by Laura Shovan

Poetry Friday: A Visit to the Sea Turtle Hospital

Brenda Harsham is hosting Poetry Friday this week. You’ll find poetry links from around the kidlitosphere at her blog, Friendly Fairy Tales.

Happy Poetry Friday, readers! It’s good to be back after a long hiatus.

In September, I visited the Florida Keys on a book research trip with writing friends. One of them, author and science educator Timanda Wertz, suggested that we visit the Sea Turtle Hospital in Marathon, Florida.

I learned so much about sea turtles. Funniest (and saddest) is that when sea turtles’ shells are damaged by a boat strike, air can become trapped in the healing carapace. That makes it difficult for the turtles to dive for food — a syndrome called Bubble Butt.

Yeah, I laughed too. The syndrome takes its name from a permanent resident of the hospital. (You can see photos of the original Bubble Butt here.) Turtles with Bubble Butt don’t do well in the wild, so they come to live at the hospital.

 

 

 

 

 

This was the highlight of the entire trip for me. (Author admission: It was even better than visiting Judy Blume’s bookstore in Key West.)

 

 

 

There were some brand new hatchlings among the turtles we visited…

 

 

 

 

 

… but my favorite was this guy. Look at that face!

 

 

 

 

 

Here is a sea turtle poem from the online journal Rattle.

Mary H. Palmer, RN, C, PhD

THE SEA TURTLE

Shoulder-deep in the sea turtle’s nest,
I search for remains, nothing alive.
The tiny turtles would have climbed
over each other, forming a living ladder
out of their sandy birth canal
leaving only the unhatched and dead behind.
Mongoose would have gotten any stragglers.
I am here only to count egg shells.
My hand reaches bottom and scoops up
sand and bits of leathery shells. In their midst,
I find a black soft lump, a hatchling left behind.
It remains listless until I gently stroke its belly
until its life flickers and catches hold
as a flame lays claim to a
candle wick.
It doesn’t have much of a chance.
Pelicans already circle. But waiting until night
so it can follow the moon to the
water is a death sentence too. I place it on
the sloping beach and whisper a prayer.

Now What?

Welcome to my weekly — I hope weekly … occasional? — news post. Look for “Now What?” most Mondays for book news, upcoming appearances, fun tidbits, and obligatory dog photos (ODPs).

I scoured the internet for a poem about Mondays, something I could use for the title of this regular feature. But Mondays are not a popular poem topic. And in song, they’re kind of a downer.

So I came up with an acronym: NOW WHAT? It stands for the items I hope to cover in each “Now What?” post:

News
Out and About
What I’m Reading

Where to?
Howard County (HoCo, MD) and Local Interest
Announcements
Takedown and The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary

Let’s jump in!

NEWS

It has been a poorly kept secret for months that author/activist Saadia Faruqi (Meet Yasmin!) and I are co-writing a middle grade novel. We finally got to announce our big news.

A Place at the Table sold to Jennifer Greene at Clarion Books. The book will be published in 2020. Saadia and I are thrilled!

I am interviewing people who are recent citizens or who grew up first generation American for this novel. If you’d be interested in doing a phone interview, please let me know in the comments.

OUT AND ABOUT
Last week, friends and I went to hear Jacqueline Woodson speak in Frederick, Maryland. There is so much to say about this event!

First, I wish every classroom would begin the year reading Woodson’s new picture book The Day You Begin together. Especially for those children who are new, or feel different, or worry that they don’t fit, this book extends a welcoming hand and reiterates that everyone has a story to share. I’m sending a signed copy of this book to Holabird Academy, the school that I am working with this year through #KidsNeedMentors.

Side note: Wonder of wonders, I bumped into a former student at this event. That *never* happens to me. I taught high school for five years when we lived in New Jersey, and stopped teaching in 1999. But there she was — Jacqueline Woodson’s publicist! There were lots of hugs and it was lovely to hear her speak about how important high school literature classes were and how much she loves working in kidlit.

The wonderful indie bookstore Curious Iguana co-sponsored this event. They have an amazing line-up of children’s authors planned for this fall, including Kate DiCamillo. Find out more here.

WHAT I’M READING

 

 

 

 

 

 

WHERE TO?
My next event is the Princeton Children’s Book Festival on Saturday, September 22.

