Friday, October 27, 2017

Feeling the Beat, Tapping My Feet

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit the ever-inspired and inspiring Brenda at Friendly Fairy Tales for Roundup. I'm pleased to share with you today FEEL THE BEAT: Dance Poems that Zing from Salsa to Swing by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Kristi Valiant, brought to us by Penguin Random House.

Just the title makes me want to get up and MOVE! And there's a CD! It includes Marilyn reading the poems to music. I can just see classrooms of kids falling in love with poetry while trying some of these dance moves. Fun!

The book opens with a reverso (of course!):

All Over the World, 
Dancing is Joy

All over the world,
dancing is
Move your feet.
feel the beat,
the rhythm.
a partner.
your shoes.
All you can lose are
the blues.
Dance, dance away.
Now's your chance!
What do you say?

Joy is Dancing
All Over the World

What do you say?
Now's your chance.
Dance, dance away
the blues.
All you can lose are
your shoes.
a partner.
the rhythm.
Feel the beat.
move your feet.
is dancing
all over the world!

- Marilyn Singer

... and here is one more favorite from the book:


I merengue,
you merengue.
So does Cousin Marty.
All of us merengue --
when we have a party.
Moving sideways,
turning wrists,
while we do
our pretzel twists.
We sway our hips,
we shift or legs,
like we're whipping
lots of eggs.
We take a little
break and then,
we merengue
once again.

- Marilyn Singer
Happy dancing! And: tis the season for happy Halloween-ing... any Poetry Friday friends dressing up this year?? Do tell in comments. xo

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Scarecrow Season

It's that time of year again... check out this year's crop of scarecrows at Inverness Elementary! It looks like each grade level was perhaps given a theme?

Not sure how it works these days, and must confess a preference for the more varied book-themed scarecrows of a previous year. But these are still creative and fun and a great way to celebrate the season:

TOY STORY friends...




WIZARD OF OZ friends...

 ... and check out the details on the broom -- 
perhaps kids' favorite scenes??

... continuing the Scarecrow theme --


...reading and to play x-box one

playing in Minecraft


soccer science

Love  (my favorite!)


If you give a mouse a cookie...

If you give a moose a muffin...
Thank you students, teachers and benefactors for brightening our community! And finally click to read a poem I wrote called "Scarecrow's Wish." Happy scarecrow season!

Monday, October 23, 2017

When a Dog Writes a Poem

I've just finished A DOG LIKE DAISY by the effervescent Kristin O'Donnell Tubb. The book is told in Daisy's voice, and she is training to be a service dog for a veteran suffering from PTSD.

Daisy sees the world in colors and smells and tastes... for example, "surprises taste like cinnamon."

More than anything, Daisy wants to be useful. Toward the end of the book, there's a chapter entitled "Three Words that Make a Whole Poem."
And that poem is...


Methinks those three words are a poem for any species!

Be sure to check out A DOG LIKE DAISY. It's a quick read, and Kristin's done a great job imagining Daisy's thoughts and motivations. The ending surprised me and made me cry a little... animal stories are the best! I'm excited to share this one with young readers in my life.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Mindfulness for Kids with Kate Coombs

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Leigh Ann at A Day in the Life for Roundup.

I am delighted to share with you today Kate Coombs latest book BREATHE AND BE: A Book of Mindfulness Poems, illustrated by Anna Emilia Laitinen, brought to us by Sounds True.

I am a huge fan of Kate's books -- I wrote a whole middle grade novel (still searching for a publishing home!) after her picture book THE SECRET-KEEPER, and her WATER SINGS BLUE is one of my go-to poetry books. So I was thrilled when she told me about this new book -- and that it should be on the topic of mindfulness... well, how wonderful and fitting! A few years ago I bought myself a subscription to Headspace and began a meditation practice that continues to sustain and teach me. So much of Kate's book reminds me of my practice! Like this tanka:

I watch the stream.
Each thought is a floating leaf.
One leaf is worry,
another leaf is sadness.
The leaves drift softly away.
- Kate Coombs

On Headspace, Andy teaches it from a different vantage point: thoughts aren't leaves, they are clouds. And waiting behind each one is a clear blue sky. I love having this new image to consider!

