Robyn Hood Black - children's author, poet, artist









Hannah enjoying poetry workshop


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Hanging with fellow Georgia writers (from top, l-r) Tracy Walker, Heather Kolich, Donna Bowman, (bottom, middle) Janice Hardy and Paula Puckett
photo by Steve Kolich

Susan Rosson Spain, Robyn Hood Black, Elizabeth Dulemba, and Myra Meade at the Hall Book Exchange in Gainesville, Ga.
photo by Mel Hornsby

Southern Breeze Kudos Kites 09 - Donna, Robyn, Heather, Sarah, and Peggy

Robyn with Kathleen Duey, author extraordinaire http://www.kathleenduey.com

Robyn with Alaska Nature Writer Debbie Miller http://www.debbiemilleralaska.com

photo by Robyn Hood Black
Paul B. Janeczko http://www.paulbjaneczko.com

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Life on the Deckle Edge

Poetry Friday: Interview with David Jacobson - ARE YOU AN ECHO?

November 10, 2016

Tags: Poetry Friday, poetry, David Jacobson, book tracks, Are You an Echo

The poem:
DAY AND NIGHT
After day comes night,
after night comes day.
From where can I see
this long, long rope,
its one end, and the other?


Greetings, Poetry Friends. In a week when we could all use more poetry celebrating the human spirit, I’m delighted to welcome David Jacobson, author of the recently released and much-lauded ARE YOU AN ECHO?: The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko (Chin Music Press, September 2016). This gorgeous 64-page picture book biography and poetry collection was also translated by Sally Ito and Michiko Tsuboi and was illustrated by Toshikado Hajiri.

Misuzu lived 100 years ago in Japan. She possessed a keen ability to interpret life from the perspectives of others, even objects. Her poems are taught in schools and beloved by the population there, though largely unknown here, at least until now.

If you don’t know this book yet, these recent features are superb, and they offer many more links. [You’ll have to click back to return here, but please do – David offers a glimpse into the many moving parts behind the book’s creation as well as some history of children’s literature in Japan.]


***********************************


For Jama’s rich review at Alphabet Soup, click here.

Click here for Janet Wong’s behind-the-scenes interviews with David and Sally Ito at Sylvia Vardell’s Poetry for Children.

Julie Danielson at Kirkus interviewed David here.

For an interview on Playing by the Book with Zoe Toft, click here.

Here’s the Misuzu Kaneko/ARE YOU AN ECHO? site.


***********************************


The posts above offer insights into the hardships and tragedy of Misuzu's life, and discussions of how these are sensitively handled in the text and art, as well as showcasing her beautiful poetry.




Now it’s my turn to interview David!

Tell us a bit about yourself - your career as a writer, your interest (and fluency) in Japanese, how you spend your days?

My writing career started inauspiciously as a copy boy at the New York bureau of the Nihon Keizai Shimbun (Japan’s Wall St. Journal), where I would retrieve wire copy and fetch dinner for the correspondents. I then progressed through a series of reporting and editing jobs at the Associated Press, NHK (Japanese public broadcasting), and CNN. Following a long transition during which I got an MBA and had 2 kids, I ended up at Chin Music Press in Seattle, where I’ve worked ever since doing a variety of editorial and marketing jobs.

I’ve been interested in Japan ever since going there as an exchange student during high school. I obtained a degree in East Asian Studies from Yale, and undertook advanced language instruction at Middlebury and the Stanford Center in Tokyo. After obtaining my degree at Yale, I lived in Japan for 5 years, first as a graduate student and then as a journalist. My work has involved Japan in various ways ever since.

Today, I’m the principal caregiver to my two children, and am forever trying to complete my writing and publishing obligations during the time they are at school. I also try to fit in some time to play the piano, a hobby I’ve pursued since I was five.


How did you first discover the poetry of Misuzu Kaneko?

A Japanese friend of many years sent me an anthology of her work in the fall of 2013. In reading her poems, I was first struck by how relevant they were to me and my own kids, even though Misuzu wrote them nearly 100 years ago. And then I was utterly charmed by the compassion she shows – to the fish on her plate, to a dog who has broken its leg, to a boy and a girl on a first date.

What compelled you to create a book about Misuzu and her poetry?

I started out loving her poetry. Then once I started looking into the possibility of translating her work, I realized that she was really a dream subject. Her poems had hardly been translated into English, and her backstory was both fascinating and tragic. But then the idea of pitching a poetry book (not a favorite of most US publishers) about what some might consider a fairly esoteric subject (a Japanese poet from a century ago) set in… Fortunately, though, Chin Music Press liked the idea.

I was struck by how she maintained her voice, despite the times and the culture in which she lived, as well as her illness. How do you think she kept her sense of self in these circumstances?

It’s really astonishing, isn’t it? She must have been a truly amazing woman. She grew up in a family of women, in which her mother and grandmother were in charge (her father had died when she was 3 and her grandfather was out of the picture). They let her get much more education than most Japanese girls got in those days. So I think her family must have encouraged her to become a strong, smart, and self-possessed young woman.

But when you look at how she responded to her very difficult marriage, her illness and the impending takeaway of her daughter, she displays such tremendous courage and will, based on her personal values, that you get the sense of a woman of great internal strength. I think that’s what enabled her to get through such difficulties.


As a student of haiku, I heard echoes of Issa as I read Musuzu's beautiful, original poems. What might have been some of her literary influences?

For someone who grew up in a fairly remote and provincial part of Japan, Misuzu was extremely well educated and cosmopolitan. There are multiple references to Hans Christian Andersen in her work, as well as to Western stories and characters like Jack and the Beanstalk, Robinson Crusoe, and King Midas. She became familiar with English poet Christina Rossetti, after her mentor said her poetry was reminiscent of Rossetti’s.

As for Japanese influences, she kept a scrapbook of works by contemporary poets she admired, offering a direct window into her literary tastes (poets included Kitahara Hakushu, Saijo Yaso, Horiguchi Daigaku, etc.). I can’t name any specific classical Japanese influences; however, her work often (though not always) follows 5-7 or 7-7 rhythms, suggesting close understanding of Japanese traditional forms such as tanka and haiku.


What was the publishing world like for children's literature in early 20th-Century Japan?

It must have been quite an exciting and liberating time to be in children’s literature in Japan in the 1920s when Misuzu was writing. Prominent writers such as Akutagawa and Shimazaki were joining the field. For the first time in Japanese literary history, Japanese writers were attempting to depict children’s inner lives, and they were encouraging each other to experiment. Moreover, there were amazing opportunities to be published. At one point there were 66 different children’s magazines published in Tokyo alone!

Wow!
This book is a sparkling feat of collaboration. How did you, Setsuo Yazaki, Sally Ito and Michiko Tsuboi come to cross paths? What was it like to work together?


There are so many collaborators on this book that reviewers can’t seem to keep straight who did what!

With the approval of my boss at Chin Music Press, Bruce Rutledge, I selected Sally and Michiko from a list of several translators. I liked the fact that Sally was herself a poet, and had already translated a considerable number of Misuzu’s poems with Michiko. Most important, though, was their sometimes motherly, sometimes girlish, but always accessible tone. We needed a voice that would speak to children, and I think Sally and Michiko provided it.

The collaboration between Sally, Michiko and me was much more intense than I expected, but very rewarding too. We lived in 3 different countries with 3 different time zones, so the most effective way to communicate was by email or Skype. Starting in early summer of last year, we exchanged comments and suggestions about the narrative and the poetry nearly daily. Each poem went through multiple drafts, as did the narrative. It was frustrating at times, but exhilarating, too, to get to the bottom of what Misuzu was trying to accomplish and then to convey that to English readers.

As for Yazaki, I met him in Japan during my September 2015 trip there. He and the head of JULA Publishing Bureau, Misuzu’s Japanese publisher, met me, illustrator Toshikado Hajiri and translator Michiko Tsuboi in Senzaki, where Misuzu grew up. They showed us around the Kaneko Memorial Museum (which Yazaki directs) and a number of other places in town connected with Misuzu. They had flown all the way from Tokyo (at least a half day’s travel) to meet us.


Toshikado Hajiri's art is breathtaking, capturing joy as well as solemnity. Did you see the paintings before publication, and how do they help tell the story?

Yes, I was in close contact with Toshi from early on in the process, and showed him multiple copies of the manuscript before he even began sketching. In September of 2015, the two of us, along with translator Michiko Tsuboi, visited Misuzu’s hometown of Senzaki together, so that Toshi could get a feel for the look of the place where she grew up. After a month or so, he submitted sketches, which we commented on, and then once we reached agreement, he painted them.

I feel his work adds a lot to the text: the look and feel of early 20th century Japan; and tone and emotion, particularly to the darker parts of the story where the text is spare. His art also amplifies the meaning of some of the poems. I love, for instance, his interpretation of “Day and Night,” a poem in which a child is wondering about time: when does day end and night begin? Toshi brilliantly reinterprets the rope, a metaphor for time, as a jump rope!


Finally, tell us about your travel plans for January!

I am not familiar with all the details yet, but from what I understand I will be participating in three events with poet Setsuo Yazaki in Kyoto, Tokyo and Asahikawa, Japan. They are being organized by Misuzu’s Japanese publisher, JULA Publishing Bureau, and are intended to celebrate the launch of ARE YOU AN ECHO? in Japan.

Sounds wonderful! Many thanks for joining us today, David, and sharing so much of how this treasure of a book came to be. (My thanks as well to Janet Wong for introducing me to David last month at POETRY CAMP at Western Washington University.)

For this week’s delectable Poetry Friday Roundup, please visit the aforementioned one-and-only Jama at Alphabet Soup!

Poetry Friday - One Minute till Some Terrific Poems!

November 3, 2016

Tags: Poetry Friday, poetry, Kenn Nesbitt, book tracks


Greetings, Poetry Peeps! I missed everyone last week while I was winding up a week of school presentations (20, give or take) in Georgia.

It's the only week of the year that I actually take naps.

Maybe next year, I'll take along the hot-off-the-press collection getting so much buzz this week, Kenn Nesbitt's ONE MINUTE TILL BEDTIME (Little Brown and Company, illustrated by New York Times illustrator and celebrated artist Christoph Niemann). Click here for more about Kenn's first anthology on his extensive and colorful website, Poetry4Kids.

The Night Sky certainly seems to approve, with showers of sparkly stars from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and School Library Journal. The anthology has also been selected by Publishers Weekly as a Best Book of 2016.

Easy to see why, with 140 new poems by many of the best children's poets writing today. That includes quite a few Poetry Friday folks - so many that if I tried to mention, I'd leave someone out. Congratulations to everyone whose work lies between the intriguing purple covers!

It was a treat for me to meet Kenn (Children's Poet Laureate, 2013-15) at Western Washington University's POETRY CAMP a few weeks ago. He's kindly agreed to let me share one of his poems from the book today. There are seven sections, chock-full of poems that can be read in about a minute each. Every section is launched with a poem by Kenn. Here is one of my favorites, just over mid-way through.


Ted, Ted, Climb in Bed


Ted, Ted,

climb in bed.

Grab that book

we've read and read.

Tuck the blanket.

Tuck the spread.

Here's a pillow

for your head.

Settle in.

Get ready, Ted.

Here come poems

just ahead!



©Kenn Nesbitt. Used with permission.

I predict this book will be "read and read," and read again! And, hey - it's out just in time for your holiday gift list. Sleepy parents will enjoy it as much as their tired tykes.

For more great poetry morning, noon, or night, visit the lovely Laura at Writing the World for Kids. (Yep - she's in the book, too!)

Poetry Friday: Charles Ghigna' s Wild Side

October 19, 2016

Tags: Poetry Friday, Charles Ghigna, poetry, book tracks


Welcome, Poetry Friday Fans!

Today we have a special treat -
Charles Ghigna, a.k.a. Father Goose®, is in the house!

You’ll find his name on the spines of more than 100 award-winning books from publishers such as Random House, Disney, Hyperion, Scholastic, Simon & Schuster, Time Inc., Abrams, Boyds Mills Press, Charlesbridge, Capstone, and Orca, and as a byline on more than 5000 poems in anthologies, textbooks, newspapers, and magazines - including Highlights, Cricket, The New Yorker and many more. Though he gallivants all over connecting kids and poetry, we’re happy to claim him here in the South, as he makes his home in Alabama.

This month we’re celebrating some fun new animal books running wild – just in time for any critter-crazed kids on your holiday gift list.

Just out from Animal Planet, Strange, Unusual, Gross & Cool Animals is sure to please any budding zoologists or simply curious kids.

“The target audience is ages 8-12, but we think ALL ages will like this one” Charles says. “It's 128 pages chock full of stunning close-up photos by some of the world's top nature photographers! You will see creatures from the bottom of the world's deepest oceans to the uninhabited jungles of the Amazon. Many of the animals have only recently been discovered!”

I’m in!

Click here for a peek inside.
Charles has kindly shared the poems introducing each section.



Strange

Strange how we as humans
View creatures great and small—
For we who see their strangeness
Are the strangest ones of all!


Unusual

Unusual is what we call
The weird, the fast, the rare.
We classify each creature—
But do they really care?


Gross

Gross is used instead of yuck
For words like poop and pus,
But all these animals agree—
It's only gross to us!


Cool

Cool is how we think we look
When we try to impress,
But animals are born that way—
With lots of cool finesse!


Poems ©Charles Ghigna. All rights reserved.


Need some animal-friendly titles for the younger set? Check out Charles’s recent books from Orca Books, A Carnival of Cats(2015) and A Parade of Puppies(released in August), both illustrated by Kristi Bridgeman. These interactive board books feature rhyming texts that playfully invite young readers to guess what kind of dogs/cats are hiding on the pages. Wag, wag!


Now, how about an Extra Credit Q & A with Charles?


If you were an animal, what animal would you be & why?

An Arctic Whale. It can live for more than 200 years. That would give me a little more time to write a few more books and poems!

What's the coolest animal you've ever seen in person?

Our Golden Retriever, Honey. She was a loving, loyal, smart companion. She used to follow me up here to my treehouse and sit beside while I wrote, then follow me down the stairs for coffee breaks -- and treats.

Whenever I'd lie on the floor to do a few sit-ups, she would lie down beside me on her back.

She had quite a vocabulary. She understood words like "walk, car, food, go, stop, sit, stay -- and pizza!" We used to spell those words when she was in the room to keep her from running to the backdoor to get in the "car" or run to the front door for a "walk" -- or when we ordered "pizza." ;-)


Is your Muse diurnal or nocturnal?

I guess I'd have to say both. She's been good to me day and night. I often write late at night and into the wee hours of the morning. So far she's been a very accommodating companion.

Are you a dog person or cat person? (Or, like me, unabashedly both?)

I'm like you. I'm unabashedly both. I love dogs -- and admire cats! ;-)
My first two books and my last two books are about dogs and cats. My first books from Disney were GOOD DOGS BAD DOGS and GOOD CATS BAD CATS and a couple of my latest books are A CARNIVAL OF CATS and A PARADE OF PUPPIES.


Do you currently belong to any pets?

Yes, but not in the house. My "pets" now are all free range pets: a hawk that lives in a nearby tree and circles over the treehouse each day to say hello, multitude of squirrels and chipmunks I watch from my window, and two jeweled hummingbirds I'm watching right now at the feeder.

I would add the menagerie of monarchs that have been dancing outside my window this summer, but it looks like most of them have already started heading to their vacation homes farther south.


You mentioned "treehouse" again - do you really work in a treehouse?

Yes, I do. It's the treehouse-looking attic of my home, a 1927 red brick Tudor cottage here in Homewood, Alabama.

That is just wonderful. Thanks for visiting with us today! [Pssst – want a peek at the treehouse? Click here for a 2009 video tour created by the Homewood Library.]

The wonderful Tricia is rounding up for us this week at The Miss Rumphius Effect.

[I’m gallivanting myself for Family Weekend at Seth’s college and then a week of school visits near Atlanta – will check in when I can from the Peach State!]

Poetry Friday - YOU JUST WAIT Giveaway (!) with Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong

September 21, 2016

Tags: Poetry Friday, poetry, book tracks, Janet Wong, Sylvia Vardell, Pomelo Books, giveaway



Greetings, Poetry Friday-ers!

I'm freshly back from a glorious week up at a Highlights Founders Workshop with Rebecca Kai Dotlich and Georgia Heard, and beautifully blogged about by Linda and Catherine. I didn't unpack my suitcase, though – I’m heading out again, this time across the entire country to end up with more of my poetry tribe! I know, I know... I AM a lucky duck. Quack.

I'll finally (!) get to meet Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell IN PERSON at Western Washington University's POETRY CAMP - an awesome conference next Saturday, Oct. 1. Several participating poets will arrive a little early, and I'll be leading a "Makerspace" found poem/mixed media workshop Friday night at a local bookstore. Can't wait!

Speaking of waiting, I'm delighted to keep the celebratory blog party going for the newest member of Sylvia and Janet's Pomelo Books family, YOU JUST WAIT - A Poetry Friday Power Book. The indefatigable Vardell-Wong duo has come up with a truly one-of-a-kind resource for middle school students, sprung from their POETRY FRIDAY ANTHOLOGY FOR MIDDLE SCHOOL (an NCTE Poetry Notable published in 2013).

Taking innovative inspiration from Lee Bennett Hopkins’s “groundbreaking work in creating poetry anthologies” (from the dedication), they’ve crafted a book that is part anthology, part novella, and totally interactive. Students are going to love it. I love it. (If I’d only had this book during those couple of years I taught middle school English…)

Nutshell: Janet took a dozen poems from the PFA for Middle School, added two dozen more original poems, and whipped up a complete narrative with living, breathing characters. Sylvia took this delectable main dish and served it up with fun side activities. Then she handed over ingredients and a bowl to the reader, offering a recipe of prompts for each chapter (and space on the pages!) to create his or her own poems.

The character names in YOU JUST WAIT came from Julie Larios’s gorgeous poem, “Names.”

Saturday morning means I buy pan dulce
with Tio Chepe and my cousin Lucesita
whose name means “Little Light” –
that’s what I call her, and she laughs
and pinches me and calls me “Peace”
because my name is Paz. …


(Side note - I get to present a picture book workshop next Saturday with Julie – I know, more lucky quacks! Quack quack!!)

The action part of the story comes from Paz’s trying out for the soccer team. Will she make it? Emotional connections come from relationships (cousins who are also schoolmates) between Paz, Lucesita, and Joe, who is a little older. Middle school students will see themselves in fresh, accessible poems about identity struggles, sports, fears, achievements, family, making it through the school day – and food! – to name a few themes.

Here’s some backstory from Janet:

We moved to a new town when I was a junior in high school. I felt very uncomfortable being “different-looking” in a school that was 90% white and suburban/semi-rural (after having been at a diverse urban school the previous year). My solution: to spend every lunch period in the library, reading alone. This wasn’t necessarily a bad solution, but I was very lonely until I finally started making friends a few months into the year. Something I’d love to see: lunchtime book clubs using YOU JUST WAIT to pull kids in and get them talking. Give them an excuse to join by giving them books!

YOU JUST WAIT provides an easy structure for a book club to follow; they can do one PowerPack a week.


What is a PowerPack, you ask?

Here are the spreads from the PowerPack which include my poem, “Locker Ness Monster.” (These small pictures don't do the type justice, but I wanted to lend a sense of how everything works together.)

The section opens with a PowerPlay pre-writing activity - in this case, a “Pick a Number” adventure with several possible options. Next are two poems: my “Outside Poem” poem from THE POETRY FRIDAY ANTHOLOGY FOR MIDDLE SCHOOL and Janet’s “Response Poem,” (this one told from Paz’s point of view, carrying the story over from the previous Power Pack as well as tying into this one).


Locker Ness Monster


Twenty-four
Eighteen
Six.


Arrrgh. That’s not it.

Twenty-six
Fourteen
Eight.


Nothing. Nada. Nyet.

Twenty-six
Eighteen
Four.


Click. That’s it!

Unlock your head,
then your fingers,
then the door.



©Robyn Hood Black. All rights reserved.



PAZ:
Locked Out and Running Late


Usually I refuse to check a box.
I just let myself be blank.

But today I checked Other
and Hispanic and Asian

to get things over with because
I am in too much of a hurry

and who I really am
this very second is

locked out
and running late.



©Janet Wong. All rights reserved.


Then, a “Mentor Text” poem by Janet follows, this one again from Pax’s point of view:


PAZ:
Numbers


4            People would never guess
7            that my mind is such a mess
2            with numbers.

6            But I can memorize a poem,
9            read and read it to make it my own.
9            And then I can use it like a code.

3            Here’s a rhyme
4            when it comes time
7            to know my number. OK, let’s see:
3            (472) 699-3473!



©Janet Wong. All rights reserved.


Last in each PowerPack is the Power2You page, with terrific prompts created by Sylvia. In this one, it’s called “Numbers” and offers space to write under the following prompt: Write your phone number in a vertical column below. Then create a poem by writing a line for each number, adding that number of words in each line (so 9 = 9 words, 7 = 7 words, and so on). Or use another set of numbers that means something special to you.

Pretty brilliant, no? Here are some thoughts from Sylvia:

It was fun to explore this new project with Janet and think about ways to involve young people in looking at how poems work. I particularly enjoyed my role in thinking of creative "PowerPlay" and "Power2You" activities that were fun and playful and not like the usual school exercises. It was made easier by Janet's engaging poems that evoke a strong teen voice and persona. I thought about how to connect pre-writing with texting, movies and poems, and numbers and doodles, too. We hope young readers feel empowered to come at poetry in multiple ways and express themselves through their own writing.

