Thursday, December 31, 2009

Poetry Stretch Results - Endings and Beginnings

The challenge this week was to write a poem about a beginning, and ending, or both. Here are the results.
Left Behind: 2009
by Jane Yolen

Thirty-six pounds,
a lust for chocolate,
a heavy pocketbook,
five pairs of size 16 pants,
several boxes of books
I will never read again
or use for research,
the word awesome,
anger at friends,
boots that are pointed
and not water-tight,
an ice cream maker
with missing parts,
a jealous nature,
fifteen glass vases from the florist
that held funeral flowers
from almost four years ago,
the man who stuck his tongue
down my throat on our only date.

© 2009 by Jane Yolen, all rights reserved

A Song for New Year's Eve
by Kate Coombs of Book Aunt

1. Endings

Tail of a horse, flapping
like a slow flag. Last page
of a book, its surge of words
vanished. His back as he walks
away, smaller and smaller.
Song's final note, hovering
like a dragonfly, then suddenly
gone. Sunset kiss at the end
of a movie. December 31st,
dry as a spent Christmas tree,
fallen needles brushed away
by the broom of the wind.

2. Beginnings

Horse's face, large eyes asking
a question. First sentence
of a book, tugging you into
the story with both hands.
Familiar striding shape
of a friend coming closer,
smile growing. First note
of a song, rising like a sun.
Establishing shot: a town
one morning, a house, a porch,
an opening door. January 1st,
fresh and white as new snow.

--Kate Coombs (Book Aunt), 2009

Birth (Beginnings)
by K. Thomas Slesarik

Aww diaper, bib, and baby bottle,
a newborn girl to hold and coddle.
Trouble comes when they start to toddle;
at first a little, then a lot’ll.

© 2009 by K. Thomas Slesarik

Re-tirement (Endings)
by K. Thomas Slesarik

Grandpa is re-tired.
It’s really kind of sad.
I’ve been tired once
but twice is really bad.
He must be exhausted
to be tired and re-tired.
It happened once to grandma
and soon after she expired.

© 2009 by K. Thomas Slesarik

by Diane Mayr of Random Noodling

Someday, my friend, you will find yourself smack
dab in the middle of a bow. You'll be encircled by
the light. Embraced by it. Move, and you'll still be
centermost. You are the proverbial right person
in the right place at the right time--rain before you,
sun behind you. The angle is right. The reflection
is right. The rainbow both begins and ends with you.


Linda of Write Time shares a poem entitled A New Year Begins.

**on the beginning of winter...**

by Steven Withrow of Crackles of Speech

Shoveling snow at the curb, I
trade heaven for earth weight—
the high convergence
of stratocumulus
that ribs the sky like a scroll
is lost to digging and lifting;
it is only later, at my desk,
under an easeful lamp,
that I climb to reach winter’s roof.

Three steps up a ladder now, I
chip spikes of ice from frosted
gutters, drop each white knife
into a mogul of snowdrift
that melts in the drip
from my boots; it is only
later, awake in the dark,
I feel how cold this ground
grows without its fresh cover
of cloud.

**and on the beginning of a life...**

by Steven Withrow of Crackles of Speech
(for Lesley, weeks before; with a nod to Mark Strand)

Even at night, in voiceless sleep,
a trust, like tug of earth to moon,
converses between us in bonds of gravitation,
held weightless in the weight of kept promises,
pulled into greater orbit by that third body,
yet eclipsed by your own, but even now arranging
the fine tilt and flat spin of its arrival flight path,
the coming of its love, the coming of light.

©2009 by Steven Withrow

by Julie Larios of The Drift Record

She spent last year's ending
in a muddle, meaning to begin again,
but began mid-way unraveling,
began traveling to foreign places
but found the language – well - foreign,
the pacing off, the setting wrong, soon longed
for home's familiar adjectives and prepositions,
its overstuffed with nothing-new old chair.

Now home, the New Year almost knocking,
she hears the kettle whistle, hears
the front door’s been-there done-that sigh
hears the toast pop up, sits down each night
for supper, gets up later every morning
and begins again - or tries - to figure out the ending.

by Carol Weis

A new year
with arms
inviting me
its virgin

© Carol Weis

Andi of a wrung sponge shares a poem entitled A New Year.
My mother has been visiting for the last few weeks. This poem was inspired by her.
The ring she wears has
no beginning
no end
unlike the marriage it signified
rock solid for more than
fifty years
until he was taken from her

Now she marks the new year
a new beginning
on this road alone
caught in memories of the past
and an end that came
too soon
It's not too late if you still want to play. Leave me a note about your poem and I'll add it to the list.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Times Best of the Decade - Books

The critics at Time Magazine have weighed in on the best movies, TV, books and theater of the decade. Lev Grossman (THE MAGICIANS, THE CODEX) has selected the 10 best books of the decade. There is one young adult book on the list (can you guess which HP it is?), and at least one that I think would make a fine crossover book (see number 2).

Here's a list of the ten, with links to the Time summaries.
I've read eight of the ten. How about you? Is there an adult read that you think should be on this list? Or better yet, how about a worthy YA title that adults would love?

Monday, December 28, 2009

Nonfiction Monday - Let It Snow

We had a foot of snow one week before Christmas. The bulk of it was still here on Christmas Eve, but it all began to melt away in the rain on Christmas day. Now that it's gone, I'm still thinking of snow. Here are two terrific nonfiction reads about it.

Snowflake Bentley (1998), written by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and illustrated by Mary Azarian - This Caldecott Medal winner tells the true story of Wilson Bentley, a farmer who spent the better part of his life studying and photographing snowflakes. It begins this way.
In the days
when farmers worked with ox and sled
and cut the dark with lantern light,
there lived a boy who loved the snow
more than anything else in the world.
Willie's story is told from his childhood through his death. Accompanying the biography are a series of sidebars that contain additional facts about Bentley. The last page of the book contains a photo of Bentley at his camera (the same one at the top of the Wilson Snowflake Bentley home page), a quote about his love for photography, and three of his renowned snowflake images.

This is the story of a remarkable man who pushed the limits of science and technology to create groundbreaking images of snowflakes. If the book inspires an interest in further study, you can view a number of his amazing photographs at The Bentley Snow Crystal Collection.

The Story of Snow: The Science of Winter's Wonder (2009), written by Mark Cassino with Jon Nelse, Ph.D. and illustrated by Nora Aoyagi - A visually appealing and highly informational book, readers learn that snow begins with a speck and then follow along as that speck becomes a snow crystal. Photos of snow crystals are included with a comparison of the enlarged images to a snow crystal of actual size. The shapes of snow crystals are examined (stars, plates, columns), as is their relationship to the number six.

There is much to learn and wonder about here. The book ends with a guide for catching snow crystals. Teachers will find the teacher's guide for this book particularly helpful.

This post was written for Nonfiction Monday. Hosting this week is Diane Chen at Practically Paradise. Do take some time to check out all the great posts highlighting nonfiction this week.

