Slice of Life: April Haiku


A cool morning breeze,
warmed by the bright April sun,
dances with daffodils.

© Catherine Flynn, 2015 [CC BY-SA 3.0 us (], via Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 3.0 us (, via Wikimedia Commons


Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

Poetry Friday: An Egret’s Day


I’ve had birds on my mind this week because of an idea I hatched at the Highlights Foundation last week. One of Rebecca Kai Dotlich’s many wise pieces of advice was to research your topic. So I’ve been reading about birds, listening to birds, and watching for them whenever I’m outside. In fact, I almost drove off the road on Monday because of this bird:


I’m pretty sure this is a vulture, which are quite common where I live, but I have never seen one poised like this. After I pulled over to take this picture, I sat and watched this display. The bird stayed poised on this branch for at least five more minutes. Unfortunately, I had an appointment, so I couldn’t watch any longer.

Rebecca also suggested reading poems about the topic you’re writing about, so I’ve been reading as many bird poems as I can find. One of my favorite collections is Jane Yolen and Jason Stemple’s gorgeous book, An Egret’s Day (WordSong, 2010). Yolen’s poetry follows egrets through their day and is accompanied by factual paragraphs about the poem’s topic. Stunning photographs by Jason Stemple, Yolen’s son, accompanies each poem, and gives readers a chance to observe these graceful birds up close.


Here’s a poem from this beautiful book:

“Egret in Flight”
by Jane Yolen

She’s an arrow
From a bow.
We watch in wonder
From below.

neck is folded.
All that we can do?
Behold it.

Read the rest of the poem here (It’s about 1/3 of the way down the page).


I hope you have a chance to behold a beautiful bird or two today. There is always beautiful poetry to behold on Poetry Friday, so be sure to head over to Renee LaTulippe’s blog, No Water River, for the Poetry Friday Round Up.

Slice of Life: A Spring Poetry Retreat


Last week I was fortunate enough to spend four days at the Highlights Foundation in northeastern Pennsylvania to study the craft of poetry with celebrated poet Rebecca Kai Dotlich. To say that this was an incredible experience is an understatement. To be immersed in poetry for four days, and to learn from a master poet, as well as from my fellow students, was an incredible gift. I kept pinching myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.

Rebecca is the author of many poetry collections, including In the Spin of Things (WordSong, 2010), and, with Jane Yolen, Grumbles in the Forest (WordSong, 2013). Her poems have appeared in many anthologies, including The Poetry Friday Anthology (2012), Falling Down the Page (Roaring Brook Press, 2009), and My America: A Poetry Atlas of the United States (Simon & Schuster, 2000). Rebecca’s graciousness and warmth put us all at ease, and she shared dozens of poems, both her own and by other children’s poets, as she taught us about the craft of poetry.

Stressing the importance of looking at objects in a new way, Rebecca sent us outside to collect anything that struck our fancy. She encouraged us to look at our object from different angles, with a magnifying glass, to think about its color and texture, in order to find those “precise details” that help make poetry powerful.

We learned about the power of revision when Rebecca Davis, a senior editor at Boyds Mills Press and WordSong, joined us on Saturday afternoon. She and Rebecca took turns reading drafts and revised versions of poems from an upcoming collection. Some of the revisions were subtle; some were significant, but all of the revisions improved the poems. Ms. Davis reiterated the message Rebecca had been stressing throughout our time at Highlights: “Work at your craft.” Nothing can replace the time you put in to drafting and revising, then revising again to “make your work as tight as possible.”

Another highlight of this Poetry Retreat was a Skype visit with poet Janet Wong, who co-edits the Poetry Friday Anthologies with Sylvia Vardell. Janet talked about her path to becoming a poet, as well as steps we could take to improve our chances of being published. Janet also emphasized the importance of writing daily. She encouraged us to “write a poem a day; it’s a sit up for your brain.”

