Happy Birthday, Lee Bennett Hopkins!

Shh! Welcome, but come in quietly. It’s a Poetry Friday surprise birthday party.

As a debut verse novelist, I was thrilled to meet Lee at a 2016 library conference.

The guest of honor? Lee Bennett Hopkins! (Whoops — no exclamation points. We’re trying to keep this party a secret.)

Lee is not only a wonderful children’s poet and Guinness World Record holding anthologist (really — the citation is here), he has also been a mentor to many, many poets — including me.

I love sports poetry. That’s why, even though my new middle grade novel is not written in verse, I kept Lee’s anthology OPENING DAYS close to my desk while I was writing TAKEDOWN.

The rhythm, quick pace, and word-bursts of poetry are a great way to communicate the action and emotion of sports.

To help celebrate Lee’s birthday, I’m sharing his poem from OPENING DAYS, “Final Score.” Note: the book is illustrated by Scott Medlock.

This poem was one I returned to over and over as I wrote the story of two sixth grade wrestlers, a boy and a girl, who are struggling to figure out who they are on the mat, and — more importantly — off the mat.

What I find so compelling about this poem is that it’s not about the competition. It’s about the moment after. It’s a pause in the motion.

I tried — in some scenes from TAKEDOWN — to capture that same sense of quiet, of emptiness and release after the last buzzer sounds. This is what Lee masterfully portrays in “Final Score.”

FINAL SCORE
By Lee Bennett Hopkins
From OPENING DAYS, Selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins

Eventually
there’s
a final score
when
games
have ended

when
they’re
over–

no more.

No more
batting
kicking
tossing a ball–

No more
stumbling,
fumbling,
rising up from a fall.

Games
have been played.

They’re over.
That’s all.

***

Where is the surprise party happening? At Life on the Deckle Edge. Robyn Hood Black is this week’s special Poetry Friday/National Novel Writing Month/Lee Bennett Hopkins celebration host!

Happy birthday and lots of love, Lee!

 

 

National Poetry Month Giveaway!

Happy National Poetry Month, everyone!

Check out the back cover re-design!

The paperback edition of The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary comes out this week. To celebrate, I’m doing a *big* giveaway: A class set of books for one lucky teacher or librarian!

How do you enter? Simple.

I want to hear — and share — how your students are celebrating National Poetry Month. Are you reading a poem every day? Creating a Poe-Tree display (with poems on the leaves) in your library? Holding a poetry slam?

Tell the world about it.

Post a description of your National Poetry Month activities using the hashtag #ourNPMproject on Twitter, Instagram, or post it to my Facebook page. Be sure to tag me on your post. Your class will be entered in the giveaway. I’ll draw one random entry on April 30 and that person will receive a set of Last Fifth Grade paperbacks.

This box of paperbacks is going to one lucky winner! Post your students National Poetry Month project with the hashtag #ourNPMproject to be entered.

“But wait, Laura,” I hear you saying. “I need some poetry activity ideas.” You’ve got it.

There are some amazing poets and bloggers who are doing NPM projects that kids can try or follow:

Jama Rattigan’s Alphabet Soup has a list of National Poetry Month events, projects, and write-alongs throughout the kidlitosphere. Check it out here.

Do your students love verse novels? How about this challenge: As a group, read 30 novels in verse in 30 days. Lesley Roessing has a reading list for you.

You’ll find Mr. Schu’s daily NPM recommended books on his Twitter page: https://twitter.com/MrSchuReads

Finally, Renee LaTulippe at No Water River is posting daily poetry writing exercises, led by 30 children’s poets. The series begins here, with Young People’s Poet Laureate Margarita Engle.

Here is the full schedule of Renee’s National Poetry Month posts:

I can’t wait to hear about all of your creative celebrations and projects. Good luck!

Texas Library Association — Hats off to poetry!

It’s Texas Library Association week! Come say hello. This is where I will be:

Tuesday 4/3
Pre-conference Poetry Rodeo 1-5 pm
Hosted by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong of Pomelo Books

Jen Bryant and I are doing a short presentation on Poetry and Art at 3 pm, but plan to spend the whole day. The line-up is fabulous!

