Friday, May 30, 2014

Poetry Friday - Sorrow

I've been away for a few weeks, not a surprising turn at the end of the semester. When I come down from the high of April and posting on poetry every day, I am always faced with finals, graduation, and wrapping up the academic year.

However, it's not just the end of school that puts me in a gray place each May. On May 5th I remember my father on his birthday, and again on May 7th, the anniversary of his death. This year marked 5 years without him. On May 10th I observed what would have been my parent's 62nd wedding anniversary. All of these dates are closely followed by graduation, an event celebrated here at UR each year on Mother's day.

This year was especially difficult, as the university community was shocked and saddened by the tragic death of two members of the women's basketball staff in a terrible accident. I knew both of these women. The first was Ginny Doyle. I looked forward to seeing her every spring, as she brought me recruits interested in education. In nearly 14 years working together she never called me Tricia, even though I insisted. She always called me Dr. Stohr. So, I took to calling her Coach Doyle, never Ginny. Over the years she introduced me to a number of remarkable young scholar athletes with a passion for teaching, many of them becoming my students. The second was Natalie Lewis. Natalie was a student of mine, but more than that, she was a connection to home. When I first taught Natalie we made that connection that only folks from Buffalo can make. We talked about food, things we missed, and locations we both knew and loved. I learned quickly that Natalie grew up just a block from the tiny apartment my husband lived in, and the one we shared for a few short months after being wed. Even after her classes with me were complete, she stopped by to visit. I went to see her swim. She came by during student teaching to raid my bookshelves and borrow materials. When she took the job at UR, I would often stop by to say hello on my walk to work. She had a big heart, an old soul, and so much joy that you couldn't help but smile when you saw her.

So, I've been silent for a few weeks, trying to push past the gray and back into the sunshine. It would be so much easier if Mother Nature would cooperate. It was 95 here on Wednesday and 65 on Thursday. Many of the days have been overcast.

In light of the recent death of Maya Angelou, I've been reading her poems, but I imagine lots of folks are sharing her work today. Instead, I'm allowing myself just one last wallow before I pick myself up and dust myself off.

by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Sorrow like a ceaseless rain
      Beats upon my heart.
People twist and scream in pain, —
Dawn will find them still again;
This has neither wax nor wane,
      Neither stop nor start.

People dress and go to town;
      I sit in my chair.
All my thoughts are slow and brown:
Standing up or sitting down
Little matters, or what gown
      Or what shoes I wear.

I do hope you'll take some time to check out all the wonderful poetic things being shared and collected today by Diane at Random Noodling. Happy poetry Friday friends.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Biographical Poetry Pairings - César Chavez

In 2008 the state of Virginia added Cesar Chavez to the standards for history and social science in third grade. Under the heading of civics instruction students learn about the importance of the basic principles of democracy and identify the contributions of selected individuals.  Chavez was added to a list that already included George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Rosa Parks, Thurgood Marshall, and Martin Luther King, Jr.. As this list is meant to expose children to people who worked to defend the basic principles that form the foundation of our government, I was thrilled when he was added.

If you don't know much about Chavez, here's a quick video introduction.

Today's pairing offers a glimpse into the life and work of Cesar Chavez.

Poetry Book
César: ¡, Se Puede! Yes We Can, written by Carmen Bernier-Grand and illustrated by David Diaz, is a biography written in a series of 19 free verse poems. It is one of the most comprehensive and moving biographies of the man I have ever read. What is different about this work is that it does not shy away from the difficulties and injustices he faced in his life. Instead, his life story is told head on, shining a spotlight on the good and bad times. It begins not with his birth, but a poem that wonders at what and who he would become. From here the poems describe his name, his dad, his mom, happy moments of childhood, the Depression, the constant moving, working the fields, schooling, losing the family ranch, the farm workers' struggles, organizing the workers, his death, and much more.

Here is the poem that opens the book.
Who Could Tell?
Who could tell?
Who could tell
that Cesario Estrada Chavez,
the shy American
wearing a checkered shirt,
walking with a can to ease his back
from the burden of the fields,
could organize so many people
to march for La Causa, The Cause?
Who could tell
that he with a soft pan dulce voice,
hair the color of mesquite,
and downcast, Aztec eyes,
would have the courage to speak up
for the campesinos to get better pay,
better housing,
better health?
Who could tell?
Here is one of my favorite poems from the book.
Crooked Lines

"God has written in exceedingly
crooked lines."

