Thursday, February 13, 2020

i heart poetry: ncte notables part 4

Yes, it is Valentine's Day--possibly my favorite holiday--and therefore I will not disappoint by plunging into my last reviews of NCTE 2020 Poetry Notables without any hint at hearts.
Here is the song I wrote in 2001 for a class of 4-year-olds, slightly creased and glue-bedecked from all our monster-building activities.  I'm having a bit of trouble remembering the tune, though!

Now that you are well and truly monstered by love, here are the reviews. What riches!

James E. Ransome
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2019

Our national history of the enslavement of Africans and their American-born descendants is difficult to place in context for young children. In The Bell Rang, James Ransome brilliantly builds his narrative of plantation life on a familiar days-of-the-week pattern. This gives readers 4-11 something on which to hang a shocking understanding: the humanity of ordinary family life in deep conflict with the inhumanity of slavery.

Each morning the overseer’s bell rings and a young girl and her big brother Ben go about their routine, until one day,

I wake to the sound
of Mama and Daddy
searching, looking.
No sun in the sky. 
Mama crying. 
No Ben.
Daddy crying. 
Ben ran.

Spare, repetitive language and richly detailed paintings are painfully educational; older readers will be able to interpret this narrative for themselves while primary aged children will need--and be enabled--to talk and talk about it.

David Elliot
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2019

A tour de force of poetic craft, this reconstruction of the extraordinary life of an ordinary French peasant girl offers challenge and surprise on every page. Elliot weaves witness testimony from Joan’s trials with the distinctive voices of herself, the saints who guided her outrageously courageous actions, and the objects that play roles in her story--a needle, a dress, a road, a sword, the very fire upon which she was burned. Each poem has its form: metered verse set in concrete shapes that work against their formal regularity, just as Joan strained against all expectations of her gender and era.

please forgive this unprofessional photo of an extremely professional poem

Elliot skillfully mingles the facts of Joan’s mission to save France with the superstitious flavor of pre-Enlightenment religious belief that permitted a teenaged girl to lead an army in God’s name. Her charismatic leadership coincides fascinatingly with the current phenomenon of Greta Thunberg’s, and while only the most mature 11-13-year-olds will find this book accessible, they will be richly rewarded for their efforts.

Our Poetry Friday hostess-with-the-mostest is Linda at TeacherDance. March on over and take the Love Monsters with you!

Thursday, February 6, 2020

sunday swaggers: climate action terza rima

what I deserved after finishing this challenge

This month our CP Catherine Flynn, dabbling in a little Dante, challenged us to write a terza rima.  "Coolcoolcool," we said. "No problem."  HA.

The terza rima, explained by Edward Hirsch:

"A verse form of interlocking three-line stanzas rhyming aba, bcb, cdc, etc. The terza rima form was invented by Dante Alighieri for the Commedia….The effect of this chain-rhyme is both open-ended and conclusive, like moving through a series of interpenetrating rooms or going down a set of winding stairs: you are always traveling forward while looking back."

You know how every day you try to do something different than you used to, in an effort to lighten your footprint on the planet, if not actually halt climate change?  And you know how every day you realize that you FORGOT and did it the old, heedless, "our resources are unlimited" way?  The "boy, these convenient plastic ziplock bags are genius" way? The "crap, I forgot to ride my electric bike to work" way?

If you're like me, you're trying to travel forward while always falling back down the winding stairs, looking back at how we got to an average January temperature 3* hotter than it should be. So here I am, a modern troubadour, singing a song of two steps forward, one frustrating step back.


Each day we hum a tiny tune of change,

a little hymn of too much rain and flame,
an unharmonic melody of strange

new storms and melting. Things just aren’t the same

as when they told us we had earned this gain.
“The spoils of progress” is our truest claim.

Our glad old song of triumph trails and wanes.

We ask ourselves what kind of war to wage
against the way we blithely drain and stain

our land, our air, our ocean. Turn the page:
lift up a chant to keep us pitched and brave.
Today we tilt at prudent, sane and sage.

