The Poetry Friday Roundup & Irene Latham


“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
Marcel Proust

Welcome to the Poetry Friday Roundup! I’m happy to welcome you all today, and I have a special treat for you. To celebrate the publication on Monday of her new book, When the Sun Shines on Antarctica (Millbrook Press), Poetry Friday regular Irene Latham has stopped by to answer a few questions and to share two of my favorite poems from this delightful collection.

           irene1    26543123

In these poems, Irene looks at at the flora and fauna of Antarctica with new eyes and discovers just the right images and metaphors to bring the creatures of this forbidding land to life. At the same time, she skillfully weaves together science and wonder. Fifteen action-packed poems evoke the delicate interaction between a wide variety of species, including penguins, seals, and whales, and the harsh environment of the Antarctic summer, where temperatures remain “well below zero.”

Anne Wadham’s illustrations perfectly complement the playful tone of Irene’s poetry. A glossary and list of books and websites for further reading round out the book, and make it the perfect addition to any classroom library. In conjunction with When the Sun Shines on Antarctica, Irene has launched the Antarctica Explorers Club for young scientists eager to learn more about this remote and fascinating continent and its inhabitants.

Here’s a perfect example of how Irene sees a familiar creature with new eyes:

“Krill in Space”

The sea
is their universe

as they swim,


a trillion
tiny astronauts

a ship.

They weave
through galaxies

of gobbling

black holes

that look like safe
caves to explore—

but aren’t.

And this poem makes me want to go sledding with these penguins!

“Emperor Penguins at Play”

At the top of the hill
they belly flop,


slide, and glide on built-in sleds.

Out in the ocean,
eager to fly,
they swim,        breathe,         swim
as they leapfrog waves.

In need of rest,
they board an ice ship
where they ride and revive,
play endless rounds
of Red Light, Green Light,

Penguin Says,

and I Spy.

© Irene Latham, 2016. Shared with permission of the author.

Welcome, Irene!

Thank you, Catherine!

The jacket flap copy says that your “exploration of Antarctica began when [you] read The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean. Can you elaborate on how you came to write this book?

Many (all?) of my books arise out of my obsessions. But first, a confession: until I read THE WHITE DARKNESS, I never really gave Antarctica much thought. Like many folks, I lumped the poles together –Antarctica and the Arctic, as if they were one and the same, just on opposite ends of the globe. It never occurred to me that the cartoons showing polar bears and penguins together couldn’t possibly be true! I had a lot to learn, obviously. So, THE WHITE DARKNESS. In addition to being a riveting story, this book oh so poetically places the reader in Antarctica. One line from the book really started it all: McCaughrean describes Antarctica as “a mosaic of white puzzle pieces saying, ‘solve me! Solve me!’ How’s that for an invitation? I started reading everything I could about Antarctica, and eventually poems began to emerge. It helped that I had just done DEAR WANDERING WILDEBEEST, which also focuses on the animals in a unique ecosystem. ANTARCTICA was a logical follow-up, and I’m thrilled to share both books with illustrator Anna Wadham.

Can you briefly describe your research process?

Since I’ve never visited Antarctica, my research involved reading lots of books about Antarctica, reading Antarctica scientist blogs, visiting websites, and talking to experts like fellow Birminghamian James McClintock, who has made nearly 20 research trips to Antarctica! Jim recorded many of his adventures in a book titled LOST ANTARCTICA: Adventures in a Disappearing Land, and I’m thrilled that he and I will be presenting a program together to celebrate my book’s release.

How do you decide on the form for each poem?

I love writing free verse poems, so it’s not wonder these are all free verse — with a little rhyme and alliteration and rhythm thrown in! It wasn’t a decision so much as just the way it happened. The fun part was coming up with imaginative ways to present each animal: Mrs. Weddell shopping for a new coat; an Adelie penguin placing a personal ad; elephant seals wrestling WWE style; and so forth.

Your website is full of wise advice for writers and poets. This is my favorite: “Keep on writing until your words shimmer and shine and actually produce electricity.” Do you have any specific advice for teachers and students who are inspired to use When the Sun Shines on Antarctica as a mentor text for writing nonfiction poetry?