HOWARD COUNTY AND LOCAL INTEREST

Wilde Readings literary and open mic series kicks off Tuesday, September 4 at Columbia Art Center. Hope to see you there. More info at our Facebook group.

ANNOUNCEMENTS

I’m thrilled to have a reverso poem in Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong’s latest book, GREAT MORNING. Special thanks to Janet. Between the two of us we sent out six copies of GREAT MORNING to schools in the #KidsNeedMentors program.

More info about the class I’m mentoring coming soon.

THE LAST FIFTH GRADE AND TAKEDOWN: Book News

The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary is on my local Battle of the Books list. Check out all of the 2019 HoCo Battle of the Books reads here.

Takedown was selected for PJ Our Way, which offers free books for Jewish kids ages 9-11. I am very proud to be part of this program.

 

 

 

See you next week. For now, your ODP:

Rudy is reading RUBY IN THE SKY by Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo

 

 

Poetry Friday: “Moving Day”

This week’s Poetry Friday host is Margaret Simon at Reflections on the Teche. Stop by her blog for all of this week’s Poetry Friday links.

The day is finally here. We are dropping our youngest child off at university.

As often happens in times of transition, a favorite poem is making me smile and giving me comfort.

I first read “Moving Day,” by poet J. C. Elkin in 2010, when my little one actually was little — just ten years old. I selected this funny, emotionally true sonnet for an anthology I was editing.

Life in Me Like Grass on Fire: Love Poems was published by MWA Books in 2011. It includes 100 poems by 50 Maryland poets. Some of them stay with me, some I’m reminded of when I open the book. And some of the poems, like Jane’s, grow with me as I meet the moment of the poem in my own life.

MOVING DAY
by J. C. Elkin

You moved into your dorm a sticky day.
We schlepped your stuff and sweat with no A. C.
I vowed I wouldn’t bawl. I’d be OK.
I, too, was moving on. Now I was free.
My mind a knot of hopes, unbidden fears.
A sign: Hydration — Health: Your Body’s Link.
A stupid thought to cap our eighteen years,
my last advice was, “Don’t forget to drink.”

A horde of tourists swarmed Colonial Town.
Your dad bought food. I found a bench outside.
I would have been just fine, but sitting down
I bumped my head, and cried, and cried, and cried.

My mother’s death. Your sister’s crash. Now this.
At least there’s always chocolate. Make it Swiss.

from Life in Me Like Grass on Fire: Love Poems
Shared with permission of the author, J. C. Elkin

Poetry Friday: Heartseeker

Join this week’s poetry party at the blog Nix the Comfort Zone. There, you will find poetry reviews, original verses, and favorite poems shared by the Poetry Friday blogging community.

Have you ever picked up a prose novel and — surprise! — at the start of every chapter there’s a poem to greet you?

When prose novelists incorporate poetry in any form, I’m happy.

In Possession, A.S. Byatt’s wonderful novel, modern literati uncover a secret Victorian romance. The whole story hinges on verses written by a fictional 19th century poet.

Lewis Carroll and J. R. R. Tolkien include invented verse — often in the form of songs shared by their characters — in their fantasy novels. Other authors — such as Cornelia Funke in her Inkheart series — use poetic epigraphs from a variety of authors at the beginning of chapters.

More recent examples: Nikki Grimes’ recent Between the Lines is, in part, about teen slam poets writing their own verses. I used poetry in my prose novel Takedown to show another side of athletic Lev’s character.

What are some writing-craft reasons why an author might choose to incorporate poetry into a prose novel?

I asked this question of debut middle grade novelist Melinda Beatty. Her wonderful fantasy, Heartseeker, published in June.  Here is the blurb from Goodreads:

A vibrant fantasy-adventure debut about a girl who can see lies.

You’re a Fallow of the Orchard. You’re as tough as a green apple in summer . . .

Only Fallow was just six harvests old when she realized that not everyone sees lies. For Only, seeing lies is as beautiful as looking through a kaleidoscope, but telling them is as painful as gnawing on cut glass. Only’s family warns her to keep her cunning hidden, but secrets are seldom content to stay secret.

When word of Only’s ability makes its way to the King, she’s plucked from her home at the orchard and brought to the castle at Bellskeep. There she learns that the kingdom is plagued by traitors, and that her task is to help the King distinguish between friend and foe. But being able to see lies doesn’t necessarily mean that others aren’t able to disguise their dishonesty with cunnings of their own.