Monday Poetry Stretch - Endings and Beginnings

With the new year approaching, I'm thinking of what will be left behind in 2009, as well as the fresh start offered by 2010. It seems particularly appropriate then to focus on endings and/or beginnings for our stretch.

Leave me a note about your poem and I'll post the results here later this week.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Poetry Friday - Christmas Bells

On Christmas morning in 1863, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow composed an anti-slavery poem that was later adapted into the carol entitled “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” (You'll notice that the two verses that pertain specifically to the war have been left out of the carol.) While many folks know and love this carol, I like the poem better. Its message of hope and goodwill in the face of war and despair still rings true today.
Christmas Bells
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said:
"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!"

For more information about Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, visit the Maine Historical Society's web site which examines Longfellow's life and work, his homes and his family. It also includes a searchable database of his poems, lesson plans for teachers, a filmography, and more.

The round up is being hosted by Kate Coombs at Book Aunt. Do stop by and take in the poetry being shared today. Happy poetry Friday all! And for those of you celebrating the holiday, best wishes for a happy Christmas.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Little Book-Related Art Work

My son was over the moon when an ARC of Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist Book 2: The Basilisk's Lair arrived addressed to him last week. He quickly re-read the first book (Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist Book 1: Flight of the Phoenix) before moving on to book 2. I knew he was hooked when he got to the end of the first chapter, gave a fist pump and yelled "Oh yeah!"

When he finished the ARC he wrote a thank you note and drew a few pictures inspired by the books.

I love raising a reader. There's just something about sharing the excitement of a new book that always makes me happy.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Monday Poetry Stretch - Three Words

In the book I Am Writing a Poem About . . . A Game of Poetry, Myra Cohn Livingston wrote about three of the assignments she gave to students in her master class in poetry at UCLA. In 2008, Elaine at Wild Rose Reader and Janet Wong, one of the students in Livingston's master class, challenged folks to complete one of these assignments. That's the same challenge I'd like to propose this week. Write a poem in any form that includes the words ring, drum, and blanket. If you need a little inspiration, check out the ring/drum/blanket poems written in response to the original challenge.

Here's the poem I wrote the first time I was challenged to use these words.
rings out,
after day.
Long settled in,
War's heavy blanket
the drumbeat of
I can't wait to see what comes out this time. Leave me a note about your poem and I will post the results here later this week.

Friday, December 18, 2009

I Have Just Four Words For You ...





P.S. - Normally blogging to resume soon.

Poetry Friday - Woods in Winter

I wrote my Poetry Friday post for Christmas a few weeks ago (yes, I know I'm a bit compulsive) and ever since I've been on a Longfellow kick. Since snow is predicted in the next 24 hours (oh please make it so!), I'm sharing this winter poem.

Woods in Winter
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

When winter winds are piercing chill,
     And through the hawthorn blows the gale,
With solemn feet I tread the hill,
     That overbrows the lonely vale.

O'er the bare upland, and away
     Through the long reach of desert woods,
The embracing sunbeams chastely play,
     And gladden these deep solitudes.

Where, twisted round the barren oak,
     The summer vine in beauty clung,
And summer winds the stillness broke,
     The crystal icicle is hung.

Where, from their frozen urns, mute springs
     Pour out the river's gradual tide,
Shrilly the skater's iron rings,
     And voices fill the woodland side.

Alas! how changed from the fair scene,
     When birds sang out their mellow lay,
And winds were soft, and woods were green,
     And the song ceased not with the day!

But still wild music is abroad,
     Pale, desert woods! within your crowd;
And gathering winds, in hoarse accord,
     Amid the vocal reeds pipe loud.

Chill airs and wintry winds! my ear
     Has grown familiar with your song;
I hear it in the opening year,
     I listen, and it cheers me long.

The round up is being hosted by Susan Taylor Brown at Susan Writes. Do stop by and take in all the great poetry being shared. Before you go, be sure to check out this week's poetry stretch results. Happy poetry Friday all!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Monday Poetry Stretch - Clerihew

Last year at this time I wrote these seasonal poems in the form of a clerihew. A clerihew is a four-line verse written in an a/a/b/b rhyme scheme that is biographical and humorous.
Frosty was a man of snow
who liked it ten degrees below.
He feared for days that were too warm,
for melting ruined his boyish form.

The shiny nose on Rudolph's face,
gives the 'deer a special place.
Leading the sleigh through fog and snow,
he's grateful that his bum don't glow!
I thought it might be fun to revisit this form again. Leave me a note about your poem and I'll post the results here later this week.

Saturday, December 12, 2009


I love cooking. It's a form of art and poetry for me. So, imagine my delight at finding a post at The Best American Poetry blog entitled A Little Porn For the Weekend. Don't worry, it's food porn of the sweetest kind. See if you can't name the movies these amazing scenes come from.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Poetry Friday - It's All I Have to Bring Today

Yesterday was the anniversary of Emily Dickinson's birth. Today I'm sharing one of her poems.
It's All I Have to Bring Today
by Emily Dickinson

It's all I have to bring today –
This, and my heart beside –
This, and my heart, and all the fields –
And all the meadows wide –
Be sure you count – should I forget
Some one the sum could tell –
This, and my heart, and all the Bees
Which in the Clover dwell.
The round up is hosted by Diane Mayr at Random Noodling. Do stop by and take in all the wonderful poetry being shared. Before you go, be sure to check out this week's poetry stretch results.

Poetry Stretch Results - It's About Time

The challenge this week was to write a poem that referred to time in some way. Here are the results.
(for Marin, days after)
by Steven Withrow of Crackles of Speech

Your first night home
I couldn't sleep, it was like
a small moon had drifted
through an open window
and settled in our room,
complicating gravity.
For weeks we let you
doze off in your swing,
rock-a-bye, lullaby,
pretty pendulum baby.
One night I napped
on the couch near you,
dreaming to the click
of your metronome seat.
When I woke the TV clock
told a strange time.
I blundered off the blanket,
sat up waiting, fearful
you'd stopped breathing.
But you scrunched your nose
and fenced your fist
and gravity resumed
and the new moon grew
and turned the earth
and turned the earth
and turned the earth
to welcome you.

© 2009 by Steven Withrow

6:45 a.m.
by Harriet of spynotes

I wake when the sun pries through the curtain gap
to unmask me in the quiet and not-quite dark.
Fifteen minutes before everyone is out of bed
and milling around the kitchen
and looking for a banana or a signature or a hug or a cup of coffee.
Fifteen minutes, and I am willing
my dreams to stay in my head,
hands pressed over eyes:
the adventurous dreams
where the fate of the world
lies on my capable shoulders
in a thousand different places
plus one.
the peaceful dreams
where there is only one small and quiet thing,
Fifteen minutes to remember things of importance
and things of no importance
at all.

Kneading hands and feet
willing wrists, ankles back to life,
words thunder past,
spiral out my ears,
form a cloud around my still-pillowed head.
make breakfast make a phone call make noise make love
make a nuisance of yourself
make hay while the sun shines
pack lunch pack a bag pack a snack for later
back to work back to back back in the USSR on the radio
turn it up turn it down turn left at the second light turn around
and turn around and turn around again but don’t turn back
Definitely not back.
Drive to work drive to the store drive yourself to distraction

Where was I going?

