The Poetry Sisters challenge for this month was to write a ghazal. Challenge is the right word! I had a bit of a head start because the Inklings wrote ghazals back in 2021 and I had both the experience of juggling all the rules of ghazals AND an abandoned draft to work with. Good thing, because all the other drafts I started in the past week or so came to absolutely nothing…for now! Maybe the next time I tackle ghazals, one of those drafts will be just what I need!
In June, we will be writing in response to a quote. Pick your favorite and join us!
In the past two weeks, this book has done good work in the world. (Okay, in all fairness…has helped ME do good work in the world!)
I’m a once-a-week Reading Specialist at each of the three sites of our community resource center’s after school program. The first week of May, we had a whole-group read aloud and then in small groups, folded zines that would be the container for our own poems, which we would write the following week.
My young friends and I have a ritual for reading picture books. We examine the dust jacket, opening the book wide to see if the cover illustration spans the entire cover (our favorite), or if there’s an important nugget from the book on the back cover. In the case of How to Read a Poem, there is this nugget that we watched for as we read:
“The words have been waiting to slide down your pencil.”
Next, I lift the dust jacket so we can see if the cover illustration is the same. (Our favorites have a different cover illustration!) Then, we examine the end papers, which, for How to Read a Poem, show the alphabet, and which were the source of a lively discussion:
Me: Melissa Sweet chose the alphabet for the endpapers. These letters are everything you need to make the words for your poems!
Child 1: There’s no A!
Me: I noticed that. I wonder why she…
Child 2: There’s the A! It’s really big!
And then, just like the best optical illusions, the A showed itself to all of us. Now I can’t unsee it!
Before I began reading at one site, one of my youngest friends asked, “But what IS poetry?” After praising him for his insightful question, I quoted Kwame’s back matter. He quotes a third grader’s response to this very question:
“Poetry is an egg with a horse inside it.”
This led to a discussion about what makes poetry poetry: it gets to break rules, it doesn’t have to make the kind of sense we expect, it’s short, and yes it sometimes rhymes and has a form like haiku or acrostic or limerick, but mostly it gets to be whatever it wants to be.
Kwame’s book reinforces these ideas (and Melissa Sweet’s illustrations are just as much a poem as his words). His poem-text hits the notes of wonder, listening to the world, using imagination, playing with words (“…a cotton candy cavalcade of sounds”), accessing both joy and sorrow, and becoming “a voice with spunk.” The book ends with the invitation, “Now show us what you’ve found.”
Here is some of what we found this week:
“Inspiration is everywhere you just need to look.”
“Lonch youere self to the MOON with your jet pack of ceativeaty.”
“Star bright in the air let my dreams fall down to my hands.”
“There is magic falling all around us growing tall roped into our life like how forks are roped to food open your door and let in the wind let it go in and out”
“alligators eat the sun”
“flower birds sing rain”
“the pizza is made of teeth”
So. Much. Fun.
Here’s wishing you joyful poetry writing!
Robyn has the Mother’s Day edition of Poetry Friday at Life on the Deckle Edge. Happy Mother’s Day to all the men and women and non-binaries who nurture small humans, fur babies, gardens, and the world.
My Powerful Hair by Carole Lindstrom illustrated by Steph Littlebird Abrams Books, 2023 review copy from the public library
Once upon a time, I wrote a book about the power of read aloud. One of the stories in that book was about the time when I read aloud The Watsons Go To Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis. Our exploration of Byron’s new “conk” hairstyle led to a whole class share time of hair products and tools, with the highlight being my Sikh student and his mother educating us about the role of uncut hair in their religion. It was one of the most powerful moments in my teaching career.
There are now lots of books exploring hair and identity, the newest being My Powerful Hair. This book is important AND it is beautifully written and illustrated. Don’t miss the endpapers. Don’t ignore the Author’s Note and definitely don’t shy away from the shameful history of Indian boarding schools. Don’t neglect to share with your children/students that both the author and illustrator are Indigenous creators. Don’t miss this book.
Twenty Questions by Mac Barnett illustrated by Christian Robinson Penguin Random House, 2023 review copy from the public library
While we’re on the subject of questions (see previous post), you need this book in your classroom and/or life.
The text of this book is, indeed, composed of twenty questions. (I counted.) The first is very literal. You can use it to teach the word literal: “How many animals can you see in this picture?” The next question lets the reader know that this will not be a (boring) literal book: “How many animals can you not see in this one, because they’re hiding from the tiger?” It gets more and more creative (inferential, opinion based) from there, one of my favorites being “Which of these children is dreaming of peaches?”
This is a book that will invite conversation and story telling. This is a book that will invite creative question-asking. It might even invite collage-making along with creative question-asking. Let’s get started!
The urge to skip this month’s Poetry Sisters challenge was strong. I went to last Sunday’s zoom meeting with an idea for a way to come to this challenge through the back door. I was also hoping for a Cliffs Notes version of The Style of Neruda that could help me on my way, or, at the very least, provide content for my cheat. I got both.
Happy Almost the End of National Poetry Month! All of my cheritas can be found at Poetrepository. So that I can catch up reading YOUR projects, I declare May to be Read What Everyone Else Did for NPM Month!
The Tree and the River by Aaron Becker Penguin Random House, 2023 review copy from the public library Full disclosure: I am NOT the Mary Lee to whom the book is dedicated!
This is a GORGEOUS wordless picture book. If it feels like Becker is painting from life, it might be because, according to the back flap,
“To prepare for the illustrations he first constructed a scale model of the book’s rolling landscape, which he then transformed with clay and wood over many months.”
At first, the story might seem like a tale of environmental destruction/dystopian future with a bit of a rainbow (literally) at the end. But look closely. Go back to the title page, to the first illustration. Look closely. You might see a different kind of long-term hope. For our planet. For humanity.
Lynne Cox is one of my sheroes. She herself is an amazing swimmer, breaking records for long-distance swimming in difficult water without a wetsuit — most notably, swimming to Antarctica! If SHE thinks Yoshi is an amazing swimmer, Yoshi must be an amazing swimmer.
Yoshi is a loggerhead turtle. She hatched on a beach in Australia, then survived and grew in the Indian Ocean for five years before being snagged by a fishing net off the coast of South Africa. She was rescued by a fisherman, then placed in an aquarium, where she lived for over 20 years. After conditioning and training, and with a tracker attached to her shell, Yoshi was released back into the wild as an adult loggerhead. She first swam north, up the coast of Africa, then she turned around and swam south and then east, all the way to Australia, mating along the way and laying her eggs on the very beach where she (likely) hatched herself.
Amazing, right? Plus, this book is beautifully written and gorgeously illustrated. It has just the right amount of text for a read aloud, and I can bet there will be passionate conversations about the consequences of pollution, the pros and cons of zoos and aquariums, and the absolute genius of Yoshi.