[PowerPacks include poems by Carmen T. Bernier-Grand, Joseph Bruchac, Jen Bryant, Margarita Engle, Charles Ghigna, Avis Harley, Julie Larios, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, Charles Waters, Virginia Euwer Wolff, and Janet Wong. I'm beyond thrilled to be in such book company.]

But – WAIT! There’s MORE! Now you want your own copy, right? Janet and Sylvia are eager to get this jam-packed, brimming-with-resources, friendly-sized volume out into the world, inspiring young writers. They have tucked 5-count’em-FIVE copies right here in my blog to give away! Just leave a comment below by Wednesday, Oct. 5, and I’ll announce random winners on Friday, Oct. 7. Then don’t stray too far away – I’ll need to track down lucky ducks via email to find your real-world pond addresses.

Many thanks to Janet and Sylvia for visiting with us today and donating these wonderful books! [Don't want to leave things to chance? Click here for information on how to order this and other Poetry Friday Anthology editions.]

After commenting, be sure to go back to Reading to the Core, where the lovely and talented Catherine is hosting our Roundup this week.

Poetry Friday: Daily Issa and Creatures Great and Small

August 25, 2016

Tags: Poetry Friday, poetry, haiku, David G. Lanoue, Issa, ponderings, spiders, animals, nature, book tracks


I don’t know about you, but to counteract the weight of the daily news, I could use a daily dose of Issa!
[Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827) is regarded as one of the primary masters of haiku. He endured much hardship and loss, and his heartfelt poetry is known for its sensitivity to all living things.]

Wait -- Now I have a daily dose of Issa!

For years, Issa scholar and past-president of the Haiku Society of America David G. Lanoue has offered a random Issa poem delivered to your inbox or your Twitter account (or both!) . [Here’s a post about Dr. Lanoue (David) from my blog a couple-few years ago. A professor at Xavier University, he has translated upwards of 10,000 of Issa’s poems.]

His Issa website was launched in 2000. Click here to get to know Issa and sign up for daily poems. After my own unsuccessful attempt a while back to receive this daily treasure (operator error, I’m certain – it’s really quite easy), I finally got myself subscribed and love reading an Issa poem each day.

Thursday’s made me smile:


at an honest man's gate
honeybees
make their home


1824, translated by David G. Lanoue.


It reminded me of our summer guest I blogged about before – the golden silk orb weaver who took up just outside the back door and is still with us. She’s apparently going to go for a third brood?

Issa wrote about spiders, too. And lots of animals. Lanoue’s book, Issa and the Meaning of Animals – A Buddhist Poet’s Perspective (2014), offers accessible insights about this special poet and many of his haiku – a must if you are an Issa fan, a double-must if you are an animal-loving Issa fan.

Here’s one I love:


corner spider
rest easy, my soot-broom
is idle


Translated by David G. Lanoue.


And one more – this goes out to my newlywed teacher-daughter Morgan. They have seen deer a few times in their in-town neighborhood in Georgia this week; a buck, twice!


the young buck’s
antlers tilting…
“cuckoo!”


Translated by David G. Lanoue.


The book provides background and unlocks potential meanings for the poems, which give us beautiful imagery with or without explication. Hope you enjoyed this taste!

Are you a teacher? Click here and here for David’s website pages designed just for you. You can “test” your haiku/Issa knowledge with the first link, and find out about how to share Issa’s life and poetry with kids at the second.

Also, if picture poetry books call your name, you might enjoy sharing Matthew Gollub’s Cool Melons – Turn to Frogs! – The Life and Poems of Issa, illustrated by Kazuko G. Stone (Lee & Low, 1998, 2004). This colorful paperback combines some biography and sample poems to offer glimpses into Issa’s life and writing.

That's what’s going on in my universe this week. For the Poetry Friday Roundup and lots more poetic goodness, please visit poet and teacher extraordinaire Heidi over at My Juicy Little Universe.

Poetry Friday - THANK YOU, TREES by Gail Langer Karwoski and Marilyn E. Gootman

April 28, 2016

Tags: Poetry Friday, nature, holidays, book tracks


Greetings, Poetry Friday Tribe! It's our last Friday of National Poetry Month for this year. I don't know about you, but I have a lot of catching up to do this weekend on all the poetic wonderfulness around the Kidlitosphere. If you're in the same boat, have no fear - Jama's Roundup of the month's activities will guide you and keep you clicking for days.

With a nod to Earth Day last week, I'd like to introduce a little book I've been meaning to highlight since it came out three years ago. It was the first rhyming children's book by award-winning author and my dear friend, Gail Langer Karwoski, and co-written by Marilyn E. Gootman. Thank You, Trees, illustrated by the multiple-award-winning Kristen Balouch and published by Kar-Ben Publishing (a division of Lerner), is a lovely rhyming romp in celebration of something akin to a Jewish Arbor Day. (Click here for the publisher's page about it and here for Amazon .)

This board book invites the very youngest readers and listeners to appreciate the trees around them and to learn about Tu B'Shevat, a festival sometimes called the "New Year for Trees."

Here is the text on the opening spread:


On Tu B'Shevat
We plant a tree.
Baskets of fruit
For you and me.

Orange, grapefruit
Peach or plum,
Lemon, mango,
Apple - yum!


©Gail Langer Karwoski and Marilyn E. Gootman


The colorful art is joyous, perfectly complementing the verse. The book garnered great reviews from The New York Times, Kirkus, and Publisher's Weekly.

Be sure to check out Gail's website for more info on this and her many wonderful, classroom-friendly books. Her work has deep roots and an expansive reach, providing lots of cover and adventure for young readers!

Our host for Poetry Friday is no stranger to the woods. In fact, be sure to read her Earth Day poem posted last week. Many thanks, Buffy, for rounding us up today.

I'm off for a weekend in the mountains, where I plan to savor poetry AND appreciate the glory and goodness of trees. Wishing you the perfect shady spot to read in! Really... have you hugged a tree today? Have you? ;0)

Poetry Friday - DAYENU & Extra Credit Questions for April Halprin Wayland

April 14, 2016

Tags: Poetry Friday, poetry, Poetry Month, authors, book tracks, April Halprin Wayland


We’re slap-in-the-middle of Poetry Month! Does it get much better? Well, it does if you get to hang out with one of my all-time favorite people and poets, April Halprin Wayland.

Welcome to Life on the Deckle Edge, April, where I’m always running a wee bit ragged. Until I spend a few moments with something as wonderful as your just-launched More Than Enough - A Passover Story (Dial Books for Young Readers), which invites us to slow down and savor and be grateful. Katie Kath’s exuberant illustrations brim with joy, depicting a loving family’s preparations for their special Passover meal.

Today, I appreciate your playing along for a few “Extra Credit” questions!


April’s Extra Credit Q & A

“We wander the market surrounded by colors – Dayenu.”
First, what is Dayenu? Second, where are your favorite places to wander?


Dayenu (pronounced die-AYE-new) is the title of a song we sing at Passover . It's bright and bouncy and the chorus is a true earworm—it's simply the word Dayenu repeated over and over.

Dayenu means, "It would have been enough." So, for example, we say, if we had only been freed from slavery, that would have been enough—Dayenu! And, if the Red Sea had split and that was all, that would have been enough...etc.

Dayenu is a reminder to be aware of and grateful for the blessings in each moment.

Favorite places to wander? Meadows. And on verdant green hiking trails with my dog or my hiking buddies. Although I live within walking distance of the ocean in Southern California, rolling green hills are what light me up.

“We reach through the bars to lift one purring kitten.” Please, tell us about your pets!

Gladly, Robyn. I include an animal in all of my books.

• Eli is our licky, lanky dog (part Doberman, part German Shepherd, part knucklehead);
• Snot is our tiny tortoiseshell cat (she was the runt of the litter) with a squeaky kitten voice. (And don't blame me—my husband named her);
• Sheldon is our California desert tortoise. We had to get a permit from the state to adopt him because these tortoises are listed as a threatened species.
• We have about ten 10-cent gold fish in our pond (who have grown the size of submarines),
• and we have two red-eared slider turtles. We used to have four, named after the Beatles; we're not sure who survived, so their names could be any two of these: John, Paul, George or Ringo.

“We soak in blue bubbles and dress up for dinner.” What was your most recent dress-up occasion, or one on the horizon?

You can bet that I dressed up for the official More Than Enough book launch at our wonderful local independent bookstore. It was so much fun! I wore a bright hearts-and-rainbow dress, read the book, taught the Dayenu song and played the fiddle as the audience joined in.

Then we passed out coloring pages and I talked to the grown-ups about the hilarious behind-the-scenes story of how this book was born. [This is a must-read, Folks – click here for a tale of flexibility & determination!]

We served my favorite Passover food, charoset. Charoset symbolizes mortar which Jewish slaves used between bricks to build edifices for the Pharaoh. It's made of chopped apples, walnuts, honey, cinnamon, dates and either wine or grape juice. Put it on matzoh and it's yummy-crunchy-sweet—divine!

“We search high and low for the lost afikomen.” Do you have a favorite “found object”?

Such an interesting question, Robyn. My father was a farmer and an artist—and an appreciator of all things great and small. He found a crooked old plumbing pipe about the size of a child's arm, bent at the elbow; he stuck flowers and a chicken hawk feather in it, and brought it home. So quirky-beautiful... and so my father. That's the first thing I thought of.

(Not gonna lie… that made me tear up a little!)
“She wraps us in blankets, then sings Eliyahu.” You’re no stranger to music. Do you sing to the radio or iTunes while stuck in LA traffic? What station? Are you a humble hummer or a belter-outer?


Actually, I usually listen to National Public Radio 24/7—news, not music. And audio books. In terms of music, I'm all about sitting-around-the-living-room playing acoustic instruments and singing folk music with friends. Songs written by songwriters like Tom Paxton and Stan Rogers, to name a few.

But lately when I'm driving listen to the songs from the musical, Hamilton. Wow. I've never understood hip-hop before, I'd never taken the time to really listen to it. Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote the lyrics, the music, the book, and who stars in the musical knocks it out of the stadium. (I also listen to In the Heights, which Miranda wrote and starred in, too).

When I'm in the car, I'm a belter-outer. Which are you, Robyn?

Ha! Well, I’m an NPR addict as well. But bring on a classic rock anthem, and I’m belting it out -- if it's just me in the car, anyway!

The children enjoy “… a Passover sleepover.” Best rest for you – rain on a tin roof? Ocean? Crickets? Birdsong and window blinds?

Rain on the roof. (The alarm on my cell is birdsong. It's an almost liquid way to transition from dreaming to real life.)

Thanks so much for joining us today, April. We could never get enough of YOU!

Thank you for having me, Robyn—I love your questions (and you!)

Readers, for some extra fun today, I’m happy to report I’m a guest over at Penny Klosterman’s terrific blog as part of her “A Great Nephew and a Great Aunt” series, where you’ll also get to meet my super-talented niece, Sara, and my delightful great nephew, Carter.

And for even more Poetry Month celebrating than you think you can stand, bop on by Today’s Little Ditty, where the magical Michelle has our Roundup this week.
Dayenu!

[Note: I'm attending a history conference here in Beaufort today and will try to check in at the mid-day break. Go ahead and leave some love for April!]

Poetry Friday - Spring Haiku from Terri L. French

April 6, 2016

Tags: Poetry Friday, poetry, Poetry Month, book tracks, haiku, Terri L. French, Haiku Society of America


Happy 2nd Poetry Friday of National Poetry Month!

I'm on the road but wanted to share a few lovely spring haiku by my friend, Terri L. French. Terri has been the fearless leader of our Southeast Region of the Haiku Society of America for several years, bringing lots of lively opportunities to our part of the country. I'm taking the reins this year, but she and the organization's powers-that-be have kindly agreed to let me get past a very busy spring first, including planning daughter Morgan's out-of-town June wedding. (Thank you, Terri and HSA!)

Much appreciation to Terri for sharing these poems here this week. Enjoy!



oodles of daffodils--
the beauty of an empty vase


Bottle Rockets, 2011



a succession of sneezes--
forsythia blossoms




gentle rain...
the chant of spring peepers
joins my zen




wind
blowing on the child
blowing on the pinwheel



Poems ©Terri L. French. All rights reserved.



These last two poems are from Terri's collection, A Ladybug on My Words, available from Amazon.

Terri was a guest on my blog three years ago during Poetry Month; click here for a bit of her background and more of her haiku!

Speaking of haiku and Poetry Month, The Haiku Foundation will once again celebrate International Haiku Day with a global "rolling haiku" on April 17. Mark your calendar and click here for more details!


If you're a fan of short poems, you've probably ventured over to Laura Purdie Salas's blog. She's our host today for the Roundup, so make like a ladybug and fly on over to visit Writing the World for Kids.

Poetry Friday - EVERY DAY BIRDS and Extra Credit Q&A with Amy LV!

March 30, 2016

Tags: Poetry Friday, poetry, poets, birds, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, book tracks, National Poetry Month


Dear Poetry Friends,

Such a special treat today – No April Foolin’! If you’re a Poetry Friday regular, you know that our own Amy Ludwig VanDerwater is fluttering around with a beautiful brand-new book, EVERY DAY BIRDS, published by Orchard/Scholastic. If you’re a PF newbie, Welcome!

I’m one of those lucky ducks who can call Amy friend, as well as poetic inspiration in human form. You can learn more about Amy and her work here. And in case you haven’t heard… her debut poetry picture book, FOREST HAS A SONG, illustrated by Robbin Gourley (Clarion) just won the inaugural SCBWI Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award!

EVERY DAY BIRDS, her second picture book for young readers, offers a closer look at many common birds, brought to colorful life with papercut illustrations by Dylan Metrano. Kirkus calls it “beginning birding at its best.” Here's a taste:


Hawk hunts every day for prey.

Cardinal flashes fire.

Woodpecker taps hollow trees.

Crow rests on a wire. …



Click around the Kidlitosphere and Poetry Friday blogs, and you’ll find lots of love for this book. Amy’s post celebrating its lift-off ihere. I thought it wouldt be fun to ask Amy just a few “Extra Credit” questions inspired by EVERY DAY BIRDS to give us a peek behind the scenes of her life poetic. Here we go!

Amy’s Extra Credit Q&A


Early bird or night owl?

I am a night owl who is trying to be an early bird!

Hummingbird drinks flower nectar. Coffee, tea, or something else for you?

Tea. I have a glass teapot, and my children and I enjoy trying all different kinds of tea, from flowery tea to fruity tea to herby tea. I like the varied colors of teas brewing, and holding a warm mug in my hands feels so cozy. This said, I am always happy to go out for coffee with a friend. And since I live in chilly Western New York, I am a fan of hot cocoa (lots of whipped cream) too.

Are you more chirpy bluebird or boisterous blue jay?

People often think of bluebirds as cheerful creatures, and I am a cheerful soul. To be truthful, though, I can also be bossy as a blue jay.

Chickadee wears a black cap. What’s your favorite hat?

My current favorite is a new crazy bird hat, a superb gift from Librarian Jim Worthington. I cannot stop laughing when I wear it because the birds’ wings flap on springs. Someone told me that she could not take me seriously in this hat, and I like this idea of not being taken too seriously.

In addition to being a poet, you’re a traveling speaker and teacher. How many times a year do you fly?

I try not to fly too frequently as I love being in my nest with my nest mates, but I do take three or four sky-trips each year.

Gull stares at the sea. What do you stare at when you are waiting for inspiration to strike?

Sometimes I stare out my window and sometimes into deep nothingness. Sometimes I stare at my empty paper and sometimes into my own head.


Thank you to my friend-with-the-beautiful-bird-name-Robyn for inviting me to your blog home today. I am a big fan of your work. xo, a.


Thank YOU, Dear Amy, for lighting on a branch over here this week to spread your sunshine!

For more great poetry sure to have you soaring, wing it on over to Amy’s home turf, The Poem Farm, where she happens to be our gracious host ringing in National Poetry Month today. Her blog is also celebrating its sixth anniversary this week. I’m sure there are still some cake crumbs around… (Which, by the way, Mr. Cornelius might find as he visits blogs for Jama’s roundup of National Poetry Month special events here, including links the 2016 Kidlit Progressive Poem organized by Irene.)

Poetry Friday - A Thesaurus-y Celebration

January 14, 2016

Tags: Poetry Friday, poetry, authors, book tracks


Got your party hats and blowers ready? Monday is the birthday of Peter Mark Roget. You know, the Thesaurus guy! (And much more, too.) He came to us via London on January 18, 1779.

Right after New Year’s – I’m not sure why – I gave MYSELF a gift. I finally purchased THE RIGHT WORD – ROGET AND HIS THESAURUS by the very gifted Jen Bryant and illustrated by the so-very-talented Melissa Sweet . Published in 2014 by Eerdmans, it won the Robert F. Sibert Medal and was named a Caldecott Honor Book in last year’s flurry of ALA awards.

I’ve so enjoyed savoring, pouring over, and relishing my own copy! Research doesn’t overwhelm the personal story in this inspiring, quirky biography, and the illustrations are clever and wondrous. [Those endpapers! Oh, my….]

Our own Keri shared a lovely post when this book came out over at Keri Recommends, with great links and such. I know there are many fans of THE RIGHT WORD among the Poetry Friday crowd.

I learned from the book’s timeline that it was nearly birthday time, hence this post. And hence my need to share our own Heidi Mordhorst’s ever-clever poem honoring this venerable volume which makes Roget’s name a familiar one two centuries later. Heidi’s poem is found in THE POETRY FRIDAY ANTHOLOGY FOR MIDDLE SCHOOL (PFAMS) from Pomelo Books (2013).

If you haven’t yet read it, you’ll see why Sylvia and Janet couldn’t pass it up:


Meet The Saurus


I sound like a lizard, a dino or fossil;
Instead I’m a reference, a volume, a book.
If you need some help or require assistance,
check in for a peek, a perusal or look.

I’m small, undersized, miniscule or compact
but I’m powerful, potent, I’m mighty or strong.
Please trust in, rely on, depend on, believe me–
I won’t misinform or mislead, steer you wrong.

When you need to state or express or convey
a specific idea or notion or thought,
I can offer, propose, recommend or suggest
the word or expression that hits the right spot.

See me for that nuance, that hint or that shade
of meaning that captures what you want to say,
for I am The Saurus, Synonymous Rex,
King Onomasticon! Extinct? No way!



©Heidi Mordhorst. All rights reserved. Posted with very last-minute-permission, because that’s how I roll.


For a video of Heidi reading this poem herself, paddle on over to No Water River, where Renee included it in her PFAMS Poet Palooza. (Scroll down the post to find Heidi.)

You can enjoy another video created by Karey Pustejovsky on the PFAMS blog from April 2013.

Like Mr. Roget’s Thesaurus, I don’t think Heidi’s poem or THE RIGHT WORD will go out of style any time soon.

For more stylish words today, visit our Round-up host, - WAIT – look who it is! That delightful Keri, at Keri Recommends. (I really didn’t know until I just clicked to see!) She’s got some “big magic” over there.

[And a heads’ up for next week – I’ll be on the road as a visiting poet in a school next Friday – at Morgan’s school as a matter of fact! – and will be too involved with poem-loving kids to post. Hmmm… what’s a great word for, “can’t wait”?! See you at the end of the month!]

Poetry Friday: Of Mice and Chihuahuas - and Rebecca Kai Dotlich

January 7, 2016

Tags: Poetry Friday, poets, authors, book tracks, animals, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Lee Bennett Hopkins


Just over three years ago, we rescued a three-pound Chihuahua. (Okay, I rescued a three-pound Chihuahua when something tiny ran in front of my car on a busy road. “You’re not even a real dog!” I said, dodging traffic.) Less than a year old, no tags or microchip, and though she’d been loved by somebody, we were unable to find an owner. So she joined the family, and son Seth named her Rita.

We’ve never been “tiny dog” people, but I have to say, this one steals everybody’s heart. More than one vet tech has marveled that she’s a nice Chihuahua.

She’s also entertaining. Her latest antics involve stalking mice below the house from the comfort of indoors. Our small coastal cottage was built on slanted ground with pillars in the back. Boards run from the ground to the bottom all around, but there is open space between them. You can open a gate and walk on dirt underneath the back part of the house. With insulation tucked beneath the floor, it’s evidently an inviting space for little critters to make themselves at home. (Hubby was down there this week, and one of said little critters dropped down as he was tacking up insulation – not sure which one was more surprised! At least it was small.)

From inside the house, Rita has set up a couple of monitoring stations. One is below the dining room hutch. She can fit inside the space between its carved legs. She’ll sniff and then sit on high alert, head cocked and ears up, for quite a while. Then she’ll run around to the rug in the kitchen and adopt the same stance. Wonder what she’s listening to? I’ll ask her, “Rita – where are your mice?”

All this puts me in a mind to share Rebecca Kai Dotlich’s beautiful poem, “Winter Home.” It’s from one of my favorite collections of all time, Sharing the Seasons (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2010) by the incomparable Lee Bennett Hopkins . The rich illustrations by David Diaz are pure magic.

Enjoy!


Winter Home

by Rebecca Kai Dotlich

We build our beds
inside this barn,
with shreds of cloth,
old rags, twine. A room
where we can winter-dine
to chime of ice, by windows full
of snowflake art. With dreams of crumb,
cracker, tart, inside this old
wind-whistling place, this cold
and tiny mousekin space,
we cuddle to chase
the chill away,
imagining an April day.



