Poetry Friday: “The Season’s Campaign”

This week, I’ve been thinking about verbs. Specifically gerunds and participles. (Don’t ask why!) The more I thought about this, I decided why wouldn’t you want to be able to turn power-house verbs into nouns and adjectives. What better way to energize your writing? I also wanted to gather some well-crafted lines showing exactly how gerunds and participles work. Joyce Sidman is one of my go-to mentors, and sure enough, I found several verbals, along with many other examples of fine writing, in this gem.

“The Season’s Campaign”
by Joyce Sidman

I. Spring

We burst forth,
crisp green squads
bristling with spears.
We encircle the pond.

III. Fall

All red-winged generals
desert us. Courage
clumps and fluffs
like bursting pillows.

Read the whole poem here.

“…clumps and fluffs like bursting pillows.”

Please be sure to visit Irene Latham at Live Your Poem for the Poetry Friday Roundup.


“You can develop this ability to see. You just have to know what to look for…and where to look.”
Erlin Olafsson *

It seems astonishing to us in the modern age, when microscopes and telescopes have revealed so many wonders, that not that long ago, people didn’t know where butterflies came from. When Maria Merian was born in 1647, a majority of people still believe Aristotle’s theory of “spontaneous generation…that insects did not come from other insects, but from dew, dung, dead animals, or mud.” Growing up “in a household filled with growing things,” Maria became curious and “from youth on [she was] occupied with the investigation of insects.”

Joyce Sidman’s engaging and colorful biography of Maria Merian, The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018), is itself a wonder. Each chapter opens with a poem chronicling the lifecycle of a butterfly. These poems, told from the insect’s perspective, mirror Merian’s own transformation from a curious girl helping in her stepfather’s art studio to a pioneering thinker who lead the way for future scientists. As Sidman writes, “she saw nature as an ever-transforming web of connections—and changed our view of it forever.”

Sidman’s clear, poetic prose, interspersed with Merian’s own words from her field notes, brings Maria and her world to life. The book is lavishly illustrated with Merian’s intricately detailed paintings and Sidman’s own photographs of the metamorphosis cycle. Maps and period paintings of daily life in Germany and the Netherlands provide young readers with clear images of 17th century Europe. Additional information about aspects of daily life at the time, including “Women: Unsung Heroes of the Workforce,” “Science Before Photography,” and “Slavery in Surinam,” among others, place Maria’s life and accomplishments in a broader context. A glossary, timeline, and suggestions for future reading are also included.

At one point, Sidman explains that “Maria had decided that insects belonged to plants and plants to insects. Together, they formed a community of living things that nurtured one another.” In this book, Sidman has woven together many strands from art and science that enhance each other to create a stellar example of what is possible in nonfiction for young readers.

The Girl Who Drew Butterflies is a true gift to readers. Maria Merian was a remarkable woman who overcame the constrictions of society to achieve her dreams, dreams that have left a legacy still with us today. She deserves this book and our children need to hear her story. They need to know that miracles and mysteries are all around them, just waiting to be discovered.

Maria Sibylla Merian [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Teachers can download a study guide here. After students finish The Girl Who Drew Butterflies, be sure to direct them to Jeannine Atkins’s gorgeous novel in verse, Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science.

Please be sure to visit Jen Vincent at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee Moye of Unleashing Readers for more book recommendations.

(quoted in Life on Surtsey: Iceland’s Upstart Island, by Loree Griffin Burns)

#PB10for10: Celebrating Nature

“The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of
the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.”
~ Rachel Carson ~

Thank you to Cathy Mere and Mandy Robek for creating and curating this celebration of picture books. You can read all the lists contributed to this labor of love here. It is teachers like them, and others in this community, who will keep the gift of stories alive for years to come.

There was a story on NPR recently about how science teachers are dealing with push back from students because of fake news. I wasn’t surprised to hear that climate change was a controversial topic, but I was shocked when one teacher said that students were challenging him about the Earth being round. How is such a view even possible? The more I thought about this, the more I began to wonder if such skepticism for long-established scientific facts is related to the decrease in the amount of time kids spend outdoors. Much has been written about “nature deficit disorder,” a term coined in 2005 by Richard Louv in his 2005 book, Last Child in the Woods. I’m sure there are many skeptics about Louv’s theory, but too many students tell me they spend entire weekends inside for me to doubt his theory.

I know reading books is no substitute for spending time outside, but these 10 books should whet anyone’s appetite for sunshine (or moonshine) and fresh air. After all, as Henry David Thoreau once said “we can never have enough of nature.”

