is
my friend.


Ruff Ruff
Meow Meow
Cat scratched --


The cage is strong
tough it is
black like the 
black night sky


the cat is
while the dog is
the cage is
the cage is 


Last Friday, when I told my students that I was going to hear both J. Patrick Lewis and Kay Ryan, the Poet Laureate of the U.S., speak, we had a great discussion about who the Poet Laureate is and what they do in that job. My students decided that they might like to grow up and become poets because, "poets get to break the rules and not use punctuation and capitalization if they don't want to (a discussion we had last week), and then you could become the "head poet" for all of the United States!!!"

We have Achievement tests this week and next. The schedule changes leave us with odd little scraps of time in the day that are perfect for introducing some short forms of poetry and starting our poetry writing unit. 

After I modeled writing a 15 Words or Less poem inspired by another photo and explained my choices of line breaks and repetition of phrases, I put this picture of our cat, Willie Morris, and our friends' dog, Ruby, up on the TV and turned the students loose to write without any explanation of the picture. The students whose poems I'm sharing today wrote them in about 5 minutes!! The variety in these poems is really fun -- the cat, the dog, even the cage!

The story behind the photo is that Willie Morris has taken over Ruby's den. (Ruby was spending the weekend with us.) In fact, when Ruby visits, she has to follow all of Willie's rules. Ruby really really wants to be friends with Will, but he thinks it's more fun to make a big dog do whatever he decides he wants the dog to do. Will has been known to back Ruby into the bedroom and onto her dog bed and refuse to even let her look at him until he was ready!  Isn't it amazing that some of the students captured that attitude in their poems without even knowing the story?!  

For the rest of the month, we'll explore more short forms of poetry -- haiku, limericks, couplets, and acrostics. I'll share some of the students' poems and the picture that was their prompt.

We still need just a couple of Poetry Friday hosts between now and August (see schedule in the sidebar). If you're interested, leave a note in the comments. The round up today is at Under the Covers.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Mentor Texts--My goals for summer

As I have been working with K-5 students, I have been thinking about what it means when we think about creating in a 21st Century world?

I have always been committed to a Reading/Writing Workshop and know the power of books and text for readers and writers to grow. I know that having mentor texts when writing is critical.  But, with the new tools and the new formats for creation, finding mentor pieces for our students becomes a little bit of a challenge.

One of the things I know is that before we can ask kids to create a slide show or a video or a Public Service Announcement, they need lots of experience watching these.  And they also need to learn how to "watch like a writer".  To look at mentor clips and think about what makes them effective. What things did this writer/creator do that you might try?

I remember avoiding PowerPoint when working with teachers for a long time. I loved the flexibility of my transparencies and hadn't seen anyone use it in a way that worked for me.  Then I watched Katie Wood Ray use a PowerPoint in a talk and I was inspired.  She had created something that could work for me.  I used her as a mentor--thinking about what she had done as a PowerPoint creator, that was different from the others I'd seen. What had she done that I could learn from?  I had a vision that made the move to PowerPoint worth it.

As a writing teacher, I know the power of mentors and mentor texts, of keeping a writers' notebook and of writing myself.  If I am going to invite students to create videos, slide shows, etc. I know that having gone through the process myself will be critical. And I know that helping students find mentors that match their needs will be key.

So, my summer goals are two-fold. First, I want to create my own "notebook" of creations. I feel like I need to play with these new tools and collect samples of things I do authentically with the newer tools--What do I photograph and why? When do I send a video of the kids to my parents? How do I use Keynote when I work with teachers?  What am I interested in and how do different tools help me collect, create and communicate?

Second, I want to keep my eye out for quality mentor pieces.  When we expand our definition of author, the questions are the same. I want a collection of clips and pieces that I can use with students as they begin to think about their own creations.  These clips and pieces seem a bit more difficult to find than the books and writing pieces I share with students.  As a teacher, it is the same thinking but different tools. 

Whether my kids are creating poetry or a video Public Service Announcements, the questions are the same--they all revolve around looking at quality work and asking yourself:
 What decisions did this author make in order to create this piece? What makes it effective?

The specifics might be different but I imagine we'll still look at solid leads, word choice, organization--those traits of writing that we know so well. But we will also look at the tech decisions-which might be considered the craft. Why did the author decide on the background music? How does the length of transitions impact the meaning?

When I look at clips with this lens, it is interesting what I find.  The kids are discovering so many things about creation just by watching quality clips and thinking about the decisions made in the creation.

These are two clips I've found this week to begin my collection.  I don't know if I'll ever use them but they'll be in my toolbox:

In this Public Service Announcement encouraging people to get a flu shot, the camera work and the slow motion works to create the drama needed to get the message across. I can envision lots of talk about timing, persuasion, etc. after students watch this.

And I love this clip from Wesley Fryer--"Go Green! Go Electric!". A great clip to show kids that informs viewers--done by kids. The combination of narration and visuals works well and I want to make sure I have lots of examples of pieces by kids.  

