Friday, February 23, 2018

Poem for a Music Teacher

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Liz at Elizabeth Steinglass for Roundup.

I've been having one of those weeks where I feel like I've been running behind and running behind and running behind... lots going on in my writing life, which is lovely and inspiring, but also has me a little bit frazzled!

Anyhow, this too shall pass.

If you haven't added your Golden Shovel to my roundup of Golden Shovel poems, please do!

Also, check out this thoughtful, lovely write-up about CAN I TOUCH YOUR HAIR? over at A Fuse 8 Production, by Betsy Bird. We are all learning, aren't we?

And here is my offering for today: a poem for a music teacher as it appears in SCHOOL PEOPLE, poems selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, illus. by Ellen Shi, brought to us by the fine poetry-loving folks at WordSong/Boyds Mills Press.

This was my first LBH anthology to be included in - what an honor and thrill! I was especially excited when Lee told me my assignment was "music teacher." As many of you know, I actually HAVE a music teacher -- Laura Usiskin, who's an amazing cellist and teacher. I'm so grateful to be working with her!

AND I've had music teachers pretty much my whole life, what with the dozen or so years I took piano and the handful of years I was in choir... and the years my kids took piano and cello and percussion... and then, yes, surely, school music teachers, thought they are not quite clear in my mind.... my school memories are a bit of a blur because there were SO MANY SCHOOLS. (11 by the time I was 14! Thanks to my family moving so frequently.)

Anyhow, for me, music is JOY, and all the music teachers Ido remember have embodied that joy -- so I knew I wanted joy in my poem.

I'm not sure where the "rain" came from, though it IS the best music... or how I linked this poem with "She Walks in Beauty" by Lord Byron, but that's what happened. There's also a nod to Phantom of the Opera in there, which Lee caught right away. :)

Music Teacher
by Irene Latham

She walks in music, like morning rain:
drip-drop, pitter-patter, boot-stomp, splash!

And all that's best of noise and silence
meet in her flash-flood smile.

She doesn't say Hush or Stop or No-
she says, Yes! Louder! Sing, my angels, sing!

And so our hearts overflow,
symphonies river from our lips.

We walk in music like morning rain:
drip-drop, pitter-patter, boot-stomp, splash!


Thank you for reading! If you have a music teacher, do some boot-stomping and splashing with him or her today! xo

Thursday, February 22, 2018

A Roundup of Golden Shovel Poems in honor of Nikki Grimes' ONE LAST WORD

Congratulations to Nikki Grimes, author of this year's winner of the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award!

It was my pleasure to serve with other esteemed poetry people on the committee to select this award... what a lovely experience it was to talk books and poetry and language and art -- and it was tough, too!

One of the most challenging things about the process is comparing books for young readers to books for older readers... it forces one to set aside individual aesthetics and preferences and really look at each book as a package. We all agreed that ONE LAST WORD is one phenomenal package, filled with beauty, hope, art, and some powerful wordsmithing.

AND, in the year since this book's release, we've seen so many writing Golden Shovel poems! This was not something the committee was charged with recognizing, but it's definitely something I find noteworthy. Here are some links to some Golden Shovel poems by friends in the Poetry Friday community:

Margaret Simon's students using "A Letter in October" by Ted Kooser

more from Margaret and her students

a slew of Poetry Friday Friends at Laura Shovan's blog - Laura's poem is after "The Red Wheelbarrow" by William Carlos Williams

Holly Mueller's poem is after "The Summer Day" by Mary Oliver

Sara Lewis Holmes' poem uses "Pied Beauty" by Gerard Manly Hopkins (and also includes links to other Poetry Sisters' Golden Shovels)

Carmelo Martino over at Teaching Authors uses a poem by Gwendolyn Brooks (for other poems honoring Gwendolyn Brooks, see this anthology of Golden Shovels!)

Carol Varsalona uses a quote to create her Golden Shovel

Donna Smith writes after Rupert Brooke's "The Treasure"

Donna Smith uses a Theophrastus quote about time

...and I know there are so many more! If you'd like your link included, please just share in comments, and I will add them in.
Meanwhile, thank you, Nikki, for this book and and all the ways it has inspiring us! (More on how this book inspired ME very soon! :)

Also, big thanks to Lee for creating and supporting this annual award, which we learned isn't going anywhere. Thanks to Lee's generosity, it will continue to recognize and inspire poets for years and years to come!

