Friday, September 28, 2007

Poetry Friday - How Are We Connected?

I had the distinct pleasure of hearing John Green, author of Looking for Alaska and An Abundance of Katherines, last night at the University of Richmond. The title of his talk was "How Are We Connected?" John was much more eloquent than I will be in summarizing his thoughts, but I wanted to share his ideas, today particularly, since he used poetry to help make his points.

John began by quoting a brief passage from Walt Whitman's A Song of Myself.
I bequeathe myself to the dirt, to grow from the grass I love;
If you want me again, look for me under your boot-soles.

You will hardly know who I am, or what I mean;
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.
He suggested that good books acknowledge the reality of human feelings, and that books can help us to connect in four ways. They are:
  1. Self to Other - by giving us access to voices that cannot easily be heard
  2. Self to Collective - by helping us see that we are part of the human experience
  3. Readers to Writers - by allowing us to engage in quiet conversation with an author through the act of reading
  4. Living to Dead - because text can help us endure and prevail
In talking about the second point, John told us about spending a summer in Alaska and how incredibly isolating it was. For a long time he believed no one understood how he felt, at least not until he read this poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay.
Night Falls Fast
Night falls fast.
Today is in the past.

Blown from the dark hill hither to my door
Three flakes, then four
Arrive, then many more.
In talking about the last point, John quoted William Faulkner's Nobel Prize Speech, saying that reading this each day is what kept him going while writing Alaska.
I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal because he will endure: that when the last ding-dong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet's, the writer's, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.
It was an inspired talk. John talked about wanting to write honest fiction. What I came away with was the same notion I had while reading both of his books. John Green not only writes honest fiction, but smart fiction. His knowledge of books and authors also reminded me how important it is for writers to be readers.
Poetry Friday is being hosted today by AmoXcalli. Please stop by and check out all the great entries, but before you go, do be sure to read the results of this week's poetry stretch. Happy Poetry Friday, all!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Another Cybils Confession

Everywhere you look these days you'll find some list of Cybils panelists and judges on another kidlit blog. I guess it's about time I confessed to my total inability to say NO and admit to being honored to serve this year on a panel with an amazing group of folks. Go ahead, just try and guess which category.
This fall you'll find me working hard on the nominating panel for nonfiction picture books (surprise!) along with these lovely bloggers:
Our fearless leader is Eisha of Seven-Imp fame. You can read about her here and here.

Nominations open on October 1st. I hope you're ready to contribute some great titles for us to wade through. I'm secretly hoping that our group selects such a fabulous group of finalists that the judging panel experiences a few sleepless nights and teeny, tiny bit of agita in selecting the winner. (Oops! Did I really say that out loud?!) The judging panel consists of the these awesome bloggers:
See how great they are? I have every confidence that they'll do a fantastic job.

For more info, visit the Cybils web site or blog. If you want to get involved in the discussion, join the Cybils forum and share your ideas.

T-Shirts for Readers

On the blog Deaf Characters in Adolescent Literature (thanks to Besty over at A Fuse #8 Production for the link), there is a great interview with author Sarah Miller in which she is pictured in a t-shirt with a strikingly familiar pigeon. I just had to find that shirt! After a bit of searching I found a great site with T-shirts for those of us who love to read. Check out Wonder-Shirts and get yourself a beauty with illustrations by Mo Willems (Driven to Read), Betsy Lewin (Click, Clack, Read), Kevin Henkes and more. I must admit that the teacher in me is crazy about the Miss Viola Swamp shirt.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Poetry Stretch Results - Bouts-Rimés

People seem to be getting good with this form. I find these poems difficult to write, feeling constrained by the words I must use and the order in which they must appear. For this bouts-rimés, writers were given these words:
hour, tower, thought, fought, hand, grand, teem, dream
Here is what they did with them.
A warm welcome to sister AE at Having Writ who gives us The Plan.

Tiel Aisha Ansari at Knocking From Inside shares XVI -The Tower.

Terrell at Alone on a Limb gives us Alone.

Cloudscome over at a wrung sponge presents the lovely Quaker Meeting Poem.
Here's my own offering.
I stand at the window awaiting the hour
Eyes cast down from the guarded tower
Through bars I peer while lost in thought
Fear and tears cannot be fought
Jingling keys I hear in hand
Prepared for the march to the gallows grand
Faces and memories in my head teem
A shout! Awake! It's just a dream.
Still want to play? Read the rules here. Then leave me a comment about your poem and I'll include it on the list.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

When Science Mattered

I must share one more article. When working on my Masters and later PhD, I spent a great deal of time studying the history of science education since the launch of Sputnik. In today's New York Times there is an article entitled When Science Suddenly Mattered, in Space and Class.

While the launch of Sputnik spurred unprecedented reform in science education, these efforts had fallen off by the early 80s. In 1983, a bipartisan committee produced a federal report called A Nation At Risk, in which they cited the steady decline of science achievement. More than 20 years later, this situation has not changed. Fewer and fewer students these days want to pursue careers in math, science and engineering, with the number of minority students a startlingly small portion of those who do.

This article highlights a bit of the history of science education and attempts to address some of the problems plaguing us today. Here's one problem that is cited.
Dr. Malcolm said some of the blame must go to the way classes are taught, with too much emphasis on memorizing terminology and not enough on concepts. Most students receive teaching-to-the-test instruction, she and other experts say, in which science laboratories are organized like cookbooks, with ingredients, equipment and instructions — and results — known in advance.
It's a great article with much food for thought. Do head on over and check it out.

Academics or Culture? How Best to Raise Achievement

We devote a great deal of time in our pre-service preparation program to helping our future teachers grapple with issues related to teaching diverse groups of students. In a course called Diverse Learners and Environments, we introduce the wide range of diversity that exists across today's general school population and examine the increased professional demands that this diversity makes upon teachers. We explore a range of diversity issues including economic, social, racial, ethnic, religious, geographic, and physical and cognitive abilities and backgrounds of children.

Through field experiences, upper division course work and finally student teaching, we attempt to get students into schools where they will experience the full range of this diversity. We also share current research and approaches to working with different student populations.

