When school closed in March, there were no answers to a million questions. We had no idea how long school would be closed. No idea if distance learning was possible. And if it was, who knew what it would look like. There was one thing I did know: I needed my most trusted books and resources with me at home. One of the first books I put pulled off my shelf was Poems Are Teachers: How Studying Poetry Strengthens Writing in All Genres, by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater. I know most people in the Poetry Friday community are familiar with this book (and many have their own poems published in its pages), but if you don’t know this book, do yourself a favor and order it today.
Just as I suspected, I have turned to Amy’s gentle wisdom about writing many times over the past ten weeks. Recently, as the weather has turned from a cold, dreary spring into glorious summer-like days, cabin fever has started to set in. I could sense a restlessness in my students (and in myself, for that matter). They needed an adventure.
Amy’s book is full of poems to inspire and strengthen student writing. In it, I found the perfect poem to launch my would-be travelers on an exploration of their neighborhood in Michael Salinger‘s poem, “How to walk around the block.” Michael’s poem invites readers to see their neighborhood, and themselves, with fresh eyes. My student’s couldn’t wait to go for a walk around their block to find what awaited them out there.
“How to walk around the block”
by Michael Salinger
If they have laces, make sure they are tied.
Pick a direction and go.
Double foot hop
over sidewalk cracks,
then stop and pick up a rock.
No snooping in your neighbor’s mailbox
(You’ll get in trouble if you get caught.)
Woof bark woof bark woof bark woof;
ask before you pet that dog.
That stick could use a new location.
where you started is your destination.
‘Cause ’round the block
is a circle
(even if it’s really a square).
Arriving back at your front door,
you’ll be a different person
when you get home.
Many of you have also been writing #PoemsofPresence this month. Using Michael’s poem to encourage my students to find their own #PoemsofPresence fills me with hope as we head into a summer filled with unknowns. I hope we all can see the coming months as a time of discovery. Discoveries about our block, our neighbors, and most importantly, ourselves.
Thank you to Michael Salinger for allowing me to share his poem, and thank you to Amy Ludwig VanDerwater for her wonderful book. Please be sure to visit Mary Lee Hahn at A Reading Year for the Poetry Friday Roundup.
“The best-laid schemes o’ mice an ‘men
Gang aft agley”
~ Robert Burns ~
I started working on the poem I planned to share today on Monday. I drafted two versions and played with them both throughout the week. I recorded different lines on my phone on the way to work. But when I sat down last night, nothing worked. The poem just wouldn’t come together and it’s still a muddled mess.
My day was filled with poetry, though. I shared Amy Ludwig VanDerwater’s poem, “Wonder,” with teachers at our Language Arts Committee meeting this morning:
Water the wonder
that lives in your brain.
Water your wonder
with questions like rain.
Read the rest of the poem, and more about Amy’s 2016 poetry project, here.
Then the principal and I read this Douglas Florian poem during morning announcements:
I shared many poems with my students throughout the day, but didn’t have a minute to think about my own poem. By the time I left work, my prime writing hours were long gone. The weather was writing it’s own poem, though. Dark gray clouds piled up in the northwest, while the sky was still bright blue in to the south. Impatient rain drops were falling and the wind was picking up. It was a gorgeous sight that made me think of this Emily Dickinson poem:
“A Drop fell on the Apple Tree” (794)
A Drop fell on the Apple Tree –
Another – on the Roof –
A Half a Dozen kissed the Eaves –
And made the Gables laugh –
A few went out to help the Brook
That went to help the Sea –
Myself Conjectured were they Pearls –
What Necklaces could be –
The Dust replaced, in Hoisted Roads –
The Birds jocoser sung –
The Sunshine threw his Hat away –
The Bushes – spangles flung –
The Breezes brought dejected Lutes –
And bathed them in the Glee –
The Orient showed a single Flag,
And signed the fête away –
Please be sure to visit Amy Ludwig VanDerwater at her lovely blog, The Poem Farm, for the Poetry Friday Roundup.
Children’s first reading experiences are usually through picture books, and for this reason, people have fond memories of them and are passionate about their favorites. Because of the role picture books play in introducing the magic of reading to children, they are worth celebrating.
Picture Book 10 for 10 is the brainchild of Cathy Mere of Reflect & Refine: Building a Learning Community and Mandy Robeck of Enjoy and Embrace Learning. During this annual event, now in its sixth year, teachers, librarians, and book lovers create lists of 10 essential picture books. Cathy and Mandy collect and share these lists, and everyone is richer because of their efforts. Be sure to visit their blogs to see their lists, and check out dozens of Picture Book 10 for 10 lists here. Thank you, Cathy and Mandy, for organizing this celebration of picture book love.