In the duplicitous, power-hungry court, the truth is Only’s greatest weapon . . . and her greatest weakness.

Each chapter of Heartseeker begins with a poem, song, or piece of religious verse. Not from our world, but from Orstral — Melinda’s invented universe — with its rural farmers, Romani-like barge community, and palace intrigues.

Here is the poem that starts the readers’ journey, right at the top of Chapter 1:

Call out, call out, you loud jays, you honey-throated sparrows!
Sing out the summer as it pours into the valleys,
Into the Hush, the Rill, the Lannock and the Blue.
Cry warmth for the Sandkin plains,
For the Mollier vines.
Life up your voices for gentle Dorvan tides
and cool Folque stone.
You sons and daughters of Orstral,
Join the chorus of the coming long light!

–Jylla Burris, poet, Songs of Orstral

When I finished Heartseeker (I sped through the last 100 pages — couldn’t put it down!), I stopped to think about this technique. Fascinating! Through brief poems and verse snippets, Melinda was able to communicate information about the world of the story, a world that was new to me, but clearly one with a unique history, various cultures and belief systems, ruling families, and social mores.

Here’s what Melinda had to say:

When I lived in Britain, it occurred to me that every culture’s got their touchstones—the things everyone knows, whether it’s old television shows, books, politics or scandal. Once I got a broader understanding, especially of the entertainment, I understood a little more about what shaped the people I interacted with every day. Writing songs, stories and poetry from the different peoples of Orstral helped me get to know them—to know what they all had in common, whether that was a rhyme that everyone knew from the cradle, or a bawdy pub tune.

What do you think of this technique? How does it help you, as a reader, connect to the story? I’d love to hear about some novels you’ve read that incorporate poetry, either as a plot element or to help with the world-building in some way. Please share your favorites in the comments.

Melinda Beatty has had years of practice trying to explain to others why she was just having an imaginary conversation between two people that don’t exist, so becoming a writer seemed like the best way to stop everyone looking at her funny. 

After years of narrowboat living on the English canals, she and her British husband are now back on dry land in Maryland where by day, she’s a mild-mannered Indie bookseller, and by night, she wrangles words, craft projects, a Labrador and two fierce mini-women. HEARTSEEKER is her debut novel.

You can connect with Melinda for news or banter at mmbeatty.com or on Twitter @poorrobin.

Read a Poem to a Child

This week’s PF host is Mary Lee Hahn. You’ll find links to all of this week’s poetry posts at A Year of Reading.

Happy Poetry Friday, everyone.

Today, I’m sharing an opportunity from my friends at 100 Thousand Poets for Change.

Dear Poets and Poetry Lovers,

Will you read a poem to a child on September 29 as part of the 100 Thousand Poets for Change Global initiative “Read A Poem To A Child?”

This seems to be an important year to highlight the significance of children in the world. We are increasingly aware of their fragility. It is time to take a moment in this busy, crazy life we live, and share something we cherish. Poetry is our gift.

If you will read a poem or poems to a child or children on September 29, please visit the 100 Thousand Poets for Change Facebook page. Post “I’m In!” and your city name as a comment.

Interpret “Read A Poem To A Child” how you like. I hope to record and post a video — maybe reading a poem from The Last Fifth Grade, or a favorite poem from when I was a kid — something that my teacher friends can share with their students. If you have a child at home, grandchild or honorary niece or nephew in your life, perfect!

100 TPC’s organizers are also collecting suggestions of websites, books, and resources where people can find poems to share with kids, such as Poetry 180. Feel free to send along your favorites.

Thank you.

Laura

#ILA18 “A Sense of Place: Middle-grade Novels on Loss and Connection.”

Among our basic needs is a place of safety and belonging, yet many children face situation where their communities are under threat. A panel of middle-grade author/educators will model how they use literature to spark conversations on home and community, security, and identity. Three brief lesson plans, centered on exploring the meaning of place and designed to appeal to students with different learning styles, will be presented, followed by an opportunity for attendees to try out these activities in small groups.

