Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Food Poem of Apology

Here is my poem for this week's poetry stretch, and one for Elaine's poem of apology challenge. It is dedicated to my son, for whom this sad event occurred this week.
Uneaten Ears
The first corn
of the season
appeared in the market.

As the
hungry crowd
swooned over the ears,
stripped the husks
to reveal
pearly, white sweetness,

I thought of you
and your love
for corn.

I grabbed four,
threw them in my bag
and headed for home.

We shucked them together,
carefully pulling strands of silk,
dropping them in the water.

When they were ready
I dished up your meal,
resplendent with glistening
rows of buttered goodness.

A small sigh
escaped my lips
when you tried to take
that first bite.

You have no front teeth!

Please forgive me, for being so foolish.
But most of all, forgive my heart
for leaping with joy,
knowing that for just a while,
all that corn will be mine.

Poetry in the Classroom - Quiet, Little Books

It is the last day of April, the last in a series of posts for National Poetry Month. When I began this project, I never dreamed I would make it to the end. On day six I wondered, "What have I gotten myself into?" I didn't think I would have enough to write about for a full month, but as the last days approached, I realized there was much I still had not written about. I never posted about poetry books on the seasons (there are many!), Joyce Sidman (shame on me), Steven Schnur and his acrostic books of poetry (cross-reference with seasons), Mary Ann Hoberman, Bobbi Katz, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, and so much more. The up side to this realization is that I now know I have material for many more posts on poetry in the classroom.

I wanted to go out with a bang, but decided instead to go out quietly with two slim volumes of beautifully crafted poems.

Flights of Fancy: And Other Poems, by Myra Cohn Livingston, is a collection of 40 poems that cover a wide range of topics, all made immediate by the writer's keen sense of observation. There are poems here about birds, airplane seat belts, clouds, checkers, popcorn and many other everyday topics. Here is one of my favorites.
Letter to a Pen Pal
I have
just cut out all
the states from Arizona
to Pennsylvania and thrown them

Now that
and New York are so close
we can get together most of
the time

and play
over at your
house or play here at mine
and talk whenever we want to
and ride

our bikes
and we won't need
to stay on the phone for so long
and I can stop writing all these
My pen pal growing up was in Japan. I remember wanting desperately to meet her, to erase the distance between us. This poem conveys those feelings remarkably well. All the poems in the book are like this--quietly capturing moments in ways readers can understand.

A Crack in the Clouds And Other Poems, written by Constance Levy and illustrated by Robin Bell Corfield, is a collection of 38 poems that celebrate everything from ballet, to herb gardens, to jack-o-lanterns. The writing here also conveys an attention to the world around, ocusing on the smallest, often unnoticed thing. As someone who spent a lot of time exploring the woods and fields around my childhood home, this poem brings back fond, albeit prickly memories.
I picked off
a bur,
a sticky
that clutched my shirt,

a pod
of seeds
with an urge
to travel
but no wings to fly
that hitchhiked
a ride,

hopping on board
from the weeds
near the road
as my sleeve
brushed by.

Well, seeds in need
do have to try!
The poems in this volume are largely written in free verse. When read aloud you'll find they have such wonderful cadences and rhythms. This is another quiet book of verse that packs a punch in the way it reflects the way kids often look at the world.

As they say in Hollywood, "That's a wrap!" I hope you have enjoyed reading this series on poetry in the classroom as much as I've enjoyed writing it.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Poetry in the Classroom - Voices From Other Lands

I love poetry that gives me a glimpse of life in other places, but I also like the affirmation that comes from knowing others so far away may not be so different from me. Here are two books that bring these other voices to life.

This Same Sky: A Collection of Poems from around the World, selected by Naomi Shihab Nye, is a collection of poems in a range of styles from sixty-eight countries. The poems are divided into six sections--Words and Silences, Dreams and Dreamers, Families, This Earth and Sky in Which We Live, Losses, and Human Mysteries. Here are two of my favorite poems, both from the section Human Mysteries.
by Sunay Akin (Turkey)
translated by Yusuf Eradam

I used to drop my pocket money
into the rain grates by the road
taking them for piggy-banks--
that's why it's the sea
that owes me most

by Yehuda Amichai
translated by Stephen Mitchell

On a roof in the Old City
laundry hanging in the late afternoon sunlight;
the white sheet of a woman who is my enemy,
the towel of a man who is my enemy,
to wipe off the sweat of his brow.

In the sky of the Old City
a kite.
At the other end of the string,
a child
I can't see
because of the wall.

We have put up many flags,
they have put up many flags.
To make us think that they're happy.
To make them think that we're happy.
The book ends with notes on the contributors, a world map showing their locations (centered on Eastern Russia, Japan and Australia--a very interesting way to view the world that for us is so often centered on North America), and suggestions for further reading. Readers will also find an index for countries and one for poets. This is a wonderful collection that will allow readers to see how varied cultures are both distinguished and united under one sky.

