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!

Slice of Life: Ode to Microbes


Each month, I look forward  to the ditty challenge on Michelle Heidenrich Barnes’s blog. But when Diana Murray, August’s featured author, challenged Michelle’s readers to “write a poem about an unlikely hero,” I was stumped.

Then I heard Robert Krulwich interview Ed Yong about his new book, I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life (Ecco, 2016) at the Strand Bookstore. Within minutes I knew I’d found my hero.


That turned out to be the easy part. Yong’s book makes it clear that microbes are endlessly fascinating, but they are also endlessly complex. The more we learn about them, the more apparent it is that they play a vital role in our existence. They deserve high praise. Here is the latest draft of my attempt to give it to them.

Pasteuria ramosa spores By Dieter Ebert, Basel, Switzerland (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Pasteuria ramosa spores By Dieter Ebert, Basel, Switzerland (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Ode to Microbes

Despite your microscopic size
you have tremendous power.
Somehow you’ve managed to colonize
every human, hummingbird, and flower.

No habitat’s too hostile,
you flourish everywhere.
And though some may think you’re vile,
you deserve a trumpet fanfare.

The jobs you do are myriad.
Research uncovers more each day.
Your relationships are spirited,
with both symbionts and prey.

The work you do inside our gut
helps digest our food.
On our skin, any scrape or cut
heals faster thanks to your multitudes.

So sing a song to microbes
and their endless variation.
Thank you, mighty microbes,
for propelling our creation.

© Catherine Flynn, 2016

Thank you to StaceyDanaBetsyBeth, KathleenDeb, Melanie, and Lisa for creating this community and providing 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.

Summer Memories


This post is part of “DigiLit Sunday,” hosted by Margaret Simon at Reflections on the Teche. Please be sure to visit her there to read more Digilit Sunday contributions.

It’s taken me a few weeks to get back into the routine of these Sunday posts. I thought Margaret’s invitation to choose our own topic this week was a good opportunity for me to share my contribution to Carol Varsalona’s “Summerscapes” gallery.

When I was a kid, my family and I spent our summer vacations camping with friends in Saunderstown, Rhode Island. Our daily routine always included a visit to Beavertail Point on Conanicut Island (also known as Jamestown). We explored tide pools, collected shells, and watched ships and airplanes from the nearby Quonset Point Naval Air Station.

Earlier this summer, my sister and I spent an afternoon at Beavertail, reminiscing about those distant days. Our visit inspired this poem:

Sky melts into seaSurf crashes onto rocky shoreBeneath a rose-strewn bluff

I took this photo of the view from the very tip of Beavertail Point, then converted it into a watercolor using the Waterlogue app. The border and text of my poem were added using Canva. I’ve used Canva to create similar combinations of images and poetry, but I’d never used a Waterlogue image. The process was fairly straightforward. Aside from writing the poem, I think my biggest challenge was choosing a color for the border! One of my goals for the coming school year is to have students create similar images, pairing their photos with the poetry they inspired. Stay tuned for more about this!

Revision: Finding the Best Words

By Herkulaneischer Meister via Wikimedia Commons
By Herkulaneischer Meister via Wikimedia Commons

“Poetry: The best words in the best order”
~ Samuel Taylor Coleridge ~

Many writers rank revision right up there with root canals and colonoscopies, especially beginning writers. They’ve struggled to get their words down and now you’re asking them to change them?!? Or maybe they’ve hit upon a rhyme they think is perfect. Until you ask them what it means. Then they have to admit they really don’t know, but they like the way it sounds.

The magic of word processing has made the labor of revision much less overwhelming, but still it’s often hard for writers to let go of their words. (“Kill your darlings,” William Faulkner advised.)

This week I was working with a fifth grade student on a poem that had promise. His opening line had a nice rhythm and the second line had an effective repetition. Then came two lines he was really proud of. They rhymed, but he achieved that rhyme through weak, almost meaningless word choice that would stop readers in their tracks.

I began our conversation by reminding him that poems don’t have to rhyme. We had read many poems over the past week, immersing ourselves in persona poems and poems of address. A few rhymed, but most didn’t. Then I asked him to explain the lines to me, hoping he’d use some more effective vocabulary in his explanation. We spent a few minutes talking about what people often say when they lose things. (His poem was about an explorer searching for, but never finding, gold.) I asked him how he thought the explorer felt after expending all that time and energy for nothing.

Feeling like the explorer, I was getting frustrated trying to uncover a nugget of anything that made sense, but still coming up empty-handed. I tried hard not to put words in his mouth, but it was clear he didn’t have the vocabulary to say what he wanted to say. In the end, with the help of a thesaurus and a rhyming dictionary, he found the words he was looking for, even though I still had to explain some of the meanings to him. Was that cheating? I hope not. Because I think he learned some valuable lessons in the process. Now he has a better understanding of the words “sorrow” and “woe.” More importantly, he recognized how much better his poem sounded after making changes. His hard work of revision paid off.

What lessons were there for me in this whole process? I considered flat out banning rhymes in our next round of poems, but that limits student choice, doesn’t it? Maybe a better approach would be to study poems with rhyme more closely to discover what makes them work. And as always, it comes down to more writing. Because the more we write, the better the chance we’ll find the best word, and have the skills to put them in the best order.

Every Sunday, Margaret Simon of Reflections on the Teche invites teachers and writers to reflect on digital literacy, teaching, and writing. Please visit her there to read more about revision.