Ruth W. Freeman, South Portland School Department, South Portland, ME
Karina Yan Glaser, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, NY
Janet Sumner Johnson, Capstone Young Readers, Logan, UT
Laura Shovan, Random House Children’s Books, Ellicott City, MD
Tricia Springstubb, Balzer and Bray, Cleveland Heights, OH

HANDOUT INFORMATION

A Sense of Place: Middle-grade Novels on Loss and Connection

Ruth Freeman: ruthfreemanbooks.com
Karina Glaser: Karinaglaser.com
Janet Sumner Johnson: janetsumnerjohnson.com
Laura Shovan: laurashovan.com
Tricia Springstubb: triciaspringstubb.com

Mentor Texts (Books that deal with loss & connection in regards to place):

Crenshaw (Katherine Applegate)
Home Of The Brave (Katherine Applegate)
Front Desk (Kelly Yang)
The War That Saved My Life (Kimberly Brubaker Baker)
14 Hollow Road (Jenn Bishop)
The Epic Fail Of Arturo Zamora (Pablo Cartaya)
Counting Thyme (Melanie Conklin)
It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel (Firoozeh Dumas)
City Of Ember (Jeanne Duprau)
Last Day On Mars (Kevin Emerson)
One Good Thing About America (Ruth Freeman)
The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street (Karina Glaser)
Refugee (Alan Gratz)
The Night Diary (Veera Hiranandani)
The Last Great Adventure of the PB&J Society (Janet Sumner Johnson)
Amina’s Voice (Hena Khan)
Inside Out And Back Again (Thanhha Lai)
Listen, Slowly (Thanhha Li)
The Exact Location Of Home (Kate Messner)
The Stars Beneath Our Feet (David Barclay Moore)
A Long Walk To Water (Linda Sue Park)
A Different Pond (Bao Phi, Illustrated By Thi Bui)
The House That Lou Built (Mae Respicio)
The Shadow Cipher (Laura Ruby)
Esperanza Rising (Pam Munoz Ryan)
The City On The Other Side (Mairghread Scott)
Paper Wishes (Lois Sepahban)
The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary (Laura Shovan)
Every Single Second (Tricia Springstubb)
What Happened on Fox Street (Tricia Springstubb)
Locomotion (Jacqueline Woodson)

LESSON PLANS CENTERED ON EXPLORING THE  MEANING OF PLACE

Mapmaking Mini-lesson

Place shapes a child’s experiences, relationships, and perceptions of both herself and the wider world. This exercise helps students consider the places they live in a concrete, visual way, and allows them to take ownership of their environments.

—Children think about where they live, usually their street and streets nearby. Children unable to explore their neighborhoods can think about their houses or apartments. Some children may not consider where they live now home and want to draw another place. Encourage students to picture where they most feel “at home”.

—Children draw maps that include their house in relation to places important in their lives: school, homes of friends and relatives, a playground, favorite shops, places of worship….Drawing skills are not important–this is their map!

—Children annotate places where they’ve made observations/discoveries or had memorable experiences. Later, these notes can serve as catalysts for writing personal narratives.

—Children share and discuss their maps. Encourage questions, comparing and contrasting.

Kinetic Discussion Activity

Discussion of a text is always a great way to help students reflect on what they value in their homes and communities. Those discussions are more fun and memorable when a kinetic element is added. One example is an exercise called “Crossing the Line.”

  1. Prepare agree/disagree statements on the themes from the text you wish to discuss.
  2. Make a line, and have all students start on one side of the line. If they agree with the statement, they cross the line. If they disagree, they stay.
  3. Prepare follow-up questions to help them process what they learned/felt through the kinetic activity.
    (Classroom Activities: Discussion With Your Feet, TeachHub.com, Referenced 17 July 2018 from http://www.teachhub.com/classroom-activities-discussions-your-feet)

Additional online resources with ideas for kinetic discussions:

  • The Big List of Class Discussion Strategies by Jennifer Gonzalez: https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/speaking-listening-techniques/
  • 5 Ways to Make Class Discussions More Exciting by Dr. Richard Curwin: https://www.edutopia.org/blog/make-class-discussions-more-exciting-richard-curwin

Ode to Place Mini Lesson

Goal: Students will write an ode to a favorite or important place in their lives.
Literary skills: Use hyperbole and imagery to create the celebratory tone of a poetic ode.
Materials: Baggies of everyday objects for hyperbole exercise. (Paperclip, crayons, tissue, etc.) Copies of model poem, such as “Harlem Is the Capital of My World.” (Tony Medina, Love to Langston)

1. Introduce concept: Odes are poems of praise and celebration.
2. Review key tools of an ode: Description/imagery of the five senses, simile, hyperbole.
3. If time: Hyperbole exercise
Groups: examine an everyday object.
Give three reasons why this object is amazing. Exaggeration encouraged!
4. Read and discuss mentor text.
Reactions.
Share description, simile, hyperbole that jumps out at you.
5. Write an ode.
Cross out and replace key words in the model poem to create an ode.
Share drafts with class

ILA 2018: Where You’ll Find Me

Going to ILA 2018 in Austin this weekend? I’ll see you there!

