Poetry Friday: Sail Away to Fairyland


Once again, I’m down to the wire meeting Michelle Heidenrich Barnes’s ditty challenge. This month, Jane Yolen challenged Michelle’s readers to “Write a poem in which reading and or writing is featured in the form of a septercet.”  How hard could that be?

As it turns out, I had a very hard time figuring out my way into this poem. How to narrow down a lifetime of reading and writing? Then, this line, from “Do-Re-Mi” and The Sound of Music came into my head: “Let’s start at the very beginning…” Suddenly, I was on my grandmother’s lap and she was reading Jack the Giant Killer, by Harold Lentz, to me. This book belonged to my uncle when he was little, and it was a favorite of mine and my cousins because of its fabulous pop-up scenes.


Here is a draft of the septercet inspired by this book.

“Sail Away to Fairyland”

Nestled on my grandma’s lap,
she opens a book and I’m
sailing off to fairyland.

A magic castle rises,
princess slumbering within,
the prince arrives to wake her.

Turn the page. Red Riding Hood
knocks on Grandma’s door. Beware!
A devious wolf awaits.

One story ends, another
begins. “Fee, fi, fo, fum,” hums
a hungry, fearsome giant.

Just in time, Jack saves the day,
rescues friends from a sad fate.
But Giant, enraged, gives chase,

lumbering down the beanstalk.
Will Jack get away? He grabs
an axe, chops with all his might.

Tales now told, the book is closed.
You know how this story ends.

Happily ever after.

© Catherine Flynn, 2016

My favorite pop-up, Sleeping Beauty’s castle.

Thank you, Michelle and Jane, for sparking this trip down memory lane. Please be sure to visit Karen Edmisten at The Blog With the Shockingly Clever Title for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

Poetry Friday: The Roundup is Here!


Welcome to the Poetry Friday Roundup! I’m so glad you stopped by. You’re in for a real treat! Not only will you find links to other Poetry Friday posts, I’m thrilled to share poems and illustrations from Grumbles From the Town: Mother-Goose Voices With a Twist (WordSong, 2016), Jane Yolen and Rebecca Kai Dotlich’s hot-off-the-press companion volume to Grumbles From the Forest (WordSong, 2013), with illustrations by Angela Matteson. I was lucky enough to receive an F&G (folded and gathered) of this book when I was at The Highlights Foundation’s workshop, “The Craft and Heart of Writing Poetry for Children” with Rebecca Kai Dotlich and Georgia Heard.


These poems, that “remix old songs anew,” have broad appeal. Jane and Rebecca chose fourteen favorite nursery rhymes and gave voices to objects, (Jack’s plum), real or imagined secondary characters (Old King Cole’s daughter), or let the main character speak for him or herself (the Queen of Hearts). Young readers will love the playful nature of these poems. Older readers will appreciate the wordplay, such as learning that the dog from “Hey Diddle Diddle” always “hated playing second fiddle.” Some of the poems, such as “Not Another Fall,” explore the backstory of the original rhyme. What was Humpty Dumpty doing on that wall in the first place?


                                                                               “A Neighbor Gossips to the Gardener
“Not Another Fall”                                               about the Humpty Brothers”                     

Humpty Dumpty                                                Here’s what I heard:
skates on a wall,                                                             SPLAT!
another big tumble,                                           Said to myself, what was that?
another pratfall.                                                 A Humpty had fallen
Another big grin                                                 to the other side.
when he jumps to his feet.                               He was roundish,
He’s got loads of jokes                                      and small. Fell from the wall.
that just cannot be beat.                                   Always in places
He’s our class clown;                                        they shouldn’t be.
that’s never in doubt,                                       The the other one tumbled
but that why he’s sitting                                  from an apple tree.
again                                                                   News came in twos: a cut and a bruise.
in time-out.                                                        (Lucky they didn’t break any legs.)
                                                                              Those Humpty boys
© Jane Yolen, 2016                                          are mischievous eggs.

                                                                       © Rebecca Kai Dotlich, 2016

Angela Matteson’s whimsical illustrations are perfectly suited to these lively rhymes. Her artwork is infused with personality; who wouldn’t want to live in this shoe?