©Rebecca Kai Dotlich. Used with permission.


Savor this poem – it’s one to read again; you’re sure to catch some new poetic treasure the second (or third!) time. So many luscious words/turns of phrase - do you have a favorite?

I wonder if these mice are distant cousins to the ones who usher us into and out of Jumping Off Library Shelves (Wordsong, September 2015)? :0)

RKD fans, take note: If you haven’t seen her oh-so-clever One Day, The End.: Short, Very Short, Shorter-Than-Ever Stories (Boyds Mills Press, October 2015) illustrated by Fred Koehler, you’re in for a treat. Keep your antennae out next month for another Boyds Mills title by Rebecca, The Knowing Book, illustrated by Matthew Cordell. I was lucky enough to have a sneak peek of this one, and it’s going to be on my gift-giving list for all kinds of occasions. (“This picture book encourages readers to make the most of their lives….” School Library Journal).

Thanks to Rebecca for sharing the perfect Winter poem today, and to all the wee critters that enrich our lives.

Keep celebrating a new year of poetry with our wonderful Tabatha, rounding up at The Opposite of Indifference today. Stay warm and cozy!

Poetry Friday: Jacqueline Woodson's BROWN GIRL DREAMING and some thoughts from SC....

June 25, 2015

Tags: Poetry Friday, poetry, poets, ponderings, book tracks


Greetings from South Carolina on this summertime Poetry Friday.

Just shy of a couple of weeks ago, I finally turned my attention to one of my “TBR” ’s (To Be Read’s) in my always-toppling stack. Jacqueline Woodson’s BROWN GIRL DREAMING (Nancy Paulson Books, Penguin, 2014) – with its shiny gold National Book Award Winner sticker – had even traveled with me in May, but I hadn’t cracked it open yet. I’d been anxious to read it, and it had certainly been praised on Poetry Friday in recent months.

Then the multiple-award-winning author was named our new Young People’s Poet Laureate by The Poetry Foundation at the beginning of this month, and I jumped into this autobiographical journey told in verse. I was immediately captivated – and not just by the exquisite writing. I hadn’t realized before that Jacqueline Woodson was born less than two weeks after I was in early 1963 (about 350 miles apart, and in some ways, worlds apart).

I was intrigued by how our early memories might be alike in many ways and drastically different in others. I was born in Tennessee and grew up in Florida; she was born in Ohio and grew up in Greenville, SC, and in New York. (Greenville is where I went to college, met my hubby, and where my daughter currently lives.)

I was not really aware of racial tensions as a very young child; I never saw “Whites Only” signs. They certainly might have existed in places where we traveled when I was tiny, but I would have been too young to read them. I have no recollections of races being separated in my early world.

In BROWN GIRL DREAMING, Woodson masterfully shows how the people she most loved and looked up to as a child had been affected by Jim Crow laws and racial injustice, how life was different in the North and South in the ’60s (and ’70s). Reading the book, you see through her eyes as a child trying to make sense of her family’s past and present.

She describes walking past a Woolworth’s with her grandmother in Greenville, because even after the laws changed, her grandmother had been ignored in that store before:

Acted like
I wasn’t even there.
It’s hard not to see the moment –
my grandmother in her Sunday clothes, a hat
with a flower pinned to it
neatly on her head, her patent-leather purse,
perfectly clasped
between her gloved hands – waiting quietly
long past her turn.


I remember Woolworth’s – one of the department stores of my childhood. I remember ladies wearing gloves and carrying patent-leather purses. I never remember feeling discriminated against, because that was not my reality. Of course I learned about racial inequality as I grew up and matured, but I didn’t have to endure it directly, or hear that my parents, siblings or grandparents had suffered because of it. I don’t have to battle it now.

It’s been an interesting half-century to be alive. I remember watching President Obama’s first inauguration on TV, seeing his two precious daughters and thinking they were about to move into the White House, and recalling that I had been an infant on this earth when four little girls were blown up in a church in Alabama, and I just cried.

Anyway, this month, I had been reading along in BROWN GIRL DREAMING each night when, 10 short days ago, news broke of the atrocity at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. (That’s just a little over an hour up the road from here.) I was numb. I texted my husband, who was on a church service trip with my son in another part of the state.

I cannot pretend to fathom what those families have been going through. Each of those nine souls was a shining light in their homes, communities, and in the greater world. The reactions of many of family members have demonstrated the message that love is stronger than hate. It’s been humbling and inspiring to see these grieving individuals embody such deep faith and verbalize it so simply and eloquently. Grace personified in the midst of unspeakable loss.

Of course, the timing of my reading Jacqueline Woodson’s beautiful book has made it that much more poignant for me. In case you haven’t yet read it, I don’t want to leave you with the impression that it’s only about race. It’s about joy and loss and self-discovery, about a young writer falling in love with words and finding her voice – in vivid memories from a full childhood laced with warmth and wonder.

In addition to the poems, there are black and white family photos to enjoy as well. To me, the whole book is like a carefully and lovingly designed photo album. Each poem evokes a picture's thousand words of possibilities and connections. Artfully chosen details and descriptions create a strong, sturdy, and inspiring story – especially for someone creative, of any color and of any age. Especially for any young reader who might struggle a bit with reading or writing, but who has something to say.

For more inspiring poetry this week, please visit the lovely Carol at Carol's Corner for the Roundup.

Poetry Friday: Sincerely...

April 9, 2015

Tags: Poetry Friday, poetry, ponderings, book tracks, letter writing





I hope you are having a great Poetry Month! If you're like me, you might already be wishing for a couple-few extra days to get to some of the great blog posts you haven't been able to visit yet. I'm hoping to catch up a bit next week.


Speaking of next week, yours truly will be hosting Poetry Friday, and GUESS WHO will be here? Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong! [I KNOW... I can't wait either!] These two Poetry-Forces-to-be-Reckoned-With will share the inside scoop on how the new bilingual Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations came to be, and where they hope it's going. BYOC - Bring your own confetti!


Today I'm sharing my poem in the book, "Sincerely." It was written to celebrate National Write a Letter of Appreciation Week, the first week of March. (If you just missed it, get a jump on next year! I'm sure there are lots of folks you appreciate.)


I was thrilled to get a bona fide Pomelo Books Pocket Poem™ Card with my poem printed on it as well. These cards have sure made me smile. I mailed some to my daughter Morgan for her classroom of third-graders, and she texted me with a picture of each student holding them up and smiling.



Then I took a few with me to a tutoring session with children of local migrant farm workers, an effort spearheaded by a wonderful couple in our church. My student partner that evening was Leslie, a fourth grader. Just so happens one of Leslie's vocabulary words we were practicing was "Sincere" - and it was one of the few words tripping her up a wee bit.



I pulled out the cards, and she was happily surprised. The most fun part, though, was when I asked her to help me with the Spanish pronunciation on the other side of the card. She was a willing and capable teacher, patiently coaxing me as I stumbled over "agradecido" and "Afectuosamente." I was grateful for her guidance! And I think she enjoyed passing out cards to the rest of the students before we left the library.




Here is the poem in English and Spanish:

SINCERELY

Dear Friend,

I see the thoughtful things you do.
Your words are always cheerful, too.

I noticed!
And I'm thanking you.

Sincerely,
Me


AFECTUOSAMENTE

Querido amigo,

Eres muy amable y atento,
y tus palabras son siempre de aliento.

¡Lo he advertido!
y te estoy agradecido

Afectuosamente,
Yo


Poem©Robyn Hood Black. All rights reserved.

Thanks for sharing a little pre-game celebration with me this week, and see you next Friday! For this week's Roundup, visit the always-much-appreciated Laura at Writing the World for Kids.


Poetry Friday: Lee Bennett Hopkins is Here with LULLABY...!

February 20, 2015

Tags: Poetry Friday, babies and toddlers, Lee Bennett Hopkins, book tracks, poetry


Shhhh.... Don't wake the ba- ... Oh, never mind. The baby's awake! And ready to enjoy wonderful poetry from the incomparable Lee Bennett Hopkins!

Before we dive into poetry for the very youngest listeners, let's congratulate Lee on some big news. You likely know of the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award and the Lee Bennett Hopkins Promising Poet Award. This week, it was announced that The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and Lee have joined forces to establish the SCBWI Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, which "recognizes and encourages the publication of an excellent book of poetry or anthology for children and/or young adults." This award will given every three years. [Click here here for the Publishers Weekly article, and here for the SCBWI award page with details. ]

Our guest of honor today is no stranger to awards - among his many honors are the NCTE National Council of Teachers of English Excellence in Poetry for Children (2009), the University of Southern Mississippi Medallion for “outstanding contributions to the field of children’s literature” (1989); and recognition by the Guinness Book of World Records as "the most prolific anthologist of poetry for children" (2011).

With more than a hundred books under his belt, including original works as well as collections he's carefully compiled and brought to life, Lee is simply a force for children's poetry like no other. The countless (who could count them?!) children who have entered the magical world of poetry because of his work might not know of the accolades behind a poetry book held in their hands, or one read to them. But Lee knows these children. He knows the power of poetry for one child.

Warmest Greetings, Lee – Poetry Friday folks are always thrilled when you join us! I’m also thrilled to share your thoughts about your new collection of poems to be released from Abrams next week (Tuesday, March 3). It’s for the very youngest readers and listeners, LULLABY & KISSES SWEET – Poems to Love with your Baby. What inspired you to create a book of poems for babies?

I have been at work compiling LULLABY & KISSES SWEET for a long time. I feel it is of the utmost importance that babies are exposed to oral language, hearing words, knowing books, as early as being in the womb! The sooner we get our children to read, to appreciate words, the faster they will become lifelong readers.

And what could be more important than instilling children with the music of poetry?


Why is it important to expose babies and toddlers to rhymes and verse?

Hearing rhymes and verse opens children to experience the world around them. I chose topics for LULLABY… that are both universal and an integral part of growing up… Family, Food, Firsts, Play and Bedtime.

What could be more enjoyable than reading a poem about something that is a new childhood experience – a first tooth coming in, riding a tricycle for the first time, or having a teddy bear tucked near one’s head at bedtime? Experiences to cherish, to share, via verse.


From your perspective as a poet – what are the challenges of writing for this very youngest of ages?

Poems written for LULLABY… were not only challenging to compose but tricky to create. Since this was being produced as an oversized board book no poem could be more than eight lines long, all had to rhyme, and each poet was assigned to a specific subject. The poets and I worked back and forth, sometimes altering many, many drafts before the verse was right for this collection. Oh, how I admire the tenacity of poets.

Compared to over l00 anthologies I have compiled for children and young adults, LULLABY… was a constant, ongoing challenge.


Tell us about the title of the book; it’s just delicious.

The title comes from the first line in Rebecca Kai Dotlich’s poem “Sandman”. Rebecca told me she made up this poem as a song and sang it bedside to her young nephew when he had just moved and was homesick the fist night. From that time on he knew the verse by heart, as did the entire family. Rebecca’s mother begged her for years to publish the poem. Finally, she will get to see it come to life on the page – a gift Rebecca so wanted to give to her aging mother. I am so happy I could fulfill a few dreams. “Sandman” though only four lines long is filled with a lifetime of memories, generations of ‘kisses sweet ’now published for forthcoming generations to read, read aloud, and share.

Alyssa Nassner's illustrations are so fresh and lively. How would you describe the way pictures and text work together in this project?

Alyssa’s artwork is perfect for this collection. The varied anthropomorphic full-color drawings are perfect for this age level.

What child (or adult) wouldn’t fall in love with kittens, bears, lions, or a bunny with pink ears playing in a sandbox?


This is a case-bound board book (perfect for gift-giving, folks!). Was it important to you that the collection be sturdy enough for babies to handle themselves, not just listen to? How do you hope this special audience interacts with this poetry?

It was my brilliant editor, Tamar Brazis at Abrams, who led this project on to become a board book. And it is one of the biggest board books I’ve seen in a very long time – 30 poems each getting their own page.

On an end note I thank you, Robyn, for the amount of time and work you put into your poem, “Milk” in the Food section. Writing a gem featuring a baby, a grandmother, a father and a sippy cup is no small feat. And in five-lines you managed to bring in so much familial love. Wow!

LULLABY… is subtitled: “Poems to Love with your Baby”. Each poet’s words resonate with the concept – love.


Many thanks for joining us today, Lee (and for those blush-worthy kind words). Your gifts to readers of all ages know no bounds.

Let's close with a few poems from the book, shall we?

The spread pictured above features these two terrific poems in the "Play" section.

Sandbox

by Stephanie Salkin

Sand on my fingers, on my toes,
Sand on my chin, my ears, my nose,
Sand on my elbows, neck, and knees.
Take me out of this sandbox -

Please?


©2015 by Stephanie Salkin. Used by permission.



My Tricycle

by Amy Ludwig Vanderwater

How many seats? One.
How many pedals? Two.
How many wheels?
One, two, three.

I am riding by myself.

Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!


©2015 by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater. Used by permission.

[Many thanks to Stephanie and Amy for sharing these fine poems.]

What? All that playing has made you sleepy? I have just the thing. Among many lovely poems in the "Bedtime" section is one of Lee's own:

Read to Me

by Lee Bennett Hopkins

Read to me.
Read to me.

Read to me - then -
read to me
read to me
again and again.


©2015 by Lee Bennett Hopkins. Used by permission.

There now, didn't that make you... what's that? You want to hear it again!

Read these poems and more - again and again! - this coming Tuesday, when LULLABY AND KISSES SWEET is officially launched from Abrams.

To tide you over til then, please visit My Juicy Little Universe, where the lovely Heidi is marching forward to round up Poetry Friday today.

Poetry Friday: LULLABY AND KISSES SWEET Pre-Preview...

February 19, 2015

Tags: Poetry Friday, Lullaby and Kisses Sweet, poetry, babies, toddlers, Lee Bennett Hopkins, book tracks

Poem ©Robyn Hood Black; Illustration ©Alyssa Nassner. All rights reserved.

Greetings! Unless you are checking in today from the Western edges of the US (or another country), you are likely tapping a keyboard with fingerless gloves and peering out from under a toboggan! I hope you have a cuppa something warm close by.

NEXT week, our special guest here at Life on the Deckle Edge will be...
(drumroll, please.......)

LEE BENNETT HOPKINS!

Lee will kindly drop by to share a peek behind the scenes of his brand-new poetry collection, LULLABY AND KISSES SWEET - Poems to Love with your Baby, illustrated by Alyssa Nassner. The official release date is March 3, from Abrams Appleseed. The casebound board book features 30 original poems from 27 poets. [I'm beyond delighted to be one (!), along with other familiar faces from our Poetry Friday community.]

No spoilers - we'll dive in deeply next week. In the meantime, I'm grateful to share my poem above, featured in the section, "Food."

                    Milk

      by Robyn Hood Black

    Grandma holds my sippy cup.

        Daddy helps me pour.

    I love my milk each morning

                      But

        I love them even more.



©Robyn Hood Black. All rights reserved.


[Can't wait for next Friday? Click here here for the Publishers Weekly review.]

Raising a cup of steaming coffee - no, Milk! - to the warm and wonderful Linda at Teacher Dance as she rounds up Poetry Friday this week. Stay cozy! And see you here next week....

Poetry Friday: Summer Poem Swap Delights from Irene Latham

July 10, 2014

Tags: Poetry Friday, poets, Summer Poem Swap, book tracks




You can’t outclever Irene.

A couple of weeks ago it was my pleasure to share my first surprise in the 2014 Summer Poem Swap (dreamed up by the amazing Tabatha ), a lovely and poignant poem and hand painted card from Margaret Simon.

Thursday my mailbox offered up delectable poetic surprise # 2 – this time from my good friend and fellow SCBWI Southern Breezer, Irene Latham.

First, I howled at the packaging. A repurposed Little Debbies Star Crunch box! That bit of cardboard transported me back a few decades ago to summers when I worked at a daycare center– we took the kids skating and took along boxes of Little Debbies Star Crunch treats! Mmmm, still remember how yummy they were…

I opened that box to find another: a cute little take-out carton with wire handle! You know the ones. Irene collaged the outside of this with all kinds of pictorial wonders – images of a light bulb/idea; a big beetle; a pig wearing shades; the words yes! and Love; some eighteenth-century party-goers; some colorful men under a colorful umbrella; and a little girl in make-believe mode hanging out a costume to dry. Sooo very Irene!

Inside the box were some fortune cookies! And, a wee colorful scroll. Oh, I do love a scroll. I untied its ribbon to find this:


Fortune Cookie
for RHB

        1
crisp, golden shell
    happy to hatch

        2
white-winged
   messenger
nestled inside
    tender folds

        3

word-bird
unfurling,
singing itself

    alive



©Irene Latham. All rights reserved.


Is that delicious or what?!?! (And please forgive the less-than-perfect formatting.) I could read that last stanza over and over, and I’m sure I will.

In the interest of poetry of course, I opened one of the fortune cookies. To share whatever its message was with you …

If we only knew the real value of the day.

Now there’s a sentiment a poet can sink her teeth into! (And, yes, of course I ate the cookie… Am I wearing crumbs?)

Speaking of Irene, on the OFF CHANCE YOU’VE BEEN ESCAPING THE HEAT IN SIBERIA OR SOMETHING… Huge congrats on the starred reviews for her first collection of poetry for young readers, DEAR WANDERING WILDEBEEST, to be released from Millbrook in September. Says the one and only Lee Bennett Hopkins:

CHEERS to Irene Latham. Her latest book, DEAR WANDERING WILDEBEEST AND OTHER POEMS FROM THE WATER HOLE (Millbrook) received STARRED reviews from both SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL and KIRKUS reviews. The book is simply beautiful in every way. SLJ cites:
"This will be a much-sought after book...". Seek it out.


I always do what Lee says. Actually, I had the good fortune to see some of these fine poems in manuscript form, and I recently got to see a beautiful ARC from the publisher. To see the cover, and to learn about more poetry books for young readers Irene has coming down the pike, click here.

Many thanks to Irene for allowing me to share her work, and I’m ever grateful to share this journey in poetry with her as well.

All this talk of cookies must have whet your poetic appetite. Please visit lovely Linda at Write Time for more delicious poetic offerings in this week’s Roundup!

Poetry Friday: September

September 5, 2013

Tags: Poetry Friday, poetry, ponderings, authors, book tracks, haiku

YAY Images

I caught it - just for a hint of a moment, just through my fingers and teasing my face - walking at dusk last night. Have you caught it? That wispy slight chill in the air wafting over the scent of grass - the promise of fall?

Fall has always been my favorite season. As a little girl, when that chill in the air and the smell of fresh grass meant I was running around my grandparents' back yard in Tennessee, I loved the start of a new school year. Growing up in Florida, I didn't move to where the leaves change color until college. I am still at a loss each year when the canopy transforms into a yellow golden scarlet aubergine cathedral, shedding stained glass leaves into a carpet. Fall is a time to breathe deeply, to both contemplate and start new things.

On my side of the family, the first great-grandchild for my folks was born Wednesday night to my lovely niece. New life makes everyone pause and feel hopeful. We also discovered that there's a baby due on my husband's side of the family - the first great-grandchild for his folks, so fall will be full of promise. New babies always make me think of Lee Bennett Hopkins's collection AMAZING FACES, with exquisite illustrations by Chris Soentpiet (Lee & Low, 2010). Rebecca Kai Dotlich's opening poem begins:

Amazing Face

Amazing, your face.
Amazing.

It shows there will be trails to follow,
porches to wave from, wonder from,
play on. ...


©Rebecca Kai Dotlich. All rights reserved.

Please click here to read the rest.

There's something about the bittersweet nature of fall that captivates me, too. All that glorious color and fresh air harbors the reality that stark winter is next on the wheel. We are fragile, after all - strong, but impermanent. This sensibility accompanies the best haiku, one reason I'm so drawn to the form.

Somewhat related, the imagist poets often call to me, too. This poem in particular seemed perfect for today, and even relevant with our current concerns around the globe.

September, 1918

by Amy Lowell (1874–1925)

This afternoon was the colour of water falling through sunlight;
The trees glittered with the tumbling of leaves;
The sidewalks shone like alleys of dropped maple leaves,
And the houses ran along them laughing out of square, open windows.
Under a tree in the park,
Two little boys, lying flat on their faces,
Were carefully gathering red berries
To put in a pasteboard box.
Some day there will be no war,
Then I shall take out this afternoon
And turn it in my fingers,
And remark the sweet taste of it upon my palate,
And note the crisp variety of its flights of leaves.
To-day I can only gather it
And put it into my lunch-box,
For I have time for nothing
But the endeavour to balance myself
Upon a broken world.


Click here to see the poem at The Poetry Foundation; you can click on Lowell's biography on that page and read more about her extraordinary career.

Finally, let the autumn winds blow you over to Author Amok, where the lovely and talented Laura has thoughts on friendship, more classic poetry, and a terrific Round-Up this week!

Poetry Friday - Poetry Month Continued with Eileen Spinelli

April 8, 2013

Tags: Poetry Friday, poetry, authors, book tracks, Poetry Month, animals

Eileen and Robyn at Highlights Founders Workshop in May 2012; Office Kitty May enjoying NORA'S ARK.


