Monthly Archives: July 2016

Poetry Friday: Baking for Shabbat

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This week’s Poetry Friday host is Books 4 Learning. Please stop by for the poetry link-up.

Greetings, Poetry Friday friends.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been trying something old/something new on Fridays. No — no one’s getting married. I’ve caught a very special baking bug.

A few weeks ago, I was visiting my lovely sister-in-law Lisa in Orlando. She asked if I wanted to come with her for a women’s night out … baking challah.

Challah is the bread Jewish families bake and eat for Friday night Sabbath. Because I grew up in an interfaith home, sometimes we made a Shabbat dinner with prayers over challah, wine, and candles, and sometimes we didn’t. But, since I love Lisa and love to bake, I said, “Sure!” Little did I know that my plane would be delayed several hours and I’d be scrambling to get to the Challah Club on time.


We made the dough at the Challah Club, pinched off a small piece to say a prayer over and discard, then took the braided bread home for baking.

The short version: I had a great time with Lisa and the other members of the Orlando Challah Club. Although I’ve continued to bake on special occasions over the years, it’s usually cake (for birthdays) or muffins (for house guests), but I’d fallen away from the practice of making bread from scratch. And this challah was delicious.

For the last several weeks, I’ve been making my own challah. I’m reminded how much I’ve  missed kneading dough, watching it rise. If you care for and feed yeast it will, in turn, care for and feed you and your family.

I’ve asked my dear friend, poet Dennis Kirschbaum, to share his challah poem with us today. Dennis has been baking challah for many years. I love the braiding together of joy and tradition in this poem. Shabbat shalom!

by Dennis M. Kirschbaum

After thousands, the seven
ingredients– water, salt,
yeast, oil, honey, eggs, flour–
still promise to keep and remember
the Sabbath, a sixtieth of eternity.
Six strands, six days
become one. Rest
before the blast,
the bloom and swell,
sharp inhale before death.
Welcome cry for the angels–
tune of the second soul.
Bright loaves, clouds of rain and earth,
braided sunlight of golden breath.
And Shabbat too, a kind of death,
a dissolution of those selves
I have tried to be and failed.
The baking air is full of song.

Dennis Kirschbaum is the author of the chapbook CLATTERING EAST from Finishing Line Press. He has a website of the same name.


The finished product!

Pitch Wars MG Mentor Wishlist: Laura & Tricia


Welcome to Team TLC, future Pitch Warriors. Coaches Laura Shovan and Tricia Clasen here.



I’m Laura Shovan. I am an editor. And a debut author. So check me out.

I’ve been training hard for PitchWars, Team. I’ve been on both sides of the editor’s desk and will use my knowledge to help you make your MG manuscript worthy of the perfect cheer. My past experience includes: freelancing for such publications as the Baltimore Sun, five years on the editorial staff of a nationally recognized literary journal, including three as its editor in chief, and editing two poetry anthologies. My twin passions are writing and education. I’ve been a visiting poet-in-the-schools since 2002, so my rhymes are fine. (Can I get a high kick?)

In 2013, my PitchWars mentor Joy McCullough-Carranza helped me polish my middle grade verse novel to a shine. I signed with agent Stephen Barbara after the winter 2014 agent round. Within three weeks of signing with Stephen, THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY sold to Wendy Lamb Books. You can read my Pitch Wars success story here.

When I’m not writing books or giving feedback to my critique partners I am a: poetry advocate, avid reader, mom to two teens and two dogs. I knit socks, and will occasionally break into Stephen Sondheim lyrics, ‘cause that’s how this girl spells R-O-W-D-I-E.


I’m Tricia Clasen. I debut this fall.  I’ll help you pitch. So check me out!

Hi team! (Does toe touch–and probably pulls a muscle).  I am so filled with the PitchWars Middle Grade spirit, and I cannot wait to help you get pitch perfect. (Does backflip–and likely falls on head.)

I’m a professor of communication and an avid lover of stories. The majority of my editing experience falls in the non-fiction realm.  I thoroughly enjoy working with critique groups and serving as a beta reader for fiction, though. On Team TLC, you get the benefit of Laura’s detailed editing eye and my passion for making stories flow, for ensuring disbelief remains suspended.

In terms of PitchWars, I’ve been a sideline cheerleader for a long time. (Claps hands and yells “whoo!”)  Shortly after my first attempting at landing a mentor, I signed with my agent, Jen Linnan.  My debut novel, THE HAUNTED HOUSE PROJECT will be published in October by Sky Pony Press.

In addition to reading and writing, I spend most of my time shuttling my two girls to dance class and planning vacations. (Hoists Laura up on my shoulders while she waves her hands and cheers.)


So check us out!