Once upon a time,
in spring I would hurl back the covers
my feet hitting the floor
before my eyes were open
running to grab the world and
a box of cereal that might,
if I were really lucky,
hold a prize like a ring or a car or a million dollars or a pony.
The early bird always did get the worm in the spring.
At least it did then.
In winter, I am less agile.
But still, I share a morning dance in the bathroom
with my four-year-old self
and a toothbrush microphone,
surprised at the face staring back from somewhere past forty
while snow falls past the window over my shoulder
and snow falls past the window past my ear
and snow falls past the window
too fast
and too deep
to measure.

take a memo take an aspirin take a number take your time
take the dog for a walk take the money and run
take a message for someone too busy to answer the phone
take five take a seat take a bath take a hike
take something you need
take it now take it now take it.

Then give it away.

save it for later.
Later, when you remember:

Where was I going?

And you remember:

the way to get there is
to put your feet on the floor
The rest?
It will be carried along
on the tide of mornings.
The sun is up.
And so are you.

The Extra Five Days
by Heidi Mordhorst of my juicy little universe

Three hundred sixty degrees in a circle
any circle
a circle the size of my eye
a circle the size of the sun

Three hundred sixty-five days in a year
any year
any year except a leap year
a year like the year I was born

Five degrees, five days difference
or maybe six
five nights of sleeping, five days of being,
doing and being and counting

I come around
and come around
and come around and leap

and somehow the wheel of my year
keeps five days ahead of a circle

by Kate Coombs of Book Aunt

Something passed this way,
blurring the snow with its feet.
The tracks are dotted
with scraps—bits of tinsel,
gift wrap, even the curved
gold shards of a broken
ornament like a cracked sun.

The footprints are shadows,
blues eddying toward
a great door made of stone
that ends the white sameness.

It is colder than snow
to the touch, and heavy,
but I drag it open,
scraping the shape
of a single wing before
I walk into next year.

--Kate Coombs (Book Aunt), 2009

Michael Coldham-Fussell of Rivers of Meaning shares a poem entitled Space and Time in Mind. Welcome, Michael!

Father Time
by J. Patrick Lewis

When once begun
And on his own,
He stopped for none
And ran alone.

Time took his time.
Days’ ends ahead
Left nights to climb
Into Time’s bed.

The watch and clock
We’ve come to know—
Tick-tock, tick-tock—
Precisely show

That Time this time
Should take a bow,
Still in his prime—
The here and now.

The hour survives,
The minute ends.
Time alters lives
That time transcends.

by Easter of Owl in the Library

I want to write a manifesto about time.
I will scrawl it, bright red, on a dusty concrete wall
While sirens sing in the distance.

I’ve done my time in the trenches
Labor. Dirty diapers. Mommy and Me. PTC.
All the tedious seconds buzzing around me.
I had fun, but time flies.

I want to write a manifesto about time.
I will shout it on a busy corner
While people hurry past, eyes sliding past me.

Time is money
And I want to spend some on myself.
I want to indulge myself with hours and hours of poetry.
I want to squander minutes,
Let them run through my fingers and onto the page.

I want to write a manifesto about time.
I will chant it with a crowd of protesters
While we march toward the Capitol.

Ah, but time marches, too.
It has marched me past
Baby teeth and first days of school
And popsicle stick art projects
Even when I have wanted to stand still.

I want to write a manifesto about time.
I will whisper it over you
While you sleep in your quilted cave.

Soon enough, I will have time on my hands.
Until then, I can stitch out some time for myself.
I can hide it in the corners of my day,
So that it won’t take away from
The best of times:
The time I spend with you.

A Book and a Chair
by Elaine Magliaro of Wild Rose Reader

A book and a chair
Are nice to share
When the edges of day
Are melting away
Into the night.

A book and a chair
Are nice to share
Touching and talking
Reading and rocking
Into the night.

Sitting Down to Eat
by Jane Yolen

How many times did we sit down to eat
And you refused the offering?
One time, ten times, a hundred times,
Your mouth sore, your stomach drawn in on itself,
The cancer like some tin-hat dictator
Forbidding you your life. How many times?
How many times did I make soup, straining it
In the blender: tomato, apple, butternut squash,
Sweetening it to tempt you, decorating the dish.
There was nothing I would not try,
Even buying a second blender to be ready
Should you want to eat again. How many times?

Each spoonful a victory, I cozened you
As if you were a reluctant child, begging,
Singing, telling you tales, the old choo-choo,
Spoon chugging into your mouth.
I did not go quite that far, but would have,
Had I thought it would work, many times.
And on the last day, though we didn’t know it
Till after, you ate an extra spoonful, winked
At your son. We didn’t say a word, not one,
So astonished, we took it for a sign
You were on the mend, relaxed our guard,
And you slipped away. No more time.

© 2009 Jane Yolen, all rights reserved

for Renee
by Carol Weis

I got her bald-headed
picture sent to my
inbox last week
her face smiling
as tears rush
down mine
a rampage

Two months
of chemo
in time.

© Carol Weis. All rights reserved.

Linda of Write Time shares a poem entitled To My Unborn Grandchild.

Elaine Magliaro of Wild Rose Reader also shares two poems about time.
And finally, here's my poem. It's for my boy who's growing up much too quickly.
On the day you joined this world
sand in the hourglass of life
dropped to the empty bottom,
stacking grain upon grain.

Since then a hill has emerged
and, unable to flip the glass
(oh how I wish I could!),
I long to narrow the neck,
slow the march of time
that steals innocence and
propels you to adulthood.
It's not too late if you still want to play. Leave me a note about your poem and I'll add it to the list.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Happy Birthday Emily

Today is the 179th anniversary of Emily Dickinson's birth. I thought it appropriate to celebrate with one of her poems.

Before the ice is in the pools,
      Before the skaters go,
Or any cheek at nightfall
      Is tarnished by the snow,

Before the fields have finished,
      Before the Christmas tree,
Wonder upon wonder
      Will arrive to me!

What we touch the hems of
      On a summer’s day;
What is only walking
      Just a bridge away;

That which sings so, speaks so,
      When there’s no one here,—
Will the frock I wept in
      Answer me to wear?

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Where's Tricia?

Imagine a scene right out of Where's Waldo?, but think of the academic version. Can you find me buried under a pile of papers waiting to be graded? At the moment, probably not. I will, however, dig myself out in a few days (grades are due soon, after all). When it's all over, I'll be back with bells on. I hope you'll join me then.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Monday Poetry Stretch - It's About Time

I still find it hard to believe that we are rushing headlong towards the end of the year. I have papers to grade, cookies to bake, packages to mail, cards to send, and more. I am counting the days until my mom arrives (2!), grades are due (8 and 10 respectively), my sister's birthday (13), and public schools close for winter break (11).

In the midst of this year-end chaos, I am acutely aware of time, how little I have and how much I need. So, for this week's stretch I propose we write about time, in any form, in any of it's incarnations. Leave me a note about your poem and I'll post the results here later this week.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Do You Read "Writers Read?"