Greetings from Mississippi, where I’m heading home today after the wonderful Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival at The University of Southern Mississippi. April and Irene and I had a blast sharing the Poetry Friday Anthology and the Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School (Sylia Vardell and Janet Wong, eds.) with workshop attendees! [Details in my post last week, which was to my utter shock gobbled up somehow in cyberspace, with all the dozens of links folks had left and I’d rounded up - 60-plus comments. Sigh. I reposted my text part here, with our PFA poems.]

I love connecting with other children’s poets, writers and readers. Almost a year ago I had the good fortune to attend my second poetry workshop up at Highlights (post about that here).

Guess whose small group I was in? Eileen Spinelli’s. Yes, that Eileen Spinelli, whose work I’ve admired for many years.

Eileen has poems in these Poetry Friday Anthologies as well. I asked her if I could share her PFA poem from Fourth Grade, Week 29 – “Poetry Poems” – because to me it’s just perfect for National Poetry Month. She kindly agreed.

Today

Today I’m going to pay attention.
To the broken blueness of sky.
To the high weeds in the vacant lot.
To the rusted pot in the alleyway.
Today I’m going to leap across puddles
and steep in green
and all the wild colors in between.
I’m going to listen to
what the birds are singing about,
and to the happy shouts of toddlers on swings.
Today I’m going to gather all my heart can hold
of lemony light and yawning cats
and the bright blur of traffic on the bridge.
Today I’m going to pay attention.
Today I’m going to find myself a poem.


©Eileen Spinelli. All rights reserved.

This poem is particularly delicious when read aloud!

Speaking of Eileen, who is an amazingly generous and prolific writer (of more than 40 books and counting), I’d like to offer a shout-out here for her brand-new picture book, NORA’S ARK (illustrated by Nora Hilb, Zonderkids, 2013).

The ark is just what you’d think, except in Nora’s case the “passenger list includes two backyard spiders, a pair of battery-operated monkeys, and a couple of unimpressed cats.” And Nora does everything just like Noah… well, not just like Noah.

Publisher’s Weekly praised “the respectful exploration of the power of a child’s imagination.”

I absolutely love this book and its ending – perfect for sharing with a child on a rainy day, or any day!

Now, are you ready for some more Eileen Spinelli poetry? Check out “April Foolery,” the poem of the month at her website.

For links to more great poetry all over the Kidlitosphere, please visit the terrifically talented, kitty-loving Diane at Random Noodling for today’s Round Up. Unless you are a cyberspace gremlin.

Poetry Friday Recap & Poetry Friday Anthology

April 8, 2013

Tags: Poetry Friday, Poetry Month, poetry, book tracks, authors, conferences

UPDATE!!! The "Knights of the Internet" recovered all our comments! Click HERE for the links! Hi, folks - On Sunday afternoon a band of virtual Gremlins made off with my Poetry Friday Round Up post with all your wonderful dozens of comments. :0( I have no idea where it is hiding or if it can be retrieved... I've emailed the webhosting folks for help. Apologies if you've come looking for the Round Up (it was such a great week with so many great links!) and reached this message. Fearing the worst, I'll go ahead and re-post my original article here, so you can enjoy some Poetry Friday Anthology poems and interviews.

HAPPY NATIONAL POETRY MONTH!

(from Friday, April 5)
I’m thrilled to be your Poetry Friday Rounder-Upper today – please leave your links in the comments and I’ll post them as the day unfolds. [As noted above, these links have vanished! My apologies for this inconvenience. There were 65 comments...!]

I look forward to hitting the road next week on a long drive to Hattiesburg, Mississippi, for the Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival at the University of Southern Mississippi. (Yep – they have the wonderful deGrummond Collection, curated by the ever-effervescent Ellen Ruffin.)

April Halprin Wayland , Irene Latham and yours truly will present a poetry panel workshop on Wednesday: Take Five! Create Fun with the Poetry Friday Anthology. We get to share the Poetry Friday Anthology and the new Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School with eager teachers, media specialists, and other interested folks. Thanks to Pomelo Books editors extraordinaire Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell for helping to support this adventure.

Here’s a poem from each of us that we’ll share in our presentation, along with a 10-item Q & A just for fun.

First up, April. Here’s her poem from Grade 6 Week 29 (“Poetry Poems”) in PFAMS:

In the Word Woods

I’m sure there’s a found poem somewhere here.
There usually is this time of year.

Didn’t a red-haired boy lose words
that were found last May by a flightless bird?

And then that search and rescue hound
dug up sixteen poems he’d found.

Listen for falling bulletin boards,
and scowling poem-poaching hordes

who stomp all over this hallowed ground
until the hidden poems are found.

I’ll bring a flashlight, you bring a rake
we’ll get down on our knees and make

a poem from words that have trampolined
off an Internet ad or a magazine

into the woods some starry night
waiting for searching kids who might

find a poem if they’re brave and follow
the hoot of an owl to the end of the hollow.

©April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved.

Quick, April, answer these fast!

Coffee or tea?
Single shot soy latte in a huge cup so they fill it to the top with FOAM!
(My version of whipped cream without the cream)


Milk or dark chocolate?
Dark, sweetened with unsweetened pineapple juice & pear juice concentrate.
(Despite what my husband says, it tastes wonderful!)


Beach or mountains?
Mountain meadow. Even though I live a mile from the beach…

Free verse or forms?
I have to choose?

Drafts: pen and paper or digital?
Both. Either. Depends.

What’s usually playing on your iPod or on Pandora when you are:
Working –
instrumental folk, classical piano trios; sometimes NPR
Working out – whatever my gym class teacher is playing

Favorite place to read poetry?
In my home office.

Favorite place to write poetry?
In my home office.
(I love my home office. *sigh*)


Funniest question you’ve ever been asked at a school visit:
"How many books do you write in a week?"

Quick! Three of your favorite-sounding words:
cuspidor, bubble gum, tiddlywinks


Next, Irene’s poem from Grade 5, Week 2 (“More School”) from PFA:

Backpack

I’d say paper
Is my favorite feast –
I love it spiraled,
bound or loose-leaf.

(Pencils poke,
rulers break.
Textbooks give me
A belly ache.)

Whatever you feed me,
I’ll do my best;
you’re the one
Who takes the tests!

©Irene Latham. All rights reserved.

Q & A time, Irene – hit it!

Coffee or tea?
tea

Milk or dark chocolate?
dark

Beach or mountains?
beach at night, mountains by day

Free verse or forms?
freeeeeeeee!

Drafts: pen and paper or digital?
digital all the way

What's usually playing on your iPod or on Pandora when you are:
Working
- nada. I work best with silence (though I have learned to write through son's drumming)
Working out - shhhhh, I don't work out.

Favorite place to read poetry?
in bed

Favorite place to write poetry?
in bed (hey, I really like my bed!)

Funniest question you've ever been asked at a school visit:
Would you sign my arm?

Quick! Three of your favorite-sounding words:
honeysuckle, hydrangea, heliotrope

Finally, running out of room on the handout - ;0) – my short little poem from First Grade, Week 10 (“Food”) from PFA:

Snack Rules

Don’t talk with your mouth full –
full of peanut butter:
Anything you try to say
will cmmm out as a mmmttrr.

©Robyn Hood Black. All rights reserved.

And my 10 answers:

Coffee or tea?
Morning coffee; afternoon tea

Milk or dark chocolate?
dark

Beach or mountains?
Beach, but I love the mountains too.

Free verse or forms?
Sucker for forms…

Drafts: pen and paper or digital?
Scribbles in journals or on Post-It Notes

What's usually playing on your iPod or on Pandora when you are:
   Working -
Writing: *must*have*quiet*
            Drawing: Bach or Classic Rock, Carving/Printing: *must*have*Celtic*

   Working out -
Ummmm…..

Favorite place to read poetry?
On my couch with my dogs

Favorite place to write poetry?
In my head when I’m walking and talking to the birds

Funniest question you've ever been asked at a school visit:
From a kindergarten girl on a cafeteria floor with 400-plus K-2’s: How do you know if it’s a man wolf or a lady wolf? (Last week a second grader asked me AFTER my presentation, “Are you an author?”)

Quick! Three of your favorite-sounding words:
sassafras, twinkle, persnickety

Be sure to check in over at The Poetry Friday Anthology blog for ideas and inspiration on using the PFA in the classroom. The Poetry Friday for Middle School blog features short “poem movies” this month created by Sylvia’s graduate students, highlighting some of the wonderful PFAMS poems for grades 6 - 8!

For an extensive Poetry Month roundup of events in the Kidlitosphere, check out Jama’s gracious post on Alphabet Soup.

Two last links from me: On Wednesday at Janice Hardy’s great blog, The Other Side of the Story , I featured Irene’s new novel, DON’T FEED THE BOY (Roaring Brook), as a way to look at how a poet’s sensibilities might inform the way she writes fiction.

My art blog post this week celebrates found poetry and Austin Kleon.

Friday's now missing-in-action post then included the Round Up of dozens and dozens of wonderful poetry posts last week. Sigh. If you search for "Poetry Friday" and start visiting blogs of other commenters, you'll find some wonderful offerings.


Poetry Friday - Julie Hedlund and A TROOP IS A GROUP OF MONKEYS

March 14, 2013

Tags: Poetry Friday, poetry, authors, book tracks, digital, ponderings, writing life

As you're enjoying the frenzy of March Madness Poetry 2013
(and do head over and vote for your favorite poems!) I offer you a different and very special treat today. I met Julie Hedlund last year at the “Poetry for All” Highlights Founders workshop , and I’m happy to share a peek into her brand new rhyming storybook app, A TROOP IS A GROUP OF MONKEYS. It’s illustrated by Pamela Baron and offered by Little Bahalia Publishing for the iPad. (I don’t have an iPad, but my in-laws were happy to purchase it on theirs for me – and for the grandchildren!)

A TROOP IS A GROUP OF MONKEYS is a romp through the collective nouns of animals, written in rhyme. It offers a fun way to explore the habits and habitats of a variety of animals (as well as subject-verb agreement!).

A pride of lions licks monster-size paws

A float of crocodiles snaps mighty jaws.


My favorite line is:

A quiver of cobras hisses and shakes.

And my favorite illustration accompanies

a leap of leopards lounges in trees,

in which one of the leopards napping on a tree limb opens one eye and twitches an ear.

The animals on each page exhibit the behavior described in the verse, and kids will have fun touching the screen to make the colorful subjects spring to life.

Now, you almost have to sneak up on Julie, safari-like, to grab her for just a few minutes – what with her popular 12 X 12 Picture Book Challenge and her sold-out Writers Renaissance Retreat in Italy coming up in April. Let’s find out more about Julie and her work before she’s off on her next adventure.

Welcome, Julie!

Oh, where to start?! Let’s begin with writing, and we’ll explore other endeavors in a minute. When did you discover a love of writing, and how have you developed your craft?


I've ALWAYS loved writing. It's how I understand myself and the world. The first word I ever wrote was "HOT," and for a year or so it was how I signed all of my cards to grandparents, etc. I think it's gone uphill from there. :-)

With respect to craft, I've cultivated it by doing a lot of writing and a lot of listening. By listening, I mean attending conferences, workshops and retreats where I could learn from experts and then work on incorporating those lessons into my own work. What amazes me is how the more you learn, the more you realize you still have yet to learn. There's never a dull day in the writing life!


How did you come up with the idea for A TROOP IS A GROUP OF MONKEYS?

I came across a list of collective nouns for animals and was surprised to find how few of them I knew. I was delighted by the fact that the names for the animal groups reflected something about the animal's behavior, habitat, appearance, etc. I figured if I had that much fun learning the names, surely others would too - especially kids, who almost always love animals.

Did any verses come straight from the Muses, and were there others you had to hunt down?

"A kaleidoscope of butterflies flutters through daisies" was one of the only lines that survived intact from my first draft. Otherwise, the verses required a lot of work. I did a great deal of research on each animal so I had several options for the line pertaining to that animal. Then I had to match animals up with each other in such a way to create compelling rhyming couplets.

Let’s talk about apps. First, what’s your definition of a storybook app?

A storybook app is an illustrated book for children that contains interactions on each screen, some of which may be required in order for the story to proceed. The interactivity can be sound-based, touch-based or device-based (such as tilting or shaking the device). Ideally, the interactivity is designed to enhance rather than detract from the story and to increase comprehension.

How is composing text for an interactive app similar to writing for print? How is it different?

What's similar is that the story (or in this case poem) must be excellent. No amount of technical bells and whistles can elevate a sub-par story. What is different is that in addition to thinking about text and illustration, now you need to consider sound, movement, animation. You have to think about your story on a screen instead of a page, which changes the function of "page turns." Although you still move from screen to screen, tension and drama can come from sound and animation as well as text and illustration. There's also no set number of pages for apps, so the onus is on the author to determine how many screens are required to tell the best story.

How much input do you as the writer have in terms of the interactive elements – choosing what might be animated, layout/design, that sort of thing? Or are all visual decisions left to the illustrator and designers?

The answer to this question depends on how you are publishing the app. If you hire a developer to create your app or use an app creation tool, all of those decisions are your own. In my case, I sold my manuscript to an e-publisher, so the publisher made most of the decisions about the animation and design. However, I did submit a storyboard containing my "vision" for the animation, and many of those ideas were incorporated into the app. I'm fortunate because Stacey Williams-Ng, the founder of Little Bahalia, has a huge amount of experience both illustrating, designing and producing apps. Because of her expertise and passion, the finished product is far better than I could have imagined had I done it on my own.

You’ve got terrific resources on your blog about the publishing industry as well as tips for creating apps. What’s the first thing you tell someone who asks you about creating digital content?

Go for it! It's the future. BUT, don't do it as a shortcut to traditional publishing. Make sure your story is the best it can be. Don't skimp on editing, illustration, design, etc. Also, evaluate whether your story makes sense in digital form. The story should drive the format, and not the other way around.

What do you think about the co-existence of traditionally published books, apps, and e-books in the marketplace – is there room for all, or do you think digital content will take over for the youngest readers?

I certainly hope there is room for all, as I still want to traditionally publish a print book! In fact, I want to publish any way I can that both makes sense for my stories and gets my work into the hands of more children. I see no reason why different types of books can't co-exist. As for the farther-off future, I do think digital content will become predominant in all forms of publishing, but I can't envision print going away entirely, especially for board books and picture books.

As a world-traveling, horse-riding, nature-loving gal from Colorado, you strike me as someone always up for an adventure. Were there any challenges during the process of creating this app that surprised you?

The challenge all came BEFORE the actual creation of the app. The biggest hardship I faced was learning about all the options available to publish the app, which direction I wanted to take, and then how to submit my idea, especially since I am an author-only and came without illustrations. What surprised me was how few answers I found to my questions. I guess that's why, after I developed my own proposal, I decided to turn it into a template for other authors and illustrators to use - to avoid the pain and suffering I endured - LOL.

You participate in “Gratitude Sunday” by posting things you are grateful for each week. How does an attitude of thankfulness inform your creative life? (And life in general?)

My gratitude practice, over time, has helped me understand that there is good in all situations, even if that doesn't seem to be the case on the surface. Spending time each week reflecting on what I am grateful for grounds me, and sometimes requires me to "dig deep" into my feelings and experiences. Rather than serving to oversimplify situations, my gratitude practice makes me realize the complexity that's inherent in people, our actions, our emotions. This serves me by enriching my writing, but it's also made me a great deal less judgmental and far less inclined toward knee-jerk reactions.

How do you balance your own creative work with the demands of nurturing not only your family, but the online network of inspiration and support you’ve created for other writers?

I'm not sure I do, but I keep trying!! Lately I've been taking things one day at a time, focusing on the most pressing things that need to get done work-wise. I'm also getting far better about "letting it all go" when I'm with my kids. Our work is of the kind that is never "finished." There is always something more that could be done. But there's no point in worrying about all of that when I'm with the kids. It's taken me a while to come to this realization, but I'm far better off spending quality time with them and coming back to my work refreshed from the break. Next on the list of "creating more balance" in my life is figuring out how to take time for me, as I've been slack on my exercising and pursuit of other hobbies lately.

Finally, any sneak peeks into projects on the horizon that you’re at liberty to share?

I'm not sure I'm at liberty to share the title yet, but my next app in the "animal groups" trilogy will be released in May, and it features animals leaving in or near the ocean. I am excited about this one because many of these collective nouns will be brand new to most people and they are SO fun.

A third app featuring insects, reptiles and amphibians will be coming in October, and before that, a print book that combines the "best" of all three apps. So it's a very exciting year!


Exciting indeed! Congratulations all around, and thank you for visiting with us today.

Thank you so much for hosting me today Robyn. I think digital publishing is going to be a very exciting avenue for poets of all stripes, and I hope my experience gets the creative gears turning for your Poetry Friday compatriots.

Told you she was fascinating! And if you visit her list of 100 random things, you'll learn Julie used to drink pickle juice straight from the jar, and that she has an MA in International Political Economy from the University of Warwick in England.

No telling what you'll learn making the Poetry Friday rounds today, but please go see the wonderful and talented Jone at Check it Out and enjoy!

Poetry Friday: Unlocking PFAMS!

February 28, 2013

Tags: Poetry Friday, poetry, anthologies, standards, teaching, authors, book tracks

When the Poetry Friday Anthology debuted last fall, I heard a couple of teachers say they’d love to see something like that for older students. Well, today’s the day!

It’s the official launch of The Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School (PFAMS), brilliantly brought to life by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong.

Here’s the official scoop:

The Poetry Friday Anthology is a series for K-5 and Middle School (6-8) designed to help teachers meet the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in the English Language Arts (ELA). “Take 5” teaching tips for each poem provide step-by-step poetry lessons that address curriculum requirements.

PFAMS offers many of the same features as the original PFA. In fact, the same theme is used for each week in grades 6 through 8 as is used for K-5. Each grade section opens with a “Poem for Everyone” and then a suite of weedkly poems for each grade level for the whole year, tied in with the “Take 5” activities to grade-level standards. Pretty nifty, eh?

In fact, the first poem in the collection, a poem for everyone, is “First Day at a New School,” penned by none other than our Poetry Friday host today, Julie Larios .

One difference in this volume from the K-5 version is that each poem here claims a whole spread, rather than a poem and its activities presented one per page as laid out in the K-5 edition. As you can imagine, the “Take 5” lesson ideas are a bit more sophisticated, but still very user-friendly.

I’ll share one of my two in the collection to demonstrate how it works. (The other will show up here sometime soon, too!)

My poem “Locker Ness Monster” appears in the Sixth Grade section for Week Two, for the theme, “More School.”


Locker Ness Monster


Twenty-four
Eighteen
Six.


Arrrgh. That’s not it.

Twenty-six
Fourteen
Eight.


Nothing. Nada. Nyet.

Twenty-six
Eighteen
Four.


CLICK. That’s it!

Unlock your head,
then your fingers,
then the door.


©Robyn Hood Black. All rights reserved.

For the “Take Five” element on the opposite page, there are five different activities a teacher could choose to use with this poem. I won’t give them all away, but the first is particularly intriguing:

1. Add a bit of fun to sharing this poem with a “poetry prop” – hold up a locker lock before reading the poem aloud. Spin the wheel and stop at the numbers in the poem (24/18/6; 26/14/8; 26/18/4). See if you can do that WHILE reading the poem aloud!

(I love a challenge - but I'd probably have to pass this one on to someone more coordinated!)

A teacher might pick one activity or all five. You really can introduce a poem and lead a related activity in five minutes, if that’s all you have to work with. The number 5 in each “Take 5” is one always one of my favorite elements of these anthologies: a connection to another poem in the book (and sometimes to a published collection if it particularly relates). In the case of my poem here, readers are encouraged to check out another poem “involving confusion over numbers” – it’s “Fourths of Me” by Betsy Franco, in the 7th grade section, a terrific poem about identity. Another poem that connects back to mine emerges for the “In the Water” theme a few weeks later in sixth grade – “Dear Monster of Loch Ness” by Jack Prelutsky. (Great poem; amazing poet!) You get the idea.

One of my favorite things about these anthologies is the first “key to remember” in the opening pages:

A poem should first be enjoyed for its own sake.

This is vitally important. These anthologies enable teachers to present what can be an intimidating subject in accessible, fun, age-appropriate ways, while at the same time touching on the new Common Core standards. I wish this had been around back in the day when I taught middle school English!

Reminder: Sylvia and Janet have done an amazing job making this material accessible in a variety of ways. The anthology is available in a print version with all of the 6th through 8th grade entries; as an e-book; and by grade-level as e-books for a nominal price. Teachers who want to share a poem with students can do so quite easily with a Smartboard. But wait - there's more.... While the book cover pictured above is the CCSS version, educators in Texas can purchase the anthology with activities tailored to the TEKS standards. Ordering info for any of these can be found here.

I have really enjoyed reading the poems included in this collection and exploring the connections and activities they inspire. For more great poetry today, drift on over to see Julie at The Drift Record.

Poetry Friday - Dare to Dream with Jill Corcoran's Collection

February 15, 2013

Tags: Poetry Friday, book tracks, poetry, authors

Can’t believe it’s already Springmingle time again in our SCBWI Southern Breeze region . I’ve coordinated that conference off and on for several years, but this time I’m attending as a civilian. I look forward to meeting many great speakers, including multi-talented Jill Corcoran – agent, author, poet, anthologist, and busy mom of three for starters! (She’s also just launched A Path to Publishing, offering unique online workshop opportunities with agents, editors, art directors and other industry professionals.) A recent interview with Jill
was posted by my fellow Southern Breezer and friend Donny Bailey Seagraves.

