Monthly Archives: June 2016

Poetry Friday: Concrete Cat

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My good friend  Tabatha Yeatts is hosting Poetry Friday this week. Head over to THE OPPOSITE OF INDIFFERENCE to join the poetry party.

Happy Poetry Friday!

Today, I’m sharing a concrete poem written by a poet named Jackie Kozell. Let’s take a look at it first, and then I’ll share the story behind this poem.

Jackie is a talented artist, which you can see in the shape of the poem. But her artist’s eye also makes her observant — a skill poets rely on.


Concrete Cat Poem

Poem by Jackie Kozell. Shared by permission of the poet.


I love “A small shadow     running to a corner” with the pause for white space in the middle. The “razor filled mouth” is a great visual and sensory image. Then there are details like the mouse and the bold letter W for the cat’s nose. Notice that the words “back legs” fall on the cat’s haunches and the words “claws grip” lead our eyes down the front legs.

Ready for the back story? Before the school year ended, my cousin gave a copy of THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY to her daughter’s 6th grade teacher. The class was doing a poetry unit and tried some of the writing prompts in the back of my book. Jackie, as you guessed, is my cousin’s daughter.

I love the pacing in this poem as we wait for the cat to pounce on its prey. Awesome job, Jackie!

If you liked this poem, I recommend Betsy Franco’s book, A CURIOUS COLLECTION OF CATS: CONCRETE POEMS. Back at my old blog, Author Amok, you’ll find a classroom workshop in concrete poems, based on Betsy’s book. The link is here.

betsy franco

Find out more at the Penguin Random House website.

Laura’s Bookshelf: The Last Boy at St. Edith’s

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Let’s hope there are no garden gnomes lurking at Carol’s Corner. Carol is hosting Poetry Friday this week.

Happy Poetry Friday! The American Library Association is coming up next week. I’m looking forward to checking out fall trends in middle grade and, of course, what’s new in poetry.

I’ve had a blast during my debut author year spending time with fellow middle grade novelists. Today, I’d like to introduce Poetry Friday readers to Lee Gjertsen Malone and her contemporary novel, THE LAST BOY AT ST. EDITH’S.

Lee visited me in Maryland last weekend. We took a road trip to the inaugural Chesapeake Children’s Book Festival on the Eastern Shore. Lee is smart and so funny! That humor comes across in her debut middle grade novel.

THE LAST BOY AT ST. EDITH’S is about Jeremy. His single mother works at a private school in western Massachusetts, so he and his sisters attend on scholarship. The only problem is, St. Edith Academy’s is not exactly co-ed. Traditionally a girls’ school, the academy’s attempt to go co-ed has failed. Now Jeremy is the last boy standing in a sea of girls (as the book’s cover so perfectly illustrates). With his best-friend, a wannabe filmmaker named Claudia, Jeremy hatches a plan to get himself expelled. How? By organizing a series of epic pranks on the grounds of the school.

I gave myself the mission of finding a poem related to one of the pranks Jeremy stages. You won’t be disappointed. The poem appear at the end of this post.

THE LAST BOY AT ST. EDITH’S published in February. Here is the blurb from Goodreads:

Seventh grader Jeremy Miner has a girl problem. Or, more accurately, a girls problem. Four hundred and seventy-five of them. That’s how many girls attend his school, St. Edith’s Academy. Jeremy is the only boy left after the school’s brief experiment in coeducation. And he needs to get out. His mom won’t let him transfer, so Jeremy takes matters into his own hands: He’s going to get expelled. Together with his best friend, Claudia, Jeremy unleashes a series of hilarious pranks in hopes that he’ll get kicked out with minimum damage to his permanent record. But when his stunts start to backfire, Jeremy has to decide whom he’s willing to knock down on his way out the door.

Recommended for fifth grade and up.

Who will like it?

  • Pranksters.
  • Kids who are dealing with shifting friendships as they make the transition from elementary to middle school.
  • Fans of science fiction humor (there are hilarious scenes with Jeremy and his crush acting in Claudia’s epically bad SF movie).

What will readers learn about?

  • An insider’s view of what it’s like to attend a private school.
  • Even funny pranks can have unforeseen consequences.
  • How it feels to be the only boy in a family, or a school, full of girls.

One of the first pranks that Jeremy and Claudia organize involves garden gnomes. It only took me a few moments of searching to find this gem on the website for Chuck Sambuchino’s book How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack:

Gnome Attack Poetry (by Wanna Newman)

I think that I shall never roam
In gardens where one finds a gnome

A hat that’s pointy, made of red
Creates in me a sense of dread

A gnome that tends to gross aggression
Can cause me trauma and depression

A gnome whose crabby, cross and piquey
Can really damage my physiquey

A gnome that travels with an ax
Instills the fear of sneak attacks…

Read the rest of the poem at How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack.


Don’t be fooled by that innocent face.

What else is on Laura’s Bookshelf?
SWORD AND VERSE, by Kathy MacMillan (5/22/16)
GENESIS GIRL, by Jennifer Bardsley (4/13/16)

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)

Poetry Friday: “Where They Live”

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Jone at Check It Out is hosting the Poetry Friday links this week. Thanks, Jone!

POST UPDATE: Thanks to Charles at StartSleeping.Org for reaching out to me. I’m happy to share information about the organization.