I've long been a fan of the blog Writers Read. I find the reads of authors fascinating, and I always find terrific recommendations for new books (usually adult).

Today, author Narrelle Harris wrote this.
I loved Thomas Keneally’s Searching for Schindler on many levels. The memoir, an account of the research that went into writing Schindler’s List, is a gem both for those fascinated by the Schindler story and writers in general. The chapters on the business of writing – the research, the self-doubt, the endless waiting for progress on projects that may never come to pass – struck a strong chord.
Now THAT'S a book I want to read. You'll also find a number of titles by other Australian authors (including YA writer Justine Larbalestier).

If you haven't made Writers Read a regular stop, you should put it on your list. The posts are short, well-written, and informative.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Poetry Friday - Villanelles All Around

I belong to the most amazing online collective of poets. You may remember the crown sonnet we collaborated on and debuted in April of 2008. We tried working through the writing of a sestina with a shared set of words, but that form was really challenging. Ever persistent, Liz Garton Scanlon sent us this note on October 26th.
OK, gals. This may be flat-out nuts, but I miss you guys and want to hang out.
Reading the villanelle that Sara posted on Friday reminded me that I really, really, really love villanelles.
And since our sestinas are so challenging -- and not done -- I'm thinking....

(yes, drum roll please)

(no, come back)

(seriously, you guys... don't go... just hear me out...)

We each do a villanelle.
In one of our repeating lines we use the word thanksgiving, in the other repeating line we use the word friend.
No other rules, no other similarities. Just those two things.
And we post them the week AFTER Thanksgiving -- on Poetry Friday -- December 4th.

I know that's really soon, but what the heck?

Gauntlet thrown.
With love and admiration...
For just a moment, imagine this woman as a drill sergeant--a kind one. She's inspiring AND makes you want to work. So, I played along. As with the crown sonnet project, I'd never written a villanelle before (at least not a successful or complete one). I began in typical Type-A fashion with a worksheet. For me, filling in the blanks was the easiest way to dive in. I'll also admit to starting with the last two lines (lines 1 and 3 in the first stanza) first. I wanted to make sure they worked together before rushing headlong into the rest of the poem. In the end, I wrote a few pieces. One didn't meet the requirements of the assignment, but it did work for David Harrison's word of the month challenge, so I revised and posted it to his blog.

Here's my villanelle. It still doesn't follow the rules exactly, but I like it just the same.
Dear friends, Thanksgiving!
For glorious oaks and sprawling trees
in winter, summer, fall and spring

For all things green and lush and living
that dance so lightly in the breeze
dear friends, Thanksgiving!

For spiders spinning webs of string
while swinging and dangling on a trapeze
through winter, summer, fall and spring

For sunflowers bold and bright and smiling,
climbing skyward with grace and ease
dear friends, Thanksgiving!

For birds that chirp and peep and sing
while visiting blossoms with bumblebees
through winter, summer, fall and spring

For poems, prose and words that sing
of beauty that brings us to our knees
Dear friends, Thanksgiving
in winter, summer, fall and spring!
My poetry sisters are sharing their poems today as well. Be sure to stop by and see how they used the words Thanksgiving and friends in the form of a villanelle.
The round up is being hosted by Elaine Magliaro at Wild Rose Reader. Do stop by and take in all the great poetry being shared. Before you go, be sure to check out this week's poetry stretch results. Happy poetry Friday all!

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Poetry Stretch Results - A Poetic Bestiary

The challenge this week was to write about magical or mythical creatures. However, a bestiary includes all kinds of animals, as you'll see from the results shared here.

Griffin's Stomach Rumbles
by Heidi Mordhorst of my juicy little universe
In hunger
my furred tail flicks
my muscled hindquarters
set themselves tightly back
ready to spring

In hunger
my wide wings beat
my keen eye climbs
the sky, scans the ground
ready to strike

Only my talons and claws agree on
how to hunt.

Tiel Aisha Ansari of Knocking From Inside shares a poem entitled Manticore.

by Steven Withrow of Crackles of Speech
My Dearest Love,

This fair morning we died:
Corncob, Squashtupple, Fortiflax,
And I, Bellwhisper,
We four of Loop Forsooth,
In meadow country of Glisterberry,
Roused to the bugle of Her Mouseship's
Twenty-Second Anti-Raptor Infantry,
Donned bright centurion suits,
Shouldered buckthorn bayonets,
And marched to meet our adversary
At the battle of Low Fernfrond,
Mellow month of mustard seed,
Year of white leaf.

You should know that chief
Among my thoughts were visions
Of you and of our pups.
You'll be pleased to learn not one of us cried,
Save for young Squashtupple
Who clutched his thistle rifle like a toy
And tried to cover a sniffle --
But you couldn't blame the boy,
For when the skirmish started in earnest
And shades of dread Horned Owls
Cloaked over us like clouds before the moon,
Even formidable Fortiflax, who fought the Cats,
Elsewhere, in another year and war,
Looked no prouder, no stouter than a ghost.

I hope you find this posthumous post,
If such can describe my manner
Of writing you now,
In aftermath of afternoon,
Some small consolation for your grief.
Tell all others whom you pass
This one unhurried thing:
Corncob, Squashtupple, Fortiflax,
And I, Bellwhisper,
Were mice of tested mettle till last
Gash of talon and lash of midnight wing,
At the battle of Low Fernfrond,
Mellow month of mustard seed,
Year of white leaf.

© 2009 by Steven Withrow

Dr. Alastair Dobbs' Notebook,

Final Entry
by Kate Coombs of Book Aunt
Not a dragon,
has no scales.

Not a swamp beast,
lacks algae.

Horns, seven.
Not a satyr.

Far too large
to be a basilisk.

Too many teeth
to be a minotaur.

If I could just—

Color, the black
of the inside of a grave.


--Kate Coombs (Book Aunt), 2009

Here be monsters
by Harriet of spynotes

I stand
On the pebbled edge of the world,
my cardboard spyglass
peering toward the horizon
at the break in the swells,
ignoring the tide
of frustration and rage
that brought me here.
After the crashing door.
After the hail of thundering words.
After outriding the wind
on a too-small bicycle.

The rise and fall of static
that buzzes around me
in salted eddies
half drowns
that guilty voice behind my ears
whispering, “Leviathan.”

Scraped palms
on barnacled rocks,
feet scrabbling for grip
on their soft mossy surfaces,
I am at last on the top of the heap,
The conquering hero,
looking again
At the small circle of ocean
within the ocean
of oceans.

It heaves and swells,
a sickly green,
savaging the waves
with scales
and a mighty roar.
The shock of it
Knocks the spyglass
From my hand.
I watch it disappear in the sea
Like a drowned bird.

What is it to drown?
No Ophelia drenched in flowers,
but sinew and bone
flailed raw against the rocks,
until nothing is left
But scales and sea;
and something sucking
just beneath the surface
where you can’t quite see;
something so deafening
that you can’t quite hear.
Until you wonder where it is
that you end and the sea begins.