The Tree is Older Than You Are: A Bilingual Gathering of Poems & Stories From Mexico, selected by Naomi Shihab Nye and illustrated with paintings by Mexican artists, is an amazing collection from a wide range of Mexican writers. Here is an excerpt from the Introduction.
Now I live in one of the most Mexican of U.S. Cities, in an inner-city neighborhood where no dinner table feels complete without a dish of salsa for gravity, and the soft air hums its double tongue. For some, this may not qualify me to gather writings of a culture not in my blood. I suggest that blood be bigger than what we're born with, that blood keep growing and growing as we live; otherwise how will we become true citizens of the world? For twenty years, working as a visiting writer in dozens of schools in my city and elsewhere, I have carried poems by writers of many cultures into classrooms, feeling the large family of voices linking human experience. We have no borders when we read.
The book is divided into two sections--People and Earth and Animals. It contains extensive notes on the contributors and folktales. There are indexes of titles in English, titles in Spanish, and writers and artists. Here is one of my favorite poems, in the original Spanish and in translation.
La luna, un plátano
by Jesús Carlos Soto Morfín

Un plátano se fue
de noche
en un avion

Desde entonces
se quedó pegado
en el cielo
y le llaman luna

The Moon, a Banana
by Jesús Carlos Soto Morfín
translated by Judith Infante

A banana left
at night
on a plane

Since then
he's been stuck
in the sky
and we call him moon
Both the poems and illustrations come in a wide range of forms, exposing readers to the beauty of Mexican culture. This is a lovely volume that brings the magic of poetry to life.

Here are some additional resources related to this topic that you may find useful.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Monday Poetry Stretch - Food For Thought

I have been reading a lot of poetry lately for an article I am writing. The more I read, the more I recognize my own decidedly biased tastes. I must admit, I have no fondness for love poetry. None. My apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning and the writers of aubades, but this just isn't my thing. However, give me a poem professing a love for food (chocolate?) and I am right there with the author, hanging on (drooling over?) every word.

Here's a poem from Arnold Adoff's book Eats Poems.
    you so
        in the
of your
Last year, Sara Lewis Holmes wrote one of the most mouth-watering poems I've ever read. Entitled and you know this, it's all about one of my favorite summertime foods. (I am the one eating in pre-counted rows, and I loved racing my brother!)

Now that you've seen a few examples, your challenge for this week is to write some food inspired poetry. Choose any form, and write about food in any way, from its creation to consumption. Leave me a comment about your poem and I'll post it here later this week.

Poetry in the Classroom - Who Was the Woman Who Wore the Hat?

While in middle school, I discovered war ration books in a box in our attic that belonged to my father's family. I also found pictures of fighter planes, my father alongside them, taken while he was stationed at Pearl Harbor during the later years of the war. Finding these bits of family history ignited a lifelong interest in WWII and particularly the Holocaust. I have a large collection of books on this subject, many of them children's books, though I don't use of any of them with students younger than middle-school age. One book I find particularly moving is actually a poetic meditation on a woman's hat once on display in a museum.
Who Was the Woman Who Wore the Hat?, written and illustrated by Nancy Patz, was the winner of the Association of Jewish Libraries Sydney Taylor Award in 2003. On a visit to the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam, Nancy Patz saw a hat in a glass case. In the author's note she writes, "That's all there was--no label, no explanation, just a woman's hat on a stand. As I looked at it, I realized that this remnant, this quite ordinary hat, was all that remained of a woman's life."

After drawing the hat in her sketchbook, Patz drew a self-portrait of herself in the hat, and then wrote several poems. When she realized that the poems could become the text of a book, she focused on the illustrations. She crumpled her drawing papers, stained them with watercolor, and tore the edges. She taped copies of photographs to the sketches, which she later integrated into her pencil drawings. As a result of this work, readers find themselves faced with a mix of pencil drawings, watercolors, and photographs that bring this woman and the horrible reality of the time to life.

Here is an excerpt from the middle of the poem.
When did she buy it?
      I wonder.
And where did she wear it?
      Downtown, shopping with her
      Laughing with her little girl
      as they hurried along to Grandma's house?
      Happily walking home
      with her husband
      in the chill of evening?

I wonder
if she wore it
the day she left home the last time,
that cold, cold day in Amsterdam--
      that cold, cruel day in Amsterdam
      when the Jews were herded together
      and arrested in the Square.
The poem ends with an extensive author's note and a chronology of the Holocaust. This is a haunting poem that helps to put a human face on the atrocities of war.

Here are some additional resources for teaching this topic in the classroom.

Poetry and the Human Genome

Today in the Guardian book blog you'll find an article entitled The Poetry of Life. Here's an excerpt.
Gillian K Ferguson has spent five years working on a mirror 'sequence' of 1,000 poems inspired by her wonder at the human DNA code being cracked.

Ferguson's aim is to offer a "poetic exploration" of a hugely important subject - "the ultimate poem/mother-poem - original poem - the Word" - whose technical complexity closes to all but a few. We know, in theory, that science, like poetry, begins in wonder. But Ferguson goes further, attempting to show by example that poetry is an ideal guide for the lay reader to the mysteries of science - and to restore a poetic dimension to science that is often obscured.

The full collection is available online at The Human Genome: Poems on the Book of Life.

You can view the Table of Contents.

