Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Readers Share HAIR Stories... and a Winner!

Earlier this month I sent out an e-newsletter asking people to send in their hair stories to win an autographed copy of CAN I TOUCH YOUR HAIR? Poems of Race, Mistakes and Friendship. 
If you aren't yet a subscriber, here is the Let's Talk about Hair! issue, and here is the link for you to subscribe and receive news and special opportunities 2-3 times a year!
I'll announce the winner below... but first, here's a sampling of some awesome hair stories I received. Thank you!

 Growing up in South Africa, the laws of apartheid controlled every aspect of my life. Although my friends and I were too young to understand the dire consequences of apartheid, we knew something was wrong—very wrong. As a way of dealing with our discomfort, we joked about the methods the government used to classify people according to race. We pushed rulers or pencils into our hair to see if they would stay in. I sported a mane of long, fine auburn hair, so I was “safe.” But if you had thick curly hair, the ruler didn't fallout, "proving" you were not white—maybe. Little wonder we were acutely embarrassed when the bus drivers asked our olive-skinned, frizzy-haired friend if he was qualified to ride on the “whites only” bus. Another joke, circulating among my friends, was that ignorant censors had banned the novel, Black Beauty, assuming that the title referred to a black woman. As I recalled these incidents in my memoir, I saw more clearly than ever that bigotry is nothing to joke about. - Claire Datnow

Here’s my hair story. My curly hair comes from permanents. In 1982, my mother paid for me to have a permanent when the Richard Simmons hair phenomenon was popular. I liked the curly hair so much that I have had permanents with a combination of gray and pink curlers ever since. I know that I’ve given a lot of musical cues with a flick of the curls. Such is the power of hair.    - Craig Hultgen

  • My mom gave me a home perm and a kid at school called me the Bride of Frankenstein. Years later I learned my husband was called Frankenstein, so it all worked out. :)
  • When my enormous 80s bangs were named "the wave" by Mr. Delgado, my Spanish teacher.
  • I asked my mom for a 2-inch trim, and she kept trying to straighten the jagged line she'd cut, taking 6-8 inches off. I actually laughed and made a quick trip to a walk-in salon.
  • The time my hair was extra short and I thought I'd trim the back with a razor...and shaved a lovely bald spot, just in time for the first day of school.
  • When I didn't know what wedding veil to get, so I cut off all my hair to make the decision easier.
  • For the last six months, I've been trying to work with my natural wave, which shows up in humid places but is tricky to work with in New Mexico. I've adopted "the Curly Girl Method" (a real thing) and am trying to love the sometimes wild look that is my natural hair.  - Caroline Starr Rose
MY hair is as fine as frogs hair, whatever that means!  - Jo S. Kittinger

My hair is very neglected. Before I joined the Army and went to basic training I cut my hair very VERY short. It was so short I could barely make a little faux hawk with it. I don't regret it because I didn't have to put my hair up in a perfect but like the other girls. But man did it take forever to grow out. Since that time, I rarely ever cut my hair. Currently, it's been almost a year since my last trim. It's almost down to my butt again and I love it being long!! #longhairforlifeclub - Rachael Dykes a.k.a. Reese Bailey

When I was 12, I wore my hair short, in a sort of Peter Pan cut. One day while walking down a street with my best friend, Terri, I heard a voice call out behind us, "Ooooh, Terri, who's your new boyfriend?"

I let my hair grow out from that day forward, and though I have periodically worn shortish hair, I insist that it falls at least to my shoulders (even though I finally grew boobs. 😊)  - Cathy C. Hall

I change my hair often, have all through the years, and now as you might have seen, I grew it out a bit, and got a perm. So far I like it a lot. But, here is a picture from my hippie days long ago, long straight hair and yes, we had a hammock and lived at that time by a big park. And, at one time, I had an afro perm, loved it too until it grew out! - Linda Baie, who blogs at TeacherDance

