Poetry Friday: Finding Beauty

It’s the first Friday of the month, so it’s time for another Sunday Night Swaggers challenge. This month, Molly Hogan challenged us to “find beauty in the ugly” by reinventing “the world around you (or one aspect of it) by shifting your lens to see the beauty in what at first seems to be ugly or unnoteworthy.”

I had a few ideas, but hadn’t gotten far with any of them before I went to NCTE in Baltimore a few weeks ago. There, I attended Georgia Heard, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Ralph Fletcher, and Lester Laminack‘s session, “Seeing the World Like a Poet.” During her part of the presentation, Georgia explained that the job of the poet is to take “the film of ordinary off of everyday objects.”

These words were in my mind the next morning while I was waiting in line to check my coat. My eyes were drawn to a building across the street that was glowing in the bright morning sun. Then, as I turned to give my coat to the attendant, I noticed this:

At first glance, this jumble of hangars is decidedly everyday and unnoteworthy. But take a closer look…

A Wedge of Hangers

Like pinioned swans,
captives on a pond,
a wedge of hangers
wait, silent and still.

Soon each will rise,
basking in the embrace
of coats, grateful
for the support
of their plastic wings.

© Catherine Flynn, 2019

During the same session, Ralph Fletcher shared that “photography uncovers surprises” and that we should “follow where they lead.” As I was writing this poem, I was surprised to learn that a wedge is in fact a collective noun for swans. So even though these hangers aren’t exactly wedge-shaped, I think wedge is the perfect word to describe a group of hangers.

Please be sure to visit my fellow swaggers to see where they found beauty this month:

Molly Hogan @ Nix the Comfort Zone 
Linda Mitchell @ A Word Edgewise
Heidi Mordhorst @ My Juicy Little Universe
Margaret Simon @ Reflections on the Teche

Then be sure to visit Tanita at fiction, instead of lies for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

Poetry Friday: A Poetry-Filled Weekend

Last weekend, I kept pinching myself to make sure I was awake and not in a blissful poetry dream. I was indeed awake and sitting at a table with Georgia Heard, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Janet Wong, and several other amazing poets. Oh, did I mention this table was at Poet’s House in New York City? And that there was a stunning view of the Hudson River right outside the window? It’s all true, but I still have to keep pinching myself.

I can’t begin to share all the wisdom and advice that Rebecca, Georgia, and Janet shared, but here are a few pointers I found helpful and inspiring:

  • Let the image be your guide
  • Your memory is a poet-in-residence in your mind
  • Find wonder in everything you look at
  • Write about what takes your breath away

We drafted many poems. Most of mine aren’t ready to share, but this almost-haiku, inspired by the empty playground in Rockefeller Park, makes me happy.

on a rain-splashed day
puddles tromp through the playground
for their turn on the slide

© Catherine Flynn, 2019

Please be sure to visit Elizabeth Steinglass 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!

Slice of Life: “Poetica Friends”


It’s been quite a challenge to re-enter the real world after spending four glorious days at the Highlights Foundation last week. I had to pinch myself more than once to make sure I was really there, learning about “The Craft and Heart of Writing Poetry for Children” from Rebecca Kai Dotlich and Georgia Heard. I’ve loved the work of these two wise and witty poets for years, so being at this workshop was a real thrill.


My time at Highlights was made even more special because I got to spend time with fellow Slicer Linda Baie. (Read her thoughts about the workshop here.) Poetry Friday pals Robyn Hood Black, Buffy Silverman, Linda Kulp Trout, and Charles Waters were also there, and it was wonderful to meet so many other talented and passionate poets from around the world.

We were immersed in poetry day and night. Everyone shared their own original poetry as well as poems by favorite poets, including several classics by Georgia & Rebecca. Lee Bennett Hopkins visited with us via Skype, sharing his insights and preferences about poetry. “I want children to read poetry that shows them the beauty of the world,” he explained.

WordSong editor extraordinaire, Rebecca Davis, joined us to answer our questions about publishing poetry and to give us a sneak peak at Georgia’s collection of animal poems for two (or more) voices, that will be published in a few years. We were also treated to a preview of  Rebecca’s (Dotlich, edited by Davis) new book with Jane Yolen, Grumbles From the Town. (More about this on Friday.)

And, of course, we wrote poetry. Rebecca and Georgia led us through a variety of exercises each day. My favorite was “The Art of Observational Poetry.” During this exercise, we carefully examined a small stone, first listing our scientific observations about color, shape, texture, and so on. Then we turned those observations into something more poetic. As Georgia explained, “looking carefully and translating your observations into language is the work of a poet.”  Suddenly, my small stone was an asteroid, cratered and misshapen, tumbling through the universe, until the hand of a child plucks it out of its orbit and clutches it close.