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Lake Dog

We have had a blast introducing Ruby to the lake... she is a born sailor! Remember The Sailor Dog by Margaret Wise Brown? It was definitely one of my childhood favorites. And now, our Ruby loves being on the fishing boat and can't stand it when we cruise off in the kayaks without her. (Inflatable kayak  + Ruby's claws = potential disaster.) 
We are excited to see how she reacts when we catch some fish while she's on board... she can be pretty excitable, soI think a flopping fish is really going to rock her world! I'll let you know. Meanwhile, we are enjoying a few warm, breezy days punctuated by flowering cherry trees and daffodils brightening hillsides and ditches. 
Spring is coming, yes it is!

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Poems for President's Day

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Jone at Check it Out for Roundup.

Yesterday I shared the Michigan report, about last week's school visits in Grand Rapid's Michigan. Today I want to introduce you to a special student I met at Wealthy Elementary -- Skyler T.

Skyler presented Charles and I with hand-written copies of her poem "If I Were the President."
Skyler T. and me

It takes so much bravery to write something in the first place, but to SHARE it? With an author visiting your school? THAT takes moxie! Go, Skyler! I'm grateful to have permission to share her work with all of you. Thank you, Skyler and Principal Carlye Allen and Skyler's mom. :)

No matter how you feel about our current president -- or any of our former presidents -- haven't we all imagined at least once, what WE would do if WE were the president? Here's Skyler's poem, just in time for President's Day. Enjoy!

If I were the president
By Skyler T

If I were the president I would be so happy,
And when I travel to the white house guess what I would do,
I'd take a swim at the pool,
Then would take a shot at the bowling ally,
Next I would grow a tree of 100 dollar bills,
After that I would build a fountain for people to throw coins in,
and after dark I would colect all of that money,
Then I would have a sleep over with all of my friends,
we would jump on my bed,
untill we were dead!

Isn't that joy-filled and imaginative?! And, as it happens with poetry, Skyler's poem inspired me to write a poem:

Jumping on the Bed at the White House
- for Skyler T.

As my arms fly up
and my sister squeals,
I imagine the jumpers
who've jumped
here before:

wiggly Tad Lincoln
and FDR's terrier Fala;
the Bush twins,
and the Obama girls.

As we leap
and laugh and twirl,
it's as if there is
no war –

no sadness, no death.
Just me and my sister
in a soft-sheeted world.

- Irene Latham

Jumping on the bed at the White House... I am IN. As tragedies like the Broward County school shooting unfold around us, we need jumping-on-the-bed moments more than ever. My deepest sympathies to these families, and all of us, as we grieve. xo

The Michigan Report

Last week Charles and I had such a great time in snowy Michigan! Here's the welcome sign that made us feel... welcome!

Thanks to Charles for braving the weather to take the pictures. And thanks to East Grand Rapids Middle School for sharing the days with us. I loved meeting these eager educators and students! Big thanks to Principal Anthony Morey and teacher-poet Kim Doele for doing all the behind-the-scenes-work... SO much goes into an author visit. I'm always touched to be in the presence of those who are willing to do this work for the kids. That's what it's about. That's why we do this.

Here are a few of the many stand-out moments:

1. Driving down neighborhood streets on snowy pre-dawn days with blue-lit sky and trees arching over Lake Dr... for an Alabama gal, it was magical! I was enchanted by the snow pretty much the entire trip -- until I thought it might interfere with me getting home! Charles was kind enough to brush our car down each (cold!) morning, and now I've got snow-driving experience. :)

One of the many gingerbread houses we passed!

2. Presenting with Charles! After all our hard work creating the presentation, finally, we were able to share it with students. 6 times. In one day.

3. Meeting Gary D. Schmidt. I am a HUGE fan of Gary's work -- and I knew he lived near Grand Rapids. So, imagine my delight when Kim was able to set up a supper for us! We had a great time talking books and words and LIFE at a neat restaurant on (frozen) Lake Reeds called Rose's. Plus Gary signed my copy of OKAY FOR NOW, which happens to be my favorite of his novels.
Irene Latham, Gary D. Schmidt,
Kim Doele, Charles Waters

4. The analogies workshop with students, in which I introduced the Private Eye method using a jeweler's loupe. We wrote poems about the moon and our palms and lions... fun to hear these students' amazing ideas and images.