I imagine, as with any inquiry, once I share a few of these, the students will find many in their worlds and begin to watch with the eyes of a creator.  These will just begin the conversation. As I continue to reflect on the goals for our students and the definitions of 21st Century Literacies, looking critically and learning from mentor pieces seems key in the process of creation.  

Poetry Month: A Poetry Book For Adults

I don't spend a lot of money on poetry books for myself. I enjoy poetry but I am not one to sit down with an entire book of poems. I have a few but I am picky about the ones I choose to own. One of my very favorites is TEN POEMS TO LAST A LIFETIME by Roger Housden. I picked this up years ago when I was at a conference and I have gone back to it several times since. I love the whole concept of the books and the ways that the poems were chosen.

In the introduction to this book (which alone is worth every penny that you pay for the entire book), Housden says, "Surely, if something, anything is to sustain your attention, your passion, over a lifetime, it must have the capacity to reveal layers of meaning and value in ever-fresh and unexpected ways."

These are poems that you want to keep coming back to. There are poems by Billy Collins, Naomis Shihab Nye, Mary Oliver and others. Each poem is followed by an essay by the author in which he reflects on the poem and the meaning it has for him.

This is one of the Ten Poems series and this is my favorite:-)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Welcome New Blog

Welcome Julie at Raising Readers and Writers to the Kidlitosphere!  She just started her blog and already has some great posts.  Take a minute to visit!

Poetry Month -- A Classic

Good Books, Good Times!
selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins
illustrated by Harvey Stevenson
Harper Collins Publishers, 1990

While Inner Chimes (my recent review here) is my favorite children's book of poetry about poetry and writing poetry, GOOD BOOKS, GOOD TIMES! is my favorite children's book of poetry about books and reading.

On Poetry Friday, early in the year, this is the book I can hand to a reluctant and/or struggling reader, who is guaranteed to find at least one poem (and usually more) that s/he can read. It's quite subversive (pardon the pun) to give such a reader a book about the joys of reading, to trick them into reciting words they don't believe yet, but probably will by the end of fourth grade with me and my room full of books.

Here's one that's often recited on Poetry Friday:

by Jack Prelutsky

I met a dragon face to face
the year when I was ten,
I took a trip to outer space,
I braved a pirates' den,
I wrestled with a wicked troll,
and fought a great white shark,
I trailed a rabbit down a hole,
I hunted for a snark.

I stowed aboard a submarine,
I opened magic doors,
I traveled in a time machine,
and searched for dinosaurs,
I climbed atop a giant's head,
I found a pot of gold,
I did all this in books I read
when I was ten years old.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Poetry Month: Songs for Young Children

There has not been much talk of songs during National Poetry Month. I have found that so many of my students buy into poetry when they realize that songs are often a form of poetry.  So today, to celebrate National Poetry Month I wanted to share some great song videos I have found online.  These are great fun for children to listen to and to watch. But I am also thinking that with programs like Animationish and others that are available, I can see kids creating animated videos and art like this to go with favorite songs.  Can you imagine how this can tie into Garageband?  I think the possibilities are endless.  But, just as importantly, these songs are FUN! A great joyful way to celebrate words with our students. Enjoy!  

Some of my favorite songs and sites:

The Elephant Song (and all of the others by Eric Herman)

Monday, April 20, 2009

Another Book I Could Read a Million Times

I have found one more book that I think I could read a million times. If you haven't read One Giant Leap by Robert Burleigh, I would highly recommend it. This book just came out and is celebrating the 40th Anniversary of our first trip to the moon. On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldridge were the first to step on the moon. This book tells about the trip from the time the Eagle took off to the time the astronauts landed. The book captures the power of the trip and the emotions of the astronauts well.

Mike Wimmer's illustrations are amazing. Most are dark as the moon would have looked when they landed. The details show so many things about the trip and the feel of the illustrations matches the feel of the world when the astronauts stepped out on the moon.

The language in the book is one that makes it a perfect read aloud. Yesterday, I read it to 3rd, 4th and 5th grade classes and they were glued. Not much of a sound from any group that I read it to. And kids this age take space travel for granted. But somehow the author and illustrator helped them relive the excitement of the moment in this book.

Following the read aloud, many of the kids found the original film of the moon landing on the internet. They watched and were excited to see what they had just read about and to hear Neil Armstrong's actual voice saying, "One small step for man. One giant leap for mankind." (On a side note, kids had heard spinoffs of this famous quote on Spongebob and other shows and had no idea what the origin of the quote was...) Within minutes they found information on Neil Armstrong, clips of the trip, information on more recent space travel news.

It isn't often that a nonfiction picture book can capture history so clearly and so powerfully. Often, I read aloud a picture book and kids learn but this one actually allows the children who take space travel for granted, to feel the excitement and thrill of the day. For the astronauts who lived it and for the world who watched.

