Monthly Archives: April 2016

Five Ways to Celebrate Poem in Your Pocket Day

PF tag

This week’s host is my good friend Michelle H. Barnes at Today’s Little Ditty. Stop by for an over-sized pocket full of poetry links.

Happy Poetry Friday, everyone! I’m traveling to Albuquerque next week, where I’ll be visiting two schools — including a real Emerson Elementary.

That’s where I’ll be on April 21, which is national Poem in Your Pocket Day. Because I’ll be sharing the day with students, I’ve been thinking about some of my favorite ways to celebrate Poem in Your Pocket Day.

(You can read more about national Poem in Your Pocket Day at


Check out the #My5thGradeAsHaiku prize pack, featuring a signed book and a Refried Beans hamster plushie.

But first — in case you missed it, I am running a poetry challenge to celebrate the launch of my first novel in verse for kids, THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY. All are welcome to tweet a #My5thGradeAsHaiku poem, or leave one in the comments of this post. Full details of the contest are here.


Ready for five favorite Poem in Your Pocket Day activities?

poem in pocketONE: A Poem in Your Pocket Book Read Aloud

Margaret McNamara’s picture book, A Poem in Your Pocket, came out in 2015. It’s about a class of students preparing for a famous poet to visit. But it’s also about silencing our inner critics, letting poetry flow from what we see, experience, and feel. Make sure you have tissues handy. (I cry every time.)

BONUS: The end papers of this book include a great illustration of Poem in Your Pocket Activity #5.

TWO: Carry Poems in Your Pockets

poem in pocket 2Students can write their own poems to tuck into their pockets, or choose a poem they love. If you need ideas or ready made poems, try Poem in Your Pocket for Young Poets: 100 Poems to Rip Out & Read. This 2011 publication from Amulet is exactly what it sounds like. The tearable pages are small, a good size to fold and put in a pocket. It includes both well-known poems and surprises.

Bruno Navasky, who selected the poems here, says in his introduction: “Carry it with you. Keep it hidden, like a little bird, deep in your pocket. But be careful! Don’t forget it wants to get out. And maybe sometimes … you’ll let it fly.” Thursday is a perfect day to let that poem fly.

Our local community college celebrates Poem in Your Pocket Day with poetry police. The police will stop you and ask to see the poem you are carrying. Don’t have one with you? You get a ticket (which, I’m pretty sure, is a poem).

THREE: Revive an Old Book of Pocket Poems

The newest book of poems on my shelf isn’t new at all. Upside Down and Inside Out: Poems For All Your Pockets, by Bobbi Katz, was published in 1973. I’m discovering many surprises in this book. There’s a series of “Things to Do If You Are” poems (“Things to Do If You Are a Flower” is my favorite) that I’m going to add to my school writing prompt repertoire.

I’m amazed at how modern the poems in this book are. Imagine what your students might say when discussing Bobbi Katz’s “School, Some Suggestions”:

If kids could be the teachers,
if kids could make the rules,
there’d be a lot of changes made
in almost all the schools.
First thing they’d stop the homework.
They’d never give a test.
They know that growing children
must have their proper rest.
They’d make the lunchtime longer—
let’s say from twelve to two,
so every growing boy or girl
had time enough to chew!

Read the rest of the poem here.

Also check out the collection Pocket Poems, selected by Bobbi Katz and illustrated by Marylin Hafner (Puffin, 2004).

FOUR: Share a Poem about Pockets

My favorite poem about pockets is Calef Brown’s poem, “Eliza’s Jacket.” It’s from his wonderful 1998 book Polka Bats and Octopus Slacks.

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    Eliza and her pockets (filled with student poems) were on display at one of my school residencies.

    Do not miss Daniel Pinkwater reading “Eliza’s Jacket” on YouTube.

    I created a poetry prompt based on this poem where I ask students to imagine that *anything* could be hidden in their pockets. You’ll find the full writing prompt and students responses at this post.

    FIVE: Make a Wall Full of Pockets for Your Original Poems

    If your students have caught the poetry bug, this is a fun way to display their poems. Kids and families love to pull out the poems and read them.

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    2014 May June 058 2014 May June 049

Laura’s Bookshelf: Genesis Girl

Over the past several months, I have grown as a reader. I’m not on literary tour of classic novels, or — finally — committing to reading every book I own. The books on my night-stand, in my purse, open as I drink my morning tea, have been 2016 debuts.

