Wednesday, August 24, 2016

My NZ Poetry Adventure

I just spent an amazing week in New Zealand for the IBBY Congress and enjoyed sharing my poetry poster, meeting New Zealand poets, soaking up a panel dedicated to poetry, chatting with a Latvian publisher of poetry, checking out poetry at the downtown library and area museums, and seeing the country's plans for their National Poetry Day (TODAY!). So fun! Here are a few highlights. So gratifying to learn we are part of a global poetry community!

I had my poster printed on a scarf and then WORE my poster-scarf for the rest of the conference! Check out (but get a Groupon first and it only cost $20 plus $10 for shipping!).

I met these poets at the conference and was excited to point out to Jenny and Paula that their work was featured on my poster. Bought Paula's massive book (pictured in blue) and got her to autograph it too! Don't miss this excellent website:

She is publishing 100 individual Latvian poems as little cardboard books with art by various well-known Latvian illustrators-- to reach pre-school children and their families in particular! Check out

This panel featured poetry exclusively and here Helen O'Carroll talked about verse novels including works by Holly Thompson, Allan Wolf, Kwame Alexander, Ann E. Burg, and Karen Hesse, as well as Australian and New Zealand novels in verse.

Here's an example of the reader response to THE WATCH THAT ENDS THE NIGHT by Allan Wolf from a NZ teen.

American professor and author Chris Crowe shared the fascinating process that emerged as he created his novel in verse, DEATH COMING UP THE HILL about a teen struggling with war in the world and in his family, written entirely in haiku and containing one syllable for each soldier who died in the Vietnam War.

Check out this shelf of poetry books at the downtown public library (including UNBEELIEVABLES, ECHO ECHO, WATER SINGS BLUE), plus the first issue of the NZ School Journal, THE source of literature provided to ALL NZ children for years and years-- including now.

A participatory magnetic poetry wall at the main cultural museum (Te Papa) in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand.

Yes, National Poetry Day is held on the last Friday of August every year in New Zealand (since 1997) and there are tons of activities planned for all ages. Wish I could stay for it!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

IBBY in New Zealand and poetry

I'm attending the biennial Congress of the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) in Auckland, New Zealand. This is such a wonderful event, a great opportunity to get a global glimpse of he field of children's literature and meet people from around the world and hear speakers from many countries. I'm particularly eager to check out the poetry published for young people in New Zealand (and Australia) because they are doing some very interesting things there! 

I'm also presenting a poster session on how poetry is a perfect medium for crossing cultural boundaries and will share the graphics here, FYI. I'm trying something different this time and have printed my poster on a scarf which I will display during my allotted time and then WEAR afterwards! I'll try to share photos later. Meanwhile, check out the conference programme here. Very cool!

Several years ago I co-edited the IBBY journal, Bookbird, and we closed every issue with a page featuring a poem for young people by different poets from around the world (usually in English as well as in the poet's native language). I just LOVED doing that and learned so much about poetry for young people published in other countries. Anyhoo, here's a graphic that features all the poems (too small to read, but you get the idea). You can access all these prior issues of Bookbird via Project Muse, if you have access to that resource. Enjoy!

More info to come soon...
Meanwhile, head on over to Dori Reads for more Poetry Friday fun. 

Friday, August 12, 2016

Irene Latham + Awards + Elephants

Did you know that August 12 is World Elephant Day? Yep, and of course we have a poem for this occasion in The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations written by the lovely Irene Latham. 

It's also the perfect moment to announce that Irene Latham was chosen to be the 2016 recipient of the Lee Bennett Hopkins Promising Poet Award.  Congratulations, Irene! This award is given every three years and goes to a poet with two books (or fewer) of poetry published thus far. The committee recognized her book, Dear Wandering Wildebeest: And Other Poems From the Water Hole (Millbrook Press/Lerner), in particular. She also published When the Sun Shines on Antarctica (Millbrook Press/Lerner) prior to receiving this award and just this year published a new poetry collection, Fresh Delicious (Boyds Mills Press). 

Check out Irene's interesting website and follow her thoughtful blog, Live Your Poem, where she posts regularly. Irene was part of my fabulous Poetry Round Up panel at the TLA conference this spring and it was so lovely to meet her in person-- finally!  As a fellow southerner, I really appreciate her storyteller's way with words and her genteel spirit. Check out her work!

Friday, July 22, 2016

Millersville Poetry Institute

Our whole group-- with everyone holding a book of poetry!
Janet (Wong) and I just wrapped up a wonderful week at the Millersville University Poetry Institute (in Pennsylvania) led, planned, and coordinated by Dr. Lesley Colabucci. (Intro and info here.) 