It was easy to be inspired at the Highlights Foundation in the seclusion of the Pennsylvania countryside, but it was also impossible not to bring that inspiration home with me. One of the last pieces of advice Rebecca gave us on Sunday morning was to “let your imagination feed you.” Thank you, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Janet Wong, Rebecca Davis, Kent Brown, and everyone at the Highlights Foundation for feeding my imagination and my soul!


Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

Poetry Friday: Abraham Lincoln


Poetry is an excellent way to introduce a subject. Concise, yet packed with meaning, poetry can convey the essence of a topic or subject in just a few lines. Often there are questions between those lines, pathways to a deeper knowledge and understanding of a subject.

Marilyn Singer’s poem about Abraham Lincoln, from her collection of poems about our presidents, Rutherford B., Who Was He?: Poems About Our Presidents (Disney-Hyperion, 2013), is just such a poem. 

Abraham Lincoln
(Whig, Republican, 1861-1865)

By stovepipe hat, beard, large size,
       he’s the one we recognize.

By addresses of great note,
       he’s the one we often quote.

By leading through war—wrenching, bloody—
       he’s the one we always study.

By exercising his high station
       to proclaim emancipation,

then meeting such a tragic fate,
       he’s the one we rank as great.

“I am a slow walker, but I never walk back.”

Abraham Lincoln, 1809-1865

© Marilyn Singer, 2013
Shared with permission of the author

By the time kids are in 4th or 5th grade, they know who Abraham Lincoln is, but what is the address we often quote? Which war? What is emancipation? These are great introductory questions to a study of Lincoln and the Civil War.

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Wednesday was the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s death. Our country was in the midst of celebrating the end of that “wrenching, bloody” war when John Wilkes Booth’s assassination of Lincoln plunged us into mourning once again. Young readers get a sense of how profoundly people grieved from Robert Burleigh’s Abraham Lincoln Comes Home (Macmillan, 2008). Burleigh tells the story of a boy and his father, up long before dawn, to travel “miles away” so they could view Lincoln’s funeral train and pay their respects to the fallen president. Wendell Minor’s illustrations depict crowds standing by bonfires along the tracks, waiting to get a glimpse of the train. This scene played out over and over again on the 13 day, 1,600 mile journey from Washington, D.C. to Springfield, Illinois, which is described in more detail in Burleigh’s afterward. There is also a map showing the route the train traveled, as well as a list of interesting facts.

Lincoln’s death inspired some Walt Whitman’s most memorable poetry. Here are the first lines of “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.”

When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d,
And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,
I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.
Ever-returning spring, trinity sure to me you bring,
Lilac blooming perennial and drooping star in the west,
And thought of him I love.
Read the rest of the poem here.
Finally, I’d like to share another poem from our 50 States Poem Project. Although this poem was inspired by Laura Purdie Salas‘s poem about Arlington National Cemetery, it seem a fitting way to close this post.


Please be sure to visit Robyn Hood Black at Life on the Deckle Edge for today’s Poetry Friday Round Up.

Slice of Life: A Villanelle


One of my favorite poetry blogs is Tricia Stohr-Hunt’s The Miss Rumphius Effect. Tricia is an assistant professor of Elementary Education at the University of Richmond, as well as a blogger, poet, and all-around wonderful person. Each April, Tricia chooses a poetry theme, then writes daily posts based on her theme. These posts are incredibly thorough, informative, and inspiring. Yesterday’s post on ekphrastic poetry was no exception.

I had already been thinking about writing some ekphrastic poetry this month because of Irene Latham’s amazing National Poetry Month project, ARTSPEAK! and this painting, Mary Cassatt’s “Children in the Garden (The Nurse)” April’s image on the calendar hanging in my kitchen. The more I studied these people, the more they seemed like the perfect subjects to give voice to.

