Friday, December 25, 2020

Poetry Friday -- Wistful

photo via Unsplash

It's the Poetry Sisters' last challenge for 2020: to write to the theme of "Wish I'd Been There," or to an historical event that incites wistfulness. Here's my draft.


We live at the corner of Lincoln and Forest.
What I wouldn't give to stand here
and turn the dial of time backward,
rewind the threads of now
onto the spool of eternity,
pavement evaporating,
divisive moments in human history blurring, retreating, disappearing
as the beech-oak-hickory canopy
closes in
concealing a sky that has never known contrails.

©Mary Lee Hahn, 2020 (draft)

Irene has today's Poetry Friday Roundup at Live Your Poem

Friday, December 18, 2020

Poetry Friday -- Live Your Poem

Irene Latham's blog name is my inspiration this week: Live Your Poem.

This week's poem began by planting seeds for my students' "If Kids Ran the World" projects in 2021. On Monday, our guest speaker was Imran Nuri, my former student who is the founder and CEO of the charity nonprofit The 52 Million Project. Then, on Tuesday, we heard from Dash Yeatts-Lonske, son of Tabatha/The Opposite of Indifference, and co-founder of the advocacy nonprofit Schools Not Jails.

On the home front, I was baking cookies and preparing boxes for delivery. On Wednesday, hubby and I delivered 25 boxes containing 2 big gingerbread cookies, a "pastry bag" of icing, and three little containers of decorations to my Remote Learning Academy students. The boxes were tied with red ribbon and labeled "Do not open until the 9:00 meeting on Thursday!" Yesterday, the boxes were opened and year 37 of my cookie decorating tradition took place through the screen. 

Now I need to go iron my PJs and gather my pillows and blankets for my fort. Today we'll do all of our learning/teaching in our PJs inside our pillow forts (or, in my case, my under-the-standing-table fort).

This is my poem, and I'm living it to the fullest.

Happy Friday! Happy Poetry! Happy LIFE!

Michelle Kogan has the Poetry Friday Roundup, and it's dusted in stardust!

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Poetry Friday -- Spark!

In the podcast Poetry Unbound, Pádraig Ó Tuama always begins with something like "One of the things I love most about poetry is..." and that thing he loves leads to the encapsulation of the poem he's featuring. With that small bit in mind, we listen to the poem, then he zooms in and deconstructs the meanings and the craft moves in the poem. After he takes you deep inside a poem, you get to hear him read it one more time, and it's almost like hearing a new poem.

Let's try it.

One of the things I love most about poetry is the way it sometimes works like postcards or snapshots from another time. With just a few words, the poet moves us through time and space with their words and images.



After the first job,
before the second degree.

Blue Highways
South -- tobacco fields
West -- Navajo Nation
North -- regal mountains

box of cassette tapes
meadowlark on a fencepost
AM radio

single finger wave
small town hospitality
sense of direction

The longer I've written poetry and read poetry, I realize how often poems are about journeys of one kind or another. One thing that stands out for me about this poem is the stanza titles, which seem almost like notes scrawled on the backs of photos that have been tucked in an album. They also give each stanza a particular job within the poem, first letting the reader know the setting in time and place, then giving sensory details, and ending with a list.

In each of the stanzas, the details are concrete and vivid. Each of the places in the second stanza are iconic to the region, yet one can imagine that experienced from the "Blue Highways" of the stanza's title, they were more than simply stereotypical. The cassette tapes are a reminder that this is 1985, and the meadowlark and AM radio give a sense of the isolation of the journey. In the last stanza, the alliteration serves to stitch the three images together.

The title of the poem, "Six Weeks One Summer," gives one version of the time frame for the poem, while the first stanza pans out to the big picture of the speaker's life trajectory. The second stanza gives a sense of the scope of the journey in the poem. The final stanza brings the reader and the speaker back full circle with the list of souvenirs from the trip. The last line returns the reader's attention to the beginning, where the speaker is in a place "between," and lets the reader know that after six weeks of circling the country, the speaker has gained perspective and a sense of direction.



After the first job,
before the second degree.

Blue Highways
South -- tobacco fields
West -- Navajo Nation
North -- regal mountains

box of cassette tapes
meadowlark on a fencepost
AM radio

single finger wave
small town hospitality
sense of direction

©Mary Lee Hahn, 2020

Thank you for "listening" to my Pádraig Ó Tuama-style "podcast" about my poem. Here is the inspiration piece via Amy Souza's Spark project that I was provided for my writing:

"Finding Your Way" by Victoria Nessen

Buffy has this week's Poetry Friday Roundup at her blog Buffy Silverman, and there's ONE spot left on the roundup schedule for the next 6 months.

Happy Poetry! Happy Friday!

Thursday, December 03, 2020

Poetry Friday -- Roundup and D-39 Cover Reveal

Novelist and poet Irene Latham has never shied away from hard topics. With Charles Waters, she has tackled race and racism head on (pun intended), and given readers definitions that will pave the way into a brighter future. She has introduced us to heroic characters who lived through difficult times in the past.

And now she's turning her attention to the future.

