Thursday, October 20, 2016

ARE YOU AN ECHO? Behind the Scenes

An Interview with Are You an Echo? Author David Jacobson and Translator Sally Ito
by Janet Wong

I am half-Chinese and half-Korean, but my father’s closest friends were Japanese Americans, Nisei. I loved visiting Little Tokyo in Los Angeles when I was a child, picking boxes of mochi at Fugetsu-Do, leafing through paper at Bun-ka Do, stocking up on senbei crackers and Botan candy at Umeya, and listening to taiko drummers at festivals. When I saw Are You an Echo? (published by Chin Music Press) and its blend of images from traditional and contemporary Japan, I was transported to my childhood and immediately full of questions for author David Jacobson (DJ) and translator Sally Ito (SI).

JW: I’d like to urge readers to order Are You an Echo? in time for Japanese Culture Day, Bunka no Hi, celebrated on November 3rd. Can you tell us about that holiday?

DJ: Though originally established to honor Japan’s Emperor Meiji on his birthday, Bunka no Hi was recast after World War II to promote the arts and scholarship. Today, many schools hold culture festivals and art exhibitions and universities announce new research projects. Also on that day, the emperor announces the Order of Culture award to those who have made significant advancement in the arts or sciences. Which is why it is so appropriate that we celebrate Misuzu Kaneko at this time. 

JW: Your book has received glowing reviews, most notably from Betsy Bird in School Library Journalso I suspect that it is already on the wish lists of many librarians, teachers, parents, and poetry fans. What would you say to convince a person to order the book now, rather than continue to wait? 

SI: Well, I am of the mind that if a book appeals to you now, you should get it immediately!  

DJ: I think this book offers so much–Misuzu’s wonderful poetry, the story of her life, the rediscovery of her work after the earthquake and tsunami of 2011. Moreover, it’s accompanied by Toshi’s beautiful illustrations, which give an accurate depiction of bygone Japan. All this in just 64 pages, which you can read in 10 minutes.

JW: Do you have any recommendations for how a librarian or teacher should approach sharing your book with students? Are there, for instance, certain websites or multimedia resources that you would like teachers to introduce to students before (or immediately after) they read your book?

DJ: I think the book offers librarians and teachers a choice as to whether they share her life story, or just share her poetry. Any of the poems in the latter part of the book can stand alone for use on a “Poetry Friday.” For more advanced students, teachers can read the initial narrative section of the book, then ask their students how the inclusion of poetry within the narrative adds to the effect. How do the poems help you understand Misuzu? Does their inclusion in the story change how you read the poems?

SI: Chin Music has created a website for Misuzu Kaneko and her poetry. In addition to that, I also wrote an essay called “Forgotten Woman” which is on the Electric Literature website.

JW: I enjoyed reading your Electric Literature piece, Sally, and learning about how you discovered Misuzu’s poetry. As you noted, “her viewpoint on the world of living things was unique”; something that her poem “Big Catch” demonstrates well. “Big Catch” might be my favorite poem by Misuzu. Which poems in the book are your favorites?

DJ: One of my favorites is the last poem in the anthology, “Day and Night.” Sally suggested this, as she wanted to include one of the more philosophical and “challenging” poems. In just a few words, Kaneko poses questions that probably occur to many children:  Where does day stop and night begin? Does time have a beginning and end? Illustrator Toshi Hajiri complements the poem brilliantly by envisioning a child jumping rope, which divides night and day.

SI: “Stars and Dandelion” is one of my favorites, as well as “Are You an Echo?”  

JW: Sally: in your Translator’s Note, you mention that you and your aunt, Michiko Tsuboi, had begun translating Misuzu’s poetry even before David contacted you with the idea of collaboration. How do you think that your book might’ve been different from Are You an Echo?, if David had not been involved?