Wednesday 4/4
Signing at the Random House Children’s Books booth 11 am -12 pm

Thursday 4/5
Poetry Jam 2:45
Featured poets include Margarita Engle, Janet Wong, and Juan Felipe Herrera. Wow!

Laura’s Bookshelf: The Frame-up

This week’s Poetry Friday host is Jone at Check It Out. She’s got big news about the Cybil Award for Poetry!

Happy Poetry Friday! Thanks for visiting the Poe House with me last week. I pulled a random name from the comments and Jama Rattigan is the winner of the Poe Keepsake Journal. Congratulations, Jama!

Before I get to this week’s post, I want to thank Arnold Adoff and the Virginia Hamilton Conference. Last week, I learned that my debut novel, The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary, was named the Arnold Adoff Poetry Award for New Voices honor book. “Surprised” is an understatement! It is a huge honor and I’m so grateful for the recognition. Please do visit the full list of award-winners. There are some phenomenal books among the 2018 awardees.

It’s been over a year since I started keeping a personal bullet journal. (If you’re not familiar with bullet journals, start with this post.)

Inspired by my educator friends, one of the new things I’m trying with my 2018 journal is tracking my reading. I’ve kept track via Goodreads before, but charting books is allowing me to take a close look at my genre preferences and how many children’s novels I read, versus YA or adult.

So far, it looks like this:

I am very excited about my most recent read.

Wendy McLeod MacKnight’s The Frame-up is about  boy who — spending the summer with his art-gallery-director father — discovers a great secret. Paintings are alive!

Let’s say you are a portrait. You keep all of the memories of your living person (the subject of the portrait) until the moment the painting is finished.

From that point on, you become your own entity, keeping quiet and still during the day, so museum goers won’t guess the truth. At night, you visit friends and neighbors in other paintings. And by visit, I mean going into a painting of a pub to drink and dance with your buddies or, if you’re a child, hopping into a seascape with a soothing pier for you to walk around. If that seascape is so soothing that you fall asleep in the painting — the wrong painting — no worries … as long as you’re back in your own picture by the time the museum opens.

But let’s say the gallery director’s son, Sargent Singer, happens to come along to the gallery one night and notice that your portrait frame is empty. And then what if he spots you, fast asleep on a pier, in the wrong painting?

This middle grade contemporary fantasy will be available in June. Pre-order now from Indiebound.

This is how The Frame-up opens. The painting that Sargent catches is that of a girl about his age, Mona Dunn. (You can view William Orpen’s Mona Dunn here.) The two of them spark a secret friendship, chock-full of adventures and mishaps.

How serendipitous that I’d have a chance to read the ARC right now, when our February Poetry Project is in the midst of writing in response to art! I know that members of this group are going to love how vividly MacKnight imagines the personalities of several paintings — all found at the real-life Beaverbrook Art Gallery in New Brunswick, Canada.

It’s also a super fun book. The climax (involving nefarious goings-on at the gallery) is exciting, both in our world, and in the world of the paintings. And the resolution? It totally tugged at my art-strings. (Get it?)

I went back to the first February Poetry Project, looking for a poem to pair with Wendy’s book. The theme that year was vintage post cards.

Many of those poems were portraits of the people pictured on the cards, but only one imagined that the people in the image are awake, thinking beings.

Luckily, this poem is a good fit for Valentine’s Week.

Cartoon Boy Meets Cartoon Girl
By Laura Shovan

You have no lips to kiss or speak.
I have no ears to listen.
Let me lean on this picket fence,
watch you hover
over a loop of jump rope,
your braids drawn up
by bat-winged ribbons.
You cannot see my baseball cap
or read my cautious expression.
Your lashes fell a moment before
the cartoonist imagined us.
But I will wait. The next panel,
with your fluttering lids, must come.
The artist — would he leave us
forever like this?