Do you know Jill’s poetry collection released in the fall from Kane Miller, Dare to Dream… Change the World? With poems from thirty contributors, including some of the most revered names in the field, the book “pairs biographical and inspirational poems focusing on people who invented something, stood for something, said something, who defied the naysayers and not only changed their own lives, but the lives of people all over the world.”

Subjects include Jonas Salk, Temple Grandin, Christa McAuliffe, Steven Spielberg, Ashley Bryan, and many other past and contemporary voices and talents who chose to make a difference in the world.

J. Beth Jepson’s colorful illustrations are finely tuned to each poem’s theme, and they deftly unify pairs of poems across each spread.

Too many of my favorite poets are included to single them out, so let me whet your appetite with the whole list: Jill Corcoran, J. Patrick Lewis, Alice Schertle, David L. Harrison, Jane Yolen, Joan Bransfield Graham, Ellen Hopkins, Georgia Heard, Hope Anita Smith, Elaine Magliaro, Curtis L. Crisler, Janet S. Wong, Denise Lewis Patrick, Joyce Lee Wong, Jacqui Robbins, Julia Durango, Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, Lisa Wheeler, Hope Vestergaard, Carol M. Tanzman, Stephanie Hemphill, Alan Katz, Lee Bennett Hopkins, Marilyn Singer, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Joyce Sidman, Rose Horowitz, Bruce Coville, Kelly Ramsdell Fineman, Laura Purdie Salas.

One of my favorite spreads, big on blue sky and desert colors, celebrates Georgia O’Keeffe. It features some brief biographical information and a couple of O’Keeffe quotes, plus two poems. The first is “Painter” by Lee Bennett Hopkins, opening with these evocative lines:

Sky will always be.
So shall I.


The facing page features Rebecca Kai Dotlich’s “Cloudscape,” which includes:

In the center of a day,
each day, are lines upon a canvas,
an abstract image that floats
like a spirit somewhere…


*Please see this amazing post by Jama Rattigan at Alphabet Soup to read these two poems in their entirety, and for background information on this spread!*

The collection provides several opportunities for use in the classroom. While targeting 6th through 8th grade Common Core standards, it is easily adaptable for 3rd through 5th as well. Click here for the book’s website with teaching resources and a free30-page Common Core State Standards Curriculum guide. You’ll also find information about the Annual Dare to Dream Poetry Contest for Kids with prizes of donation of $1,500 worth of Kane Miller and Usborne books to the winner’s school library or a library of their choice plus an ebook to be published by Kane Miller of the top 30 poems.

I appreciate the potential of this anthology to connect with kids on so many levels. As someone who has written for a national character education curriculum the past few years, I like the cross-over avenues all these poems provide for character ed as well as for language arts, science, social studies, and more.

One of the poems with very strong kid appeal is Laura Purdie Salas’s

Just Like That

Clickin on this clip –
I wanna click like that,
      Be quick like that.
My footworks’ gonna be
sick like that.

I never saw a kid
Who could move like that,
      Groove like that,
I’ll show you what I got
I’m gonna prove like that.


You can find the rest of Laura’s poem here, along with links to other blogs and resources. Oh, and while you’re over there, make sure you click on Laura’spost for today – and add your hearty congratulations that she just won the CYBILS award for poetry for her collection, Bookspeak. (I featured it here.) Woo-hoo!

Then please enjoy the rest of today’s Poetry Friday offerings rounded up by the lovely and talented Linda at TeacherDance.

Note – Next Poetry Friday, I’ll be in a verse novels workshop with Nikki Grimes for our Springmingle conference. (I know, lucky me!) The conference runs til Sunday, so I’ll skip posting for Poetry Friday next weekend and will see you on March 1st. I’ll try to send out a tweet or two!

Poetry Friday: Joyce Sidman and some verse novelists, too!

January 3, 2013

Tags: Poetry Friday, poetry, authors, illustrators, book tracks, writing life

Happy New Year!

So maybe I haven’t put away the Christmas decorations yet, but I’ve started off the New Year with a couple of poetry posts on other blogs.

First, I was thrilled to be able to interview our most recent recipient of the NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children, Joyce Sidman, for the PACYA (Poetry Advocates for Children and Young Adults) blog.

I’ve admired Joyce’s work for a long time, and she kindly agreed to let me share a poem here today, too.

From one of my favorite books, the Newbery Honor-winning DARK EMPEROR & OTHER POEMS OF THE NIGHT, illustrated by printmaker Rick Allen (Houghton Mifflin, 2010), here is the opening poem:

Welcome to the Night

To all of you who crawl and creep,
who buzz and chirp and hoot and peep,
who wake at dusk and throw off sleep:
Welcome to the night.

To you who make the forest sing,
who dip and dodge on silent wing,
who flutter, hover, clasp, and cling:
Welcome to the night!

Come feel the cool and shadowed breeze,
come smell your way among the trees,
come touch rough bark and leathered leaves:
Welcome to the night.

The night’s a sea of dappled dark,
the night’s a feast of sound and spark,
the night’s a wild, enchanted park.
Welcome to the night!


©Joyce Sidman. All rights reserved.

To read the PACYA interview, click here, and to peruse Joyce’s wonderful website brimming with resources for readers, writers, and teachers, click here.

Second, my monthly poetry column on Janice Hardy’s terrific blog for fiction writers, THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STORY, has moved to the first Wednesday of the month this year. (Though it won’t appear in Feb.) This week we’re exploring verse novels, and I have some amazing book excerpts and insights from three wonderful, award-winning authors: Eileen Spinelli, April Halprin Wayland, and
Susan Taylor Brown.

I’m so thankful to each of these poets – Joyce, Eileen, April, and Susan – for sharing their gifts and their thoughts in this bright New Year.

For more great poetry, go visit the multipl-y gifted Matt at Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme for today’s Poetry Friday Roundup.

Poetry Friday: Jump-Start your Morning with Janet Wong…

September 6, 2012

Tags: Poetry Friday, poetry, authors, book tracks, ponderings

This image, like most of the fun ones I find online, from the company YAY Images.

What’s that – a yawn? Oh, I see – you’re just perusing a few Poetry Friday blog posts while the coffee pot is sputtering and clicking. Well, then, today’s poem is for you!

If you’re a Janet Wong fan (I know - that’s everyone!), perhaps you’ve taken BEHIND THE WHEEL – Poems About Driving for a spin around the block already. Originally published by Margaret K. McElderry in 1999, Janet made these wonderful poems available as an e-book last year and a paperback this year for a new set of young drivers and poetry lovers.

Of course, the collection is about so much more than driving: family relationships, love, authority, choices, beliefs. As expected, the poems unfold in simple language, sometimes with more than a dash of humor, and leave the reader nodding, “Yes – I’ve felt that way, too.”

Today we’ll enjoy a lighter one, and this will get us back to coffee.

Not these lines from “One Hand On the Wheel,” but I have to share them because I love them so:


My mother was one of them
when –
who knows what happened.

Now she’s driving 65,
one hand holding a cup of coffee,
one hand on the wheel


No, here is the poem I want to leave you with as you smell that aroma from your kitchen. It’s shared with gracious permission of the author.

Jump-Start

by Janet Wong

can’t turn over
battery’s dead

need
jumper cables
in
my
head

clamp them on
start me up

pour some coffee
in my cup
dark strong coffee

start me up



To learn more about Janet and her robust, full-flavored, high-octane body of work, visit her website. Check out terrific resources for educators at her Poetry Suitcase! For Janet’s amazing collaborations with Sylvia Vardell, including the Poetry Tag Time books and the hot-off-the-press Poetry Friday Anthology, visit Pomelo Books.

And for cup after cup of delicious poetry, sit a spell this morning with the lovely Katya, who is rounding up Poetry Friday at Write, Sketch, Repeat.

Cream and sugar, anyone?

Thanks to Poet Joy Acey for the Shout-Out

August 26, 2012

Tags: poetry, poets, book tracks, ponderings, animals

Joy Acey had some fun with the new Poetry Friday Anthology, and with my poem, "Snack Rules." Click here to see what resulted when she mis-read the title, then followed that wondering and pondering into a new poem of her own. (And you might check out her follow-up post exploring rhythm.)

Joy has two fun poems in the anthology as well. I've had the privilege of meeting Joy at the two Higlights Founders Worskhops in poetry I've attended. She's an enthusiastic voice for children's poetry!

VOICE LESSONS with Irene Latham

August 22, 2012

Tags: SCBWI, Southern Breeze, authors, book tracks, poetry, conferences, workshops, writing life


Poetry buffs who frequent this blog know about Poetry Friday regular Irene Latham – her COLOR OF LOST ROOMS (2010) was a National Indie Excellence finalist and winner of the 19th Annual Writer's Digest Self-Published Book Award. She just sold her first collection of children's poems, DEAR WANDERING WILDEBEEST, set at an African watering hole, to Millbrook Press/Lerner. Look for it in the fall of 2014! Irene has been poetry editor of the Alabama Arts Journal since 2003.

She’s also an accomplished novelist. LEAVING GEE’S BEND (Putnam, 2010) won the Alabama Library Association 2011 Children's Book Award and was a SIBA Book Award finalist. Her new novel, DON’T FEED THE BOY (Roaring Brook, Oct. 2012), is soon to be let loose!

At the SCBWI Southern Breeze fall conference in Birmingham in October, Irene is presenting a workshop on that elusive, crucial, desired-by-any-editor element of a story: voice. She was kind enough to drop by today and give us a sneak peek.

Take it away, Irene!

Confession: when I sold LEAVING GEE’S BEND, I thought “editing” meant someone somewhere sending my words through some fancydancy spell-check program. I really had no idea how to revise.

Guess what I learned?

The best and quickest way to educate oneself about editing and revision is to actually DO it. And what I’ve found in the years since is that for me, revising is most successful if taken in stages. By which I mean, I read over the manuscript multiple times, addressing one specific issue during each pass.

I generally start with plot, because that’s easiest (for me). Then I move to character arc – one pass for each major player, then another pass for supporting characters. Then, eventually, I move to voice. It’s during this pass that the magic happens: ordinary words take on flavor and personality. Dialogue quirks emerge. Similes and metaphors become consistent with the character. Gone are the modern words in a historical piece, while invented words manifest themselves in a fantasy piece.

One of the best ways I have found to teach about voice is to show examples of writing without voice. Take, for instance, the first line from a household favorite book FEED by M. T. Anderson.

line STRIPPED of voice, by me:

“We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon was boring.”

actual line, written by M.T. Anderson:

“We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.”

That, fellow readers and writers, is VOICE.

Want to learn more? Come to the SCBWI Southern Breeze region annual Writing and Illustrating for Kids conference in Birmingham, Oct. 20. (There’s an optional novel intensive Oct. 19.) Here’s the official description for my workshop:

Voice Lessons: Revising for Voice

Got a book with great plot, characters, but no distinctive voice? This workshop provides revision techniques and advice on how to create a voice that’s authentic and memorable. *Attendees should bring at least one page up to an entire chapter of a work-in-progress to revise.

Handout includes a list of strategies, a voice-revision checklist and three before/after excerpts to illustrate effectiveness of the suggested techniques.


Sounds terrific, Irene! Thanks for the preview.

To learn more about Irene and her books, check out her website and blog.

And to register for the Writing and Illustrating for Kids (wik) fall conference in Birmingham , click here.

Hope to see you there!

Poetry Friday: The Poetry Friday Anthology!!!

August 17, 2012

Tags: Poetry Friday, poetry, book tracks, ponderings, authors

It's here!

Well, the official, official launch date is Sept. 1 - but THE POETRY FRIDAY ANTHOLOGY is here! Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong (of the Poetry Tag Time books) have outdone themselves with this jam-packed resource featuring more than 200 poems by 75 poets. Each poem is presented in a specific grade level, K-5, and connected to curriculum standards with FUN activities for students. (Sylvia has done an amazing job connecting each poem to Common Core, and there's a Texas version of the book with TEKS standards, too!)

I was beyond excited to get my copies because I have a couple of poems included. But almost immediately, I was just plain excited - this book is so very well laid out and thought out, it couldn't be easier for a busy teacher to use. Just a few minutes once a week (hopefully more if time allows), and elementary students of all ages will get to hear, read, explore or act out a short, child-friendly poem. They'll leave the school year with a few dozen poems under their belts and no doubt several favorites. I've already let teachers and the media specialist at our school know about it.

Can't wait to get your copy? The paperback is available on Amazon, with the e-book soon to follow. (Just enter THE POETRY FRIDAY ANTHOLOGY in the search.) To learn more about this creative dynamic duo and Pomelo Books, click here.

I'll leave you with one of my poems, this one in the First Grade section:

Snack Rules

Don't talk with your mouth full --
full of peanut butter:
Anything you try to say
wll cmmm out as a mmmttrr.

©Robyn Hood Black, all rights reserved

For lots more lip-smacking poetry, visit Rounder-Upper Mary Lee at A Year of Reading.

Poetry Friday - Lee Bennett Hopkins and MARY'S SONG

July 27, 2012

Tags: Poetry Friday, book tracks, authors, illustrators, poetry

MARY'S SONG by Lee Bennett Hopkins, Eerdman's, 2012

Illustrations ©Stephen Alcorn

This page reads:

"I even thought I heard a whisper

from spider above the manger,

spinning her web -

though I know what silent spinners

spiders are.

Merry Christmas! Christmas in July, I mean, and we’re unwrapping a very special gift today. Instead of a poem, we have a renowned poet and a magical, lyrical picture book.

Lee Bennett Hopkins is here! THE most prolific children’s poetry anthologist, Lee has received the University of Southern Mississippi Medallion for “outstanding contributions to the field of children’s literature,” the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Excellence in Poetry for Children Award and the Florida Libraries’ Lifetime Achievement Award, just to name a few.

In addition to his award-winning anthologies, Lee’s own poetry collections, picture books and professional texts have won countless awards, and he established two coveted awards “to encourage the recognition of poetry.” He’s also a popular keynote speaker at literature conferences.

Busy as he is, he agreed to stop by and tell us about his newest book. MARY’S SONG, hot off the press from Eerdman’s and illustrated by Stephen Alcorn, is sure to become part of family traditions and treasures this Christmas and for years and years to come.
I’ve been anticipating this book for a long time. When my copy arrived last week, my first reaction was not so much that the writing is brilliant (it is) or that the art is amazing (it is) but that I wished I’d had this book to share with my own children when they were small.

I love the magical interplay of text, which describes a new mother’s longing for a quiet moment with her baby, and the gorgeous art with its warm palette and cross hatchings which seem to invite readers to find connections between halos, spider webs, the light of the sun, The Light of the World… I’m getting carried away. Let me turn it over to Lee.

You’ve referred to Mary’s Song as “my nativity lovesong.” Do you remember how the idea came to you? How long did it drift around in your mind before you wrote the text?

I have always wanted to write about Mary. There are so many books about her yet so few about Her! I knew deep inside I needed to write a tribute to Mary being with HER child -- alone. I remember my niece, Jennifer, giving birth to my grand-niece, Erin Elizabeth, after years of trying to bear a child. So many rushed to the hospital bringing balloons, gifts, wanting to see and hold the baby. I remember looking at my niece, her eyes almost shouting how she wanted to be alone with this precious gift. In some ways the idea clicked then. In all nativity stories we hear of the hubbub, the fuss, Wise Men bearing gifts, shepherds, animals crowding the manger. I am certain Mary might have felt the same way. Thus, I wanted MARY'S SONG to BE a tribute to Motherhood. More than a Christmas story, it is about Motherhood.

I was struck, as a reader, not only that the tale is told from Mary’s perspective, but that it’s all about sound. Poetry is all about sound. Was this a natural way for you to explore Mary’s feelings, after your own life’s work immersed in poetry?

Truly, I do not remember writing this piece. Looking back on my notes I began the book on December 3, 2007, finished a fourth and final draft on December 6th. The words simply flowed. I wanted sounds of noise in the text; I also wanted the one word QUIET emphasized. Stephen Alcorn created a work of splendor in the double-page spread with simply the one word.

How did you put yourself in Mary’s place to imagine all these rich, sensory details?

Another oddity. I wrote the text, it went through the near five-year publishing process, I saw proofs, read them through, was thrilled to hold the first bound copy in my hand. One night my brother-in-law, Anthony, came to the house and began poring through the pages. He looked at me and said: "This is all told from the voice of Mary. How could you do this?" I never realized I had done that. I still read through the text and find it fascinating that the whole book IS Mary's point of view. If Anthony hadn't seen this would I have ever? Ah, the mysteries of writing.

I was delighted to see the appearance of a spider in the story, such symbolic little creatures. Was she there from the beginning?

Spider came about in the second draft. I thought the idea of this quiet creature was so allegorical. Or was it because I've always been 'caught in Stephen Alcorn's “web”?

Speaking again of Stephen Alcorn, what glorious illustrations! Another great collaboration between your words and his art. (MY AMERICA, DAYS TO CELEBRATE, and AMERICA AT WAR also spring to mind.) His gentle depictions in MARY’S SONG reflect the story so beautifully and of course add magic of their own. How did you react when you saw the illustrations?

Stephen and I have done many books together. I only wanted him as the artist. Before the manuscript was even submitted I knew he had to do the artwork. It wasn't hard to convince anyone at Eerdmans; the art director, Gayle Brown, knew and loved his work. While attempting the first draft of MARY'S SONG, I saw his work throughout the writing. I saw his spider and her web. I could feel his ever-changing palette - his mood, rhythm, his sense of distinct design. Stephen was taken with the text immediately. How lucky I am to have him in my life. When I first saw Stephen's sketches, and after the goose bumps went away, I cried. I feel as if he and I became one on this book. It is interesting to note that his wife, Sabina, is the model for Mary. And the Dedication to my beloved sister was penned the moment the text was finished.

Thank you for being my special guest today to share Christmas in July! Any other upcoming projects you’d like to whet our appetites for?

Scheduled for Fall, 2013 is ALL THE WORLD'S A STAGE to appear from Creative Editions. The book, based on Shakespeare's famed monologue from AS YOU LIKE IT, is a young adult collection following "Seven Ages of Man" from ENTRANCES: 'At first the infant' to ENDS: "Last scene." It is, I hope, a powerful collection illustrated by Guy Billout, another remarkable artist.

Oooh, now I’ll be eagerly anticipating this one! Can’t wait. Thank you again for joining us today and for the generous behind-the-scenes peek at MARY’S SONG.

To learn more about Lee and his incomparable body of work, please visit his website.

And for more Poetry Friday surprises, hop over to Life is Better with Books for this week’s Roundup.

Poetry Friday: And the Crowd Goes Wild! with Carol-Ann Hoyte and Heidi Bee Roemer

April 27, 2012

Tags: Poetry Friday, poetry, book tracks, authors, editors

Carol-Ann Hoyte, left, Heidi Bee Roemer, and illustration by Kevin Sylvester
Curious about the upcoming sports-themed anthology, just in time for the Olympics, from poets Carol-Ann Hoyte and Heidi Bee Roemer ? Me, too! The collection will feature dozens of poems from emerging and familiar names alike, along with lively illustrations by Kevin Sylvester. It will be available as a paperback and also as an e-book.

After And the Crowd Goes Wild! was featured on Sylvia Vardell’s wonderful Poetry for Children blog, I asked these two poetic go-getters if they’d share a little more here for our final Poetry Friday post of National Poetry Month. They kindly obliged.

(For the Poetry For Children post, click here. You’ll find an interview by graduate student Abby Hancock and the poem “Pianoball” by Jocelyn Shipley.)

Let’s start with a poem from the collection:

Sore Sport

It stinks that the ref blew the call,
And you’re sore ‘cuz you took a bad fall.
    Well ponder this, fella,
    As your bruises turn yella,
For one day, try being the ball.

-- M Sullivan (United States)



Clever, eh? Now let’s go behind the scenes with the editors. How did you two meet, and how did you decide to create a poetry collection together?

HEIDI: Carol-Ann sparked the idea of creating a sports poetry anthology. To my great delight, she invited me to be co-editor on the project. We became acquainted through cyberspace; our communication has been almost solely by email. Believe it or not, to date we’ve only talked on the phone twice!

This collection promises to have something for everybody. Why was it important to you all to include sports experiences from all over the world?

CAROL-ANN: The Olympics inspired me to create this book so I wanted to embrace the event's spirit by bringing poets from around the globe together. The worldwide exploration of the theme is significant as it offers fresh perspectives into familiar sports, introduces readers to unknown sports and expands their knowledge of less-familiar sports, exposes them to different varieties of the English language, and conveys subtle clues as to which sports are popular in certain countries.

It’s wonderful to see that you’ll be highlighting Paralympics and Special Olympics athletes. Was your vision inclusive from the beginning, or did it grow and evolve as you worked on the project?

HEIDI: Priscila Uppal’s Winter Sport: Poems (2010) inspired me. I learned that the early Olympic Games (1912 to 1948) included five art categories: architecture, literature, music, painting and sculpture. From her book I also gained new insight about aboriginal sports and sports for disabled athletes. Yes, our intention from the get-go was to include poems about Special Olympians and Paralympians; Priscila's writings simply confirmed that these athletes’ tales of inspiration and courage needed to be represented in our collection. In addition, I’m honored that Priscila, poet-in-residence for the 2010 Vancouver Olympic and Paralympic Games, wrote the foreword for And the Crowd Goes Wild!