“Shoe Speaks”                                                            “Summer in the Shoe”

I love the sound of giggles                            It was so hot, living in leather
From the lace-swings in the tree,               all day and all night. Sunlight
The thump of running feet                          spilled through the open top,
As children race on home to me.               tumbled down stairs,
                                                                          rested on the cat.
But best is how I love them                         Imagine this, imagine that….
When they dream inside my toe.               read books in a heel,
Do you doubt a shoe can love?                  ate supper in a toe.
I have a sole, you know.                              Blew bubbles
                                                                         from small windows,
© Jane Yolen, 2016                                     rolled marbles down the tongue,
                                                                         bump, bumpity, bump.
                                                                         Played next door
                                                                         in a pirate ship–
                                                                         lots of space to roam.
                                                                Still, we liked going home.

                                                                © Rebecca Kai Dotlich, 2016

Grumbles From the Town also includes the texts of the original nursery rhymes, and I appreciated the fascinating end notes about the origin of each rhyme. The roots of some rhymes have been lost to history, but in most cases the background includes stories that are always interesting, if not always child-friendly.

This collection is a must-have for all elementary classrooms. Students of all ages will enjoy exploring point-of-view through these poems, and the opportunities for children to write their own nursery rhymes “with a twist” are endless! In addition, the possibilities for lessons about vocabulary and word choice abound. But the best reason for sharing this book with children is that these poems are fun to read and full of humor. Thank you, Jane, Rebecca, and Angela for so generously sharing your work today!

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

Poetry Friday: An Egret’s Day


I’ve had birds on my mind this week because of an idea I hatched at the Highlights Foundation last week. One of Rebecca Kai Dotlich’s many wise pieces of advice was to research your topic. So I’ve been reading about birds, listening to birds, and watching for them whenever I’m outside. In fact, I almost drove off the road on Monday because of this bird:


I’m pretty sure this is a vulture, which are quite common where I live, but I have never seen one poised like this. After I pulled over to take this picture, I sat and watched this display. The bird stayed poised on this branch for at least five more minutes. Unfortunately, I had an appointment, so I couldn’t watch any longer.

Rebecca also suggested reading poems about the topic you’re writing about, so I’ve been reading as many bird poems as I can find. One of my favorite collections is Jane Yolen and Jason Stemple’s gorgeous book, An Egret’s Day (WordSong, 2010). Yolen’s poetry follows egrets through their day and is accompanied by factual paragraphs about the poem’s topic. Stunning photographs by Jason Stemple, Yolen’s son, accompanies each poem, and gives readers a chance to observe these graceful birds up close.


Here’s a poem from this beautiful book:

“Egret in Flight”
by Jane Yolen

She’s an arrow
From a bow.
We watch in wonder
From below.

neck is folded.
All that we can do?
Behold it.

Read the rest of the poem here (It’s about 1/3 of the way down the page).


I hope you have a chance to behold a beautiful bird or two today. There is always beautiful poetry to behold on Poetry Friday, so be sure to head over to Renee LaTulippe’s blog, No Water River, for the Poetry Friday Round Up.

Slice of Life: You Nest Here With Me


When my son was a baby, he had an ear infection almost non-stop from the time he was six months old until just before he had tubes put in his ears six months later. Needless to say, we spent a lot of time at the pediatrician’s office. There were always stacks of picture books in the waiting room, and one day, A House is a House for Me (Viking, 1978), by Mary Ann Hoberman was on top of the pile, just waiting for us. It quickly became one of our favorites.


Now Jane Yolen, Heidi E.Y. Stemple, and Melissa Sweet have teamed up to create a book about homes that is every bit as wonderful as Hoberman’s classic. You Nest Here With Me (Boyds Mills Press, 2015) begins with a “little nestling,” carrying a copy of You Nest Here With Me being flown into bed by her mother. As the poem unfolds, we learn that “Pigeons nest on concrete ledges” while “Catbirds nest in greening hedges” but the mother always assures the child that “you nest here with me.”

Song birds, shore birds, birds of prey, and more are introduced through the gentle rhymes of Yolen and Stemple’s text. Readers will want to linger over Sweet’s inviting watercolor and collage illustrations. An author’s note explains that David Stemple, Jane’s late husband and Heidi’s father, was a “serious bird watcher.” This dedication clearly rubbed off, for their love of birds is present on every page.

Factual information about all the birds in the book is included, and there is a scavenger hunt of sorts included in the illustrations. Four kinds of birds are depicted in cozy nests, but not mentioned in the text. Children will have fun finding these favorite species tucked in with other familiar and some unfamiliar birds.

I got this beautiful poster at NCTE!
I got this beautiful poster at NCTE!

I would read this to Kindergarten and first grade students, but most of all I would love to share it with a toddler or preschooler nestled on my lap.

Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each day during the month of March and on Tuesdays throughout the year. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

Slice of Life: Read Alouds for Everyone


Last night’s #readingjoy Twitter chat, led by Jennifer Seravallo, got me thinking about read alouds. Much has been written about the importance of parents reading aloud to children from the very start and making read alouds part of every classroom routine. I agree with every bit of this advice. I read to my own children from the day we came home from the hospital, and we never skipped read aloud time in my classroom. But I’ve also come to realize the importance of read alouds in my intervention lessons.

I left the classroom seven years ago to become our school’s literacy specialist. Because I work in a small district, this role includes many duties. One of these is working with tier 3 students. The children I work with are our youngest, most at-risk students who are typically non-readers when we begin working together. One of the biggest challenges they face is understanding why they should bother with reading at all. Usually this is because reading isn’t a priority at home. I meet with their parents to discuss the importance of reading to and with their children. I also give them pamphlets and links to websites with tips and information about how to make reading part of their routine at home. I send books home that children can keep. And yet, they still don’t read at home.

By the time these children arrive in my room, they’re convinced that I’m going to torture them. So I start by chatting with them about their pets, hobbies, and places they like to visit, just to break the ice. Once they are comfortable, I start asking about favorite books or subjects. Then I bring out my secret weapon. A book. I offer it as something I like, not as something I think they should like. Usually they ask for their own copy by the end of the week.


One of my first students was a first grade boy with a host of issues. (He was diagnosed with Autism during the time I worked with him.) He had no interest in anything other than Legos and hated school because he had to leave his Legos at home. He knew most of the letters and sounds, but didn’t know how to pull them apart or put them together to make words. For some reason, he took a shine to Emily Gravett’s Orange Pear Apple Bear (Simon & Schuster, 2007). I must have read that book to him a hundred times. Soon, he was reading it with me. And before long, he was reading lots of other books, too.


Another boy was adamant that he hated letters and wouldn’t learn to read. I told him that was his choice but that I was going to read to him. His “breakthrough book” was in fact a poem from Jane Yolen and Andrew Fusek Peter’s excellent collection Here’s a Little Poem: A First Book of Poetry (Candlewick, 2007). Peter’s own poem, “The No-No Bird,” introduced this child to a boy who liked the word “no” as much as he did. Maybe it was this flash of recognition that finally brought him around. Or maybe it was simply the fact that he could read the word “no.”


Last year I had a student who was so shy and quiet he barely spoke above a whisper. To break the ice, I began reading Kate DiCamillo’s Mercy Watson to the Rescue (Candlewick, 2005). He loved Mercy and her silly antics! Soon he was reading with me, asking questions, and thinking of further adventures for Mercy. Over the course of the year, we read every Mercy Watson book we could get our hands on. My heart was filled with joy at the look on his face when I presented him with his own copy of Mercy Watson at the end of the school year.

Do I know what it was about each of these books that made them the right books for these children? No. What I do know is that each child heard or saw something in them that made him happy. Something in these books helped him feel connected to another person and let him know he wasn’t alone. And that is, after all, why we read.

Thank you, as always, to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for hosting Slice of Life each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.










Why Poetry?

Chris Lehman recently invited teachers to join him in an online poetry workshop, TeacherPoets. He also invited people to respond to the question “Why poetry?” Many smart, insightful responses have been shared here. How to answer this question without restating what so many have already contributed? I decided to read through a few of my favorite poetry resources and create a found poem (some lines are slightly altered to work in the sequence).

By Phyzome is Tim McCormack (Own work) , via Wikimedia Commons
By Phyzome is Tim McCormack (Own work) , via Wikimedia Commons

Why Poetry?

Feel in touch with that universal rhythm.

Lift the veil from the hidden beauty of the world;

Find the mystery in everyday things and objects.

Rekindle a latent sense of wonder.

Have a good eye and a sharp ear.

Find your own voice.

Discover the perfect word for your purpose.

Use fresh imagery that rattles the senses and

Some wordplay that makes it sparkle.

Group them together in a shape or rhythmical structure.

Poems hum,

The breathings of your heart.

And words are nets to capture

The secrets you didn’t know you were keeping.