On another spread, the tanka asks a question:

I see myself
by the ocean, toes touching sand,
fingers finding a shell
at the edge of blue water.
Where is your quiet place?
- Kate Coombs

What a perfect jumping off place for sharing this book with young writers! My answer today is...

Quiet Place

a bluff
scarved by sky,

sporting blue 
- Irene Latham

Another tanka in the book focuses on NOW, which is something I'm really trying to do... not regretting the past, but also not dwelling on it. And not worrying about the future. Now!

Tomorrow's an egg
that hasn't hatched. Yesterday
is a bird that has flown.
But today is real. Here now,
this minute, the true wings.
- Kate Coombs

The publisher has also made it really easy for teachers/parents/librarians/booksellers to share mindfulness with kids by creating this Story Hour Kit. I love it!
And now, here's Kate with responses to a few prompts. Welcome, Kate!

The Difficult

Kate: The difficult was describing mindfulness, especially for children. I suppose even before that there was the difficulty of researching and understanding mindfulness myself. Now I could give you a grownup definition of mindfulness using abstract phrases like “paying attention without judgment,” but I still fumble with it a bit. At this point I’d rather just hand you the book!

The Delicious

Kate: The day I get my first author copy is by definition delicious. Seeing the artwork in electronic galleys is just not the same as holding an actual book in your hands. There are wonderful details, like the paper in this case, which is heavier than usual and does not have a glossy finish. It seems to match the illustrator’s style and the whole idea of nature and the outdoors. Plus you get to experience the page turns for yourself. These are magical when envisioned, but even better as you catch the pages with your fingertips and turn them over reverently to discover the next poem. Beyond that visceral experience, you get to run around the house showing everybody in your family and taking pictures to post on Facebook. That night you read your very own book to yourself as a bedtime story. It’s a great day!

The Unexpected

Kate: Because mindfulness has its roots in Buddhism and therefore in Asia, and the poetry form I used is the tanka, I had a vague picture of the art for the book as having an Asian look. It was surprising to me when we got a Finnish illustrator whose artwork depicts Northern forests.

Anna Emilia’s art has been described as showing “the great generosity of nature,” and she and I share a love of nature, especially trees—the art is filled with trees! My own experience of mindfulness first and foremost has to do with being among trees. Anna Emilia even added a few lines in praise of trees to the dedication. And of course, the illustrations are gorgeous. So the surprise turned out wonderfully well.

the opening spread!

Anything Else

Kate: This project came to me in the form of an invitation to write something on spec. I’m so grateful to author/editor Jen Adams for thinking of me. This has been an amazing experience. I still need to work on incorporating mindfulness into my own life, but I feel like I’m off to a good start with Breathe and Be.
A good start, indeed! Thank you, Kate! And thanks, everyone, for reading! xo

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Poems Are Teachers by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater

This past weekend in between fishing and eating and sorting through some old letters, I read from cover to cover Amy Ludwig VanDerwater's newest book for teachers: POEMS ARE TEACHERS: How Studying Poetry Strengthens Writing in All Genres (Heinemann, 2017).

As an occasional teacher -- and as a visiting author who talks with teachers who are eager for help teaching poetry -- I am always looking for new ideas and resources. This book is IT. Not only are these pages bursting with Amy's trademark warmth and wisdom (who doesn't love Amy?!), the book also includes some great poems by students and by poets who write for children. I'm honored to have one of my ArtSpeak! Plant, Grow, Eat (2016) poems included in the chapter about writing poems after art: "A Dream of Wheat."

One of the features of the book I really enjoy is the behind-the-poem blurbs from each adult poet. Also, Amy shares specific verbiage to use with young students -- I can't wait to try some of her suggestions! And the book itself is proof that poems are teachers, because Amy's words and advice and observations simply sparkle! An added bonus is Katherine Bomer's Foreword. Joy! AND I felt like the chapter "Stand in Awe" was written just for me. It reminds me of why I write, and fills me with all the things I've yet to write about. Thank you, Amy!

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Poetry Friday Roundup Brought To You By the Number 13!

Count von Count
Hello and welcome to Poetry Friday! It's my honor to host Roundup here today at Live Your Poem.

Before we get to the links, in celebration of Friday the 13th, I give you...