The first thing I notice about a person is their hair.  Isn't that strange because I know so many people notice eyes.  One times I was with a group of African American students touring Birmingham. Most of the group was through visiting the Civil Rights Institute and we were sitting on the walls outside waiting for those inside.  I felt a brush at the back of my head. It was a tiny hand of the African American boy sitting next to me.  He said he liked the way my hair rippled in the back!  So I asked him if I could touch his hair. It was soft though it didn't look soft.  That was a moment I will always remember.  He and I appreciated our differences. - Linda Fryer


I wish to share a "poem" by my son Jay when he was 5. We encouraged him to talk about different subjects (of his choosing) and then I would write what he had to say. One day he described the hair of an African-American nursery school friend. I had not thought about this until I received your email.

          My Hair

     My hair is blond
     If I pick it up it feels soggy
     My friend Chris' hair feels harder
     His hair drops back in the same place

This may sound trite but at the time to me it was his recognition that people look different from one another and what some of those differences are...including the color and texture of their hair. - Elsie Ruby

Don't miss this video of Leslea Newman reading her beautiful poem "1955-2001: A Hair Odyssey"

... and now, the winner of the autographed book, as selected by our cat Maggie:

Fun fact: Monique debut picture book HONEYSMOKE, about a biracial child learning how to describe the color of her skin, will be released in 2019! 

Congratulations, Monique! And thanks to everyone for your support and enthusiasm for CAN I TOUCH YOUR HAIR?, which, thanks to you, has already gone to a second printing. :)

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Crazy About Poetry

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Carol at Beyond LiteracyLink for Roundup.

Here in Alabama I subscribe to an email newsletter that shares about poetic happenings in the Birmingham area. Yesterday there was a prompt taken from the book POEMCRAZY: Freeing Your Life with Words by Susan G. Wooldridge.

Here are a few words from the introductory pages:

"It's impossible to teach anyone to write a poem. But we can set up circumstances in which poems are likely to happen. We can create a field in and around us that's fertile territory for poems. Playing with words, we can get to the place where poems come from. We can write and make discoveries about who we are and who we might become whether or not we truly commit ourselves to becoming poets."

And here is the prompt from chapter 31:

"Go outside alone and wander until you notice an object that might have a quality you need or with something to tell you. 
  • Name it (Give it a real or made-up name.)
  • Describe it by comparing it to something else (analogy)
  • Then ask it, "Bring me a quality that you have that I need."  "
Here a couple of the examples shared:  
"Striped worn river rock . . .
bring me your heavy wisdom
at the still point in the river
where I can lie back, like you,
in shallow waters . . . .        

- Jeri, an adult

Honey mushroom
floating in grass like a plump cloud
bring me your love
of dark places                      

- Susan Wooldridge "

So I decided to give this a try... I hope you will, too! 

cracked plastic bucket
still red as a ripe tomato
bring me the ability
to rejoice in the weight of water
even as it dribbles away

January maple
bare as a fresh-plowed field
bring me your willingness
to kiss wind
and cradle snow

mama cardinal
drab as an old boot
bring me your way
of flying without
need for applause


origami swan
graceful as ship's sail
bring me your
gentle acceptance
of folds and creases

Thank you for reading!

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Incredible Magic of Kathryn Erskine

One of my favorite authors -- and humans -- is Kathy Erskine. I first met Kathy back at Virginia Book Festival in 2010 when se shared a panel. That was the year Kathy was promoting MOCKINGBIRD, which went on to win the National Book Award. (Haven't read that one yet? FIX THAT RIGHT NOW.) A few months later Kathy stayed with me when she came to Birmingham for some book events. I was thrilled to show her around and also get know her better!

So anyway, I've recently read two of Kathy's newest books -- a picture book biography MAMA AFRICA! How Miriam Makeba Spread Hope with Her Song, illus. by Charly Palmer and a middle grade novel THE INCREDIBLE MAGIC OF BEING.

