Monday, November 24, 2014

Very Short Poems



Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems
selected by Paul B. Janeczko
illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Candlewick Press, 2014

I don't know whether I love this collection more for the poetry or for the illustrations. Either way, it's a winner.

Beginning with Spring, each of the seasons is explored through eight or nine poems from a variety of both adult and children's poets.

Each poem is a snapshot, a glimpse, a moment. They are perfect for showing children the power of just a few words to describe or evoke or illuminate.

And did I mention that the illustrations are beyond lovely? They are classic Melissa Sweet. I wish I could frame every page.

This is a collection you will want, and a fabulous gift book. Share the love.

Check out Mary Ann's review at Great Kid Books.


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Poetry and Imagination



Poem-Mobiles: Crazy Car Poems
by J. Patrick Lewis and Douglas Florian
illustrated by Jeremy Holmes
Schwartz & Wade, 2014

As I noted last Wednesday, J. Patrick Lewis' anthology title says it all: "Everything is a Poem." Last Thursday, we looked at science in poetry, Monday we looked at nature in poetry. Tuesday, the focus was on history in poetry, yesterday we took a look at biography in poetry. Today, let's have fun with imagination in poetry.

The subtitle of this book says it all: "Crazy Car Poems."

If that didn't get your attention, check out the co-authors -- J. Patrick Lewis and Douglas Florian. Now you KNOW you're in for some fun, right?

If you're still not sure, here's a bit from the introduction poem, "Introduction:"

"...But someday our fantastic cars
Might look like cool dark chocolate bars,

Banana splits, hot dogs or fish --
Or any kind of ride you wish..."

This book is all kinds of imaginative fun. The plays on words are groan-worthy, and the illustrations are a blast.

Poem-Mobiles was reviewed by Jama at Jama's Alphabet Soup (check out the picture of the Teddy-Go-Cars -- doesn't that make you want to use up some of the leftover Halloween candy making Snickermobiles?)

Becky has the Poetry Friday roundup this week at Tapestry of Words.




Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Biography in Poetry



Hello, I'm Johnny Cash
by G. Neri
illustrated by A.G. Ford
Candlewick Press, 2014

As I noted last Wednesday, J. Patrick Lewis' anthology title says it all: "Everything is a Poem." Last Thursday, we looked at science in poetry, Monday we looked at nature in poetry. Yesterday, the focus was on history in poetry, and today we'll take a look at biography in poetry. In one final post in this series, we'll have fun with imagination in poetry.

I grew up listening to my parents' Johnny Cash albums, and his Greatest Hits CD (The Essential Johnny Cash) is one of my go-to "setting up/cleaning up/putting to bed the classroom" sound tracks. I didn't know that much about his early life until I read this collection of poems.

Here is an excerpt from the final poem, "The Man in Black:"

"Hello,
I'm
Johnny
Cash"
is how he started
every concert from then on.
that simple statement
said it all.

Johnny Cash,
the poor country boy
from the cotton fields,
traveled the world
many times over,
where he sang
for presidents
and the homeless,
businessmen and farmers,
soldiers and prisoners alike.
It didn't matter how famous he got,
he never forgot
what it felt like to be cold,
miserable, and hungry.
Momma didn't have to
remind Johnny
that his gift was special.
He knew he was not its owner
but its caretaker.

Here's Johnny Cash in 1958, singing "I Walk the Line." Check out that wink at about the 50 second mark! **swoon**

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

History in Poetry



Harlem Hellfighters
by J. Patrick Lewis
illustrated by Gary Kelley
Creative Editions, 2014

As I noted last Wednesday, J. Patrick Lewis' anthology title says it all: "Everything is a Poem." On Thursday, we looked at science in poetry, and yesterday we looked at nature in poetry. Today, the focus is on history in poetry. Upcoming posts include biography and imagination in poetry.

This gorgeously illustrated book of poetry for older readers teaches about 369th Infantry Regiment in World War I. Originally mobilized as the 15th New York National Guard, this group of 2,000 black American soldiers became famous not just for their tenacity on the battle field, but for the music they brought with them and which helped them to survive.

The tragic death of the band leader, James "Big Jim" Reese Europe, just a year after Armistice Day, gives this little-known story from WWI an extra measure of poignancy.