13 Thoughts About 13

1. I am reading a wonderful middle grade novel THE WONDERLING by Mira Bartok. Before the main character (a one-eared stuttering fox-like creature) is named “Arthur” by his friend Trinket, he is called “Number 13.” Why? I don't know yet! But I am certain the book will reveal this. Also, a movie based on the book is in the works! As I'm reading, I'm feeling a similar enchantment as I did when I read the first HARRY POTTER. Check it out!

2. My labor at the end of my third pregnancy was induced (because our 2nd son was a 10 pounder!), so we expected our youngest son to arrive on the 12th. BUT... he took his time, and didn't come until the 13th. (NOT a Friday, but still!)

3. Here's a poem "Thirteen Reasons Why Not" I wrote for Tabatha for Summer Poem Swap, after the novel Thirteen Reasons Why.

ETA: More 13 poem links:
Heidi's "13 Ways of Looking at a Rollercoaster"

Tabatha's "13 Ways of Looking at Emma" (a cat!)

4. Did you know some people have a fear of the number 13? So many that there's actually a word for it: Triskaidekaphobia

5. 13 is a prime number, divisible only by 1 and itself. (I rather like simplicity of prime numbers. Aren't they... clean?)

6. "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" by Wallace Stevens.

7. Banished from ships and skyscrapers, I suspect 13 dreams of oceans and elevators.

8. 13 not-so-sweet syllables for autumn:

jack-o-lantern leers
as maple sheds
her crimson robe

 - Irene Latham

9. There's still time to nominate 13 (or more!) titles for CYBILS Poetry... check out the list and add a book for the committee to consider! (see how I snuck that in there? ha!)

10. Write a rondel -- it has 13 lines!

11. A baker's dozen = 13. 

I'd like a baker's dozen of these tasty little mice
(found at a coffee shop in Hattiesburg, MS)!

13. The most wonderful thing about this Friday the 13th? All your links! Please leave them below. Wishing everyone a lovely day!

p.s. If you missed it: Here's a post from earlier this week on writing dialogue poems!

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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Crazy About Dialogue Poems

Don't you love it when the poetic universe sends you something from two different galaxies, and somehow they converge in the same sky?

Well, that happened to me recently. First, I taught a poetry workshop to creative writing students at Chelsea High School. We wrote after Pixar postcards. Here is the one I selected:

Monsters, Inc. concept art by Harley Jessup (Disney/Pixar)
I immediately started thinking about what this little girl might be saying to the monster. I was also thinking about how to use the tools I'd just given the students: include imagination, description, and emotion. Here's what I wrote:

Conversation with the Monster Under the Bed

I think YOU should do it.

       Why me?

Because you're big and blue
and you have horns.

     But you're small
     and pink and have shoes.
     Plus I'm scared.

You're scared? Of what?

     What if they don't like me?

What if they DO?
I don't know yet what these two are planning... do you? I guess I'll find out when I work on the poem some more. I DO like the switcheroo of the girl giving the fearful monster courage...

And then the universe gifted me with a copy of Sylvia Vardell & Janet Wong's latest project PET CRAZY: A Poetry Friday Power Book (illustrations by Franzi Paetzold). (Thank you, Sylvia/Janet/universe!)

This book reminds me of my homeschooling-mom days because it's really a workbook. I would have loved exploring it with my sons... lots of engaging activities and illustrations. Plus, PETS. I mean, what better way to bring kids to poetry than with animals?!

AND lo and behold, Powerpack 9 is called "Time to Talk" and includes, among other things, a dialogue poem prompt and mentor poem by Janet Wong.

Good News!

Me: "Kristy's cat is sick."

     Mom: "That's part of having a pet."

Me: "Is Kristy's cat going to die?"

     Mom: "Let's see what they hear
                  from the vet."

     Phone: Ring! Rringg!!

     Mom: "What did you say?"
                 "That's great! That's crazy!"

Me: "Kristy's cat isn't sick?"
     Mom: "She's just having babies!"

- Janet Wong

Good news, indeed! Wee me would have been delighted by that news... and was, many times, as my mother raised and sold Himalayan cats. Also, one of my most favorite books as a youngster was TOO MANY KITTENS, which I have blogged about before. 