Charles writes: I work with a passionate team at that strives to provide the best resources possible to help those in need get a good night’s sleep. With winter fast approaching we like to turn our attention to some of the most vulnerable; the 550,000 homeless Americans who do not have a safe warm place to sleep at night. We have a continuously expanding homeless shelter resource to which it is imperative to get more exposure. Lives are literally on the line. You can take a look here:

Look for a guest post from soon.

Now back to the original post…

Happy Poetry Friday, Everyone!

Last month, Poetry Friday blogger Michelle H. Barnes invited me to her site, Today’s Little Ditty, for a post about persona poems. Although I used many poetic forms in my novel in verse, THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY, every single poem is a persona poem. Why? Because each poem is spoken in the voice of an invented character.

In my post for Michelle, I highlighted the development of one character in the book, fifth grader Brianna Holmes. You can read the full post at Today’s Little Ditty.

In that post, I wrote: When I came up with the character of Brianna Holmes, I only knew one thing about her: Her family was homeless. A neighbor of mine works with our local school system, providing support to homeless families. Because Emerson Elementary is modeled on schools in my area, it was important to include a homeless character.

Today, I’d like to welcome my friend and neighbor Kim McCauley. Kim works to support homeless children and their families here in Howard County, Maryland. If I didn’t know Kim, the character of Brianna Holmes would never have been invented.

At the end of our interview, I will share the poem where Brianna describes one way that she copes with being homeless.

Laura: THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY is set in Howard County, Maryland. How would you describe your work with homeless children? What are some ways that the school system gives them support?  

Kim: I work in the Pupil Personnel Office which is part of Student Services in the Howard County Public School System. We have a comprehensive homeless policy in Howard County Schools and we also follow the McKinney-Vento law [read about it here] to make sure that all homeless students can attend school and receive the supports that they are entitled to by law and policy. Our job in the PPW office is to make sure all of these policies and the law are followed while also supporting the students and families as they navigate through homelessness.  I have many responsibilities that relate to making sure that homeless children are monitored regularly for grades and attendance, ensuring that they are receiving free meals and transportation, data collection and other duties. There are so many things that go into supporting a homeless family. The PPWs work to address the issues on the school level. They case manage all homeless children and work extensively with the families to help support them while they are experiencing homelessness.

Laura: Is homelessness a big issue in central Maryland? How many school-aged children does it affect?

Kim: Homelessness is a big issue in all of Maryland. Each county reports to the state regularly on the numbers of homeless kids. You can find the numbers for each county by visiting the MSDE website and searching homelessness. In Howard County, we currently have approximately 550 children that have been identified since the beginning of the 15/16 school year that are experiencing homelessness. Not all of those are HCPSS students. We include all youth that we know about in this number. Also, this number changes almost every day. Almost all of our schools in Howard County have homeless students.

Laura: The character Brianna Holmes tells us that she is homeless. She’s living in a motel with her family, not in a shelter or on the streets. Is this something you see with the families you work with? Can you explain how a homeless family might come to live in a motel?  

Kim: We see many of our families that are living in motels.  Sometimes a family will lose their home through eviction or foreclosure and living in a motel is the most that they can afford.  In other cases Grassroots Crisis Center will temporarily place families in a motel to help them through the transition of losing their home.  Families experiencing homelessness in Howard County must go through the Coordinated System of Homeless Services to be eligible to receive services.  They start this process by calling the Grassroots emergency hotline number 410-531-6677.

Laura: Thank you for sharing that contact information. How can parents, educators, and other adults help children understand what it means to be homeless? Are there ways that school children can support their peers who are homeless or food insecure?

Kim: This is a hard question because no matter what we say or do, children and adults will never fully understand what a person goes through when they are experiencing homelessness and sometimes hunger unless they experience it themselves. However, there are certainly ways to help children and others understand and offer them ways to help. There are many fundraising opportunities in HoCo designed to help Grassroots Crisis Center. One of those programs is called Change Matters and it’s tied into student service learning in many of our schools. For example, they usually incorporate lessons into the curriculum and then it culminates with a fundraising activity so that students feel like they are helping. There are many other opportunities to help by volunteering to make meals, work in the cold weather shelters, etc.  There are also many films available for viewing that show homeless youth  and how they deal with homelessness.  One very powerful film that has been shown on HBO and is also available as a teaching resource is called Home Stretch.  There are several others such as American Winter that are being used as educational resources as well.

Laura: Do you have any children’s books you recommend that touch on the issue of homelessness?  

Kim: I do not know of any children’s books that touch on homelessness. However, there are many books that are extremely insightful and powerful that depict real-life homelessness.  Enrique’s Journey and An Invisible Thread are two books that I highly recommend. These books shouldn’t be read to young children. I recommend an adult review them before having children read them.

Kim, thank you so much for sharing all of this information and telling us about the work that you do to support homeless children and their families.


Illustration by Abigail Halpin

Meet Brianna Holmes, an Emerson Elementary fifth grader, who is one of Ms. Hill’s poets.

In her first poem, Brianna tells us that she loves being as fashionable as the “fifth-grade queens.” So she’s taught herself how to sew, embroider, and repurpose hand-me-down clothes to make them stylish.

It’s not until Brianna’s second poem that we learn more about her family situation. Brianna is living in a motel with her mother and older brother. Although she hopes they will have their own home someday, for now, Brianna’s family is homeless.




Readers, I hope you enjoyed hearing from Kim McCauley today, and learning more about my inspiration for this character.

I recently read Katherine Applegate’s middle grade novel CRENSHAW, which is about a family on the brink of becoming homeless. Feel free to share your recommended reading about homelessness (specify whether it’s for kids or adults) in the comments.