Sadly, these two are frozen in their art, unable to move or communicate. They’d much prefer being in the wonderful world of The Frame-up. Find the original post with this postcard and poem at Author Amok.

Takedown: Source List

Hello, friends and readers.

One of my favorite things about being an author is doing research. When my children were in elementary school, I worked part-time as a features writer for Baltimore’s Child magazine and my local edition of The Baltimore Sun. As a newcomer to Maryland, the job helped me get to know my new community. It also taught me how to interview people, visit an event or location and catch interesting details, and how to write on a deadline.

As a fiction writer, my sources tend to come from four main places: non-fiction books, newspaper articles, personal interviews, and personal observations (sometimes called gonzo research — either going to or participating in an event related to the story). Documentaries and YouTube videos are another go-to resource.

Takedown is about two middle school wrestlers, Lev and Mikayla. It will be published on June 19, 2018 (Random House Kids).

In order to be transparent, I am going to create a list of sources I use for my books, beginning with Takedown.

Takedown is a wrestling story. When I started drafting the book in fall of 2015, it had been several years since my son put on a singlet, headgear, and wrestling boots. I had a lot of research to do in order to relearn the sport.

TAKEDOWN: Sources and works consulted
(I’ll be adding to this list periodically as I look through my notes. It’s going to look informal at first. I’ll come back and use standard formatting later.)

Videos and Documentaries
“Helen Maroulis used lessons learned in London to win gold,” NBCOlympics.com
“Helen Maroulis’ mantra: ‘Christ in me, I am enough’,” NBCOlympics.com

Articles
“Zaccardi: Helen Maroulis’ takedown of a legend has been years in the making,” NBCOlympics.com
Akinnagbe, Gbenga. “A Metamorphosis on the Wrestling Mat,” The New York Times, 3/3/2012.
Smith, Tim. “Focus on NFL, injuries makes ‘X’s and O’s’ a timely entry at Center Stage,” The Baltimore Sun, 11/15/15.
Stein, Betsy. “Editor’s Letter: Lessons learned on being a supportive sports parent,” Chesapeake Family, September, 2016.
Stein, Betsy. “Parenting Plays from the Pros, Touchdown Tips to Help Young Athletes,” Chesapeake Family, September, 2016.

Books
Ditchfield, Christin. Wrestling (True Books: Sports), Grolier Publishing, NY, 2000.
Ellis, Carol. Wrestling (Martial Arts in Action), Marshall Cavendish. Benchmark, NY, 2011.

More sources coming soon!

A Visit to Poe House

Sally Murphy is hosting the Poetry Friday round up today. Head down under to find all of this week’s links!

Poets, do you have a bucket list? A list of things you want to do before you — for example — turn 49?

My family and I have lived in the Baltimore suburbs for over 18 years. And for 18 years, we’ve talked about going to visit the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum in Baltimore.

I fell in love with Poe’s poetry and stories when I was in middle school. Not only was he the father of horror writing, Sherlock Holmes would not exist without Poe’s detective stories. (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle borrowed mercilessly from Poe’s story, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.”) Then my children read him in middle school and my youngest became a Poe fan too. It’s kind of hard not to love this Dark Romantic author, whose poem “The Raven” was adopted by Baltimore’s pro football team. (We are the only NFL team whose name has literary roots.)

Finally, FINALLY!, we did it.

Last Saturday, my husband, 18-year-old, and I headed out to find the tiny little row-house on Amity Street where Poe lived with his aunt Maria Clemm and her daughter, his cousin (later, wife) Virginia for three years.

We paid our $5 each in a front room, then headed into what would have been the kitchen. Dark. Small! No natural light. (There would have been a door, the friendly guide said, but it led to the alley and the outhouse.) There would have been a little cook-stove, not a full fireplace big enough for a cooking pot. This — we learned — was an area of the city where itinerant families lived. The Clemm family didn’t have a lot of furniture or clothing. They were poor.

Sitting room on second floor (with those steep stairs!)

You cannot believe how narrow the stairs are. I imagined how claustrophobic this house must have been, with three and sometimes more people living here. Did the compressed space influence Poe’s writing?