You'll notice Janet labels the speakers in her poem, and I didn't. It's the poet's choice, though younger kids might be confused if you don't label it. Or you can do what I did, which was give a clue in the title. Or maybe you have a completely different idea about how to write a dialogue poem! And who should be talking and what they might be talking about... the point is, you should definitely write one. PET CRAZY even provides a page for you (and students!) to do just that.

And if you need further inspiration, here's one I love by Lilian Moore.

Corn Talk

Listen to a cornstalk
to the autumn wind,

     "Once I was a
     kernel, juicy in
     tight skin.

     Long long ago
     in April
     I sank into new-turned

     In the warm sweet
     dar, I drank

     Stretched by light
     I grew

     prince of the garden
     in fringed tassels,
     in proud summer

     Plump kernels
     fattened on my
     each ear secret,
     mummy-wrapped . . ."

"Corn talk again!"
sighs the wind
in the empty garden.

- Lilian Moore, as seen in Something New Begins: New And Selected Poems (Atheneum, 1982)

Happy writing!

Monday, October 9, 2017


This weekend we took a trip back to the 70's to see BATTLE OF THE SEXES, the movie version of the tennis match between Billy Jean King and Bobby Riggs. (Paul remembers this event, but I was too young!)

Emma Stone and Steve Carell were great in these roles, and the story was about more than just tennis -- we see Billy Jean coming to terms with her homosexuality AND Bobby Riggs (and his family) suffering the consequences of his gambling addiction. Some things change; some don't.

It's important to remember that for change to happen, sometimes you've got to walk away from the sure thing and really take a risk (as Billy Jean and the other female tennis players did). It paid off for them, and for all of us women who have followed. Also important to remember how far we've come. And just like Billy Jean is advised (by a gay man) to focus on equality for women when she aches to publicly enjoy a relationship with a woman, we need to remember change happens one small step after another. It takes time and patience. But every step is progress, and while we may not enjoy the fruits of our labors, those who come after us will. And isn't that what this making-the-world-a-better-place is all about?

I didn't LOVE this movie -- there's a certain distance in the storytelling? -- but it's definitely one worth watching.

Friday, October 6, 2017

The Sweet Art of Writing An Aubade

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit lovely Violet Nesdoly for Roundup.

I am once again away from my desk, but I wanted to pop in and share with you a poem from GONE CAMPING: A Novel in Verse by Tamera Will Wissinger, illus. by Mathew Cordell (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). A follow-up to the adorable GONE FISHING, this one is told in the voices of Sam, his sister Lucy, and their Grandpa. I was delighted to find an aubade tucked in those pages!

An aubade is an "early morning" poem, often a love song upon the leaving of a lover. They can be wistful and sweet and so often gorgeous. But of course they can have darker flavors as well. More generally they might be considered a poem of beginnings.

Here is a favorite: "Appalachian Aubade" by Traci Brimhall.
And here is an aubade that I wrote. And now for the aubade I found in GONE CAMPING:


Little light, a little lighter.
Bit of bright, now burning brighter.
Dark is shifting - drifting away.
Goodbye, last night. Hello, today.

Did it rain? The forest is glimmering.
Leaves and pine needles are shimmering.
How lucky to see the sun's first ray.
Goodbye, last night. Hello, today.

- Tamera Will Wissinger

And here are a few words from Tamera, in response to some simple prompts. Welcome, Tamera!

The Delicious: Finding a fresh, close to my heart story to tell and working with different poetry forms to bring the story to life.

The Difficult: I underestimated the tricky balance of writing a sequel. Before doing it I assumed it would be easier since the characters are familiar, but it's more challenging to ensure that there is enough of that familiarity without telling the same story.

The Unexpected: The joy of revisiting fond memories of my own childhood camping experiences through Lucy and Sam.

Thank you, Tamera! Readers, be sure to check out GONE CAMPING and share it with young readers in your life. And I would love to read some aubades by Poetry Friday friends... happy writing!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Downsizing for the Joy of It

Hello and welcome to Spiritual Journey Thursday! Today we are gathering at Maya's Move Over ADHD to discuss how small steps lead to big change. This is a great topic for me right now, as we are in the process of downsizing. I look at my bookshelves, my walls, my closet, my kitchen, and I feel completely overwhelmed!