Many children are introduced to picture books through collections of nursery rhymes. The rhythm of poetry is soothing and the rhymes give kids the foundation they need to become independent readers. But most importantly, reading nursery rhymes and poetry to children is fun.
Creating this list was quite a challenge, as there are many, many beautiful poetry picture books available these days. For any one of the poets listed below, there are one or two or ten other books that are just as worthy of inclusion on this list.
1.Bookspeak: Poems about Books, by Laura Purdie Salas, illustrated by Josée Bisaillon(Clarion Books, 2011)
What could be better than a collection of poems celebrating books? Laura Purdie Salas gives voice to all parts of books, including the cover, index, and the end. You can watch the trailer for Bookspeak, listen to Laura read two poems, and read the teacher’s guide here.
2. Red Sings From the Treetops: A Year in Colors by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2009)
Joyce Sidman is one of my favorite poets, and I love Pamela Zagarenski’s whimsical style, so this book was a shoe-in for this list. I have written about it before here.
3. Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems, selected by Paul B. Janeczko, illustrated by MelissaSweet (Candlewick Press, 2014)
This award-winning anthology, illustrated with whimsical perfection by Melissa Sweet, includes poems celebrating each season and is not to be missed. Julie Roach, writing in School Library Journal described Sweet’s illustrations this way: “Colors and shapes with willowy details expertly blur or bring bits of the images into focus to create a magical sense of place, time, and beauty.”
4. A World of Wonders: Geographic Travels in Verse and Rhyme, by J. Patrick Lewis, pictures by Alison Jay (Dial Books for Young Readers, 2002)
5. Forest Has a Song, by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, illustrated by Robbin Gourley (Clarion Books, 2013)
Amy Ludwig VanDerwater turns her keen poet’s eye to the forest landscape throughout the year. Gourley’s delicate watercolors are the perfect complement to VanDerwater’s evocative poems.
6. On the Wing: Bird Poems and Paintings by Douglas Florian (Harcourt, 1996)
Douglas Florian’s sophisticated humor and word play make his poetry perfect choices for any elementary classroom. Find out more about Florian and his other poetry collections here.
7. What’s for Dinner? Quirky, Squirmy Poems from the Animal World, by Katherine B. Hauth, illustrated by David Clark (Charlesbridge, 2011)
This NSTA/CBC Outstanding Science Trade Book is chock-full of hilarious poems about the very serious subject of how animals capture their prey. Hauth includes factual information about each animal, as well as a list of suggested reading. David Clark’s cartoon-like illustrations add to the humor.
8. Bug Off! Creepy, Crawly Poems, by Jane Yolen, photographs by Jason Stemple (WordSong, 2012)
Jane Yolen is one of my favorite authors of all time. In fact, my 2013 Picture Book 10 for 10 post was devoted to her work. Yolen has published many volumes of poetry, but her collaborations with her photographer son, Jason Stemple, are my favorites. Stemple’s photographs are full of incredible details, and Yolen’s poetry captures the “beauty and mystery” of “these tiny living beings.” (From Yolen’s author’s note.)
9. Turtle in July, by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney (Macmillan, 1989)
Marilyn Singer is the 2015 winner of the NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Childrenand has long been one of my favorite poets. You can read a previous post about Marilyn’s poetry here. This collection, filled with Jerry Pinkney’s stunning illustrations, is a must-have for any elementary classroom.
10. Creatures of the Earth, Sea, and Sky, by Georgia Heard, drawings by Jennifer Owings Dewey (WordSong, 1992)
Georgia Heard has written that “poets find poems in hundreds of different places” (Awakening the Heart: Exploring Poetry in Elementary and Middle School, Heinemann: 1999), and in this wonderful collection, which has long been a staple in my classroom, she has found poems throughout the animal kingdom. Dewey’s detailed, realistic drawings add to the beauty of this book.
“Poetry is about loving the world and showing that love through words.”
I’m still basking in the glow of NCTE. Many of the sessions I attended were about integrating poetry into the curriculum. I feel fortunate that I’ve gotten to know many of the poets and teachers who presented during these sessions through blogging on Poetry Friday. Meeting them face-to-face was a highlight of my weekend at the Gaylord. Their wisdom, humor and generosity have made me a better writer and a better teacher. I use their books with students every day.