What a fun week-- and what a great opportunity to work with 23 teachers (K-12) in helping them get comfortable and confident with sharing poetry in all kinds of creative ways. Lesley had several "celebrity" readers start each day by sharing a poem (including the University President), invited local experts who lead various poetry projects and initiatives, and had several other poet speakers too-- like Jacqueline Jules, Heidi Mordhorst, Marjorie Maddox, Sandy Asher, and Linda Oatman High. Teacger Maggie Bokelman spoke about teaching with poetry and Karla Schmit presented the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award. (Sorry I missed you, Karla!) And I'm probably missing other awesome speakers. 
Janet has the group in the palm of her hand!

It was so fun to watch my good friend Janet (Wong) do her thing, presenting an awesome day of activities and challenges. She even had us collaborate to create a poetry suitcase-- which turned out amazingly well! Plus, Janet and I were able to take time outside the Institute to work together on our next project-- more on that soon. Hope you enjoy a few photos and feel inspired to try some of the things we saw here too. 

My focus was on modeling the "Take 5" approach to sharing poetry and showing how we can bridge oral and written language, involve kids actively, integrate skill instruction, and make text-to-text connections, among other things. I had a ton of slides, examples, and handouts, so I'll just share one nugget here below.

Reading Poetry Aloud

    Rachel created a poem poster
For each poem, we provide suggestions for how to invite students to participate in reading the poem aloud. Often the poem itself will “show” you how to perform it if you study the lines and their arrangement on the page. And when you invite students to participate in poem performance, you will find that they will have ideas about how to try a poem this way or that way. Follow their lead! Here are some general guidelines for involving students in reading poetry out loud.
  • Take the lead, be the first to read the poem, and don’t be afraid to “ham it up.” Take the pressure off students by showing how the poem sounds, how words should be pronounced, how the meaning and emotion might be conveyed. Don’t ask them to do anything you wouldn’t do yourself.
Poetry suitcase with props
  • Use props whenever possible to make a concrete connection to the poem, focus attention, and add a bit of fun. Choose something suggested by the poem. It’s even worth planning ahead to have a good prop ready beforehand. Students can then use the props too as they volunteer to join in on reading the poem, taking the focus off of them and giving the audience something specific to look at while listening—the poetry prop.
  • Try using media to add another dimension to the poetry experience. Look for digital images or videos relevant to the poem to display without sound as a backdrop while reading the poem aloud, or find music or sound effects suggested by the poem to underscore the meaning or mood as you read the poem aloud. 
    Poems on the sidewalk
  • Offer choices as you invite students to join in on reading the poem aloud with you. They can choose a favorite line to chime in on or volunteer to read a line or stanza of their choice or ask a friend to join them in reading a portion aloud. The more say they have about how they participate in the poem reading, the more eager and comfortable they will be about volunteering.
  • Make connections between the poems and their lives and experiences, between one poem and another, and between poems and other genres like nonfiction, short stories, newspaper articles, and songs). We provide example questions and poem connections for each poem, but once you have established that pattern, be open to the connections the students themselves make first. 
    Creating a "found" poem
  • Be creative and use art, drama, and technology to present the poem and to engage students in participating in that presentation. Find relevant photos, draw quick Pictionary-style sketches, make word clouds, create graphic “novel” comic panels for poem lines, use American Sign Language for key words, pose in a dramatic “frozen” tableau, collaborate on a PowerPoint slide show, and so on. Look to share the poem in a way that is particularly meaningful for students. Or better yet, let them show you!

Friday, July 15, 2016

My poetry decade

I can't believe it's been 10 years since I set up this blog and started posting! My goodness, that has flown by fast. I've been trying to decide what to do to celebrate, but have been so busy with fun summer stuff, I haven't had a moment. Isn't that how life (and blogging) goes? How do we maintain our social media life while actually LIVING our lives? So, I thought I might pause to ponder what I've learned in my last 10 years-- a glimpse at how poetry for young people has evolved in the last decade, filtered through my own tiny lens, of course. As it turns out, this is my 811th post-- which is the Dewey decimal number (811) for the poetry section at the library! (Only someone who works in the library field would love that serendipity as much as me!) Here we go.