Poetry Month -- Acrostics

Spring: An Alphabet Acrostic
by Stephen Schnur
illustrated by Leslie Evans
Clarion Books, 1999

I've written before about my pet peeve with acrostics: most teachers allow children to write a word vertically down their page, write a word that starts with each of the letters, and call it a poem. In my mind, a poem needs to say something, not just be a list of words. That's why Stephen Schnur's Alphabet Acrostic books have been key mentor texts in my classroom for modeling acrostics that say something.

Interestingly, Stephen Schnur does not think of himself as a poet. I learned this when he was featured at Miss Rumphius' Poetry Makers series this month.
"Though some have called my acrostic books poetry, I think of them as word play, as solutions to problems of verbal geometry."
Verbal geometry. I like that. Maybe that's what all of poetry is, after all. Schnur gives himself an additional challenge in his four seasonal acrostic books by making them alphabet books as well.

Here is one of my favorite spring acrostics by Stephen Schnur:

Green leaves overhead, a
Rug of green underfoot,
And the air between
Sweet with the green
Smell of spring.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Poetry Saturday: J. Patrick Lewis and Kay Ryan

I had just about the best poetry day ever yesterday! It started at Cover to Cover bookstore with Tim Bowers and J.Patrick Lewis for the launch of their book, FIRST DOG. We heard the story of how talent and timing and luck resulted in the right book at the right...nay, the PERFECT time. FIRST DOG, written by Lewis and one of his daughters (talent), was originally about an all-American mutt who travels the world trying to find his ancestry. When Obama promised his daughters that they could have a dog when they moved to the White House, the manuscript just happened to be in the hands of Pat's editor (timing) when the publisher wished out loud that they had a dog book for this occasion. Tim Bowers, who also lives in central Ohio and who has been friends with Pat for a dozen or more years (Pat and Tim have often wished they could work together, but authors are not often allowed the luxury of picking their illustrator) and who has become somewhat well-known for his dog illustrations, was chosen as the illustrator. (luck, but also talent, and timing: "It's about TIME we got to work together!!") FIRST DOG takes the reader around the world as he looks for the right home. In the course of his travels, he meets dogs of the breeds that originated in various countries and wonders if he could live there with them. (Information about each breed is on the endpapers.) Ultimately, he finds his way back home to the U.S. and notices an article in a newspaper about the search for a dog for the White House. He trots on over to the back door of the White House, and is greeted by two children (seen only from the knees down to the spangly sparkly tennis shoes) who ask their dad if they can keep him. Can you guess what dad says? First Dog by J. Patrick Lewis and Beth Zappitello illustrated by Tim Bowers Sleeping Bear Press in stores April 15, 2009 First Dog bonus tracks: an original First Dog poem by J. Patrick Lewis here, and another by Rebecca Kai Dotlich here. Stay tuned for a YouTube video of Pat reading FIRST DOG to an audience of dogs! Edited to add: the video is up HERE! I had to leave Cover to Cover before the party ended, which was before even half of the autographing line had snake past the signing table. Lucky for me, the staff at CTC and Pat and Tim were understanding and accommodating, so my copy of FIRST DOG and my stack of not-yet-signed-by-Pat poetry books from my classroom collection were waiting for me later in the afternoon. Why the rush? Kay Ryan, Poet Laureate of the United States of America, was speaking at Columbus State Community College!! About the position of Poet Laureate, from the Library of Congress website:
"The Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress serves as the nation's official lightning rod for the poetic impulse of Americans. During his or her term, the Poet Laureate seeks to raise the national consciousness to a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry."
You might remember that I have a collection of four volumes signed by Poet Laureates -- Billy Collins (from before he was Laureate), Ted Kooser (who was signing at NCTE a few years ago), and two given to me by the best big brother in the world: Richard Eberhart (Laureate in the year of my birth), and Robert Frost (THE Robert Frost!!!). Kay Ryan, whose wit and rhyme and word play I adore, is my fifth Poet Laureate autograph. Ryan's talk was a poetry reading with commentary -- sometimes before the poem, sometimes after, sometimes during. She read each poem twice. She says (and I totally agree) the first reading of a poem is just to find out, "Do I want to read this poem?" The second reading is really the first reading. In her keynote, she gave us a few Key Notes: "You must write what you can at that time." Not very grand, she says, but meant to convey urgency and the acceptance of your work in the moment. (Good advice for living, as well as writing.) She also said that although her writing is very personal -- she writes because something is worrying her -- she is always aware that her writing must be accessible to the public as well. Here's my favorite poem by Kay Ryan, one I loved before she was named Poet Laureate: Turtle Who would be a turtle who could help it? A barely mobile hard roll, a four-oared helmet, She can ill afford the chances she must take In rowing toward the grasses that she eats. (the rest is here) You can hear Kay Ryan reading "Turtle" and commenting on her best rhyme ever ("a four-oared" and "afford") in this podcast with Billy Collins and Garrison Keillor. Ryan reads first, so if you only have time for a bit, you'll get to hear her. But if you listen to the whole thing, you'll get to hear her talk a bit more about her Key Note that the poet must attend to her/his reader.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Poetry Month -- Inner Chimes

Inner Chimes: Poems on Poetry
selected by Bobbye S. Goldstein
illustrations by Jane Breskin Zalben
Boyds Mills Press, 1992

I shared a poem from this book with my class yesterday -- "Take a Word Like Cat" by Karla Kuskin. We've been exploring the truth that one often must read a poem more than once for it to make sense. Here is the beginning and ending of Kuskin's poem:

Take a word like cat
And build around it;
A fur room over here
A long meow
Floating from the chimney like a smoke tail.
Draw with words.
Balance them like blocks.
When everything is perfect in its place
Step back to view the home
That you have built of words around your word.
It is a poem.