And then the tide goes out.
And then the tide comes in.
And nothing is any different
than it was before,
except the dull roar
that stays with you
on the long road home.

by Carol Weis

Peering into the mirror
stuffy nosed
and mouth ajar
I see the hair
of Medusa
round my head
with eyes
from Böcklin’s painting
drooping back at me
and immediately
to go back
to bed.

© Carol Weis, all rights reserved

"The echeneis is a small fish that is often found on rocks. It has the ability to slow the passage of ships by clinging to their hulls." Pliny the Elder, Natural History

by Diane Mayr of Random Noodling
The rocks are barely
visible beneath the waves,
yet, I know they are there.
I half hope the echeneis will

rise up, make contact, cling
to me, restrain me, stop
me from touching the
edge of the world. Fish,

or no fish, I know what
awaits at the end. Sail
on, sail on. It's too late
now, to turn back.

by Julie Larios of The Drift Record

East to west,
two Egyptian fish
guide the sun-ship
across the sky over Cairo,
above the dunes of the Sinai.

Wouldn't you like to fly
through the day
sunrise to sunset,
a fish twin?

by Easter of Owl in the Library

Her house is clean. She's always dressed to kill.
She only shops the most exclusive stores.
Her springtime garden bursts with daffodils.
At Christmas, she's the first to wreath her doors.

Her kids are on the honor roll, of course,
Obedient and talented and bright.
Her marriages is free from threats of divorce.
She and her husband never, ever fight.

She's the CPA for a major firm
And secretary of the PTA.
And though her to-do list would make you squirm
She still found time to hit the gym today.

No one should emulate this mythic beast.
Imperfect is more fun, to say the least.

Here's my poem.
Outside Fenrir's Grasp 
His yellow eyes stare through you
as he contemplates your taste
the crunch of your bones in his mouth
sound of your screams in the night

But thanks to the dwarves
he is just out reach
chained to a rock
straining against a thin ribbon

Strangely fashioned of
bear sinews
cat footsteps
bird spittle
breath of fishes
mountain roots
a woman’s beard

What magic is this that holds Fenrir?
Step lightly, tiptoe past
the crouched and snarling beast
a monster in wolf’s clothing
It's not too late if you still want to play. Leave me a note about your poem and I'll add it to the list.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

If You Haven't Seen/Read This, You Don't Know What You're Missing

The lovely Susan Taylor Brown has launched a project for the month of December called 31 Blogs (You Might Not Know) in 31 Days. Each day she'll be highlighting a blog she thinks others should know about. This is a very cool idea but dang it, do I really need to add to the list of 239 blogs already in my Google Reader?

In any case, as I was reading through unread posts this evening, I came across a few I knew I had to share. They're all from the same site, so if you are teacher and don't already subscribe to Teaching PreK-8, why the heck don't you? I'm just sayin' ... Here are a few things that popped up today that are stand out pieces.
Retracing Memories by David Harrison - In this article, David discusses writing memoir poems in the classroom and offers some wonderful suggestions. If this whets your appetite for poetry, then be sure to visit David's blog.

Esmé Raji Codell: First Lady of Read-Aloud by Jessica Rae Patton - Yes, that's OUR Esmé. Can I call her that? Yes, I claim her for the kidlitosphere. She's ours and we love her. And as a teacher, I'm claiming her again as an amazing inspiration.

A Poetry Workshop in Print by Lee Bennett Hopkins - This column contains a number of articles highlighting poets and poetic forms. Lee works tirelessly to promote poetry, so you know there's good stuff here.
Thanks to Susan Taylor Brown for inspiring me to share. Just don't blame me when your RSS feed reader explodes. It won't be my fault.

The Lovely and Underrated Typewriter

I love the scene in You've Got Mail where Frank practically swoons over the new-to-him electric typewriter he's purchased (a machine that is the exact copy of the model he already has in Kathleen's apartment AND the one at his own place).

What is it people love about typewriters? I'll admit to loving typewriter jewelry, but I'm also quite fond of the vintage Royal typewriter that sits in my office. This manual typewriter was my Dad's, and it's the first machine I ever typed a paper on (and I do mean typed).

In the Guardian today, Sam Jones asks Do Typewriters Hold the Keys to Fine Writing?. He shares some interesting notions from some very famous writers. Here are a few quotes.
Will Self - "Writing on a manual makes you slower in a good way, I think. You don't revise as much, you just think more, because you know you're going to have to retype the entire f***ing thing."

Frederick Forsyth - "I have never had an accident where I have pressed a button and accidentally sent seven chapters into cyberspace, never to be seen again," he points out. "And have you ever tried to hack into my typewriter? It is very secure."
While I pledge allegiance to my MacBook and whisper sweet nothings in her ear, do check out Do Typewriters Hold the Keys to Fine Writing? for some fun reading.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Nonfiction Monday - Dinosaurs ROAR, Butterflies SOAR!

Dinosaurs ROAR, Butterflies SOAR!, written and illustrated by Bob Barner, offers a look at prehistoric life both large and small, as well as the role that butterflies played in fostering the growth of flowering plants. Written on two levels to engage a variety of readers, you'll first find simple text describing the basic action.
"Flowering plants made more air for dinosaurs to breathe and huge amounts of food for them to eat."
This text is set in a larger font and displayed more prominently on the page. This text is accompanied by more detailed informational text, found near the bottom of each page spread and set in a smaller font.
Dinosaurs were accidental farmers that helped plants grow. As they walked, their feet opened the soil, and their droppings fertilized seeds that grew into new plants.
Each turn of the page reveals energetic and bold illustrations covering a double-page spread. The first spread, packed with dinosaurs, gives way to a page filled with butterflies and flowers. Each paper collage is filled with bright colors, textures, and fine details, like those found on the butterfly wings.

While simplified for the youngest readers, the text is still highly informative. Here are some things readers will learn.
  • Butterflies spread pollen, which helped flowering plants flourish.
  • Widespread availability of flowering plants meant more food for herbivores, and likewise, more food for carnivores. (For older students there's a great food chain lesson here!)
  • While a catastrophic event caused the extinction of the dinosaurs, butterflies and other smaller animals lived.
  • Today more than 18,000 types of butterflies are known.
The book ends with an easy-to-read timeline (great for young readers just becoming familiar with this concept) and a final spread of interesting facts about plants, caterpillars, insects, and more.

Barner doesn't gloss over the fact that there is still much we don't know about dinosaurs and other animals that lived in prehistoric times, butterflies included. He reminds readers that "As with dinosaurs, no one knows the colors of these ancient creatures." He ends on the enticing notion that "Many plant, butterfly, and dinosaur secrets remain hidden in fossils and rocks waiting to be found, maybe by you." Wouldn't that be amazing?

Dinosaurs ROAR, Butterflies SOAR! is a wonderful blend of art and science. For dinosaur lovers, as well as kids interested in butterflies, this book is a winner. Barner's book will make a great addition to all those units on butterfly life cycles. Introducing a bit of butterfly history will be a wonderful way to round out the study of these amazing creatures. Download the teacher's guide for some additional ideas for using the book in the classroom. Highly recommended.