Monday, November 17, 2014

Nature in Poetry




by David Elliott
illustrated by Becca Stadtlander
Candlewick Press, 2014

As I noted last Wednesday, J. Patrick Lewis' anthology title says it all: "Everything is a Poem." On Thursday, we looked at science in poetry. Today, the focus is on nature in poetry -- specifically, birds. Upcoming posts include history, biography and imagination in poetry.

My students and I have loved David Elliott's short, pithy poems in his collections On the Farm, In the Wild, and In the Sea. In this book, the essence of seventeen species of birds, from the ordinary sparrow to the exotic Japanese Crane pictured on the cover are captured in Elliott's words and Becca Stadtlander's gorgeous and evocative illustrations.

Sadly, last June, Holly Meade, David Elliott's illustrator for the other books in this series (On the Farm, In the Wild, In the Sea) died at age 56. David Elliott dedicates this book to her.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Science in Poetry



Winter Bees: & Other Poems of the Cold
by Joyce Sidman
illustrated by Rick Allen
HMH Books for Young Readers, 2014

As I noted yesterday, J. Patrick Lewis' anthology title says it all: "Everything is a Poem." Today we'll look at science in poetry. Upcoming posts include nature, history, biography and imagination in poetry.

Joyce Sidman's Winter Bees is the perfect book to usher in this year's first Polar Vortex. Every day, compliments of the TV weather reporters, we are getting a science lesson in meteorology. Sidman's book will answer questions about how animals survive in the cold.

Each of the dozen poems, most about animals ranging in size from moose to springtail, but also including trees and snowflakes, is accompanied by a short sidebar of scientific information that expands the scope of this book to topics such as migration, hibernation, and the shape of water molecules, and introduces such delicious vocabulary as brumate, ectothermic, furcula, and subnivean.

The illustrations are simply gorgeous. You will want to spend as much time with them as you do savoring Joyce's poems. Watch out for that fox -- s/he wanders throughout the book!

As you and your students explore this book and Joyce's others, don't forget to check out Joyce's website. It is a treasure-trove for readers, writers, and dog lovers.


Keri has the Poetry Friday roundup this week at Keri Recommends.


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Everything is a Poem




by J. Patrick Lewis
illustrated by Maria Cristina Pritelli
Creative Editions, 2014

What is more fun than a whole shelf full of J. Patrick Lewis poetry books? An anthology with all of his best poems collected between its covers!

Knowing that Pat has published a shelf-full of poetry books, one wonders how on earth he picked these "bests" that can be found in such wide-ranging topics in the table of contents as Animals, People, Reading, Sports, Riddles and Epitaphs, Mother Nature, Places, and A Mix?

Inspired by his title, I have prepared a series of posts that will spotlight 2014 poetry books that feature poetry in science, nature, history, biography, and the imagination. Stay tuned!


Over at No Water River, Renee reviewed Everything is a Poem last summer. For a peek at the illustrations and some of the poems, head on over there now.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Reading a Poetry Book With Nonfiction Eyes




The Poem that Will Not End
by Joan Bransfield Graham
illustrated by Kyrsten Brooker
Two Lions, 2014

Like many new nonfiction picture books, this book has lots going on on every page. There is the main text -- the poem-story of how Ryan O'Brian's brain is taken over by rhythm and rhyme -- accompanied by the poems Ryan O'Brian writes as he goes through his day. There are detailed and entertaining illustrations that elaborate on Ryan O'Brian's adventures. At the end of the book, there is more information about the different forms (19 in all!) and the different voices (narrative, lyrical, mask, apostrophe, conversational) he uses in his poems.

So, in the same way that a multi-text nonfiction book can be read and re-read for many purposes, this is a book that readers can return to again and again. It will be interesting to share this book next to a nonfiction book in a minilesson in reading workshop on text structures. In writing workshop, I can share it as a resource for examples of poetry forms and voices. On Poetry Friday, we can be entertained by the main story, or any one of Ryan's poems.

Lots of possibilities here!


Last January, the book launch blog tour began with Sylvia at Poetry For Children. Check the links at the bottom of her post for other blogs on the tour.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart




by Dan Gemeinhart
Scholastic, January 2015
ARC provided by the publisher

This review copy came to me packaged in an interesting way. In a heavy ziplock bag labeled "THREE THINGS YOU NEED TO READ The Honest Truth" were these items:


a postcard from Mount Rainier, a carabiner, and a package of tissues. Actually, even the ziplock bag wound up being important to the story.