Given our emphasis on developing teachers who are sensitive to the needs of all children, I was particularly interested in this recent article from Education Week on strategies for Native American students. Entitled Varied Strategies Sought for Native American Students, the article examines approaches taken in states where Native American students make up a large portion of the minority student population. The two contrasting approaches highlighted are worth considering and discussing. Here is an excerpt:
Subscribing to the philosophy that Indian students are best served by a focus on core academics was Ben Chavis, a former principal of the American Indian Public Charter School in Oakland, Calif., who gave a keynote address on the first day of the conference.

Mr. Chavis told how over five years at the school he helped change the academic performance of students by paring down the curriculum to focus on language arts and mathematics. The school went from having one of the worst academic records in Oakland to having one of the best, he said. It also grew far more diverse, from having 27 students, most of whom were Native American, to 230 students, 12 percent of whom are Native American.

Mr. Chavis said that when he started as the principal in 2000, students were spending an hour each morning in a practice derived from Native American culture called a “talking circle,” in which they were “sitting around in the circle passing the feather.”

Though he grew up attending segregated schools for Native Americans in North Carolina, he saw that practice as a waste of time and eliminated it. He also moved cultural electives such as music to after-school programs, so the school day could be spent on core academics.

But in a breakout session that followed Mr. Chavis’ address, Sandra J. Fox, a member of the Oglala Lakota Nation, and a consultant on Indian education, said she encourages schools to take a very different tack—in one school, she quipped, “we instituted a talking circle.”

In general, Ms. Fox stressed the importance of incorporating Native American culture and history into lessons and teaching in ways that are compatible with that culture. She said, for example, that many Indian parents teach their children by doing or showing, rather than telling, and that such a method works well also in school with such children.

“Indian children watch and watch and watch, and don’t want to try it until they think they can do it,” she said.

Ms. Fox also recommended that teachers use “instructional conversation,” in which they sit in a circle with students, informally introduce a subject they are about to teach, and ask for student input. She said that Native American children also respond well to hearing lessons in a storytelling form.
I must admit that even though the first method described has raised scores, it is the same approach we are seeing in our urban schools here and one that concerns me greatly. Yes, core academics are important, but if we choose to diminish the importance of science, social studies, the arts and other experiential parts of the curriculum, we run the risk of creating children who narrowly focused, unable to see connections among disciplines and how we use these skills and ideas in the real world, and poised to see little value in their schooling. We must do more than teach/prepare students to pass a test.

That said, I'm all for Ms. Fox's method of reaching students, and think it holds promise for students who may come from different cultural backgrounds. We must learn to value who students are and what they bring to the classroom if we expect them to value what we do and can offer them in return.

Okay, I'm off my soapbox now. Fire away.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Monday Poetry Stretch - Bouts-Rimés (Again)

Now that more people are engaging in these poetry stretches with me each week, I decided it would be fun to revisit a form. Here is a description of the form bouts-rimés.
A bouts-rimés poem is created by one person's making up a list of rhymed words and giving it to another person, who in turn writes the lines that end with those rhymes, in the same order they were given.
(Adapted from The Teachers & Writers Handbook of Poetic Forms.)
You can read more at Wikipedia and learn a bit about the history of this form.

Here is the word list for today's stretch. Your poem can take any form, but your rhymed words must appear in the order given.
hour, tower, thought, fought, hand, grand, teem, dream

So, do you want to play? What kind of bouts-rimés will you write? Post your creation on your blog and then leave a link in the comments. Once we have some poems, I'll link them all here.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Weekend Wordsmith - Poetry

Bonnie Jacobs hosts a blog called Weekend Wordsmith. Each Friday she posts a word, hoping to appeal to the inner wordsmith of her readers. If inspired, folks write about it on their blogs. Last week's word was poetry. How could I not respond? Here is the intro from that post.
POETRY ~ Do you have a favorite poem? Should poetry rhyme? Are you a poet? Do you remember a poem you had to memorize in school? Maybe you'd like to compose one this week?
The first poem I ever memorized was Trees, by Joyce Kilmer. It is below.
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the sweet earth's flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
While most of my classmates (3rd grade) hated this poem, I loved it. Years later, I could still recite it. When I was in high school, our choir director chose an arrangement for the women based on this poem. It was lovely to sing, and again, I was one of the few folks who enjoyed it. However, I can no longer recite the poem. The alto part is stuck in my head, so whenever I hear it, I feel the need to sing that darn part.

I wish more teachers would encourage kids to memorize poetry, or at least think about delivering a poem aloud. I learned so much by thinking about the poem's meaning and attempting to find the right voice to put those feelings into words. I also wish more teachers use poetry as a means to introduce topics of instruction, or use the writing of poetry as a way to assess what has been learned. There is room for poetry everywhere in the curriculum, not just in the language arts portion of day.

I recently purchased a copy of Bobbi Katz's new book, Trailblazers: Poems of Exploration. Inside it reads:
Where do you want to go?
An Internet map will tell you precisely which road to take and which turns to make.

Slowly spin a globe. Notice how vast the oceans are? Wherever you choose to go, an airplane can fly you there in hours. Travel wasn't always so fast or so easy.

Imagine an earlier time . . . . There are no maps. The globe is blank. What lies behind the mountain, beyond the sea--beyond Earth's atmosphere? Who will risk life itself to find out? Who is making new discoveries right now?

The brave men, women, and kids you'll meet in Trailblazers: Poems of Exploration. In more than sixty poems, some serious and some lighthearted, you'll find dreamers, schemers, conquerors, patriots, pirates, pilgrims, scientists, teachers and the incurably adventurous!
If that isn't inspiration enough to include poetry across the curriculum, I don't know what is. As I read through these poems, I'm already thinking about how I can convince my secondary social studies folks to give them a try this semester. It's a terrific collection that should find an honored place in every social studies classroom. (Cybils poetry folks, I hope you're listening!)