Here are the authors and sources of these lines, in order:

Lillian Morrison, Seeing the Blue Between: Advice and Inspiration for Young Poets, compiled by Paul B. Janeczko; Candlewick Press, 2003

Percy Bysshe Shelley, A Defence of Poetry

Robert Farnsworth, Seeing the Blue Between: Advice and Inspiration for Young Poets, compiled by Paul B. Janeczko; Candlewick Press, 2003

Joyce Sidman, “Touching the World: The Importance of Teaching PoetryRiverbank Review, Spring 2002

Karla Kuskin, Seeing the Blue Between: Advice and Inspiration for Young Poets, compiled by Paul B. Janeczko; Candlewick Press, 2003

Michael Dugan, Seeing the Blue Between: Advice and Inspiration for Young Poets, compiled by Paul B. Janeczko; Candlewick Press, 2003

Mary Ann Hoberman, Seeing the Blue Between: Advice and Inspiration for Young Poets, compiled by Paul B. Janeczko; Candlewick Press, 2003

Nikki Grimes, Seeing the Blue Between: Advice and Inspiration for Young Poets, compiled by Paul B. Janeczko; Candlewick Press, 2003

Jane Yolen, Take Joy: A Writer’s Guide to Loving the Craft; Writer’s Digest Books, 2006

Lillian Morrison, Seeing the Blue Between: Advice and Inspiration for Young Poets, compiled by Paul B. Janeczko; Candlewick Press, 2003

Julie Larios “Playing with Poetry

William Wordsworth

Muhammed al-Ghuzzi, “The Pen

Robert Farnsworth, Seeing the Blue Between: Advice and Inspiration for Young Poets, compiled by Paul B. Janeczko; Candlewick Press, 2003




Slice of Life: Pickles, Owl Moon, and the Hard Work of Revision

sols_6Last spring, during a poetry writing unit, a 5th grade student asked me to read a poem she had written. “I’d love to,” I told her as she handed me her notebook with pride. I knew this girl to be a good student and a strong reader, so I was quite surprised to read what she had written.  It was mostly about pickles, but her poem was full of forced rhymes and then no rhymes. I told her that her love of pickles was coming through loud and clear. Then I asked her about some of the more questionable rhymes.

“What do smelly feet have to do with sweet pickles?” I wondered

“Nothing, but sweet and feet rhyme,” she said matter-of-factly.

“I wonder if  there are any other words that rhyme with sweet that have more to do with pickles than feet.”

“Probably, but today I just feel silly and want to write a silly poem.”

“Fair enough. Let’s look at it again tomorrow and see if you still feel that way. Writers often see their work differently after a day or two,” I said.

She wasn’t convinced, and she didn’t change the poem.

Over the years, I’ve had plenty of students who were unwilling to revise their writing. It seems as if getting anything down on paper is torture enough. Then to have to make changes is just insulting. Part of me empathizes with them. I know it’s hard to get our thoughts down in the first place. But I also know how much better writing can be after the second or third revision.

january2014cover_FAKE_200x300I wish I’d had Jane Yolen’s article from the current issue of The Horn Book to share with my reluctant reviser. In it, Yolen muses over different forms her Caldecott-Award winning picture book, Owl Moon, might have taken. A sonnet? No, too short. What about as a rap? Definitely not. She states that “a writer has to make choices [about] how to tell a story. But when a writer finds the right voice, everything comes together.” (pg. 46)


Writers do make choices. But I feel that our students don’t really understand that this means more that just thinking of words that rhyme. As Yolen goes on to say, finding this voice for our writing takes “hard work, inspiration, even perspiration.” (pg. 50)

So why did my young poet short-change herself and her poem? In this case, I think she just needed more time. Time to build the habit of writing every day so being asked to write didn’t feel like punishment. Time to experience the joy of finding just the right word, the perfect expression of her feeling. Time to play with different versions of her poem to find out if silly really was the right tone. Sometimes we may get lucky and stumble onto the right form on our first try, as Yolen feels she did with Owl Moon. But in most cases, we need to sweat over our writing before sharing it. Only then can we sit back and have a pickle.

Thank you to everyone at Two Writing Teachers for hosting the Slice of Life every Tuesday. Be sure to stop by to read the hard work of many devoted writers.

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?


More Jane Yolen, of course! After highlighting just 10 (well, maybe a few more than 10) picture books by one of the most prolific authors ever for Picture Book 10 for 10, I can’t stop reading (and rereading) books by Yolen.