This is the story of a kid named Mark, who has a best friend (who happens to be a girl but who is NOT a girlfriend) Jessie, and another best friend who is a dog named Beau. It is a story of the deep and powerful bond of friends.

Mark writes haiku in his notebook. He takes photographs with an old-school camera that uses film. This is the story about the healing power of art.

This is a story full of spirit and heart. It's a story that makes you rage at the unfairness of life and cheer for all the angels that take care of strangers every day in a million small ways.

This is a story of a boy who runs away from home to climb Mount Rainier. It's about the need for big goals so that you can prove to yourself and the world that you are still in control of your life. It's about surviving the storm so that you get a chance to glimpse the sun coming out from under the clouds at the other end of it.

I apologize for reviewing this book so far in advance of its release date. You will want to read it. It's Dan Gemeinhart's debut novel. We will all want to read more from him.

On a separate but related note, I am going to invite my students to "market" a book they've read this year using the "three things you need to read this book" idea. Once upon a time, that might have seemed like a trite way to ask students to respond to their reading. Now it's marketing. Hmm...



Sunday, November 09, 2014

A Workshop of the Possible*


As part of a continuous collaboration among educators interested in digital learningMargaret Simon hosts a weekly Digital Learning round-up on her blog:  DigiLit Sunday.  Stop by Reflections on the Teche (today's link-up) to read, discover, and link.  


You may be following the conversation that is happening around the blog world this week--on whether technology has a place in our elementary classrooms. Troy Hicks and Kristin Ziemke responded to a post by Nancie Atwell and then the conversation continued with brilliant posts from Cathy Mere and others.

 Let me start by saying this .  Nancie Atwell is my hero. She taught me about workshop and gave me my grounding as a reading and writing teacher.  And I can't wait to read her newest edition of In The Middle.   Disagreeing with Nancie is a hard thing for me to do.  I do disagree with her on this one, though.   However, I was where Nancie is.  I did not come to using technology in the classroom quickly or happily.  I did not see its power until very recently.

My Own Journey
As a writer, I remember the day that I said that I could never imagine myself composing on a computer-that I liked my yellow legal pad, that I could see myself using the computer for a final draft, but I could not imagine those first steps of the writing process without paper.

But that was when the ways we could tell stories were limited. That was when I told stories of my classroom with words and a few photos. That's when I carried overhead transparencies of those photos to tell my story at conferences and workshops.

I think back to that day and realize that I could not imagine using the computer for composing because I had no idea what was possible.  I had no idea that one day I'd be able to tell my story with words and images and videos and hyperlinks. I had no idea that I'd be able to carry my photos and notes and links with me on a phone that is small enough to fit in my purse.  I had no idea that I would no longer need a publisher to have an audience for my stories or that I could connect with others who were telling stories of their classrooms. I had no idea that these stories would connect me to people around the world.

I feel like an elder telling of the time I had to walk through the snow to school, but I am old enough to have gone through this process and to work through what these changes mean for the classroom. Nancie Atwell taught me about authenticity and ownership and it is something that has stayed with me and that has kept me grounded.  It is also one that has been challenging to uphold these last few years as technology seems to have changed everything.  It is the message of authenticity and ownership that has forced me to open up my mind to how technology is changing literacy.

I did not start using technology in the classroom quickly or without a fight either. I kind of came in kicking and screaming.  I used technology a bit, but the ways I saw technology being used in the classroom went against everything I knew about authenticity and ownership. It went against all I knew about literacy learning.  I saw kids watching videos and kids playing games and kids typing projects that they could have handwritten in half the time.   I did not see the reason to take one minute from what I was doing in order to add technology to my already successful workshop.

Then I was put on an NCTE committee to study digital literacy.  I was on a committee with brilliant people who understood the power of digital tools and the impact these tools were having on literacy far better than I ever could. Listening and learning with this group of people helped me to see that this conversation was not about technology but it was about literacy.  I'm not sure what was said, but I remember a moment in the meeting where I thought, "OH, that's what is possible?" From then on I realized technology was a game changer and that because of it, the very definition of what it means to be literate was changing. I realized that these tools could empower our students as readers and writers in ways that were not possible before.