I have written before abut poetry across the curriculum, though I'm generally spouting off about science or math. It's a great resource, particularly when nonfiction can be so intimidating. Won't you think about trying some in your classroom? Here are two of my favorite original poems, written for my middle school science kids.
Nocturnal navigator
aerial magician
and flip
and grab
erratic flights of fancy

Not feathered
on the wing

My Shell
Carapace of brown and black,
heavy shield upon my back.
Ribs and backbone fused to it,
all to my body carefully knit.
Protection of the toughest kind,
impossible to leave behind.

Seen and Heard This Week

In addition to my regular work week adventures, I attended a summit on civics education at the Capitol building in Richmond and an advisory board meeting for VA's Agriculture in the Classroom program. During the course of the week I saw and heard many interesting things. Here are a few of them.

Dr. Michael Cornfield spoke at the Civics Summit on New Media, New Citizenship and American Politics. He likened the presidential race this year to The Amazing Race, largely because of the diversity of candidates, and a treadmill dance, because so many underlying factors are keeping candidates in motion. To help you understand this phenomenon, take a look at the video Dr. Cornfield shared.

I ran across this short line in an article I read:
For busy teachers (is that a tautology?) . . .
My response? Absolutely.

William was chosen as last week's Star of the Week. As part of the honor he got to bring books from home for read aloud. His choice for Friday was one of our favorites, A Day in the Life of Murphy. If you haven't heard it discussed and read aloud by Daniel Pinkwater and Scott Simon, you're missing out. We listened to it Thursday night just before bedtime. (This was part of effort to settle down after the 6 chocolate bar dessert!)

At the end of the week, William came home with a book where each classmate had written and illustrated a page about him. While I was shocked by the number of times handsome or cute came up, I was thrilled to read words like nice and kind. I was also happy to read the number of entries that said William "shares great books." AMEN to that.

As we read Big Chickens and Zinnia and Dot again (and again) this week, my mind turned to thoughts of Susan at Chicken Spaghetti. Yesterday when we went to Maymont, William suggested I take a picture for the "chicken lady." So, this one's for you, Susan!
Finally, one of the best sights this week also came during our Saturday morning wanderings at Maymont. We watched the river otters play, the foxes sleep, climbed rocks, explored the gardens and fed the animals. In the end though, we were absolutely entranced by the black bears.
That's it for this week's sights and sounds. I hope your week ahead is a good one.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Writing Meme

Bonnie over at Words From a Wordsmith tagged me for a meme on writing. The idea is for me to describe my strengths as a writer. Okay, ugh! While it is so easy to point out all the areas in which I am deficient, it has been very difficult for me to think about what I do well. This is one of the reasons it has taken me so long to respond. I'm now done stalling and ready to write. I hope I can come up with five.
  • I am an avid reader. I do believe that this makes be a better writer. Not only do I read a lot, I read a great variety of genres. I take recommendations and always try to take some lesson away from every book I read. I read for language, for character, for time and place, for example, and most of all, for the sheer pleasure of the work.
  • I am determined/persistent/relentless. Even when I don't want to write, I write. I never go anywhere without a writer's notebook. I have a collection of journals in many sizes and have one close at hand. I even write in the middle of the night. I keep my book light, paper and a pen near the bed. When I wake up in the wee hours of the morning and words are keeping me awake, I scribble them down as fast as I can. Sometimes it's an interesting turn of a phrase or an idea for a story or project, but more often than not, it is a poem.
  • I love words. I love how they sound, how they're spelled, and the magic they make when strung together in interesting and surprising ways. I love word play. Here are two examples of the types of word play I enjoy.
    I love the work of Douglas Florian, in large part because of the way he plays with words. Here is an example from mammabilia.
    Aardvarks aare odd.
    Aardvarks aare staark.
    Aardvarks look better
    By faar in the daark.

    This second example is a quote from the series M*A*S*H where Hawkeye is set to take over as OOD.

    "I'll carry your books, I'll carry a torch, I'll carry a tune, I'll carry on, carry over, carry forward, Cary Grant, cash and carry, carry me back to Old Virginie, I'll even 'hari-kari' if you show me how, but I will not carry a gun!"
  • I am a lifelong learner. I know this phrase is tossed around a lot these days, but the truth is, I teach because it keeps me learning. I know that I am not a great writer, but I truly believe that my work will improve with practice, and that I can learn new skills. This is one of the reasons I continue to write. It's also why I started the weekly poetry stretch. I am enjoying learning about these new forms and the challenge of trying to make them work with my words and ideas.
Well, that's only four. Perhaps with some more thought I can come up with a fifth. I'm tagging my writing group buddies, Libby and Terry. If anyone else reading this wants to play along, please do write about your strengths as a writer and then post a link to your response in the comments.

Poetry Friday - Found Poetry and More

I have a collection of notebooks in many sizes that I use as my writer's notebooks. I never go anywhere without one of them. Whenever I'm out and about these days, I look for new journals or notebooks that will inspire me. While visiting my sister last year I bought several single subject notebooks, small in size, and covered with stars. On the name label they read, "All tiny things are pretty," and on the bottom corner of each cover is this poem.
Sweet strawberries, stars,
flowers, four-leafed clovers
and my heart ached for you.
Here is one of my original poems from inside. It is, as yet, untitled.
Blue skies through
time and space
cannot erase
the crashing waves
the roaring sound
heard in the
that I had found.
This third one is for Kelly at Big A little a. In her post on Everyday Etiquette this week she asked how to stop those "talkers" who keep meetings going on, and on, and on. My advice? This little bit of Mao. I think every meeting room should have a poster like this. This particular piece of art was hanging on the wall of conference room at Beijing Normal University.
Just in case you can't read it, it says:
Talks, speeches, articles, and resolutions should all be concise and to the point. Meetings also should not go on too long.
Finally, my last bit of poetry takes the form of a SmilE. When I got home from choir practice last night, I arrived to find my husband at wit's end. I'm sure the fact that he gave our 6 year old 6 chocolate bars for dessert had absolutely nothing to do with his sorry state. When William, who normally goes to bed at 7:30, greeted me at the door at 8:20 with "Guess what Dad did?" and then proceeded to run laps around the kitchen, I had to . . . well, you guessed it, smile. Really, what else could I do? I hope this story brings that same smile to you.