1. What Are You Waiting For? by Scott Menchin, illustrated by Matt Phelan (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, 2017)


2. Round by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Taeeun Yoo (Houghton Mifflin Harcort, 2017)

3. Tidy, written and illustrated by Emily Gravett (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2017; first published in Great Britain, 2016)


4. Now, by Antoinette Portis (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, 2017)

5. And Then Comes Summer, by Tom Brenner, illustrated by Jaime Kim (Candlewick Press, 2017)


6. A River, written & illustrated by Marc Martin (Chronicle Books, 2017; first published in Australia in 2015)

7. This Beautiful Day, by Richard Jackson, illustrated by Suzy Lee (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2017)


8. A Perfect Day, by Lane Smith (Roaring Brook Press, 2017)

9. Another Way to Climb a Tree, by Liz Garton Scanlon (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, 2017)


10. The Specific Ocean, by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Katty Maurey (Kids Can Press, 2015)

My previous Picture Book 10 for 10 lists:

2016: Feeding Our Imaginations
2015: Poetry Picture Books
2014: Friendship Favorites
2013: Jane Yolen Picture Books
2012: Wordless Picture Books

IMWAYR: “Before Morning”


Samuel Taylor Coleridge once reminded “clever young poets” that poetry is “the best words in the best order.” Joyce Sidman’s poetry embodies this advice. In her latest book, Before Morning (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016), Sidman has chosen just sixty-six words and crafted them into a lyrical incantation full of love and longing.


A hallmark of Sidman’s poetry is her unexpected metaphors and images, and Before Morning is true to form. We’re instantly lured into “the deep woolen dark” where “the earth turns to sugar/and all that is heavy/turns light.”  A deceptively simple rhyme scheme is almost “hidden from sight,” but adds to this book’s rhythm and beauty.

Beth Krommes‘s scratchboard and watercolor illustrations give a marvelous depth to Sidman’s poem and resonate in unexpected ways. Sidman herself has said that the illustrations were “a complete surprise.” Krommes, who has illustrated two of Joyce’s earlier books, Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006) and Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011), provides a setting that is instantly recognizable to readers: the hustle and bustle of daily life. Children will want to pore over the details of this family’s life and will find surprises on every page.

In her author’s note, Joyce explains that Before Morning is “an invocation—a poem that invites something to happen.” She goes on to encourage readers to think about their own wishes and find the best words for them.

I tried to find the best words I could to express how much I love this book. My wish is for Joyce Sidman and Beth Krommes to continue collaborating and creating stunning picture books like Before Morning.

Please be sure to visit Jen Vincent at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee Moye of Unleashing Readers for more book recommendations.

Poetry Friday: Slipping into Summer Mode


Summer. Thoughts turn to mornings of clearing away the clutter of a busy school year and lazy afternoons with a book, days at the beach, adventures near and far. But most of all, TIME to write! It’s been a slow transition for me this year, though, as I’ve been writing curriculum and taking care of other work obligations that seem to have no end. I’ve been de-cluttering like mad, but my writing has come in fits and starts and feels stale and stilted. The best remedy for this? Read poetry, of course!

So I revisited one of my favorite anthologies from the past few years, Firefly July (Candlewick Press, 2014). This entire collection, selected by Paul B. Janeczko and brilliantly illustrated by Melissa Sweet, radiates joy. On every page, poets surprise and delight with perfect images and metaphors. “A Happy Meeting”, by Joyce Sidman, is just one example.


Joyce’s poetry always gives me a jump start, and I remembered she has a new book coming out, so I went searching for more about that. As you may know, Before Morning, with illustrations by Beth Krommes, will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in the fall. And although I didn’t find too much about that book, I did find this interview, from 2010, with Julie Danielson at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

At the very bottom of the page, this treasure is waiting:

“How to Find a Poem”
by Joyce Sidman

Wake with a dream-filled head.
Stumble out into the morning,
barely aware of how the sun
is laying down strips of silver
after three days’ rain,
of how the puddles
are singing with green.

Read the rest of the poem here.

Wishing you all sweet, dream-filled summer days! Please be sure to visit Tabatha Yeatts at The Opposite of Indifference for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

Poetry Friday: Hello from Minneapolis!


This morning I’m in Minneapolis for NCTE’s Annual Convention. I’m looking forward to seeing poetry friends old and new at the Children’s Book Award Luncheon tomorrow, where Marilyn Singer will be honored with the Excellence in Poetry for Children Award.

Many wonderful poets live in Minnesota, so I thought it would be fun to do a mini-round up of three of my favorite poets from this beautiful state.


First up is Laura Purdie Salas. Laura has written two picture book poetry collections, and her work has appeared in many anthologies, including the stunning new National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry. Last year I had the honor of writing the activity guide for Laura’s Wacky, Wild, and Wonderful: 50 State Poems, part of her “Painless Classroom Poems” series. Laura graciously allowed me to share these poems with you today.