They are both wonderful, and I hope you will read them! You will love Miriam. What an inspiring woman! And you just might cry when you read Julian's story... I did. It's a book that healed me in a way -- I both read it in print and listened to it on audio, and more than once I found myself in tears as Julian talked about how people don't just die, they live on in the stars.

Because Julian likes dogs, he's sure he will end up in Sirius, the dog star. I instantly started thinking about people I've lost and what constellations they might inhabit, and it brought me such comfort! Also: what constellation might *I* inhabit?

There's also a kindness meditation in the book that I really think could change the world. And I completely loved the family in this book -- two moms, though this is not a plot point, just a fact -- and a 14 year old sister Pookie who goes all "supernova" from time to time, and also makes orangutan noises. :)

Julian is a wonderful narrator, and he grows in the story in realistic, touching ways that I will leave you to discover. Someday maybe me and Julian will meet each other at the dog star. Thank you, Kathy, for writing this book!

Monday, January 22, 2018

Movie Monday: JUMANJI: Welcome to the Jungle

We saw the latest version of JUMANJI as part of the celebration for our youngest son's birthday. This was his pick -- as it should be on one's birthday!

And you know, it was a lot of fun. I do remember the first JUMANJI with Robin Williams (1995!), and I think they did a great job updating this concept for today's audiences.

What video-gaming/plugged-in kid hasn't imagined him or herself into the game?! It was super-fun to see these characters' reactions to life-in-their- avatar's skin. And it was super-fun to hear our sons laughing so heartily in a movie theater. We needed that.

So. If you want to have some fun and laugh and escape (to the jungle!) for 119 minutes, go see this one. There's a bonus meaningful message, too... you can't let fear of death/the unknown/whatever stop you from living your life -- or your life will disappear. xo

Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Watcher by Nikki Grimes

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Kay at A Journey Through the Pages for Roundup.

I am away from my desk, spending time with some much-loved ones, but I did want to share about another gorgeous Nikki Grimes book that, like ONE LAST WORD: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance, features the Golden Shovel form.

This one is a picture book THE WATCHER: Inspired by Psalm 121, written by Nikki Grimes, illus. by Bryan Collier (Eerdmans).
It's also a narrative. Told in 2 voices. (I know! As if the Golden Shovel wasn't difficult enough to pull of beautifully!) And these characters feel SO REAL. I loved how Tanya, the bully, has a backstory that helps us understand why she does the things she does. (This is a great lesson for anyone creating villains... take time to show us their human-ness!) And I love Jordan's faith, and how he's willing to take a risk.

Here's a sample of each character's voice:


I wake, a hail of hot words hitting my
bedroom wall, like bullets. "God, help,"
I pray, hoping the answer comes
quickly. My heart bleeds from
the sound of my neighbors' war next door. The
sun and I both shrivel, hiding behind the Lord.

- Nikki Grimes


"Welcome, Israel," says our teacher. He
tells this kid with a weird accent to take a seat, but who
is it makes room for this geek? Everyone watches
to see, wonders why it's me who waves him over.
My answer? A snarl that says, "Mess with me, I dare you."

- Nikki Grimes

I do hope you'll give this book a read. You'll be inspired, I promise!

Monday, January 15, 2018

What Would MLK Do?

Today and all days we remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who showed us how to change the world in a peaceful, loving way. 
This lesson can be extended to changing our own lives as well -- shine a peaceful, loving light on the ones you meet today. Shine a peaceful, loving light on yourself today.

MLK also showed us the importance of words and the beauty of poetry -- and how repetition can be poetic. Consider this small excerpt from one of his speeches:

We have a power,
greater than guns,
greater than ammunition,
greater than hand grenades.
We have a power.

- Martin Luther King, Jr.

This is also a "sandwich" structure that can be a fine structure to share and try with our youngest writers.

I'll be thinking about MLK as we move toward to the Horn Book webcast "Exploring Race, Mistakes and Friendship Through Poetry" with Charles Waters, Selina Alko​ and moderated by Roger Sutton, Horn Book editor-in-chief, on Wednesday the 17th at 2:00 pm EST/1:00 pm CST.

