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.

Picture Book 10 for 10: Poetry Picture Books

pb 10 for 10 015

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 Melissa Sweet (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)


Lewis brings his signature blend of humor and interesting facts to the world of geography in this collection. Allison Jay’s muted colors and craquelure,“a cracking or network of fine cracks in the paint, enamel, or varnish of a painting,” illustrations evoke maps from the age of exploration.

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 Children and 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.

My previous Picture Book 10 for 10 lists:

2014: Friendship Favorites
2013: Jane Yolen Picture Books
2012: Wordless Picture Books

Slice of Life: Wonder Poems

                     11454297503_e27946e4ff_h   new-teachers-write-2015

For the fourth summer in a row, Kate Messner, Gae Polisner, Jo Knowles, and Jen Vincent are hosting Teachers Write!, a wonderful online summer writing camp. What began as the result of a comment during a Twitter chat has grown into a huge community and even inspired a book, 59 Reasons to Write (Stenhouse, 2015).

Yesterday, Kate kicked off the 2015 season with an invitation to wonder. Kate writes that wondering is where authentic writing starts, that “Wonder is essential for writers, but sometimes, we don’t leave time for it in our daily task-finishing, dinner-making, laundry-sorting lives.” Unfortunately, this is often true in our classrooms, too.

I usually make time for wondering during my drive to work and when I’m walking my dog, so it didn’t take me long to come up with a list, which soon morphed into a poem:

What wonders does the world behold?
a chirping robin greeting the dawn
a mighty river carving stone
a million stars shining in the sky above
the ringing of a telephone
the warmth of your hand in mine
finding a friend in the pages of a book.

Not sure what I would do with this list, I went about my morning. Within an hour, I heard a story on NPR about the NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto. Of course I started wondering what discoveries will be made about this most-mysterious non-planet. The similarities between the word “planet” and “Pluto” popped out at me, and I started thinking about how to work this into a poem.

J. Patrick Lewis says that in poetry, like architecture, “form follows function.” My work-in-progress has me thinking a lot about poetic forms. Lately, I’ve been working on a diamante (Which J. Patrick Lewis doesn’t consider a true verse form; read why here.) because it seemed like the form might help me accomplish my purpose for writing. This form also seemed like it might work for a planet/Pluto poem. Here’s a draft:

celestial, spherical
orbiting, rotating, reflecting
rock, solar system, outcast
freezing, wandering, eluding
distant, mysterious

While there are parts of this I like, I wasn’t thrilled with it. Still wondering, I did a little research. Tricia Stohr-Hunt’s blog, The Miss Rumphius Effect is a treasure-trove of poetic resources, so I checked her site for more information. Coincidentally, Tricia’s post yesterday was about cinquains, another short form with a strict pattern. So I decided to try the Pluto poem as a cinquain.

rocky mystery
wandering at the edge
of our solar system; outcast:

I’m still pondering this one, but playing around with different forms was fun. It also helped me see a new possibility for a poem that’s been challenging to write. In addition, a few implications for teaching became clear as I was writing.

Asking a child, “What are you wondering about?” is such simple act, yet how often do teachers do it? What a gift it would be to ask our students this fundamental question each morning! What a list kids would generate! If we did this, then all the moaning about not knowing what to write about or groaning about making revisions might fall by the wayside. When you’re truly invested in what you’re doing, it doesn’t feel like work. And who knows where their questions will lead? 

Thank you Kate, and everyone at Teachers Write! for the inspiration, and thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth 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: “Gettysburg: July 1, 1863”


“If war is nothing more than lists of battles then human lives count less than saber rattles.”
~ J. Patrick Lewis ~

As we gear up to celebrate our nation’s birthday tomorrow, its seems appropriate, this year especially, to pause and remember the battle of Gettysburg, which ended 152 years ago today after Pickett’s disastrous charge.

It is impossible to recall this battle today without thinking of the profound words spoken by Abraham Lincoln four months later at the dedication of the Soldier’s National Cemetery:

“Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

Equal. How is it that after all this time, our nation is still grappling with this issue? I don’t like to get political in this space, but I do think Lincoln’s words are a reminder of how pernicious and divisive the public display of the Confederate flag truly is. The conclusion of Lincoln’s remarks further remind us that we still have far to go to reach this ideal:

“It is rather for us to be dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Lincoln’s speech is a masterpiece, full of poetic and rhetorical devices that move us, but “the honored dead” of whom he speaks are nameless and faceless to 21st century readers. Jane Kenyon’s poem, “Gettysburg: July 1, 1863” does for this bloodiest battle of the war what poetry does best: it shines a light on one anonymous soldier’s death, and helps us see the humanity of the 7,863 soldiers who died over those three days.

The young man, hardly more
than a boy, who fired the shot
had looked at him with an air
not of anger but of concentration,
as if he were surveying a road,
or feeding a length of wood into a saw:
It had to be done just so.

The bullet passed through
his upper chest, below the collar bone.
The pain was not what he might
have feared. Strangely exhilarated
he staggered out of the pasture
and into a grove of trees.

He pressed and pressed
the wound, trying to stanch
the blood, but he could only press
what he could reach, and he could
not reach his back, where the bullet
had exited.

                     He lay on the earth
smelling the leaves and mosses,
musty and damp and cool
after the blaze of open afternoon.

Read the rest of the poem here.

To bring this conflict to life for younger readers, turn to J. Patrick Lewis’s fine collection, The Brother’s War: Civil War Voices in Verse (National Geographic Society, 2007). Lewis’s poems give voice to soldiers, slaves, and abolitionists. Accompanied by period photographs, Lewis looks beyond the romantic notions of the nobility of warfare, and offers a compelling introduction to the stark realities faced by the rank and file during this brutal war.