Book: Dinosaurs ROAR, Butterflies SOAR!
Author/Illustrator: Bob Barner
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Publication Date: April, 2009
Pages: 32 pages
Grades: K-3
ISBN: 978-0811856638
Source of Book: Personal copy.

This post was written for Nonfiction Monday. Hosting this week is Robin Gaphni at The Booknosher. Do take some time to check out all the great posts highlighting nonfiction this week.

Just Let Them Read

In an article entitled What Really Kindles My Fire For Reading, Keir Graff makes this statement.
I have screen fatigue. I have gadget fatigue, too, and key, button, mouse, and scroll-wheel fatigue. When I open the covers of a book, my soul sighs in relief.
My soul sighs in relief. Amen to that.

Perhaps most enlightening thought in this article is the last sentence.
Let people read on paper, on screens; let them listen; let them have the words made into holograms and take virtual baths in them—just let them read.
I'll say it again--Amen.

It's a short article, but it packs a punch. Do stop by and check out What Really Kindles My Fire For Reading.

Monday Poetry Stretch - Poetic Bestiary

I've been reading a lot of books about magical and mythical creatures as of late, so I thought it might be fun to write some poems about these creatures. Not sure what to write about? Check out a few of these links.
So, what kind of creature will you write about? Leave me a note about your poem and I'll post the results here later this week.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Poetry Stretch Results - Hay(na)ku

The challenge this week was to write in the form of hay(na)ku. Here are the results.
Jane Yolen left this poem in the comments.
    The Widow Speaks

    Come back.
    I miss you.

    One-way conversations
    Satisfy no one.

    You cannot
    Come to me,

    Must go
    Underground to you.

    Gray stone
    Beckons to me,

    Words written
    On its surface

    Printed invitation.
    Here’s my RSVP.

    Will not
    Be too long.

    © 2009 Jane Yolen, all rights reserved.
Heidi Mordhorst of my juicy little universe left this poem in the comments.
    morning Tricia
    I finally Stretch!

    trying hay(na)ku
    must make lunches

    soy sauce
    storebought chocolate pudding
Diane Mayr of Random Noodling left this poem in the comments.
    sits waiting
    frozen solid, wrapped

    plastic. Innards
    removed except for

    gizzard, and
    heart soon to

    additions to
    gravy, stuffing, or

    for the
    dog's thanksgiving treat.

    ask: what
    would the Pilgrims

    about our
    idea of thanks?
Kate Coombs of Book Aunt left this poem in the comments.
    leaf, shaken
    by windy envy.

    bird, rewriting
    a November sky.

    sound, alarm
    clock prodding me.

    good morning
    in the mirror.

    pillow, making
    half a bed.

    lunch beside
    the front door.

    bowl, one
    spoon and cup.

    I forget
    lonely, but then

    days it
    eats me up.

    --Kate Coombs (Book Aunt), 2009
Kelly Polark left this poem in the comments.
    Time to
    Stuff the turkey.

    Time to
    Stuff the human.

    Time to
    Start your diet!

    --Kelly Polark, 2009
Easter of Owl in the Library shares a poem entitled Married to the Military.

Carol Weis left this poem in the comments.
    Stirs Up Memories

    miss Mom
    as the holidays

    upon us.
    The thought of

    easy laugh
    and the sweet

    she wore
    stirs up memories.

    can smell
    her creamed onions

    through the
    house as I

    the skins
    of those small

    elliptic beauties
    ready to drop

    into a pot
    that she once

    knowing full
    well her redolent

    will infuse
    this reminiscent dish.

    © Carol Weis. All rights reserved.
Julie Larios of The Drift Record left this poem in the comments.
    leaves falling,
    nine hang on,

    winds blowing -
    going, going, gone.

    to Heaven.
    Six to sea.

    says Four,
    please marry me.

    leaf babies
    in a swirl,

    Leaf Boys,
    one Leaf Girl.
Susan Taylor Brown left several poems in the comments.
    jangled leash calls
    snoring dog


    grandmother's rosewater perfume
    calls back


    gather happily
    but not mine

    pretend invisibility
    breaking grandma's heart
Linda of Write Time left this poem in the comments.
    An Invitation

    now grown-
    far from home.

    this holiday
    with their in-laws.

    our first
    year without them.

    be fun-
    trying something new.

    for two-
    How about it?

    and me-
    dinner by candlelight?
Stephanie Parsley of sparble shares a poem entitled For Alfred, Visiting From My Daughter's Junior High Science Lab.

Harriet of spynotes left this poem in the comments.

 [a hay(na)ku]

    I had
    three small things:

    white horse
    with silver wings

    fit in
    my small palm,

    tiny green
    beetle who buzzed,

    a pebble
    from the river.

    kept them
    in my pocket,

    them between
    hands and thighs,

    the beetle
    spread its wings.

    there were
    only two things.

    pebble slipped
    somewhere toward home.

    clicked against
    the pavement, vanished.

    the horse
    with silver wings,

    lies in
    my pocket still –

    I think,
    it always will –

    remind me
    of possible flight,

    remind me
    of possible loss,

    remind me
    to hold to

    true thing
    to carry around,

    horse with
    two silver wings,

    a hand
    to hold them.
I tried hard to write about Thanksgiving this week, but sometimes you have to go where the words lead you.
is bringing
my father back

that’s exactly
what I want

more day
alone with him

his strong
hands at work

to strains
of Dixieland jazz

working together
side by side

is filling
the enormous hole

my heart
and our family
It's not too late if you still want to play. Leave me a note about your poem and I'll add it to the list.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Magic

I'm well into making some magic of my own today, so I thought I would share this poem.
Thanksgiving Magic
by Rowena Bastin Bennett

Thanksgiving Day I like to see
Our cook perform her witchery.
She turns a pumpkin into pie
As easily as you or I
Can wave a hand or wink an eye.

Read the poem in its entirety.
Happy Thanksgiving and blessings to you and yours.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Books for Elementary Social Studies - History

This is the last week my preservice teachers will be posting social studies book reviews at Open Wide, Look Inside. This time around they focused on US and Virginia history. You'll find books about Lewis and Clark, Jamestown, the Civil War, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, some independent dames, and more.

If you want to check out titles and topics you may have missed, follow these links.
This is our last set of reviews for the semester, so please stop by and check out this last installment. I promise you won't be disappointed.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Nonfiction Monday - What's Under There?

I taught an environmental education workshop this weekend in which one of our outdoor activities was to turn over rotting logs in the forest to see what we could find. It was great, dirty fun. Here are the books I like to match with this activity to get kids thinking about what they'll find when they turn over logs and rocks.

What's Under the Log?, written and illustrated by Anne Hunter - This little gem fits nicely in your hands and begins by asking the question in the title. Hunter then introduces readers to ten animals living beneath the log. The book ends with a short description of a tree's life cycle, reminding us that a rotting log not only provides a home for many creatures, but also returns important nutrients to the soil as it decays.