This is an AMAZING project that I can't wait to spend some time perusing. You'll find quotes and background information generously sprinkled throughout the work, with representations from the Bible, Darwin, Coleridge, Whitman, Wordsworth and many, many others. This project is a fine example of what Kelly Fineman wrote of a few days ago--Research for poetry.

If you have any interest at all in the intersection of science and poetry, and even if you don't, go now and read.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Poetry in the Classroom - America at War

From the Introduction:
America at War is not about war. It is about the poetry of war. With poems divided into eight sections, warfare is traced from the American Revolution to the Iraqi war via poets' pens.
America at War presents raw emotions of warfare as seen and felt by poets--including past masters such as Walt Whitman, Carl Sandburg, and Stephen Crane, as well as over thirty works--more than half of the selections--especially commissioned for this collection. The focus is not solely on the atrocities, bloodshed, and gort that come with battles. What is emphasized is the emotional impact--the torment, grief, angst that men, women, and children feel as war becomes part of their present-day lives, their future and forever-afters.
I've been reading this book for the last few weeks, wondering when and how I could write about it. What can you say about poems that leave you silent and still? How do you respond to a book that shakes you to your very core?

America at War, selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins and illustrated by Stephen Alcorn, is a collection of 54 poems by more than 40 poets. With watercolor illustrations in a variety of styles, some cubist in nature, the images capture the essence of the ideas contained in each poem. Divided into sections, each war is preceded by an introductory page that contains the name of the war and the dates it was fought, a quote about the war, and a brief summary of the conflict. I was started to read the page for the Iraq War, which simply lists (2001- ) as the date. To get a feel for how these introductions are set up, here is an excerpt from the first section of the book.
The American Revolution

"These are the times that try men's souls."
Thomas Paine (1737-1809)
United States Founding Father
* * *
The American Revolution began as a result of taxation by the British
without representation of the colonists.

On April 19, 1775, the day after Paul Revere's famous ride, the
"shot heard round the world" was fired at Lexington, Massachusetts, and
colonial Americans and British soldiers then fought for over eight years.
One of the most astounding things about these pages is the number of dead attributed to each war. As hard as this information can be to fully understand, the poems bring the impact of these numbers home. The poems are raw and emotional. They are hard to read. However, they are honest and true and deserve to be read. Here is an example. This poem comes from the section on the American Revolution.
by Anonymous

Eyes of men running, falling, screaming
Eyes of men shouting, sweating, bleeding
Eyes of the fearful, those of the sad
Eyes of exhaustion and those of the mad.

Eyes of men thinking, hoping, waiting
Eyes of men loving, cursing, hating
Eyes of the wounded sodden in red
Eyes of the dying and those of the dead.
The Prologue and Epilogue nicely open and close this exceptional volume. The Prologue highlights a poem by Joan Bransfield Graham entitled Wish for Peace. It begins:
that war
could only
rage upon the
battlefield of the page,
The Epilogue contains a poem by Ann Wagner entitled Vocabulary Lesson. It begins:
We don't have wars.

We have
      preemptive strikes.

We don't have soldiers.
You can read more of the poems in this collection at the Simon & Schuster web site.

I can't say enough about how amazing this book is. It is a gift to every teacher who has ever wanted his/her students to understand that war has a human face and takes a human toll.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Poetry in the Classroom - Counting Books and Poetry

There are many, many counting books available these days. Some are even written in rhyme, but two of my favorites are actually books of poems.

One Leaf Rides the Wind, written by Celeste Davidson Mannis and illustrated by Susan Kathleen Hartung, is set in a Japanese garden where a young girl counts the things she sees, like bonsai, koi, and lotus flowers. The left side of each spread contains an illustration of the objects being counted. These are gorgeous pieces done with oil paint glazes on sealed paper. On the right side of each spread is the printed numeral, a haiku describing the objects, and a footnote introducing readers to various aspects of traditional Japanese culture. Here is an example.
Hoping for some crumbs,
they nibble at my fingers.
Nine glittering koi.

Koi fish are admired for their colorful appearance and
hardiness. They are also a popular symbol of
determination and strength. Ancient legend tells of a koi
fish that struggled up a huge waterfall in order to be
transformed into a dragon.
The book ends with a brief description of the Japanese garden and some information about haiku. This is a quiet, beautiful counting book that also serves as a wonderful introduction to haiku.

Ten Times Better, written by Richard Michelson and illustrated by Leonard Baskin, is a collection of dueling poems in which an animal describes a feature it is proud of, such as the three toes on a sloth, only to be bested by an animal that is ten times better in some way. The three-toed sloth is bested by the centipede, which has thirty feet. Here is an example from 7 and 70.
My mask makes me look like a bandit in jail,
but my number's heavenly--count on my tail.
I have SEVEN halos, that's how I perceive it.
Raccoons into stealing? Don't you believe it!