It’s inconvenient but we try.   We cave

so easily! Each day it’s hard to gauge
if beating on this different drum can save

us, set a syncopation full of rage.
Let’s take the blame for digging our own grave.
Time now to chorus: can we act our age?

©Heidi Mordhorst 2020

I don't know--CAN we act in the way that our post-consumer age demands? Some days feel so daunting, like the bad guys are definitely winning, and then something buoys me up: for example,  Wednesday I participated in a training with the Elders Climate Action/ Environmental Voter Project.

I watched the trainer use a computer app to text 50 registered NH environmental voters in under 3 minutes, encouraging them to pledge to vote in the Primary Election.  He got a dozen responses right away and then spent about 4-5 minutes replying: tagging them as "voting," "wrong number" or "opt out."  It was beautifully efficient and I can't wait to play a role in getting voters--really ANY voters--thinking about which candidates have a plan for reversing global warming.  If you want to check it out, go here--and you don't have to be an "Elder"!

Don't forget to check out the rest of the Sunday Swaggers' efforts:

The Poetry Friday roundup is at Writing the World for Kids with Laura Purdie Salas--march on over to the beat of your different drum and make a difference!

Friday, January 31, 2020

ncte poetry notables part 3

Welcome to my next round of mini-reviews of books selected by the NCTE Award for Excellence in Children's Poetry Committee.  Our brief is to select outstanding collections, anthologies, picture books and verse novels for children aged 3 to 13.  Many of our most interesting discussions were about the verse novels, especially in light of the age range.  Our criteria document says that an outstanding verse novel

~ Is a narrative told in poetic form
~ Demonstrates excellence in writing and emotional impact: does the poetry "create images, express 
   feelings, and stir emotions"?  (Cullinan and Galda) 
~ Uses its format to enrich the story in some way 

                               Galda, L., Cullinan, B.E., & Sipe, L.R. (2010). Literature and the Child. Seventh Edition. 
                               Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Cengage Learning

Each of the books we selected met all these criteria to a certain degree, and I found that I have pretty high standards for the 2nd and 3rd items on that list. To me a successful verse novel should SOUND like poetry when you read it aloud, even if, of all the poetry forms, it is least likely to be read aloud; and the poetry on the page should look and work in a more crafted way than prose just broken into shorter line lengths.  Let's see how two of my favorites accomplish this.

by Aida Salazar
illustrated by Joe Cepeda
Arthur A. Levine Books, 2019

Celi is an 11-year-old girl with “a Mexican side and a Caribbean side,” confronting head-on from page 1 the universal experience of a girl's changing body.  In four sections titled as phases of the moon, Celi struggles and stretches to navigate the tensions between body privacy and body positivity, between old cultural ways and current cultural norms, between her love for the people she's always known and her expanding social circles.

This book covers ALL the bases and somehow does it gracefully:  not only does Celi come to accept the first-blood Moon Ceremony that her Mima has planned for her; she finds it in herself to support and defend her best friend Magda as Magda discovers that he is really Marco.  Celi defends Marco when the boy she's crushing on over social media makes fun of him. Throughout, the sound of Afro-Latino music, drumming and dance are foremost: Celi's Papi and Marco are both drummers, and Celi is a dancer in her community bomba performance group.

Papi welcomes me with a nod
turns up his playing
makes brighter sounds
round sounds
colored sounds
a timeless talking unlike
Mima's or Juju's.

I just dance.

Suddenly he switches rhythms
to a samba
and I fall deep in feet movement
a conga
and I climb spirit high from side to side
a bomba
and I twirl and mark my
beat with my arms
that Papi catches
effortlessly, in sync.

I don't see that
Mima and Juju
are both standing
at the door witnessing
with Papi
the closest I have ever
come to clarity
lighter and
as unstuck
as I could ever be.