Arriving in bookstores on May 18, 2021 is D-39: A Robodog's Journey (Charlesbridge). This middle grade dystopian future verse novel is told in tidy rectangular prose poems that are strung together like beads, with the last word or phrase of one becoming the title of the next. The language is rich and innovative, with a glossary full of newly-minted compound words.

For a taste of the look and sound of the poems, here is the very first poem in the book, to whet your appetite:

And yes, you read that description of the book correctly: D-39: A Robodog's Journey is a middle grade dystopian future verse novel.

I asked Irene why she chose to write a dystopian novel for middle grade readers: 
"When circumstances are dire, all the stuff that doesn't matter kind of falls away, and you discover what's most important to you— and maybe even who you really are. As a reader and as a writer, I enjoy exploring that white-hot space."
Although D-39 is a dystopian future novel based loosely on the timeline of diminishing freedoms the Syrians experienced during the Syrian War, it is primarily the story of a child and a dog, a journey, family relationships, home, heroism, and self-determination.

Irene knows the love of a dog. Her Rosie, a 2 year-old Australian shepherd, loves socks as much as D-39 loves gloves.

The landscape of D-39 is similar to that of North Dakota. Here's Irene on a research trip for the book:

Jamie Green is the artist who created the cover for D-39. Jamie is an illustrator/curious person based in Greenville, SC and recent graduate of Ringling College of Art and Design. When they aren't working they can be found climbing rocks, venturing through the woods or scouring the ground for mushrooms to study and catalogue.

This is what they had to say about creating the cover image for D-39:
As an artist, or in this case I will say "visual communicator," it is something special when you read through the manuscript and have the desire to do fanart of the characters. That's essentially what creating the cover for D-39 felt like to me. I was taking the Klynt and D-39 that I had been imagining in this cluttered shed and presenting them outward--how fun for me! My goal was to portray a sense of connection and determination in our main duo, while engulfed in a smattering of items that are seen in their journey together.

And now...


Here is the cover reveal of D-39: A Robodog's Journey

Join me in congratulating Irene on this newest amazing project! If you'd like to read a galley of the book, contact her at with your request.

And now, on to the Poetry Friday Roundup! Let's see what other wonders the Poetry Friday community has to share today! Leave your link with Mr. Linky.

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter
While we're on the subject of the roundup, we're gathering roundup hosts for January-June 2020. Check out the calendar and pick your date here.

Happy Poetry! Happy Friday!

Monday, November 30, 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 January and June 2021, 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. 

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:

8    Sylvia at Poetry for Children
15  Margaret at Reflections on the Teche 
22  Laura at Laura Shovan
29  Jan at Bookseedstudio Optional theme: Sing!

5    Jone at Jone Rush MacCulloch
12  Molly Hogan at Nix the Comfort Zone
26  Karen at Karen Edmisten*

5   Kat at Kathryn Apel
19 Linda at TeacherDance

2  Mary Lee at A Year of Reading
23 Catherine at Reading to the Core

7   Bridget at wee words for wee ones
14 Irene at Live Your Poem
28 Michelle at Michelle Kogan

4   Margaret at Reflections on the Teche
11 Carol at Carol's Corner
18 Buffy at Buffy Silverman
25 Linda at A Word Edgewise

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Poetry Friday

I joined Spark for the first time. Spark 46, the last round for 2020. A creativity challenged seemed like good way to end this wackadoodle year. 

Here is a poem I'm NOT submitting for the piece of art I can't show you yet:

MEANDER (an “In One Word” poem)

your dream
of reaching that destination. Rename
this aspiration “journey.” Endear
yourself to this dare.
When you find yourself near
fulfillment, read
the landscape, know what you need,
veer toward a new end.

Wandering is a pleasure earned.
Ramble your amen.

©Mary Lee Hahn, 2020

Here are some celebrations from #NCTE2020 last weekend, not the least of which is the recipient of the Excellence in Poetry for Children Award, Janet Wong!

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

NCTE 2020 -- So Much to Celebrate!


Janet Wong, recipient of the 2021 Excellence in Poetry for Children Award

I Am Every Good Thing, winner of the 2021 Charlotte Huck Award 
for Outstanding Fiction for Children (along with all of the honor and recommended books)

Above the Rim: How Elgin Baylor Changed Basketball, winner of the 2021 Orbis Pictus Award
for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children (along with all of the honor and recommended books)

Good thing conference attendees have 60 days to continue to access the archives! What are some sessions that were too fabulous to miss?

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Poetry Friday -- Messages From the Universe

 This morning, between this page (which I've already seen) in my Everyday Offerings book...

...and this page (which I've already seen)...

I found this new message for the day:

And I flipped over the next card in my meditation deck...

I looked up, and the vase of flowers on my table said this:

Wednesday night, listening to the Scholastic Independent Reading Panel, I heard Peter H. Reynolds say this:

a gentle rebel
leans outside the box
as far as they can

(without being fired)

Earlier on Wednesday, one of my students shot an observation straight into my heart: "This is so hard. This way of learning." What she was missing the most were the times of collaboration and conversation students have while working side by side in a physical classroom. Our remote learning independent work times are solitary, and my learners have been isolated during these work times.