That's it for me today. Poetry Friday this week is being hosted by the incomparable Sara Lewis Holmes at Read Write Believe. Head on over and read all the great posts. But wait! Before you go, check out the results of this week's poetry stretch on blues poems. Happy Poetry Friday, all!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Creating Readers - Part III

The final installment in the three part series on creating readers is now available. In Part III, Donalyn Miller talks about SSR, AR, DEAR and more. Don't miss the end of this terrific series.

In case you missed the first two posts, here are the links.
Part I
Part II

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Book Review - How Many Seeds in a Pumpkin?

William and I have read every book in Cynthia Rylant's High Rise Private Eyes series that is so terrifically illustrated by G. Brian Karas. When we learned he had illustrated the recently released book, How Many Seeds in a Pumpkin?, we knew we had to have it. We have read and re-read it several times already, and as a result, William is happily planning a pumpkin experiment of his own.

Suffice it to say that I was so pleased with this book that I purchased a second copy for my teaching collection. Margaret McNamara's book provides a wonderful reminder of the importance of not judging by appearances, while also serving as a lesson in skip counting by 2's, 5's and 10's.

As the book begins, we learn that Charlie likes school, his teacher, and his friends, but does not like lining up to go into school. You see, Charlie is the smallest in his class, and the class lines up each day by height, from "tallest to smallest or smallest to tallest," highlighting each day Charlie's limited stature. One morning Charlie arrives to find three pumpkins on Mr. Tiffin's desk, one small, one medium and one large.
"How many seeds in a pumpkin?" Mr. Tiffin asked the class. "Does anybody know?"
Nobody knew, but everybody had ideas.
The students make guesses and Mr. Tiffin writes them on the board. The next day the students begin the task of removing the seeds from the pumpkins. The spread that shows children digging their hands into the pumpkins to remove the slimy seeds affectionately and aptly captures this experience on the faces of the children. My favorite is the girl with her arm in the pumpkin and tongue out of her mouth. That would be me--loving the experience but still finding something disgusting about it! Children reading this will definitely relate.

On the next double page spread readers will find three empty pumpkins, three full bowls and twenty messy hands (10 pairs)! Mr. Tiffin dries the seeds and the next day they are placed in bags for students to count. Four students count the seeds from the big pumpkin by 2's, five students count the seeds from the medium pumpkin by 5's, and one student (Charlie, of course) counts the seeds from the small pumpkin by 10's. Once the counts are totaled and the pumpkin with the most seeds revealed, Mr. Tiffin leads the class through a series of observations in an effort to see if students can discover some clues about how many seeds might be in a pumpkin.

Even though this is a worthy counting title, there is a great deal more math in it that can be explored. Lining up by size provides an opportunity to explore seriation and ordinal numbers, guessing the number of seeds provides an opportunity to explore estimation, there is mention of even and odd numbers, the images of the pumpkin seeds in arrays provides an opportunity to talk about multiplication and division (the five's page has a remainder of one), and students can talk about the concepts of greater than and less than while comparing the number of seeds in each pumpkin.

At the end of the book there is a page of Pumpkin facts. After reading them it was fun to realize that I had learned some new things about these icons of fall.

All-in-all, I love the story, love the art with it's autumn hues, and am thrilled with the possibilities for instruction. I highly recommend it.

Book: How Many Seeds in a Pumpkin?
Author: Margaret McNamara
Illustrator: G. Brian Karas
Publisher: Schwartz & Wade
Publication Date: July 10, 2007
Pages: 40
Grades: 1-3
ISBN-10: 0375840141
ISBN-13: 978-0375840142
Source of Book: Copy purchased at

Other Reviews:

the excelsior file
Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast

Poetry Stretch Results - Blues Poems

A few folks have shared their blues poems this week. It seems we all have a lot to lament! So, without further ado, here are the results of this week's stretch.
Mary Lee at A Year of Reading gives us The AYP Blues. Amen to that!

Tiel Aisha Ansari at Knocking From Inside gives us one of her favorites, Lyrics & Blues. She has previously written a number of poems in this form. You can read them here.

MotherReader is in this week with the very funny Volunteer Blues.

John Mutford at The Book Mine Set shares his poem, No Blues Blues.

Cloudscome over at a wrung sponge has a bit of the Touch Typing Blues.

My first attempt with this form was Rainy Day Blues. Here's my latest effort.

Lunch Box Blues

I eat a brown bag lunch
In the dining hall at noon
A peanut butter sandwich
September through to June
That same old peanut butter
Gonna’ send me to the moon
Oh man I gotta’ say it
Got the doggone lunch box blues!

No Lunchables in my sack
No sandwich made of Fluff
No Ho Hos, chips or candy
Just the same old healthy stuff
That peanut butter sandwich
It’s gonna’ make me snap
Oh man I gotta’ say it
Got the doggone lunch box blues!

I know my Momma loves me
Feeds me good stuff every day
Grapes and cheese and carrots
A healthy food buffet
And yes, that peanut butter
Looks like it’s here to stay
Oh man I gotta’ say it
Got the doggone lunch box blues!

I’d trade it all for French fries
Or some chocolate for my meal
If my snotty little sister
Wouldn’t run right home and squeal
Now that stupid peanut butter
Has lost all of its appeal
Ain’t no other way to say it
Got the doggone lunch box blues!
It's not too late to play. Read the guidelines and try your hand at a blues poem. Then leave me a comment and I'll link your creation here.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Monday Poetry Stretch - Blues Poem

My recent poem called Rainy Day Blues got me thinking that this would be a fun form to experiment with next. I've been listening to some of my Alligator Records to get into the proper mood. Here's what you need to know to write a blues poem.
Blues poetry takes it's name from the musical form. (Read about blues music.) Blues songs are generally narrative in structure and are about grief, hopelessness, loss, and hard times. In writing a blues poem, the authors of The Teachers & Writers Handbook of Poetic Forms recommend that you "think of something that depresses you."
You can read more about this form at

I am working on two poems for my six-year old. One is entitled Lunch Box Blues and the other is Bedtime Blues. As you may have noticed, almost all of my poems are written for kids. However, don't let my examples stop you from tackling any of these forms.