What made César follow
Father McDonnell
from camp to camp
and Mass to Mass?

What made Father McDonnell
give César the teachings and prayers
of Saint Francis of Assisi:
"Lord, make me an instrument
of your peace"?

Why did a book about Saint Francis
mention Mahatma Gandhi,
a man of peace who won many battles
against injustices in India?

Why did César talk
to Father McDonnell
about his passion for peaceful change
and the leadership hidden deep
inside him?

What made Father McDonnell
send Fred Ross, from the
Community Service Organization,
to see César?

God's crooked lines.
Poems ©Carmen Bernier-Grand. All rights reserved.

The back matter is extensive and includes a section of notes, a glossary of Spanish terms used in the poems, a short synopsis of Chávez's life, a brief chronology, the author's sources, and a collection of Chávez's quotes. On the back jacket of the book readers will find Chavez's core values. They were: service to others, sacrifice, a preference to help the most needy, determination, nonviolence, acceptance of all people, respect for life and environment, community, knowledge, and innovation.

Nonfiction Picture Book
Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez, written by Kathleen Krull and illustrated by Yuyi Morales, is a biography of Chavez that focuses on the impact of his early years, his work in the fields and organizing the workers, and efforts to sign the first contract for farmworkers. Krull shares both the highs and lows of his life, painting him as a kind and patient man who worked tirelessly on behalf of others. Here is an excerpt from his youth.
Cesar swallowed his bitter homesickness and worked alongside his family. He was small and not very strong, but still a fierce worker. Nearly every crop caused torment. Yanking out beets broke the skin between his thumb and index finger. Grapevines sprayed with bug-killing chemicals made his eyes sting and his lungs wheeze. Lettuce had to the be the worst. Thinning lettuce all day with a short-handled hoe would make hot spasms shoot through his back. Farm chores on someone else's farm instead of his own felt like a form of slavery.
As Cesar grew older and began to work on behalf of the farmworkers, he organized them and supported a nonviolent approach. Here is another excerpt.
In a fight for justice, he told everyone, truth was a better weapon than violence. "Nonviolence," he said, "takes more guts." It meant using imagination to find ways to overcome powerlessness. 
More and more people listened. 
One night, 150 people poured into an old abandoned theater in Fresno. At this first meeting of the National Farm Workers Association, Cesar unveiled its flag—a bold black eagle, the sacred bird of the Aztec Indians.
La Causa—The Cause—was born. 
Text ©Kathleen Krull. All rights reserved.

While the book ends with the signing of the first contract for farm workers, there was still much work to be done. Krull shares some of the highlights of Chavez's continued work in an Author's Note. 

The Art
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the art in these two books. Both of these illustrators, David Diaz and Yuyi Morales, have earned medals and been honored by the The Pura Belpré Award. This award is "presented annually to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth."  HARVESTING HOPE was an honor book for illustration in 2004, while CÉSAR: ¡SÍ, SE PUEDE! YES WE CAN was an honor book for illustration in 2006. While different in style, they are both gorgeous accompaniments to the stories of Chavez.

Perfect Together
There are a number of other good biographies written for children about Chavez. These two are my favorites, in part because the illustrations are so highly reflective of the culture they represent. I also think the two pair nicely in that a number of the poems match times in the life of Chavez highlighted by Krull.

For additional resources, consider these sites.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Monday Poetry Stretch - Diminishing Rhyme

I am still working my way through The Practice of Poetry: Writing Exercises From Poets Who Teach, jotting ideas in one of the many journals I have tucked away. This week I want to try an exercise from this book entitled Emotion/Motion/Ocean/Shun. Here's what Susan Mitchell writes:
If you read the title of this exercise aloud, you will hear a quadruple rhyme. But if you examine the words themselves, you will notice that there is something special about this rhyme scheme. The sound shun is contained in ocean, the sounds of both shun and ocean in motion, and shunocean and motion can all be folded into emotion. Such a rhyme scheme, which incidentally was favored by the seventeenth-century poet George Herbert, is called diminishing rhyme because the rhyme words get smaller as you move from emotion to shun. But I prefer the term nesting rhymes because the words nest one inside the other like Russian wooden dolls.
Here is an example of this form from the George Herbert poem "Paradise".
I bless Thee, Lord, because I grow
Among the trees, which in a row
To Thee both fruit and order ow 
Read the poem in its entirety
So, that's it. Your challenge is to write a poem that uses diminishing rhyme. Won't you join us? Please share a link to your poem or the poem itself in the comments.