The words of Peter H. Reynolds nudged me to reconsider our daily schedule. Could I make time for my students to virtually sit side by side, working together, helping each other (and certainly chatting a bit)? 

Yes. And when I previewed our new schedule with the class, they were SO appreciative that I'd listened and responded. 

The Scholastic Independent Reading Panel speakers helped me to reimagine my daily message to my students about their 30 minute independent reading time:
  • How are the books you’re choosing helping you to become the person you want to be?
  • How are the books you’re choosing helping you to understand the lives and feelings of others?
  • How are the books you’re reading bringing you joy?
  • How are the books you’re reading helping you to understand your own identity?
  • How are the books you’re reading helping you to understand the way the world works so that you can make it a better place for everyone?
And those first messages in my Everyday Offerings book? They have helped me lean further out of my box than I ever thought possible as I plan for a study of what happens in a democracy AFTER an election. About the work regular citizens do to keep our nation running.

we make some noise
we split open and sparkle
then put the pieces together
become a magnet for miracles
and bloom with wild abandon

Thank you, Universe.

Happy Friday, friends! Happy Poetry Friday!

Linda B. has graciously rescued this week's Poetry Friday roundup at TeacherDance. 2020 strikes again!

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Everyday Advocacy: Teachers Who Change the Literacy Narrative

Today, the book Everyday Advocacy: Teachers Who Change the Literacy Narrative by Cathy Fleischer and Antero Garcia is available! This is an important book for all educators who want to work to change the narrative about literacy and education. This is a must-read for educators. It would be a great book to read with a group of colleagues--local or beyond--to think about how you can make a difference as part of your everyday work.

We had the chance to ask Cathy and Antero some questions about their book and the ideas behind it. We hope you learn from all they have to say and the resources they share. 

Franki: Why do you think it is important for teachers to have advocacy skills?

Cathy and Antero: The public narrative surrounding teachers is too often dismissive, demeaning, and just plain wrong--based on “what it was like when I went to school” or on years of one-dimensional media depictions of either the hero teacher (who works 80 hours a week to save kids) or the uncaring teacher who doesn’t take the work seriously. Neither of these depictions fit the teachers we know, the teachers who are committed to professional learning and thoughtful curriculum development, who care deeply about students, who continually work to improve their own teaching, and who make meaningful decisions about what to teach and what not to teach.

But sadly, so many decisions about how and what we teach have been taken away from teachers and placed in the hands of people who are not regularly in schools and who quite simply don’t have the knowledge or expertise to decide how and what we should teach.

This is why teachers need advocacy skills--to share their voices, their stories, their expertise in order to shift the public narrative around teaching in order to help others (colleagues, administrators, legislators and community members) see teachers and teaching differently.

Franki: You’ve really worked to redefine advocacy for educators and to broaden the ways in which we, as teachers can see ourselves doing this work. I imagine that has been very intentional. Can you talk about that journey?

Cathy: For me it began twenty years ago when my husband (an environmental advocate) and I would talk over the dinner table about our work, and I learned how he uses advocacy measures to create campaigns on specific environmental issues. His super-smart thinking on things like cutting an issue, identifying decision-makers, and finding allies led me to start studying community organizing and advocacy, interviewing organizers in multiple fields, and thinking hard about how what they do could be adapted for teachers. I began writing about what I was learning and then offering workshops for teachers so I see how they thought advocacy might work for them, how it could be a part of their already overly busy lives rather than an add-on. This led to co-creating the Everyday Advocacy website with former NCTE Communications Director Jenna Fournel, which features hands-on approaches to advocacy and teacher stories from these workshops. Truly, every single day I learn more and more from the amazing teachers who do this work: how they continue to advocate for ways of teaching and learning they know are important in their specific contexts.

Antero: Before learning about Everyday Advocacy from Cathy and her work with Jenna, my work with teachers tended to focus on what we refer to in the book as “big A” Advocacy. My scholarship and my experiences in classrooms often emphasized activist stances toward justice that, admittedly, can get in the way of some teachers seeing themselves as advocates. Part of what’s appealed to me about the work that Cathy leads is that every teacher can see themselves in this work, it builds on what they know, it encourages them to center student learning needs, and it is focused on results for the here and now. I think getting every teacher to see themselves as an advocate and building capacity with this skill set is an imperative for classroom teachers right now; that it still connects to bigger issues around democracy, labor, and freedom is an added bonus.

Franki: Can you talk about the importance of the word “everyday” in your title and idea about advocacy?

Cathy and Antero: Advocacy seems like a big scary word—it’s what those paid community organizers or lobbyists do to get bills passed or to organize marches with thousands of people in the street. But there are a ton of examples in the world of folks who use their voices and tell their stories as part of their day to day lives—and that’s what we mean when we use the term everyday advocacy--part-of rather than add-on.

The word also reminds us that the regularity of advocacy in the lives of teachers makes it feel less scary. Like going to the gym (in the times when it was safe to do so!), advocacy is a muscle that develops or atrophies through everyday use.

Franki: Everyone has ideas about education and it seems that teachers are no longer the people trusted when it comes to decision-making. But you have a strong belief in teachers and you have ideas about how we can change the narrative. What can teachers do locally and beyond to change that?