1. Since posting on July 14, 2006, I have added blogging to my writing life and learned (some) discipline in posting--usually every Friday and daily for the month of April, National Poetry Month. This is the same year that Kelly Herold started "Poetry Friday" on her blog-- and it has definitely caught hold and gained popularity. I LOVE THAT! And in case you missed it, poet Janet Wong and I grabbed hold of that concept and have published several teaching anthologies with "Poetry Friday" at the center-- hoping people who don't already love poetry will give it a try on Friday.

2. I have learned about the work of so many poets in the last ten years-- met them, presented together, promoted their work, and continue expanding my own awareness of how many new writers are creating wonderful poetry for young readers. Just look at the list and links to 99 poets here in the sidebar on my blog-- and if I have missed some poets (who write for young people), please let me know. So many teachers, librarians, and parents only know the names of Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky (both very popular and appealing, of course), and they have no idea that there are so many other great poets out there. I love surprising them with all the other great writers I know!

3. I hope I have helped connect poets with each other too! Poetry (and writing in general) can be a solitary business, so I really enjoy helping poets "meet" other poets-- a fantastic mutual admiration society.  I created a "Poet to Poet" series with regular installments (and more to come) in which one poet asks another poet questions about her/his new work. I find it so fascinating to see what authors ask each other about writing, poetry, form, process, etc. 

4. In ten years, I have read a LOT of poetry-- close to 1000 books of poetry published for young readers in the last decade. I try to keep a "sneak peek" list of poetry that will be published for children and teens and post that every January and then keep it updated all year long. You can find links to each of those lists in the sidebar of this blog and I hope it's a resource for finding poetry books on an ongoing basis.
5. Keeping this blog has helped me (mostly) keep current with technology too. I've learned how to use Blogger (and all its iterations) and add more visuals, links, video, etc. (I wish they offered a way to post audio only, but that has to be a third party post at this time-- at least I think so!) How has technology changed in 10 years? Ha! You can post from your cell phone now, link with Twitter,  Facebook, Instagram, and so many more outlets. People can comment and interact more (and I need to get better about that). It's amazing to me how this continues to become an essential part of our personal and professional lives. 
6. I love how blogging has helped me share my professional opportunities with a wider audience. As a university professor, I am expected to submit proposals, plan panels, and attend and present at professional conferences and conduct workshops and I really enjoy that. But I'm always a little sad that all that great work and energy of so many smart and interesting people is only shared with a small audience. So, I've been able to share a few nuggets, slides, and videoclips from those presentations here. Yay! Win-win!

7. Another expectation for me as an academic is to write for publication. (Interestingly enough, blogging is still not really valued in my academic community.) But keeping this blog has inspired so many other articles, columns, presentations, and books-- and I've been able to share nuggets from this publications HERE, so that a wider audience can benefit from those works. When you corral a group of people to write something, it's really nice if you can get their work out to the widest possible readership, right? Keeping this blog has led to writing the poetry column for Book Links magazine for the American Library Association which has been really gratifying, as well as my book, Poetry Aloud Here (my very first post was promoting that new book!) and my Poetry Teacher's Book of Lists, too. And of course, all four of The Poetry Friday Anthologies published in collaboration with Janet Wong and 100+ poets grew out of all this blogging too. And I'm so proud of those and have loved all that collaboration! 

8. Celebrating National Poetry Month every April has been so fun every year and I love how all the poetry bloggers come up with some new twist each year. It's wonderful to see the interwebs flooded with poetry every April-- I just wish I could read, process, and comment on ALL of it. I think it is certainly helping more people find poetry and share it with children and teens. It's only been since 1996 that we even recognized National Poetry Month, so we've come a long way already. And there's certainly more room for more...

9. There's so much more poetry "stuff" available now too-- and I have enjoyed learning about how to create more varied ways to promote and share poetry. I've made reader guides for poetry books so that more teachers feel confident about sharing poetry books with young people. I've created tons of postcards and visuals to catch the eye-- and get more people reading more poetry. I love making all the lists of poetry books (duh!), so that people see how many choices they have when they want a poetry book about dogs or school or family. And I love discovering new ideas and resources from all of YOU.

10. And that's the best of all-- connecting with YOU all readers-- with people who care about poetry and children and teens and making sure they get exposed to all the beautiful language, big heart, quiet moments, and spiritual/emotional lift that poetry can offer. We need that all now more than ever, don't you think? I so appreciate the comments, links, "shares," and connections that blogging has offered with you readers, poets, teachers, and fellow poetry lovers. When our lives are busy and our world is crazy, pausing for a poem has such power. I love that the Internet in the last decade has given us the ability to break down barriers and connect a bit more. It's not perfect, but it can be reassuring and empowering. Let's use that power for good!