This book is a direct successor to Are You There, God?  It's Me, Margaret, giving voice to any girl's uncertainties of identity, but Aida Salazar brings layers and inflections that break that old conversation wide open for 21st century young people.  Some on our committee were a little rocked by the frankness of the language and themes for 11-year-olds (me too!), but as I pointed out, this is the book the 5th graders at my school need, will be passing around the class.  It is frankly, beautifully uncomfortable, creating lasting images through varied languages, rhythms and emotions, and resolves with satisfying clarity.

by Chris Baron
Feiwel and Friends, 2019

If Celi's problem is that her Mima sees her all too clearly, Ari Rosensweig's problem is the opposite. 

The life in my head seems
so different from the life outside,
where I am so big
that everyone stares,
but no one sees the real me.

At first glance ALL OF ME seems like a single-issue story, and an important "own voices" one. Questions about body size and body image are for boys too, and this novel is unflinching in expressing the anguish of being a fat kid, a fat BOY.  But through straightforward storytelling, filled with raw emotion, Ari finds that he is far more complex than he himself realized.

In this several books play a big role. Mysterious World by Arthur C. Clark, a catalog of strange and apocryphal creatures are a touchstone for Ari, and their influences are seen in the population of little clay trolls he and his stalwart friend Pick make at his sculptor mother's beachside studio, where Ari leaves behind his old life for the summer, tackles a new way to eat, and finds another way to be.  He carries this with him to New York for a visit with his father.

I stretch out on my bed,
my body a little tighter now,
skin against my muscles,
stomach flatter,
slow breathing.
No voices,
no fire to burn
or hands to dream
            of holding.
No trolls to carve
or stories to write
or gates to lock,
or trash to take out.

No giant terra-cotta
demon spirits, Melinda,
or angels or alien talismans,
no people up and down the streets,
or beach sirens
or pounding waves.
No sleeping on a camping mat
beneath freshly painted murals.
Just moments
          with no eyes on me.

What a relief, to have no eyes but your own on you.  Ari's journey is packed with characters, details, and events that never overwhelm his painstaking, personal progress towards putting his pieces together.  Adult support for Ari comes in the form of doctors and a rabbi who help him separate from the hardest parts of his tangled family life, and the narrative comes across as deeply honest, complicated and true.  I'm always up for more fireworks in terms of format, but Chris Baron's simpler structures carry the complex interlocking motifs well, and the book is successful in every way.


Join Jone Rush MacCulloch at her blog for the roundup this week, and happy reading!

Friday, January 24, 2020

ncte poetry notables part 2

Welcome to a warming couple of reviews of poetry collections for the youngest readers, both selected by the NCTE Award for Excellence in Children's Poetry Committee! The whole process of reading through the submissions was a treasure hunt, so I'll start with...

FINDING TREASURE: A Collection of Collections
by Michelle Schaub
illustrated by Carmen Saldana
(Charlesbridge, 2019)

Best for readers K-3, this collection of 18 poems tells the story of one main character, a girl whose teacher has asked the class to share something they collect. But what is her passion?  In her exploration of the collections of her family and friends--everything from buttons to baseball cards, from coins to clocks--our narrator considers what she might love enough to collect, curate and share...and in the final poem she decides:
"My medley isn't common,
nor is it very strange.
It isn't something that you count,
sort, or rearrange."
It's POETRY!  Whether her collection is the very poems in this book, written in her own voice, or a collection of favorite poems from outside this book, is unclear and probably doesn't matter.  Throughout, Schaub's language is effortlessly readable in a variety of free verse and rhyme-and-meter poems. She successfully portrays both the collectors' devotions and the delights of their chosen objects, including SMILES.  There are plenty of these in Saldana's detailed cartoon illustrations, and plenty for readers.

I'M THE BIG ONE NOW: Poems about Growing Up
by Marilyn Singer
illustrated by Jana Christy
(WordSong 2019)

Another collection that hits a sweet spot for ages 4-8, Singer's poems are filled with her characteristic wordplay and celebrate the common but exciting developmental accomplishments of young children.  With titles like "First Good Snap, First Good Whistle" and "Big-Kid Teeth," this book has a poem for all the ordinary leaps that are common to all kids; there are also poems about growing into more specific experiences, like "My Own Seat on the Plane" and "Cannonball."