Cathy and Antero: It’s true--we do believe in teachers! As we say in the introduction to the book, “We believe in their power to inspire, challenge, support, and care for the students with whom they work--day-in and day-out, in often challenging circumstances, and with intelligence and grace. Teachers, we know, are contemporary superheroes, and we believe they should be honored as such, each and every day.”

But teachers are not always trusted to make decisions about curriculum and pedagogy and assessment and a host of other issues. And the narrative that we mentioned above--one that is too often dismissive and demeaning--has become even stronger during this pandemic. We’ve been amazed at the ways some people are dismissing the herculean effort that teachers are putting forth and disheartened that teacher voices were too often absent from discussions of how to do school this year.

We believe that teachers can change that narrative and bring their voices into the discussion--and the book is filled with ideas about how to do that. Specifically, teachers can focus on a particular issue that impacts them in their local setting, learn as much as they can about that issue (by carefully observing students in their own classrooms, working to understand the context of their own communities, and immersing themselves in what others have written and said about the issue); seek like-minded colleagues and community members to become allies; and set out a plan to help others understand the issue differently. It’s not always easy, but as the examples in the book show, teachers are doing this work in all kinds of ways.

Franki: With limited time, what are some quick tips for how teachers might do move advocacy work?

Cathy and Antero: We think working proactively is the first big step. What can you do as a teacher to help other teachers, administrators, parents, and community members understand why you teach in the ways you do? You can host a parent night in which you ask these adults to share memories of reading and writing in their lives and then connect their memories to why you use choice reading and writing workshops. Or you might begin a children’s or young adult book club for students and parents that focuses on diverse books so parents can both up their own knowledge and watch how their students respond. Or you might share student work regularly with your families and administrators so they can see the great work that emerges when you teach in a particular way.

This proactive advocacy leads to you developing more allies as others understand your thinking and your teaching. And once they understand, we’ve found they are more willing to have your back if questions or concerns arise down the road.

Franki: Who are some people (other than the authors in your book) who educators can follow as models for their own advocacy work?

Cathy and Antero: We love the blog Teachers, Profs, Parents: Writers Who Care as an example of how you can write for the public. Check out their Tips for Writing for Parents as one resource.

We also love Jessyca Matthew’s articles for Teaching Tolerance and her interview for NEA’s Social Justice Advocate of the Year.

The ELATE Commission on Social Justice has a ton of useful resources on their easy to remember site:

As a professional learning community, the Marginal Syllabus project has been a years-running effort to bridge the theories described in NCTE journals into dialogue and practice; the ideas and connections here are useful and rejuvenating.

Lastly, getting to read about the big and small forms of advocacy happening in the lives of teachers and teacher educators is always illuminating. Literacy scholar Betina Hsieh and math teacher Jose Vilson’s blogs are both wonderful.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Poetry Friday: Haiku Diary

 I got way behind posting my daily haiku on Twitter with #haikudiary and #poeticdiversion, but I kept at it in my notebook. Here are the week's snippets:

Friday, 11/6

Poetry Friday
digital, virtual
still magical

Saturday, 11/7

everywhere I look
red and blue harmonize

Sunday, 11/8

unseasonable heat
restacking the woodpile

Monday, 11/9

midday walk at the farm
no blue birds, but a monarch
don't dawdle

Tuesday, 11/10

almost tears at lunchtime

Wednesday, 11/11

Oh, to go fishing --
rippling water, leaping trout --
instead...more work.

Thursday, 11/12

Where do you want to visit?
Dreaming our futures.

Robyn Hood Black (Queen of the Haiku) has this week's Poetry Friday roundup at Life on the Deckle Edge

Friday, November 06, 2020

Poetry Friday: "A Portable Paradise"


On Wednesday, I received the best gift of all -- the right poem at the right time.

I'm still grieving the loss of The Slowdown podcast, and haven't brought myself to listen to the final episode. Maybe today.

Luckily, I have a backlog of Poetry Unbound episodes, and luckily, I picked the one from Monday. Pádraig Ó Tuama reads and comments on Roger Robinson's poem "A Portable Paradise."

"And if I speak of Paradise,
then I’m speaking of my grandmother
who told me to carry it always
on my person, concealed, so
no one else would know but me.
That way they can’t steal it, she’d say.
And if life puts you under pressure,
trace its ridges in your pocket,
smell its piney scent on your handkerchief,
hum its anthem under your breath."

What a lovely thought -- keeping my Paradise close at hand to give me comfort in times of stress. Yes.
But without Pádraig Ó Tuama's commentary, I would have missed the shift of the pronouns in the sixth line. Before that, the pronouns are "I." In line six comes "they." After line six, the pronouns are "you" and "your."

Ó Tuama suggests that this shift allows us to read "ethically," moving from a self-centered reading to a consideration of all the times when we've been the ones to steal another's paradise. 

Oof. I had to sit with that idea for the rest of the drive to school. Yet another example of all the ways we need to do our own internal work before we'll be ready to fully engage in the big work that the world is giving us right now.