Here's to the next ten years. More poetry! More connections! 

Friday, July 01, 2016

ALA Poetry Blast

Meeting the Berenstain Bears!
I just came back from the annual convention of the American Library Association in Orlando and what a great event-- as always! There's so much to love about these conferences-- running into great friends from across the country, meeting fascinating new people, learning-learning-learning (at sessions, events, exhibits, and EVERYWHERE), attending fun publisher previews, receptions and dinners, and reveling in the amazing Newbery-Caldecott-Wilder banquet. Wow! I'm probably forgetting a ton of other things-- all packed into 3-4 days of nonstop action. No wonder I always come home equal parts exhilarated and exhausted! 

Proud mom, daughter, and daughter's first book!
One of the highlights this year was attending ALA with my grown up daughter who is also a librarian-- although in the medical field. She's so much fun to travel with and I'm so proud of all her achievements too! She presented her poster on her new book about the Affordable Care Act for librarians.

Janet (Wong) and I also had a poster session featuring how to connect poetry and picture books and I was so pleased with all the traffic we had and all the social media buzz our visitors created! 

Check out my homemade "share poetry" dress which I was excited to debut here. I ordered this customized fabric (with a Groupon from PersonalizedFabric2) and then made it into a simple dress. So much fun! 

And of course I couldn't miss the Poetry Blast which was held Sunday afternoon, hosted by Marilyn Singer and Stephanie Bange and featured poets Robert L. Forbes (Beastly Feasts; Let's Have a Bite; Beast Friends Forever), Madeleine Kuderick (Kiss of Broken Glass), Ann E. Burg (Unbound), Lee Bennett Hopkins (Jumping Off Library Shelves; Amazing Places, Been to Yesterdays), Carole Boston Weatherford (Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement; You Can Fly: The Tuskegee Airmen), and Marilyn Singer herself, of course (Miss Muffet, or What Came After; Echo Echo). I made tiny video clips of their readings and I tried to post them here, so you can catch some of the excitement we all felt there-- and get the scoop on some new, forthcoming poetry books, but neither Blogger nor YouTube is cooperating! Heck! Sorry! I'll keep trying and re-post, if I have more success. 
(L-R) Lee Bennett Hopkins, Carole Boston Weatherford, Ann E. Burg, Robert L. Forbes, Marilyn Singer & Madeleine Kuderick
Thanks to the sponsors for bringing poets and sponsoring the Poetry Blast: Candlewick Press, HarperCollins Children's Books; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers; Lee & Low Books; Scholastic Books, and Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press.

Meanwhile, head on over to Tabatha's place, The Opposite of Indifference, where she has heaps of Poetry Friday goodies to share. See you there!

Friday, June 17, 2016

Poetry for Summer

I just got back from a fun TASLA conference meeting with school library administrators from around Texas. What a fun group and productive meeting. I always enjoy being a "groupie" at their functions learning more about what school librarian leaders are doing-- always so innovative and engaging. I spoke about my experiences sharing poetry with students in Guam and debuted my new poetry dress-- photos to come. :-) They also loved the pocket poems I brought of Tricia Stohr Hunt's "Summer Melon" poem-- here-- and also available on Pinterest.

Meanwhile, it feels like summer has truly arrived with hot temperatures across the country. I know it doesn't officially begin till next week, but I thought I might share a handy list of summer-themed poems featured in The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations as well as my list of poetry books about summer from my Poetry Teacher's Book of Lists.

And here's my list of poetry books about summer from my Poetry Teacher's Book of Lists.

Poetry Books about Summer

Summer time is the perfect time to catch up on all kinds of poetry reading of course, but we can kick off our summertime events and gatherings with poems written specifically about summer and typical summer activities. Here are a few examples to get us started.