300+ already registered... it's not too late for you to join us! 

Friday, January 12, 2018

On Princesas, Peas, and Agua, Aguita

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit sweet, zany Jan at bookseedstudio for Roundup.

Once upon a time our eldest son confessed that that his biggest complaint about his childhood was that he isn't bilingual.

Well. Since WE are not bilingual, that's kind of up to him, isn't it? :)
But his comment has stuck with me because I, too, would love to be bilingual. (Maybe after I master the cello? Hmmm)

ANYHOW. I wish I could have shared with my son when he was wee THE PRINCESA AND THE PEA by Susan Middleton Elya, illus. by Juana Martine-Neal (G.P. Putnam's Sons). It tells the traditional story, but with a Latino twist: many of the words are Spanish! For instance, this passage:

Mama sneaked away
to the royal jardin
and found a small pea
that was fit for a queen.

Okay, so reader can tell from the picture that jardin means garden... and because of the rhyme scheme, readers learn how to pronounce jardin. (There's also a glossary in the book.) Isn't that brilliant?

Here's another passage:

The girl stretched her brazos
and yawned with her boca.
But the bed felt so lumpy,
like there was a roca.

Readers can tell from the picture that brazos means arms, and we yawn with our mouths, and roca is so similar to rock, it's easy to decode.

Who knew learning another language could be so much fun? Well, it SHOULD be fun, methinks.

There's an additional title by the same team I want to check out called LA MADRE GOOSE.

Another bilingual picture book book I've enjoyed recently is AGUA, AGUITA/ WATER, LITTLE WATER by Jorge Tetl Argueta, illus. by Felipe Ugalde Alcantara (Pinata Books). Readers learn about the water cycle in poems presented in Spanish and English -- in the voice of water.

Here is a passage:

Soy de todos los colores
y no tengo color.
Soy de todos los sabores
y no tengo sabor.
Soy de todas las formas
y no tengo forma
Soy Agua,
soy Aguita

I am all colors
and have not color.
I am all flavors
and have no flavor.
I am all shapes
and am shapeless.
I am Water,
I am Little Water.
What a fun way to learn Spanish! It's the best I can do for now. :)

Thursday, January 11, 2018

New Business Cards for a New Me!

Every couple of years I create a new business card.

Sometimes I design a card related to a new book release -- the year FRESH DELICIOUS was released, my cards said on the front "Poetry is Delicious." and on the back featured a poem from the book.

Every time I design a card, I incorporate the color RED -- because once upon a time I read an article that reported the results of a business card experiment, and the most memorable cards all featured red.

This year my main reason to create a new card was the quest for accuracy -- I have a new mailing address! And as I have 3 books releasing within a year, I felt that instead of tying the card design to a particular title, I might get more mileage out of a more general approach.

A general approach -- with the color red.


... and... there's a little surprise on the back that I'm not going to reveal, but if we meet in person, please ask me for a card and I'll share it with you! xo

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Flashback to my Favorite Moment of Christmas 2017

Our three sons playing a tune together on the BIG piano.

(Youngest son's fashion statement is actually a survival technique for the itchy patch of poison ivy he acquired hiking around the lake!)

This is an especially special picture because  a) 3 very different sons I adore together  b) last Christmas before oldest son and wife move to New Mexico  c) last Christmas in that house -- #20!

There was a moment a few days after Christmas when I thought I had lost all my pictures -- including this one -- and I had a come-apart. 

As much as this move is exactly what we want, it still comes swaddled in a lot of loss. Downsizing is hard for a sentimental gal like me! But I am learning that all these things -- are just things. What they represent -- their meaning -- is inside me.

One way of coping as I've bagged and boxed, has been to take a picture. A picture doesn't take up any space, and it's a way to hold on to a memory of something. (Which is why I was devastated to think I'd lost all the pictures I've taken recently!) 