It’s not a poem yet, but it has possibilities. Thanks to my new “poetica friends,” I am inspired to “follow the thread” of these words and find the door into their poem.


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.

PB10for10: Feeding Our Imaginations

pb 10 for 10 015

“We believe words can transform the world.”
~ Kwame Alexander ~

Jerry Pinkney, in his acceptance speech for the 2016 Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, proclaimed that he “learned through [his] own creativity that the world was limitless.” The books we share in our classrooms feed the creativity and imagination of children in limitless ways. Here are ten new books filled with beauty and humor that convey the power of observation and imagination.

  1. Surf’s Up! by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Daniel Miyares (North/South Books, 2016)
    “Books are boring”
    So begins this lively back-and-forth between two surfing frogs. Dude is ready to head to the beach, but Bro is engrossed in his book. The story Bro is so engrossed in comes alive through the illustrations, and as he reacts to the action, Dude gets drawn in & wants to know what’s so exciting. Bro won’t tell, so Dude starts reading, abandoning his surf board for a whale of a tale.

    9780735842205_zoom  9780399169137

  2. Daniel Finds a Poem, by Micha Archer (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2016)— Curious because of a sign announcing “Poetry in the Park,” Daniel asks all his animal friends, “What is poetry?” Each animal replies with a poetic description of something important in their habitat. Daniel creates his own poem by stringing their lines together, learning in the process that poetry is everywhere.

  3. One Day, The End: Short, Very Short, Shorter-Than-Ever Stories, by Rebecca Kai Dotlich, illustrated by Fred Koehler (Boyds Mills Press, 2016). When I was first teaching, a common writing assignment was to write a new ending to a story. In this charming book, Rebecca Kai Dotlich offers a variation: “For every story there is a beginning and an end, but what happens in between makes all the difference.” A series of episodes in a young girl’s life unfolds in Dotlich’s spare text. Fred Koehler’s witty illustrations bring these episodes to life. Together, the offer endless storytelling possibilities.

    ODTE-cover   9780399160493

  4. I Hear a Pickle (and Smell, See, Touch, and Taste It, Too!), by Rachel Isadora (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2016) If, as Kwame Alexander tells us, “words can change the world,” we need a whole arsenal of them. This concept book for younger readers is a great introduction to onomatopoeia and what’s all around us to hear (and smell, see, touch and taste) when you open your senses to the world around you.
  5. The Summer Nick Taught His Cats to Read, by Curtis Manley, illustrated by Kate Berube (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2016) It’s a truth universally acknowledged that cats have a mind of their own. So when Nick decides to teach his cats to read, we aren’t surprised they aren’t too cooperative. But Nick is determined. He makes flash cards in the shape of objects, “and Verne got interested.” and is “soon reading new stories all by himself.” Not so Stevenson, who hides whenever Nick approaches with a book. Lo and behold, Stevenson has his own ideas for a story and has drawn all the pictures. The three friends join forces to create “The Tale of One-Eyed Stevenson and the Pirate Gold,” which turns out to be the first of many adventures. The subtle humor and message of this book make it a must-read.

    the-summer-nick-taught-his-cats-to-read-9781481435697_hr    Yaks-YakAnimal-Word-Pairs-by-Linda-Sue-Park

  6.  Yaks Yak: Animal Word Pairs, by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by Jennifer Black Reinhardt. (Clarion Books, 2016) Words are beautiful and have the power transform us, but they are also funny and fun to play with. Clever illustrations contain a subplot and definition for each pair of words, and an afterword lists the origin of each animal name and its matching verb. 

  7. This Is Not a Picture Book, by Sergio Ruzzier (Chronicle Books, 2016) Duck is excited to find a book, but quickly becomes discouraged when he discovers the book has no pictures. Luckily, he has a friend to cheer him on and encourage him to try reading the book anyway. Ruzzier brilliantly illustrates the magic of a book coming to life though his use of color and the gradual introduction of, wait for it, pictures! As Duck discovers he knows some of the words, he realizes that “Some are funny” and “Some are very sad.” The illustrations convey these shifting emotions and moods. A lovely reminder that words are magical, transformative, and “stay with [us] forever.

    ThisIsNotAPictureBook_FrontCover100    41Z2KyGc1hL._SX353_BO1,204,203,200_

  8. Ideas Are All Around, by Philip C. Stead (Roaring Book Press, 2016) At the opening of this book, an unnamed narrator tells us “I have to write a story today. That is my job. I write stories. But today I don’t have any ideas.” How often have we all heard that? To unlock his stories, Stead takes his narrator (him?) on a walk around his neighborhood where ideas are indeed “all around.” The blend of photographs with “monoprint techniques and collage” add to the child-like quality of this book and make it accessible to kids. A wonderful testament to the fact that ideas for stories don’t have to be fanciful.