SI: Well, it wouldn’t be in a book if David hadn’t gotten involved! Michiko and I were translating Misuzu Kaneko’s poetry for ourselves to enjoy her work, sustain our relationship and for both of us, to improve our facility in English (for Michiko) and Japanese (for me). It was David who wanted to create a book about Misuzu Kaneko and her poetry and found us. I think now that Michiko and I have had our translations published in a book, we would like to publish more of our translations in the future. Ultimately, I would like to translate all 512 of Misuzu’s poems into English which have been published in Japanese by JULA publishers in their six volume anthology.  

DJ: Though this question is not meant for me, I’d like to mention that one of the reasons I sought Sally and Michiko’s help on the book was because they already knew of Misuzu, and were so enthralled by her poetry that they were translating her poems just for the love it. Turning your question on its head, I’d say the book is very different because of their input. Sally and Michiko helped me extensively with the text of the narrative (which is why they get “editorial contribution” credit on the title page). And I helped them with the translations, though my role was more that of an editor and sounding board. We spent months communicating back and forth debating the tiniest details of the translations. It sounds cliché, but it was truly a work of love, on all three of our parts.

JW: Can you share with us a small additional nugget of information about the book?

DJ: The town where Misuzu grew up was once one of four major whaling centers in Japan, though its whaling industry had already declined by Misuzu’s time. The folks in that town had a long tradition, based on their Buddhist beliefs, of praying for the souls of the whales who had given their lives for the fishermen’s livelihood. Every year then and since, they conduct a whale memorial service, to remember the souls of the dead whales and perhaps to appease their guilt. That is the service that Misuzu writes about in “Whale Memorial.” But she brings yet another level of empathy, that of the child wondering how a child whale feels after its parents have been killed.  The illustrator, Toshi, and I visited the temple where the service is still conducted, which is the one depicted in the illustration. At that temple there is a register of special Buddhist names that were given to the slaughtered whales posthumously. It is thought to be the only such registry in Japan dedicated to non-humans.

Note: Look for Are You an Echo? at Amazon and Indiebound or ask for it at your favorite local booksellers.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  * 
Sylvia: Thank you, Janet, David, and Sally, for sharing so many fascinating details about the creation of this book and your deep love for Misuzu Kaneko and her poetry. It's so rare to see any bilingual poetry for young people published, much less Japanese and English poetry, so what a unique and special contribution this is in so many ways!

Now head on over to the Miss Rumphius Effect where Tricia is gathering all our Poetry Friday posts this week. 

P.S. I forgot one important detail: I have a copy of ARE YOU AN ECHO? to give away! So please comment on this post below and I'll draw a name next week for a free copy of this beautiful book. Check back to see who the winner is because then I'll need your mailing address too! Woo hoo! Thank you, Chin Music, for donating this giveaway copy!

Friday, October 14, 2016

Teen Read Week

It's Teen Read Week this week and a fun time to showcase poetry for young adults. October has been the month for celebrating Teen Read Week since 1988, a time to encourage teens to be regular readers and library users” according to the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA). At YALSA you’ll find many great programs and strategies to try, as well as a list of Teens’ Top Ten “teen choice” books, where teens nominate and choose their favorite books of the previous year.

I did a blog post about poetry for Teen Read Week for Dr. Bickmore's YA Wednesday this week, so you can find more info about poetry for YA there including recommended anthologies of poetry for YA, books of poetry BY teens, and suggested resource books on writing poetry with teens. Check it out. 

Of course, I'd also like to feature a few poems from my collaborations with Janet Wong, The Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School and You Just Wait. I just love all the poems those 70+ poets created for us! I made a few new digital poem postcards featuring their poems to share with you here and you'll find them on Pinterest too. 

Here's "Black Ice" by Joseph Bruchac along with a "mentor text" poem by Janet Wong in response to Bruchac's poem (below) and a response activity for teen writers from You Just Wait.

Here's "Who Am I?" by Margarita Engle along with a "response poem" AND a "mentor text" poem both by Janet Wong in response to Engle's poem (below) and a response activity for teen writers-- all from You Just Wait.

