IMWAYR: Tallulah’s Tutu & More


When I was eight, I began ballet lessons. I had been dancing around the living room for years, and I think my mother thought it would be easier on the furniture. (The arms of our sofa made excellent alps when the Von Trapp family had to flee the Nazis in The Sound of Music.) I did love the leotards, especially the ones with satiny fronts that we wore for our recitals, but I didn’t love the disciplined practice. I was also a bit of a klutz.

Tallulah, a budding ballerina who is the star of five picture books by Marilyn Singer, is not a klutz and she does love to practice. From the moment we meet Tallulah, in Tallulah’s Tutu (Clarion Books, 2011), we know that she is going to be “a great ballerina.”

                51l67TKQ9JL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_     51svKus8mGL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_    51OSltX2fgL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_

Tallulah’s enthusiasm is irrepressible and shines through in Alexandra Boiger’s watercolors. Tallulah doesn’t understand, though, why she doesn’t get a tutu when she begins her lessons. When her teacher explains that “it takes time and a lot of practice to earn your tutu,” her disappointment causes her to have a tantrum and she gives up ballet. But she really does love ballet. She dances around the neighborhood and through the supermarket. Eventually, Tallulah returns to her lessons and earns her tutu.

In a previous post, I’ve written about A Mindset for Learning (Heinemann, 2015) by Kristine Mraz and Christine Hertz. Throughout her five adventures, Tallulah exhibits all the characteristics of a person with “a mindset for learning.” Although Tallulah suffers disappointments in each book, her optimism and persistence always pay off in the end.  She demonstrates resilience and flexibility as she faces challenges. Also, Tallulah learns much from those around her who show her empathy when she feels most defeated.

                                    17080432          516IdpHBveL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_

Tallulah may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but she was exactly what I needed to lure one of my students, a young ballerina who hated to read with a very fixed minset, into the world of books. We have talked about how Tallulah responds to the problems she’s faced with and how we can learn from Tallulah’s resilience and flexibility. While I still have a way to go with this student, I’ve earned her trust by sharing Tallulah’s stories with her and she’s making progress. We sometimes return to these stories if she needs a break or is having a particularly bad day. After all, it’s hard not to feel better after spending time with Tallulah.

You can learn more about Tallulah and her adventures here. Please be sure to visit Jen Vincent at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee Moye at Unleashing Readers to find out what others are reading.


Poetry Friday: In the Presence of Birds


My One Little Word for 2016 is present. I chose this word mainly to help me stop procrastinating, and so far it is helping. But a month after the fact, I’ve realized that another meaning of the word, being mindful and observant of the here-and-now, is also fitting. After all, observation is the work of poets (and teachers, but that’s another story!). This week I came across two poems that are full of presence, and also happen to be about birds. 

by Judith Moffet

It comes when you’re not looking. Has been there
Before you noticed. Blazes forth between
The hickory’s new leaves, their tender green
Massy above you flopped into a chair,
Hot from the garden with an aching back.
Two phoebes flit from tree to eave to tree
Feeding the tyrant nestlings you can’t see;
You watch them labor, mind and body slack

Read the rest of the poem here.

I also found this gem by Marilyn Singer, torn from the pages of Storyworks, in a folder of poems at school:


Please be sure to visit Tricia Stohr-Hunt at 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: Abraham Lincoln


Poetry is an excellent way to introduce a subject. Concise, yet packed with meaning, poetry can convey the essence of a topic or subject in just a few lines. Often there are questions between those lines, pathways to a deeper knowledge and understanding of a subject.

Marilyn Singer’s poem about Abraham Lincoln, from her collection of poems about our presidents, Rutherford B., Who Was He?: Poems About Our Presidents (Disney-Hyperion, 2013), is just such a poem. 

Abraham Lincoln
(Whig, Republican, 1861-1865)

By stovepipe hat, beard, large size,
       he’s the one we recognize.

By addresses of great note,
       he’s the one we often quote.

By leading through war—wrenching, bloody—
       he’s the one we always study.

By exercising his high station
       to proclaim emancipation,

then meeting such a tragic fate,
       he’s the one we rank as great.

“I am a slow walker, but I never walk back.”

Abraham Lincoln, 1809-1865

© Marilyn Singer, 2013
Shared with permission of the author

By the time kids are in 4th or 5th grade, they know who Abraham Lincoln is, but what is the address we often quote? Which war? What is emancipation? These are great introductory questions to a study of Lincoln and the Civil War.

   61XgPN6M6wL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_ 51XtmW4iK3L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_

Wednesday was the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s death. Our country was in the midst of celebrating the end of that “wrenching, bloody” war when John Wilkes Booth’s assassination of Lincoln plunged us into mourning once again. Young readers get a sense of how profoundly people grieved from Robert Burleigh’s Abraham Lincoln Comes Home (Macmillan, 2008). Burleigh tells the story of a boy and his father, up long before dawn, to travel “miles away” so they could view Lincoln’s funeral train and pay their respects to the fallen president. Wendell Minor’s illustrations depict crowds standing by bonfires along the tracks, waiting to get a glimpse of the train. This scene played out over and over again on the 13 day, 1,600 mile journey from Washington, D.C. to Springfield, Illinois, which is described in more detail in Burleigh’s afterward. There is also a map showing the route the train traveled, as well as a list of interesting facts.