Funny thing: I have this memory of my father from just two months before he died, when he said, "sometimes I like the picture better than the thing." He was a lifelong photographer, and in that moment he was asking me to take a photo of him with a pair of pants that were now far too large, before we dropped them at a donation site. 

Papa was teaching me right up to the end, and in fact is still teaching me now! And you know what? I don't need a picture of that. It's imprinted on my heart. xo

Friday, January 5, 2018

Traveling the Blue Road: Poems of the Sea

Hello and Happy first Poetry Friday of 2018! Be sure to visit lovely Catherine at Reading to the Core for Roundup.

It's been a busy week -- and brrrr, COLD. I know I am not alone in this, and certainly not experiencing the worst of it (way down here in the south), but my face has very nearly frozen off on our afternoon walks by the lake! As must as it hurts (to have your face very nearly frozen off), it's also quite alive-making, invigorating, and strangely inspiring. Know what I mean?

So today I have a look at a new book of poems TRAVELING THE BLUE ROAD: Poems of the Sea, collected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, illustrated by Bob Hansman & Jovan Hansman (a father-son team), and brought to us by Seagrass Press. It's filled with poems by a league of poetic luminaries and takes readers on a series of (difficult) sea journeys from Columbus's voyage through the current refugee crisis in the Mediterranean Sea. This is not a dolphins-leaping-for-joy kind of book. Instead it illuminates the darkness of the sea, its power, and the cruel/heartbreaking ways humans have experienced it.

I love this quote from Lee's introduction:  "Meticulously crafted poems stir us, shake us, cause us to think, wander, ponder, imagining what might have been, bringing to life imagery only poets can convey via the power of words."
Now there's something to aspire to!

Here are two poems I'd like to share:
Mediterranean Blue
by Naomi Shihab Nye

If you are the child of a refugee, you do not
sleep easily when they are crossing the sea
on small rafts and you know they can't swim.
My father couldn't swim either. He swam through
sorrow, though, and made it to the other side
on a ship, pitching his old clothes overboard
at landing, then tried to be happy, make a new life.
But something inside him was always paddling home,
clinging to anything that floated - a story, a food or face.
They are the bravest people on earth right now,
don't dare look down on them. Each mind a universe
swirling as many details as yours, as much love for
a humble place. Now the shirt is torn,
the sea too wide for comfort, and nowhere
to receive a letter for a very long time.

And if we can reach out a hand, we better.

Seas Seas
by Lee Bennett Hopkins

Seas seas seas seas seas seas seas seas
Seas seas sweeping seas whispering seas
seas seas violating seas massive seas unknown seas
seas seas smooth seas unfathomable seas titan seas
seas seas blue seas warning seas swooping seas
seas seas clinging seas breathing seas
seas seas seas seas seas seas seas seas

Aren't those wonderful? I love the first for its relevance and the way it reminds us of us of our connectedness to things that may be happening far away, but are part of us, too. And the second for its music and truth. I love when poets use sound like this. Beautiful!

And now a poem I wrote some years ago when I was working on a collection of ocean poems that was much more a celebration of sea life. Some of those poems found homes in WHEN THE SUN SHINES ON ANTARCTICA, which of course features marine life. Others, like the one below, have been swimming unseen in that file for years now. Thank you for reading!

The Ocean Opens Its Arms
by Irene Latham

Come to me, oh hungry ones,
Come to me, explorers.
Come and tip your toes in surf,
then tumble

Let me paint your skin with salt,
adorn your hair with kelp --
Let me show you living shipwrecks
and riotous fields of reef.

Come to me, oh bravest ones.
Dive past your fear and listen:
Let me show you a universe
              than blue.

*all photos taken on our Mediterranean cruise summer 2017 -- the blue road has many faces, doesn't it?

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Behold, My 2018 One Little Word!

Hello and welcome to Spiritual Journey Thursday! This month we are gathering at Reflections on the Teche to share about the words we've selected as 2018 One Little Word. Please join us! Spiritual Journey Thursday is open to anyone and everyone, whatever your faith.