Most of the students got lost on the second line in the first reading. Not a single child knew what to do with the ending. So we decided to read it again! We had some questions about building with words and we were trying to visualize all the cat-related imagery that Kuskin includes in the middle of the poem.

When we got to the end the second time, K just about exploded with excitement. "I get it! I get it! It's a poem about writing a poem about a cat! When the poem says balance words like blocks, that's what you do in a poem when you make short lines!"

With this new-found power to crack open a poem and understand it, K read poetry for the entire SSR time.

INNER CHIMES is one of my all-time favorite books of poetry. Poems that think about themselves, poems that explore the writing of poetry, poems that give the reader a glimpse into the poet's process...what could be better?!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Poetry Friday -- Choices

by Jane Hirschfield

It is foolish
to let a young redwood
grow next to a house.

(the rest of the poem is here and the round up this week is at Becky's Book Reviews

It is foolish
to let the weeds of Achievement Tests
overrun the garden of good teaching.

It is foolish
to expect the Titanic American Economy
to turn around in a space of time no wider than the Potomac River.

It is foolish
to try to convince a cat
to let his "staff" sleep until the alarm goes off in the morning.

Do you have any foolishness you'd like to share this week?

On a completely different topic:
Would you like to host Poetry Friday on your blog? The temporary round up schedule is temporarily going to remain in the sidebar here. Pick a Friday in May, June, July, or August and leave your choice in the comments. I've got dibs on July 24 -- Christmas in July. 

Thursday, April 16, 2009

THE CUCKOO'S HAIKU by Michael J. Rosen

The library at our school looks out to a great courtyard. This week, there were so many new birds out there. You could see and hear them, especially in the morning. I have been thinking about rearranging a bit so that kids could spend time with the courtyard. I've picked up a few field guides that kids could use to identify some of the trees and plants that are out there.

Yesterday, I found a new book by Michael J. Rosen called THE CUCKOO'S HAIKU AND OTHER BIRDING POEMS. It is a book filled with poems about common American birds (all Haiku). The artwork is stunning and the each page give you a little "field guide" type information--some details about each bird.

I also picked up Kevin Henkes' new book BIRDS. Although this book isn't a traditional poetry book, the language is poetic and the illustrations are cheery.

I am excited to get these books out there for the kids. They are books that might turn a few of them into bird watchers and poets!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Poetry Month -- A Kick in the Head

A Kick in the Head: An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms
selected by Paul Janeczko
illustrated by Chris Raschka
Scholastic, 2005

Okay, I'll freely admit it: sometimes I don't read the introductions of books when I'm supposed to -- before I read the book. Sometimes I get around to reading the introduction a lamentable four years after the book is published and discover new ways to help kids get excited about it. Yes, I'm talking about the introduction to A KICK IN THE HEAD. Here's a little piece of what I found this morning:
"Why, you may ask, do poems have rules? Why 17 syllables in a haiku? Why 14 lines in a sonnet? The answer is: rules make the writing of a poem more challenging, more exciting. Think of a game you enjoy, like baseball. Imagine how much less intriguing the game would be if there were no foul lines or no limit to the number of outs in an inning. The rules often ask, "Can you do a good job within these limits?" Knowing the rules makes poetry -- like sports -- more fun, for players and spectators alike. Robert Frost once remarked that poetry without rules would be like a tennis match without a net."
Off you go. Grab your copy of A KICK IN THE HEAD and finish reading the introduction. Then read it to your students. Then study the little pictorial clues that illustrator Chris Raschka included in the top corner of each page where the name of the form is and try to figure out how he has represented the poetry form within that clue. (And shake your head and promise never to wait four years to read the introduction of ANY book EVER AGAIN!)

(Franki recently reviewed of Janeczko and Raschka's newest poetry venture together, A FOOT IN THE MOUTH. Tomorrow Paul Janeczko will be the featured Poetry Maker at The Miss Rumphius Effect.)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


The fun about shopping for books at a conference, is that I often find a book because some other teacher is buying it or reading it. That is what happened last weekend. I thought I was finished shopping for books. But then I noticed RED SINGS FROM THE TREETOPS in another shopper's hands. We chatted a bit about it, she told me why she loved it and had to have it, and then pointed me in the direction of the book.

This new book is by Joyce Sidman, one of my favorites since I read THIS IS JUST TO SAY. RED SINGS FROM THE TREETOPS: A YEAR IN COLORS is a totally different kind of a book. The book takes us through the colors of the seasons. The book is divided into 4 sections--one for each season. Each page focuses on a color of that season. For example:

Green is new
in spring. Shy.
Green peeks from buds,
trembles in the breeze.