But. We (fortunately) are not on a deadline. It doesn't have to be completed today or this month or even this year. Which means I can take those small steps -- one shelf or cabinet or wall at a time.

The hard part for me is living in the chaos. I very much like things DONE. I like checking tasks off, I like the feeling of accomplishment when I dust my hands off after completing something. And as Paul says, I'm already gone. Already moved in at the lake, looking at this 20-year-great-place-to-raise-kids house in the rearview mirror.

But this is a process. And what I am learning about myself is that all this task-checking over the years has been a way for me to feel more in control, a way to manage or redirect my feelings. Which is interesting, because I am no more in control when I am accomplishing things than when I am not! Perhaps this gradual, little bit at a time downsizing is helping me to learn how little control I actually have, and how life is happening now, a shelf a cabinet a wall at a time. It's all part of the process.

So, yes. Small steps add up to big changes. Today I am learning to see the untidyness as LIFE, instead of a step toward life.

This is it! I'm living it, and yes, it's a little messy right now, and I'm not in control, and I'm shedding things I once held dear, and that's changing me, too.

I have always been so sentimental, always NEEDED items to remind me of loved ones, of beauty, of experiences... and today I need them less. I am learning those people, those moments -- they are inside me, a part of me. Maybe I don't need all those things after all.

Two resources for those who might be experiencing similar circumstances: THE LIFE-CHANGING MAGIC OF TIDYING UP by Marie Kondo and children's book creator Elizabeth Dulemba's Tedx talk: Is your stuff stopping you?

One a-ha moment for me during Elizabeth's talk is how we keep stuff to feel more permanent -- and isn't that what a girl (like me) might do after moving 11 times by the age of 14? I have always craved long-term and permanence. When that doesn't even exist.

Also, I don't like to admit this, but in the spirit of small steps for big change, I'm pretty sure one motivation for the things I've kept these long years has been a desire to impress others: look at all the poetry books Irene has! Did you see all that art? Isn't Irene the coolest? Yep. Another area in my life where I might be looking outside myself for validation.

Well. The new house -- the lake house -- it's not about anyone else but me and Paul. And it's about NOW, this moment. So we are keeping it really simple, aiming for utility and pleasing ourselves (joy!).... with as little clutter as possible. And I take great inspiration from one of the quotes Elizabeth shares in her Tedx talk:

“I have a hobby. I have the world’s largest collection of sea shells. I keep it scattered on beaches all over the world. Maybe you’ve seen some of it.”' - Steven Wright

Isn't that wonderful? Working on it. xo 

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Sherman Alexie on Quilts, Relationships & Racism

I've just finished YOU DON'T HAVE TO SAY YOU LOVE ME by Sherman Alexie. It's a memoir centered around his mother, written not long after her death. As with many a mother and children, it's a complicated relationship. I enjoyed the mix of poetry and prose.

I learned Sherman's mother Lilian was a quilter:

My mother made quilts.
She would sew instead of sleep

And rage at sunrise.

- from "The Quilting"

I learned his father was quiet:

My father wouldn't throw a punch or pull a trigger or names names. Silence was his short bow and quiver of arrows.

I learned Sherman is complicated, as we all are:

me with Sherman (NCTE, 2012)
I am the one

who is half monk
And half clown.

Look at me pray!
Look at me pratfall!

I will beg, I will beg
For your devotion

Then do my best
To lead you astray.

- from "Love Parade"

I learned some of Sherman's thoughts on racism:

I have lost track of the number of times a white person, hilariously thinking they were being complimentary, has said to me, “But Sherman, I don't think of you as an Indian.”
Throughout my rural and urban life, among white conservatives and white liberals, I've heard many other variations on the same basic sentiment.
“Sherman, you're not like other Indians.”
“Sherman, you're a credit to your race.”
“Sherman, you barely seem Indian.”
“Sherman, I don't think of you as being Indian. I think of you as being a person.”
“Sherman, you're not just a Native writer. You're a writer.”
“Sherman, I don't see color. I see the person inside.”
All of these statements mean the same thing: “Sherman, in order to fit you and your indigenous identity into my worldview, I have to think of you as being like me – as being white like me.”

Lots to think about. 

Also posting today, my story of "The Summer a Library Saved my Life" over at Smack Dab in the Middle. Enjoy!