DigiLit Sunday

Slice of Life: Playing with Haiku


“Attentiveness is your main tool in life.”
~ Jim Harrison ~

There is a kaleidoscope sitting on my desk this afternoon. When I saw it in the store, it reminded   me of one my grandmother had at her house when I was little. So I bought it. I also thought my nephews would have fun with it when they visit.

When I got it home, I held it up to the light to watch the colorful patterns unfold. The plastic beads reminded me of snowflakes, but because they’re colorful, they also reminded me of flowers. This seemed like the spark of a poem to me.

I wrote several drafts, but wasn’t happy with them. Sometimes when I’m stuck, I read a few poems or flip through books about writing to clarify my thoughts. In her book Writing Toward Home: Tales and Lessons to Find Your Way (Heinemann, 1995), Georgia Heard writes “the beauty of haiku is its brevity; it teaches you to use words more clearly and truthfully.

Here is my attempt to “spin [my] observations…as quickly and accurately as possible.”

Colorful snowflakes
blossom like flowers inside
my kaleidoscope.

This does capture my impression pretty accurately. Haiku isn’t my favorite form, but once I start thinking about them, they pop into my head. Here are a few more:

White birds swoop and swerve
over the river at dawn,
eyes peeled for a meal.

Warmed by bright sunshine
lilac buds grow fat and green,
chasing gray away.

By photo taken by H. Pellikka (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By photo taken by H. Pellikka (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
I originally wrote this final haiku two years ago, but I wanted to share it again:

Slices of life:
Pieces of hearts on the page.
Stories connect us.

Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnnaBeth, Kathleen, and Deb for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each Tuesday throughout the year and every day during the month of March. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

Slice of Life: Prospecting for Poetry


I’m still in Virginia visiting my son, so writing time has been limited. But I did have time to go out for a walk this morning.

Taking walks is like going on a treasure hunt. I never know what I’ll find or what I’ll see that will spark an idea or a line of what might turn out to be a poem. I have my phone with me so I can take pictures so images will be fresh in my mind. My phone is new and I’m not completely used to it yet, so I ended up taking short videos as well as photos. This is a happy accident because now I have sounds to go along with my images.

Objects I found on my walk this morning.
Objects I found on my walk this morning.

It’s quite breezy here this morning, and any left over leaves from last fall were skittering across the road as I began my walk. Forsythia is in bloom, crab apple, pear, and weeping cherry trees are blossoming, grass is turning green, and magnolias are loaded with fat buds. Birds are busy doing what birds do: singing, soaring, feathering, flocking.

IMG_0018  IMG_0039

         IMG_0050 IMG_0057

When I get home to Connecticut, I’ll sift through these ideas and images, like a miner panning for gold. I’m pretty sure there’s a nugget of something bigger in here. 

This is a perfect activity for students of all ages. Every season is unique, but what better time than spring to go out and see nature in all its glory, when, in the words of Mary Oliver, “the world offers itself to [the] imagination” of poets young and old.

Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnnaBeth, Kathleen, and Deb for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each Tuesday throughout the year and every day during the month of March. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

Poetry Friday: Found Object Poetry


I’ve been participating in Laura Shovan’s Found Object Poem Project this month, and although I’ve missed two or three days, my brain is certainly getting a workout! It’s fascinating to see the wide variety of poems people have written in response to the same object. Even poems with similar word choice have very different tones.

My poem for today was written in response to this Found Object, shared by Linda Baie:


Although this is clearly not a corncob doll, it reminded me instantly of Little House in the Big Woods, and Laura’s corncob doll, Susan.

Bouncing along this rutted trail
toward a great unknown,
I clutch my dolly, Susan,
keeping her corncob body close.
Ma saved one cob
from last summer’s harvest
to make this dolly, just for me
after I helped her husk
the bushels of corn
Pa hauled from the field.
Corn for us to eat,
corn to grind into meal,
corn to feed our brown swiss, Bess,
so she’d share her sweet, creamy milk.

Ma sewed a little dress from scraps of calico
soft as a cloud,
blue as the summer sky,
sprigged with pink and white daisies
like those in our yard.
Fashioned a tiny muslin bonnet,
just like mine,
it’s wide pleated brim shielding our faces
from the blazing sun
as it leads us westward,
toward our new home.

© Catherine Flynn, 2016

You can read more Found Object poems at Laura’s blog. Also, please be sure to visit Kimberely Moran at Written Reflections for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

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

Slice of Life: Writing Zenos



A couple of weeks ago, Michelle Heidenrich Barnes featured an interview with poet J. Patrick Lewis on her blog. Lewis challenged Michelle’s readers to write a “zeno,” a poetic form he invented. Inspired by the mathematical “hailstone sequence,” a zeno, is “a 10-line poem with 8,4,2,1,4,2,1,4,2,1 syllables that rhyme abcdefdghd.”

I think students will have fun with this form, so I spent some time playing with zenos today. They are quite a challenge! Here’s the example I came up with to share with my students before they try their own:

In October apples ripen,

orchards are full.

Fruit hangs


Plump, juicy macs,



with morning dew.

Fun to


© Catherine Flynn, 2014

Winslow Homer, 1878 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Winslow Homer, 1878 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Thank you to Michelle and J. Patrick Lewis for this challenge! And thank you StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for hosting Slice of Life each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.