See why I had to have it? Each line is perfect. Each page can stand alone. Or the book can be read from cover to cover going through the year.

Monday, April 13, 2009


Mama Says: A Book of Love for Mothers and Sons
by Rob D. Walker
illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon
The Blue Sky Press (Scholastic)
April, 2009
review copy provided by the publisher

This is a book for every mother of sons and for all sons. It is perfect for Mother's Day, baby showers, graduations, birthdays, and just because it's so beautiful.

Each double page spread in the book features wisdom from a mother written in English and another language (12 in all) with a gorgeous painting by the Dillons of a mother and son in the culture that speaks that language. On the cover you see the painting of the Cherokee mother. Her wisdom is:

Mama says
Be good
Mama says
Be kind
Mama says
The rain will come
But still the sun will shine

The mothers in this book (who speak Cherokee, Russian, Amharic, Japanese, Hindi, Inuktitut, Hebrew, Korean, Arabic, Quechua, Danish and English) teach the importance of kindness, sharing, diligence, faith, courage and a willingness to always try your best -- and the paintings and translations show us that these are universal traits that all mothers teach to their sons.

This is a perfect choice for the Diversity Rocks challenge.

MOTHER POEMS by Hope Anita Smith

We are so lucky in Columbus. Each year, The Thurber House host a children's author for a month in its Writer in Residence program. This year, we are excited that Hope Anita Smith will be in Columbus at The Thurber House. This is the first time that the Thurber House has chosen a poet and we are thrilled.

I didn't know that Smith's newest book MOTHER POEMS was available and was happy to see it at the workshop yesterday. I picked it up and had to share. It is one of those books that I have been carrying around the house with me.

The book is filled with poems that explore the close relationship between a young girl and her mother. Each poem shares a moment or experience that shows the love the mother and daughter have for each other. But, in the middle of the book, the little girl's mother dies and the rest of the book is her about her grief and healing process. Somehow the books are powerful and also have the voice of a young child.

You don't realize right off that this book is a story. The poems stand alone as amazing poems that explore the mother/daughter relationship. I can't begin to choose my favorite poem because they are all amazing. The tone of the book changes when the mother dies but the memories help. I had seen this book advertised earlier with the title "Instructions on How to Lose a Mother and Other Poems". This is the title of one of the last poems in the book. I am glad that they chose the new title for the book because this book is about more than How to Lose A Mother. It is about mothers and daughters so I think this new title fits perfectly.

I can see this book being read by older elementary and middle school students. So many of the poems can be used alone--to read for pleasure, as mentor poems for writing. The book as a whole--a type of novel in verse--can be read several times since there is such depth to the story and the relationship. It is amazing how well the reader comes to know the little girl in just 70 pages.

I think that this is the first book that Hope Anita Smith did her own artwork. Her artwork is STUNNING. I can't even begin to explain it or do it justice on this blog but it is gorgeous and powerful. I spent a great deal of time just looking at the art. Her art makes a statement of its own. Combined with her poetry, it makes an even bigger impact.

Anita Hope Smith is a poet I am so happy to have gotten to know. I can't tell you how happy I am that she'll be spending time as the Writer-in-Residence at the Thurber House this summer. I am hoping I get a chance to hear her speak while she is here. If not, I can't wait to see whatever she decides to write next.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Poetry Month -- On the Farm

On the Farm
by David Elliott
illustrated by Holly Meade
Candlewick Press, 2008

This is a great book of poetry for the youngest readers. The short poems and bold pictures make it inviting. Likewise, the familiarity of the farm is a perfect fit.

The poems take the reader on a tour around the whole farm -- up by the house, through the barn, into the meadow and pasture, and out to the corn field. The collection ends with a couple of non-farm animals -- the turtles at the pond and the rabbits in the tall, unmowed grass. Perhaps the subtle message is that the farm is good for both domesticated and wild animals; for both cultivated and wild plants.

Here are a couple of my favorites from this collection:


had better
think twice.


Knows what he likes --
cows and corn.
Knows what he is --
muscle and horn.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

21st Century Visits

I am pretty addicted to great thoughts from people around the globe who are really embracing smart, authentic ways to engage 21st century students. Here is another round of what I've found. I feel so lucky to be able to learn from so many people.

Wesley Fryer shares the story of his son's Thursday Folder and the many, many worksheets that his son gets in a good school. A great read with some powerful photos to let us know just how much time some kids are spending on worksheets. I think, as teachers, we often justify this by knowing that most of our day is more authentic. But I think time is a factor. Why would we waste even 5 minutes of a child's time on a worksheet when they can be thinking, creating, and communicating. Every choice we make as teachers is a choice about how we spend our time in schools. For every worksheet that students don't do, they can do something meaningful.

