Thursday, November 16, 2017

two small poems for November

Hello! It's been a wee bit crazy around these parts as I returned from AASL only to leave again for NCTE...

but, oh, Alabama is beautiful in November! So I wanted to share with you these to pics I took in my backyard (before the rain came and left the trees naked) and two small poems (below) to go with them. (Also, just remembered a previous November poem I shared back in 2014!)

Excited to see some Poetry Friday friends at NCTE... I am honored to be part of the following sessions:

On the Wonder Pathway to Deepen Inquiry-based Learning and Amplify Voice - Friday, 11 am - 12:15 am, room 275 (Charles Waters and I will be talking about "Wonder as a Starting Place for Teaching Tolerance")

signing with Charles Waters at Lerner booth  314 -- 12:30 pm Friday -- FREE books!

Learning from Poems: How Studying Poetry Can Strengthen Writing in All Genres - Saturday, 3 pm - 4:15, room 100

And here are the poems:

 all it takes
is an easy breeze
for Novembers nose
to freckle

- Irene Latham

Before Rain

November kisses
bare belly

- Irene Latham

If someone would add this link at Jane's Roundup at Raincity Librarian, I'd be so grateful. Thank you!

Monday, November 13, 2017

Another Star for CAN I TOUCH YOUR HAIR?

pic taken just minutes after
our meeting
Yes, another starred review! But first, let me give you some sky...

Wow, what to say about AASL? Charles and I had a great time introducing CAN I TOUCH YOUR HAIR? to readers in Phoenix. The whole weekend was a dream! Not only did we finally get to meet each other (!), we were so touched by the enthusiasm and heartfelt response from our first readers!

So many had stories to share with us from their own lives or from their experiences with students struggling to understand differences. So many expressed the need and desire for books that can help us make the world a better place. I am filled with hope and gratitude and honored to be a part of it.

Also, Charles and I learned at least five more things we have in common, including both being named after our great-grandparents and both working at Disney and both attending the same church as children and and and... Forever Friends, I tell you. FOREVER.

Icy Smith, Ellen Oh, Charles Waters, Irene Latham
Bill Konigsberg, Carole Boston Weatherford
And how inspiring was the Mirror, Mirror: Reading All Readers panel?! Carole Boston Weatherford was the perfect facilitator, blessing us with her words and ideas, and I loved getting to know authors Bill Konigsberg, Icy Smith and that dynamo Ellen Oh! I wrote so many notes during the panel... about the courage it takes to share books like these, how it's complicated and important and it's our job to tell the truth. AND to write the stories that call to us. To proceed carefully and thoughtfully. Do the research. Listen.

Another highlight was hanging out with librarians and some of the great folks at Lerner! Kathleen and Lois and Brad and Andy and Adam... awesome, each one. I have never been more #proudtobeaLerner.

My most favorite moment of the conference is something I can't put into words, but I will share a picture of the two fabulous people involved.
Tracy and Charles
Grace, miracles, love... that's what it's all about.

Finally, it's always a joy to meet in person a Poetry Friday friend! Here we are with Linda Mitchell. So glad you spotted us, Linda! Now go write more amazing poems.

Oh, and the whipped cream on the milkshake? We got a note from Lee Bennett Hopkins informing us that along with KirkusPublisher's Weekly gave CAN I TOUCH YOUR HAIR? a starred review! (Lee always knows before anyone else... how does he do it?!) Here is a snippet:

 the poems delicately demonstrate the complexity of identity and the power of communication to build friendships. 

Thank you thank you thank you! And now... on to NCTE! See you in St. Louis. xo

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

5 Reasons I'm Excited to Attend #AASL17

1. This is my first time at attend AASL. And since I totally love librarians, I am excited to make some new friends!

2. It's in Phoenix, where the air is warm and dry -- which is a nice change for this for this Deep-South-humidity gal!

3. After hours and days and years, I will finally get to meet, in person, my Poetic Pal and Forever Friend, the irrepressible Charles Waters!

4. I'm honored to be included in the "Mirror, Mirror: Reading All Readers" panel, along with Charles, of course, and Carole Boston Weatherford (who is moderating), and authors Bill Konigsberg, Ellen Oh, and Icy Smith. I can tell already this is going to be a rich discussion. So so grateful to Lerner for making this happen!

5. Delivering CAN I TOUCH YOUR HAIR? to the world! The book doesn't actually release until January 1, 2018, so this feels a bit like getting one of those late ultrasounds, when baby is pressing against the lungs, and you are just DYING to meet him... and really, the pressing is getting uncomfortable already. (This could be just me... this time 21 years ago I had a soon-to-be 10 pounder making me short of breath!)

Hope to see you there! I'll share a full report on the blog next week. :)

Friday, November 3, 2017

A Rocketful of Space Poems

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit lovely Linda at TeacherDance for Roundup.

