A #PoemPair for Poetry Friday

All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake
by Tiya Miles
Random House, 2021

The embroidery on the cover caught my eye and the title pulled me in to read the jacket blurb. There I absorbed the lines that Ruth Middleton embroidered on a cotton sack that her great grandmother Rose filled with simple yet precious items to give to her daughter Ashley, Ruth’s grandmother, before Ashley was sold away at the age of nine from her mother to another slave owner.

“My great grandmother Rose
mother of Ashley gave her this sack when
she was sold at age 9 in South Carolina
it held a tattered dress 3 handfulls of
pecans a braid of Roses hair. Told her

It be filled with my Love always

she never saw her again
Ashley is my grandmother
Ruth Middleton

The historian Tiya Miles traces every bit of what can be known, as well as inferred, about this sack, its contents, and these three women. As she traces every lead, Miles comes back again and again to the tenacity and revolutionary love of Rose and other enslaved women whose perseverance through slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow segregation, and the Great Migration, is what has carried generations of Black families into the present.

Reading this book made me rethink my poem “Persevere is a Word.” It seems trite now. Perhaps suitable for a motivational poster, but naively unaware of a deeper, more nuanced and historically-based version of perseverance.


Persevere is a Word

Persevere is a long word:
four hundred years long,
the distance of the Middle Passage,
the length of a ship’s hold, packed with bodies chained together.

And although persevere 
contains none of the letters that spell luck,
privilege shines through from beginning to end.

The privilege of tracing a blood line
for generation after unbroken generation 
in an ancestral story of ascension

rather than a lineage that dead-ends
in the shackles of slavery,
in lives with trauma encoded in the DNA,
in the knowledge that one’s existence
is not predicated on bootstraps
or an innocuous insistence to try again 
or the blithe assertion to summon grit

but instead dependent on ancestors who persevered
surviving horrors unimaginably severe
family members inhumanely severed from each other
per their owners’ whim.

Persevere is a light word for some,
a chirpy motivational poster word.
For others it is a heavy word,
a how-dare-you-assume word,
a claim-my-humanity,
lift-while-we-climb* word.

©Mary Lee Hahn, 2021

*Angela Davis

Matt has this week’s Poetry Friday roundup at Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme.


Three Little Engines
by Bob McKinnon
illustrated by Lou Fancher and Steve Johnson
Grosset & Dunlap, 2021
review copy provided by the publisher (thanks!)


It’s graduation day, and three little engines (Little Blue Engine, Yellow Passenger Engine, and Red Freight Engine) are ready to take their final test and make a solo trip across the mountains. Little Blue Engine makes it across just fine with her traditional “I think I can”s. But the other two engines have obstacles in their paths that Little Blue did not have, and she realizes that sometimes no matter how much you think you can, you can’t make it over the mountain without some help. She changes her mantra into “I think WE can” and they all make it over the mountain supporting each other.

Sunday Morning did an interview with the author.


I’ve chosen a poem from WOKE: A Young Poet’s Call to Justice to pair with this picture book. The poems in WOKE help young readers to identify issues of inequity in our world, but it also gives them big and small ways to fight back or speak out. Just like Little Blue Engine learned — it’s not enough to SEE that there is inequity, we need to search our hearts and our resources and DO something about it.

What’s In My Toolbox
by Olivia Gatwood

We can’t choose the way we’re born.
Some of us are born with two parents, some one, some none.
Some of us are born with legs that we can walk with,
some of us need a little help. Some of us get to eat when
we are hungry, some of us still haven’t. When a person
has privilege, it is a toolbox they were born with,
hammers and nails that make it easier for them
to walk through the world because the world,
in all of its beauty and excitement and variety,
can still be a very hard place in which to live.

Read the rest of the poem in WOKE and discuss all the different kinds of privilege that give some people advantages over others.

A #PoemPair for Poetry Friday

Ten Beautiful Things
by Molly Beth Griffin
illustrated by Maribel Lechuga
Charlesbridge, 2020
review copy via the public library

Lily doesn’t want to live in Iowa with her grandmother, but as they drive, they play a game where they try to find ten beautiful things, which brings them home. I love that this book doesn’t explain why Lily needs to live with her grandmother, and it doesn’t even get them inside the front door at the end, so we don’t know for sure what her new life will be like in Iowa. This is very much a book about focusing on the present, and mindfully finding beauty around us, in spite of what might be going on inside us.

