Archives: Poetry Friday

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


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.

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.

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 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.


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.

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 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.

The Pool Is the Capital of My Summer: Odes to Place

Buffy Silverman is hosting Poetry Friday this week. Stop by Buffy’s Blog for poetry links from around the kidlitosphere.

Happy Poetry Friday and welcome back to Northfield Elementary School. Today, the third grade poets are working on odes.

I’ve been doing an elementary school workshop on odes for many years. Usually, my model poem is “Ode to Pablo’s Tennis Shoes,” by Gary Soto. When it’s time to write, I have the kids take off a shoe, put it on their desks, and really examine it.

You’ll find my article about that lesson on my *Padlet page. Look for “Article: Kids Write Odes to Their Shoes.”

This year, I wanted to try something different and get kids writing odes to a favorite place. The model poem for this workshop is “Harlem Is the Capital of My World,” from Tony Medina’s wonderful picture book/verse biography of Langston Hughes, LOVE TO LANGSTON. It is spoken in the voice of Langston Hughes.

Harlem Is the Capital of My World
by Tony Medina

Harlem is the capital of my world
black and beautiful and bruised
like me

Harlem has soul — it’s where black people
care about black people and everybody’s
child belongs to the community

Where we be stylin’ and profilin’
with concrete streets stretched out
under our feet and boulevards broad
and spread like a red carpet for royalty

The King of Swing
The Duke of Ellington
The Empress of the Blues

Harlem is a bouquet of black roses
all packed together and protected
by blackness and pride

Harlem is where I reside
where I work and stride
my dark community
from the East River to
St. Nicholas Avenue with
nightclubs and cabarets
spilling over with jazz
and bluesy urban spirituals
(it’s not miracle we survive!)

Why I fell in love with Harlem
before I ever got here!

Yeah, Harlem is where I be —
where I could be


Harlem is the capital of my world

From Love to Langston, by Tony Medina, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie (Lee & Low Books, 2002). Shared with permission of the author.

The third graders and I talked about three important elements in an ode:
*Imagery of the five senses.
*Similes (these can be developed from the sensory images).
*Hyperbole (similes can be used to create hyperbole).

The students are familiar with imagery and similes, but hyperbole was a new concept. They picked it up quickly. In each class, someone noticed the phrase “like a red carpet for royalty” in Tony’s poem. It’s a simile — there’s not literally a red carpet running down the street in New York City. But it’s also a hyperbole, an exaggeration to make the point that Langston Hughes believed the people of Harlem were as important as kings and queens.

I loved the way that the Northfield poets incorporated some of Tony’s poetic structure into their own odes.

Poet: Desmond

The Pool Is the Capital of My Summer

The pool is the capital of my summer,
blue and wet like water.

The pool smells like weird chlorine in the water.
The kids playing like crazy fish.

The pool has toys and water slides,
tasty sandwiches after and bumpy water.

The pool is splashing.
The kids are playing.
The whistle is blowing.

The pool is where I want to be
all summer long.

Poet: Delaney

Broadkill Beach Is the Capital of My Summer

Broadkill Beach is the capital
of my summer.

In Broadkill all I
can smell is the amazing
salty ocean water.
The smell is as nice
as the smell of chocolate.

In Broadkill all I feel
is the nice warm towel I
am laying on and when
I go swimming I feel
the nice cool water engulfing me.

In Broadkill all I can
see is the amazing ocean
view. The view is as beautiful
as a shiny diamond.

In Broadkill all I can taste
is the sweet juicy taste of

In Broadkill all I can hear
is the soft ocean breeze
of the beach.

Broadkill Beach is the capital
of my summer.

Poet: Elisa

Water Country Is the Capital of My Vacation

Water Country is the capital of my vacation,
fun and amazing like the  mystical world.

Water Country is like a rainstorm in a tunnel.

The splish and splash of water
dripping down the edge of the waterslide
and hitting the ground.
The sun is as hot as the oven.

Water Country was a forest of waterslides
and a field of yummy ice cream stands.

Water Country has trees that smell like honey.
Water Country is a relaxing, sunny fun
and yummy WONDERLAND.

Poet: Suswara

The Forest Is the Capital of My Life

The forest is life.
Many animals, bushes, bark, and trees
belong to the forest.