Yesterday I stood and stared
              at the blue bottom
              of this big pool.
Yesterday, and the day before,
              and the day before that.

But today,
Like a coconut, I drop
             with a smashing splash,
touch my toes to that blue bottom,
             and, in a flash, up I pop. 

The essential business of learning to ride a bike comes in three installments, "Trying to Ride" Parts 1, 2 and 3, likewise highlighting the way that we all learn things bit by bit over time, and effort is usually involved.

Beyond these strengths, this collection is also notable for its variety of companion poems, such as the quiet "In the Theatre" and the noisy "At the Ballpark," its poems for two voices, for its lengthier poems and its brief, triumphant final word on the back cover:

Tying My Shoes

Guess what, you toes!
I have learned to make bows!

Now that I have done my due diligence as Poetry Committee Member, these books go to PreK with me TODAY so I can do due diligence as a Poetry Teacher!  Meanwhile you can go to Kat Apel's blog for the second Australian-hosted Poetry Friday roundup of the month--which is just as well because there continues to be good and bad news from that beleaguered continent.

Stay tuned for four more reviews of NCTE Poetry Notables in the next few weeks!

Friday, January 17, 2020

ncte poetry notables 2020

What a terrifically fun and serious responsibility it has been this year to begin a 3-year term on the NCTE Children's Poetry Awards Committee!  We read all summer and into the fall, wrassled through our deliberations at the NCTE Convention in Baltimore in November, and at the start of this month released our longer-than-ever list of notable poetry books and novels-in-verse.

The good news is that there were so many outstanding titles that we couldn't fit our list onto two sides of paper, so I invite you to wallow and revel in the glorious abundance, with something for every taste!  After the list, I'll highlight a few that were my particular favorites.

Fabulous, amiright?!  Among these many wonders, a few stood out for me (time now only for the briefest of descriptions, but you can trust me on these!), and over the next weeks I'll share little reviews of six others that I'm charged with writing for School Library Journal.

two middle school girls figure themselves
out through a surprising friendship: true characters
Emmy discovers her particular genius
and we learn some Javascript: wow format!
All of Me | Chris Baron | Macmillan
Ari struggles with the burden of weight
and survives crises with wry humor
wildly successful anthology of "other" voices;
for older readers and all adults
Waking Brain Cells – Page 3 – "I like nonsense, it wakes ...
how do I love thee? a modern, metaphorically
challenging RUNAWAY BUNNY 
30 Must-Read Diverse Children's Books From The First Half ...
sweet-gorgeous, book-length poem
honoring that reading feeling we can't resist
poems at the edgy imaginations of
very young children: "cute" need not apply
Hawksbill Promise: The Journey of an Endangered Sea Turtle (Tilbury House Nature Book) ebook by Mary Beth Owens
ancient Antiguan tree narrates the challenging
life cycle of hawksbill turtles

Our host today is none other than my dear friend and CP Catherine at Reading to the Core.  I'm sorry to hear that she's under the weather, but her #haikuforhope are very healthy indeed!  See you there!

EXTRA EXTRA for later arrivals: don't forget that Wednesday, April 22 is the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day and our next opportunity to build a very big voice for #ClimateAction.  Go here to learn more.

Friday, January 10, 2020

happy green new year

As I have mentioned before, I've labeled myself a climate activist, and if there's ANY One Little Word that deserves sustained attention it's CLIMATE.  So bear with me as I use my #PoetryFriday posts also as #FridaysForFuture posts, as #FireDrillFriday posts.

My principal role as a climate activist isn't, of course, to be a scientist or even a striker, but to be a communicator, a teacher, a poet, so here is today's little nudge to action: according to my friends at Elders Climate Action, pro-environment citizens are actually LESS likely to get out and vote!  So ECA has gotten together with the Environmental Voter Project to PROMOTE THE VOTE.  They are training volunteers, including me, to use our cell phones to text pro-environment voters, state by state, primary by primary, and get them to use their voice and vote.  Here's the email I received this week.  I'm excited to sit in the comfort of my own home and use my expensive mobile phone plan to make an impact! 