This is where you’ll find me.

Sunday, 7/22, 12 pm — Autograph session at the Random House Children’s Books booth.

 

 

Sunday, 7/22, 5 pm — Panel session, “A Sense of Place: Middle-grade Novels on Loss and Connection.” With author/educator Ruth Freeman, and middle grade authors Karina Yan Glaser, Janet Sumner Johnson, Tricia Springstubb, and me. Come join in this important conversation.

 

 

Poetry Friday: Adjusted Curriculum

This week’s Poetry Friday host is Heidi Mordhorst at My Juicy Little Universe. I hope she’s serving some rhymonade.

Business first, then a poem.

First, Tabatha Yeatts, you are the winner of the NITA’S FIRST SIGNS book giveaway! Congratulations!

Second, I am heading to the ILA conference this weekend. Look for a post later this afternoon with details about my panel session with MG authors Tricia Springstubb, Karina Yan Glaser, Janet Sumner Johnson, and Ruth Freeman. I’ll also be signing copies of my new middle grade novel, TAKEDOWN.

Third, I had a lovely time participating in Margaret Gibson Simon’s blog tour for BAYOU SONG earlier this week. If you haven’t had a chance to read that post yet, you’ll find it here.

Now, a poem.

It comes with a trigger warning.

My friend, the poet Tim Singleton, wrote this piece on February 15, 2018, in response to the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.

“Adjusted Curriculum” was recently published in Dragonfly Arts Magazine. This is a literary journal put out by HopeWorks,  our local rape crisis and domestic violence center. After the poem, you will find more information about HopeWorks.

Adjusted Curriculum, 15 February 2018
by Tim Singleton

Math Class: today we learn to count… bodies.

In Physics, we’ll discuss if heated metal sings
as it tears through air, or is the first sound it makes
that scream into flesh, the blood sizzle?

The skeleton in the back of Biology
is mute with horror:

…what those with meat on their bones do.

The Guidance Office wants the smoke to clear
before you start on college applications.

In Home Economics, we’ll find the best way
to get the stain of a friend’s laughter
out of the air.

All that is left to do in Gym
is pick up and re-rack the balls,
maybe close a few lockers,
swab the floor.

The ink of History is blood;
the next chapter of the textbook
is always empty, waiting to be written.
Everyone have a pen?

In Art class, be quick when you draw from memory,
get the idea on to paper before the person you knew
fades away, disappears.

How many eulogies must we turn in to receive full
credit for this English assignment?

Dragonfly Arts Magazine Cover Art “Portrait D” by Michelle Nguyen

HopeWorks is our local rape crisis and domestic violence center. Dragonfly is one of their many projects that recognize the arts’ role in healing.

Click on the image for more information about HopeWorks.

A Visit to the Bayou

Welcome, readers. We’re going on a field trip today!

Don’t worry, there are no planes, trains, or automobiles involved in this trip. To join me on Louisiana’s Bayou Teche, all you need to do is open the pages of a book.

Bayou Song was published in June by University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press. You can find it on Indiebound.

We have two tour guides to the plant and animal life, the sights and sounds of the bayou. Poet and educator Margaret Gibson Simon and illustrator Anna Amelia Cantrell. The book also includes photography by Henry Cancienne. (Note: The photographs were not available in my review copy of Bayou Song.)

From the opening poem and images of our Bayou Song experience, Margaret and Anna invite us to read, explore, write our own poems, sketch, and learn about the natural world of this unique landscape.

Although I have traveled to many states and a few countries, I have never been to Louisiana. As a lifelong resident of the Mid-Atlantic states (New Jersey and Maryland, specifically), I found this poetic field guide to the bayou fascinating. For each animal, plant, and tree featured in the book, the reader is treated to brief informative text and photos, a poem and accompanying illustration, and a “you try” spread with prompts — and extra space — for writing and drawing.

Let’s take a peek at one stop on the tour: Bald Cypress Trees.