Here at Live Your Poem I'm getting ready for presentations at AASL and NCTE (Poetry Friday Friends, please let me know if you will be at either conference, so we can meet!)... and also working my way through the Cybils-nominated poetry books. What fun! And today I want to share with you A ROCKETFUL OF SPACE POEMS selected by John Foster, illustrations by Korky Paul (Frances Lincoln Children's Books).

The book gets all kinds of points for being imaginative. It begins with Space Fantasy by Patricia Leighton, visits the moon and introduces us to "Asteroid Dog" by Richard Evans. There's and "Email from the Space Hotel" by John Foster and a "Garage Sale in Outer Space" by Robert Scotellaro. Witches and wizard and monsters and "Inter-galactic Squibble-ball" by David Harmer. And of course there's a "Dumb Earthling" by Clive Webster" and a few space-y riddle poems to give readers a light, fun romp through space. It also includes a poem by our very on J. Patrick Lewis that I'm happy to share with you below -- especially for those among us who have said or heard "are we there yet?" Happy space-adventuring!

If You Drive to the Moon

If you drive to the moon in your average car,
And you wonder how long the trip is and how far --
Here's the answer. At seventy miles per hour
In the family sedan with its average horsepower,
No skyway patrolmen out cruising for speeders,
No need to feed flying parking meters,
Make sure you pack plenty of outer-space food,
Star-carsickness pills for the high altitude.
No to get to the moon on the lunar freeways
Will take you...
                              134 days!

- J. Patrick Lewis

Thursday, November 2, 2017

On Gratitude with Karen Eastlund

Hello and welcome to this month's installment of Spiritual Journey Thursday! Roundup is HERE, and I am delighted to welcome Karen Eastlund as our guest hostess. Welcome, Karen!

"I have a friend who starts her prayers with: “Father, thank you for another day.” I am always struck by the simplicity and intimacy of her prayers. She has much to teach me, and I consider her lessons more and more.

God so often seems remote, incomprehensible and unreachable, yet scriptures teach us the opposite: God as our creator, the good shepherd, the potter, etc. There is closeness in these images, and a sense of hands-on knowledge and compassion. Consider how we feel about our own creations… our children, our writing, our gardens and meals. What love we pour into them! These images describe a God who readily walks with us each day, shaping us, guiding us, protecting us. Psalm 139 speaks of God’s intimate knowledge of us: “You are familiar with all my ways… your hand will guide me… your right hand will hold me fast…you knit me together in my mother’s womb…”

I am thankful for a God who knows me inside and out, and who encourages me to come close in prayer. To me, this very thought is both shocking and heartwarming. Can God really be my closest confidant? Scriptures say yes, and say it overwhelmingly. My challenge is to remember and nurture this closeness in my life, to be open to God’s guidance.

The second part of my friend’s prayer that touches me is her thanks for the day. I love the simplicity and honesty of this prayer. It’s so easy to focus on the list of tasks before me, sometimes feeling overwhelmed, instead of savoring the gift of the day itself. And if I have overlooked the gift of the day, what other gifts have I overlooked?

I hope to cultivate an attitude of gratitude this month, thanking God for each day, for water and sky, for the cool air and the beauty of the season. I hope to look for blessings in my life, and to give thanks for each one.

May the spirit of gratitude be with you, and keep you searching for blessings in each and every day ahead."
Many thanks to Karen for those beautiful words! It reminds me of a poem I've just run across as I've been downsizing my poetry collection. (How many times have I kept a book when there is only one or two poems in it that I adore?! Now I am working on recording those poems in digital files and gifting the poetry book.)
 Here is one of those poems:

Small Wire

My faith
is a great weight
hung on a small wire,
as doth the spider
hang her baby on a thin web,
as doth the vine,
twiggy and wooden,
hold up grapes
like eyeballs,
as many angels
dance on the head of a pin.

God does not need
too much wire to keep Him there, 
just a thin vein,
with blood pushing back and forth in it,
and some love.
As it has been said:
Love and a cough
cannot be concealed.
Even a small cough.
Even a small love.
So if you have only a thin wire,
God does not mind.
He will enter your hands
as easily as ten cents used to 
bring forth a Coke.

- Anne Sexton

Some days I have only a thin wire. But it is enough. And yes yes yes to appreciating the beautiful day! Reminds me of "I thank you God for most this amazing" by e.e. cummings. Here's the first stanza:

i thank You God for most this amazing

day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

... and now, I invite you to share your links below!

Friday, October 27, 2017

Feeling the Beat, Tapping My Feet

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

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

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

All Over the World, 
Dancing is Joy

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

Joy is Dancing
All Over the World

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

- Marilyn Singer

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


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

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

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Scarecrow Season

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

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

TOY STORY friends...




WIZARD OF OZ friends...

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

... continuing the Scarecrow theme --


...reading and to play x-box one

playing in Minecraft


soccer science

Love  (my favorite!)


If you give a mouse a cookie...