Since my kicking and screaming days,  I've forced myself  to dig in and to see what I was missing. I have learned from so many people and dug into what is possible. Troy Hicks' work on Digital Writing Workshop and Kristen Ziemke's work with first graders have been critical to my current stance.  I found people who understood both literacy and technology and listened to their thinking. I learned from Bud Hunt, Kevin Hodgson, Sara Kajder, Bill BassChris Lehman, Will Richardson, Angela Maiers, Kathy Cassidy, Katharine Hale and so so so many others.  And I have only been able to learn from these people because of the ways writing has changed--I am able to follow their blogs, have conversations on Twitter and respond and reflect on my own blog.

I've always believed in a workshop of the possible, in a workshop where children in our classrooms can discover what it means to be a reader and a writer. I want my students to discover all that is possible so they can be intentional and thoughtful.  And I want their reading and writing lives in school to be authentic and the classroom experiences to help kids see what it means to be a reader and a writer today.

In the Classroom
My kids don't see technology in the same way that I do---instead they see it as one tool for communication. Even at age 8, they are fluent in their use of these tools and intentional about the ways they use them to meet their needs.  I have students who blog regularly and the growth they've had as writers because they have an audience every day is stunning. I have writers who use their iPods to set reminders so that they do not forget their weekly blog series post.  I have readers who annotate on iBooks and then use those annotations to write book reviews to share with classmates.  Of course, this doesn't happen with the teaching focused on writing--craft, organization, genre, etc. The key is that the teaching focuses on the writing, not the tool.

This is a photo I took last year because I was so amazed by what I saw. Students spread out on the floor using digital and traditional tools together to work through something. I see this over and over and over each day. The tools are not the focus, but they open up possibilities for learning in so many ways.



Just this week, I saw how much the technology is embedded in all that our students do as readers and writers. 12 students met before school to discuss the graphic novel, Sisters by Raina Telgemeier while enjoying donuts.  In the discussion, one of them realized that this was a personal narrative (a writing unit of study we are in the midst of this month). Kids dug into the book again to look at her other books and realized that they too were most likely narratives--stories from her childhood.  They asked if we could tweet the author to ask whether she planned to write more stories from her childhood.   They also decided they might want to try some narratives in graphic novel form so I did a 2 minute intro to Comic Life that kids could explore at another time.

During the 30 minute talk, students:

-read a paper copy of the book and used sticky notes to annotate.
-sent a few tweets to the author with questions they had about her writing.
-invited a class from another state (via Twitter) to have a morning book club via Skype sometime in the future
-tried out Comic Life as a way to play with what they knew about writing narrative in another format
-discovered the power of real photos like the ones the author added to the end of her book, to add power to a narrative
-handed books to friends who hadn't been part of the morning chat
-looked up other books by this author online
-used sticky notes and conversation to write blog posts about the book and the club

The way the world works is changing and so then is literacy.  Technology allows us to do things as readers and as writers that we couldn't do before. For our kids, this is no big deal. Moving between devices depending on what they need to do as readers and writers is natural for them.  It is no big deal in our classroom to have a book club going on where a few kids have a paper copy of the book while others have an iBook version.  It is no big deal when one person decides to draft a piece of writing in a notebook while another uses the Notes app on his iPod touch. It is no big deal when one child blogs next to a child with a writing folder.

Our jobs as literacy teachers is to harness authentic literacy and to move kids forward with a variety of tools. Our classrooms have to change and our teaching has to change if we want to run a true workshop--where readers and writers are immersed in authenticity.

Not An Either/Or Conversation

I so worry when we make this a yes/no conversation--when I read articles that say exactly how much time kids should spend on technology. I worry about libraries that are getting rid of books to make room for computers and devices. I worry when someone says mobile devices have no place in our primary classrooms. This can't be an either/or conversation.

I took this picture in a recent workshop:

Once I started noticing how often we use a variety of tools AT ONE TIME, I see images like this everywhere. A reminder to me that this can never be an either/or conversation.

An Important Conversation
This is a conversation we need to keep having-across levels.  For those of us committed to literacy workshops, it is a topic we can't afford to ignore.  As literacy teachers, we need to be open to what is possible. Over the past several years I have learned what is possible with digital literacy.
And we can't be afraid to disagree with each other, to ask questions and to study.  We have to be okay with not having a for-sure answer. We have to dig in and figure out how to remain authentic and how to use these tools to help our students grow as readers and writers.  We each have our own vision of what is possible in our workshops. But my thinking is we haven't even scratched the surface.


*The title of this blog post was borrowed from another one of my all time professional books: A Workshop of the Possible by Ruth Shagoury Hubbard