Seven? Good heavens! So what? Count my spots.
I'm TEN TIMES BETTER. Giraffes have...well, lots.
Me, I have SEVENTY just on my neck.
Heck, you can count them yourself. C'mon check.
You can view some sample images from the book at the author's web site. The watercolor images provide exceptional views of the animals and provide opportunities for counting. Yes, there are actually 60 teeth in the mouth of the alligator, I counted them! The book ends with an extensive section of information on each of the animals highlighted. In addition to basic information, readers are challenged to solve a math problem. Here is what you'll find for giraffe.
Giraffes are the tallest land animals. Baby giraffes are over six feet tall when they are born.
Every giraffe's neck has a unique pattern of spots.
Their necks alone grow taller than the tallest person.

A baby giraffe can stand on its own ten minutes after birth and it can run within ten hours. Even a small baby giraffe is TEN TIMES HEAVIER than a huge human baby. If that baby weights eleven pounds at birth (most weight seven to eight pounds), how much might a small baby giraffe weigh?
The final page of the book contains and index to the animals and answers to all the math questions posed in the informational section. Counting from 1 to 10 and in multiples from 10 to 100, this is a unique and imaginative counting book.

If you are interested in extending these topics in your classroom, these resources may come in handy.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Poetry in the Classroom - Fold and Bend

I've been wanting to write about Kristine O'Connell George's book Fold Me a Poem for some time now. I actually have talked about using it in a mathematical context and paired with Lissy's Friends by Grace Lin, but for this series I was hoping to find another poetry book to pair it with. While perusing my shelves, I came up with the perfect title.

Fold Me a Poem, written by Kristine O'Connell George and illustrated by Lauren Stringer, is a collection of 32 poems that document a young boy's day as he folds a menagerie of animals and imagines their actions. The artwork that accompanies the poems is vibrant. The origami animals appear life-like, despite the crinkles and folds that form their shapes. One of my favorite poem/illustration pairs is a double page spread with 2 origami rabbits in one corner, separated by a wall of blocks from 4 foxes. The foxes appear to be spying on the rabbits. The poem is below.
At one end
of the table,
the rabbits.

At the other end,
the foxes.

I don't
The animals are folded from a variety of plan and patterned papers. In some cases the boy paints, cuts or glues the animals. One double-page spread shows him placing spots on a leopard, while a variety of other animals look on. The leopard is admonished in the poem with the words, "Don't fidget, Leopard./I need to do/your spots." Another poem/illustration set I love is about penguins. On the left side of the page the penguins begin to take shape. On the right, a whole flock is standing while white bits of paper from a hole punch drop down on them.
White Paper
My hole puncher
clicks and clicks.
This is an imaginative and lyrical book of poetry that kids will love.

If you can't fold paper or don't have the patience for working on such a small scale, something more kinesthetic may be just what you need. How about poems for folding and bending your body? Twist: Yoga Poems, written by Janet Wong and illustrated by Julie Paschkis, is a collection of 16 free verse poems that are inspired by yoga poses. Each poem is featured on one side of a double-page spread with an illustration of a child performing the pose on the opposite page. The watercolor illustrations are done in a style inspired by Indian miniature paintings. In addition to this gorgeous artwork, each pose and verse are framed by mirror-image decorations of flowers, animals, vines, etc. The verses are brief and get right to the essence of each pose. While I love the variety of poems about animal poses, my favorite poem is about breathing.
Breath is a broom
sweeping your insides.

Smooth and slow:
You pull scattered bits of dream fluff
And heart dust into neat piles…

Breath is a broom
sweeping you fresh.
This is a beautiful book, full of spare, elegant verse and gorgeous illustrations. It is also one kids will enjoy, even if they don't practice yoga (though they may want to try once they've read this book).

For those of you interested in learning more about these topics, check out these resources.

Measurement Podcast #7

A new measurement book podcast is up over at Open Wide, Look Inside.

Today's podcast highlights Counting on Frank, written and illustrated by Rod Clement.

Poetry Friday - Gather Round

That's right, poetry Friday is here today. So, bring "the best words in the best order" and gather round for the last installment of Poetry Friday during National Poetry Month.

I'm starting things off this week with a poem by Amy Lowell. It was first published in 1919 in a volume entitled Pictures of the Floating World.
By Messenger
by Amy Lowell

One night
When there was a clear moon,
I sat down
To write a poem
About maple-trees.
But the dazzle of moonlight
In the ink
Blinded me,
And I could only write
What I remembered.
Therefore, on the wrapping of my poem
I have inscribed your name.
This poem and the book it was published in are in the public domain and have been digitized and made available by Google. You can read the entire volume simply by downloading a copy.

The round-up is being done the old-fashioned way this week, so leave me a comment about your post and I'll add poems to the list throughout the day. Happy poetry Friday, all!