Here are the final two stanzas of the last poem in the collection, “Passing in Review.”

Salute the boys
You never knew
For valor. It’s long overdue.
Young men still passing in review

Do not require
A great parade,
A big brass band or cavalcade
To sing the sacrifice they made.


 Please be sure to visit Donna at Mainely Write for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

Poetry Friday: Happy Birthday, First Lady of the World


“We must cherish and honor the word free or it will cease to apply to us.”

Eleanor Roosevelt was born on this day in 1884 and the United Nations has declared October 11 International Day of the Girl. No date could be more appropriate. After an unhappy childhood, Eleanor Roosevelt became a passionate, dedicated advocate for human rights around the world.

public domain image from http://www.whitehouse.gov

J. Patrick Lewis honored Roosevelt and her spirit in this poem, from his 2005 collection, Vherses: A Celebration of Outstanding Women (Creative Editions).

You Learn by Living

for Eleanor Roosevelt

Who showed the world the world itself

Was awkward, shy and plain.

A high-born leader in a long,

Low decade full of pain.

A lady first, the great first lady

Looked fear in the face,

And said, There is no room for fear

When courage take its place

Read the entire poem here.

Many books have been written about Eleanor and her remarkable life. Russell Freedman’s Eleanor Roosevelt: A Life of Discovery is featured today at Anita Silvey’s Children’s Book-a-Day AlmanacEleanor, Quiet No More: The Life of Eleanor Roosevelt (Disney/Hyperion Books, 2009) is Doreen Rappaport’s picture book biography for younger readers. A list of more titles about Eleanor is available at Through the Looking Glass.

Roosevelt once said “It is better to light candles than curse the darkness.” Eleanor Roosevelt’s inspiring life story is certain to spark the imagination of readers everywhere.

Don’t forget to visit Laurie Purdie Salas at Writing the World for Kids for the weekly round up. Happy Friday, everyone!

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?


I feel like I’ve been trying to catch up with a backlog of journal articles, blogs, and newspapers all week. But I did manage to squeeze in a few books for fun.

Steam Train, Dream Train (Chronicle Books, 2013) is a lovely bedtime story by Sherri Duskey Rinker and Tom Lichtenheld. A menagerie of zoo animals meet a steam train as it pulls into the station. They get right to work, loading the train with paint, sand, food and just about every toy imaginable. Once the train is loaded, the animals “settle in, and tuck in tight.” After it leaves the station, the final pages show a sleeping child with a toy train at the foot of the bed. Outside the window is a billowing cloud that looks suspiciously like a plume of smoke from a train. Although this is clearly aimed at the preschool set, I know a few Kindergarten and 1st grade boys who will love this book.

Watch the trailer here:

In If You Were a Chocolate Mustache (Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press, 2012), J. Patrick Lewis serves up more of his singular humor. Long poems, short poems, concrete poems, riddle poems, this collection has something for everyone. Matthew Cordell’s pen-and-ink drawings are the perfect complement for these madcap poems. This book is a must-have for elementary and middle grade classrooms.


Be sure to visit Jen and Kellee at Teach Mentor Texts to find out what others are reading today.

Poetry Friday: Monumental Verses by J. Patrick Lewis


Earlier this week, I took part in Nonfiction 10-for-10, a celebration of nonfiction books for kids. I struggled to narrow my list down to 10 titles, but decided to leave this book off when it occurred to me I could share it today.

When I was a kid, I loved arranging furniture in my dollhouse. As I got a little older, I filled notebooks with house plans and furniture arrangements. And while I did think about becoming an interior decorator, I never really considered becoming an architect. I’m not sure why, but I suspect it had something to do with my less than stellar math skills. So when I discovered Monumental Verses (2005), by J. Patrick Lewis, the latent architect inside of me was thrilled.

A bow to all who hoist the spirit high

And carve imagination into stone

By fire and forge, thrown hugely to the sky.

Whether they be well-or little-known,

The buildings in this picture book cement

A thought: No matter who the builders were,

They gave to time a timeless monument–

A human star-chitcture signature.

I cannot say what others make of this,

The mystery of Stonehenge, a Taj Mahal,

And yet I know how much the world would miss

Majesty at a glance if they should fall.

This book is for the curious at heart,

Startled at sights they seldom get to see

Or even dream of-science born of art,

Such works of genius these were meant to be.

Fourteen poems and gorgeous photographs celebrate architectural wonders from around the world. Lewis’s uses a number of poetic forms to describe wonders of the Empire State Building, Easter Island, the Arc de Triomphe, and more. Playful shape poems bring the pyramids, the Great Wall of China and Stonehenge to life. Vital statistics regarding when each structure was built, where it’s located, the architect (if known), and an amazing physical fact are included. An Epilogue offers writing advice to budding poets.

We have used this book with 5th graders as a mentor text. Engagement is high because students are fascinated by these incredible feats of design and engineering. After reading, they chose a well-known building or monument that interests them. Research is done, and once they’ve collected their facts, they write their own poetic tributes. A project like this doesn’t have to be terribly time consuming, and it covers a number of CC Standards. Lewis’s rich vocabulary addresses  Reading Literature standard 5.4, “Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in text, including figurative language such as metaphors and similes.” Writing their own poems allows student to “Integrate information from several texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably,” (RI.5.9) as well as “Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development and organizations are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.” (W.5.4)

A book like this can pique a student’s curiosity about the man-made wonders of the world. It might even inspire them to become an architect!

You can learn more about J. Patrick Lewis on his website and find additional ideas for using Monumental Verses with your students here.

Don’t forget to visit Sheri Doyle’s blog for other Poetry Friday posts!