This book with its list of ten beautiful things seemed to want a list poem as its pair. An excellent mentor text for list poems is, of course, FALLING DOWN THE PAGE: A BOOK OF LIST POEMS, ed. Georgia Heard. This poem was inspired by our recent drive from OH to CO and back.

Things To Do If You Are A Road Trip

Perch hawks on fence posts.
Pinwheel the wind farms.
Create curiosity with road cuts.
When a trailer tire ahead shreds
     let all who follow dodge the pieces.
Conveniently space rest stops and gas stations.
And as for destinations,
     if they do not include the open arms of family or friends,
     make every traveler feel welcome.

©Mary Lee Hahn, 2021

It’s important to remember that the privilege of a road trip has not been/is not now equally accessible. After spending some time enjoying this book, make sure to explore the history of The Green Book, or The Negro Motorist Green Book. This guide was published (starting in 1936) during the Jim Crow era until just after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (in 1967) to give African American travelers a list of safe places to get gas or service, eat a meal, or spend a night. Jim Crow was a system of open and often legal discrimination against African Americans, who were frequently refused by white-owned businesses the selling, servicing, or repairing of their cars (often bought to eliminate the segregation experienced on public transportation). African American travelers were denied food or accommodation, and their safety was at risk in “sundown towns” where there was a possibility of physical violence. The Green Book gave Black travelers the same kind of safe path through the United States (and later abroad) that earlier publications provided for Jewish travelers.

Christie has this week’s Poetry Friday Roundup at Wondering and Wandering, along with a FANTASTIC crowd-sourced “Poetry Is” poem (facepalm…I forgot to submit a line).


The Leaf Detective: How Margaret Lowman Uncovered Secrets in the Rainforest
by Heather Lang
illustrated by Jana Christy
Boyds Mills & Kane/Calkins Creek, 2021
review copy provided by the publisher (thanks!)


The Leaf Detective is a picture book biography written in verse, lushly illustrated, and sprinkled throughout with quotes from Margaret Lowman and rainforest facts. Following the author’s note (she’s actually met and learned alongside Margaret Lowman in the Amazon rainforest in Peru), readers can learn more about the rainforest from a flip-the-book-vertically double-spread diagram of the levels of the rainforest, and explore further resources listed in the back matter. 

Lowman is a pioneer in the study of rainforests, and especially rainforest canopies. Not only did she invent new ways of studying the canopy by climbing into the tops of trees, but she broke through all kinds of challenges and barriers as a woman in the area of field biology in science. 

AND NOW THE POEMPAIR (replace he/his with she/her)

It Couldn’t Be Done
by Edgar Guest 

Somebody said that it couldn’t be done,
  But he with a chuckle replied
That “maybe it couldn’t,” but he would be one
  Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.
So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin
  On his face. If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
  That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

Somebody scoffed: “Oh, you’ll never do that;
     At least no one ever has done it”;
But he took off his coat and he took off his hat,
     And the first thing we knew he’d begun it.
With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,
     Without any doubting or quiddit,
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
     That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,
     There are thousands to prophesy failure;
There are thousands to point out to you one by one,
     The dangers that wait to assail you.
But just buckle in with a bit of a grin,
     Just take off your coat and go to it;
Just start in to sing as you tackle the thing
     That “cannot be done,” and you’ll do it.

(this poem is in the public domain)

Inclusion and representation in science continue to be issues for women, and especially women of color. A video to share with students features Adania Flemming, a Black marine biologist/ichthyologist. Like Margaret Lowman, who has made education about women in science and about the rainforest important parts of all she does, Adania Flemming dreams of starting a research aquarium/museum in her home country of Trinidad and Tobago. 

NOTE: Thank you for your patience as we figure out WordPress. We will crosspost on A Year of Reading and A(nother) Year of Reading for a bit, but eventually, this will be where to find our current thinking. A Year of Reading will remain as a reference when we make the complete transition.