The second floor is a sitting room with a fireplace. A highlight for me was this wooden box, a travel writing desk that belonged to Poe.

Poet’s travel writing desk. The museum keeps a list of works Poe is believed to have composed in this house.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peeking into the bedroom from the top of the stairs. I can’t imagine climbing up here every day.

Another impossibly tight flight of stairs went up to the bedroom. They couldn’t have all slept here! Visiting the house gave me a new appreciation for how difficult Poe’s life must have been.

 

I couldn’t leave without buying you a souvenir. Check out this Edgar Allan Poe Keepsake Journal. I’m giving it away to one lucky reader. Leave a comment on this post and you’ll be entered in a random drawing.

I brought back a souvenir.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Instead of posting my favorite Poe poem (“Alone”) today, I’ve got another surprise. Have you heard Sarah Jarosz musical rendition of “Annabelle Lee”?  When I hear this poem sung, I can’t help but think of young Virginia, who died of tuberculosis at age 24.

 

Poetry Friday: Come Like Shadows

Carol Varsalona is hosting Poetry Friday this week. Visit Beyond Literacy Link for the PF round-up and for Carol’s Winter Wonderland gallery.

Happy Poetry Friday! January is hobbling to its frigid, icy end. It’s been a cold month in Maryland, as the blue hues of my temperature scarf will attest.

The annual February Poetry Project members are warming up for our month of daily writing. This year’s project theme is “Ekphrastic at Home.” Each day, a member of the group will share a piece of art that they own or keep on display at home.

Today’s warm-up prompt is one of three paintings I own by my grandmother, Joy Dickson. A New Yorker, child of a German Jewish engineer and his Romanian wife, Joy was destined to be a concert violinist. While studying at Julliard, she met my grandfather, a percussionist who had moved to the U.S. from France as a young child. His name was Charles Dickson. They married, struggled to start a business together, had three children (my father was the eldest). I don’t know whether she completed her degree at Julliard, but Joy never picked up a violin again.

Still, my grandmother had a creative spirit. At some point, she took classes at Parsons School of Design. I remember her always in the midst of a project. There was the large loom taking up space in her living room, a fabric made of wool and tree bark half-woven on its strings. There was a trio of monarch butterflies from her print-making class, a found-wood sculpture she signed with the pseudonym “Jandelay” so she could ask for — and get — the honest opinions of family members on her work. There was the Thanksgiving we found out she’d gone to clown college. (She was a hobo clown.)

Oil on canvas, by Joy Dickson

Although she died nearly 15 years ago, I feel like my children have grown up around Joy because her art has always been a presence in our home. The piece I shared today, a portrait of her mother Rachel (known as Rose), was probably painted when Joy was in her teens or 20s.

It was an honor to Joy’s memory to read the poems everyone wrote in response to her painting today. Some people wrote about the deep connection between mother and daughter, as if they knew the story behind this portrait.

My own poem is a memory of the last words I heard my grandmother say. It was the summer of 2003, and she was doing hospice at my parents’ home in mountains.

Come Like Shadows

By Laura Shovan

We circled her like three witches,
stripped her clothes, the old
button-down shirt she favored
since my grandfather passed.
No one had heard her voice in days.
Her hair, once auburn, thick,
wrapped in a scarf to keep
the tumor out of sight. The shower
bubbled and when we three women
pushed her under its stream,
Joy said, “Wait a minute.”
She’d told me weeks before
she was ready for this, but
as the world rolled into shadow,
she clung to its fabric. My aunt
washed her hair and I held her,
and my mother held her. No eloquence
in her words – my grandmother’s last —
but what other demand
could she make as she leaned
out of the spray to plant
a kiss on my bare shoulder?

***

On Monday, I’m participating in a guest-post at Nerdy Book Club about distance reading groups. If you geek out about middle grade books, give it a read!

Currently reading: No One Waits for the Train, by Waqas Khwaja

Poetry Friday: Gingko

Happy Poetry Friday! Jan Godown Annino is putting on a poetry spread for us this week at Bookseedstudio.