A Log's Life, written by Wendy Pfeffer and illustrated by Robin Brickman - An oak tree in the forest provides a home for many creatures. When the tree is felled during a storm it becomes a giant log and serves as a home for a whole host of new creatures. This one follows the log through several seasons until the rotting log becomes a mound of rich soil, and the perfect place for an acorn to take root and grow. (Take a closer look inside this book.)

Under One Rock: Bugs, Slugs and Other Ughs, written by Anthony Fredericks and illustrated by Jennfier DiRubbio - A Sharing Nature With Children book, this one uses the form of "The House that Jack Built" to examine seven different animals that just might live under a rock near you. In the Field Notes readers will find additional information on earthworms, ants, spiders, beetles, field crickets, millipedes and slugs.

This post was written for Nonfiction Monday. Hosting this week is Diane Chen at Practically Paradise. Do take some time to check out all the great posts highlighting nonfiction this week.

Monday Poetry Stretch - Hay(na)ku

I've found another new form that I would like to try this week. It's called hay(na)ku and was created in 2003 by poet Eileen Tabios. Here are the guidelines.

Hay(na)ku is a 3-line poem of six words with one word in the first line, two words in the second, and three in the third. There are no other rules and no restrictions on number of syllables or rhyme.

Need some examples? You can find some Hay(na)ku poetry contest winners at the Hay(na)ku Poetry blog. There is also a thoughtful essay about the form at Dragoncave.

As you'll see from the examples, some folks create poems comprised of several hay(na)ku strung together. So, what kind of hay(na)ku will you write? Leave me a note about your poem and I'll post the results here later this week.

Friday, November 20, 2009

McSweeney's, Twilight, and a Bit of Wuthering Heights

You know I love me some McSweeney's. Take a look at Catherine and Heathcliff Audition for Twilight. I dare you not to laugh.

Poetry Friday - Hand Shadows

The poetry stretch this week was to write about games of childhood. One of my favorite things to do was make shadows on the wall, though I was never very good at it. Here is a wonderful poem about just such a pastime.

Hand Shadows
by Mary Cornish

My father put his hands in the white light
of the lantern, and his palms became a horse
that flicked its ears and bucked; an alligator
feigning sleep along the canvas wall leapt up

Read the poem in its entirety.

The round up is being hosted by Julie Larios over at The Drift Record. Do stop by and take in the wonderful poetry being shared. Before you go, be sure to check out this week's poetry stretch results.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Quick Hits - Some Posts of Interest

I'm way behind on my blog reading. I haven't read a single post in the Winter Blog Blast Tour (WBBT for short) yet! But, I am saving those for the weekend, when my computer and I shall be united for too long to mention. Until then, here are two short posts that caught my eye.

John Green - On Liking Twilight

Roger Sutton - One Question or Two?

Poetry Stretch Results - Childhood Games

The challenge this week was to write a poem about a childhood game or pastime. Here are the results.
Jane Yolen left this poem in the comments.

    I was no Jill at Jacks,
    tumbling gracelessly down a hill.
    Instead I swiped the little iron-legged tokens
    with a quick hand, snagged the ball,
    was on to the next round with hardly a wasted motion.
    Champion of my camp, of my elementary school,
    I privileged jacks over real boys,
    keeping my winning streak going
    until my first kiss the summer I was thirteen.
    The next time I played jacks
    was with my own children
    who could sit on the floor with an ease
    I scarcely remembered.
    The last time was at a conference,
    with two women friends,
    one of whom brought her own jacks and ball
    in a velvet drawstring bag.
    We sat on the hotel floor
    watched over by conference attendees.
    They cheered us equally.
    But two of us lost.
    We lost big.
    Never play pool with anyone
    who owns his own cue stick, Daddy had warned.
    It’s true in jacks as well.

    ©2009 Jane Yolen, all rights reserved
Amy Ludwig Vanderwater left this poem in the comments.
    Ouija Board

    My hands hover over
    hoping for hints.

    Who will I love someday?

    I close my eyes.
    I hold my breath.

    What will the Ouija say?

    my future is told.

    her secrets unfold.

    For me to make true.
    For me to blame.

    Ouija board –


    Or game?

    Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, 2009
Easter of Owl in the Library shares two poems this week.

Carol Weis left two poems in the comments.

    hopping around
    how many times
    can I go-go?

    hopping around
    zillions of times
    on my pogo.



    One potato
    two potato
    three potato four
    rang around our yard
    on chilly
    autumn days
    in our northern
    Jersey neighborhood.

    Fists held tight
    we’d huddle in a circle
    ready-or-not to play
    the next round of
    hide and seek
    all wondering
    who would
    be IT.

    Tapping fist to
    chin and other
    eager fists
    it turned out
    the potato
    for sure.
Janet of Across the Page shares a poem entitled Boggle Dreams.

Harriet of spynotes left this poem in the comments.

    Skit skat
    One foot, four;
    Jump rope,
    Turn twice,
    Holler for more!

    Double Dutch,
    Never such,
    Ever such rhyme;
    One foot,
    Two foot,
    Four feet time.

    Hold hands,
    Back to back,
    Shake it sweet;
    Whip round,
    Skip down,
    Don’t miss a beat!

    The rope goes round --
    Faster, that
    Whirring sound

    Touch down
    Turn around
    Back against the wall
    Oh, no!
    Caught a toe
    Trip then fall

    Jump rope stall.

    Get up
    Dust off
    That’s how you learn
    Once more
    Jump back
    One more turn

    Turn once
    Turn twice
    Count each leap
    Skip day
    Skip night
    Skip in your sleep

    Skit skat
    One foot, three
    Inside a
    Jump rope’s
    The place for me.
Jone of Deo Writer shares a rictameter about hopscotch.
I wrote several poems, one about playing in the dirt and mud, another about climbing trees, and this one.
That old rope wore my hands bare
but I couldn’t stay away

It traveled high over the corn field
and came back to the edge of the road

Swinging was as good as flying

As I got older, I swung upside down
rope twined around my legs—over, under, between

Swinging was my dare
my truth was freedom in the air
It's not too late if you still want to play. Leave me a note about your poem and I'll add it to the list.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Gifts for the Readers and Writers in Your Life - Part One

It's about time for me to begin searching the nooks and crannies of my house for the holiday gifts I've been buying throughout the year. I still have a few folks left, but my recent online searches have me convinced that it will be easy to please the readers and writers in my life. Here are some of the things I've come across that may make my gift list this year.

New York Review Watch - The band may be plastic, but who could snub a watch with the Bard on its face? This one features a caricature by David Levine.

Writer's Pencils - Alright, I know a lot of folks write on the computer, but there are a few dinosaurs like me who write and revise on actual paper. These pencils are inscribed with quotations by O. Henry, Ring Lardner, Confucius, Beatrix Potter, and Charles Baudelaire on the craft of writing.

How to Write a Story Necklace - Hanging from a silver chain is an antique typewriter with the beginning of a story about a curious penguin. If necklaces aren't your thing, there's always the option of a brooch.

Great Poets Coffee Mug - Enjoy a cup of joe, tea, or whatever your poison accompanied by the likes of Edgar Allan Poe, Sylvia Plath, William Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, and Langston Hughes.