From Bayou Song: Creative Explorations of the South Louisiana Landscape. Click on the picture for a better view.

You’ll find photographs of Bald Cypress trees at the National Forest Foundation’s Sentinels of the Swamp page. Now let’s look at the poem and illustration.

Click on the image to get a closer look.

Cypress Zeno
by Margaret Gibson Simon

They stick up like a woody weed
grounding cypress
roots that
hold
sculpted figures
growing
bold.
Not really knees
so I’m
told.

Do you ask questions when you’re on a tour? I usually do. Here are a few things I wanted to ask Margaret:

You have not always lived near the bayou. What were your first impressions of it?

I grew up in Jackson, Mississippi.  Purple Creek ran behind my childhood home. It was a small body of water, but I remember taking walks in the woods over the “waterfall” which was actually a group of concrete scraps.  The sounds of nature and the animals that lived near water have always attracted me.  My parents currently live on a lake.  The herons, ducks, and Canada geese on their lake have all made their way into my poems. Waterways have always been a part of my life.

My first impressions of the bayou were more cautious and fearful than they are now.  After spending time out canoeing with my husband, I am not so worried about the creatures there.  I once watched a snake back away from our canoe as it tried to ingest a large fish.  It was actually more fascinating than frightening.

How has this setting influenced your writing?

I don’t think I have yet exhausted the ways I can write about the bayou.  As I answer your questions, I am looking out at the setting sun beaming a light on a cypress tree and listening to the loud cicadas.  Poetry allows me to capture this amazing setting over and over.

If you were playing tour guide for a friend who had never been to the bayou, where would you take them? What would you want them to see? 

We have taken visitors on canoe trips on the bayou.  I would not take them in any other kind of boat.  A canoe makes you one with the water.  You become part of the bayou.  The experience is slow and peaceful.  I would show them grandmother oak in our backyard, a live oak that is one of the oldest in New Iberia, 250+ years. I would also show them the fields of sugarcane and the old mill down the bayou.  I’d take them to a boardwalk off Main Street or on a walk in City Park.  We have a plantation home, The Shadows on the Teche, where I’ve taken students on a writing marathon.  The grounds are beautiful and make you feel like you are walking in a different time. I hope you will come someday, Laura.

I would love that, Margaret. “A canoe makes you one with the water” is tugging at my heart already.

Margaret Simon is a Mississippi native who married into a Louisiana life.  She lives on the Bayou Teche in New Iberia, Louisiana with her husband, Jeff.  Their now empty nest once housed three daughters, Maggie, Katherine, and Martha.  Margaret has been an elementary school teacher for 31 years, most recently teaching gifted students in Iberia Parish.  She has published poems in the journal The Aurorean, anthologies for Today’s Little Ditty, in Poetry Friday Power Book Here We Go, and in National Geographic’s the Poetry of US.  Border Press published her collection of poems with her father’s Christmas card art, Illuminate in fall of 2013.  Blessen, a novel for young readers, was published in April 2012, also by Border Press. In her teaching profession, she has a Masters degree in Gifted Education and certification by the National Boards for Professional Teaching Standards.  Margaret writes a blog regularly at http://reflectionsontheteche.com.

Would you like to know more about Bayou Song? Continue your tour at these blogs, where you’ll find more poems and illustrations from the book, interviews with Margaret Gibson Simon, and other surprises.

Friday, June 22: Michelle Kogan
Tuesday, June 26: Catherine Flynn at Reading to the Core
Friday, July 6: Kimberly Hutmacher at Kimberly Hutmacher Writes
Friday, July 13: Linda Mitchell at A Word Edgewise
Tuesday, July 17: Laura Shovan 
Tuesday, July 24 Amanda Potts at Persistence and Pedagogy
Friday, July 27: Carol Varsalona at Beyond LiteracyLink
Monday, July 30 Linda Baie at Teacher Dance
Friday, Aug. 3 Dani Burtsfield at Doing the Work that Matters

Poetry Friday Giveaway: Nita’s First Signs

It’s Poetry Friday! Hooray for Sylvia Vardell, who is hosting this week’s blog roll at Poetry for Children. Thanks, Sylvia!

Hi, friends and poets. Happy Poetry Friday!

A few weeks ago I went to a friend’s book launch. I’ve blogged about YA author Kathy MacMillan before, when her debut novel SWORD AND VERSE published. (Read my post about SWORD AND VERSE here.)