I *thought* I knew what my OLW for 2018 would be, but then I heard my friend say THIS word, and I knew instantly it was the one!

photo by Eric

BEHOLD. It means to look at something closely, and with enthusiasm. To be filled with wonder. To pay attention. To be present. I want all of those things in my life! It just sounds like a celebration, doesn't it? In fact, I do believe simply by beholding, we create a sacred space through which we may more deeply experience meaning and connection. And then when I read the quote, "We become what we behold," I thought, YES. 'Tis true. And choosing this word will make me more mindful of what I am choosing.

"Behold" brings to mind things that are greater than ourselves -- God, the Universe, a Higher Power. And one of the ways I want to practice beholding in my life this year is with other people, as in "I see you." So many people feel invisible at one time or another... what would happen if we all greeted one another with joy? What if we were to behold each other every single day?

I'm going to try. For I do believe it's true: To love another person is to see the face of God.

Looking forward to reading about everyone else's words... Happy New Year!

Monday, January 1, 2018

Welcome to the World, CAN I TOUCH YOUR HAIR?

Hello and Happy New Year!

Before anything else, a hearty CONGRATULATIONS to the finalists in the 2018 CYBILS Award for Poetry! Yay for great, kid-friendly poetry!

Today is also special because it marks the official release of CAN I TOUCH YOUR HAIR? Poems of Race, Mistakes and Friendship, written by me and Charles Waters, illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko, and delivered to the world by Carolrhoda/Lerner Publishing. What a team! I'm so grateful to be part of it.

 In some ways it feels like this book has been out for a while, as Charles and I did some pre-pub promotional events at AASL and NCTE, where the publisher gifted books to excited teachers and librarians. We're so grateful for this early enthusiasm! We have been moved to tears more than once, listening to others' stories about race, mistakes and friendship. It reminds me of John Truby's advice to "write a book that will change your life." This book is a life-changer for me. It forced me to practice being a brave writer... and it brought me a new "Forever Friend" in Charles!

And now the fun continues... we've got school visits and podcasts and webinars... readings and interviews and questionnaires... and readers! In-the-wild readers! That's the best part, every time: connecting with readers.

Charles and me on the panel at AASL
To celebrate the release, Charles and I are doing a second installment of "Two Truths & a Lie." I'm featuring Charles here, along with one of his poems from the book. Head over to Poetry Time to read about me! And here are links to the first installment from cover release day at Charles' Poetry Time blog and Live Your Poem.

Charles Waters!
Of the 3 statements below, two are truths and one is a lie. You guess! Answers below.

1. An author came to Charles' school like Nikki Grimes does in the book. 

2. Charles grew up with a mother and father. 

3. Charles wasn't a very good basketball player in school.

Okay... got it? Know what your answers are? Read on to find out if you're right!

1. Lie. 
"Which is a shame because I daresay I would have gotten into writing a lot sooner if an author had come to my school growing up."

2. True!

3. True! 
"I wasn't horrible at it but I was no Lebron. Sadly, one time in 7th grade my shot did go over the backboard, the trajectory looked good for a hot second until the ball sailed away with the speed of a cheetah."

And now for a poem from the book, on the topic of shoes:

Shopping with Dad

Dad doesn't think shoes have anything to do with
fashion. "Shoes are like your complexion," he says.
"They're supposed to fit you perfectly."
I'd rather get a pair of neon high-tops
with tie-dye laces like I've seen on commercials.
Maybe they make my feet hurt sometimes,
and maybe they don't last as long,
but at least I fit in with my classmates.
Dad hands me a pair of low tops,
no cool design or dynamite laces.
I tie them up, walk around. "Wow," I say.
"This pair feels like I'm wearing slippers."
Dad tells me, "The decision is yours."

- Charles Waters

You can read my poem about shoes over at Poetry Time -- and poems about family dinner, punishment, police brutality, the N word, etc. -- in the book! Thanks so much for reading. Happy 2018! xo