And if you'd like to see how one poem connects with ALL of the activities in You Just Wait, here's one example with Robyn Hood Black's "Locker Ness Monster" as the featured poem at the heart of things. 

Now head on over to Live Your Dream, where the lovely poet Irene Latham is hosting Poetry Friday. See you there!

Thursday, October 06, 2016

WWU Poetry Camp

Last weekend I had the time of my life steeped in poetry with 150 other people who love it as much as I do. On October 1, Western Washington University’s PoetryCHaT center was the proud host of “Poetry Camp 2016,” the first-ever national conference dedicated solely to poetry for children and teens. Nearly forty children's poets, including the first Children’s Poet Laureate, Jack Prelutsky, came from Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Ohio, Oregon, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, South Carolina, Texas, Washington, Washington, DC, Wisconsin, and even Canada and Japan to join teachers, librarians, and poetry fans in a day packed with sessions on poetry performance, writing techniques, curricular connections, and s’more(s). These were the participating poets:

The Friday before Poetry Camp, Janet (Wong) and I spent the day with the 38 poets meeting one another (many for the first time), getting acquainted, chatting informally, and engaging in lively discussions about the value of performing poetry out loud while honoring those who prefer quiet reading or savoring visuals. We had several guest speakers including Kathy Humphrey on using social media effectively, Paige Bentley Flannery on school and library visits, Michael Salinger and Sara Holbrook on conference presentations and Julie Larios on poetry writing tools and techniques. The camaraderie and energy was something to behold! Then in the evening, poet and artist Robyn Hood Black led a Makerspace workshop that was so fun and inspiring. 

Saturday was the BIG day of Poetry Camp and Janet and I led two keynote talks and featured all the 38 poets reading their own poetry in rapid fire succession. The audience was so thrilled to hear so much poetry read by the poets who wrote it! In between everyone chose three sessions to attend all led by poets on a wonderful variety of topics including: playing with sound, playing with visuals, metaphor and simile, verse novels, poetry performance, writing for journals, publishing anthologies, blogging about poetry, and poetry and STEM, as well as grammar, social studies, movement, art, and music. I wish I could have sat in EVERY session! I rotated through to take photos and they all seemed marvelous!

Then at the end of the day, the first Children's Poet Laureate Jack Prelutsky performed his poetry (singing and yodeling and shouting along with his guitar) to an audience of all ages that was completely enthralled! Two groups of children had also prepared dramatic readings of Prelutsky's poetry and they did such a great job-- complete with motions and humor!

The organizers of PoetryCHaT’s Poetry Camp 2016 were Sylvia Tag and Nancy Johnson:
Sylvia Tag is Librarian/Associate Professor and curator of the WWU Libraries Children’s Literature Interdisciplinary Collection.
Nancy Johnson is Professor in the English Department, specializing in children’s and young adult literature and English/language arts education.
They did an amazing job in organizing this fantastic event and emceeing throughout the day!

What is PoetryCHaT? 
A collection of resources, ideas, and curricula designed to help poets and educators share their love of poetry with children and teens. The WWU PoetryCHaT Children & Teen Poetry Collection includes a growing collection of materials written and published since 1920 for children and teens, birth through age 20. PoetryCHaT sponsors programs, special events, and readings that celebrate poetry. Their inaugural programming this past spring featured poet Kwame Alexander.

Press coverage included a local television station airing more than one hour of video clips of poet readings. You can see a summary of the day’s activities at the Poetry CHaT site and can see more photos on the Poetry CHaT Facebook site. 

My favorite photo was of all 38 poets and me standing on the library steps. What a beautiful, generous, smart, funny, and lovable group! What a treat to meet all these writers whom I admire and spend time together laughing and learning!