One of her more recent volumes is a book of poetry, co-written with Rebecca Kai Dotlich. In Grumbles from the Forest: Fairy-Tale Voices with a Twist (Wordsong, An Imprint of Highlights, 2013; illustrated by Matt Mahurin), Yolen and Dotlich use fifteen well-known fairy tales as a spring board for pairs of poems that let the characters speak for themselves. Snow White has her say, as do Gretel and Goldilocks. There are also poems that give voice to supporting characters, such as the the Wicked Fairy from Sleeping Beauty, who admits she “should’ve read/that page on tips.” While some of the poems do have a humorous tone, others reveal the dark side of the fairy tale. Beauty’s isolation is tinged with sadness as she wonders “what sounds children/might have made/running across the marble halls…”

These poems are naturals for reading after reading the original tale. Anchor Standard 9 of the CCSS states that students will  “analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to compare the approaches the authors take.” At many grade levels, students are expected to use fairy tales, myths, and legends for this purpose.

In a note to their readers, Yolen and Dotlich also urge their audience to “try writing a fairy tale poem yourself [and] make a little magic.” By “juggling different perspectives,” students will develop a deeper understanding of characters who, in many retellings, are often no more than stereotypes.

Image       Image

Of course, there are numerous versions of these tales that do adopt the point of view of a character who doesn’t usually have a voice. Since the huge success of The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, by Jon Scieszka (Viking Press, 1989; illustrated by Lane Smith) these “fractured fairy-tales” have become their own sub-genre. There are also other poets who have given a voice to favorite fairy tale characters. Marilyn Singer has written two books of reversos, pairs of poems which use the same words in reversed order to present the perspective of two different characters. Singer’s poems in Mirror, Mirror (Duttons Children’s Books, 2010; illustrated by Josee Masse) and Follow, Follow (Dial Books, 2013; also illustrated by Josee Masse) are similar to Yolen and Dotlich’s as they have humor but don’t shy away from the hard lessons these characters have learned. Masse amazingly repeats this feat in her illustrations.

Image    Image    Image

Grumbles from the Forest and both of Singer’s books will be best understood by students in third grade and up. Why should they have all the fun? Mary Ann Hoberman’s You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You series has a collection devoted to fairly tales, Mother Goose, and Aesop’s fables that are perfect for sharing with younger readers.

Sadly, I’m no longer surprised when students arrive at school not knowing these classic stories. My library, though, is well-stocked with classic versions of these stories, as well as many of the fractured variety. I share them with students every chance I get. I believe Yolen is absolutely correct when she wrote in Touch Magic: Fantasy, Faerie and Folklore in the Literature of Childhood, (August House, 2000) “that culture begins in the cradle…to do without tales and stories and books is to lose humanity’s past, is to have no map for our future.”

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!

Picture Book 10 for 10: Picture Books by Jane Yolen


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 fourth 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 links to other lists. Thank you, Cathy and Mandy, for organizing this celebration of children’s literature!

Jane Yolen, who has been called the Hans Christian Anderson of our time, is one of my favorite authors and I’ve always used her books in my classroom. Her books are filled with humor, compassion, and a deep desire to ensure that children continue to have quality literature that preserves our cultural heritage. She has written over 300 books, including fantasy and fairy tales, historical fiction, poetry, rhyming picture books, non-fiction picture books, novels and more. Needless to say, trying to choose just ten of her books turned out to be quite a challenge! I tried to include one book from each genre Yolen has written in and I admit my choices are very subjective. Many of these are older works that I read to my children when they were small. These, of course, are my favorites.

Photo by Jason Stemple, via wired.com
Photo by Jason Stemple, via wired.com

One of the most generous and inspiring writers working today, Yolen speaks at conferences of teachers and writers often, sharing her wisdom about books and writing. I have been fortunate to hear her speak twice, and a smarter, funnier, kinder advocate for children’s literature is not to be found. Yolen’s website is a treasure-trove of information about anything to do with her life and work.

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Commander Toad in Space (CowardMcCann, 1980; illustrated by Bruce Degen) On her website, Jane explains that she got the idea for this series (which are really early readers) when she read an article in her local newspaper about a boy whose frog, “Star Warts”… “had just won a jumping frog contest.” Yolen goes on to point out that “every book is riddled with puns,” which today’s beginning readers are certain to understand, given the popularity of Star Wars. Not all the puns are related to Star Wars, though. Commander Toad and the Planet of the Grapes (CowardMcCann, 1982) gives a nod to another Hollywood classic, and Mr. Hop is suspiciously Spock-like. Even if they don’t get all the allusions, these books (there are seven titles altogether) are tried and true favorites of first and second grade readers.


Encounter (Harcourt Brace, 1992; illustrated by David Shannon) Kirkus described this book as “a poignent account of Columbus’s landfall in the Americas, from a Taino’s point of view.” An important counterpoint to “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue…” this book belongs in every classroom. Yolen’s subtle prose and Shannon’s luminous illustrations ensure that this vanished culture won’t be forgotten.