For a bit of inspiration today, I leave you with this fine example by Langston Hughes.
Po' Boy Blues
by Langston Hughes

When I was home de
Sunshine seemed like gold.
When I was home de
Sunshine seemed like gold.
Since I come up North de
Whole damn world's turned cold.

I was a good boy,
Never done no wrong.
Yes, I was a good boy,
Never done no wrong,
But this world is weary
An' de road is hard an' long.

I fell in love with
A gal I thought was kind.
Fell in love with
A gal I thought was kind.
She made me lose ma money
An' almost lose ma mind.

Weary, weary,
Weary early in de morn.
Weary, weary,
Early, early in de morn.
I's so weary
I wish I'd never been born.
So, do you want to play? What kind of blues poem will you write? Post your creation on your blog and then leave a link in the comments. Once we have some poems, I'll link them all here.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Answers to Trudy's Questions

This morning over at 7-Imp's 7 Kicks, the featured author is Trudy White. In sharing images from her newest work, Could You? Would You?, Trudy suggested the inclusion of some of the questions from her book. If you answer them the fine hosts at 7-Imp will enter your name into a drawing for a free copy of said book.

Hey, any chance for a free book, especially one that looks this great, and I'm in. Here are my answers to the 5 questions.
How would someone find you in a crowd?
I've been a singer since I was kid, so I have a powerful set of lungs. I'm not above shouting out someone's name or singing a silly song for attention. I'm also not shy about standing on ledges or statutes in order to be seen.

If your house had a secret room, what would be in there?
Oh please, like you even need to ask. It would have one wall of windows, floor to ceiling, with window seats and cupboards. Between the windows and on every other wall would be bookcases, also floor to ceiling. It would have a library ladder, a mission oak library table, a chaise lounge, a sofa, a chess table, and a large floor globe. The shelves would be filled with books, and magically, each year they would fill with the best new titles.

Where do you like to walk from your house?
I live close to a beautiful college campus. On days when I need to walk, I head right for the lake at UR and the path around it.

How will you change as you grow up?
As I get older I get more claustrophobic (is that possible?), more philosophical, less worried about what others think, and generally much happier on a day-to-day basis. In the future I would like to stress less and share more.

What sort of animal would you like to be?
I am currently so sleep deprived that being a sloth and sleeping 20 hours a day looks mighty appealing. Honestly, I haven't been this tired since William was born!
So, will you play? Answer these questions on your blog and leave a note for the ladies at 7-Imp and let them know you're in.

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Cybils are Back!

Yes, the Cybils are back for year two. If you blog about kidlit and want to participate, head on over to the Cybils blog and read more about volunteering. I'm in. Won't you come too?

Poetry Friday - Rainy Day Blues

I was talking to my Dad this week and we were discussing the drought where he lives. It's also dry here, and while my small garden is thirsty for rain, I can't help but feeling a wee bit guilty for wishing the skies would open up when so many others this summer were devastated by heavy rains and flooding.

Following this conversation I was up in the wee hours unable to sleep, so I wrote this poem about rain. Enjoy!
Rainy Day Blues
Clouds loomin' and thunder boomin'
Skies grayin' and people sayin'
They got the rainy day blues.

Drops ploppin' and garden soppin'
Puddles growin' and rivers flowin'
With rainy day blues.

Ground seepin' and trees weepin'
Gutters spillin' and pools fillin'
With rainy day blues.

Hair drippin' and shoes squishin'
Umbrella flyin' -- there's no denyin'
I got the rainy day blues.

Skies clearin' and sunshine nearin'
Storms endin' with rainbow bendin'
No more rainy day blues!
The round up today is at Hip Writer Mama. Please head on over and check out the great posts. You should also make your way to the results of this week's poetry stretch and read some of the wonderful pantoums folks wrote. Happy poetry Friday, all!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Creating Readers - Part II

Last week I shared a link to the first article in a three part series on creating readers. Part II is now posted. The very first question is:
Beyond finding interesting books for them, how do we help boys who are struggling to read to engage in the reading process?
Great question! Head on over to Creating Readers - Part II to read the answer and learn more about motivating reluctant readers.

New Edition of Learning in the Great Outdoors

The fabulous September edition of Learning in the Great Outdoors is now up over at Alone on a Limb. Do head on over and check it out.

Blogging for a Cure

Jules at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast has rolled out a plan to support Robert's Snow by highlighting the illustrators who are participating this year. Read this post to learn more about how to get involved. I'm on board. Won't you come too?

Best Books of 2007 (So Far) - Art

Okay, I know this isn't one of MotherReader's categories, but in thinking about her call for readers to nominate Best Books of the Year to date list, I kept coming back to art. William and I have been talking about our favorite pictures in books lately, so this seemed a natural way to examine the books of 2007. Here I present the ones I adore for outstanding illustrations.
  • Baby Bear, Baby Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin and Eric Carle - This is the last collaboration from this author/illustrator team. Carle's artwork is bold and bright. The skunk, the rattlesnake and the baby bear are playfully presented and among my favorites.
  • Dogs and Cats by Steve Jenkins - I've yet to meet a book by Jenkins I didn't love. The faces of these animals are simply astonishing.
  • Knuffle Bunny Too by Mo Willems - I have no doubt that MR will agree with me on this one, but regardless of her affections, this is one amazing book.
  • Mother Goose Numbers on the Loose by Leo and Diane Dillon - This newest work by the Dillons is a real beauty. How could I not love a book with numbers dancing through each spread?
  • Pssst! by Adam Rex - I couldn't stop looking at the pictures in this one. The illustrations are so different from the others on this list and amazingly creative.
Alright, I know MR said only five in any category, but I couldn't resist. How about you? What books contain your favorite illustrations for this year?

Poetry Stretch Results - Pantoum

I believe this form was even more difficult than the cento. Coming up with a poem that made sense was truly a challenge. However, I was thrilled that there were readers/writers out there willing to try it. Here are the results of this week's stretch.
A warm welcome to Tiel Aisha Ansari at Knocking From Inside who gives us the pantoum Rock Solid. She has previously written a number of poems in this form. You can read them here.