This is a year of big transitions for my family. Our youngest turns 18 this week and is preparing to make the leap from high school to college. Shortly after that, Mr. S turns 50 and our eldest celebrates his 21st birthday.

(All of our birthdays, including Sam the dog’s, fall within five weeks. Mine is the last and — hard to believe — we are usually caked out by then.)

I am relying on long-term projects to sustain me in 2018. There are writing projects, of course. A new book is in the works, but my first goal is to finish the 2017 February Poetry Project prompts before February 2018’s new daily prompts begin.

27 down and 1 to go! More on that in a second.

I’m using nine colors in a variety of weights, but mostly sock yarn.

My second project combines knitting and science. A friend shared this pattern with me and I am in love. You pick yarn colors (9, 10, 15 — knitter’s choice) and create a chart of temperature ranges with corresponding colors. Over the course of the year, you chart the temperature (I’m doing daily highs), and knit a row or two in the corresponding color.

Instead of stockinette stitch — and after frogging a few false starts — I’m doing a K1, P1 rib.

I am having so much fun with this project! Here is the pattern at the Ravelry crochet and knitting site. It’s beginner friendly.

Back to poetry. When our children were small, we planted a tree for each of them not far from the kitchen window. Our eldest chose a gingko. Despite the cold weather, as evidenced by my knitting project, the tree is covered with little knobs. These will become buds in a few months.

As I work on the last few poems (late — so late!) from last year’s daily poetry project, it’s the ginkgo I see from my work space. And that’s how the tree found its way into this poem.

2/27/17 #10FoundWords prompt from Mary Lee Hahn
Source: “Could a Bumblebee Learn to Play Fetch? Probably”

10 Words: abilities, brain, decisions, fetch, flexibility, learn, memory, problem, puzzle, strategy

Gingko
By Laura Shovan

The gingko tree’s ability is rest–
long months of buds capped
tight under winter scalps.
Green brains sleep there,
ready to make decisions
to become fan-shaped leaves
fetching sunlight and rain.
The tree sleeps on its problems–
draught, neglect—forms
strategies for next season.
To do: learn to be flexible
in the wind.
I like to think
memories are stored
in the gingko’s puzzling mazes
of would-be leaves, because
then it could be true for all of us.
In the place where old growth
breaks away, something new
is considering spring.

 

Currently reading: No One Waits for the Train, by Waqas Khwaja

Announcing the 6th Annual February Poetry Project

We’re kicking off a new year of poetry at Reading to the Core. Stop by Catherine’s blog for all of this week’s poetry links.

Happy 2018, poets and poetry lovers. Before you know it, February will be here.

That’s right. It’s almost time for our annual daily writing workout.

A little history: For four years, my blog hosted a community poetry project.

Last year, the project moved to a closed Facebook group to accommodate our growing community of about 60 poets.

  • The 2017 project theme, 10 Words Found in the News, helped us create beauty, humor, and satire in response to current events. This prompt worked so well that, when February was over, we continued to write 10 Words in the News poems throughout the year.

This year, we’re heading back to the project’s visual-prompt roots.

Find a full definition at the Poetry Foundation.

2018 Theme: Ekphrastic At-home

The theme of this year’s project is ekphrastic poetry (writing in response to works of art), but with a twist. Poet Ann Haman suggested that we write in response to art pieces owned by members of the group.

Beginning January 31, a group member will post a photograph of a work of art (loosely interpreted) from their home collection. Art pieces might include paintings, sculptures, kids’ creations, photographs, or beautiful oddities. There will be a sign-up in the group’s files for those who’d like to be in charge of a daily writing prompt.

Special thanks to Kip Rechea, a past participant who will be acting as a group moderator and providing some administrative help.

IMPORTANT NOTE FOR PROJECT NEWBIES: As always, the point of this exercise is to practice the habit of writing regularly, even if it’s just for one month. Members of the project post response poems the same day so that we can focus on generating ideas and giving positive feedback, rather than polishing for publication.

