Poetry Friday: Eileen Spinelli & Another Day As Emily


I can’t believe how quickly April flew by. Because today is Friday, I feel like we have a bonus day of National Poetry Month!

On her webpage, Eileen Spinelli has a list of tips for young writers. Her number one piece of advice? “Keep your eyes and ears and heart open.” There is no doubt that this is what drives Eileen’s writing as well. I first encountered Eileen’s writing in Sophie’s Masterpiece (Simon & Schuster, 2001). Sophie, the heroine of  this tale, is one of the most thoughtful and caring spiders this side of Charlotte. Sophie’s kindness and generosity inspired my third grade students to learn how to knit after 9/11 and, ultimately, create an afghan that we raffled to raise money for charity.

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So when I wasn’t surprised when I saw that Eileen and her husband, Jerry Spinelli, would be part of a panel hosted by Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell titled “Sharing Random Books of Kindness: The Power of Story” at NCTE last November. (Read Eileen’s heartbreaking “Poem for a Bully” in this post by Mary Lee Hahn & Janet Wong about the role of poetry in literacy learning here.) The next day, I waited in line to meet Eileen at a book signing and got a copy of her latest book, Another Day As Emily (Random House, 2014).

I finally found time recently to read this charming verse novel, and I’m so happy I did. Suzy Quinn is almost twelve. She collects rocks and loves the Philadelphia Phillies. She also has a pesky little brother named Parker, who saved their neighbor’s life and is now an official hero. Feeling left out because of all the attention Parker’s getting, Suzy plunges into a project for her library’s summer program and learns all she can about Emily Dickinson. At the same time, Suzy is trying to navigate the challenges of friendship. Overwhelmed when she isn’t chosen for a part in a play and devastated when her birthday trip to a Phillies game is cancelled, she retreats to her room “…to be left alone…Forever. Like Emily Dickinson.” Suzy dresses in white, bakes gingerbread, even renames her goldfish Carlo, after Emily Dickinson’s dog.

Spinelli spins a story full of realistic details about the trials and tribulations of adolescence. Suzy’s family and neighbors remain loving and supportive, even as Suzy pushes the limits of their patience. Eventually, Suzy decides there’s more to life “than being a twelve-year old hermit.” In the process, she discovers that she “missed herself,” even though the self she missed is forever changed.

One of the magical things about books is that they let you try on different personas. Lucky readers of Another Day As Emily get to try on two through the “eyes and ears and heart” of Eileen Spinelli. What a gift!

Here is another gift from the pen of Eileen Spinelli:

“The Month of May”

May is a merry month
a flower-into-berry month,
the month to skip outdoors to play,
to tuck your winter boots away,
to honor moms and aunties too
with cards and hugs for all they do.

Read the rest of the poem here.

Mary Lee at A Reading Year and Ellen at Elementary Dear Reader  have The Poetry Friday Round Up. Be sure to stop by for more poetic gifts.

Poetry Friday: NCTE Poetry Rock Stars


“Poetry is about loving the world and showing that love through words.”

Irene Latham

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’t choose 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”.

2: Janet Wong, co-creator with Sylvia Vardell, of The Poetry Friday Anthologies. These books are amazing resources. Janet’s poem, “Liberty” provided these lines.

3: Irene Latham‘s newest book, Dear Wandering Wildebeest and Other Poems from the Watering Hole (Millbrook Press, 2014) has quickly become a favorite with my students. These lines are from an acrostic Irene shared during the session “Poem As Storyteller: Collaborating With Authors to Write Narrative Poetry.”

4. Sara Holbrook and Michael Salinger‘s session, “Writing to Increase Literacy and Learning Across the Curriculum” was full of practical suggestions for incorporating poetry into the school day. This line is from her poem, “On Becoming Proficient,” which can be found in Zombies Evacuate the School (WordSong, 2010).

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.

8. Amy Ludwig VanDerwater’s blog, The Poem Farm, is a treasure-trove of resources for teachers and poets. This line is from “First Practice”, one of Amy’s contributions to the The Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School.

9. I have long been a fan of Eileen Spinelli‘s picture book, Sophie’s MasterpieceBut I was less familiar with her poetry. These lines are from Eileen’s powerful “Poem for a Bully” which can be found in The Poetry Friday AnthologyK-5 edition.

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”.

11. Mary Lee Hahn‘s blog, A Year of Reading, is another inspirational resource. She and Franki Sibberson have set the standard for excellence in blogs by teachers. Mary Lee’s passion for teaching and poetic skills continue to amaze me. Mary Lee’s poem “Our Wonderful World” is the source of these lines.

Thank you again to every one of you! Thank you also to Anastasia Suen for hosting the Poetry Friday Round Up!