Thank you! Shimmer and shine and electricity are certainly worthy goals, aren’t they? Two things come immediately to mind when I think about advice for writing nonfiction poetry: specificity and surprise. I think the impulse when writing nonfiction poetry is to include all the facts in the poem, kind of a big-picture look at the animal, when what poetry demands is going small, looking closely, choosing one moment or detail that you really want to showcase. Our goal as poets is to explode the moment. So, for Mrs. Weddell, the poem is only about the transition from wooly winter coat to sleek summer style, nothing else. It’s SO HARD to be specific, because that means making tough choices. But tough choices are exactly what being a poet requires. The second thing is to focus on surprise. Sometimes the subject itself is the surprise, such as the brinicle poem in this collection. Who (except Laura Purdie Salas) has ever heard of a brinicle? (View a great video here!) Or the surprise can be making a surprising comparison, like the krill poem, which presents krill as astronauts lost in space. This is where the joy and magic happens — when we as poets allow ourselves to be imaginative and whimsical and creative in the connections we are making between one thing and another. Sometimes it takes many drafts to find that magic, so patience is also required!

Who are your poetic influences? Favorite poets?

My most favorite poets are Poetry Friday poets! I am never more inspired/educated/delighted than when I read Poetry Friday posts. The first poets I loved as a child were Shel Silverstein and Dr. Seuss. As a teen I loved Khalil Gibran. Other well-known poets I turn to again and again are Mary Oliver, Langston Hughes, Pablo Neruda, Naomi Shihab Nye, Sharon Olds. I’ve often said that if I was stuck on a deserted island, I would want with me GOOD POEMS, edited by Garrison Keillor. In the world of children’s poetry, I don’t think it gets any better than Valerie Worth. I keep ALL THE SMALL POEMS AND FOURTEEN MORE on my nightstand year-round.

Your next book, Fresh, Delicious (WordSong/Boyd’s Mill Press) will be out in March. What’s on the horizon for you after that?

Thank you for mentioning FRESH DELICIOUS! I had so much fun writing poems about farmers’ market fruits and vegetables, and I am in love with Mique Moriuchi’s illustrations. Next up is a book I co-wrote with Charles Waters called IT’S NOT BLACK & WHITE. It’s about a white girl (me) and a black boy (Charles) who are forced to work together on a 5th grade poetry project, and they have a conversation about shoes and hair and church and recess and more — all through the lens of race. It’s largely autobiographical, and it was one of the toughest, most rewarding projects I’ve ever worked on. The book will release from Lerner in 2017 with illustrations by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko.

Thank you again, Irene, for stopping by and sharing your poetry and wisdom with us today!

And now for the roundup! Please click to add your link and read more poetic offerings.

Poetry Friday: A Poem Full of Nothing


Each month, Michelle Heidenrich Barnes interviews a children’s poet and asks them to leave readers a poetry challenge. This month, Douglas Florian challenged readers “to write a poem about nothing.” 

When Michelle posted this challenge, I was just finishing physicist Lisa Randall‘s new book, Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs (Ecco/HarperCollins, 2015). Some of the science was over my head, but Randall’s theory, that the demise of dinosaurs was caused by “a comet that was dislodged from its orbit as the Solar System passed through a disk of dark matter,” is fascinating. To set the stage for the big event, Randall gives a brief history of the universe and the truly cosmic question of how, or if, our universe arose from nothing. Her statement that “A cause implies there must be something” was swirling in my head as I thought about and drafted this poem.

“Full of Nothing”

An empty pot is full of nothing
but space for chicken soup,
bubbling and warm.

An empty box is full of nothing
but the opportunity for a gift,
adored and cherished.

An empty page is full of nothing
but possibilities for your poem,
honest and true.

An empty hand is full of nothing
but room to hold yours,
calm and reassuring.

An empty heart is full of nothing
but potential for love,
a treasure beyond measure.

© Catherine Flynn, 2016

Please be sure to visit Tara Smith at A Teaching Life for the Poetry Friday Round Up.


Slice of Life: On My Desk


Despite having the past three days off, and despite the fact that I actually spent a fair amount of time reading and writing, I am at a loss for a slice. Wait. That’s not entirely true. I have at least three slice ideas. But each requires more time and energy than I have at the moment.

So I’m stealing an idea from Grace Lin, author of The Year of the Dog, the Newbery Honor book Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, and many other wonderful books for kids. On her blog, Grace occasionally posts about what’s on her desk. Since I spent a good part of the morning sorting through the piles that had accumulated on my desk over the holidays, this seemed like a good idea.