The Best Words - Some Well-Known and Little-Known Poems
  • cloudscome at a wrung sponge is sharing Sestina by Elizabeth Bishop.
  • At Findings, writer2b shares a post entitled Finding the Keynote, with reflections and poems on pianos.
  • Lisa at A little of this, a little of that shares Mending Wall by Robert Frost.
  • At Finding Wonderland, TadMack shares George Herbert's Vertue.
  • Eisha at Seven Imp shares the poem Nesting by Dana Koster.
  • Little Willow at bildungsroman shares the poem Dark Knight from Emily the Strange.
  • At Charlotte's Library, Charlotte gives us Eeyore's Poem from The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne.
  • Liz at A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy checks in with Poem 126 by Emily Dickinson.
  • Christine from The Simple and the Ordinary is sharing a hodge-podge of poetry that includes The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere (Longfellow), Casey at the Bat (Thayer), and Casey's Revenge (Rice).
  • Michelle at Scholar's Blog is celebrating Shakespeare's birthday (again!) with Sonnet 104.
In the Best Order - Original PoetryAnd Then Some - Book Reviews and Interviews
  • I am reviewing a poetry book a day as part of National Poetry Month. This week I wrote two posts about Poetry Between Cultures. See Part 1 and Part 2.
  • John Mutford of The Book Mine Set reviews Evangeline by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
  • Kerry at Shelf Elf has a review of Shark Girl by Kelly Bingham and shares a poem from the book.
  • Susan at Chicken Spaghetti is sharing the thoughts of Dirda (Washington Post book critic) and others on De La Mare.
Topping it Off With Fun!
  • Over at Jama Rattigan's Alphabet Soup, Jama is hosting a Mad Poet's Tea Party. Grab your hat and go!
  • Alkelda the Gleeful at Saints and Spinnners is singing a song of the week. It's Hey Little Red Bird by Dan Zanes.
  • Ms. Mac at Check It Out has postcards with original poems by students just waiting to wing their way to you. Send her a message to receive a postcard in your mailbox.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Measurement Podcast #6

A new measurement book podcast is up over at Open Wide, Look Inside.

Today's podcast highlights How Big is a Foot?, written and illustrated by Rolf Myller.

Poetry in the Classroom - Between Cultures: Part 2

In September of 2007, the number of Limited English Proficient students receiving services in the state of Virginia numbered 84,344. I see many of these kids in the classrooms I visit, and often wonder how we can help their teachers and classmates develop a bit more empathy for their struggles to adjust to a new language and culture. Reading poetry can be an exellent vehicle for this.
My Name is Jorge On Both Sides of the River, written by Jane Medina and illustrated by Fabricio Vanden Broeck, is a collection of 27 poems written in Spanish and English. They are written from Jorge's point of view and describe his experiences adjusting life in the United States. The poems are sometimes heartbreaking, but they are always honest. The first poem in the book describes the problems he has when others cannot pronounce his name.
My Name Is Jorge
My name is Jorge.
I know that my name is Jorge.
But everyone calls me

What an ugly sound!
Like a sneeze!

And the worst of all
            is that
this morning
            a girl called me
            and I turned my head.
I don’t want to turn
            into a sneeze!
Many of the poems in this book are set in school and describe how inadequate Jorge feels. Here are excerpts from two especially sad poems.
Why Am I Dumb?
Why am I dumb?
In my country
I was smart.
All tens!
Never even an eight!

Now I'm here.
They give me
C's or D's or F's
--like fives
or fours . . .
or ones.

I hid the paper
      inside a
            big, wavy stack of papers
on my teacher's desk.

I want her to see it
      --but not till after school.

I'm scared
      that it's not good enough.
This is a must-read book in classrooms of all kinds, but especially those with immigrant children. I can't think of a better way to open the door to understanding than with these poems.

A Movie in My Pillow/Una pelicula en mi almohada, written by Jorge Argueta and illustrated by Elizabeth Gómez, is a collection of 21 poems written in Spanish and English that describe the author's childhood in El Salvador and his experiences of being an immigrant in San Francisco’s Mission District. Jorge comes from a war torn country and is uprooted for a new home with only his father to accompany him. He describes his leaving in this way.
When We Left El Salvador
When we left El Salvador
to come to the United States
Papá and I left in a hurry
one early morning in December

We left without saying goodbye
to relatives, friends, or neighbors
I didn’t say goodbye to Neto
my best friend

I didn’t say goodbye to Koki
my happy talking parakeet
I didn’t say goodbye to
Miss Sha-Sha-She-Sha
my very dear doggie

When we left El Salvador
in a bus I couldn’t stop crying
because I had left my mama
my little brothers
and my grandma behind.
As Jorge begins to adjust, he describes his life and his new neighborhood, while often making comparisons to home. Here is an excerpt of a poem about the Mission District.
Neighborhood of Sun
I live in San Francisco
in the Mission District
Neighborhood of sun
of colors and flavors

Avocadoes and mangoes
papayas and watermelons
Here my friend Tomás
laughs louder with the sun

Here in my neighborhood
you can taste
a soup of languages
in the wind
The beautiful imagery and stories in the poems is echoed in the vibrant illustrations. The poems in this volume are exuberant and loving, yet still full of the uncertainty that faces many immigrants.

If you are looking for some additional resources to help you expand on the ideas presented here, check out these sites.
  • You can find other book ideas in this thematic book list on contemporary immigration.
  • Here is an elementary lesson plan focused on the poems and art in A Movie in My Pillow.
  • La Bloga is a blog about Chicana Chicano Literature, Chicana Chicano Writers, Children's Literature, News, Views, and reviews. Be sure to check out the children's literature section.
  • Los Bloguitos is a blog for children who speak or are learning Spanish. It contains songs, poems, cuentos, dichos and riddles.
  • Over at La Bloga, author René Colato Laínez wrote a six-part series entitled Living to Tell the Story: The Authentic Latino Immigrant Experience in Picture Books. Be sure to read each post. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6
  • The Houston Public Library has a collection of songs, poems and rhymes in Spanish and English.