During her portion of the CLA Master Class, Poetry Across the Curriculum, Heidi Mordhorst described her vision of integrating the curriculum as synergy. The definition she provided, “the interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects” not only characterizes what happens when we share poetry with our students. It embodies the spirit of the Poetry Friday community, a community I am so thankful for.
So many wonderful poems were shared during these sessions (thank you, Janet & Sylvia, for all the postcards!), I couldn’tchoose just one to share today. I also wanted to express how grateful I am to these women. So I’ve stitched together a thank you of sorts using their own words.
What is beauty?
Whatever you believe it to be. (1)
To listen, to look,
to think, and to learn. (2)
Opening your heart and sharing your feelings, (3)
with plenty of space to dream. (4)
I’m glad you are my secret friend. (5)
We’re just a link away. (6)
You fold the memory
into your hearts, (7)
turn outside to inside
stranger to friend, (8)
and look inside yourself to find
the good I see in you. (9)
I’m a piece of the sky
in a circle of sun, (10)
But none of it would matter much
without the likes of you. (11)
Thank you to all the poets whose work inspired this poem!
1: Tricia Stohr-Hunt, whose blog, The Miss Rumphius Effect, was one of the first I ever read, continues to be an incredible resource for poetry. These lines are from Tricia’s poem, “Beauty”.
5. Heidi Mordhorst is a teacher, poet, and blogger whose work I have only recently become familiar with, but I’m looking forward to reading and sharing more of Heidi’s poetry. This line can be found in Heidi’s poem, “Funday, Imaginary 1st”.
6. The poetry of Laura Purdie Salas is a staple of my classroom. I’ve been sharing her poetry with students for years and was thrilled to meet her at NCTE! This line is from Laura’s poem, “Just Like That”.
7. Georgia Heard is another rock star of poetry I was excited to meet. Georgia’s books about Awakening the Heart and For the Good of the Sun and the Earth have had a profound influence on my teaching. This line is from her poem “Ars Poetica”, which can be found in The Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School.
10. I met Rebecca Kai Dotlich at NCTE almost by accident. We were each waiting for a friend, and, without having any idea who she was, I introduced myself. She was very friendly and introduced herself as Rebecca. We chatted, and through the course of the conversation I realized that I was casually talking with the author of some of my favorite poems for children. These lines are from an all-time favorite, “A Circle of Sun”.
Another double-duty Slice for It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?
Coral Reefs, by Seymour Simon (Harper, 2013)
This is a gorgeous book, filled with stunning photographs of one of the earth’s most fragile ecosystems. Coral Reefs gives young readers a thorough overview of the “gigantic communities of living things.” (pg. 6) Simon describes the different types of coral, what they eat, and where they’re found in the world. The “many different kinds of citizens” of a coral reef are also described.
The close-up photographs are captivating and kids will want to pore over them for hours. An index is included, as are a glossary and links to websites with additional information. This book would make a nice companion to the more fanciful but just as informative Coral Reefs by Jason Chin.
I’ve also been enjoying the poems collected by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong in The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science (Pomelo Books, 2014). Dozens of the best poets writing for children today have contributed to this volume. The poems cover a broad range of scientific topics, from scientific practices and lab safety to famous scientists and future challenges, and everything in between. (Although there wasn’t one specifically about a coral reef.)
Wong and Vardell begin their informative introduction with the question “Why poetry with science?” To make their case, they quote legendary author and educator Bernice Cullinan:
“Scientists observe with a clear eye, record their observations in precise, descriptive language, and craft their expressions. Poets do the same thing.”
Also included are tips for sharing the poems and connections to the Next Generation Science Standards. In addition, the following resources are included:
a bibliography of poetry books for science
links to websites and blogs, for both poetry and science
a list of professional resources
a “mini-glossary of science terms”
title, poet, and subject indexes
This book is a must-have resource elementary teachers working to integrate literacy into their science instruction. Student editions are available by grade level and include bonus poems.
Several poems from the anthology have been shared on blogs over the past week. Jone at Check It Out has “Sound Waves” by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater:
You can also read poems from each grade level at Irene Latham’s blog, Live Your Poem…
Finally, because it’s St. Patrick’s Day, I have to give a shout-out to my favorite book to share on this day, Daniel O’Rourke (Viking Kestrel, 1986), by Gerald McDermott. Sadly, it seems that this tale of Daniel O’Rourke’s misadventures at the hands of three mischievous leprechauns is out of print. My own children loved this story when they were small, and dozens of my classes over the years have laughed along as Daniel is taken on a wild ride by the legendary pooka.