I love of all of Jane’s poetry, so it was difficult to choose a single book. She and her son, Jason Stemple, have teamed up to create a number of books like Fine Feathered Friends (Boyds Mills, 2004). Yolen uses Stemple’s stunning “photographs as a jumping off place for poetry.” (About.com interview) A masterful poet, Yolen’s poems are full of imagery, humor, and facts about each bird. Haikus, quatrains, and other forms are paired with facts about each bird, including its genus, species, and habitat.


The Girl in the Golden Bower (Little Brown, 1994; illustrated by Jane Dyer) is an original fairy tale that my third graders always loved. Indeed, Book List states that “the lyrical language Yolen employs makes this an excellent choice for reading aloud.” The story contains many elements for the genre, including an evil sorceress, magical objects, spells, and people who are who are transformed into animals.


Here’s a Little Poem: A Very First Book of Poetry (Candlewick and Walker UK; with Andrew Fusek Peters; illustrated by Polly Dunbar) Jane edited this anthology with British author Andrew Fusek Peters. It is one of my favorite collections, full of poems about the everyday lives of young children. My favorite poem in this collection will always and forever be “The No-No Bird,” by Peters. It begins “I’m the no-no bird/that’s right, that’s me/I live up in/the Tantrum Tree.” One year I had a student who said no to everything I tried to read with him until we got to this. I think he suddenly realized that he wasn’t alone in his negativity! He still remembers this poem, and he’s now a passionate reader who’s about to start fifth grade.


How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night? (Scholastic, 2000; illustrated by Mark Teague) This rhyming picture book is probably one of Ms. Yolen’s best known recent works. It has won numerous awards and is the first book in a series which now includes seven titles. These dinosaurs have daily lives exactly like those of their young fans. And while not always the models of appropriate behavior, in the end, they do what’s right and turn out the light. (Sorry, I’ve read this too many times today!)


Letting Swift River Go (Little Brown, 1992; illustrated by Barbara Cooney) My grandmother grew up in Athol, one of the towns near the Quabbin Reservoir, so I was immediately drawn to this book when it was published. It tells the story of how four towns along the Swift River in central Massachusetts were flooded to create a source of drinking water for Boston. Yolen’s text explains this process in a child-friendly way. Indeed, the Los Angeles Times Book Review wrote that “…the words convey the poignancy of change, as well as the healing effects of accepting change and moving on.”  Both the town where I live and the town where I teach are bordered by lakes that were created by flooding sections of our river communities.  I have shared this book with students many times to give them a better understanding of our towns’ history.


Off We Go! (Little Brown, 2000; illustrated by Laurel Molk) In this rhyming picture book for the preschool set, all the animals are off to Grandma’s house. Told in quatrains, each animal’s stanza begins with an action: the mouse goes “tip-toe, tippity toe,” while the frog goes “hip-hop, hippity hop.” I can envision students acting out these stanzas as the story is read.


Perhaps Ms. Yolen’s best known book, Owl Moon (Philomel, 1987) was awarded the Caldecott Medal for John Schoenherr’s gorgeous illustrations. This story of a little girl going owling with her father was a particular favorite of my adventurous boys when they were little. They took great delight in finding the woodland animals Schoenherr hid in the shadows of his woodland scenes. The Horn Book called the text “quiet and reflective,” (Vol. 62, No. 6, p. 790) and Yolen herself considers the text “an unrhymed picture book poem.”

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Piggins (Harcourt, 1987; illustrated by Jane Dyer) is the story of Piggins, a very proper British butler, who keeps everything running smoothly at 47 The Meadows, the very proper Edwardian home of Mr. and Mrs. Reynard. Small mishaps have happened around the house, and Mrs. Reynard’s cursed diamond lavalier is blamed. The Reynards invite their close friends to a dinner party, hoping that they will be able to sell the necklace. A mystery ensues and Piggins saves the day. Humorous allusions abound and although the original readers (i.e. parents) found similarities to Upstairs, Downstairs, today’s parents are more likely to be reminded of Gosford Park. The fun continues in Picnic with Piggins (Harcourt Brace, 1988) and Piggins and the Royal Wedding (Harcourt Brace, 1988). Both are also illustrated with Jane Dyer’s charming watercolors.

I could go on and on, and shudder to think of some of the books I left off this list. What is your favorite Jane Yolen picture book?

Thank you, Ms. Yolen, for your tireless efforts to create this wonderful body of work that will continue to enrich the lives of children and adults alike for years to come.