CAROL-ANN: I had initially envisioned an anthology aimed at readers aged 5 to 12. But then we received so many stellar, sophisticated poems which we felt would be most accessible and relevant to as well as appreciated by older elementary school children. As a result, we opted to narrow our target audience to 8- to 12-year-old children. Heidi also recommended that the collection feature a wide range of poetic forms so as to strengthen it, enhance its appeal, and heighten its marketability. As a result of following her recommendation, we ended up with a collection which features 20 different poetic forms.


What are some of your favorite sports or themes included in the collection? (I know – all of them! But pretty please give us a sneak peek….)

HEIDI: The inspirational poems about athletes with disabilities hold a special place in my heart. From Laura Purdie Salas’ roundel, readers learn about goalball, an official sport of the Paralympic Games designed for visually impaired athletes. Michelle Schaub penned a mono-meter poem about a courageous paraplegic who soars downhill at breathless speed on a mono-ski. Kimberly Douglas Hancock’s heartwarming verse in honor of her young nephew focuses on the winning attitude of special needs athletes, while Carmela Martino’s “At the Chicago Marathon” reveals the poet’s admiration of Richard Whitehead, a Paralympic runner born without legs.

CAROL-ANN: Patricia Cooley (U.S.) pays tribute to chess with her clever and dramatic poem "The King's Gambit." I am thrilled to feature this piece in the collection because I view chess as a truly international sport. While visiting other countries you might have trouble locating people who speak English but when abroad you’ll always be sure to find folks who know how to play chess. I am excited that children will “hear” how the English language “sounds” as it is spoken by poets living in other countries.

There are two poems which stand out for me because of their clever and surprising juxtaposition. Heather Delabre presents a dialogue between a football player and ballet dancer in her two-voice poem“The Master Dance." Jocelyn Shipley presents a youngster who tells of her desire to play baseball with her friends as she reluctantly practices playing the piano in “Pianoball.”


Fifty poems from established and emerging poets – from ten countries! How did you manage this feat logistically, and in such a timely way?

CAROL-ANN: We would have been pleased to feature poets from even more countries but unfortunately the material we received from six countries was not strong enough in content and/or writing quality to merit further consideration for inclusion in the anthology. I sought assistance from my network of children’s poets and other kidlit professionals to circulate the call for submissions. I also initiated contact with poetry organizations around the world to help do the same. The London 2012 Summer Olympics prompted me to complete the project in a timely matter. I wanted the collection to be released around the time of the Olympics so that we could tap into the energy and excitement of the event to promote our book.

What have been the greatest challenges and greatest rewards of becoming publishers?

HEIDI: Let’s just say I found tracking and logging in 300-plus poems a tad tedious. But unearthing a captivating, well-written poem in the cyberspace slush pile was a true spine-tingling delight, like a five-year old waking up on Christmas morning. Seeing the variety of perspectives on a single subject, sports, was astounding. I also enjoyed helping poets revise and polish their poems. Their zest for “story”, their humor, insightful musings, and skillful word-crafting amazed me. I hope our readers will find be captivated and inspired by the 50 poems presented in our collection.

CAROL-ANN: One challenge was attracting submissions from Europe and Asia. As I self-published the book, another challenge was dealing individually with several key tasks in the publishing process which have been divided among and handled by a handful of folks had I pursued the traditional publishing route. One unexpected though small challenge was having to explain to a few contributors why we had decided to not consider their work for the anthology. One reward is the knowledge of and pride in creating a poetry collection for children which differs from most of those currently being published.

Our book features a high proportion of emerging poets (as opposed to showcasing mainly high-profile poets) and offers an international treatment on a subject (compared to showcasing content crafted by poets living in only one country). Another reward is the success in demonstrating that a self-published book can possess top-notch quality in its writing, illustration, design, and production. One final reward is being able to donate a portion of royalties to Right to Play, an organization which enriches the lives of children through sport.


How has editing the poetry of others impacted your own writing?

HEIDI: As a writer, I’ve embraced this anonymous quote: “Poetry is a can of frozen orange concentrate. Add three cans water and you get prose.” In other words, when writing poetry less is more. Lee Bennett Hopkins brought that message home to me years ago when he surgically trimmed my 98-word poem to 12 words –and revealed a haiku “hidden” in my closing couplet, later included in one of his anthologies. Now working on the other side of the desk, I encouraged some of our poets to trim their words, to tinker, tweak, polish, pinch, and prune their poems—and they did so with remarkable results. As an editor, I am reminded that astute writers are willing word-crafters who can lasso an idea, wrestle words, images, and emotions to paper, and succinctly tie up the loose ends of a poem with a satisfying closing line that elicits a response from the reader.

Like athletes, nothing is more joyful to poets than knowing they’ve found their passion, learned the disciplines, overcome challenges, mastered their fears, tested their limits, and honed their skills, all the while keeping sight of their goals. Being a poet—or an athlete—is not for the faint-hearted, but for those who persist… and never give up on their dreams.


Great advice, Heidi! Thanks to both you and Carol-Ann for joining us, and wishes for wild success with the book.

Now, run, pole-vault, or doggie paddle over to The Opposite of Indifference, where Tabatha is rounding up more great poetry today.

Poetry Friday: Jazzing up Poetry Month with Carole Boston Weatherford

April 19, 2012

Tags: Poetry Friday, Poetry Month, poetry, authors, book tracks, conferences

Did you know that in addition to National Poetry Month, April is Jazz Appreciation Month? Click here for the Smithsonian website. Today, we’re combining the two!

While presenting a workshop at the Georgia Conference on Children’s Literature last month, I met the incredible Carole Boston Weatherford, New York Times bestselling author of dozens of books – poetry collections, picture books, and nonfiction. Trailing her is a long list of awards, including the North Carolina Award for Literature in 2010, the state’s highest civilian honor. Her books have garnered a Caldecott honor, an NAACP Image Award, Coretta Scott King Honors, the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, the Jane Addams Children’s Literature Honor, a Golden Kite Honor, and the Jefferson Cup from Virginia Library Association, just to name a few.

But back to jazz and Poetry Month, today we’re taking a look BECOMING BILLIE HOLIDAY (illustrated by the amazing Floyd Cooper, Wordsong, 2008), which was a Coretta Scott King Author Honor Book and on many top lists. With starred reviews from Kirkus (“…A remarkable tribute well worthy of its subject”) and School Library Journal (…“Captivating”), the book is a fictional memoir – a collection of first-person poems chronicling the transformation of Eleanora Fagan (b. 1915) into the groundbreaking and iconic jazz singer Billie Holiday.

Weatherford doesn’t shy away from the hard facts of Billie’s early life – rape, prostitution, drinking and marijuana use – but rounds out the darkness with the irrepressible voice and spirit of this singular talent. Most of the poems take their titles from Billie Holiday’s songs. Here is one which captures the struggle and emotion of her very early years (reprinted with permission from the author):

Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do

by Carole Boston Weatherford

At eleven, I had the body
of a grown woman,
the mouth of a sailor, and a temper
hot enough to fry an egg.

What I didn’t have
Was anyone to hug me,
To tuck me in at night,
Or kiss me hello and good-bye.

So I got noticed the only way
I knew – cursing and screaming
in the streets, picking fights
with anyone half as mad as me.

For me, the back
of a hand was better
than the back of a head,
better than being ignored.



She soon discovered that she had a voice, too – which could change her life. (And this voice had power that would reach far beyond her own life, particularly when she lent it to “Strange Fruit,” the 1930s poem-turned-song about racial injustice.)

In the book's afterword, Weatherford explains that she chose to end her account at a point of success for the 25-year old Lady Day – “before heroin and hard living took their toll.”

I’m thrilled to welcome this wonderful poet here today.

Thank you for joining us, Carole, to jazz up Poetry Month!

In my notes from your speech at the Georgia Children’s Literature conference, I scribbled down this quote: “Poetry is my first language as a writer.” You described how you wrote poetry as a child (and you share photos on your website of some early works!). Have you always thought of yourself as a poet?


Over the years, I have dabbled in photography, fashion design, sewing, needle arts, graphic design, bookmaking, painting, and of course writing. Writing, specifically poetry, was my first avenue of creative expression. But I didn't think of myself as poet as a child any more than I considered being an author. I had no clue about literary careers. But as poetic expression became more and more a part of my identity, I declared myself a poet. I was around 25 and had just written a poem entitled "I'm Made of Jazz." That poem had Billie in it too. I guess she was my muse even then.

I enjoyed hearing you discuss how BECOMING BILLIE HOLIDAY took a little coaxing from your muse. Could you share a little of the background of how you came to write it?

I have been under Billie's spell longer than I can remember. My father played her records, but I became a die-hard devotee at age 16 after seeing the biopic Lady Sings the Blues. In 2006, Billie enlisted me to write a young adult book about her. But I was afraid the book wouldn't appeal to teens, so I ditched the idea. Then, at Baltimore's Great Blacks in Wax Museum, an eighth grade girl who swooned at Billie's wax figure unknowingly green-lighted the project. When I seemed surprised that she'd heard of Lady Day, the girl told me, "She could sing!" As the girl moved on, it was almost as if Billie said, "I told you to write my book."

Why did you think poetry was the best vehicle to use to tell this story?

Billie had a gift for imbuing lyrics with intense emotion. In fact, she really pioneered vocal lyricism in the jazz idiom. What she did with lyrics, poetry does with language.

I’m amazed at the way you balanced presenting the facts of Billie Holiday’s experiences, which were often brutal and hard, with the joy that singing brought to her life (and to her fans and followers). Was this as difficult as I’m imagining, and was there something in your process that helped you pull it off?

As the poems poured out of me, it was almost if Billie were whispering and humming in my ear. She provided the soundtrack and her life story the scenes for the narrative. The process was a bit mystical, like channeling her.

What aspect of Billie Holiday’s personality did you most want to share with young readers?

I wanted to capture her mood when she first experienced music and fame. More than anything, I depicted her as I thought she would want to be remembered.

In your picture books, whether a story is told in prose or in poems, there’s an easy rhythm to the language. You’ve written that “jazz was the soundtrack” of your preschool years - how would you say jazz has influenced your writing – in any genre?

I love music, especially jazz, female vocalists and world music. But I rarely listen to music while writing, because for me creating a poem is like composing a melody. I need to hear the nascent verses in my head. I'd like to think I write jazz poetry. My poems make the vernacular voice sing and swing. But if I could sing, I wouldn't write.

Your words definitely sing. Thanks so much for visiting with us today – Happy Poetry AND Jazz Month!

For more, please visit Carole’s website and her great Billie Holiday blog.

For more poetry, sashay over to see what Diane’s rounding up at Random Noodling.

Happy Haiku Day! and Playing Laser Tag over at Cathy C. Hall's blog

April 17, 2012

Tags: poetry, writing life, book tracks, haiku, Southern Breeze


Howdy. Happy National Haiku Poetry Day!

I'm thrilled to be a guest on the blog of the fabulous, funny, fellow Georgia peach Cathy C. Hall today! Click here for the post, where we offer a taste of haiku humor in the form of a couple of senryu I've just had published in Prune Juice, and also for a behind-the-scenes look at my other (slightly weird) poem in THE ARROW FINDS ITS MARK, "Battling Beams." Some days you have to multi-task.

Thanks for inviting me to come play on your blog, Cathy!

Poetry Friday: Laura Purdie Salas speaks about BOOKSPEAK

April 12, 2012

Tags: Poetry Friday, poetry, authors, book tracks

The fabulous Laura Purdie Salas is here! A prolific writer of poetry and nonfiction for children, and a busy blogger, Laura is a tireless voice for excellence in writing for kids.

Before we ask her a few questions (and read a NEVER-BEFORE-SEEN poem!), let’s take a look at one of her newest books, BOOKSPEAK – Poems About Books, illustrated with warmth and whimsy by Josée Bisaillon (Clarion Books, 2011). Some of its awards include being a Minnesota Book Award finalist, an NCTE Notable book, an Honor book for the inaugural Gelett Burgess Children’s Book Award, a White Ravens 2012 book, and a Librarians’ Choice book.

For a hint of the variety of flavors in this collection, let me share just a few lines from a few poems:

From “Skywriting”

Line after line of inky black birds
Forming the flocks that shift into words. ...



From ”Index”

P s s s t!
Hey, kid – yeah, you.
So you want some facts, huh?

Forget that pretty picture on the front cover –
don’t you know they lie?

And the Table of Contents?
That only tells you where each chapter starts!
Pretty vague, you know what I’m saying?
I can give you specifics. …



From ”Bookplate”


I’m not that kind of plate.

Write your name upon me.
I’m a paper love tattoo. …


From “I’ve Got This Covered”

I’m the first thing you see when you walk by a book.
My picture is shouting, “Please stop! Take a look!”



Okay, now is your appetite whetted for a colorful collection of poems celebrating all things book? Laura was kind enough to answer some behind-the-scenes questions about how THIS book came to be.

One amazing aspect of BOOKSPEAK is its range – you cover everything from the look of letters on a white page to how a book feels being checked out of the library, to plot, character, and even the index and cover! How did these poems come about, and when did you know you had a collection?

I didn’t! I was invited by Lee Bennett Hopkins to submit poems for his book-related anthology, I AM THE BOOK. I was on cloud 9, because combining poems and books—what could be better? And the chance to appear in one of Lee’s anthologies? Oh my gosh. I sent in 13 poems and was heartbroken when none was selected. He was very kind about it, of course. I relayed my sad story to my then-agent, Karen Klockner, who asked me to send the poems to her. She promptly submitted them to Jennifer Wingertzahn, my then-editor at Clarion (she acquired and edited STAMPEDE). To my surprise (and, to be honest, sort of to Karen’s surprise, as well), Jennifer acquired the collection. I kept saying, “But…[Lee is already doing an anthology on this topic], “but…” [the poems had already been rejected], “but…” [was it OK to do this when they came about because of someone else’s project?] They kept saying, “It’s OK. Breathe. Relax.” Lee was extremely gracious about my collection coming out, and of course I adore I AM THE BOOK and am happy to see many poet friends in there.

How did the final collection end up with 21 poems?

I started with 13, but they wanted more. I think I eventually had about 25, which Jennifer and the editor who took over the project, Daniel Nayeri, narrowed down to 21. I know offhand of at least three that got cut, “Why Aren’t All Books Happy?,” “Stellar Books,” and “Ocean Tales.”

Here’s the never-before-seen (oooh!) Stellar Books:

Stellar Books

Long-ago stars spark the sky
Books spill their tales in a day
Echoes of both light your way
Stories and stars never die

There were probably a few others that either got cut by the editor(s) or that I discarded along the way. I was sad to lose the above three, though. I really liked them. But I’ll share them online or submit them to other markets, when I have time (right).


I have a thing for star poems! Thanks so much for sharing that.

I’m guessing teachers love this book. Have you discovered any particularly fun ways students are interacting with the poems?


The one thing that has come up several times is classes having fun reading “The Middle’s Lament: A Poem for Three Voices” out loud. Which is exactly what I hoped they’d do with it. I’m hoping that BOOKSPEAK’s status as an NCTE Notable book (yay!) will give it more exposure, and that I’ll get to hear how teachers use it.

I do have a teaching guide and some parts-of-the-book worksheets on my website for teachers to use.


How do you think all your nonfiction writing experience informs your poetry, or vice-versa? Is your writing process different for different genres?

I think my nonfiction informs my poetry more than vice-versa. I love poetry with nonfiction content, using words and sounds to emphasize the meaning of what you want to say. It was really fun, though, to write actual nonfiction in verse in A LEAF CAN BE…. That was one case where it was vice-versa:>)

Congratulations on your recent publishing successes. (A LEAF CAN BE is just exquisite!) You are always frank on your blog about the joys and challenges of being a writer. Do you have any favorite nuggets of advice for aspiring children’s poets?

Thanks, Robyn! This IS a challenging career. I have all sorts of Poetic Pursuits essays on my site and each one covers some aspect of writing poetry for kids. My favorite basics regarding the mechanics, though, are:

1. Condense!

2. Don’t rhyme unless you have to.

3. Get rid of the filler words (a, the, etc.)

Great advice. Thanks for visiting, Laura!

Thanks for having me here! Despite it being Friday the 13th, I feel lucky to be here!

P.S. There is scheduled to be a video of me reading “This Is the Book” from BOOKSPEAK over at today Katie Davis’s blog and one of my reading “Hydrophobiac” earlier this month at Renee LaTulippe’s No Water River blog . I do not like seeing recordings of myself, and I need to get better at reading poems aloud. So I’m sort of afraid to share those links.


Have no fear, Laura! You’re great on video, and you have so many wonderful things to share. Thank you for sharing so much here today! For more Laura, visit her website, and her blog.

Today I have the good luck to be featured on Laura Shovan's Author Amok blog, and next week, right here, we'll be jazzing things up with Carole Boston Weatherford!

Now, put BOOKSPEAK on order at your favorite library or bookstore, and then go see what everyone else is saying on this Poetry Friday. The Roundup today is hosted by the amazing Anastasia Suen at Booktalking. (Check out Anastasia’s contribution to the 2012 KidLit Progressive Poem yesterday, and keep following the mystery….)

Poetry Friday is HERE - and The Arrow Finds Its Mark!

April 6, 2012

Tags: Poetry Friday, Poetry Month, poetry, book tracks, authors, illustrators

My office kitty, May, appreciates the illustration homage to “Starry Night” below my poem, “We See With These,” opposite Bob Raczka’s delightful “Places I’d Love to Van Gogh Someday.”

Greetings, Poetry Lovers!

Hope you’re enjoying all the great poetry offerings in Kidlitosphere this month. I’m thrilled to be hosting on the first Friday in April!

And I’m beyond thrilled to share Georgia Heard’s brand-new anthology of found poems, THE ARROW FINDS ITS MARK , illustrated by Antoine Guilloppé, hot off the Roaring Brook Press. This is the first time my own poetry has appeared in an anthology for kids, and I couldn’t be more humbled and excited.

Thirty poets, including Lee Bennett Hopkins, Joyce Sidman, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Jane Yolen, Naomi Shihab Nye, J. Patrick Lewis, David L. Harrison, Janet Wong and many others contributed material for this collection, “finding” poetry in unlikely places.

Poets were encouraged to find existing text (some found sounds!) in a form other than poetry and present that text as a poem, and not to change, add or rearrange words (though some minor variations were allowed). Inspiration came from catalogs, signs, airplane magazines, social networking sites, advertisements – even a detergent box! One of my favorites is Bob Raczka’s “How to Write a Poem on Your Computer” using words from drop-down computer menus.

I wanted my submissions to be kid-friendly. The first poem I have in the book, “Battling Beams,” came from a LaserTag score report I found crumpled up on the laundry room counter. (Thank you, son Seth, for attending that birthday party.)

My second poem (below) came from a visit to a fourth grade classroom. Teacher extraordinaire Sharon Briggs (who taught both of my now-just-about-grown children) let me come in and hunt for poetic treasure. I jotted down notes from the whiteboard, work assignments, and the like. But I got obsessed when looking through activities in the Sitton Spelling and Word Skills Practice Book. One crossword puzzle highlighting plural words had all kinds of evocative-sounding clues sprinkled throughout “Down” and “Across.” I felt they needed to be herded together into something a little bit magical. I used one of the clues as the title, too.


We See with These



On a clear night, you can see lots of these
sparkling in the sky.

They help you see

Tooth Fairy collectibles,

more than one mouse,

more than one moose,

more than one elf,

more.


Copyright ©Robyn Hood Black. All rights reserved.

In her introduction to the collection, Georgia Heard mentions several of the poems and writes: “… some poets chose to splice words together from a single source and make a kind of word collage, as in Robyn Hood Black’s ‘We See with These’.” A word collage. I love that! And I think that’s an idea kids can run with too. I’ll try it out with Mrs. Briggs’s current batch of fourth graders next week.

I also love this from the introduction, “…I want my readers to know that poetry is everywhere – if we only look at the world with poet’s eyes.”

Hats off to other Poetry Friday regulars with poems in the collection, including Amy Ludwig VanDerwater (“Artist’s Advice”) and Laura Purdie Salas (“They Don’t Want Speeding Tickets, So…” and “Top Ten Rules for our Zoo Field Trip”). I’ll have the good luck to post a terrific interview with Laura next Friday the 13th (with a poem that you haven’t seen before!) and, on the following Friday (April 20) we’ll be jazzing things up here with the multi-award winning Carole Boston Weatherford. What a special month.

(I’ll be popping in on these wonderful blogs myself: Jama Rattigan’s Alphabet Soup Poetry Potluck on Wed., April 11, and Laura Shovan’s month-long celebration at Author Amok on Friday, April 13. Thank you, Ladies!)

There are so many great celebrations out there TODAY – please leave your links in the comments, and I’ll round them up throughout the day.
(more…)

Poetry Friday: Nancy Raines Day brings us A IS FOR ALLIGUITAR

March 30, 2012

Tags: Poetry Friday, poetry, book tracks, animals, authors

Fans of Nancy Raines Day’s wordplay are in for a treat. Her newest picture book, A IS FOR ALLIGUITAR - Musical Alphabeasts (Pelican Publishing, Spring 2012) is a unique abecedarium - chock-full of fun animal/instrument combinations.

Since Nancy’s first picture book, THE LION’S WHISKERS, appeared in 1995, she’s published half a dozen more. All have poetic language, and some of them rhyme, like her rollicking ON A WINDY NIGHT (Abrams) (see my blog post here) and DOUBLE THOSE WHEELS (Dutton).