"Children in the Garden (The Nurse)" Mary Cassatt, 1878 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
“Children in the Garden (The Nurse)” Mary Cassatt, 1878 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
As I began jotting ideas about what each person in the painting might be thinking, or dreaming about, it became clear that there would be echoes between the three. Again inspired by Tricia and her compatriots, The Poetry Seven, I decided to try a villanelle. This form has a specific rhyme scheme and pattern of repetition. I’m not in love with the word “done” to describe when lunch is over, but it had more rhyme options than other choices, so I kept it for this draft.

Children in the Garden,
after “Children in the Garden (The Nurse)” by Mary Cassatt, 1878

On a June afternoon, when lunch is done,
baby dreams a sweet milk dream
as she dozes in the warm summer sun.

As she knits yellow wool, finely spun,
nurse’s eyelids droop in the sun’s bright gleam
on a June afternoon, when lunch is done.

I play in the garden, watched by no one.
Tipping my watering can, I pour a stream
of water, glistening, into the warm summer sun.

Bumblebees dart in and out, their work just begun;
welcomed by iris and roses; it’s part of nature’s scheme
this June afternoon, when lunch is done.

Spying a cricket, I give chase. I won!
My prize safe in my palm, my smile’s a beam
as bright as the warm summer sun.

Breezes stir; I’ve had my fun.
I snuggle next to nurse, soft as cream,
on a June afternoon when lunch is done
and doze in the warmth of the summer sun.

© Catherine Flynn, 2015


Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

Poetry Friday: Read Across America Poetry Doors


Our Read Across America celebration last month incorporated Laura Purdie Salas‘s Wacky, Wild, & Wonderful: 50 State Poems. (Read more here) Classes chose poems from Laura’s book related to their curriculum and used them to inspire their own poetry and door displays.

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Laura’s poem about our state, “Connecticut: Storm Warning,” inspired many doors, including the two above from Kindergarten.

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One first grade class was also inspired by “Connecticut: Storm Warning,” while another used “Vermont: Sugar Season” as the theme for their door.

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Second grade wrote acrostics about our town, while two third grades, below, connected “New Mexico: Recipe for a B-Earth Day Cake” and “Hawaii: Pele’s Fire” to their study of landforms.

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Another third grade connected Connecticut’s weather poem to their study of character traits. Fourth grade studies regions of the United States and Washington, D.C. One class was inspired by “South Dakota: Mountain Men” to create their own versions of Mt. Rushmore. Another, below, used “Virginia: Tombstones” to create their own tribute to Arlington National Cemetery.

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One fifth grade also used “South Dakota: Mountain Men” and linked it to their biography unit. Students wrote opinions about why their subject was worthy to be included on Mt. Rushmore.

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One of the fifth grade science units is about how the Earth’s revolution around the sun causes the seasons, so they were inspired by “New Hampshire: White on Orange” to write seasonal haiku.

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Sixth grade voted to determine their favorite state, and Florida was the winner. Seventh grade has been reading Shakespeare, so one class wrote couplets about our town.

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Another seventh grade was also inspired by “Hawaii: Pele’s Fire” to create this festive door. Eighth grade has been studying civil rights, and “Louisiana: Cornet Survivor” inspired them to create this poem about the birth of jazz.

This was supposed to be a door decorating contest, but it was impossible to choose winners from all these amazing doors. It would be impossible to share all the wonderful poems the kids wrote in one post, so I’ll be sharing more over the next few weeks.

Laura is hosting the Poetry Friday Round Up at her blog, Writing the World for Kids, today so please be sure to head over to her blog to read more poetry.


Slice of Life: Poetry is Everywhere!

11454297503_e27946e4ff_h When the weather cooperates, my weekend routine includes a walk with my dear friend, Colette, of Used Books in Class. After a winter of snow, cold, and wind, we were happy to walk every day over the Easter weekend.