5. Sharing LEAVING GEE'S BEND with a special group of readers... they asked some really thoughtful questions!

6. The diversity group. Nothing I type here will do justice to our discussion with these students! So many good hearts, so many amazing poems! I was filled with hope after all the sharing in that room. We will be posting responses to our CAN I TOUCH YOUR HAIR? Gallery very soon!
In the sharing circle...

student with "Talking Stick" reading
her poem while we all listened.
7. Presenting with Charles in front of the 811 (poetry!) section at the Wealthy Elementary Library. So many good titles!! And what great kids... I will introduce you to a special student tomorrow. :)

8. Being interviewed by the Wealthy Elementary video team... and doing The Yarn with Charles and Travis Jonker! Air date to be determined, but should be in the next month or two.

Young journalists!
9. Sharing boots (!) and rainbow shoelaces with one very loving and enthusiastic educator at Wealthy Elementary. #Startaconversation

10. Coming home full of poetry and light and happiness and gratitude! Even though Friday ended up being a snow day, my flights still went out as scheduled... and Charles and I were able to write across the table from one another, instead of across the country! :) To everyone who had a hand in this one... THANK YOU. I am here fairy-clapping. xo

Irene Latham, Kim Doele, Charles Waters

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

A Gallery of Poetry and Art Inspired by CAN I TOUCH YOUR HAIR?

Now that Charles and I have been able to share CAN I TOUCH YOUR HAIR? with readers, we are pleased to offer a space to continue the conversation through art and poetry.

Yes, thanks to the wisdom of Poetry Friday poets, we have created a Padlet for teachers to share student work, found HERE.

Please share your words and art with us! 

If you've already created something, or whenever you do, we'd be glad to showcase it. In this way we can inspire each other, and together make the world a place where all may experience a sense of belonging. Thank you!

And now a sneak peek from our recent adventures in Grand Rapids, Michigan. So many thanks to the wonderful educators who hosted us... full report coming soon!

Irene Latham & Charles Waters presenting
at Wealthy Elementary (East Grand Rapids, Michigan)

Monday, February 12, 2018

After the (ALA Youth Media) Awards

Each year I cozy up with my computer to livestream the ALAYMA. For those of us who love children's books, it's better than Christmas! This year there was much to love... well done, committees!

Not a lot of poetry, though... LONG WAY DOWN by Jason Reynolds received by Newbery and CSK Honors, and MACY MACMILLAN, RAINBOW GODDESS by Shari Green got Schneider Family Award, and I think that's it ??

Jacqueline Woodson did received the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award (taking the baton from Nikki Grimes), but yeah, I think a slow year for poetry, at least in the awards department. Readers, do let me know if I missed a poetry title.

The two books I right away ordered from Amazon were the Newbery winner HELLO, UNIVERSE and the Sibert winner VINCENT & THEO: The Van Gogh Brothers, which I have reserved numerous times at my library and somehow still not read. Excited to catch up on these!

Also excited for PIECES OF ME by studio-sib Renee Watson (CSK winner and Newbery Honor), which is lovely and addresses systemic racism, and also the hair-themed CROWN: An Ode to the Fresh Cut... which I adore! Readers this is a good one to pair with CAN I TOUCH YOUR HAIR? :)

What stood out to you about this year's awards?

Monday, February 5, 2018

Advice for Artists that Applies to Writers, Too

Today I'm delighted to be in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where shortly Charles Waters and I will share with students about our book CAN I TOUCH YOUR HAIR?, thanks to amazing educator Kim Doele. I'm excited! But first, let me fill you in on some of my airplane reading:

I've shared before about The Artists Magazine, which I currently subscribe to -- even though I am not really a painter. I'm more of an art appreciator who dabbles occasionally in one medium or another. The most recent issue has some great quotes from the magazine's contest winners -- and they completely apply to writers!

"Let go of fear, and be persistent. Listen to your soul and paint with true emotion. Find a subject that makes your heart sing so that your enthusiasm will shine through in your work." - Dale Marie Muller

"My advice to artists is to fail frequently. This is so very important in painting. I've learned more from failure in every aspect of life than success." - Ron Stocke

Family Grace (Pray) by Norman Rockwell
Also, in an article providing prompts for paintings, I found this one that sounds like a poem waiting to happen:

"The kitchen is the center of the home; the table is its gathering place. Create a kitchen or table scene that includes family or friends. Give attention to lighting viewing angle and gestures."

Finally, in the "What the last great book about art you've read?" section, I found this:

"Two books I reread recently were Letters to a Young Poet, by Rainer Maria Rilke, and My Life in Art, by Konstantin Stanislavsky.  Rile speaks to the artist's need of isolation, and Stanislavsky speaks of the artist's need for community." - Costa Vavagiakis, artist

Friday, February 2, 2018

The Poetry of Hawks and Falcons

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Donna at Mainely Write for Roundup.