Clementine's Advice on Writing

I am working on a manuscript on science and poetry for the magazine Science and Children. In it, I argue that "doing" science and writing poetry are more alike than different, as both require a healthy sense of curiosity and skills in the art of observation. I had been struggling to find a good (interesting?) way to say this, when I was struck by lightning while William and I were reading Clementine by Sara Pennypacker. Here's what Clementine has to say about writing (pp. 40-41).
My dad says I am excellent at noticing interesting things. In fact, he says if noticing interesting things were a sport, I would have a neckful of gold medals. He says that's a Very Good Sign for My Future. He says I could be a detective, of course, but that noticing things is good for any career.

My mom says that means I could be a good artist, too.

Or a writer. Last year a writer came to my school and said, Pay Attention! But she didn't mean to the teacher, she meant pay attention to what's going on around you, so you can write about it. Then she looked exactly at me and said to notice the good stuff and write it down so you don't forget it.
EXACTLY. Now that's good advice.

Poetry Stretch Results - Color Poems

The challenge this week was to write a poem about a color. Here are the poems that have been written to date.
Felix Morgenstern at Garden of Literary Confusion shares the poem About My Favorite Color. Welcome, Felix!

Elaine at Wild Rose Reader shares three color poems, two of which are acrostics.

MsMac at Check It Out worked with two third grade classes to write a whole bunch of color poems. Woot!

Rae Trigg at Rae's Ramblings shares a poem on the color black. Welcome Rae!

Diane Davis is in with a poem about the color red.

cloudscome at a wrung sponge shares a poem entitled Esperanto: Ode to Green.

Stacey at Two Writing Teachers shares a list poem about the color green.

sister AE at Having Writ is in with a poem entitled Late Spring Color.
Here is my offering. Since the spring semester is coming to an end, my mind is already on summer and one of the colors I associate with it.
What is red?

Red is
luscious strawberries,
ripe, round cherries, and
plump raspberries,
all picked by hand.

It is watermelon juice
dribbling down your chin and
tomatoes eaten
every day for lunch.

It is pitchers of Kool-aid,
Popsicle tongue, and
wiggly, jiggly Jell-O.

It is a ballpark hot dog,
the ketchup that smothers it,
and the stain it leaves behind.

It is cement-torn knees,
eyes that open underwater
in the pool, and
tender skin cooked by the sun.

It is written all over
the July 4th parade,
from the engine that leads it,
to the streamers that mark it,
and the flags that wave
along its path.

It is in the melting sun,
shooting fireworks, and
campfire flames.

Red is the
herald of
It's not too late if you still want to play. Leave me a note about your color poem and I will add it to the list.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Measurement Podcast #5

A new measurement book podcast is up over at Open Wide, Look Inside.

Today's podcast highlights Once Upon a Dime: A Math Adventure, by Nancy Kelly Allen and illustrated by Adam Doyle.

Poetry in the Classroom - Between Cultures: Part 1

I was looking over the posts I've written so far this month and suddenly realized that while there has been a great diversity of subject matter represented (I think), there has been little representation of other peoples and cultures. So, it's high time I remedy that. Today I share two books that present life between cultures.

A Suitcase of Seaweed and Other Poems, written and "decorated" by Janet Wong, is a collection of 36 poems that celebrates all aspects of her heritage. Divided into three sections, Korean poems, Chinese poems and American poems, the poems are preceded by an introduction that describes the author's experiences with this part of her culture. For example, the Korean poems section begins, "My mother is Korean." The Chinese section begins, "My father is Chinese." If that isn't enough to place the author squarely between cultures, she tells us in the American poems section that she is American, having been born in Los Angeles. The introductions are themselves poetic, and only hint at the beauty of the poems to come. Many of the poems revolve around family and food. Here is one of my favorites.
Albert J. Bell
Forty years of friendship
with my grandfather,
and still Uncle Al cannot eat
with chopsticks.

Forty years of friendship
with Uncle Al,
and still my grandfather forgets
to offer him a fork.
To explore more poetry in this book you can read the story behind the poem GongGong and Susie and hear Janet Wong read it at her web site.

Many of the poems in this collection compare the "old ways" to the "new ways." This is a lovely book that will help readers get a sense of what it might be like to be a bit Korean, Chinese and American all in one. Those who read the book from start to finish will also get the message that comes through loudest of all--just how much pride the author feels in all these parts of her heritage.

My Chinatown: One Year of Poems
, by Kam Mak, is a lushly illustrated book that follows a young boy as he adjusts to his new life in the Chinatown of his new American city. The pictures are so beautiful and finely detailed that in some instances readers may be fooled into thinking they are looking at a photograph. The heart ache and longing for home the boy endures can be felt in every poem. These poems are also filled with stories of family and food. Here is the poem that begins the fall section of the book.
In the fish tank,
the carp are crowded
nose to tail, scale to scale.
In plastic tubs on the sidewalk,
eels slither, frogs scramble.