In her new book, each letter of the alphabet comes to life in an unexpected way. The Illustrations by Herb Leonhard are colorful and full of expression and movement. (And what a challenge it must have been to visually create, say, a “harpoodle” or an “organutan.”) For insight into Leonhard’s process in bringing to life these “alphabeasts,” which involved traditional and digital painting techniques, see his comments here on Nancy’s website.

Here’s how the story starts:

Animals, instruments,
swing all around,
Mix - one for each letter -
now how do they sound?


Some of Nancy’s own favorite characters begin the adventure:

A
is for alliguitar,
who has his
own picks.

B
is for banjaguar,
who plays some
hot licks


Another of her favorite spreads is one I’m especially drawn to:

S
is for saxofox,
with velvet-toned
tail.

T
is for tromboa,
who really can
wail.


I’m swayin’ to the music, baby.

Nancy adds, “My fellow University of Michigan alumni friends get a kick out of the wolbourines.”

Before becoming a children’s author, Nancy wrote in some form or fashion throughout her life. As a child, she “published a newspaper written on leaves with ‘ink’ from squished berries and charged 25 cents in hickory nut money.”

I asked Nancy a couple of questions about this new book.

How did you get the idea for ALLIGUITAR?

“I was standing on the St. Simons (Georgia) pier, thinking about going to a reunion concert of the youth orchestra I played viola with in high school--all the different instruments and the people who played them. Some tourists on the pier were talking about just having seen an alligator in the water. So, while scanning the water for an alligator and thinking about instruments, my wires got crossed and I said "Alliguitar".

I wondered if I could come up with a combination like that for every letter of the alphabet. Mostly, I did it for my own entertainment. (Some people do crossword puzzles; I set myself these little challenges.) Then I wondered if I could put it all in rhyme, which--this time--came easily. It was a gift.


What fun! What was the most challenging part of the project?

The most challenging part was probably coming up with the animal/instrument combinations. Google was a big help for finding lists of animals and instruments that started with the right letter or sound. It also helped in trying to come up with scenarios to pair the two musical alphabeasts in the same stanza and spread. For instance, googling ibis and jackal, I discovered the Egyptians had two gods, one with the head of an ibis and another with the head of a jackal.

Those ancient Egyptians had some intriguing deities. Thanks for stopping in, Nancy!

Young readers will love the creative letter/instrument combinations that form each colorful "alphabeast" - and they will likely come up with their own! Learn more about Nancy and her work at her website.

And to fill your universe with more great poetry, click on over to visit Heidi at My Juicy Little Universe for this week’s Poetry Friday Roundup. [Next week, the Roundup will be HERE! :0) ]

Poetry Friday: Dragony Delights

February 3, 2012

Tags: Poetry Friday, poetry, dragons, book tracks, school visits

SIR MIKE, Scholastic, illustrations © David Murphy;

dragon print ©Robyn Hood Black
SIR MIKE, my rhyming Rookie Reader from Scholastic (2005) features a boy preparing to fight what he’s sure is a dragon in his back yard, rustling in the bushes.
It begins:

I am Sir Mike.
I am a knight.

If I see a dragon,
I might have to fight.


(By the way, a friend called to tell me there’s a new Nickelodeon show launching TODAY called MIKE THE KNIGHT, and she’s sure I should have gotten some royalties or something. The characters even favor each other! I only wish….)

Anyway, last night Kilough Elementary School here in Georgia invited me to come for an Author’s Night with a SIR MIKE and dragon theme. I spoke to students and families about writing, and then we all settled in for a viewing of HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON. An awesome evening! Great kids (some in PJs), gracious faculty and volunteers, and fun families.

All of this dragon-speak put me in the mind to share a dragon poem or two.
The first is a short, wonderful poem by X. J. Kennedy,

My Dragon
by X. J. Kennedy
(excerpt)

I have a purple dragon with
A long brass tail that clangs,
And anyone not nice to me
Soon feels his fiery fangs. …


Please read the rest here.

For a longer dragony frolic, enjoy Ogden Nash’s unlikely and cowardly hero, Custard - originally published in 1936.

THE TALE OF CUSTARD THE DRAGON
By Ogden Nash
Copyright Linell Nash Smith and Isabel Nash Eberstadt
(excerpt)

Belinda lived in a little white house,
With a little black kitten and a little gray mouse,
And a little yellow dog and a little red wagon,
And a realio, trulio, little pet dragon.

Now the name of the little black kitten was Ink,
And the little gray mouse, she called her Blink,
And the little yellow dog was sharp as Mustard,
But the dragon was a coward, and she called him Custard.

Custard the dragon had big sharp teeth,
And spikes on top of him and scales underneath,
Mouth like a fireplace, chimney for a nose,
And realio, trulio, daggers on his toes.

Belinda was as brave as a barrel full of bears,
And Ink and Blink chased lions down the stairs,
Mustard was as brave as a tiger in a rage,
But Custard cried for a nice safe cage. …


You can read the rest of this first adventure here or in one of the book editions.


For more adventures in poetry, check out the Poetry Friday Roundup hosted today by Karissa at
The Iris Chronicles.

Poetry Friday: David L. Harrison is here!

December 16, 2011

Tags: Poetry Friday, poetry, authors, book tracks, writing life, nature, Highlights, nonfiction

David L. Harrison and the hot-off-the-virtual-press Goose Lake, illustrated by Sladjana Vasic.
If you didn’t quite get enough of David L. Harrison from last week’s spiderwebs poem , you’re in luck. I’m thrilled to welcome him here today for an interview – and more poetry, of course!

David is the author of 80-some books (whew!), from poetry to easy readers to fiction to nonfiction to books for teachers on writing instruction, and his books have sold millions of copies. His work has been anthologized in more than 100 books and has appeared in dozens of magazines and journals. If I listed all his awards, we wouldn’t have space for the interview. David keeps a busy schedule of traveling and speaking, yet manages to stay in touch with readers and writers through his terrific blog.


Welcome, David – Thank you for joining us, and Happy Holidays!

You’ve written so widely, but let’s focus on poetry today. Your first book of poetry, Somebody Catch My Homework, was published in 1993 by Boyds Mills Press (publisher of several of your collections since then). How and when did you become a poet?


Hi Robyn. I’m delighted and flattered to be here. Thanks for inviting me!

I became a poet by stages. First came the fun of making rhymes. (“Sometimes I wish/I had a fish/Upon a dish.” Age 6).

Next came the vague sense of intellectual snobbery from reading Shakespeare’s sonnets and Omar Khayyám’s finger having writ. That, of course, came in college.

In my twenties, the gift of a book about poetry made me wonder if I could become a poet. I didn’t. Not for a long time. Not until I reached my fifties. That’s when I took off three years from all other writing and threw myself into writing poems. By then I had long been a children’s author so naturally my poetic efforts were written with young people in mind. I knew very little about children’s poetry but had read some of Silverstein’s work and figured I might as well try my luck with humor.

The first to see my work was Christine San Jose, who was associated with Highlights and knew about Kent Brown’s fledgling line of books called Boyds Mills Press. There was even an imprint for poetry. Christine urged me to send my poems to Bernice Cullinan, editor-in-chief for Wordsong, the line of poetry. Bee liked what she read and urged Kent to publish my poetry. The first title was Somebody Catch My Homework. It was also my first collaboration with Betsy Lewin. Homework did well with combined sales in hardcover and paperback of over 40,000 and still growing. The only serious poem in that collection is the last one in the book – “My Book!” – and it’s the one that has been quoted most widely, painted on a bookmobile in Colorado, and sandblasted into a sidewalk in Arizona.

One thing I love about your work is its appeal to boys. In The Purchase of Small Secrets (illustrated by Meryl Henderson, Wordsong/Boyds Mills, 1998), we tag along as a boy interacts with the people and animals he lives with. You tackle many subjects unflinchingly – a rabbit killed crossing the road, the wandering off of a strange old neighbor, the loss of a pet which never returns. But there’s much humor in the poems, too. And an abiding appreciation of nature. One of my favorites is:

A Chip of Flint

See this?
Too thin
for an arrowhead.

Maybe a chip
from the weapon
being made
by a master craftsman,
flint in one hand
antler tip in the other,
strong wrists
fashioning
a new stone point.

Did he pause
in these woods
silent, alone
or was he surrounded
by chuckling comrades
who winked at secrets
as chips fell?

It doesn’t matter
the chip was rejected
by the arrowhead.

I accept it
as a gift
from an unknown hand.


Do you think poetry can help reconnect kids with the natural world today? If so, how?


Thank you for selecting that poem, Robyn. It’s one of my own favorites too. Yes, I think poetry can lead young readers to see nature in a more personal way. A good nonfiction book can, too, and so can adventure stories set in nature. But most poems are brief and rich in imagery. In a way, a collection of poems is like a scrapbook of photographs. Enjoy a picture, turn the page forward or backward, and enjoy another.

When I wrote The Purchase of Small Secrets, I wanted to share the period of my boyhood when I spent every possible hour outside. I began by making a list of moments I remember: finding a chipped piece of flint in the woods, exploring a cave, wondering about animal tracks in the soft earth . . . From these bits and scraps of my past grew the group of poems that became Small Secrets. Children of the city may not ever experience such opportunities. They may never gaze down at their feet in a field of tall grass and discover the empty shell of a long-dead turtle or sit still by a stream and watch a muskrat swim across the quiet water. But I can take them there with my word pictures and help them understand something more about the natural world we live in and must take care of.

Other poems in Secrets deal with issues that can be painful or sensitive. Boys and girls both know what it feels like to lose a pet or experience the serious illness or death of an adult. Boys (and yes, sometimes girls) get into fights or know someone who does. When I write about a rabbit beside the road, I take the time to reflect on its loss and hope that my young readers will see the value of pausing to think about what they see in their own lives.

Speaking of kids today, we have to talk technology. Your work has been included in all three of the PoetryTagTime e-book anthologies produced by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong this year. As far as reaching young readers, how do you see poetry fitting into changing publishing landscapes?

When Sylvia and Janet invited me to contribute poems to the PoetryTagTime series, I was happy to accept and eager to learn more about this whole e-publishing world. Changes can be exciting and obviously the concept of publishing on the Internet for an audience of people holding some form of electronic reading device is a huge change. I don’t know where this is headed. I hope it means good things for authors who have something to say but don’t have enough traditional outlets to share their work. Poetry is always hard to place with publishers. As much as we want them to sell well, most books of poems do not. But this doesn’t mean that there is no audience for poetry! The trick is to find our readers and entice them to buy our wares instead of something foolish such as food or clothes. We are a chorus of vendors, each shouting, “Me! Me! Me!”

E-publishing tends to level the field by allowing poetry fans to find their favorite poets from home and download their work for less money than they spend on hard copies. There are plenty of questions. How does e-publishing impact on traditional publishers? How does it affect authors’ incomes? Will the market become diluted with so many new entries? I’m sure we’ll find out over time but for now I want to think there is a blessing in all this somewhere.

And, you have your own hot-off-the-virtual-collection poetry collection, right? Tell us about it!

Yes! Waiting for Christmas when I was a kid was never as hard as waiting to introduce Goose Lake.

I wrote the first poem in this collection three years ago. Sandy and I have lived beside a lake for twenty-two years. I love to look at the water and all the life around, in, and above it. I have two degrees in biology and have always been a nature lover so you can imagine how much I needed to write about this lake!

This may be precisely the kind of collection made for e-publishing. Nature lovers everywhere can find it easily at Barnes & Noble.com, Amazon.com, and iTunes.com. Teachers looking for poetry about nature can download it inexpensively. This is not a book specifically for young readers but some who have already read it think it is. There is a sad poem in the collection that nearly made one girl cry. I think the audience will be quite broad and include a high percentage of adult readers.

Can you tempt us with a poem or excerpt?

I’d love to! This one is called, “Free at Last.”

Free at Last

Fish are rolling,
rippling the surface
with fins and bellies.

Fish are bucking,
throwing water
off slippery backs.

Fish are leaping,
tail-dancing,
slinging droplets
like glistening sweat
into the suddenly spring.



Let’s close with a peek back into your creative process. Both sides of your brain are obviously nimble, with a B.A. in zoology from Drury College and a masters in parasitiology from Emory. (Parasitology, people!) How does your background in science inform your writing life?

I grew up collecting arrowheads, insects, snake skins, turtle shells, animal hides, bird wings, fossils, minerals, seashells, skulls, and so on. In college I majored in biology and minored in geology. The scientific approach teaches one to observe and record, check facts, draw conclusions carefully. After college I became a pharmacologist in a pharmaceutical laboratory. I suppose it was inevitable for me to write numerous nonfiction books, including a series of seven titles called Earthworks. My most recent nonfiction book is Mammoth Bones and Broken Stones, a recounting of the archaeological search for signs of the first migrants to reach and populate North America. National Science Teachers Association recommends the book, which was five years in the making, and it was nominated for the Society for American Archaeology’s 2010 Book of the Year for “a book that is written for the general public and presents the results of archaeological research to a broader audience.”

My poetry is frequently informed by my science background too. Pirates, which was chosen for the Texas Bluebonnet (2010) and Indiana Young Hoosier (2011) master reading lists, was named by VOYA for its Nonfiction Honor List. It’s unusual for poetry to win a spot on a nonfiction list but Pirates was well researched and presents the life and times of those outlaws of the sea who have so often been portrayed as dashing heroes.

On a similar “note” (sorry), I understand you are a musician. Tell us about your music, and how this talent contributes to your work as a poet.

I’m smiling at that! It reminds me of all the sour notes I listened to as a young trombone teacher in my teens as one kid-who-hadn’t-practiced after another zombie-walked through my door on Saturdays. I spent much of my youth playing in marching bands, concert bands and orchestras, German bands, jazz and Dixieland combos. I played professionally in dance bands, including a summer in Springfield, Illinois and was principal trombonist in the Springfield, Missouri symphony. With so much variety in the music I played, I can tell you for sure that my poetry is very much influenced by my background.

Oh, and unrelated but too cool not to mention - you have an elementary school named after you! Where is it, and how did that come to be?

Beginning with a six year stint on our school board in the early 80s, I’ve been involved in a number of educational projects over the years. I helped start an annual teacher appreciation banquet, joined with three others to start a foundation for our public schools, created a reading challenge for students called SKY HIGH ON READING and, when the district libraries needed more books, spearheaded a book drive called Reading Roundup. Most recently I’m co-chairing a project called Family Voices that encourages parents of children under five to read to their kids on a regular basis.

I like to think that a school was named for me because of the body of my work. But I suspect it was the total package that led the school board to grant me the honor of a lifetime by naming David Harrison Elementary School (Springfield, Missouri) after me. The school was new in 2009-10, cost $10 million dollars to build, sets on seventy-two acres, and provides classes for preK-4. Thirty-two feet of glassed cases display a collection of my work. I can’t tell you how it feels to walk into that place except in terms of goose bumps and uncontrollable smiles.

You are very involved in educational markets – what are some of the poetry contributions you’ve co-written for the classroom?

My partners have included former IRA president, NYU professor Bernice Cullinan (Poetry Lessons that Dazzle and Delight, Scholastic), Kathy Holderith (former 3rd grade teacher in Colorado (Using the Power of Poetry, Scholastic), Kent State professor Tim Rasinski (Using Partner Poems to Build Fluency, Scholastic), and I wrote the poetry chapter for Children’s Literature in the Reading Program (co-edited by Deb Wooten and Bernice Cullinan, IRA). I’m currently under contract for five new books with Mary Jo Fresch (Ohio State, Teacher Created Materials) and have six other books under development. I’m nearing an agreement with another educational publisher to partner on my new DVD series of writing tips for the elementary classroom called This Week with David Harrison. A three-hour graduate course from Drury University will be offered with the series and I’ll co-author a book and student workbook to accompany it.

You are one busy man! Finally, pretty please with spiderwebs on top, share a fun fact not many people know about you….

Hmmm. How about this? I was an athlete. I lettered as a baseball pitcher in high school and once carried a 190 bowling average. Now you know all my secrets!

Robyn, thank you again for inviting me onto your blog today. I’ve had a fine time.

Thank you, David! To learn more about David and his incredible body of work, visit his website.
And remember…. Poetry makes the perfect gift!

For more great poetry, go see Kate at Book Aunt.
(And I'll see you after Christmas break!)

Poetry Friday is Here! A Web of Treasures…

December 9, 2011

Tags: Poetry Friday, poetry, animals, Highlights, writing life, nature, book tracks, workshops

Greetings! I’m thrilled to be hosting Poetry Friday today.

My Christmas gift this year, a really nice one, is a trip back to Honesdale, Pennsylvania, for another Highlights Founders Workshop in poetry. I’ll be attending Poetry for All in May (there are still a few spots available!) co-led by poet and friend Rebecca Kai Dotlich (click here, here and here for previous posts featuring Rebecca), David Harrison, and Eileen Spinelli.

You're looking at the picture and thinking, What does this have to do with spiders?

David Harrison has this wonderful poem in his collection, Bugs – Poems about Creeping Things, illustrated by Rob Shepperson (Wordsong, 2007):

spiderwebs

by David Harrison

Webs sparkle
on the lawn
like diamond
necklaces
at dawn.

Shiny droplets –
small oases –
beckon spiders
To their places.

Silently they
look and lurk.

Time now for
spider work.


(Used with permission from the author.)

And Eileen Spinelli has this wonderful picture book, Sophie’s Masterpiece, with gentle illustrations by Jane Dyer (Simon and Schuster, 2001).

Sophie was no ordinary house spider. Sophie was an artist.

The talented heroine has a hard time finding a place to live and create, however, as she is chased away from corner to corner of Beekman’s Boardinghouse.

By this time, many spider years had passed. Sophie was older. She only had energy to spin a few small things for herself… a tiny rose-patterned case for her pillow, eight colorful socks to keep herself warm.
But mostly she slept.


Until she meets someone who appreciates her and inspires her to create a very special gift - something that takes her all and becomes a loving legacy. I won’t spoil the story, but I will say my eyes were a bit misty by the end. And then, when I read the author’s note… okay, I cried.

In cultural traditions across the world, the spider represents creativity – a keeper of ancient wisdom, and sometimes a trickster. (And now you’re thinking of E. B. White’s Charlotte , aren’t you?)

Whatever your “spider work” is today, let it be inspired by a World Wide Web-ful of poetry. Include your link in the comments, and I’ll weave them all together throughout the day.

POETRY FRIDAY ROUNDUP:

Julie at The Drift Record is waking up with a cold snap and the poem, "Icicles," by Todd Boss.

Over at The Poem Farm, Amy
shares a terrific original poem, "Umbrella Path," inspired by Alix Martin's colorful painting in the collaborative SPARK 14.

Tabatha,at The Opposite of Indifference, explores poetry holiday and gift ideas (including a really cool ornament).

Myra chimes in that at Gathering Books, Iphigene discusses another Joel M. Toledo poem, "Learning to Swim" - beautiful and thought-provoking!

Jama serves up a poignant haibun by Penny Harter, "Moon-Seeking Soup," written after the death of her husband, William J. Higginson, in 2008 (both have made immeasurable contributions to the haiku world).

Heidi's in today at My Juicy Little Universe with some delightful poetry by her kindergarteners, and a discussion of their poetry collage projects.

Ruth brings us Keats and an original poem describing how a poem idea will not leave you alone at There is No Such Thing as a God-Forsaken Town.

Need a little romance today? Maria at A Poem a Day from the George Hail Library brings us Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning - and in the continuing series on sonnets, one from the latter you might not have read before.

Irene is caught up in the spirit of giving. She’s got a copy of Shel Silverstein’s EVERY THING ON IT for some lucky re-tweeter.

Join Laura today here for Janet Wong’s yoga poem, “Tree,” and here for her 15-words-or-less poem, also tree-related, and a photograph you just have to see for yourself.

Diane has an original poem, “Pie Town Family – 1940” inspired by a historical photograph, at “Random Noodling.

Her Kids of the Homefront Army features a poem about one reality of war, “Certain Advantages.”

And, Kurious Kitty is asking with Aileen Fisher, “Do Rabbits Have Christmas?” featuring one of the sparkly poems from the book, published five years after Fisher’s death.

K K’s Kwotes has a quote by Truman Capote.

Linda at TeacherDance helps us to remember those for whom the holidays are a lonely time, with “The Transparent Man” by Anthony Hecht.

How about some Ogden Nash? Sally’s got you covered at The Write Sisters with “Everybody Tells Me Everything.”

At Picture Books and Pirouettes, Kerry shares Doreen Cronin’s picture book, Wiggle, sure to get you moving this morning.

Debbie takes another look at giving with the poem “Altruism” by Molly Peacock.

Feeling a little batty? Join Joyce at Musings to enjoy thoughts about Randall Jarrell’s The Bat-Poet (and a few verses from the poetry).

Sally at Paper Tigers brings us Oh, Grow Up: Poems to Help You Survive Parents, Chores, School and Other Afflictions by Florence Parry Heide and daughter Roxanne Heide Pierce.

Check out The Stenhouse Blog for a reverse poem, “Framing My Future,” written by Rebecca, one of Kelly Gallagher’s students.

Mary Lee at A Year of Reading encourages us to “Have a _________ Day.” (You have to click to find out!)

At Dori Reads, Doraine shares a Tennyson poem that still perfectly captures difficult emotions.

Over at Wild Rose Reader, Elaine keeps the spirit of giving going with another terrific e-book from Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong, Gift Tag, and a fun, original poem to fit the theme.