Reading books by friends in my debut author group means reading books I might not normally pick up. Normally, I avoid horror fiction, but I adored Kali Wallace’s book SHALLOW GRAVES. While I read the occasional mystery, I fell head over heals for Brittany Cavallaro’s Sherlock Holmes update, A STUDY IN CHARLOTTE.

What I’ve learned is that, more often than I like to admit, I had been judging books by their genre.

I was raised on Star Trek and Doctor Who, but when it comes to science fiction, I usually go for tried and true authors: Margaret Atwood, Ursula K. LeGuin, Kim Stanley Robinson, Frank Herbert. If it weren’t for my debut author group, I would not have tried Jennifer Bardsley’s wonderfully inventive YA science fiction novel, GENESIS GIRL.

GENESIS GIRL has a stunning concept that builds on our contemporary obsession with the internet, physical appearances, and advertising.

Blanca is a Vestal. She has spent most of her life in a tech-free school. Her picture has never been taken and shared on the internet. Her personal likes and dislikes have never been tracked, bought, or sold by companies or analytic firms. On the eve of her graduation from Tabula Rasa School, Blanca has one dream — to be bought by a firm and serve as the face, body, and soul of its media campaigns. But before she can graduate, an intruder snaps her photograph, spinning Blanca into a life where she must learn make her own, difficult decisions.

GENESIS GIRL just had its publication date moved up from fall to spring. Look for it on June 14. Here is the blurb from Goodreads:

Eighteen-year-old Blanca has lived a sheltered life. Her entire childhood has been spent at Tabula Rasa School where she’s been protected from the Internet.

Blanca has never been online and doesn’t even know how to text. Her lack of a virtual footprint makes her extremely valuable, and upon graduation, Blanca and those like her are sold to the highest bidders.

Blanca is purchased by Cal McNeal, who uses her to achieve personal gain. But the McNeals are soon horrified by just how obedient and non-defiant Blanca is. All those mind-numbing years locked away from society have made her mind almost impenetrable.

By the time Blanca is ready to think for herself, she is trapped. Her only chance of escape is to go online.


Author Jen Bardsley blogs at The YA Gal.

Recommended for high school and up.

Who will like it?

  • Fans of science fiction.
  • Readers who enjoy books that critique modern culture.
  • Adventure and mystery lovers.

What will readers learn about?

  • The value of thinking for oneself.
  • How the internet can negatively impact relationships.
  • The effects of living in an extremely controlled society.

The poem I’m pairing with GENESIS GIRL is a challenging one, but it will give mature teens who enjoy the social criticism aspects of this novel something to chew on. Take a look at the way personification is used to great effect in Wislawa Szymborska’s poem “Advertisement.”




I’m a tranquilizer.
I’m effective at home.
I work in the office.
I can take exams
on the witness stand.
I mend broken cups with care.
All you have to do is take me,
let me melt beneath your tongue,
just gulp me
with a glass of water.I know how to handle misfortune,
how to take bad news.
I can minimize injustice,
lighten up God’s absence,
or pick the widow’s veil that suits your face.
What are you waiting for—
have faith in my chemical compassion.

Read the rest of the poem at the Poetry Foundation.

What else is on Laura’s Bookshelf?

TREASURE AT LURE LAKE, by Shari Schwarz (3/31/16)

THE LAST GREAT ADVENTURE OF THE PB&J SOCIETY, by Janet Sumner Johnson (3/25/16)

THE GIRL FROM EVERYWHERE, by Heidi Heilig (3/10/16)

THE DISTANCE FROM A TO Z, by Natalie Blitt (1/19/16)

COUNTING THYME, by Melanie Conklin (12/31/15)

FENWAY AND HATTIE, by Victoria J. Coe (12/24/15)


PAPER WISHES, by Lois Sepahban (11/19/15)

THE GIRL WHO FELL, by S. M. Parker (11/5/15)

SYMPTOMS OF BEING HUMAN, by Jeff Garvin (10/29/15)

SHALLOW GRAVES, by Kali Wallace (10/1/15)

MY SEVENTH GRADE LIFE IN TIGHTS, by Brooks Benjamin (7/22/15)

Launch Day Challenge

Happy launch day to the Emerson Elementary School fifth graders! Today, Ms. Hill’s student poets finally graduate from work-in-progress to published book.

I’ve got something special planned for you, my friends.

Welcome to my Launch Day Challenge. It involves poetry, of course — this is National Poetry Month. It also involves hamsters. (I’ll explain that in a second.)