Interested in joining us? You can request to join the closed 6th Annual February Daily Poem Project here.

Laura’s Bookshelf: Finding Perfect

Hungry for more poetry? Diane Mayr at Random Noodling is the Poetry Friday host this week. Visit her blog for links to more poetry posts.

Happy Poetry Friday!

I recently added a line to my email signature. Along with my title (poet in the schools) and the titles of my children’s novels (The Last Fifth Grade, Takedown), you will now see “Currently reading: —” listed under my name.

Publicly sharing what I’m reading is a practice I learned from educator friends, a way of showing the children we teach that adults — like kids — read for school and for pleasure.

This week I finished a book I’ve been meaning to read for months, Elly Swartz’s  middle grade novel, FINDING PERFECT. It’s the story of middle schooler and slam poet Molly, who is experiencing a lot of turbulence in her life. Her parents are back together after a brief separation, but her mother has taken a year-long job in Canada. Molly, her father, and her siblings are struggling with this transition. Each handles missing Mom in a different way.

On the surface, Molly is the perfect kid: a good friend, great student, and talented poet. But her perfectionism is a coping mechanism, hiding her anxiety. As the stress caused by her mother’s absence deepens, Molly’s obsessive compulsive tics begin to impact her friendships, family, and sense of self.

FINDING PERFECT is a favorite of upper elementary and middle school educators and their students. The first person voice allows readers to get to know Molly when she’s feeling mainly like herself. We travel through the story with her, experiencing the way OCD and anxiety gradually weigh her down. This is a great book to prompt a conversation about empathy.

Here is the Goodreads blurb for FINDING PERFECT :

To Molly Nathans, perfect is:

• The number four
• The tip of a newly sharpened number two pencil
• A crisp, white pad of paper
• Her neatly aligned glass animal figurines

What’s not perfect is Molly’s mother leaving the family to take a faraway job with the promise to return in one year. Molly knows that promises are often broken, so she hatches a plan to bring her mother home: Win the Lakeville Middle School Slam Poetry Contest. The winner is honored at a fancy banquet with table cloths. Molly’s sure her mother would never miss that. Right…?

But as time goes on, writing and reciting slam poetry become harder. Actually, everything becomes harder as new habits appear, and counting, cleaning, and organizing are not enough to keep Molly’s world from spinning out of control. 

FINDING PERFECT is a great read for upper elementary through early high school.

Who will like it?

  • Kids who are interested in psychology and how people’s emotions work.
  • Kids who are experiencing a difficult separation.
  • Readers who enjoy friendship and family stories.

What will readers learn about?

  • Obsessive compulsive disorder. Swartz conducted extensive research for this novel. Resources are listed in the back.
  • The importance of reaching out to peers and adults during times of stress and anxiety. Some changes are too big to handle by yourself!
  • Empathy. Molly is a relatable character who explains why some people have nervous tics and compulsions.

The poem I’m pairing with FINDING PERFECT is “Perfection” by Naomi Katz. Lines two through four describe how Molly feels as she measures, with a ruler, the space between the glass animals collected on her shelf. As a whole, the poem reminds me of how Molly pressures herself to create the perfect slam poem for a school competition.

Perfection
Naomi Katz

Always that passion in the human breast,
That restless passion for The Perfect Thing,
With its sifting, sorting, rule and measure-string,
And a terrible eye for the error manifest.
Yet, well for the sometime jewel emerged from the quest!
And well for the seldom ore with the mellow ring!
And well for the hunter whose diligent hands can bring
One easeful object to the great Unrest.

Slow is the process, infinitely slow
Up the tedious road with Perfection for its goal;

Read the rest at the Poetry Foundation.

Swartz has another middle grade novel coming out in January. You can read more about SMART COOKIE here.

(Elly and I have something important in common: Both of us are Beagle moms! And both of us worked our beloved Beagles into our second books.)

I hope you’re snuggling up with a book and some holiday cookies this weekend.

Laura

Currently reading: EXIT WEST by Mohsin Hamid