Big work, indeed. As I've been saying to myself and my students all week, no matter what the outcome of the election, we need to stay focused on the three metaphors I chose for me/us: the big umbrella that welcomes all into its shelter, the lightbulb of truth and learning, and the bridge that spans divides. Our focus is on positive activism -- using our voices and our actions to lead the world in a positive direction.

Happy Poetry Friday! Thanks to the technological marvel of breakout rooms in Google Meet and the great good gift of Amy LV's online poetry archives, today we will attempt Poetry Friday they way I did it when we were in the classroom together and I could send students to my poetry shelves for a book: pick a poem, practice reading it aloud, perform it for the whole class. 

Susan has this week's Poetry Friday roundup at Soul Blossom Living.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Poetry Friday -- Space is a Word

Back on September 3, Laura Purdie Salas shared a poem written using a wordplay form that was the challenge Nikki Grimes offered up at Today's Little Ditty back in 2015. She featured this form in her October newsletter, "Salas Snippets."

I forwarded Laura's newsletter to my school email and luckily it surfaced right when I needed it.

We had finished our big Life Science unit, and covered our Space Science standards. Rather than giving a traditional test, I wanted my students to interact with the information in a creative way. "___ is a Word" poems were perfect! 

After studying Laura's examples, we noticed that this kind of poem always has a description of the chosen word in the first line, and it tells more about the word or the shape of the word in the poem.

Here's the poem we wrote together:

And here are a few of the poems my 5th graders wrote (click on the images to enlarge them):

Moon is a Word by J.

Pluto is a Word by A.

Planet is a Word by Z.

Orbit is a Word by S.

Pluto is a Word by A.

Linda B. has this week's Poetry Friday Roundup at TeacherDance.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Poetry Friday -- Autumn Acrostic

a tree in our neighborhood


At first, it goes
Then it is
Undeniable. Almost like
Magic, summer is gone.
No more shorts and swimsuits.

©Mary Lee Hahn, 2020 (with input from students on the last line)

My original last like was "naked trees," but "naked" is still a squirmy word for fifth graders (which I LOVE), so I gladly accepted this perfectly child-centric alternative last line.

We have been blessed with a glorious autumn, but my heart goes out to those who have had drought and fires, hurricanes and flooding. 

Jama's serving up warm cider and donuts with an autumn poem which, like mine last week, features an apple orchard. It's all kinds of perfect. Head over to the Poetry Friday Roundup at Jama's Alphabet Soup and check it out.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Poetry Friday: "I am overtired"

by Robert Frost

My long two-pointed ladder's sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there's a barrel that I didn't fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn't pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.
I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass
I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough
And held against the world of hoary grass.
It melted, and I let it fall and break.
But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,
And I could tell
What form my dreaming was about to take.
Magnified apples appear and disappear,
Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear.
My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.
And I keep hearing from the cellar bin
The rumbling sound
Of load on load of apples coming in.
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.
For all
That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,
Went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth.
One can see what will trouble
This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.
Were he not gone,
The woodchuck could say whether it's like his
Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,
Or just some human sleep.

I know I've been perky and positive in the past about my remote teaching gig, and all of the positives are still there. But I'm here today to tell you the other part of the truth: teaching remotely is hard. So so so very hard. Sit at the kitchen table completely stuck saying over and over again, "I don't know how to do this" hard. Long hours hard. Just longing to hand out a worksheet instead of making everything hard. How can I possibly reach every child hard. Overwhelmingly exhausted hard.

So even though this poem is about apple picking, it is about teaching remotely. How it takes over every waking and sleeping minute. And just at this moment, on a Friday after a late night of conferences on Wednesday and another this morning (and I still have to get ready for math), 

"For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired."

Janice has this week's Poetry Friday Roundup at Salt City Verse.

Friday, October 02, 2020

Poetry Friday -- Letting Go and Holding On

Being a Remote Learning Academy teacher is a non-stop life lesson in letting go of what's not important right now, or what's overwhelming right now, or what just won't work through a screen. On the flipside, it is also a non-stop life lesson in holding tightly to all the things that are most important.

Read aloud is one of those most important things for sure. The workshop model, too. I'm kinda sorta making workshop work. Word Game Wednesday is alive and thriving. And I've managed to bring back Poetry Friday. 

I gave my students a slide show filled with some of my photos for inspiration. We started with 15 Words or Less and Haiku. Five students have poems they're willing to share today. I copied their slides into a Poetry Friday slide show, and today after we share, I'll offer a new challenge: write a Nonet.

Here is the Nonet I wrote as their mentor text:

of wish,
globe of stars,
summer snowflake,
granny in the grass.
Some say you are a weed,
but to me you are magic.
Even though I blow you to bits,
you never hold a grudge -- you spread joy.

Mary Lee Hahn, 2020

(Hat tip to Amy LV for the inspiration for the line "granny in the grass.")

Tabatha has this week's Poetry Friday roundup at The Opposite of Indifference.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Anthropomorphized Monkeys and Racist Stereotypes in Children's Books

Anyone who knows me or reads this blog knows that I LOVED LOVED LOVED The Farmer and the Clown by Marla Frazee from the minute it was published. I am a HUGE Marla Frazee fan and love all of her work. Walk On! and The Farmer and the Clown are definitely two of my favorite picture books.