  9. The Storyteller, by Evan Turk (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2016) This rich and nuanced book draws on millennia of storytelling traditions, including frame stories and Scheherazade to weave a warning to the modern world of what’s at stake when”One by one, the storytellers were drowned out by noise…” and stopped telling stories. This beautifully illustrated book reminds us that our stories are as vital and nourishing to our lives as water.

    the-storyteller-9781481435185_hr  51Dqp6R3NaL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_

  10.  The Whisper, by Pamela Zagarenski (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015) Pamela Zagarenski is known for her whimsical illustrations full of fanciful crowns, somber tigers, and buzzing bees. These elements are all present and accounted for in The Whisperas is a clever subplot to the main story. “A little girl who loved stories” is given a “magical book of stories” by her teacher. Excited to read this treasure, the little girl hurries home, not realizing that the words are escaping out of the book as she runs. Bitterly disappointed by “the wordless book,” she soon hears a whisper telling her she “can imagine the words…and stories.” Slowly, the girl’s stories unfold and become more elaborate as she finds her voice and a storyteller is born.

  11. Some Writer!: The Story of E.B. White, by Melissa Sweet (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016) At 176 pages, this biography is not a picture book, but it is filled with Melissa Sweet’s loving illustrations. It is sure to inspire older readers and writers to “be on the lookout for wonders.” When I was at the International Literacy Association in Boston earlier this summer, I happened upon the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt booth when an author signing was taking place. I wasn’t familiar with the author or the book, but there weren’t too many people in line, so I joined the queue. As I was waiting, one of the sales reps and I started chatting. There was a poster for Melissa Sweet’s new biography of E.B. White, which is coming out in October. I had already scoured the list of author signings to see if Sweet would be at the conference, but alas, she wasn’t on the schedule. So I asked the rep if there were any ARCs of Some Writer! hiding in the booth. To my astonishment and delight, there were! When the rep handed me the book, I felt that I had been given a great treasure, just like the little girl in The Whisper. I promised the rep I would write about the book. I will write a longer review closer to the actual publication date, but felt this list wouldn’t be complete without a mention of this book.

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.

My previous Picture Book 10 for 10 lists:

2015: Poetry Picture Books
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: A Spring Poetry Retreat


Last week I was fortunate enough to spend four days at the Highlights Foundation in northeastern Pennsylvania to study the craft of poetry with celebrated poet Rebecca Kai Dotlich. To say that this was an incredible experience is an understatement. To be immersed in poetry for four days, and to learn from a master poet, as well as from my fellow students, was an incredible gift. I kept pinching myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.

Rebecca is the author of many poetry collections, including In the Spin of Things (WordSong, 2010), and, with Jane Yolen, Grumbles in the Forest (WordSong, 2013). Her poems have appeared in many anthologies, including The Poetry Friday Anthology (2012), Falling Down the Page (Roaring Brook Press, 2009), and My America: A Poetry Atlas of the United States (Simon & Schuster, 2000). Rebecca’s graciousness and warmth put us all at ease, and she shared dozens of poems, both her own and by other children’s poets, as she taught us about the craft of poetry.

Stressing the importance of looking at objects in a new way, Rebecca sent us outside to collect anything that struck our fancy. She encouraged us to look at our object from different angles, with a magnifying glass, to think about its color and texture, in order to find those “precise details” that help make poetry powerful.

We learned about the power of revision when Rebecca Davis, a senior editor at Boyds Mills Press and WordSong, joined us on Saturday afternoon. She and Rebecca took turns reading drafts and revised versions of poems from an upcoming collection. Some of the revisions were subtle; some were significant, but all of the revisions improved the poems. Ms. Davis reiterated the message Rebecca had been stressing throughout our time at Highlights: “Work at your craft.” Nothing can replace the time you put in to drafting and revising, then revising again to “make your work as tight as possible.”

Another highlight of this Poetry Retreat was a Skype visit with poet Janet Wong, who co-edits the Poetry Friday Anthologies with Sylvia Vardell. Janet talked about her path to becoming a poet, as well as steps we could take to improve our chances of being published. Janet also emphasized the importance of writing daily. She encouraged us to “write a poem a day; it’s a sit up for your brain.”

It was easy to be inspired at the Highlights Foundation in the seclusion of the Pennsylvania countryside, but it was also impossible not to bring that inspiration home with me. One of the last pieces of advice Rebecca gave us on Sunday morning was to “let your imagination feed you.” Thank you, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Janet Wong, Rebecca Davis, Kent Brown, and everyone at the Highlights Foundation for feeding my imagination and my soul!


Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

Poetry Friday: NCTE Poetry Rock Stars


“Poetry is about loving the world and showing that love through words.”

Irene Latham

I’m still basking in the glow of NCTE. Many of the sessions I attended were about integrating poetry into the curriculum. I feel fortunate that I’ve gotten to know many of the poets and teachers who presented during these sessions through blogging on Poetry Friday. Meeting them face-to-face was a highlight of my weekend at the Gaylord. Their wisdom, humor and generosity have made me a better writer and a better teacher. I use their books with students every day.

During her portion of the CLA Master Class, Poetry Across the Curriculum, Heidi Mordhorst described her vision of integrating the curriculum as synergy. The definition she provided, “the interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects” not only characterizes what happens when we share poetry with our students. It embodies the spirit of the Poetry Friday community, a community I am so thankful for.

So many wonderful poems were shared during these sessions (thank you, Janet & Sylvia, for all the postcards!), I couldn’t choose just one to share today. I also wanted to express how grateful I am to these women. So I’ve stitched together a thank you of sorts using their own words.

What is beauty?

Whatever you believe it to be. (1)

To listen, to look,

to think, and to learn. (2)

Opening your heart and sharing your feelings, (3)

with plenty of space to dream. (4)

I’m glad you are my secret friend. (5)

We’re just a link away. (6)

You fold the memory

into your hearts, (7)

turn outside to inside

stranger to friend, (8)

and look inside yourself to find

the good I see in you. (9)

I’m a piece of the sky

in a circle of sun, (10)

But none of it would matter much

without the likes of you. (11)

Thank you to all the poets whose work inspired this poem!

1: Tricia Stohr-Hunt, whose blog, The Miss Rumphius Effect, was one of the first I ever read, continues to be an incredible resource for poetry. These lines are from Tricia’s poem, “Beauty”.

2: Janet Wong, co-creator with Sylvia Vardell, of The Poetry Friday Anthologies. These books are amazing resources. Janet’s poem, “Liberty” provided these lines.

3: Irene Latham‘s newest book, Dear Wandering Wildebeest and Other Poems from the Watering Hole (Millbrook Press, 2014) has quickly become a favorite with my students. These lines are from an acrostic Irene shared during the session “Poem As Storyteller: Collaborating With Authors to Write Narrative Poetry.”

4. Sara Holbrook and Michael Salinger‘s session, “Writing to Increase Literacy and Learning Across the Curriculum” was full of practical suggestions for incorporating poetry into the school day. This line is from her poem, “On Becoming Proficient,” which can be found in Zombies Evacuate the School (WordSong, 2010).

5. Heidi Mordhorst is a teacher, poet, and blogger whose work I have only recently become familiar with, but I’m looking forward to reading and sharing more of Heidi’s poetry. This line can be found in Heidi’s poem, “Funday, Imaginary 1st”.

6. The poetry of Laura Purdie Salas is a staple of my classroom. I’ve been sharing her poetry with students for years and was thrilled to meet her at NCTE! This line is from Laura’s poem, “Just Like That”.

7. Georgia Heard is another rock star of poetry I was excited to meet. Georgia’s books about Awakening the Heart and For the Good of the Sun and the Earth have had a profound influence on my teaching. This line is from her poem “Ars Poetica”, which can be found in The Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School.

8. Amy Ludwig VanDerwater’s blog, The Poem Farm, is a treasure-trove of resources for teachers and poets. This line is from “First Practice”, one of Amy’s contributions to the The Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School.

9. I have long been a fan of Eileen Spinelli‘s picture book, Sophie’s MasterpieceBut I was less familiar with her poetry. These lines are from Eileen’s powerful “Poem for a Bully” which can be found in The Poetry Friday AnthologyK-5 edition.

10. I met Rebecca Kai Dotlich at NCTE almost by accident. We were each waiting for a friend, and, without having any idea who she was, I introduced myself. She was very friendly and introduced herself as Rebecca. We chatted, and through the course of the conversation I realized that I was casually talking with the author of some of my favorite poems for children. These lines are from an all-time favorite, “A Circle of Sun”.

11. Mary Lee Hahn‘s blog, A Year of Reading, is another inspirational resource. She and Franki Sibberson have set the standard for excellence in blogs by teachers. Mary Lee’s passion for teaching and poetic skills continue to amaze me. Mary Lee’s poem “Our Wonderful World” is the source of these lines.

Thank you again to every one of you! Thank you also to Anastasia Suen for hosting 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.

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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.

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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!