My mother points out the fish she wants.
He waves his tail gently
and looks straight at me.

That night I say I'm sick
so I won't have to eat him.
This book begins in winter with a poem that starts, "Back home in Hong Kong,/it's New Year." It ends with winter again, and a New Year's Day poem that begins this way.
New Year's Day!
Noodles for breakfast,
sweet rice cakes.
A red envelope stuffed with money
in my pocket.
And lions in the street outside.
After struggling to adjust, this last poem is happy and triumphant.

Both of these books will give readers a glimpse of life in Asian communities that moves well beyond stereotypes.

If you are interested in more information about this topic, check out some of these resources.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Kids Say the Darndest Things

Overheard in my house this evening.
Dad (Hubby): Who do you think is going to win Pennsylvania?

Son: I hope it's not the Yankees!

Mom (Me): That's my boy!
You have to teach them young, you know!

Poetry in the Classroom - Where in the Wild?

I discovered this gem of a book last fall while preparing a thematic book list on camouflage. A few weeks later, a copy arrived on my doorstep as a Cybils nominee (and later finalist) in the picture book nonfiction category.

The book is Where in the Wild?: Camouflaged Creatures Concealed ... and Revealed. In it you will find (as stated on the cover) "ear-tickling poems by David Schwartz and Yael Schy" and "eye-tricking photos by Dwight Kuhn." I can't disagree. The book begins with a brief introduction to camouflage and the book itself. Here is an excerpt.
Imagine that you are an animal in the wild trying to avoid a prowling predator. If it can't find you, it can't eat you.

Now imagine that you are the predator, silently hunting for prey. If you prey does not see you, you can catch it and eat it.
See if you can find the camouflaged animals photographed in their natural habitats. The poems will give you hints. When you think you have found a hidden animal--or if you give up!--open the flap to see "where in the wild" it really is. Then read on to find out more about these amazing animals and their vanishing acts.
What follows are examples of 10 clever uses of camouflage.
On the left side of each spread is a poem describing the animal, and in some cases, its location. The outside of the gatefold on the right contains the picture that must be searched. Readers must be keen observes, as some of these animals are hard to find! In the corner of the gatefold is a small circle that says, "Lift to find me!" When the gatefold is opened, the image appears again, this time with everything grayed out except the animal in question. Often times, the appearance of the hidden animal is so startling that the reader must flip back to the original picture to search it out. In addition to the "answer" to photo puzzle, the inside of the gatefold also contains information on the animals subject.

The poems in the book come in a variety of forms, including haiku and concrete. Here is an example.

speckled treasures lie
     bare upon the pebbled bank
          fragile life within
The photograph that accompanies it shows a rocky landscape. Can you guess what is hidden in plain sight?

Overall, this is a lovely book, packed with poetry and information. You can hear a terrific podcast review of the book over at the Just One More Book! site. Once you've done that, be sure to download the educator's guide for the book.

David Schwartz wrote about poetry in nonfiction a while back. You can see some examples of other poems from the book there. I am crazy about nonfiction poetry and think it's a great source for both reading and writing to learn.

For those of you looking for additional information on camouflage, check out some of these resources.

Measurement Podcast #4

A new measurement book podcast is up over at Open Wide, Look Inside.

Today's podcast highlights Alexander, Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday, written by Judith Viorst and illustrated by Ray Cruz.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Measurement Podcast #3

A new measurement book podcast is up over at Open Wide, Look Inside.

Today's podcast highlights A Second is a Hiccup: A Child’s Book of Time, written by Hazel Hutchins and illustrated by Kady Macdonald Denton.

Poetry in the Classroom - Colorful Poetry

I have been focused on the teaching of patterns and classification in the last week, and find myself coming back to the trait of color over and over again. Color often plays an important part (if not integral) in the way we describe and define things in the world around us. In the case of poetry, color often helps set a mood. However, in this set of books, the poems are all about color.

Hailstones and Halibut Bones, written by Mary O'Neill and illustrated by John Wallner, is a collection of 13 poems, each about a different color. First published in 1961, it was updated in 1989 with gorgeous new illustrations. All the poems in this volume are titled What is __? (Fill in the blank with a color.) Here is an excerpt from one of the poems.
What is Red?
Red is a sunset
Blazy and bright.
Red is feeling brave
With all your might.
Red is a sunburn
Spot on your nose,
Sometimes red
Is a red, red rose.
Red squiggles out
When you cut your hand.
Red is a brick and
A rubber band.
The poems in this book are all filled with a keen sense of observation. In some cases, reading them makes you say, "Oh yes, that IS red!" (or green, blue or some other color). Nearly 50 years old, these poems have stood the test of time.

Color Me a Rhyme: Nature Poems for Young People, written by Jane Yolen with photographs by Jason Stemple, is a collection of 13 poems about 11 colors. Each double-page spread contains a poem (two if the form is haiku) about one color, and is accompanied by one or more color photographs. Synonyms for the color are scattered around each page. The page for purple contains this poem.
I have no rhyme for purple.
But each purple flower in the forest
is a poem.
Synonyms on this page include amethyst, lavender, plum and violet. The final poem, Crayons: A Rainbow Poem, describes the enormous variety of colors in the natural world and in the skin color of the people who inhabit it.