Lincoln’s death inspired some Walt Whitman’s most memorable poetry. Here are the first lines of “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.”

When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d,
And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,
I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.
Ever-returning spring, trinity sure to me you bring,
Lilac blooming perennial and drooping star in the west,
And thought of him I love.
Read the rest of the poem here.
Finally, I’d like to share another poem from our 50 States Poem Project. Although this poem was inspired by Laura Purdie Salas‘s poem about Arlington National Cemetery, it seem a fitting way to close this post.


Please be sure to visit Robyn Hood Black at Life on the Deckle Edge for today’s Poetry Friday Round Up.

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?


My colleagues and I have been busy teaching and revising informational writing units of study. We’ve been concerned, though, about having enough good mentor texts for our Kindergarten through second grade students to emulate. A traditional five-paragraph essay is NOT our goal, yet an organizational structure is needed so they don’t write pages and pages of random facts. This week I found two informational texts with unique structures that will be inspiring mentor texts for young writers.

Why Do Birds Sing? (Penguin Young Readers, 2004) by Joan Holub and illustrated by Anna DiVito is a question-and-answer book. Holub anticipates any question kids might have about birds, then responds with brief, informative answers. DiVito’s cartoon-like illustrations are paired with color photos that provide close up views of many familiar species.


This book is a terrific mentor text. Children have many questions about subjects they’re interested in, and this question-and-answer structure is a perfect way for them to organize their research findings. Text features in Why Do Birds Sing? are limited to photographs and labels, but the photos have been thoughtfully chosen to illustrate and/or support the information being presented.

Holub and DiVito have also teamed up to create Why Do Dogs Bark?, Why Do Cats Meow?, and others that answer these urgent questions that all kids ask.


Caterpillars, by Marilyn Singer (EarlyLight Books, 2011) is a fact-filled book lavishly illustrated with close-up color photographs of both familiar and unfamiliar caterpillars. What I really love about this book, though, is its unique structure. Poet Singer (who was recently awarded the National Council of Teachers of English Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children) begins the book with a poem introducing caterpillars. Here is the first stanza:

Caterpillars smooth,

Caterpillars hairy.

Munching in a giant bunch,

Lunching solitary.

The poem is followed by a page devoted to elaborating each line, providing young readers with all sorts of interesting facts. Each page is also filled with gorgeous color photographs showing examples of the species or behavior described in the text. There is also a quiz, a matching game (caterpillar-to-moth/butterfly), glossary, resource list, index, and more.

Caterpillars, which was named a National Science Teachers Association Outstanding Trade Book for Science in 2012, is listed by the publisher as being appropriate for K-2 students. But I think older students would also enjoy Singer’s informative, accessible writing style and have fun creating their own poem to organize their informational writing.

Both of these books are excellent mentors for a whole class book on a single topic, or for individuals writing about a topic of their choice. Best of all, they are engaging nonfiction texts that can be enjoyed as read-alouds or as independent reading by all elementary age students.

Don’t forget 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!

Poetry Friday: Happy Birthday, Marilyn Singer!


I have been a fan of Marilyn Singer’s work for many years. Her first book of poetry, Turtle in July (Simon & Schuster, 1989) has been a staple in my classroom since I started teaching. Written in the voice of a variety of woodland animals, Singer’s poems and Jerry Pinkey’s realistic illustrations are an irresistible combination.


Over the years, I’ve collected many of Marilyn’s poetry and picture books. And, because I’m fortunate enough to live near her home in Connecticut, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Marilyn on several occasions at our local bookstore. She is always gracious, full of good cheer, and interested to know how I’m using her poems in the classroom.

Footprints on the Earth (Alfred A. Knopf, 2002) is a favorite of third graders. As they learn about rocks, continents, and land forms, these “poems about the earth” offer a different perspective on our world. Filled with a sense of wonder and lyrical, often playful language, children love to listen to and read these poems over and over again.


Out in the country I walk across towns

I’ll never see:

mazy metropolises

under the earth

where rabbits hide from foxes

foxes hide from dogs

full-bellied snakes sleep snugly…

Read the rest of the poem here.

        imgres-1      imgres

First graders (and my inner 6-year old) love the exuberance of the poems in A Stick Is An Excellent Thing (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012). Favorite childhood activities like jumping rope, swinging to the sky, and blowing bubbles are celebrated in this collection. LeUyen Pham’s realistic illustrations are the perfect pairing for these poems that capture the joy of being a kid outside on a summer day.

“A Stick Is An Excellent Thing”

A stick is an excellent thing.

If you find the perfect one,

it’s a scepter for a king.

A stick is an excellent thing.

It’s a magic wand. It’s yours to fling,

to strum a fence, to draw the sun.

A stick is an excellent thing.

If you find the perfect one.

I hope you have a perfect birthday, Marilyn! Thank you for “paying attention to the world around you” and sharing your words of discovery!

Be sure to visit Jama at Jama’s Alphabet Soup for the Poetry Friday Round Up.

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!