Let's also welcome Sam Riddleburger who shares his pantoum called Jungle Fowl.

Terrell at Alone on a Limb gives us a pantoum about The Cliff Swallow.

Andromeda over at a wrung sponge shares a poem about her son called Jetty.

Heather at 20's going on spinster with cats shares a poem entitled photographic.

Cath at little cool shallows is in with a poem called Cliché Mounting.

My first attempt with this form is called Meadow Morn.
It's not too late to play. Read the rules and try your hand at a pantoum. Then leave me a comment and I'll link your creation here.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

My Pantoum - Meadow Morn

Okay, I'm a bit nervous about this draft, but I must admit that I really enjoyed the challenge of writing a pantoum.
Meadow Morn
In the meadow green
Dew glistens on each blade
As sunlight breaks the day
And fog whispers away

Dew glistens on each blade
As murmured voices hum
And fog whispers away
Wobbly legs unfold

As murmured voices hum
The day’s repast begins
Wobbly legs unfold
And nest mates stretch and sing

The day’s repast begins
A morning chorus rises
Nest mates stretch and sing
Waking up the world

A morning chorus rises
As sunlight breaks the day
Waking up the world
In the meadow green
I am going to play some more with this form. Won't you join me? Post your pantoum on your blog and then leave a link in the comments. Once we have some poems, I'll link them all here.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Monday Poetry Stretch - Pantoum

This week's stretch is a real S-T-R-E-T-C-H. The form I have decided to tackle is the pantoum. I have read a great deal about this form and found many variations. I am not going to try and do this one in rhyme, though you can if you want to attempt it. Are you ready? Here's the form.
The pantoum is a poem made up of stanzas of four lines where lines 2 and 4 of each stanza are repeated as lines 1 and three of the next stanza. The final stanza of a pantoum has an interesting twist. Lines 2 and 4 are the same as the 3rd and 1st of the first stanza, thereby using every line in the poem twice.

Here is an outline for the pantoum form.
Line 1
Line 2
Line 3
Line 4

Line 5 (same as line 2)
Line 6
Line 7 (same as line 4)
Line 8

Line 9 (same as line 6)
Line 10
Line 11 (same as line 8)
Line 12

Line 13 (same as line 10)
Line 14 (same as line 3)Line 15 (same as line 12)
Line 16 (same as line 1)

Keep in mind that this form of poetry is of an indefinite length. It could be three stanzas, 4 stanzas or 20!
(Adapted from The Teachers & Writers Handbook of Poetic Forms.)
You can read more about this form at I am still working on my pantoum and will share it here once I have a draft. Until then, here is a terrific example.
We Are Waiting
by Joyce Sidman
in Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow

Our time will come again,
say the patient ones.
Now is meadow,
but not for long.

Say the patient ones:
sunlight dazzles,
but not for long.
Seedlings grow amongst the grass.

Sunlight dazzles
and the meadow voles dance,
but seedlings grow amongst the grass.
Forest will return.

Meadow voles dance
where once was fire,
but forest will return.
We wait patiently.

Once was fire.
Now is meadow.
We wait patiently.
Our time will come again.

So, do you want to play? What kind of pantoum will you write? Post your creation on your blog and then leave a link in the comments. Once we have some poems, I'll link them all here.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Heads Up for the Next Picture Book Carnival

The next Picture Book Carnival is now accepting submissions. The theme this time around is pictures books as mentor texts for developing writing. What books do you use? What do they help writers learn to do? Please think about sharing your great ideas.

For more info, read this post at Mentor Texts, Read Alouds & More.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Best Books of 2007 (So Far) - Nonfiction

I'm back with my second response to MotherReader and her call for readers to nominate Best Books of the Year to date list. Here are the nonfiction titles from 2007 that I most admire. Hey, don't go! Really--nonfiction can be fabulous! Just take a look at these beauties.
  • A Seed is Sleepy by Diana Hutts Aston - Seeds are amazing things, and this book beautifully captures their brilliance in both text and images.
Alright, I've had my say. How about you? What are your choices?

A Great Math Lesson

It's nice to know I'm not the only classroom teacher out there who encouraged kids to write poetry in math. Read on!
Risk taking, discovery and making math relevant were the goals she set for herself. The project that earned her the presidential award had all of that.

The point of the lesson was that the area of a rectangle can vary while the perimeter remains constant. But rather than say that, she let the students discover it.

Working in teams, students had to develop a plan for a dog named "Scruffy" whose owners decided that he spent too much time lounging on their deck. They wanted him to get more exercise, but in a safe environment. To that end, they had purchased 32 meters of fencing.

The project included multiple tasks and analysis, including pricing the cost of fencing, writing poems about area and perimeter, and assessing the pros and cons of different rectangular shapes for Scruffy's pen.

A long, rectangular 15-meter-by-1-meter pen, for example, would allow Scruffy to run for distance. A square pen, with eight meters on each side, would provide him with more area.

Part of the beauty of the project was that there was no right answer, just lots of options, all of which dealt with math in a practical way.

Students also had to interview their parents and report on how area and perimeter played a role in everyday life - who was having a carpet installed, who was fencing in a backyard.

A classic response came from one student who said when he asked his mother about perimeter she told him the rule in their house was that "Daddy has to stay outside the perimeter of the kitchen when I'm cooking."
Read the entire article, entitled A Heralded Math Teacher Reflects on Lessons Learned, for more insights and inspiration.

Recently Read and a Boatload of Thanks

This is my shelf of recently read and re-read books. There's not a stinker in the bunch. I loved them all, and for many different reasons. Sadly, I've only written a review of one of them. I'm put to shame by my kidlitosphere colleagues who regularly crank out thoughtful reviews on a weekly (often times more than this) basis. There are days when I can barely manage to post, so I don't know how they do it.