I also enjoyed meeting this week's Poetry Friday host, Violet Nesdoly at Poetry Camp! And just now as I looked for her link, I saw that she is also sharing her experiences at Poetry Camp! So check out more photos and comments there. She's done a marvelous job capturing the joy and energy and personalities too!

And I found more posts about Poetry Camp that are worth visiting. Here are the links and if there are more I haven't seen yet, please let me know. Thanks, y'all!

Poetry Camp Follow Up Blog Posts

Bridget Magee

Peg Cheng

Julie Larios

Cynthia Grady

Robyn Hood Black

Jone Rush MacCulloch

JoAnn Early Macken

Greg Pincus

P.S. I keep getting questions about my poetry-themed outfits (which is fun!), so let me provide info here for anyone who is interested.

For my dress, I had the blue "Share Poetry" fabric printed at (app. $15 per piece of fabric with a Groupon and I bought 2 pieces). Then I made those two pieces into a simple shift dress. The tights are from ColineDesign will print anything you like on tights and I sent her poems from our Poetry Friday Anthology (PFA) series. They're pricey (app. $35), but they are really well made and mine have been worn and laundered multiple times. Now, I've ordered some more of each, so watch for more clothes and tights in the future! FYI: I also wore a large custom poetry scarf that I had printed with poems (again from the PFA books) on Friday and that was made at (for about $30 with another Groupon). Now you know ALL my secrets!  Also, I'm working on MORE of these too... so stay tuned! 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Time for WWU Poetry Camp, Poetry Makerspace, and 40 POETS all in one place!

Over a year ago, Sylvia Tag (librarian) and Nancy Johnson (professor), at Western Washington University, had the idea to host a "Poetry Camp" and invited Janet (Wong) and me to come and speak. Of course we said YES! Then Janet had the idea of inviting poets we know if they'd like to come and join us. And 40 poets said YES YES YES! And now the time has come and we're gathering in Bellingham, Washington, at the WWU Poetry CHaT Center for poetry for young people with 100+ others to talk poetry, make poetry art, share poetry ideas, and just plain have fun together! Here's the lowdown on the Saturday conference activities.

But first, we gather with just the poets to share ideas and have fun. Kathy Humphrey is presenting social media strategies. Paige Bentley Flannery, Sara Holbrook, and Michael Salinger are sharing presentation tips. JoAnn Early will be talking about publishing and Julie Larios will inspire us with Oulipo Leaping ideas. Then Robyn Hood Black will lead us (and the public at large) in a fun Makerspace activity night. What a blast!

The 40 poets presenting this weekend?

Janet helped create a special Poetry Camp celebration book of poems by each of the 40 participating poets and I've adapted that into a mini-slideshow. Plus, we're talking about sharing poetry everyday and making connections across the curriculum. (Hope to share details about all of that later.) So excited to meet each of these people IN PERSON and spend a few days reveling in poetry, writing, sharing. I plan to share photos and nuggets from this amazing experience afterward. Stay tuned. 

For the rest of the Poetry Friday gathering, go to Karen's place here.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Poet to Poet: Jeannine Atkins

It's time for another installment in my Poet to Poet series where one poet interviews another poet about her or his new book. This time, the lovely April Halprin Wayland interviews Jeannine Atkins about her new nook, Finding Wonders. 

Photo by Webb Burns
April Halprin Wayland is a poet and picture book author and one of the founding members of the Teaching Authors blogging team and the UCLA Extension's Creative Writing Instructor of the Year. Her works include the novel in verse, Girl Coming in for a Landing, and New Year at the Pier, a Rosh Hashanah story, and More Than Enough, a Passover story, as well as To Rabbittown, It's Not My Turn to Look for Grandma, and The Night Horse.  She's a violinist, a political activist, and a frequent speaker, as well as the recipient of a Sydney Taylor Book Award. 