I was excited to read about the "Just Write" Celebration at Georgetown Elementary School. The school is having a week long celebration of their writing and using lots of tools to get their writing out there. Each class is writing and using Lulu to sell published books to parents, etc. Many of the books filled with student writing can be downloaded free. The principal, Theresa Reagan, is behind this initiative. It is fun to spend time reading some of the student writing. A great school wide celebration!

Will Richardson has a great post entitled One School's Journey to Online Social Learning.. Embedded in the post is a great brochure about Web-Based Social and Collaborative Learning. It isn't a quick read because it is packed with the information on various tools and the ways they can be used. A valuable resource.

I have been doing a lot of thinking on the writing process of the 21st Century and was happy to see this post by Bill Bass.. In preparing for their own district Film Festival, Bill and colleagues visited Effingham, Illinois to see the 6th Annual AHA Film Festival. Sounds like the videos were amazing. Bill's reflections remind us that good teaching, no matter what the tool, is about process.

Tea for [Web] 2.0 (Don't you just LOVE the name of this blog??) has a great post on Professional Development, creating a buzz about new tools and more. A great read with great insights about how to move forward.

Wesley Fryer shared a great link on Twitter entitled What Makes a Good Project? It is a short article that will start lots of conversations. I think it is a good reminder that projects--whether they use new tools or not--have to be worthwhile.

Thinking a lot about new tools for writing and communicating, I am anxious to order and read this new book, co edited by Kevin at Kevin's Meandering Mind. The book TEACHING THE NEW WRITING, is due out in May. It is so nice to see writing experts taking on this topic.

I finished reading THE ELEMENT by Ken Robinson over spring break. I loved this review by Angela Maiers for several reasons. She hits the important things about the book and she has used a slide-show format to review the book. For as many book reviews we do on this site, maybe we need to play with some new formats!

There is a great post at Education Week called "What is Your Department Discussing and Doing?" . Ryan Bretag talks about how critical both conversations and action are to moving forward. He also gives us several links to content organizations' position statements that relate to 21st Century Learning. The links are an invaluable resource and can start some great conversations that can then move to action.

Another post at Education Week/LeaderTalk that really made me think ahead was "New Paradigms Needed" by Pete Reilly. In this post, he argues that we need a shift in the ways we envision classrooms and deploy technology to our students. He says, "That new paradigm is a classroom environment that allows each student to explore, communicate, collaborate, analyze, publish, and pursue their interests, passions, and curiosities. In order to do this they need to have “ubiquitous access” to technology."

Finally, the article "Science is Failing to Inspire Some" is a wake-up call to how testing and the current  skill/drill environment is is meaning that more kids are learning to hate science.  This is an interesting article from the science community.

MORE POCKET POEMS selected by Bobbi Katz

If you know and love the book POCKET POEMS, you will be thrilled to know that now there are more! In MORE POCKET POEMS, Bobbi Katz pulls together lots of our favorite poets--X.J. Kennedy, Paul Janeczko, Myra Cohn Livingston and many others. The book is filled with pocket poems. In the author's note, Bobby Katz says,

"More Pocket Poems comes in response to widespread applause, especially by teachers, for the earlier anthology, Pocket Poems. Teachers find it's just right for celebrating "Poem in Your Pocket Day." For the uninitiated, children celebrate this special day by keeping a poem in their pockets, ready to read aloud or silently, at a moment's notice. Kids usually memorize their poems, and often poems their classmates read. The jury is in about the value of poetry: it's a catalyst for reading skills."

This book is a great one for a day like Katz describes. It is also good for every day of the year. I love that the poems are short. They are a perfect length for young children. They work for read aloud, memorizing, shared reading and more. The illustrations are inviting and fun--they draw children in. I love a whole book filled with great short poems--poems that you can fit in your pocket if you want to!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Poetry Friday -- Taxes

Maceration of Money
The George Eastman House Photography Collection, Flickr Commons

by Dana Gioia

Money, the long green,
cash, stash, rhino, jack
or just plain dough.

Chock it up, fork it over,
shell it out. Watch it
burn holes through pockets.

To be made of it! To have it
to burn!

(the rest of the poem is here)

(the round up for this week is at Carol's Corner)

I'm doing taxes today.
'Nuff said about today's choice of image and poem.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Poetry Month -- Multi-Genre, part 2

Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow
by Joyce Sidman
illustrated by Beth Krommes
Houghton Mifflin, 2006

Yesterday's poetry book could fit in with the ABC books. Today's multi-genre pick could be shelved in poetry or nonfiction or riddles!

Pairs of poems in double page spreads describe plants or animals of the meadow with the question at the end of each poem, "What am I?" and enough clues in the gorgeous scratchboard illustrations to guess most of the time.

Sometimes predator and prey are paired (Rabbit and Fox), while other times the poems deal with some quality the two subjects have in common (for example, the skin of snakes and of toads).

After each pair of poems comes a double page spread with the answers to the two riddle poems and the scientific information to tell why they were paired or what characteristic is being featured, as well as another gorgeous illustration.