If you see the product of your blood, sweat and tears on this shelf, (Robin Brande, Sara Beth Durst, Sara Lewis Holmes, T.K. Welsh and many others), please know that I have laughed, cried and smiled my way thorough the fantastic journeys you have taken me on. THANK YOU for sharing your gifts. (By the way, you should know that your titles are up there with my beloved Pride and Prejudice, an honor indeed!)

**Just Added** - If your eyes are anything like mine, you may have trouble making out all the titles, so here's the list (from left to right).
  • An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
  • American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
  • Into the Wild by Sarah Beth Durst
  • Austenland by Shannon Hale
  • Do the Math: Secrets, Lies and Algebra by Wendy Lichtman (Read my review.)
  • The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages
  • The Last Dragon by Sylvia De Mari
  • The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
  • Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande
  • The Unresolved by T. K. Welsh
  • Letters From Rapunzel by Sara Lewis Holmes
  • Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos by R. L. LaFevers
  • A Drowned Maiden's Hair by Laura Amy Schlitz
  • Den of Thieves by Julia Golding (available only in the UK)

Poetry Friday - Child Moon

William is 6 and still maintains a happy fascination with the moon. We look for it each night before bedtime and in the early morning hours as the sun is waking. We both delight in finding them in the sky together. Today's poem pays homage to this childlike love of the moon.
Child Moon
by Carl Sandburg

The child's wonder
At the old moon
Comes back nightly.
She points her finger
To the far silent yellow thing
Shining through the branches
Filtering on the leaves a golden sand,
Crying with her little tongue, “See the moon!”
And in her bed fading to sleep
With babblings of the moon on her little mouth.

If you like this one, you can read more like it in Chicago Poems.
The round up today is at Semicolon. Please stop by and check out all the great pieces. Happy poetry Friday, all!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Creating Readers - Must Read Article

Teacher Donalyn Miller prides herself on turning her students into readers who devour an average of 50 to 60 books a year. In the first-part of a three-part series, she offers her secrets. Here is an excerpt.
How do you find the right books for your students?
As for finding the right books, I read tons of children's literature and am familiar with most of the big name authors. I can usually read one or two children's books a week and still have a life! This provides me with a large pool of books that I can recommend to students. Often if I have not read a certain book, I have at least read something by the same author.

Please give us a list of the top 5 things that you do to inspire children to read.
  1. Assume all children are readers and that they can be successful as readers from the first day.
  2. I share my personal love of reading, model my reading, and talk about the books.
  3. Choice is a powerful motivator for students! Although I do have genre requirements for the reading in my class, students get to choose which books they would like to read in order to meet these requirements.
  4. In addition to regular readers' workshop time, I give students time to read their independent books in class.
  5. When students come into to my room, they know that they have to get out their books and read until I start the instruction for the day.
Read the entire article, entitled Creating Readers: Part I, for even more inspiration. I can't wait to read the next two installments.

Best Books of 2007 (So Far) - Poetry

Inspired (cajoled? shamed?) by MotherReader to participate in her Best Books of the Year to date list, I decided to focus first on the poetry titles from 2007 that I most admire. Drum roll please!
  • Animal Poems by Valerie Worth - This collection of poems, published posthumously and marvelously illustrated by Steve Jenkins, creatively captures a range of animals.
  • Blue Lipstick: Concrete Poems by John Grandits - When I read the review in The Horn Book and saw the poem entitled Pep Rally, I knew I had to have this book. The poems do not disappoint. Grandits has accurately captured female teenage angst in this marvelous collection.
  • comets, stars, the moon and mars by Douglas Florian - I LOVE all things Florian, so sue me. Not only does he write great poetry, but his art is inspired. And besides, anyone who can aptly capture the demotion of Pluto is a star in my book.
  • This is Just to Say: Poems of Apology and Forgiveness by Joyce Sidman - If you could apologize for something you'd done wrong, what would you say? This wonderful collection of poems from sixth grade apologists is funny and sad and well worth reading. Once you read the poems of apology you can read responses from the recipients.
Up next? Nonfiction. Stay tuned.

Poetry Stretch Results - Acrostic Poems

Perhaps now that summer has come to an end, more folks are ready to take up these challenges. The words that inspired poems this week are very interesting. Here's what we have.
Elaine at Wild Rose Reader shares three acrostics.
Terrell at Alone on a Limb is in with some thoughts on Labor Day.

Heather at 20's going on spinster with cats shares poems for the words god-figures and symbiosis.

Alkelda the Gleeful's word tells us about being rueful.

Cath at little cool shallows shares a poem entitled Soft Scents. Before you click, can you guess what the subject might be?
It's not too late to play. Read the rules, pick a word and write your own acrostic. Then leave me a comment and I'll link your creation here.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Totally OT - Top 100 Songs Meme

Okay, I wasn't tagged, but I must respond to the Top 100 songs of your senior year meme. Yes, this is total procrastination on my part. Being the science-minded woman I am, I feel the need to analyze the data instead of merely listing the songs in numerical order and stating my opinions. So, here goes. Songs I loved are in red. Songs I liked are in blue. The stinkers (my dislikes) are in green. Finally, songs I needed to look for in iTunes because I didn't know or remember them are in orange.

Thriller was the big album in 1983. Need I say more about one of the names topping the list? And yes, I do own a vinyl copy. It's in my attic somewhere, getting destroyed by VA heat and humidity. Here's a list of all the Michael Jackson songs in the top 100. The only song I liked was Beat It.
2. Billie Jean, Michael Jackson 

5. Beat It, Michael Jackson 

49. The Girl Is Mine, Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney 

68. Wanna Be Startin' Somethin', Michael Jackson

89. Human Nature, Michael Jackson 

Flashdance was hot at the theatres, and so was the music from the soundtrack. I liked both of these songs.
3. Flashdance... What A Feelin, Irene Cara 

9. Maniac, Michael Sembello 

Competition for the 1983 Grammy for Best New Artist was fierce, with Asia, Jennifer Holliday, Human League, Men at Work and Stray Cats as nominees. The winner had the most hits in the top 100. While I liked Down Under, I LOVED Stray Cat Strut and Don't Cry.
4. Down Under, Men At Work 

