Poetry Friday: Witchcraft


If you read The New York Times last Sunday, it was hard to miss the fact that Stacy Schiff has a new book coming out. The Witches: Salem, 1692 (Little, Brown) published Tuesday, just in time for Halloween, “delivers an almost novelistic, thrillerlike narrative of those manic nine months,” according to Alexandra Alter.

This period in history has never interested me too much, but after reading the reviews, I’ve added this book to my “to be listened to” list. (Have to save my precious reading time for fiction and poetry!) So imagine my surprise when I found this a few days later as I was reading from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson:


Witchcraft was hung, in History,
But History and I
Find all the witchcraft that we need
Around us, every Day—

I love Dickinson’s sly use of the word “hung” and how she alludes to Mother Nature, that most mysterious witch of all.

Illustration for "The Green Forest Fairy Book" by Loretta Ellen Brady, By Alice B. Preston, 1920 (http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/35458) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Illustration for “The Green Forest Fairy Book” by Loretta Ellen Brady, By Alice B. Preston, 1920 (http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/35458) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Happy Halloween, everyone! Be sure to visit Jone at Check It Out for the Poetry Friday Round Up.

Poetry Friday: Oceans of Leaves


“When we write, we should play with what pleases us,” Lester Laminack advised the audience at the Connecticut Reading Conference earlier this month. These words have been in my head as I’ve thought about what to write for Carol Varsalona’s “Finding Fall” Poetry Gallery. Once again, Carol has invited teachers, writers, and poets to contribute a seasonal poem, which she will assemble into a stunning visual gallery.

Autumn is a perennial favorite for poets, so finding a new angle is quite a challenge. Then, when I was walking my dog last week, I noticed how she sought out the piles of leaves collected along the roadside. She was having just as much fun in the leaves as I used to when I was little. I had found a topic that pleased me, a topic I could play with. Here is the result.

Oceans of Leaves

When autumn leaves transform
lawns into orange and yellow oceans,
our dog races through the piles
swelling and drifting across the yard.
Like a dolphin, diving in and out
of foamy ocean waves,
she plunges
into heaps of maple leaves
that rustle and crunch
under her sagging belly.
A smile of joy spreads across her face
as she catches the perfect wave
and rides the golden surf.

© Catherine Flynn, 2015

Please be sure to visit Jama Rattigan at Jama’s Alphabet Soup for the Poetry Friday Round Up.

Poetry Friday: National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry


I treated myself to an early birthday present on Tuesday, and bought a copy of J. Patrick Lewis’s latest anthology, National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry. What a treasure! Like it’s companion volume, National Geographic Book of Animal Poetry, it is filled with stunning photographs and beautiful, evocative poetry. And it’s exciting to see the work of so many Poetry Friday regulars in this collection! Congratulations to Matt, Kelly, Charles, Mary Lee, Julie, B.J., Laura, Amy, April, and Janet! (So sorry if I missed anyone!) And what would a collection of nature poetry be without poems by Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Georgia Heard, Marilyn Singer, Naomi Shihab Nye, Jane Yolen, and more. I know I’ll be savoring this book for weeks to come.


Many classics are also included, and I was happy to see this old favorite:

“The Morns Are Meeker Than They Were”

The morns are meeker than they were,
The nuts are getting brown;
The berry’s cheek is plumper,
The rose is out of town.

The maple wears a gayer scarf;
The field a scarlet gown.
Lest I should be old-fashioned,
I’ll put a trinket on.

by Emily Dickinson

One of our maple trees, wearing its “gayer scarf” in the morning sun.

If you haven’t gotten a copy of this gorgeous book yet, don’t delay! In the meantime, be sure to visit Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, whose wonderful poem “Petrified Forest” is included in the book, at The Poem Farm for the Poetry Friday Round Up.

SOL: Choose Kind


“When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.”
Dr Wayne W. Dyer

I was reminded of this famous precept last Friday evening at the airport. My son and I were flying to Phoenix for my daughter-in-law’s memorial service. I arrived at Michael’s apartment in plenty of time for our 8:10 flight, and by 5:00 we were standing on the curb waiting for the car he had ordered.

We waited. Michael called the car company and they assured him that the car was “minutes away.” We waited. No car. He called again.

“What! They’re not there yet? I’m sending another one,” the dispatcher said.

Another 15 minutes. Now we were worried. We waited five more minutes and knew we couldn’t wait any longer. We got in my car and headed for the Belt Parkway. At 6:00. On a Friday evening. Before a long weekend. Traffic was moving at a snail’s pace.

While Michael was driving, I was on my phone looking for other flights in case we missed ours. Nothing. There were no other flights leaving from anywhere in the New York area that would get us to Phoenix in time for the service. Finally we decided that I would drop Michael off at the terminal so at least he would make the flight.

After I dropped him off, I parked in JetBlue’s short-term parking garage. The trek from this garage to the terminal is a long one, and I ran as fast as I could. By 7:40, sweating and out of breath, I got to the check in counter. I explained to the man that I had given my credit card to my son so he could get his boarding pass and could he please help me. He gave a cursory glance to his computer and said, “You’re late. Check in is closed.”