Jeannine Atkins is a poet and author of novels in verse, biographical works, picture books and nonfiction with a particular focus on girls, science, and nature, many inspired by history including this history-biography-in-verse, Borrowed Names About Laura Ingalls Wilder, Madame C. J. Walker, Marie Curie, and Their Daughters.  She also published her first novel for adults about May Alcott, Little Woman in Blue. She blogs at Views From a Window Seat and founded her own publishing company, Stone Door Press. Her new book is Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science, about the fascinating lives of Maria Merian, Mary Anning, and Maria Mitchell.
Here, April asks Jeannine questions about this new book, Finding Wonders. 

Jeannine, your metaphors and similes are breathtakingly original. As I read your book, you pulled me in with your deft use of language from the first page. So my question is: can you teach me how to come up with jewels such as the few I've listed below?

"...witch. That word sets hooks under her skin,/like the tiny barbs on the backs/of caterpillars' legs that help them climb."
"They exchange a glance,/swift and silent as two moths meeting in midair."
"Her voice scatters like sharp pieces of broken crockery/that can't be repaired, and will be hard to forget."
"Coughs scrape the air, as if Pa breathes through a grater."
"A constellation of sisters in one bed."

I begin with real things that were part of a person’s daily life and work. I imagine some cluttered on my desk and looking at them from different angles, trying to find language for them beyond their names. As I stick with an ordinary object, playing with its colors, uses, shapes, and scent, it seems richer - or it doesn’t, in which case it gets left behind. As I try putting details in poems, some seem to whisper to the theme. A metaphor may slip out, connecting something small to the big world.

You never fail to include evocative details, clearly culled from long hours of research. Tell us how you research... and how you choose just enough details to weave it into your story, such as the following:

"Mum gathers bee balm, foxgloves, and thistles/to make tinctures and teas she says will help/ Pa breathe easier or tame his aches. She is careful/ not to disturb spirits by spilling salts, dropping a knife,/or setting a loaf upside down on the table./ She holds up an apple cut in half,/showing how her knife didn't slit a single seed./That means blessings are coming. She scoops out bits of the soft apple for the baby, feeds/ him wedges curved like half-moons."
"For dinner, they must change from gingham dresses to silk,/and when biting into bread, be vigilant not to leave a vulgar/horseshoe shape."

Some poets begin with voice, but I start and move along by giving time to words that evoke the five senses. I read for the shapes of lives, but while slogging through summary and abstraction, am on the lookout for particular tools, clothing, animals, food, or furniture. My process is to read and write a lot – because I don’t know when I start out what will be valuable – then get out the scissors.

You keep the lives of these scientists real. My final question is: if we were to go back in time and see you as a young child, would we see a budding scientist? Some examples of how you show how scientists think and how they work:

"...Mary considers. Certainty is like a pillow/ she has learned to live without./ Doubt is crucial. Discoveries are made/ by those willing to say, Once we were wrong,/ and ask question after question. Every one is a gift."
"She becomes as familiar with the creature as her own body./ No, more. Her tenderness toward the stone is long,/ while at home she spends just seconds pulling a comb/ through her hair, scrubbing grime from her fingernails,/or tucking her feet into stockings."
"Mary believes that the Lord loves questions as well as answers./ People were given scripture, but also the earth./ She means to read both."

I grew up in a small town at a time when parents let children wander or bicycle around. I was curious about what I saw in fields and woods, but shortly after a delicious classroom assignment to press and take apart a dried flower to label the parts, science moved toward abstractions, and my interest waned. Would it have made a difference if all my science teachers hadn’t been men? If I’d known of women besides the singular Marie Curie who’d made careers in science? I don’t know. But I’m happy. Writing and science find common ground in the need for wonder, working through mistakes, and paying close attention to the world.

Thank you, April and Jeannine, for digging deeply into poetry and sharing your conversation with us. Fascinating!