33. (Keep Feeling) Fascination, Human League 

42. Stray Cat Strut, Stray Cats 

54. Overkill, Men At Work 

76. It's A Mistake, Men At Work 

84. (She's) Sexy + 17, Stray Cats 

98. Don't Cry, Asia 

I went to one concert in 1983. Billy Joel sang two of the songs from this list, and I loved them both.
43. Allentown, Billy Joel 

45. Tell Her About It, Billy Joel
While 1983 had it's share of sappy love songs, it also had a collection of wacky, techno, weird and funky songs. Here are a few I liked.
18. Let's Dance, David Bowie 

19. Twilight Zone, Golden Earring 

22. Electric Avenue, Eddy Grant 

23. She Blinded Me With Science, Thomas Dolby 

30. Der Kommissar, After The Fire 

31. Puttin' On The Ritz, Taco 

51. Goody Two Shoes, Adam Ant 

52. Rock The Casbah, Clash 

63. Come Dancing, Kinks 

64. Promises, Promises, Naked Eyes 

The number one song of 1983, and the others on my LOVE list are ones I still listen to and sing along with, loudly, whenever possible.
1. Every Breath You Take, Police 

10. Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This), Eurythmics 

25. Little Red Corvette, Prince 

26. Back On The Chain Gang, Pretenders 

41. 1999, Prince 

46. Always Somethmg There To Remind Me, Naked Eyes 

48. Dirty Laundry, Don Henley 

53. Our House, Madness 

56. Gloria, Laura Branigan 

58. She's A Beauty, Tubes 

71. Straight From The Heart, Bryan Adams 

74. I'm Still Standing, Elton John 

79. Your Love Is Driving Me Crazy, Sammy Hagar 

82. Steppin' Out, Joe Jackson 

87. Lawyers In Love, Jackson Browne
97. You Got Lucky, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers 

The stinkers on my list are pretty bad. Even though I didn't love or even like these songs, I'm sure I danced or skated to them, and since I sang/sing all the time, I know the words to many of them. YIKES! I even find myself singing along in the grocery store these days when I hear them. How embarrassing is that?! (Especially when we're talking about Air Supply or Spandau Ballet!)
6. Total Eclipse Of The Heart, Bonnie Tyler 

7. Maneater, Daryl Hall and John Oates 

8. Baby Come To Me, Patti Austin and James Ingram 

11. Do You Really Want To Hurt Me, Culture Club 

12. You And I, Eddie Rabbitt and Crystal Gayle 

13. Come On Eileen, Dexy's Midnight Runners 

14. Shame On The Moon, Bob Seger and The Silver Bullet Band 

15. She Works Hard For The Money, Donna Summer 

16. Never Gonna Let You Go, Sergio Mendes 

17. Hungry Like The Wolf, Duran Duran 

21. Jeopardy, Greg Kihn Band 

24. Africa, Toto 

27. Up Where We Belong, Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes 

28. Mr. Roboto, Styx 

29. You Are, Lionel Richie 

32. Sexual Healing, Marvin Gaye 

34. Time (Clock Of The Heart), Culture Club 

35. The Safety Dance, Men Without Hats 

36. Mickey, Toni Basil 

37. You Can't Hurry Love, Phil Collins 

38. Separate Ways, Journey 

39. One On One, Daryl Hall and John Oates 

40. We've Got Tonight, Kenny Rogers and Sheena Easton

44. Stand Back, Stevie Nicks 

47. Truly, Lionel Richie 

50. Too Shy, Kajagoogoo 

55. Is There Something I Should Know, Duran Duran 

57. Affair Of The Heart, Rick Springfield 

59. Solitaire, Laura Branigan 

60. Don't Let It End, Styx

61. How Am I Supposed To Live Without You, Laura Branigan 

62. China Girl, David Bowie
65. The Other Guy, Little River Band 

66. Making Love Out Of Nothing At All, Air Supply 

67. Family Man, Daryl Hall and John Oates 

69. I Won't Hold You Back, Toto 

70. All Right, Christopher Cross 

72. Heart To Heart, Kenny Loggins 

73. My Love, Lionel Richie 

75. Hot Girls In Love, Loverboy 

77. I'll Tumble 4 Ya, Culture Club 

80. Heartbreaker, Dionne Warwick

81. Faithfully, Journey 

83. Take Me To Heart, Quarterflash 

88. What About Me, Moving Pictures 

90. Photograph, Def Leppard 

91. Pass The Dutchie, Musical Youth 

92. True, Spandau Ballet 

94. I've Got A Rock 'N' Roll Heart, Eric Clapton 

95. It Might Be You, Stephen Bishop 

96. Tonight I Celebrate My Love, Peabo Bryson and Roberta Flack 

99. Breaking Us In Two, Joe Jackson 

100. Fall In Love With Me, Earth, Wind and Fire
Say what? I don't remember these at all! Even a little snippet from iTunes didn't help.
20. I Know There's Something Going On, Frida

78. All This Love, Debarge 

85. Try Again, Champaign 

86. Dead Giveaway, Shalamar 

93. Far From Over, Frank Stallone 

Okay, that was fun. I'm not tagging anyone, but if you want to play, get your list here. Just change the date and you'll be in business.

First Day of School

While cleaning my desk I came across the picture from the first day of kindergarten. William was so cute and nervous. Not this year. He couldn't wait to get things started. Here is what my new first grade kid looked like yesterday. (Did I mention he's grown nearly two inches since school ended in June? He's now 4'3" and very tall indeed!)
He had a great first day, so we celebrated with a dinner of his choice (steak on the grill and hash brown potatoes) and a new book. Last night we started reading Stanley in Space.

An Interlude and a Must-Read Article

I have finally finished a four-part series on books and poems for studying animal adaptations. You should see my desk. Oh, wait! You CAN'T SEE my desk, because it's covered with books! Alas, I love doing these lists, but now I'm left with a mess that I must address. I'd better do it soon, as I have class this afternoon!

If you want to check out the finished series, here are the entries.
While I take a brief interlude to straighten my world, I highly recommend that all my readers interested in teaching and/or science read last week's news from the NSF.
Back to School: Five Myths about Girls and Science