I tried to be calm and said, “I know I’m late, but I have to get on that plane.”

“You’re too late.” With that he turned from me to another customer.

Frantic, I ran to the other end of the terminal, hoping to get a different answer from a different person. With the clock ticking, I explained the situation once again. This time, the woman very calmly picked up the phone, then started typing. I held my breath as she continued to talk to the person at the gate. Within minutes, I had a boarding pass in my hand and she was walking me to the part of security where late arrivals are moved to the head of the line.

I think I thanked her at least 20 times during our short walk. People in line ahead of me with later flights let me go ahead of them, and I got through security in record time.

Running once again, I arrived at the empty gate at 8:00. The attendants there assured me the plane wasn’t leaving without me and I didn’t have to run. The flight attendant on the plane took my suitcase, stowed it for me, then showed me to my seat.

The look on my son’s face when he saw me walking down the aisle was full of amazement and relief. Because I was so late, my seat had been changed, so I couldn’t sit next to him. But that was okay. We were both on the plane.

After all that, we ended up being delayed. They were still refueling and stowing the checked baggage after I was in my seat. We made it to Phoenix and the memorial service was lovely. But I would have been devastated if I hadn’t been there to support my son through yet another very difficult day.

I’m not sure why the first person I talked to was so unwilling to help me. In the end, it doesn’t really matter. I’m just grateful that someone was willing to help me. And I hope the next time someone asks him for help, he’ll do the right thing, and choose kind. 

Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnnaBeth, Kathleen, and Deb 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.

Slice of Life: A Day at Teachers College


Four days of conferences in three different locations in one week sounds like too much, doesn’t it? But I did it, and survived! From a day at Teachers College with six colleagues for a day-long immersion into the Writing Units of Study to the Connecticut Reading Conference with Peter Johnston, Lester Laminack, Christine Hertz, Mary Howard, and Linda Hoyt, my brain felt like it was ready to explode as I drove home Friday afternoon. But in a good way!

Our day at Teachers College was a huge success. I spent the day with my two first grade colleagues learning more about writing workshop in K-2 from the amazing Shanna Schwartz, while four teachers from our school spent the day learning about 3-5 writing workshop with Lucy Calkins. Needless to say, we had plenty to talk about on the drive home.

3-5 teachers loved meeting Lucy Calkins.
3-5 teachers loved meeting Lucy Calkins.

I took nine (!) pages of notes, so I’m not going to attempt to distill them all into one post. Rather, here are a few of my key takeaways.

“Writing Workshop Bill of Writers”
“We apprentice children in the life of a writer”

All children have the right to…

Time to write
Units based in authentic genres
Knowledge of conventions
Skills and strategies for writing
Understanding of the writing process

In other words, our students deserve nothing less than to do “what real writers do in a writing life.”

Shanna stressed the importance of collaboration and feedback, and I love this idea: “Our best writing is the writing we work on on our own and with feedback from others. Feedback is a gift.”

On revision, Shanna had this to say: “Revision is a complement we give our best work.” Isn’t that a wonderful idea?

The importance of read alouds and mentor texts was also emphasized: “A writer can’t write what they haven’t heard or read.” and “Read alouds help readers/writers think about what writing can sound like.”

Shanna also talked about the importance of beginning the year with narrative writing. She explained that narrative is the “first way we exist in the world” and that “when we meet people, we tell them our story.” Shanna reminded us that “story is the first kind of reading we do.” Finally, she pointed out that “story is the building block of every other kind of writing…small stories are often included in informational and opinion writing.”

When conferring with children, Shanna suggested we begin by saying, “Tell me about what your working on in this story.” After listening to the writer’s response, “think about what will make this writer stronger and more independent.” She also urged us to “give compliments that are productive by noticing a behavior and tell them the effect that behavior” has on their writing. This type of praise will “encourage them to do it again,” and thus help them become more independent. Independence is the goal, after all.

If there was any common thread to all I learned last week, the idea of independent learners is it. As Lucy Calkins wrote in A Guide to the Reading Workshop: Primary Grades (Heinemann, 2015), “the goal…is not only to teach kids to read [and write], but to help them grow up to be people who value reading [and writing].

By the way, look who got a shout-out:


Pretty good company, don’t you think?

Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnnaBeth, Kathleen, and Deb 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: “October”


In honor of my favorite month!

by John Updike

The month is amber,

Gold, and brown.

Blue ghosts of smoke

Float through the town.

Great V’s of geese

Honk overhead,

And maples turn

A fiery red.

Frost bites the lawn.

The stars are slits

In a black cat’s eye

Before she spits.

At last, small witches,

Goblins, hags,

And pirates armed

With paper bags,

Their costumes hinged

On safety pins,

Go haunt a night

Of pumpkin grins.


I found my copy of this book at a library book sale years ago, and it was immediately a favorite. Updike’s verses capture the essence of each month in terms children can still relate to, fifty years later. Maria Papova has written about this book and Trina Schart Hyman’s 1999 illustrations on Brain Pickings. There are also poems for several different months included in Papova’s post.

Please be sure to visit Heidi Mordhorst at My Juicy Little Universe for the Poetry Friday Round Up.