It is their home, where their vines
make a beautiful sight.
The dirt beneath the animals’ feet
like smooth dog fur.

The vine of greenness.
The specks of rain.
The flower of happiness.

The forest is like a bunch of natural life
tucked in together.

The forest is where I love to be.
It is beside me and behind me.

The forest became my favorite place
when I first took a look at it.

The forest isn’t where I get to go every day.
I only go sometimes.

But still,
the forest is where I love to be.

Poet: Tessa

Dance Is the Soul to My Life!

Dance is the soul to my life,
elaborate, bright, and inviting
like me.

Dance has a soul.
It’s where people feel the music
and create. Everyone
has a beat.

Where we are movin’ and groovin’
we skip and jump to the beat
with lava on our feet.

The Teacher of Jazz.
The Ruler of Chackety.
The Queen of the Studio.

Dance is a painting of colorful pictures
all put together and united
to make a gallery.

Dance is where I express,
where I show my expressions
with a world of colors
so bright it sticks with you
all day and all night.

From here to there to everywhere–
ballet, jazz, hip-hop, and modern—
everywhere over the world.

When dance came to me
I finally felt alive.

Dance came to me,
it’s where I get to be

Dance is the soul of my life.

Thanks to the Northfield educators and families for allowing me to share the third graders’ wonderful poems.

Posts in the “Poems from the Northfield Third Grade” 2018 series:
Poetry Friday List Poem Lesson
A Garden of Words: 3rd Grade List Poems
The Pool Is the Capital of My Summer: Odes to Place
Third Grade Odes from Northfield E.S.
Fractured Fairy Tale Poems
Poetry Friday: Once Upon a Time
A Gallery of Poems

Poetry Friday: List Poem Lesson

This week’s Poetry Friday host is Margaret Simon at Reflections on the Teche. Margaret has a new book of poems coming out, BAYOU SONG. I can’t wait!

Welcome back to Northfield Elementary School, Poetry Friday friends.

This is my twelfth year as Northfield’s poet-in-residence, working with the third grade team. The annual poetry residency is sponsored by the school PTA’s cultural arts committee, and by an Artist-in-Residence grant from the Maryland State Arts Council. Thank you!

This has been a great teaching partnership for me. I learn new things from Northfield’s educators every year.

You will find “Words in My Pillow,” by Naomi Shihab Nye, in this anthology: FALLING DOWN THE PAGE: A Book of List Poems, Edited by Georgia Heard.

Our first workshop was the list poem, which I haven’t done in a few years. Naomi Shihab Nye’s “Words in My Pillow” from the anthology Falling Down the Page was our model. You can read my initial plan for this lesson at Today’s Little Ditty.

A few years ago, I wrote my own “Words in My ___ Poem” to close out our National Poetry Month series on poems about clothes. It was titled “Words in My Closet.” You can read it at this post.

Because “Words in my Pillow” is about words and language, the third graders and I spent a lot of time talking about juicy words. A poem called “Words in My Dog” might include specific nouns (TREATS, WATER, TONGUE), descriptive adjectives and verbs (BARK, FLUFFY, FAST, LICK), but it might also have “states of being” — things we can’t really see (LOVE, COMFORT, KINDNESS).

Because this was our first lesson, I encouraged the students to stick as close to Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem as they wanted to. We did this by writing a “cross-out” poem. Using a print-out of “Words in My Pillow,” the poets strike-through any words they want to replace with their own ideas. It looks like this:

Words in My Piano
By Shanthi S.

I hide words inside my piano.
Words that sound good–


No one can see them
but I find them waiting for me.
Like the strings hiding inside the keyboard.
No one can see it
but I know what’s in there —


RHYTHM is in there.
TUNING is in there.

The words are playing together
when I am saying or thinking them.

is in my piano.

My friends the words
go to play music before I do.
But they never
go away.


Words in the Gym
By Bettina

I hide words inside the gym.
Words that worry me a lot—


No one can see them until it comes out of nowhere
and crashes right in you like a ball
but I find them waiting for me as I get my hopes up.
Like the unsure hiding inside my body.
No one can see it, they’re too tall to feel it
but I know what’s in there—and all the other shorties.


CYCLES are in there.
HOPES are in there.