“Minnesota: The Birth of Old Man River”

A lake creates a lazy stream
That flows through pines and slips away,
Then picks up barges, logs, and steam,
Becomes a mighty waterway.

Walk on rocks across this sliver,
Cross the current, slow and mild.
It will grow to Old Man River
Though for now it’s still a child.

© Laura Purdie Salas, 2015

“Things to Do If You Are a Tree”
by Laura Purdie Salas

Wake up to geese honks and puddle splashes.
Grow a leafy shirt.
Hug birds’ nests and lost kittens.
Stretch toward summer sun.
Shade the backyard.
Drink plenty of rain.
Gulp nitrogen from the soil.
Eat a kite for dessert.
Dance with the wind.
Knit a scarlet fall sweater.
Drop your leaves to protect chipmunks and snakes.
Set your alarm clock for spring.
Settle in for a snowy winter sleep.

© Laura Purdie Salas

Joyce Sidman, a past recipient of NCTE’s Excellence in Poetry for Children Award, was born in Connecticut, but now calls Minnesota home. Her gorgeous picture book poetry collections have won numerous awards and honors.

by Joyce Sidman

I grow in places
others can’t,

where wind is high
and water scant.

I drink the rain,
I eat the sun;

before the prairie winds
I run.

Read the rest here.

Although she’s not a children’s poet, many of Joyce Sutphen‘s poems evoke the beauty of nature and are very accessible to young readers. Sutphen is currently Minnesota’s Poet Laureate.

“Some Glad Morning”
by Joyce Sutphen

One day, something very old
happened again. The green
came back to the branches,
settling like leafy birds
on the highest twigs;
the ground broke open
as dark as coffee beans.

The rest of the poem can be found here.

Please be sure to visit Tricia Stohr-Hunt’s lovely blog, The Miss Rumphius Effect, for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

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: Joyce Sidman’s “First Life”


I’m immersed in a poetry project that is challenging me in every way imaginable, so I’ve been reading stacks of poetry books for guidance and inspiration. Over the past week, I’ve returned to Joyce Sidman’s Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature’s Survivors (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2010) again and again, savoring Sidman’s masterful use of language and form.

The book’s opening poem, “First Life” has become one of my favorites.


Screen Shot 2015-07-08 at 1.29.26 PM

This screen shot comes the excellent Teacher’s Guide Joyce wrote, which is available here.

Sidman finds beauty and wonder in all these species, from the lowliest bacteria to wolves, sharks, and humans. The poems in this collection truly are celebrations of  these survivors. In her author’s note, Sidman tells readers that “…99% of all species that have ever existed are now extinct…the ones who made it, and are thriving, are indeed remarkable.

Please be sure to visit Katie at The Logonauts for the Poetry Friday Round Up.

Poetry Friday: What Does A Seashell Know?


My grandmother gave me my first seashell when I was about five years old. Since then, these treasures from the sea have fascinated me. My grandmother was not a sentimental person; she endured many hardships, including raising three children through the Depression, during her long life. But she was a generous person, not only with material objects, but also with her time, and especially her knowledge. An eighth-grade graduate, she nevertheless was a storehouse of information which she willingly and often shared with her family. Rachel Carson once said that “if a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.” My grandmother was this person to me.

The red helmet shell my grandmother gave me when I was five.
The red helmet shell my grandmother gave me when I was five.

When she became bedridden in her late eighties, my mother, sister, cousins, and I faced the daunting task of emptying her house. Most of the shells that I had loved studying as a child became mine. I’ve shared them with my kids and my students, and I have them scattered throughout my home. An arrangement here, a basket there, a single magnificent conch on a table. I think of my grandmother every time I look at them.

So when Michelle, of Today’s Little Ditty, announced Joyce Sidman’s challenge two weeks ago to write a “Deeper Wisdom” poem, I didn’t even have to think about the subject of my poem. But I had so many ideas, and I really struggled with this. There are many earlier, very different versions. As I worked on this today, I realized that the title really should  be “What Do Mollusks Know?” but that doesn’t have the same appeal, does it?

What Do Seashells Know?

What Do Seashells Know?

To turn their bones inside out,

and spin a swirling castle,

armed with turrets and spikes.

What Do Seashells Know?

To nestle within lustrous walls,

tinged pink, like the sky at dawn,

safe inside their sea-borne home.

© Catherine Flynn, 2015

My collection of conchs.
My collection of conchs.

Please be sure to visit Tara at A Teaching Life for the Poetry Friday Round Up!

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