Women Writers Umbrella - Forget about that plain black umbrella--think how stylish you'll look with Austen, Plath, Dickinson, Hurston, Woolf, Alcott, Shelley, and Bronte keeping you dry.

In My Book Greeting Cards/Bookmarks - I first saw these in the gift shop of the Library of Congress and fell in love. I'm particularly fond of "In my book, you're a mystery," which features an image of Stonehenge.

A Reader's Diary - Maybe I'm just getting old, but these days I need to write down the titles of the books I've read (though the really amazing ones stand out), as well as the ones I want to read. This terrific little pocket diary is just the thing to keep book lovers organized.

Dark and Stormy Night Board Game - Bring this to your next book club meeting and have a little fun when the discussion winds down. The object of the game is to correctly guess the title or author of eight books after hearing only the opening lines.

Raval Page Flags - My books are littered with with Post-It™ notes and loose sheets of paper where I've tried to mark important passages. For the reader in your life who must mark everything, these page flags are just the ticket.

Journals Galore - I'll admit it. I'm a journal junkie. The writer in your life may just harbor this secret passion as well. Some of my favorites include Scintillating Observations, Nepalese Traveler's Journal, The Big Empty Sky, Giraffe Journal, Chapter Books (Set of 3), and Recycled 3-Pack Notebooks.

The Book Lover's Cookbook: Recipes Inspired by Celebrated Works of Literature, and the Passages That Feature Them - Good food and good books--need I say more?

Okay, I'm done procrastinating for a while. I'll be back with some more ideas in the next week or so. Until then, feel free to share some of your own ideas. I'd love to hear them. And if you have time, you may want to check out last year's list of gift ideas.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Books for Elementary Social Studies - Civics

If you haven't been to Open Wide, Look Inside lately, you're really missing something. In the last few weeks my students have been highlighting books for use in teaching a variety of social studies topics. This week they're focused on civics. You'll find books on patriotism, symbols of America, government, democracy, as well as biographies of figures who have made a difference in the life of our growing nation.

If you want to check out book suggestions for other topics you may have missed, follow these links.
Each entry includes a brief summary of the book, curriculum connections, links for some supporting resources, and general information about the book. If you are looking for some ideas for homeschooling or classroom social studies, do take a look. You won't be disappointed.

Nonfiction Monday - How To Build Your Own Country

I've been holding on to this book for a while, but since I'm teaching a class tonight on how to teach civics in the elementary classroom, today is the perfect time to shine a spotlight on it.

As a child I had dreams about having my own room. I didn't have to wait long, because my sister went off to college when I was 9, but before that time there were many days when I longed to draw a chalk line down the center of the room to mark off my space, my territory. If you ever shared a room with a sibling, you know what I'm talking about. For any kid who wants to take the notion of having his/her own territory to the extreme, How To Build Your Own Country will show him/her just how to do it.

Written by Valerie Wyatt and illustrated by Fred Rix, How to Build Your Own Country is a step-by-step guide to building a country from scratch. Here's how it begins.
Suppose you stumble across a chunk of land that no one owns. You could take it over and declare it a brand new country. Your own personal country! The Kingdom of Jason! The Federal Republic of Katie! Even if it were only the size of a bathmat, it would be yours, all yours!

If you think that's highly unlikely, you're right. Unlikely, but not impossible.
What follows are three chapters that guide readers through the country building process. Wyatt uses the micronation of Bathmatia (a hypothetical country founded in a bathroom) to illustrate each point, as well as information about countries currently in existence. The book is chock-full of facts relating to topics in geography, economics, and history. However, they're so creatively woven into the text that kids won't feel like they've picked up a textbook when they crack this one open. You'll be more likely to hear kids sharing interesting tidbits with their friends. Here's an example from a sidebar entitled "One Dog, One Vote."
Duncan M. MacDonald cast his vote in a 2006 election in the United States. There was only one problem: Duncan is a dog. He was registered as a voter over the phone (his owner took the call) and received an absentee ballot in the mail. (Absentee ballots are used by voters who can't vote in person at election time.) Duncan marked his choice with a paw print, and then his owner, Jane Balogh, mailed in the ballot. Ms. Balogh was trying to make the point that it's too easy to get registered to vote because she was concerned about voter fraud. For doing so, she was convicted of making a false statement to a public official.
The first chapter, entitled "Stake Out Your Identity," details naming your country, finding a population, designing a flag and choosing a motto, and writing a national anthem. In addition to helpful hints for completing each task, readers will find some handy-dandy activities along the way, like the U-Name-It matching column for folks stumped for a name, or the Mad-Lib™ style fill-in-the-blanks for writing a national anthem.

Chapter two, entitled "Run the Country," explains setting up a government (autocracy, oligarchy, theocracy, single-party government, and democracy are all described), holding elections, writing a constitution, making the laws, serving your citizens, making money, and taking a holiday. Here's how this chapter begins.
Running a country is a bit like having a pet fish. You have to take care of the fish or bad things will happen (to the fish). Actually, looking after a population is a lot more work than that because your citizens won't be satisfied with just food and clean water. They will expect big things, such as a justice system, a government and an economy, and smaller things, such as roads, schools and hospitals. These are the necessities that will help them lead healthy and prosperous lives. And if your citizens are healthy and prosperous, your country will be, too.
The last chapter, entitled "Meet the Neighbors," highlights the fact that we all live in "one big world, and sometimes we need to work together on issues like peace and global warming and disaster relief." What follows is an introduction to some of our neighbors (big and small, old and new, rich and poor, etc.), international organizations, and talk of keeping the peace.

While there is no bibliography at the end of the book, there is a helpful glossary and an extensive index. Remember how I said that the book covered a range of topics in social studies? Here alone is what you'll find if you explore the index listings for the letter R.
  • refugees
  • religions
  • representative government
  • representatives
  • revolutions
  • rights, citizens
  • rights, human
  • Russia
The writing in the book is engaging and often playful (jokes and puns abound), but always straightforward and clear. Topics are broken down into easily digestible chunks so that the text never gets overwhelming for readers. The cartoon illustrations are quirky, colorful and fun, adding to the playfulness of the text. (Take a look at these spreads from the book.)

Part of the CitizenKid collection (a collection of books that inform children about the world and inspire them to be better global citizens), How to Build Your Own Country will make a fine addition to school and classroom libraries. For teachers who want to help kids better understand issues related to government, this book will serve as a useful guide to setting up a micronation in the classroom. You can even download some helpful learning resource materials to help with this endeavor. Just don't say I didn't warn you if your class decides to annex the cafeteria and demands its users pay taxes!

How To Build Your Own Country
Author: Valerie Wyatt
Fred Rix
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Publication Date: August, 2009
Pages: 40 pages
Grades: 3-6
ISBN: 978-1554533107
Source of Book: Review copy received from Raab Associates.

This post was written for Nonfiction Monday. Hosting this week is Tina Nichols Coury at Tales from the Rushmore Kid. Do take some time to check out all the great posts highlighting nonfiction this week.