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

Monday, October 23, 2017

When a Dog Writes a Poem

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

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

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


Methinks those three words are a poem for any species!

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

Friday, October 20, 2017

Mindfulness for Kids with Kate Coombs

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

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

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

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

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

On another spread, the tanka asks a question:

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

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

Quiet Place

a bluff
scarved by sky,

sporting blue 
- Irene Latham

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

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

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

The Difficult

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

The Delicious

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

The Unexpected

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

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

the opening spread!

Anything Else

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

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Poems Are Teachers by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater

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

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

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

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Poetry Friday Roundup Brought To You By the Number 13!

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

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

13 Thoughts About 13

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 - Irene Latham

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

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

11. A baker's dozen = 13. 

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

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

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

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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Crazy About Dialogue Poems

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

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

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

Conversation with the Monster Under the Bed

I think YOU should do it.

       Why me?

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

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

You're scared? Of what?

     What if they don't like me?

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

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

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

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

Good News!

Me: "Kristy's cat is sick."

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

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

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

     Phone: Ring! Rringg!!

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

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

- Janet Wong

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

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

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

Corn Talk

Listen to a cornstalk
to the autumn wind,

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

     Long long ago
     in April
     I sank into new-turned

     In the warm sweet
     dar, I drank

     Stretched by light
     I grew

     prince of the garden
     in fringed tassels,
     in proud summer

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

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

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

Happy writing!

Monday, October 9, 2017


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

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

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

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

Friday, October 6, 2017

The Sweet Art of Writing An Aubade

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

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

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

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


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

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

- Tamera Will Wissinger

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Downsizing for the Joy of It

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isn't that wonderful? Working on it. xo 

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Sherman Alexie on Quilts, Relationships & Racism

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

I learned Sherman's mother Lilian was a quilter:

My mother made quilts.
She would sew instead of sleep

And rage at sunrise.

- from "The Quilting"

I learned his father was quiet:

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

I learned Sherman is complicated, as we all are:

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

who is half monk
And half clown.

Look at me pray!
Look at me pratfall!

I will beg, I will beg
For your devotion

Then do my best
To lead you astray.

- from "Love Parade"

I learned some of Sherman's thoughts on racism:

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

Lots to think about. 

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

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

On Choosing Not to Be Offended

In between a thousand other things, I'm preparing for some upcoming presentations, including those scheduled for AASL and NCTE in November. And then yesterday, as I was reading -- and loving -- the new middle grade novel INSIGNIFICANT EVENTS IN THE LIFE OF A CATCUS by Dusti Bowling, I found a passage I can't wait to include in at least one of my presentations.

You've got to read this book! It features "Armless Aven," who was born without arms and has such a positive outlook -- being armless isn't going to stop her from doing ANYTHING. I love it!

And because I believe one key to a more loving, tolerant world is to give people the benefit of the doubt, not take things so personally, choose NOT to be offended, I dog-eared a particular passage from a scene that includes Aven and her very cool mom. Thanks to Dusti for giving permission for me to share it. When you're done here, go forth and find thyself a copy of the book! You will love it.

My eyes filled with tears. “When Connor was here yesterday... he called me disabled.”

Mom scrunched her eyebrows “Well...okay. Did that make you angry?”



“Because,” I said, trying to hold back more tears. I know I am. I don't need other people telling me I am and telling me what I can or can't do.”

“I'm sure he didn't say it to hurt you.”

“I don't ever want to be seen just as a disabled person,” I said. “I don't want to just be Aven Green, that girl with no arms. I don't want to be labeled like that.”

“I think Connor would be the last person to label you like that. You shouldn't get so offended if someone calls you disabled, Aven. You do have extra challenges that others don't have. It does take you longer to do most tasks. Your movements are limited. There's a big difference between saying you're disabled and saying you're incapable.”

“Well, he tried to say I was incapable of becoming an astronaut.”

 She laughed and stood up off the bed and faced me. “I think it would be extra challenging for you, but I don't think it's impossible, not with robotic arms and all that.” She did a robot dance to show off what I assumed were some ridiculous robot arms that would never be of any use to an astronaut. “I don't think anything's impossible for you,” she said as she continued her display.”


Tuesday, September 26, 2017

A Star for CAN I TOUCH YOUR HAIR? Poems of Race, Mistakes and Friendship

The first trade review for CAN I TOUCH YOUR HAIR? Poems of Race, Mistakes and Friendship is IN, and it's from Kirkus, and it's a star!

I'm honored and delighted to share this with the whole team: co-author Charles Waters, illustrators Sean Qualls and Selina Alko, and the find folks at Carolrhoda/Lerner.

You can read the full review at Kirkus, and here is the closing sentence:

"A brave and touching portrayal worthy of sharing in classrooms across America." - Kirkus / STARRED

Readers, it's the "brave" that makes my heart pirouette. Talking about race and racism isn't easy. But if shy, private me can be brave, others can too. Let's do it together, shall we?