So I was VERY excited to read that this wordless book, The Farmer and the Clown, was going to grow into a trilogy! What a treat!  I couldn't wait to get a copy.

Then, I saw the title of the second book and I worried: The Farmer and the Monkey.

I have only recently started to pay attention to monkeys in children's literature. Edith Campbell led a Highlights Foundation workshop that I attended last year where she shared the problems with anthropomorphized monkeys in children's literature. She writes a bit about it here. The idea was new to me then (which in itself is a problem I take full responsibility for) and although I still don't completely understand it to the extent that I should, I can now see it as a huge problem.

If this is something you need to learn more about, Elisa Gall at Reading While White also wrote about this over 2 years ago in the post Knowing Better, Doing Better.

I am still continuing to learn more about this, but as I do, I am looking at children's books with monkeys with a more critical lens. I've recently realized this is something I've been missing all these years. When I revisit and learn more about Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed, Voices in the Park and others, I missed so much as I continued to share these books with children and teachers for so long.

So, back to The Farmer and the Monkey, the sequel to The Farmer and the Clown.

I ordered the book the day it came out. Even though I knew the issues with anthropomorphized monkeys in children's literature, I was hopeful.  Very hopeful. I trusted that maybe since this was about a circus, it would be okay. As I said, I LOVED The Farmer and the Clown and I really wanted to LOVE this one too.

My hope disappeared after reading just a few pages of this new book.  This adorable monkey caused trouble the minute he entered the farmer's house.  It was clear from the visuals early on that this monkey was a troublemaker and misbehaved often.  This thread of this character as "troublesome" and "behavior problem" works through the whole book.  When I thought about this as related to Edith Campbell's work, I couldn't help but see how this was a problem. The racist stereotype of Black children as troublemakers is something that this book amplifies. 

I was compelled to dig a bit more.  I went page by page in the book and here are some problematic things I noticed:

  • The monkey appears to me to be sneaky. Before he even enters the farmer's home, he is sneaking around, climbing on the roof, peeking in windows.
  • The monkey is only in the farmer's house for a few minutes before the farmer sends him away--kicks him out of the house in the dark night. Alone.
  • The monkey is left alone in the night and is buried in snow while the farmer presumably sleeps peacefully, not checking on the monkey through the night.
  • The next morning, the farmer sees the monkey in the snow, (seemingly waiting to be saved), feels sorry for the monkey and brings him in and cares for him. but the monkey still causes immense trouble on the farm and although the farmer doesn't seem to enjoy the monkey, he is more patient with him. 
  • The farmer sends the monkey off on his own to meet the train/his circus family, with a full picnic basket strapped to his back so that finally the farmer can rest peacefully on a haystack. The ending shows that the farmer's life is much better after he sends the monkey away.
Even after noticing these things, I was still a tiny bit hopeful. I remembered the clown in the first book being troublesome too, so I went back and compared the books, page by page, assuming I might see that the clown had been similar in character but that I forgot.  Here is what I noticed:

  • The clown visibly presents as a white child.
  • When the farmer sees the clown all alone, he immediately takes him in and cares for him, holding his hand as they walk to the farmer's house. The clown seems compliant and happy to have the farmer as a friend almost immediately. This is a huge contrast from the monkey, sneaking in and causing trouble immediately and the farmer becoming flustered.
  • In the home, the little clown is sweet and compliant. He does everything the farmer does.
  • The farmer is so loving toward the clown that the clown sleeps in the farmer's bed while the farmer stays awake making sure the clown is comfortable. In contrast, the farmer sleeps in his own bed while the monkey sleeps on the floor in a small picnic basket, or even stays awake at night while the farmer sleeps.
  • The clown was NEVER kicked out of the farmer's home. Instead the farmer did everything he could to help the clown feel welcome and to be comfortable.
  • The farmer works hard to entertain the clown and to make sure he is happy. The clown also appears to be VERY helpful with chores on the farm. 
  • In the first book, the farmer and the clown go on a fabulous picnic using a full picnic basket as they wait for the circus train. They eat together under a tree. When the train arrives, the farmer holds the clown's hand and waits until the family comes out and greets him. The farmer and the clown have an emotional goodbye that is filled with hugs and love. The farmer seems to keep the clown's hat to remember him.
  •  In contrast, the monkey is sent on his own, loaded down with a heavy picnic basket that they packed with food. Instead of hugs and love, the farmer shakes the monkey's hand and sends him off, without enjoying the meal together, never making sure he gets where he is going.
  • The farmer appears relieved when the monkey is gone as he rests on the haystack.

After learning from Edith Campbell and others, this is the first time that I have actually SEEN for myself -- without someone else pointing them out -- the racist stereotypes and the problems with anthropomorphized monkeys in a children's book. When I look at these two characters critically, I now see a sweet white child and a troublesome monkey. I see too many anti-Black messages in this book to look away. I am not the only one who has concerns about this book. Michelle Knott also mentioned her concerns in a recent blog post.