Contemporary MG is our wheelhouse. We are looking for projects that have a strong emotional arc. If elements such as plot and setting serve as the backbone for your main character’s growth, you’re trying out for the right squad. Team TLC is all about literary middle grade and protagonists who journey from childhood into adolescence.

Much as we love historical fiction, science fiction, and fantasy, those submissions will be DQd. Team TLC is ONLY open to contemporary novels. We welcome humor and magical realism, but the heart of a story is first in our hearts. Is your PitchWars project written in verse? Coach Laura is an award-winning poet and verse-novelist. At Team TLC, we don’t need megaphones to be heard. We value the power of a quiet book.


#WNDB is more than a hashtag. It is reality for the schools and students Laura visits. Tricia’s primary teaching and research relate to gender and cultural issues. No matter which genre you write, middle grade readers are hungry for books that mirror their lives (DARIUS AND TWIG, Walter Dean Myers; GEORGE, Alex Gino), but also for books that help them understand a broad range of human experiences (WONDER, R.J. Palacio; THE LAND OF FORGOTTEN GIRLS, Erin Entrada Kelly). We will champion the heck out of submissions that include ethnic, socio-economic, and neuro-diversity as part of the deep fabric of the story.


cheerCoach Laura’s First-Place Reads trophies go to:

Recent Winners
SKELLIG, by David Almond
THE WATSONS GO TO BIRMINGHAM, by Christopher Paul Curtis
LOVE THAT DOG, by Sharon Creech
HOWARD WALLACE, PI, by Casey Lyall
SAFFY’S ANGEL, by Hilary McKay

Childhood Champions
GINGER PYE, by Eleanor Estes

(Notice a British theme? Laura’s mom is from England. She *loves* British kidlit.)

Coach Tricia’s First-Place Reads trophies go to:

Recent Winners:
OUT OF MY MIND, by Sharon Draper
WONDER, by RJ Palacio

Childhood Champions:
ANNE OF GREEN GABLES, by L.M. Montgomery
ROLL OF THUNDER, HEAR MY CRY, by Mildred D. Taylor

(Notice a theme of realistic characters who overcome struggles?)

Here’s a great example of a character with an emotional arc, scavenger hunters:


If you choose us, expect to work on two rounds of feedback. The first round will focus on the big picture (your overall dance routine) and will likely involve some global  changes. The second round will include intensive line edits (fine tuning your moves) on your book. This is a team effort. If you’re looking for a mentor to help you clean up an almost-there manuscript, someone else will be a better coach for you.

There’s so much middle grade goodness to choose from. If Team TLC isn’t for you, check out the many wonderful MG Pitch Wars mentors at the end of this post.

Got questions? Feel free to leave a comment. We also hang out on Twitter: @laurashovan and @trirae. Good luck, Pitch Warriors!

































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Poetry Friday: Tournament Rap

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Franki and Mary Lee are hosting the Poetry Friday link-up this week. It’s at A Year of Reading, where they have a new book I’ve been moooning over.

Happy Poetry Friday!

On Sunday,  I had a chance to observe Olympian Jordan Burroughs working with high school wrestlers on Maryland’s national team. The team of about 60 teens will be competing in Fargo, North Dakota this weekend. It’s the freestyle wrestling national championships.

Although he gave it up after middle school, my son wrestled for many years. Here’s a poem I wrote when I was a mat-mom. In a way, it’s a found poem, a rap made up of the names of wrestling moves and the things coaches say to their athletes.

I hope you enjoy the sounds and rhythms of this poem, even if you don’t know wrestling terminology.

Tournament Rap

Wizzer. Cement mixer.
Lateral drop.

Cross-face him. Headlock in.
Base up, don’t stop.

Knees off the mat. Suck it back.
Break him down.

Tighten your grip. Wrist control.
Don’t reach ’round.

Don’t stop. Penetrate!
Get close, you’re too far.

Keep turning. Don’t stop now.
Sink the arm bar.

Get the pin. Get the win.
Take shot after shot.

Stay focused. Keep moving,
and don’t ever stop.


The top wrestler has control over her opponent, earning her two points for the take down.

5 Questions for the Author: Deborah Kalb

I’ve got a treat for history buffs on Laura’s Bookshelf today. Middle grade author Deborah Kalb is here to talk about her new novel, GEORGE WASHINGTON AND THE MAGIC HAT.

Here is the blurb from Goodreads:

Adventure, history, and the drama of school life intertwine in this engrossing tale of a fifth-grade boy struggling to find his place after his best friend abandons him. Find out what happens when Sam’s class takes a trip to Mt. Vernon, where he accidentally buys a bossy three-cornered hat that sweeps him off to the eighteenth century and a warm friendship with George and Martha Washington. As Sam travels back and forth between his present-day life and incredible adventures with George Washington, he learns about history, himself, and the nature of friendship and families.