Kathy’s latest book is something completely different: A board book story that teaches children and families how to use basic American Sign Language (ASL) together. In addition to being a fun read with great illustrations, NITA’S FIRST SIGNS has the *coolest* design. Hidden sliding pages reveal illustrations of how to make signs like “ball,” “love,” “more,” and “milk.”

NITA’S FIRST SIGNS is published by Familius Press.

Be sure to leave a comment if you’d like to be entered into a giveaway: A signed copy of NITA’S FIRST SIGNS, plus some other fun ASL-related treats.

Kathy and I have talked a few times about posting an ASL poem for Poetry Friday. I’m so glad to welcome her to the blog today. We’ll be taking a look at the poem “Dandelion” by Clayton Valli. As Kathy, who is an ASL interpreter and trainer,  pointed out, “This will be a new way of experiencing poetry for most of your readers.” It certainly was for me.

Welcome, Kathy!

When Laura asked me to select a poem to go with her post about my book, Nita’s First Signs, I was so excited to share some American Sign Language (ASL) poetry with her readers.

ASL poetry does not have a written form; it is composed and performed entirely in American Sign Language.  While I could give you a rough transcript of what the poem means, that would not do justice to the cleverness and beauty or the interplay of form and meaning that an ASL poet shapes. ASL poetry simply must be experienced in a visual medium. For that reason, I will give you a description of the events and meanings in the poem, and then let you experience watching it for yourself.

Meter, alliteration, rhythm, and rhyme are used in an entirely different way in a visual language. For example, a rhyme in ASL may consist of using two signs with similar handshapes to create a pleasing association, or adjusting the movement of the signs to lend visual harmony to the poem.

The poem I have chosen is a classic of ASL literature: “Dandelion” by Dr. Clayton Valli. Dr. Valli was a pioneer in ASL poetry and linguistics, and was one of the first people to analyze the characteristics of ASL poetry.

The poem, which is a little over a minute long, addresses the centuries-long oppression of Deaf people by the hearing world, which has long tried to eradicate deafness. Valli uses the image of dandelions to represent Deaf people and sign language itself.  The man who pulls up and mows down the dandelions represents the hearing world trying to destroy Deaf culture. Valli uses various linguistic tools called classifiers to show the shape and movement of the dandelions as they grow and change. In the end, just like dandelions, the Deaf community has demonstrated a will to survive.

I chose this poem because it emphasizes the intrinsic value and beauty of ASL and the Deaf community. While Nita’s First Signs can be enjoyed by any families — hearing, Deaf, or hard-of-hearing — it is, at its heart, a story about the value of communication. Some readers have told me they think that Nita is Deaf, and some say hearing.  The truth is, it doesn’t matter — because the most important gift any parent can give their child is the gift of communication.  Giving a child the tools to communicate sends the message that we truly value what they have to say.

***

Thanks for visiting, Kathy, and for sharing Dr. Valli’s poem.

Kathy MacMillan is a writer, American Sign Language interpreter, librarian, signing storyteller, and avowed Hufflepuff.  Nita’s First Signs, the first book in the Little Hands Signing board book series from Familius Press, was praised as “a wonderful introduction to the world of American Sign Language…for ALL infants, toddlers children AND adults” by Marlee Matlin. She is also the author of eight resource books for educators, librarians, and parents, including Little Hands and Big Hands: Children and Adults Signing Together (Huron Street Press, 2013). Her debut young adult novel, Sword and Verse (2016) was a finalist for the Compton Crook Award, and its companion novel, Dagger and Coin (2018) has been called a “complex feminist fantasy” by author Heidi Heilig. Kathy serves as the co-Regional Advisor for the Maryland/Delaware/West Virginia Region of the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.  She lives near Baltimore, MD. Find her online atwww.kathymacmillan.com or on social media @kathys_quill.

Check out some of my favorite photos from the NITA’S FIRST SIGNS book launch at Baltimore’s Ivy Bookshop. Remember to leave a comment for a chance to win a signed book and goodies. I will draw a name on Thursday 7/19 and will announce the winner next Poetry Friday, 7/20.

Kathy signs alongside Renee Bertaux, an ASL interpreting intern.

Kathy signs “eat” with a young reader.

Find out more about Kathy’s Stories by Hand workshops here.