This is Refried Beans the hamster. He belongs to a 5th grade poet named Jason Chen. He’d better not eat one of my special launch day cookies.

CHALLENGE PROMPT: Write a haiku about fifth grade.

It can be about your favorite teacher, the funniest thing that happened to you that year, or something that you were proud of. All subjects are okay.

Strictly speaking, these poems will be senryu. Never heard of them? Read more about senryu here.

HOW TO SUBMIT: There are two ways…

  1. Leave your haiku in the comments of this post.
  2. Tweet your haiku with the hashtag #My5thGradeAsHaiku. Be sure to tag me (@laurashovan).

DEADLINE: The challenge runs until 4/26.

You’ve got two weeks. I’ll announce winners on the last day of National Poetry Month, April 30.

WHAT’S IN IT FOR ME?: I’m glad you asked.

Check out this amazing THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY prize pack. It comes with…


Three haiku-writers will win this prize pack.

*a Refried Beans hamster plushie,


*a “Free Speech” pin,

*and a Save Our School button card.

ARE THERE ANY RULES?: I will select three prize-pack winners.

Be prepared — I may ask your permission to post winners’ and runners’-up haiku on my blog.


If my book had a mascot, Refried Beans would be it. He is the only pet to appear on the cover (can you spot him in the third row from the top?), and he steals the show at the 5th grade science fair.

I can’t wait to read your #My5thGradeAsHaiku poems! Good luck and happy writing.

Acknowledgments: Special Edition

Tomorrow is the official publication date for my debut children’s novel. I started working on what became THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY in July, 2008. You can imagine how many beta readers, paid-for critiques, SCBWI retreats, critique group meetings, and hand-wringing sessions it took to get me from idea to published book.

In the back of the book, after the story is over but before the list of poetic forms and writing prompts, you’ll find the formal acknowledgments. I limited thank yous to people who beta read in the year before the book sold, otherwise the acknowledgments could have doubled as a phone book

But now that launch day is almost here, there is one big “Thank you!” I wish I had included.

Today’s post is devoted to my parents.

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They are celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary this summer!

My parents did not give me feedback on my book. I wouldn’t let them read it until the ARCs arrived.

I never cried on their shoulders about how hard it was when agents sent form rejects or said a verse novel wasn’t for them.

I didn’t do these things because I’m an adult, and proud of it, but sometimes that means I forget to thank my parents.

So, here is a great big acknowledgment just for you, Mom and Dad.

Thank you, Dad, for reciting “The Song of Hiawatha” and “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” to us when we were little. You are such a great performer that I can still picture “the shining Big-Sea-Water” and hear the hoof beats of Paul Revere’s horse pounding through the night. You taught me to love the music of poetry.


A handmade birthday card, painted by my mother.

Thank you, Mom, for sharing your love of William Wordsworth’s “The Daffodils,” and for being an artist. Your tool is the paintbrush, mine is words. I pursued my dream of being a writer, encouraged by your belief that we should all follow our bliss.


When I left home for NYU’s Dramatic Writing Program, my parents gave me a special gift. I went hunting for it today. It’s dusty and some of the lines have faded. The butterfly in the corner is in tattered pieces. But I’ve saved the list poem they wrote for me all those years ago.

This week, when I publish my fourth book — the first from a major publishing house — I want to thank my parents for their faith in me.


My parents wrote this list poem nearly 30 years ago.

Why do I, Laura Elizabeth Dickson, write?

by Pauline and Franklyn Dickson

I write to heighten my own awareness of life.
I write to lure and enchant and console others.
I write to serenade my lover.

I write to be able to transcend my life, to reach beyond it.
I write to teach myself to speak with others, to record the journey into the labyrinth.
I write to expand my world when I feel strangled, or constricted, or lonely.

I write so that I can create a world in which I can live.
I write to integrate the different women inside me.
I write to solidify my inner convictions.
I write to balance two worlds — earth and imagination.
I write that I can communicate by way of the emotions, imagery, and myth.
I write in order to liberate other women, to inspire other women.
I write in order to grow and to reach my potential as a human being.
My writing is an inner journey, a quest for a center, a gift to the world.

–With Love from Mom and Anais Nin

I write to earn a living, to be financially independent.
I write to please myself, my parents, my family and friends.
I write to communicate!
I write to express myself, what I see, feel, and experience.
I write because I care!
I write to celebrate myself.

–Love, Dad