By the end of the book, the reader will have gained in knowledge about the meadow ecosystem, and also an understanding of the interconnectedness of all of the plants, animals and systems that make up a meadow.

One of my favorite poems is a mask poem, told in the voice of a red-tailed hawk. Here is the first stanza:

An Apology to My Prey

I am deeply sorry for my huge orbs
of eyes, keen and hooded,
that pierce your lush
tapestry of meadow.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Poetry Month -- Multi-Genre

by Michael J. Rosen
illustrated by David Butler
Candlewick Press, 1998

I love it when books do more than one job! Here's one that fits into your ABC tub and onto your poetry shelf.

AVALANCHE tells the alphabetic rhyming story of a snowball that gets waaayyy out of hand. So to speak. As it were. (he-he)

"Once there was an Avalanche
that started out quite small.
It all began when Bobby tossed
a harmless-looking snowball...

This snowball sailed across the yard
and struck a Cat-food can.
It caught the Doghouse in its path
as though it had a plan."

The snowball rolls on and flies on, getting bigger and bigger until it is large enough to fill the universe.

"And so the Vacuum in the cosmos
clutched this cold compound,
and then rewound it round itself
and hurled it homeward bound.

With every twist something split off
returning to our World:
Each question, ocean, lake and jet
uncurled and downward swirled.

X marked the spot where something stood
before the snowball's theft,
and each thing landed back in place --
or had it ever left?

As for You, you might have seen,
or maybe might have heard,
the alphabet that's rolled inside
this avalanche of words."

Want to know what Rosen does with Z? You'll have to check for yourself! Quite a clever and surprising ending, I think!

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Poetry Month -- Science Verse

Science Verse
by Jon Scieszka
illustrated by Lane Smith
Viking, 2004

"On Wednesday in science class, Mr. Newton says, "You know, if you listen closely enough, you can hear the poetry of science in everything." I listen closely. On Thursday, I start hearing the poetry. In fact, I start hearing everything as a science poem. Mr. Newton has zapped me with a curse of SCIENCE VERSE."

So begins one of the most brilliant poetry collections ever. Besides giving a nod to almost every scientific concept...or at least a lot of them...Scieszka tips his hat to poets, poetry forms, songs, and nursery rhymes.

Here's one of my favorite short ones:


I'm a little mealworm,
Short and wiggly.
Here's my antenna,
Cute and jiggly.

Now I am a pupa,
Squat and white.
How did this happen?
I'm a sight.

Now I am a beetle.
What is this?
I really hate

If its been awhile since you read this book, go back and remember what an amazing masterpiece it is. If you somehow missed it, go find it. (And make sure you listen to the cd it comes with!)

Monday, April 06, 2009

The kids in the library spent lots of time on Giggle Poetry this week. It is a great site and I hadn't realized how much was there until kids discovered new things. This site is Bruce Lansky's site and is a pretty fun place to visit--a very appropriate name. I love the sound of laughing children, especially when they are laughing while playing with poetry.

The site includes many poems in categories that kids love--Teacher and Principal Poems, Homework Poems, Potty Poems and more.

There are also lots of fun things to do on the site. One favorite is the Poetry Race--How fast can you read a tongue twister? There is also a section of "Fill in the blank" poetry as well as Rhyming Riddles. The Poetry Theater section is filled with great poems to perform as well as tips for performance reading.

The teacher link--Poetry Teachers--has great tips for teaching poetry. There are also several great interviews with poets.

This is a great site for lots of reasons--great poems and great fun is the key. But it is one that is easy for kids to navigate. It is PACKED with resources and links. It will take me a while to find all that is available on the site and you could spend hours just having fun with poems.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

National Poetry Month Links

Andromeda Jazmon at a wrung sponge has the most complete list of Poetry Month links that I have seen so far. Check it out. Bookmark it. Visit links. Get poetrified.

National Poetry Month Links

Poetry Month: CITY I LOVE by Lee Benett Hopkins

Lee Bennett Hopkins was announced as the winner of this year's NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children.   I love so many of his books and am thrilled that he won the award.  His newest book is CITY I LOVE with illustrations by Marcellus Hall.  

From the front cover to the back cover, this book is full of fun.  A dog with a backpack takes us on a tour of great cities around the world.  Each poem celebrates something about cities--things that are common to all cities as well as those unique to one certain city. Taxis, street vendors, and bridges are topics of some of the poems.  Each poem is unique--many different types of poems are included.

The illustrations by Marcellus Hall really add color to the book.  The traveling dog is quite fun and can be seen on every page.  Traveling with him adds a bit of humor to the pages although he is not always in an obvious spot.

A great book that kids will read for fun and one that can also be used with social studies when learning about cities and/or places in the world.

Thanks, Lee Bennett Hopkins for another great book!

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Poetry Month: I Love My Library

(Song lyrics count as poetry, right?)

Too bad I didn't find this when Jama and Susan and Sara and a bunch of other bloggers were participating in the "Library Lovin' Challenge" last week. I guess I can share it in honor of their commitment to libraries and to all the people who commented and helped them to meet their goals so they could donate to their favorite library.