At the top of the pile is my notebook. After I got my desk into shape, I worked on a poem inspired by a trip to watch bald eagles at a local hydroelectric dam. I was hoping this would be my slice for today, but it’s just not ready.

Like many of you, I’ve been thinking about Matt de la Peña’s picture book, Last Stop on Market Street since it won the Newbery Medal last week. I have drafted the beginnings of a post about this lovely book.

Finally, Irene Latham’s new poetry picture book, When the Sun Shines on Antarctica, is coming out on February 2nd. Check back here next Friday for more information about that!

What’s on your desk?

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: Poetry in Motion


Whenever I’m on the subway, I’m always on the lookout for one of the MTA’s “Poetry in Motion” posters. “Poetry in Motion” is a joint project between the Poetry Society of America and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Poetry is placed in “transit systems of cities throughout the country, helping to create a national readership for both emerging and established poets.”

Earlier this week, on my way to hear Colum McCann interview Elizabeth Strout about her new book, My Name is Lucy Barton (Random House, 2016), I was on a packed rush hour train and couldn’t tell if there was a poem in the car or not. However, later in the evening, the train was almost empty and I easily spotted this beauty by Patrick Phillips:

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This was a perfect end to a perfect evening. McCann, author of Let the Great World Spin, which won the National Book Award, and the critically acclaimed Thirteen Ways of Looking, and Strout were smart, funny, and insightful. Their conversation revolved around My Name is Lucy Barton in particular and writing in general. And although both Strout and McCann are primarily novelists, their finely observed prose is infused with poetry.

I couldn’t keep up trying to write down all of McCann and Strout’s wise words about writing, but I do remember Strout saying that her eyes and ears are always open, that she loves to listen. I also found this on McCann’s website: “Put your faith in language.” And this “So this, then, is a word, not without love, to a young writer: write.”

Please be sure to visit Keri Collins at Keri Recommends for the Poetry Friday Round Up.

Slice of Life: Reading Resolutions


“The stories humans tell are a long conversation about what it means to be human.”
Gene Luen Yang

Twitter and Facebook were filled with reading challenges for 2016 over New Year’s weekend. Because I’m always reading at least 2 books, I don’t usually pay much attention to these challenges. But I was drawn to the last item on New York City’s Strand Book Store’s “Reading Resolution” list: “Read the book you’ve lied about reading.”


There is one Very Famous Children’s Classic that I have never been able to get through. As an English major and a reading teacher, this has bothered me for many years. I have tried reading it as an adult to no avail. So I vowed this would be the year. (I’m not telling which book, but I am currently on page 112.)

Back at school last Monday, I was meeting with Anita, our 5th grade Language Arts teacher, about their current reading unit when I noticed their 40 book challenge display. Some kids were making great progress, but others only had one or two books listed. “Why don’t we make reading resolutions with the kids?” I suggested. She loved the idea, but we agreed that we should change lying about having read a book.

A quick Google search led me to Modern Mrs. Darcy’s challenge. She has twelve categories, one for each month. I took a few categories from her list, along with a few from the Strand’s list to create a list of resolutions for the fifth grade.

Modern Mrs. Darcy’s list

I introduced this list with a general discussion about why we read in the first place, and shared the above quote from our new Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. Then we talked about resolutions and setting goals in general, and the importance of making a resolution that was realistic. I pointed out to the kids that even though some of them were making great progress toward forty books, the categories on our list might help them if they weren’t sure what to read next.

Our Reading Resolutions
Our Reading Resolutions

I offered a few suggestions, including confessing to them about the Very Famous book I’ve never read, although I told them it intimidated me when I was a kid. I think that made a few of them quite determined to read it now! These kids were born in 2005, the year after The Tale of Despereaux was published, so I brought that along as a possible option. The movie version of Roald Dahl’s classic, The BFG, is coming out in July, so I suggested that as a book they could read before they see the movie. We also watched the movie trailer, and quite a few of them thought that would be a good place to start their reading resolutions.

Soon there was a long list of recommendations from friends on the board, and kids were encouraging their friends to try a book they’d abandoned earlier in the year. I created official “Reading Resolution” forms that we all filled out, including Anita, our principal, and myself. These are on display so we can help each other along as we work toward keeping our Reading Resolutions.