Welcome to my bookshelf, Deborah! I was so glad when we connected about our middle grade books. Both novels mention Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home, and one of my protagonists in THE LAST FIFTH GRADE is named after George Washington. The first president is an important character in your book.

I’ve got a great poem to pair with your book, which appears at the bottom of this post. But first, let’s get to your five questions.

Laura: You live in an area that’s infused with history. How did you incorporate setting into the story of Sam and George Washington? What details did you draw from the modern-day Washington, DC area?

Deborah: I’ve lived in the D.C. area for most of my life, so it was very natural to incorporate a variety of nearby places — from an elementary school in Bethesda, to Mount Vernon, to Nationals Park—into the story. Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home, is in Northern Virginia, not that far away from Bethesda, after all, so it would make sense for Sam and his class to visit that historic site on a field trip—and then my imagination took over!

[My children visited Mount Vernon with their elementary schools too!]

I looked into George Washington-related artwork in the area, and a friend told me about the statue of George Washington at the National Cathedral, so I thought that would lend itself to an interesting scene. Many of the historical scenes in which Sam finds himself are not in the D.C. area but instead in New York and Pennsylvania, for example. I did some research on those areas to see how they might have appeared at the time.

Laura: Sam is dealing with a lot of disappointments: a changing friendship, losing the starring role in the class play. How does he grow and learn to cope with these things over the course of the story?

Deborah: Yes, Sam’s fifth-grade year is not starting off well. He and his former best friend, Andrew, are barely speaking—Andrew has joined a travel baseball team and is spending all his time with the kids on the team. And Sam, who generally gets the lead role in school plays, doesn’t get the starring role—as George Washington—in his class play this time; instead, the role goes to Oliver, a new kid in class whom Sam finds very annoying.

But his time-travel adventures with George Washington, courtesy of the magic tri-cornered hat, teach him a variety of lessons. Not to give too much away, but one of the most important involves friendship, and another involves the ability to believe in yourself.

Laura: The voice of the magic hat adds a lot of humor to the story. How did you go about creating a persona for the hat? Did you research any dialect or common phrases from George Washington’s time?

Deborah: The hat was such a fun character to create! I thought about various magic personalities in books I loved as a kid, including the Half Magic books by Edward Eager, which often featured curmudgeonly magical creatures, and the hat seemed to develop as I kept writing. I didn’t know exactly what its personality would be as I started.

I didn’t specifically research any dialect—I think a lifetime of reading classic novels and biographies gave me a sense of how the hat might sound—but I did read books that included some of George’s own writings, and I tried to make the hat—and also the George, Martha, and other 18th century characters—speak in a decidedly different way from Sam and his 21st century friends. I love to write dialogue, so I thoroughly enjoyed that part of the writing!

Laura: George Washington is the father of our country, but he was also a slave owner. Can you describe how you addressed that issue in the book?

Deborah: Yes, that’s an important question. I definitely wanted to address that issue in the book, and I thought a lot about the best way to do so. Sam is studying George Washington at school, and some of the scenes in the book featuring discussions in his class focus on the fact that many of the founders of this country were slave owners, and the terrible dichotomy between their owning other people and their advocating for freedom for the colonies.

I also have a scene in the book where Sam meets an 18th century African American boy about his own age, and that causes Sam to think about whether this child is a slave, and what his life would have been like. In addition, his former best friend, Andrew, is from a biracial family and that makes Sam ponder the issue in an even more personal way.

Laura: Will there be more titles in your “The President and Me” series? Which presidents would you most like to write about and why?

Deborah: Yes, this is the first one in a series, and I’m working on the second one, about John and Abigail Adams, now! For the time being, I’m proceeding in chronological order, and will see how it goes from there. Many kids have asked good questions, such as, “What will you do when you get to some boring presidents?” and, “What will you do when you get to a really bad president?” We shall see!

Of course, Abraham Lincoln would be amazing to write about because of his historic role during the Civil War and the fact that he’s up there in the pantheon of great presidents. His life story includes so many fascinating episodes. And I’d love to write about FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt, because of their leadership during the Great Depression and World War II. I hope to incorporate many of the First Ladies into the books as well, to recognize the important contribution of women throughout presidential history.


It’s Poetry Friday, so let’s find a great poem to pair with Deborah’s book. I know just the one. Check out this poem from DC area poet Justine Rowden’s book,  PAINT ME A POEM.


Find out more about PAINT ME A POEM, featuring art from the National Gallery in Washington, DC.

Thank you for stopping by today, Deborah and George.

For more of this week’s best posts on poetry for children and adults, stop by The Logonauts. Katie is hosting Poetry Friday this week.