The words are bouncing together
When I am saying or thinking them.

is in the gym.

My friends the words
go to bed before I do.
But they never go away. And I’ll
just have to deal
with it.

Words in My Hideout
By Isabella

I hide words inside my hideout.
Words that feel cozy—


No one can see my cave
but I find it waiting for me
like a fox hiding in the forest.
No one can see it
but I know it’s there—


STUFFIES are in there.
ART SUPPLIES are in there.

The words are sneaking around
when I am saying or thinking them.

HAPPINESS is in my hideout.

My friends the words
go to play before I do.
But they never go away.

Words in My Pool
By Ashwin

I see words inside my pool.
Words that flow well—


Everyone can see them.
They are everywhere
like the person hiding behind the waterfall.
No one can see him
but I know who is in there.


BUGS are in there.
PLANTS are in there.

The words are bouncing together
When I am saying or thinking them.

is in my pool.

My friends the words
go to swim before I do.
But they never swim away.

Words in the River
Poet: Katherine

I hide words inside the water.
Words that flow good—


No one can see them
but I find them waiting for me.
Like the voice telling me to jump.
No one can see it
but I know what’s in there—


The words are splashing together
When I am saying or thinking them.

is in my river.

My friends the words
go to bed before I do.
But they never float away.


Words in My Video Games
By Ryan

There are words in my video games.
Here’s my words of VICTORY!–


But I have losing words too


Video games have names (obviously).
Mine are–

are my video games.

My friends like video  games
and so do I.
But they never
Get old!

Words in My Name
By Ella

I have words inside my name.
You might not know it—


No one can see them
but I find them waiting for me.
Like the girl inside my body.
No one can see it,
but I know what’s in there—


SECRETS are in there.
CRAZINESS is in there.

The words are bouncing together
When I am saying or thinking them.

is in my name.

My friends the letters
get written down on my paper.
But they never go away.

All poems shared with permission.

When I first ran this workshop in 2015, I blogged about what went well. Here’s what I wrote at that time, plus a few adjustments I made to the lesson.

  • This was a good choice for the first lesson of a residency. The children liked being able to focus on the basic element of a poem: words. Of course, we always focus on words in poetry. But Naomi Shihab Nye’s model poem is about the words we carry around in our heads. Starting with something so basic and important on Day 1 provided a strong foundation for future writing.
  • This is the first time I’ve encouraged students to plug into a model poem. Some of the third graders took the model poem “Words in My Pillow,” crossed out the lines and words they wanted to change, and wrote their own words into those spaces. They responded well to having this structure for our first day of writing together. (Update: This turned out to be a great strategy! This year, some students used the cross-out poem for their odes too.)
  • “Words in My Pillow” can adapt to any topic. Because what we’re really talking about is language — words — the poem could be called “Words in My Dinosaur,” “Words in My Garbage Can,” or “Words in My Suitcase.” We have the structure of the poem, but also the freedom to come up with a topic the poet cares about.

UPDATE: When we think about “juicy words,” many third graders focus on nouns — the literal things they might find in a garden, their desk at school, the refrigerator. I added a brainstorming activity to this lesson. Together, the class creates a “Words in My School” or “Words in My Teacher” poem. We break into small groups. Each group is assigned to brainstorm words for our poem.

One group comes up with 3 or more objects/nouns that would be in a school (desk, white board, cafeteria, playground). The next group thinks of adjectives to describe the school: fun, busy, loud. Another group has action words/verbs: learn, study, play. “Feeling words” was another group’s job — states of being like nervous, happy, bored. Last and most challenging — “idea words” — these are larger concepts such as community, friendship, perseverance.

Although this pre-writing activity added 10-15 minutes to the lesson, it helped the third graders stretch when they thought about which juicy words to add to the poem.

Posts in the “Poems from the Northfield Third Grade” 2018 series:
Poetry Friday List Poem Lesson
A Garden of Words: 3rd Grade List Poems
The Pool Is the Capital of My Summer: Odes to Place
Third Grade Odes from Northfield E.S.
Fractured Fairy Tale Poems
Poetry Friday: Once Upon a Time
A Gallery of Poems

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.”

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

a final score
have ended


no more.

No more
tossing a ball–

No more
rising up from a fall.

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!



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.