Poetry Friday: Wordless Picture Book Art & Ekphrastic Poetry

It’s the first Friday of the month, so that means another critique group challenge. We have a new name! Heidi, Linda, Margaret, and Molly and I are now the Inklings! It was my turn to provide this month’s prompt, and I confess, I was at a bit of a loss. Then I received a postcard from the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art about their new exhibit: Speechless: The Art of Wordless Picture Books. As I read about the announcement, I thought, what a perfect opportunity to write ekphrastic poems. Here is the prompt I shared with my fellow Inklings:

Write an ekphrastic poem in response to a favorite scene in a wordless picture book (or any painting/photo/piece of art you choose).

I am a huge fan of wordless picture books. I am also a huge fan of the Carle and live close enough that a visit to Amherst, MA is the perfect day trip. Before I selected the image I wanted to write about, I packed my great-niece and nephews along with my friend Colette into the car and headed north on I-91. This show, curated by the brilliant David Wiesner, is a celebration of storytelling through images, and it did not disappoint. Along with original artwork from old and new favorites, the walls were adorned with life-sized characters from the books. My six-year old nephew was quite taken with the images from Christian Robinson’s recent book, Another, so this is the image I chose to inspire my poem for this month’s challenge:

from Another, by Christian Robinson (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2019)

Please be sure to visit my fellow Inklings to read their responses to this month’s challenge:

Molly Hogan @ Nix the Comfort Zone
Linda Mitchell @ A Word Edgewise
Heidi Mordhorst @ My Juicy Little Universe
Margaret Simon @ Reflections on the Teche

Then head on over to A(nother) Year of Reading, where Mary Lee Hahn is hosting the Poetry Friday Roundup.

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?


Take a five year-old’s favorite question, add Eric Carle’s joyous spirit and thirteen of the most accomplished illustrators working in children’s literature today and you have What’s Your Favorite Animal? (Henry Holt, 2014). This book is a glorious celebration of animals and art. Each artist responded to this important question with a short piece of writing and an illustration. The writing ranges from heartfelt recollections of childhood pets to whimsical imaginary pets. Nick Bruel’s Bad Kitty even gets to add her two cents.


The writing that accompanies each illustration is rich with description and rationale. Peter Sís describes “…many families coming with their carps to the river and blue fish swimming toward the ocean. This gave us all hope!” Chris Raschka’s keen observation of the lowly snail gives readers a new appreciation of an animal who’s often overlooked: “But all her life she works her craft, adding to it day by day, until, when she dies, she leaves us something of great beauty.”

These words could describe the work of these artists, who have given the world so much beauty through their books. It seems fitting, then, that proceeds from What’s Your Favorite Animal? are being donated to The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. The Carle, dedicated to inspiring “a love of art and reading through picture books,” is one of my favorite museums. (Read more about my last visit here.)

What’s Your Favorite Animal? is a perfect mentor text for young writers making their first attempt at opinion writing. The CCSS calls for both Kindergarten and first grade writers to “write opinion pieces.” What better topic than animals, something every child has an opinion about?

I also found this book on my most recent trip to the bookstore:

Listography: Your Life in Lists
Chronicle Books, 2007

Lisa Nola, creator of this book/journal explains in a note that the book “is designed to help you create your autobiography.” But I was drawn to Listography for a different reason. It’s ideal for using with kids when they complain, “But I don’t know what to write about.” WARNING! Don’t just hand this book to students; adults are definitely the target audience. Rather, choose an appropriate page and write the topic on the board. Like What’s Your Favorite Animal?, everyone has favorite toys, games, and songs.

This book appealed to me on another level, though. I don’t usually need lists like this for ideas of what to write about. Rather, I can see using this book and these list ideas to get to know my own characters better. I have seen many writing exercises that do just this. But the idea of having this whole volume filled with these lists really appeals to me. I’m hoping they’ll help me find, to use Ray Bradbury’s perfect metaphor, what’s “hidden under the trapdoor on the top of my skull.” Or, in this case, my character’s skull.

Be sure to visit Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee at Unleashing Readers to find out what other people have been reading lately. Thanks, Jen and Kellee, for hosting!

A Slice of Life: A Visit to the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art

sols_6Now that the month-long Slice of Life challenge has ended, I’m hoping to continue sharing slices every Tuesday. Be sure to visit Stacey and Ruth at Two Writing Teachers to read more amazing writing. Thank you for hosting this weekly Slice of Life Challenge!

Last Friday, a friend and I hopped in the car and drove to Amherst, MA and the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art to see their celebration of Garth Williams’s beloved illustrations of Charlotte’s Web.


Going to The Carle is one of my favorite day trips. When you arrive, you’re greeted by this bug:


As you enter the museum, you step into by a large space filled with light and color. Panels of bright primary colors adorn one long wall of the Great Hall. My friend and I spent some time trying to decide what each panel reminded us of, and which one we liked best.

Fire or autumn leaves?

A field of waving grass?

The ocean or fish, or both?

Warm summer sunshine!

A cozy spot to sit and read.

There are auditoriums for lectures and films, as well as an art studio where kids can make their own colorful creations. I’ve always wanted to go in and make some art myself, but it’s really for the kids. More of Eric Carle’s whimsical art is hung in this hallway.

      Image  Image

The West Gallery is devoted to Carle’s work, but the theme shifts on a regular basis. The current show, Feathers, Fins, and Fur, features penguins, cardinals, and more. In addition, there are two galleries for special exhibits. The larger East Gallery has had shows featuring the work of Tomi dePaola, Virginia Lee Burton, and illustrations from various editions of The Wizard of Oz, to name just a few. On display until June 9th is Latino Folk Tales: Cuentos Populares-Art by Latino Artists. The vivid colors and styles of these artists bring the tradition of magical realism to life.

The exhibit in the smaller Central Gallery was the main reason for our visit.


Some Book, Some Art showcased Garth Williams’s classic illustrations for Charlotte’s Web. It was fascinating to see the early ideas Williams had for the cover of the book and his process of going from rough sketch to finished art. There were also early studies of what Charlotte herself would look like. In one draft, she bore quite a resemblance to the Mona Lisa! This small, humble, gallery is currently filled with radiant, terrific art.

An unexpected treasure of the exhibit was this poem, written by E.B White to his wife, Katherine, just before they were married.

“Natural History”

The spider, dropping down from twig,

Unwinds a thread of his devising;

A thin, premeditated rig,

To use in rising.

And all the journey down through space

In cool descent, and loyal-hearted,

He builds a ladder to the place

From which he started.

Thus I, gone forth, as spiders do,

In spider’s web a truth discerning,

Attach one silken strand to you

For my returning.

I will return the The Carle again and again, just as I return to Charlotte’s Web from time to time. I love the beauty contained within both.