Here's to everyone who participated in the "Library Lovin' Challenge" and to all of our favorite libraries and librarians everywhere: "I Love My Library" by Lunch Money.

(Thank you to Sarah Beth Durst's mom for the link.)

And while we're at it, here's a great poster via TeacherNinja:


This new book A FOOT IN THE MOUTH:  POEMS TO SPEAK, SING, AND SHOUT by Paul Janeczko is another collaboration with Chris Raschka. If you know A POKE IN THE EYE and A KICK IN THE HEAD, you will definitely want to add this one to your collection.  While A KICK IN THE HEAD introduced various forms of poetry and A POKE IN THE EYE celebrated concrete poem, this new book is a collection of poems that beg to be read aloud for various reasons.

The book includes poems of various length; poems for one voice, two voices and three voices; limericks; bilingual poems; poems for a group and more.

I love the poems and I also love the way that the book is divided into categories such as the ones I listed above. This organization will invite students to find other poems that are fun to read aloud in these categories and will help them to see that poems are intended to be read aloud and shared for a variety of reasons.

The introduction by the author talks to readers about reading poetry aloud, invites us to memorize the poems we love and encourages us to just grab a friend and have fun--"no need to be an expert".  And, as always, Raschka's illustrations add a great deal to the text.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Poetry Friday -- Building Rockets

I'm Building a Rocket
by Kenn Nesbitt

I'm building a rocket.
As soon as I'm done
I'm taking my friends
on a trip to the sun.

The rest of the poem is at Kenn Nesbitt's excellent site -- Poetry4Kids.

The round up this week is at

Two girls in my class are experimenting with AlkaSeltzer rockets in enrichment. They took the photos above to show the steps for making a rocket. They also videotaped the process and are now working on an iMovie. This post is dedicated to them, and to all the girls who will grow up to be the engineers and rocket scientists of the future.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Poetry Month -- Limericks

There Once Was a Very Odd School and other lunchbox limericks
by Stephen Krensky
illustrated by Tamara Petrosino
Dutton Children's Books, 2004

Sometimes it's fun to play around with a poetry form. Lots of folks do this every week when Tricia puts out a Monday Poetry Stretch invitation.

Limericks are a fun form to try with kids, but the challenge is sometimes finding examples that are appropriate for children. This collection by Stephen Krensky fits that bill.

Here's one of my class' favorites (they are just finishing up dragon sculptures in art):

Nicole drew a dragon in art,
Which breathed fire right from the start.
Then she drew a brave knight,
Which it wanted to fight,
So she had to keep them apart.

National Poetry Month Writing Prompts

Bud the Teacher is celebrating National Poetry Month by inviting readers to write some poems and publish them on blogs, his site, etc. His first prompt along with his poem inspired me to write this poem this morning. Who knew that I could enjoy spending a few minutes writing a poem based on a photo Bud shared? I love the variety of poems that people have already written in response to one prompt. It would be fun for lots of us in the Kidlitosphere to join into Bud's celebration.

The piles
Of books
Have somehow started
to take over my house
Books in every room

The ones I’ve already read
That I can’t part with
Those that I hope
One of my daughters
Loves as I do
Sometime in the future

The ones I haven’t yet read
But that are possibilities
For the future
When I have a quiet
Day for reading

Poetry Month: LOOSE LEASHES by Amy Schmidt

I can never go wrong when I buy a poetry book about dogs. They seem to be quite popular and I imagine the kids will love this new one.

LOOSE LEASHES by Amy Schmidt with photos by Ron Schmidt is a collection of poetry--told in the voices of dogs. They write about things such as getting free of their leash, battling over a bone, and ways to keep cool. My favorite poem is called "I Will NOT Go to the Groomer" and begins like this:

I will not go to the groomer
And won't be washed outside.
To be bathed in a public place
Is quite undignified.

The photos that accompany each poem are too fun and kids will totally love them. "Furry Facts" about each dog are listed at the end of the book. These bios are also quite amusing.

The couple who wrote this book is quite fun--their dog even has his own blog!

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Poetry Month -- A Bad Case of the Giggles

A Bad Case of the Giggles
edited by Bruce Lansky
illustrated by Stephen Carpenter
Simon & Schuster, 1994

I am getting ready to replace this book for the third time. It is literally falling apart from constant use. My favorite thing to do when it's missing is to call out, "Who has A BAD CASE OF THE GIGGLES?" and listen to my students crack up.

Kids love funny poems. They love the sly humor of a pun and the bawdy humor of underwear and diapers.

Here's a favorite from A BAD CASE OF THE GIGGLES:


I saw you in the ocean,
I saw you in the sea,
I saw you in the bathtub.
Oops! Pardon me.


Well, since that was by Anonymous, here's another one. This one's good for working on fluency of expression, but don't tell the kids that. Just tell them to make sure it makes...sense.


I thought a thought.
But the thought I thought wasn't the thought I thought I thought.
If the thought I thought I thought had been the thought
I thought,
I wouldn't have thought so much.