As I said earlier, this understanding about anthropomorphized monkeys in children's literature is new to me and I imagine it is new to many educators, authors, parents and publishers. I hope that we can all do better now that this information about the problems with anthropomorphized monkeys is readily available for us.

It is not my intent for this post to end up starting a conversation about this specific book, but instead for it to act as a call for all of us who work with children and children's books to commit to learning, understanding and critically analyzing books with monkeys and to understand the problematic history of these images.

I will continue to be a huge Marla Frazee fan even if I cannot be a supporter of this book.  I am hoping that that authors and publishers take this issue of monkeys in picture books more seriously in the future.

If you'd like to learn more, here are a few things I've read:

Edith Campbell reminds us in her post about Grumpy Monkey, "Regardless of the creator’s intent, there are social, cultural and political forces that shape the messages we find in books. Hundreds of years of equating blacks with simians cannot help but be seen in anthropomorphic pictures books"

Friday, September 25, 2020

Poetry Friday: Not Ponderous


photo via Unsplash

The World Itself is Not Ponderous

Feathers and giggles,
monarch's first flight,
petals unfurling,
equinox light.

Leaves in the fall,
bulbs in the spring,
in the yard after rain --
a fairy ring.

Fleetingly brief.
Here and then gone.
Like the flash of lightning,
or a chickadee's song.

©Mary Lee Hahn, 2020

I am joining the Poetry Seven's monthly challenge to explore "ponderous" or "hippo" or both. I went with "or neither" when I got weighed down (ponderously) by The Heavy Issues of Humankind. I did so want to include the factoid that the collective noun for hippos is a bloat. But that poem didn't happen. What I realized became the title of my poem, which was written in one of the "flipside" parts (if you remember my NPM project) of remote teaching -- two hours of silence while I proctored a test through my screen. 

Happy Autumn! Happy Almost October!

Jone has the Poetry Friday roundup this week at her new website.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Poetry Friday -- Orion

Photo via Unsplash

Winter Stars
by Sara Teasdale

I went out at night alone;
The young blood flowing beyond the sea
Seemed to have drenched my spirit’s wings—
I bore my sorrow heavily.

But when I lifted up my head
From shadows shaken on the snow,
I saw Orion in the east
Burn steadily as long ago.

From windows in my father’s house,
Dreaming my dreams on winter nights,
I watched Orion as a girl
Above another city’s lights.

Years go, dreams go, and youth goes too,
The world’s heart breaks beneath its wars,
All things are changed, save in the east
The faithful beauty of the stars.

I go out alone into the early morning dark almost every day to walk through the neighborhood. From August through late December, Orion keeps me company. His constancy, and the constancy of the stars, give me hope.

Matt has the Poetry Friday Roundup at Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Remote Learning with Spencer's New Pet: The Power of Wordless Books

As I work with teachers across grade levels, many are thinking about how to build community and create a space that is safe and inviting for important thinking and conversation. Whether they are in person and social distanced, whether they are hybrid and have their kids both live and in remote spaces or whether they are fully remote, this is something on every teachers' mind, as it is every fall. So much of the fall is often spent building community, learning how to have thoughtful conversations, building on one another's thinking, learning to disagree and learning to support claims and ideas with evidence.  This year is no different in that regard.

Spencer's New Pet by Jessie Sima has been a great wordless book to share early in the year. Mary Lee reviewed the book a while ago and I fell in love with it this spring when I shared it with my 5th graders. 

As a reader myself, I am not so great at reading images. I prefer words.  But I have come to fall in love with wordless picture books over the past several years. I have learned the power of wordless picture books, especially during the first several weeks of the school year.

If we want our students to talk about books in critical ways, if we want them to be able to talk about issues in our world, if we want students to learn to grapple with ideas, agree, disagree and grow their thinking, I find that wordless picture books are perfect tools for inviting students into this work early in the year.

This fall, I've been fortunate to work in a few Zoom classrooms, supporting teachers in their work with students.  Spencer's New Pet has worked so well with several groups of students. I find that it is a book children (and adults) of all ages engage in joyfully. And it provides so many natural stopping places to notice and celebrate thinking and talk. Because there are very few words, the book is accessible to everyone and children are anxious to share thinking as there is so much to notice in each illustration.

This book was good for several reasons. It helped start discussions around these important behaviors and strategies:

  • changing thinking is something readers do
  • readers support thinking with evidence
  • building on ideas of others is valued here
  • we think before, during and after we read
  • reading is about more than words; it is about thinking and understanding
  • we think in so many different ways as we read
  • there is power in rereading 
  • creators make so many decisions that help us understand

Spencer's New Pet is my most recent favorite wordless book, but I have several and I am always on the lookout for a new favorite to share with students.  Sharing a few wordless picture books over the first several weeks of school helps build an intellectual community of talk and collaborative thinking.   Here is a link to some other wordless books that are perfect for remote learning. 

Friday, September 11, 2020

Poetry Friday -- How to Be a Poet


image via Unsplash

How to Be a Poet

by Wendell Berry

(to remind myself)


Make a place to sit down.   
Sit down. Be quiet.   
You must depend upon   
affection, reading, knowledge,   
skill—more of each   
than you have—inspiration,   
work, growing older, patience,   
for patience joins time   
to eternity. Any readers   
who like your poems,   
doubt their judgment.  