Friday, May 02, 2014

Poetry Friday - A Rainy Day

We've had our fair share of rain this week. My apologies to my friends in California. If I could send it all to you, I would.

Here are two poems for these wet days. Both come from Eve Merriam's book A Poem for a Pickle: Funnybone Verses.

A Rainy Day
by Eve Merriam

No balls are batted,
dog's fur is matted,
crossing guard is rubber-hatted,
sidewalk is splatted,
hair curl is flatted,
quarrels are spatted,
scraggly cat is scatted,
dampness is dratted.

Light Rain, a Downpour,
and Pigeons Feasting on Crumbs
from a Picnic in the Park
by Eve Merriam

Pitter patter,
splitter splatter,
skitter scatter.

I do hope you'll take some time to check out all the wonderful poetic things being shared and collected today by Katya at Write.Sketch.Repeat. Happy poetry Friday friends.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

National Poetry Month - Recap and Reflections

It's hard to believe that National Poetry Month is over. Like others who bemoan the fact that we trot out certain subjects and peoples for monthly celebrations instead of making them part of the fabric of our lives and teaching throughout the year, I have mixed feelings about a month devoted to poetry. While I am appreciative that it exists and that it generally compels teachers and others to pay attention, I want more for poetry. More reading, more writing, more consideration beyond the 30 days in April. I hope that through my poetry pairings teachers will find poetry creeping into the classroom all year round.

Here's a recap of the month with links to the topics presented and a few reflections thrown in.
  1. Darwin and the Galapagos - I'm mortified that I failed to include Jason Chin's amazing book ISLAND: A STORY OF THE GALAPAGOS. I may just go back and add it so that the post becomes a book trio.
  2. Frogs and Toads
  3. Nature of Science
  4. Volcanoes
  5. Going Green
  6. Dinosaurs - In many states dinosaurs are not part of the elementary curriculum. I probably should have mentioned that in my post. However, in the last revision of our state standards, a standard was added to second grade that read "fossils provide information about living systems that were on Earth years ago." That works for me!
  7. Birds - I could have easily created two posts (or more!) featuring birds. Next time around I'll be sure to include the books BEAKS! by Sneed Collard III and FEATHERS: NOT JUST FOR FLYING by Melissa Stewart.
  8. Nocturnal Animals
  9. Food Chains
  10. The Ocean
  11. Animal Senses
  12. Animal Dads
  13. The Moon - This post included two books of poetry and one nonfiction title. This is another topic that could have garnered two posts. I wish I had done this so that I could have included a book about space exploration, like IF YOU DECIDE TO GO TO THE MOON by Faith McNulty, or ASTRONAUT HANDBOOK by Meghan McCarthy. I also failed to include Gail Gibbons and THE MOON BOOK
  14. Extinction
  15. Butterflies - I'm very happy with the nonfiction titles I chose for this one, but I was remiss in not including Nic Bishop's book BUTTERFLIES AND MOTHS.
  16. Bugs - Do you have any idea how many poetry books there are about bugs? LOTS! This topic also could have encompassed two posts. My son was upset I didn't include his favorite, ULTIMATE BUGOPEDIA: THE MOST COMPLETE BUG REFERENCE EVER from National Geographic Kids.
  17. Seasons
  18. Animal Collectives
  19. Forests
  20. Rain
  21. African Animals
  22. Animal Homes
  23. The Human Body - Steve Jenkins already had a number of books in my pairings by the time I wrote this one, but I should have included his work BONES: SKELETONS AND HOW THEY WORK.
  24. Geography
  25. Camouflage
  26. Museums
  27. Water
  28. Water (Again!)
  29. Assorted Science In Poem and Verse
  30. All Things Science
I wish I had written posts on trees (not to be confused with forests!), deserts, inventions, and numbers. 

Despite that fact that I always feel like I can do better, reflecting on the month and recapping has taught me that there is much ground left to cover. I look forward to exploring it with you.