Our walk takes us through the fairgrounds behind the firehouse, and as we rounded a corner on Saturday morning, this unusual sight caught my eye:


Maxine Greene urged people to see the world with “wide-awake eyes.” Naomi Shihab Nye wrote that  “poems hide. In the bottoms of our shoes…” I always share these wise words with my students and try to follow this advice myself. So of course I had to take a picture and write a poem.

A bumper crop of used commodes
Sit in the morning sun.
And although the fair is months away,
They’re ready for some fun.

Outside the information booth,
They form a jagged line,
Looking for the exhibition tent,
Ready for a turn to shine.

Alas, no ribbons will they win;
A sad, cruel fate awaits.
Their usefulness is now long passed.
They are ushered through the gate.

Last stop: the dump.

© Catherine Flynn, 2015


Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

Poetry Friday: Neruda’s “Ode to My Socks”


“To feel the affection that comes from those whom we do not know … widens out the boundaries of our being, and unites all living things.”
~ Pablo Neruda ~

A confession: I can’t remember ever reading a poem by Nobel Prize winner Pablo Neruda until I read The Dreamer (Scholastic, 2010), which won the Pura Belpré Award in 2011. Pam Muñoz Ryan’s prose and Peter Sís’s illustrations work together seamlessly to tell the story of Neftali, a boy with deep curiosity about the natural world and a vivid imagination. This boy adopted the pen name Pablo Neruda to avoid the disapproval of his father, and the rest, as they say, is history.

            81NTAwaXnWL    Neruda

Just a year later, Monica Brown and Julie Paschkis created Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People (Henry Holt, 2011), a gorgeous picture book biography about Neruda. 

Together, these books are a wonderful introduction to Neruda’s poetry, which is infused with his “spirit of inquiry” as Ryan describes it in her author’s note to The Dreamer. In an interview with Robert Bly, Neruda advises young poets to “discover things, to be in the sea, to be in the mountains, and approach every living thing.” (This interview can be found in Neruda and Vallejo: Selected Poems, Beacon Press, 1971, edited by Robert Bly) Many of Neruda’s poems are perfect for sharing with children. Along with his directive “to look deeply into objects at rest,” they will inspire children to create their own “odes to common things.”

Ode to My Socks
by Pablo Neruda

Mara Mori brought me
a pair of socks
which she knitted herself
with her sheepherder’s hands,
two socks as soft as rabbits.
I slipped my feet into them
as if they were two cases
knitted with threads of twilight and goatskin,
Violent socks,
my feet were two fish made of wool,
two long sharks
sea blue, shot through
by one golden thread,
two immense blackbirds,
two cannons,
my feet were honored in this way
by these heavenly socks.
They were so handsome for the first time
my feet seemed to me unacceptable
like two decrepit firemen,
firemen unworthy of that woven fire,
of those glowing socks.
Read the rest of the poem here.
To discover more wonderful poetry, please be sure to visit Amy Ludwig VanDerwater at The Poem Farm for the first Poetry Friday Round Up of National Poetry Month.

More Reasons to Write a Poem


Happy National Poetry Month, everyone! To kick off this month-long celebration of poets and poetry, I used Bob Raczka’s contribution to The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations,  “Some Reasons To Write A Poem” as a model, and came up with my own list of reasons to write a poem.

More Reasons to Write a Poem

Because a dew-laden branch looks like
a string of diamonds in the morning sun

Because mixing soap and water creates
iridescent bubbles

Because the ice is gone and swans have
returned to the river

Because the fluffy orange cat curled up
next to you is purring

Because the moon is hanging in the afternoon sky
like a gauzy cotton ball

Because you surprised your mother with
a bouquet of yellow roses

and she smiled.

© Catherine Flynn, 2015

Les Roses jaunes, Pierre Laprade, 1920  [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Les Roses jaunes, Pierre Laprade, 1920 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Looking for resources and ways to celebrate National Poetry Month? Head over to Jama’s Alphabet Soup, where Jama Rattigan has collected a treasure-trove of helpful links.