    You can read the other two sections of this wise poem at the Poetry Foundation.  I'm sharing it today as a reminder to myself. Maybe you needed to hear that, too?

    Kiesha has this week's Poetry Friday roundup at Whispers From the Ridge.

Wednesday, September 09, 2020

Writing Workshop: The Possibilities for Remote Learning

The struggles of remote teaching and learning are real. Figuring out how to hold onto best practices with 29 students on a Zoom call is tricky at best. But as always, educators are figuring it out! I am amazed at all that teachers are doing to make this the best possible experience for students of all ages. 

This week, Seth's Godin's blog post, Self-Directed, Project-Based Learning got me thinking again. 

Since spring, I've been reflecting on my experiences with remote teaching. As I work with teachers now, I continue to think about what worked and what didn't when we moved to remote teaching last year. I am also thinking about the possibilities and surprise joys that came with remote teaching and learning. One thing I discovered was that Writing Workshop was an area that allowed me to offer choice and good teaching while making sure to meet required standards. I see how much is possible with remote teaching when it comes to writing.

I wrote a bit about it here after learning a bit from Julie Johnson on the blog this spring. I created a board for students that focused on writing choices and also met the standards that needed to be covered. Each choice led to a slideshow specific to the genre that helped kids do a bit of their own study while still having the support of our live writing workshop sessions.

I was mostly focused on providing choice and independence at that point. But once I opened up possibilities for kids, so many more good things happened.

Writing Workshop in a remote learning setting reminded me of the thing I know but sometimes forget when I am caught up in the day-to-day work of teaching--the more I let go and the more choices I give students, the more authentic and rich their writing experiences are and the more they learn and grow. The more choice and ownership I gave to students, the more they were able to do as writers and the more they were able to surprise me with their brilliance.

When given the choice, lots of time, and response from both home and school, students came up with so many great ideas:

  • One student created her own cooking show, using some of her favorite TV shows as mentors for her writing.
  • One student created a news show with her older sister and together they crafted stories, created a set and recorded those.
  • One student created a new version of a board game with directions on how to play.
  • One student interviewed family members about a memory, so that all perspectives could be part of the final piece.
  • A student who has major talent in art had time to create several pages of a graphic novel.
  • A student created the first chapter of Frozen fan fiction, planning to go on to write more over the summer.

One big lesson for me was when one of my students shared her process in creating a podcast. She had enjoyed the podcast series The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel and wanted to create her own fiction/fantasy podcast. We met several times in small groups and one day she said, laughing, "I spent all day yesterday looking for just the right sound effects. I found so many apps and so many sound effects. I wanted to find the perfect ones!" (You can listen to the podcast, "Sabrina and the Unexpected Fortune" below.)

In that moment I realized that the things we know that are important to any writing workshop (time, choice and response), were already so much a part of this pandemic life. Even though we provide these things in the classroom writing workshop, much has been taken away over the years because of time constraints, district mandates, state testing, etc.). In school, time for writing is limited, but because students had extra down time due to the pandemic, writing became playful and fun and so authentic. They could spend as much time as they needed or wanted to on parts of the process.  They were able to go above and beyond in areas of writing that they wanted to. It seemed so authentic. I know that when I write, I sometimes get caught up for hours on one word or on one sentence. Or I work to try to find the perfect image to go along with a message. This is the fun of writing on some days. 

When I met with small groups, students weren't talking about their writing pieces as something they were doing for school or because of school. They started talking about their plans for summer and how they might build onto the work they had done so far to write more. They were choosing to use their summer to continue work on some writing projects as they knew they'd have lots of time. So many of them were living their outside-of-school lives as writers.

When I gave this kind of choice, small group work fell into place. I sometimes pulled groups based on the kind of writing they were doing but then other times we'd meet as a group based on the specific elements they wanted feedback on. When kids work on a variety of pieces, there are so many opportunities for teaching and learning from each other. The standards were so much easier to "cover" when there were so many different things going on in the classroom. 
  • Kids were exposed to writing they may never have thought of trying.
  • We could talk about craft across genres--word choice, conclusions, organization are important no matter the genre or format. This allowed students to see the ways skills could transfer.
  • Mentor texts became more important. I provided several but then students found some of their own as needed during the creation process.
  • Writers were not only learning about the kinds of writing they were doing themselves, but as participants in the writing community, they were learning about the many kinds of writing that others were engaged in.
  • Minilessons could be built using student work and could easily be planned to transfer to any kind of writing.
I'm certainly not saying that we need a whole year without time limits or units of study based on genre or craft. But what I relearned about writing workshop is that time is something that kids have a lot of these days, something that isn't always the case and something that is often limited during the school day. And when writers have time, choice and response, they do brilliant things. So many of my students took full advantage of that extra time they had at home to create things they were proud of--partly because of the time and partly because of the choice.  I'm saying that it might be a good opportunity for us to rethink how much time, choice, and authentic response has maybe been taken away from kids in writing over the last decade or so. I'm saying that maybe we should take advantage of this time to help students see all that is possible as writers.