I've spent part of this week preparing for mine and Charles Waters' week-long visit to schools in Grand Rapids, Michigan, thanks to amazing poet/educator/"cool teacher" Kim Doele. More on this later!

I've also been reading, of course, and the book I want to share today is THE HAWK OF THE CASTLE: A Story of Medieval Falconry by Danna Smith, illus. By Bagram Ibatoulline (Candlewick). It's a combination of verse and nonfiction text boxes and gorgeous art to educate about raptors and also to celebrate a father-daughter relationship. (As one who shared a hobby/obsession with my father, I could so relate!)

Nearly every verse begins "This is..." and ends with "castle." Kind of like the House That Jack Built, except not cumulative.

Here's an early example:

"This is our hawk: a sight to behold,
a master of flight, graceful and bold.
My father trains this bird of prey
who lives with us at the castle."

Right away I learned the difference between hawks and falcons:

"Hawks have a rounded tail and short or broad wings, which allow them to fly more slowly and glide more often than falcons. Falcons, on the other hand, are built for speed, with a streamlined body, long tail, and long, pointed wings."

I did not know that! Readers also learn about equipment like glove and hood, bells attached to the bird's legs, and how to signal a hawk to flight. It's fascinating. And reminds me of FALCON WILD by Terry Lynn Johnson, about a current day falconer who must survive after a car wreck leaves her lost. (I love all of Terry's books!)

This led me to find other birds-of-prey poems:

Evening Hawk by Robert Penn Warren (gorgeous language, including "scythes" as a verb!)

And here is a gorgeous choral piece called "The Falcon."

Readers, if you know of other hawk/falcon poems, please leave them in comments, and I will add them to the post. Thank you! Wishing everyone a beautiful beginning of this, our shortest month. xo

Thursday, February 1, 2018

The Moon Inside Us All

Hello and Happy Spiritual Journey Thursday! (It's February. How can that be?) We're gathering over at Donna's Mainely Write to discuss the moon. That's right: the moon! Won't you join us?

As I was casting around for something to share, the first thing that came to mind was a favorite poem by Hafiz called "With That Moon Language." But I already blogged about that for a Spiritual Journey Thursday last March.

And then I remembered a favorite scene from one of my all-time
favorite movies: IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE

George Bailey: What is it you want, Mary? What do you want? You want the moon? Just say the word and I'll throw a lasso around it and pull it down. Hey. That's a pretty good idea. I'll give you the moon, Mary.

Mary: I'll take it. Then what?

George Bailey: Well, then you can swallow it, and it'll all dissolve, see... and the moonbeams would shoot out of your fingers and your toes and the ends of your hair... am I talking too much?

That's what the moon inspires, isn't it? Bigness and wonder and magic and connection... I want a life full of love and moonbeams shooting out of my fingers!

AND I have long been comforted by the idea of "same moon." As in, no matter how far apart we are geographically or historically or emotionally, we share the same moon. What peace that thought brings me! And I need peace right now, during this season of so many changes...

And THAT makes me think of a poem I adore by a local poet Joe Whitten... he wrote it for his wife, and in the poem he refers to her as "constant sun" and himself as "fickle moon." I think we poets by nature are most often fickle moons... and we need that constant sun, don't we?

So today and all days I am grateful for the moon -- for its constancy and its changeability. And my suns, too! I enjoy both: the dark and light, the day and night.

Thank you for reading!

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Readers Share HAIR Stories... and a Winner!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

          My Hair

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Crazy About Poetry

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

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

Here are a few words from the introductory pages:

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

And here is the prompt from chapter 31:

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

- Jeri, an adult

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

- Susan Wooldridge "

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

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

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

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


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

Thank you for reading!

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Incredible Magic of Kathryn Erskine

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 22, 2018

Movie Monday: JUMANJI: Welcome to the Jungle

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Watcher by Nikki Grimes

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

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

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

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


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

- Nikki Grimes


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

- Nikki Grimes

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

Monday, January 15, 2018

What Would MLK Do?

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

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

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

- Martin Luther King, Jr.

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

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

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

Friday, January 12, 2018

On Princesas, Peas, and Agua, Aguita

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here's another passage:

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

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

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

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

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

Here is a passage:

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

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

Thursday, January 11, 2018

New Business Cards for a New Me!

Every couple of years I create a new business card.

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

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

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

A general approach -- with the color red.


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

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Flashback to my Favorite Moment of Christmas 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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