A week later, most of the kids are still buzzing about their books, although a few confessed to me yesterday that they hadn’t read over the weekend because they were too busy. I resisted my urge to scream and gently reminded them that there must have been at least ten minutes somewhere over two days when they could have read a few pages. Maybe that’s where our resolutions should have started!

I’ll keep you posted about our progress. What are your reading resolutions?

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.

One Little Word: “Present”

So far I’ve been feeling pretty overwhelmed in 2016. This is my own fault. I am a procrastinator. I make piles of things to do tomorrow. Laundry to put away, magazine articles and books to read stack up until I don’t know where to start. I’m not proud of this, but there it is. I’ve come to realize that this leads me to nothing but regret, particularly about those things I just never do. I do know I can’t think of anything I’ve ever done that I truly regret. So I should just do it, right? But what is the opposite of procrastinate?

Online sources aren’t helpful. Forge, forward, and expedite are all listed, as is proactive. Each one of these is fine as a stance, but none appeal to me as a word to live by.

This morning, even though I was without a word, I decided not to procrastinate any longer and forged ahead with the vacuuming I’d been putting off. Sure enough, as I pushed the beater bar back and forth across the living room rug, the word present popped into my head.

Present. The more I considered this word, the more it appealed to me. It has so many meanings, but two immediately came to mind: The here and now and a gift. It seems to me these are really the same thing. To be present right here, right now, is a gift. To be able to sit in my warm kitchen and write these words is a gift. To look out the window and watch the rain drip off the maple tree’s bare branches is a gift.

I’m not under any illusion that it will be easy to give up my habit of procrastinating, although as I get older, putting things off makes less sense. What am I waiting for, after all? Or, more to the point, what am I afraid of? My yoga teacher always tell us that when we find our mind has wandered, return to the breath. This seems an appropriate response to procrastination as well. When I find myself stewing over where to start, I’ll remember to just breathe, and return to the present. Who knows what gifts I’ll find waiting there.

Created in Canva, using a photo of a gorgeous hawk I took while out on a walk last week.

Margaret Simon has invited bloggers to share their OLWs on her DigiLit Sunday Roundup today. Please be sure to visit her there to see her students’ Canva creations.

Poetry Friday: “Cats” by Eleanor Farjeon


Winter has finally arrived in Connecticut. Despite the lack of snow, a blast of arctic air sent the temperature plummeting. When it’s this cold, our cat, Noodles, who spends most of the summer outside, is never far from my side. Most of the time, he’s snuggled up next to me, but he sometimes chooses some surprising napping spots.  The other day I found him curled up in a laundry basket filled with old socks that need sorting, and I immediately thought of this poem.

by Eleanor Farjeon

Cats sleep
Any table,
Any chair,
Top of piano,
In the middle,
On the edge,
Open drawer,
Empty shoe,
lap will do,
Fitted in a
Cardboard box,
In the cupboard
With your frocks—
They don’t care!
Cats sleep

Noodles asleep on a blanket chest.
Noodles asleep on a blanket chest.

Please be sure to visit Tabatha Yeatts at The Opposite of Indifference for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

Poetry Friday: “Good Intentions”


“Good Intentions”

A Fitbit in my stocking!
A not-so subtle hint
that I should take up jogging,
avoid candy, chocolate, mint.

All went well for a few short days,
but then, oh, cardinal sin!
Out shopping while I was hungry,
my resolve was wearing thin.

“One quick bite is all I need,
a little lunch won’t hurt.”
Justifying my decision,
I vowed not to have dessert.

I savored a juicy burger
and devoured salty fries.
But I can’t track those extra calories,
‘cause I lost my Fitbit down at Five Guys!

© Catherine Flynn, 2016

This is based on a true story, although it didn’t happen to me. When a friend told me she lost her Fitbit at Five Guys, I knew I had to write a poem using that line. I’ve taken a lot of poetic license in this draft, so please don’t judge my friend!

Be sure to visit Mary Lee Hahn at A Year of Reading for the Poetry Friday Roundup. I wish you all a New Year filled with family and friends, happiness and good health, and success with your resolutions!

© Nevit Dilmen [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons
© Nevit Dilmen [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( via Wikimedia Commons