Flashy, Clashy, and Oh-So Splashy: Poems About Color, by Laura Purdie Salas, is a collection of 15 color-themed poems. Each one is accompanied by a gorgeous photograph. The colors are vibrant, with poems adding to the exuberance. One poem begins this way.
I'm flashy
and clashy
and beautifully
and everyone notices me!
Can you guess what color this poem was written for?
One of my favorite poems is accompanied by a close-up photo of a cow. Here is an excerpt.
Cow Colors
coat with
spots of

eyes in
slow deep

and blacks,
you think
I won't spoil the ending, but it's just lovely and totally fits with the image.

This book not only includes poems, but also an informational section on the language of poetry that includes definitions of poetic forms and devices. These descriptions are connected to examples in the book. After this you will find a glossary of words from the poems that early readers may not know, and a list of related books and Internet sites.

I recommend matching any of these books with Steve Jenkins' book Living Color, which looks at animals (66 of them!) in color groups and explores the role that color plays in the life of that animal. For example, in looking at red animals red could mean:
  • I’m all grown up (some animals change color upon reaching adulthood).
  • You can’t see us (great description of light).
  • It must have been something I ate (imagine turning pink from eating so much red food!).
The book ends with an afterword explaining more about coloration. This is followed by a pictorial appendix that includes approximate sizes for each of the book's creatures.

If you are interested in exploring more about the topic of color, check out some of these resources.

Monday Poetry Stretch - Colorful Poetry

In reviewing poetry books over the last week I read through a number of books focused on color. One, Hailstones and Halibut Bones, was first published in 1961. It was updated in 1989 with gorgeous new illustrations. This was the first poetry book I remember reading over and over. I loved it so much that I chose one of the poems to read aloud in the third grade when we invited our parents to come hear us perform. That poem, What Is Gray?, begins this way.
Gray is the color of an elephant
And a mouse
And a falling-apart house.
It's fog and smog,
Fine print and lint,
It's a hush and
The bubbling of oatmeal mush.
Tiredness and oysters
Both are gray,
Smoke swirls
And grandmother curls.
All the poems in this volume are titled What is __? (Fill in the blank with a color.)

I thought it might be fun to write color poems in this spirit this week. Pick a color and title your poem What is __? It's spring, so are you thinking green? It's raining here, so I could easily pick gray, but the azaleas are in full bloom, so I could also pick pink, red or white.

Will you join me in writing a color poem? Leave me a comment about your poem and I'll post them all here later this week.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Poetry in the Classroom - Books and Reading

The first poem I ever read about a book was in middle school, when I read this piece by Emily Dickinson.
There is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away,
Nor any coursers like a page
Of prancing poetry.

This traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of toll;
How frugal is the chariot
That bears a human soul!
Today you can fnd a number of poetry books about books and reading.

Please Bury Me in the Library, written by J. Patrick Lewis and illustrated by Kyle M. Stone, is a collection of 15 poems (16 if you count the Acknowledgements) on books and reading. The poems are full of word play and range from serious to whimsical. The poems also come in a variety of forms. The first poem, What If Books Had Different Names?, is one of my favorites. It begins with these lines.
What if books had different names
Like Alice in . . . Underland?
Furious George,
Goodnight Noon,
Babar the Beaver, and
A Visit from Saint Tickle Us,
Wouldn't it be fun for students to re-imagine some of their favorite books in this way?

Good Books, Good Times, written by Lee Bennett Hopkins and illustrated by Harvey Stevenson, contains poems by Karla Kuskin, X.J. Kennedy, Myra Cohn Livingston, Jack Prelutsky and more. The title of the book comes from a poem by Lee Bennett Hopkins. It begins this way.
Good Books, Good Times!
Good books.
Good times.
Good stories.
Good rhymes.
Good beginnings.
Good ends.
Good people.
Good friends.
Another poem from the book that speaks to the adventures to be found in reading is by David McCord. Here is an excerpt.

Books Fall Open
Books fall open,
you fall in,
delighted where
you've never been;
hear voices not once
heard before,
reach world on world
through door on door;
find unexpected
keys to things
locked up beyond
If you'd like to know more about this book, you can view an excerpt.

Wonderful Words: Poems About Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening, written by Lee Bennett Hopkins and illustrated by Karen Barbour, contains 15 poems that celebrate the joy of words and language. Poets in this collection include Karla Kuskin, Emily Dickinson, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Eve Merriam, Nikki Grimes, and others. Here are a few short excerpts.
Words Free as Confetti
by Pat Mora
Come, words, come in your every color
I'll toss you in storm or breeze
I'll say, say, say you,
taste you sweet as plump plums,
bitter as old lemons.
I'll sniff you, words, warm
as almonds or tart as apple-red,
feel you green
and soft as new grass,

by Eve Merriam
Morning is
A new sheet of paper
For you to write on.

Whatever you want to say,
All day,
Until night
Folds it up
And files it away.

Here are some additional resources that may help you think a bit more about this topic.