You are receiving this email because you have registered as a volunteer with Elders Promote the Vote. ECA and the Environmental Voter Project (EVP) are working together to contact millions of pro-environment voters, especially those who need encouragement to get out to the polls. We have already done a lot. In 2018 and 2019, ECA/Promote the Vote volunteers completed more than 650,000 voter contacts. Now, we have a volunteer group of more than 140 people and growing fast!

As part of this Promote the Vote volunteer force, you give us the potential to make two to three million voter contacts before Election Day 2020, and generate tens of thousands of pro-environment votes that would not otherwise be cast.

Starting in late January, Promote the Vote will really gear up. EVP will be generating voter lists at a rapid pace for us to work with. The primary season kicks off with Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina in February, Super Tuesday on March 3rd, and various primaries continuing through June. We can look forward to almost 10 months of a high demand for our services leading up to Election Day on November 3rd.

In anticipation of all this activity, we are planning several on-line training sessions for working with the Hustle texting app, and a very special national call in January. The national call features Nathaniel Stinnett, founder and Executive Director of the Environmental Voter Project. This will be an excellent opportunity to learn more about EVP's innovative approach to identifying environmental voters and persuading them to vote in every election.

Save the date for this informative call: Tuesday, January 28th at 7PM (ET). Stay tuned for instructions on how to participate.

We have also scheduled 5 on-line orientation and training sessions. Please plan to attend one of these if you are new to Promote the Vote, or if you want a refresher. The trainings run about 90 minutes and include plenty of time for Q&A.

Tuesday, Jan. 14 12:30-2:00 PM (ET)

Wednesday, Jan. 22 7:00-8:30 PM (ET)
Friday, Jan. 24 12:30-2:00 PM (ET)
Wednesday, Feb. 5 4:00-5:30 PM (ET)
Monday, Feb. 10 1:00-2:30 PM (ET)

Please register for any of these 5 training sessions here. You will receive specific instructions for participating, and the latest version of the Volunteer Orientation Guide.  Thank you for being part of this campaign to activate pro-environment voters. We will keep you informed as things develop.

And ICYMI, I had an interesting encounter at Costco yesterday. End of Climate PSA!

"In January it's so nice, while slipping on the sliding ice..." 
 CHICKEN SOUP WITH RICE, Maurice Sendak, 1962

The 12 months of the year make a very fine organizer for a collection of poetry.  I like ONCE AROUND THE SUN by Bobbi Katz (Harcourt, 2006), HERE COMES THE YEAR by Eileen Spinelli (Henry Holt 2002), and WINTER FRIENDS by Mary Quattlebaum (Doubleday, 2005) is full of nice moments. Here are a few January-appropriate poems that might be new or forgotten to you, including one by me from PUMPKIN BUTTERFLY.

January | John Updike

The days are short,
The sun a spark,
Hung thin between
The dark and dark.

Fat snowy footsteps
Track the floor.
Milk bottles burst
Outside the door.

The river is
A frozen place
Held still beneath
The trees of lace.

The sky is low.
The wind is gray.
The radiator
Purrs all day.


winter haiku from
LION OF THE SKY | Laura P. Salas

we are knitted twins,
soft as kittens, warm as hugs,
waiting to hold hands

Wordsong 2009, illustrated by Jenny Reynish

(right) from WINTER FRIENDS

frost | Valerie Worth

How does
The plain
Of water

Sprout these
Lacy fronds
And plumes
And tendrils?

And where,
Before window-
Panes, did
They root

Their lush
Crystal forests,
Their cold
Silver jungles?

Our host today is living in another season--a scary fire season--that reminds us all to do every little thing we can to connect our daily, hourly, jerky-buying choices to global climate effects.  Thanks to Sally Murphy for the round-up today!