Here's a quick list of previous Poet-to-Poet interviews. FYI.
Julie Larios & Skila Brown

Jane Yolen & Lesléa Newman

Joyce Sidman & Irene Latham

Laura Purdie Salas & Nikki Grimes

Helen Frost & Chris Crowe

Holly Thompson & Margarita Engle

Allan Wolf & Leslie Bulion

Margarita Engle & Mariko Nagal

Carole Boston Weatherford & Jacqueline Woodson

Now head on over and enjoy the rest of the Poetry Friday crew at Today's Little Ditty

Thursday, September 08, 2016

The wait is over for YOU JUST WAIT

Happy Book Birthday to You Just Wait!

Today, Janet (Wong) and I are officially launching another poetry venture and we’re trying something different once again. It's entitled You Just Wait: A Poetry Friday Power Book. Our special focus is always linking poetry with teaching and learning—all in one book. Usually, our audience is teachers, librarians, parents, and other adults. This time, we’re focusing on young people themselves, particularly on teens and tweens with a new, slim book that is part poetry, part road map for thinking-responding-writing poetry themselves. 

Here’s the deal:

You Just Wait: A Poetry Friday Power Book is a mashup of:
  • Poems from an anthology
  • Plus new poems written in response to those poems
  • Plus creative activity pages to jumpstart thinking, brainstorming, responding, and writing
These are all linked together with a story thread involving friends, siblings, sports, school, movies, and dreams. 

The twelve poems at the root of this book come from our previous collaboration, The Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School (an NCTE Poetry Notable), and were written by Robyn Hood Black, Joseph Bruchac, Jen Bryant, Margarita Engle, Julie Larios, Carmen T. Bernier-Grand, Charles Ghigna, Avis Harley, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, Charles Waters, and Virginia Euwer Wolff

Then Janet Wong created two dozen new poems to join them together in a story featuring Paz, an Asian-Latina soccer player with dreams of stardom in college, the Olympics, and ultimately the World Cup; Lucesita, her feisty movie-loving cousin; and Joe, an older brother with dreams of the NBA. 

You can read the book simply for the poems and the story—a novella in verse.

And you can scribble right in the book to interact with the poems as a reader and a writer. 

For the educator, the structure of the book provides a five-part model for instruction with each of the following components ideal for guiding the reading, responding, and writing process:

*PowerPlay Activity
*Outside Poem
*Response Poem
*Mentor Text Poem
*Power2You Writing Prompt

There are a dozen of these PowerPack sets of 5 linked activities each with a slightly different focus encouraging readers to consider the elements of repetition, rhyme (including internal rhyme), structure, dialogue, and form (list poems, prose poems, sequence poems, cinquain, poems of address, concrete/shape poems, acrostic poems, found poems, and odes). 

Here’s one sample PowerPack showing each of the five components for PowerPack #7. 

*PowerPlay Activity 

*Outside Poem 

*Response Poem 

*Mentor Text Poem

*Power2You Writing Prompt 

#1 PowerPlay activity
#2 Outside Poem                   &                         #3 Response Poem
#4 Mentor text                     &                        #5 Power2You Writing Prompt
In addition, aspiring writers will find helpful backmatter with a poetry self-edit checklist and lots of other lists, including places to publish teen poetry, books of poetry by teen writers, books for young people about writing poetry, collections, anthologies, and novels in verse, websites, talking points, and performance tips. 

Please help us spread the word, as we reach out to young readers with a book they can read, ponder, respond to and write in. 

We’re offering 5 free copies of our new book to a commenter chosen at random, so you can gather a group to read, discuss, share, scribble, and write together. This can be for a small writer’s group, a Reading Recovery session, an ELL teacher with a small middle school cluster, an eager book group, or a homeschool session. Comment below this blog entry please.

Buy your copy now and some for your favorite teacher, too! Here’s the link.

Note: Some vendors such as are offering healthy discounts this month as part of the book’s promotional launch; please consider ordering some copies for your school or library.  

Now, head on over to Amy's place at the Poem Farm for more Poetry Friday goodness!