Brace yourself to face the animal life in a hoarder's home with Mandy's original poem at Write on the World.

David E. has a thought-provoking original poem, "how great?" - which he describes as "a found poem, a cross-out poem, a little bit of random poem." Check it out!

Lorie Ann at readergirlz also features the Gift Tag e-collection from Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong, and shares her poem in it, "Tucked Between Branches." If you enjoyed/enjoy those little pudgy trolls as much as I did/do, you'll love it!

At All About the Books, Janet is all about Douglas Florian's wonderful volume, mammalabilia.

Shelley at Dust Bowl Poetry shares many different poems about families facing hard times.

Tara is celebrating libraries today with a couple of terrific poems and pictures. Go join the party at A Teaching Life.

Like a little moonshine with your Chicken Spaghetti? Susan has an original found poem and a review of Bootleg: Murder, Moonshine, and the Lawless Years of Prohibition by Karen Blumenthal.

Over at A Wrung Sponge, Andromeda (Andi) has a very clever idea for combining nature and learning to read! And, after my own heart, a haiku written on rocks. Really!

Mmmm... Smell cookies baking? Follow your nose to Twinkling Along and enjoy an original poem cooked up by Carlie. And some very cute pictures.

The talented Liz over at Liz in Ink is thankful for the change of seasons (brrr!) and offers "Relearning Winter" by Mark Svenvold.

If you're hosting family for a holiday meal, do check out Kelly's original "Holiday Dinner To-Do List" at Writing and Ruminating What would Martha Stewart make of it?

Joy has lots of fun holiday poems and prompts at her blog. Grab a mug of hot chocolate and head over!

Just in time for supper, Jone has a review of Katherine B. Hauth's What's For Dinner? over at Check It Out.

Eric Rohmann's BONE DOG - more than a Halloween treat...

October 30, 2011

Tags: book tracks, authors, illustrators, animals, Highlights, workshops

I've had the pleasure of hearing Caldecott medalist Eric Rohmann speak a couple of times, most recently at the fantastic Advanced Illustrators Highlights Foundation workshop last month. (See Sept. posts.)

In Honesdale, in addition to enjoying the incredibly fun relief printing workshop he offered, I chatted with him for a few moments about his new book, Bone Dog (Roaring Brook Press, 2011). The Highlights folks were gracious to provide a copy of the book for attendees, but I'd already brought one in my suitcase.

I don't have an official interview to offer, but I do have to keep shouting out about how much I LOVE this book. Eric joked during that weekend about how it was standard procedure, when writing a picture book, to kill off a main character by the second or third spread. That's actually what he did in this touching (but not sentimental), humorous, heartfelt story about a boy and his dog.

Gus's beloved old dog, Ella, dies. He goes through the motions of daily activities but is grieving this loss.

"And when Halloween came around, Gus didn't feel like trick-or-treating. But he pulled on his costume and trudged out the door."

He's dressed as a skeleton, he is, and let's just say that as he makes his way home later, some real skeletons appear and they are up to no good. The text and illustrations cause just enough tension that a young reader will be wide-eyed and worried, but not terrified.

The skeleton characters are goofy and wicked and full of themselves, and the reader can sense that they might just be too big for their nonexistent britches.

I won't spoil the story by revealing how things are resolved, but Ella appears in a new form and helps to set things right, with a brilliant idea from Gus. (The book is called Bone Dog, after all - not really a spoiler there, is it?)

Some hilarious spreads ensue, followed by a satisfying ending. Not a "happily ever after," mind you, or something tidy and sweet - but something very rich and honest. Death is a heavy subject, and this book looks it straight in the eye - but with such fun, expressive illustrations and a wacky sense of humor that readers young and old will enjoy the tale.

To learn more about the book, click here for Eric's interview with Vicky Smith posted a few days ago on the Kirkus Reviews blog.

And to learn more about Eric, check out his brand new website.

With all the starred reviews for this one-of-a-kind book, my two cents' might not amount to much - but it's Halloween and I couldn't resist sharing my favorite recent picture book treat. Go dig it up!

Celebrating Randolph Caldecott

August 26, 2011

Tags: poetry, Poetry Friday, illustrators, history, book tracks

© Robyn Hood Black

Randolph Caldecott's grave in Evergreen Cemetery, St. Augustine, Florida, and my quick sketch of it.
A couple of weeks ago, my family had a long weekend vacation in one of our favorite spots, and a place I remember fondly from growing up in Florida, St. Augustine.

Last time we were there, I met a delightful young children’s writer working at the Spanish Quarter (a living history complex) who shared this gem with me: Randolph Caldecott (1846-1886) is buried there. He had traveled to the climate in an attempt to improve his ailing health, but died soon after arriving, a month shy of his 40th birthday. The Caldecott Medal , given to “the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children” was first awarded in 1938.

On our previous trip, and again this time, I went to pay my respects at his grave. [This year I was particularly keen to go, since next weekend I’m heading up to a Highlights Founders Workshop
for illustrators. Yee-hi! I’ve been to one other – on poetry.]

Evergreen Cemetery is unassuming and off the beaten path, but peaceful and well maintained. My only real company both times included birds (woodpeckers, a hawk, and others) and squirrels and some lively Florida bugs.

The grave is maintained by the Friends of the Library of St. Johns County, Inc., and the Randolph Caldecott Society of America . A 2005 plaque on the grave reads: “…As a tribute to his life and art, this burial site is designated a Literary Landmark by Friends of Libraries USA.”

One of my favorite books is Randolph Caldecott’s Picture Books (Huntington Library Classics, 2007), which includes copies of nine of the works in the Library’s collection (songs and rhymes made into books), including The Three Jovial Huntsmen and The Diverting History of John Gilpin. I particularly like the note in the introduction that in Sing a Song for Sixpence, Caldecott “ didn’t want children to think that the maid had permanently lost her nose to the blackbird…,” and therefore he added a verse:

The Maid was in the Garden
Hanging out the Clothes-;
There came a little Blackbird,
And snapped off her Nose.
But there came a Jenny Wren
And popped it on again.


The book is beautifully bound with thick, creamy pages perfectly setting off the sepia line drawings and colored wood engravings which still seem fresh today.

Quoting from the Randolph Caldecott Society of America website:

A friend of Mr. Caldecott, Fredrick Locker-Lampson, summed up Randolph Caldecott's work with these words: "It seems to me that Caldecott's art was of a quality that appears about once in a century. It had delightful characteristics most happily blended. He had a delicate fancy, and humor was as racy as it was refined. He had a keen sense of beauty and to sum up all, he had charm."

For more delightful, racy, charming poetry, visit Irene for the Poetry Friday Roundup .

Celebrating Vicky Alvear Shecter's new book with Style...

August 6, 2011

Tags: authors, bookstores, book tracks

Donna H. Bowman, me, a very cool Roman Soldier, Vicky Alvear Shecter, and Janice Hardy celebrate the launch of Vicky's CLEOPATRA'S MOON at the Little Shop of Stories.
Vicky Alvear Shecter's Launch Party at Little Shop of Stories was a classic BLAST. See post below...

Poetic Nod to Cleopatra's Moon

August 5, 2011

Tags: Poetry Friday, poetry, historical fiction, authors, book tracks

It’s a good week for historical fiction in the Atlanta area, specifically, in Decatur. – Lynn Cullen spoke about her hot-off-the-press Reign of Madness (Putnam) Wednesday evening at the Dekalb Library (shout-out post below), and tonight, Vicky Alvear Shecter is launching her YA Cleopatra’s Moon (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic) at The Little Shop of Stories.

I’m lucky to be in a critique group with Vicky and happy to help celebrate. Hence my rather long-ish book spine poem in honor of Cleopatra Selene, daughter of Cleopatra VII and Marc Antony. Caveat: I’m purchasing my book this evening and haven’t read it yet – so I hope my “poem,” scoured after bedtime from bookshelves upstairs and down, is somewhat on target! (Well, books and one DVD case.)

Congratulations to Vicky, whose novel is raking in rave reviews.

Here’s my poetic take on the story, if the titles aren’t clear in the picture:

Cleopatra Rules!
Golden Legacy
Between Parent and Child
Born Free
Girl in a Cage
Another Country
Night
Out of the Depths
New Moon –
Girl in the Mirror
Who Does She Think She Is?


For the Poetry Friday Roundup, start off the new school year with Libby at A Year of Literacy Coaching.

Go, Lynn Cullen!

August 4, 2011

Tags: authors, historical fiction, book tracks

Lynn Cullen signing Reign of Madness
Go, Lynn Cullen!

Last night I met up with Kim Siegleson, Elizabeth Dulemba, and Vicky Alvear Shecter in Decatur (Ga.) to hear our friend and author extraordinaire Lynn Cullen
speak about her brand-new REIGN OF MADNESS (Putnam). The talk was sponsored by the Georgia Center for the Book, and it was standing-room-only in the conference room at the Dekalb County Library.

I always enjoy hearing Lynn describe her European jaunts and treks down little by-ways, all for the sake of research, of course. She brought a fun slide show to share. I can't wait to dive into this story of Juana of Castile, daughter of Queen Isabella. Was she really mad, or was she the victim of rumors fueled by insatiable appetites for power?

From School Library Journal:

"While not as well known to American readers as her mother, Queen Isabella, or her son, Charles V, Juana is a sympathetic heroine, and lovers of historical fiction will enjoy her story."


I'm one of those, and I'm sure I will. Congratulations, Lynn!

Exploring Big Cats and Little Kitties (and more) with Author Scotti Cohn

February 28, 2011

Tags: authors, book tracks, nature, SCBWI, wolves, animals

It's been a fun month of featuring nonfiction nature writers! For our last visit, I'm happy to host Scotti Cohn. I “met” Scotti online when her fellow Sylvan Dell author and my good friend Gail Karwoski told me about Scotti’s gorgeous rhyming picture book, ONE WOLF HOWLS (illustrated by Susan Detwiler). Needless to say, Scotti and I discovered we are pretty much from the same pack! The Illinois writer, who is planning to move to South Carolina in a few months, tackles a wide range of subjects for readers of all ages, and you should check out her great blogs. Today we welcome her for a sneak preview of her new book from Sylvan Dell, also illustrated by Susan Detwiler, BIG CAT, LITTLE KITTY.

Welcome, Scotti! We share a lot of passions, including members of the canine and feline families – wild or domestic. Tell us about your new book, BIG CAT, LITTLE KITTY. What does it have in store for young readers, and how did you come up with the idea for it? (more…)

Keeping Nature in Focus with Sarah C. Campbell

February 21, 2011

Tags: authors, illustrators, book tracks, nature, SCBWI, Southern Breeze

You can’t really say “nonfiction,” “nature,” and “SCBWI Southern Breeze” in the same sentence without saying Sarah C. Campbell! In addition to being a wonderful volunteer in our region (hailing from Mississippi), Sarah is an award-winning author and illustrator of spectacular books for children.

Her first book, WOLFSNAIL – A Backyard Predator (illustrated with photographs by the author and her talented husband, Richard P. Campbell) has won too many awards to list here (really!), including being named a Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Book and a Notable Children’s Book from the American Library Association. GROWING PATTERNS – Fibonacci Numbers in Nature is a 2011 ALA Notable Children’s Book and a 2011 Outstanding Science Trade Book for Students K-12. Both have won Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) Choices awards, and both books are published by Boyds Mills Press.


Welcome, Sarah! I’m so happy you’ve dropped by for our “nonfiction nature writers” focus this month. Let’s start way back. What were you like as a kid?

I was a bit of a sickly child. I was slow to gain weight, slow to speak, and very fussy. Once my parents started feeding me soy milk, I was transformed -- virtually overnight. I went from not speaking to reciting full sentences. My first words, apparently, were “Have you turned my de-humidifier on?” My dad believes I developed my determined spirit during those rough early years.

By the time I was in school, I was very inquisitive and always interested in how things worked. I conducted an unauthorized survey in kindergarten. I followed a different classmate home each day for a week to find out what each was having for lunch. I gave up my quest only when I learned that my classmates were all having peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, too. (more…)

From the LeBrea Tar Pits to Outer Space - take a safari with Author Donna H. Bowman

February 14, 2011

Tags: authors, book tracks, nature, SCBWI, Southern Breeze

On this Valentine's Day, I'm thrilled to welcome someone for whom I have a lot of love - Donna H. Bowman, children's author, long-time critique group buddy, and former Co-Regional Advisor for SCBWI Southern Breeze.

Her books include (two versions of) BIG CATS (Intervisual Books/Piggy Toes Press), and two nonfiction titles from Picture Window Books: DID DINOSAURS EAT PEOPLE? – And Other Questions Kids Have About Dinosaurs, and WHAT IS THE MOON MADE OF? - And Other Questions Kids Have About Space. Donna also has an entrepreneurial streak we'll hear more about in a moment.


Hi, Donna! Let’s start at the beginning. I know you grew up running wild – in a good way – in California. Tell us a little about your childhood adventures in the great outdoors. (more…)

Nature Author Heather L. Montgomery on Snakes and More...

February 7, 2011

Tags: authors, book tracks, nature, SCBWI, Southern Breeze

Author photo by Sonya Sones
I'm thrilled today that Alabama author and SCBWI Southern Breeze Assistant Regional Advisor Heather L. Montgomery has come out of the woods for a spell to spend time with us! What a great way to kick off a month of guest nature writers for children.

Heather's newest books are RATTLESNAKES and GARTER SNAKES in Capstone's
Wild About Snakes series. Her other books explore how to stay safe in an earthquake, what soil is made of, why teeth fall out, and mummy secrets! She's written many articles appearing in Highlights, Science World, Know Fun for Kidz, and Fandangle, and in professional publications as well.

But wait - there's more! Heather runs Dragonfly Environmental Education Programs, bringing folks of all ages and nature together. She helped develop McDowell Environmental Center in Alabama and currently serves as its Education Coordinator.

Heather, where do we start? (more…)

Nonfiction Nature Focus for February!

January 31, 2011

Tags: authors, book tracks, nature, nonfiction

Okay, this is a commercial. But I want to give you a heads-up that February around here will celebrate some wonderful nature writers for children!

I had the blessed opportunity to grow up in a place and time that afforded hours of unsupervised time in the woods at the edge of my Florida neighborhood, and hours of solo bike rides to nearby lakes and parks. For many of today's children, the natural world is, well, unnatural to them.

Read Richard Louv's LAST CHILD IN THE WOODS - Saving our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder. It was originally published in 2005 and revised/expanded in 2008.

Another book I'm crazy about is A PLACE FOR WONDER - Reading and Writing Nonfiction in the Primary Grades by Georgia Heard and Jennifer McDonough. The authors present creative ways teachers (and other adults) can open the doors of exploration for young students and help them to express these connections to the natural world. (more…)

Explore 12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS IN GEORGIA with Susan Rosson Spain and Elizabeth O. Dulemba

December 3, 2010

Tags: book tracks, authors, illustrators, SCBWI, Southern Breeze

Elizabeth Dulemba and Susan Rosson Spain
Let’s ring in the Christmas season with another great book in Sterling’s “The Twelve Days of Christmas. . .” series, namely, The Twelve Days of Christmas in Georgia, written by Susan Rosson Spain and illustrated by Elizabeth O. Dulemba, friends I’m proud to have in my neck of the woods in the northern part of the Peach State.

If you are in this neck of the woods, be sure to stop by their next signings: Tuesday, Dec. 7, 4 – 5 p.m. at the HALL BOOK EXCHANGE in Gainesville, and Thursday, Dec. 9, at 7 p.m. at LITTLE SHOP OF STORIES in Decatur. Elizabeth and Susan agreed to drop by here, too, and tell us about their book.

Welcome, Susan and Elizabeth! The Twelve Days of Christmas in Georgia takes readers on a colorful journey led by cousins Ava and Jacob, from the mountains in the north to the Okefenokee Swamp in the south to the Atlantic coastline. Jacob describes their adventures in letters home, tucking in lots of history and fun facts.

How in the world did you decide which points of interest to feature?
(more…)

On board ROSA'S BUS with Jo S. Kittinger

November 22, 2010

Tags: authors, book tracks, SCBWI, Southern Breeze

This week of Thanksgiving, I’m especially thankful for our guest. Jo S. Kittinger is a prolific author, co-Regional Advisor for our SCBWI Southern Breeze region, and all-around wonderful person. Jo’s insightful comments during a critique six years ago resulted in a submission that led to my first sale – Sir Mike to Eileen Robinson, formerly of Scholastic Library. So I love Jo for all kinds of reasons – including that she was willing to drop by and tell us about her new book, Rosa’s Bus (Calkins Creek/Boyds Mills Press), and a little more about herself.

Welcome, Jo!

How did you become a writer?


Some people know they are writers from a young age. Not me. (more…)

VICKY ALVEAR SHECTER GIVES CLEOPATRA ROYAL TREATMENT

October 27, 2010

Tags: book tracks, authors, writing life, nonfiction, historical fiction

If you think ancient history is as stuffy as the inside of a tomb, think again. SCBWI Southern Breezer and talented author Vicky Alvear Shecter (ALEXANDER THE GREAT ROCKS THE WORLD) brings her “history with a twist” approach to one of the most fascinating characters the world has ever known, Cleopatra VII. In CLEOPATRA RULES! The Amazing Life of the Original Teen Queen (Boyds Mills, 2010), Vicky shows readers young and old why you shouldn’t believe everything you’ve seen or heard about Egypt’s last pharaoh.

Welcome, Vicky! In this beautifully designed and kid-friendly book, you dig way past the stereotype of Cleopatra as a femme fatale and reveal her fiercely loyal, politically-savvy side. When did you first become Cleopatra-crazy, and how long have you wanted to write a book about her? (more…)

Janice Hardy conjures up BLUE FIRE

October 7, 2010

Tags: authors, book tracks, writing life

What if pain were a commodity - a weapon? What if you were 15 and possessed the rare ability to draw pain out of someone, but you could release it only into another person? What if your daily choices literally meant life or death for others? Welcome to the world of Nya, the bold and struggling protagonist in Janice Hardy's THE HEALING WARS series for ages 10 and up (Balzar + Bray/HarperCollins).
Book One, THE SHIFTER, came out last year and (drumroll...) Book Two, BLUE FIRE, has just been released.

Welcome, Janice! First, the question I'm sure you always get from young readers: How did you come up with the idea for this series? (more…)

Kristin O'Donnell Tubb Does Things Different

September 20, 2010

Tags: book tracks, authors, writing life, historical fiction

Before I turn things over to this week’s fabulous award-winning author, Kristin O’Donnell Tubb, let me tell you why I especially love her first book, AUTUMN WINIFRED OLIVER DOES THINGS DIFFERENT (Yearling/Random House, 2008). When my brother and I visited my grandparents in Knoxville, we often drive into “the hills” to Gatlinburg (for my fellow Georgia residents, imagine Helen on steroids – lots of steroids). Even more special were trips into the Great Smoky Mountains, where my grandparents had hiked and explored back in the 1930s, and where we wandered barefoot through pebbly streams. For many reasons, the little village of Cade’s Cove at its entrance is a place I’ll always treasure.

Welcome, Kristin, and congratulations on such a successful writing career! In your delightful novel, 11-year-old Autumn becomes wrapped up in how the opening of a national park affects her small community. Autumn is definitely feisty! How long had you been living with this character before she made herself known on the page?
. (more…)

Just One Bite with Lola M. Schaefer

September 10, 2010

Tags: book tracks, authors, writing life

My office kitty, May, with a spread from Lola M. Schaefer's JUST ONE BITE
Today I'm thrilled to feature award-winning author Lola M. Schaefer and her hot-off-the-press new picture book from Chronicle, JUST ONE BITE. Exactly how much food can a rabbit eat in just one bite? How about a Komodo dragon? An elephant? Would you believe this volume offers life-size illustrations (you read that right) for bitefuls of food for eleven different animals, from a worm to a sperm whale? (more…)

Amazing Faces

September 6, 2010

Tags: poetry, authors, illustrators, book tracks

Tomorrow kicks off a week of "Random Acts of Publicity" in the children's lit world, thanks to Darcy Pattison (our keynote speaker for the SCBWI Southern Breeze fall conference, by the way). See http://www.darcypattison.com/pr-notes/random-acts/

I have too many authors to brag about for just one week, so I'm stretching it out for the next month or so. I'd actually like to usher in all this fun with a poetry anthology just out this summer. Lee Bennett Hopkins's AMAZING FACES (Lee and Low), illustrated by the award-winning Chris Soentpiet, amazing himself, lives up to its title. (more…)

Are you a Bella or a Bean?

August 12, 2010

Tags: authors, book tracks, writing life

Part of the excitement of a new school year is meeting new folks! My daughter is heading off to college and my son's 10th grade class is welcoming some fresh faces this year.

These new beginnings, with mixes of new personalities, put me in the mind of Rebecca Kai Dotlich's charming BELLA & BEAN (Atheneum, 2009).


Bella wants to write poems.


Bean wants to go for a walk.


Bella wants to write poems.


Bean wants Bella to look at her cute toes.

(more…)

SHARING THE SEASONS - a look at the book

March 10, 2010

Tags: book tracks, authors, illustrators, poetry

Pre-spring's first rumble of thunder today calls me to make good on my promise to share great books in my blog this year.

A perfect first "share" is SHARING THE SEASONS, a glorious hot-off-the-press collection by renowned poet/anthologist Lee Bennet Hopkins, illustrated by Caldecott madalist David Diaz (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2010). (more…)

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