Alarcón, Francisco X. 1998. From the Bellybutton of the Moon and Other Summer Poems/Del Ombligo de la Luna y Otros Poemas de Verano. San Francisco: Children’s Book Press.
Appelt, Kathi. 2004. My Father’s Summers: A Daughter’s Memoirs. New York: Henry Holt.
Brown, Marc. 2013. Marc Brown’s Playtime Rhymes: A Treasury for Families to Learn and Play Together. New York: Little, Brown. 
Bruchac, Joseph. 1995. The Earth under Sky Bear's Feet: Native American Poems of the Land. New York: Philomel Books.
Carlson, Lori M. Ed. 1998. Sol a Sol: Bilingual Poems. New York: Henry Holt. 
Dotlich: Rebecca Kai 1998. Lemonade Sun and Other Summer Poems Honesdale: Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press.
Dotlich, Rebecca Kai. 2004. Over in the Pink House: New Jump Rope Rhymes. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press.
Esbensen, Barbara Juster. 1984. Cold Stars and Fireflies:  Poems of the Four Seasons. New York: Crowell. 
Fletcher, Ralph. 2001. Have You Been to the Beach Lately? New York: Orchard Books.
Florian, Douglas. 2002. Summersaults: Poems and Paintings New York: Greenwillow Books.
Fogliano, Julie. 2016. When Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All Seasons. Macmillan/Roaring Brook/Porter.
Frank, John. 2007. How to Catch a Fish. New Milford: Roaring Brook Press.
George, Kristine O’Connell. 2001. Toasting Marshmallows: Camping Poems New York: Clarion Books.
Giovanni, Nikki. 1981. Vacation Time: Poems for Children. New York: Morrow.
Graham, Joan Bransfield. 1994. Splish Splash. New York: Houghton Mifflin.
Grimes, Nikki. 2004. Tai Chi morning: Snapshots of China. Chicago: Cricket Books.
Hopkins, Lee Bennett. Ed. 1993. Beat the Drum, Independence Day has Come: Poems for the Fourth of July. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press.
Hopkins, Lee Bennett. Ed. 2005. Days to Celebrate: A Full Year of Poetry, People, Holidays, History, Fascinating Facts, and More. New York: Greenwillow.
Hopkins, Lee. Bennett  Ed. 2010. Sharing the Seasons. Margaret McElderry.
Janeczko, Paul. Ed. 2014. Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.
Katz, Alan. 2011. Mosquitoes Are Ruining My Summer! And Other Silly Dilly Camp Songs. New York: McElderry.
Lansky, Bruce. Ed. 2009. What I Did on My Summer Vacation: Kids' Favorite Funny Summer Vacation Poems. Minnetonka, MN: Meadowbrook Press.
Latham, Irene. 2016. Fresh Delicious: Poems from the Farmers' Market. Highlights/Wordsong.
Lessac, Frane. 2003. Camp Granada: Sing-Along Camp Songs New York: Holt.
Levy, Constance. 2002. Splash! Poems of Our Watery World. New York: Orchard.
Lewis, J. Patrick. 1994. July is a Mad Mosquito. New York: Atheneum.
Michelson, Richard. 2014. S is for Sea Glass: A Beach Alphabet. Chelsea, MI: Sleeping Bear Press. 
Mora, Pat. 1998. This Big Sky. New York: Scholastic.
Schnur, Steven. 2001. Summer: An Alphabet Acrostic. New York: Clarion.
Shaw, Alison, comp. 1995. Until I Saw the Sea: A Collection of Seashore Poems. New York: Henry Holt.
Siebert, Diane. 2006. Tour America: A Journey through Poems and Art. San Francisco: Chronicle.
Singer, Marilyn. 2000. Fireflies at Midnight. New York: Atheneum. 
Singer, Marilyn. 1992. In My Tent. New York: Macmillan. 
Singer, Marilyn. 1989. Turtle in July. New York: Macmillan.
Spinelli, Eileen. 2007. Summerhouse Time. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 
Weatherford, Carole Boston. 2001. Sidewalk Chalk; Poems of the City. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press. 
Wissinger, Tamera Will. 2013. Gone Fishing: A Novel in Verse. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Wong, Janet. 2008. Minn and Jake’s Almost Terrible Summer. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 
Zimmer, Tracie Vaughn. 2005. Sketches from a Spy Tree. New York: Clarion.

Yolen, Jane. 2000. Color Me a Rhyme: Nature Poems for Young People. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press. 

Let the summer fun begin! 

See you over at Carol's Corner for a lovely gathering of Poetry Friday posts.

Friday, June 10, 2016

GARVEY'S CHOICE by Nikki Grimes

I'm happy to toot the horn for another new novel in verse by Nikki Grimes that is perfect for the intermediate grades (grades 5-8), in particular. It's Garvey's Choice, the story of a nerdy boy whose father wants him to pursue sports rather than the sci fi he enjoys. Fortunately, the discovery of a mutual love of music helps them connect in the end. Plus, Garvey's mom and sister, as well as his old and new friend, round out this engaging story about being true to oneself while respecting the differences in others. Oh, and did I mention that the entire book is written in tanka poems? Very cool! Nikki was kind enough to share a bit of "back story" on the writing of Garvey's Choice for my blog. Enjoy!

by Nikki Grimes

Most often in my work, form follows function, which is to say I begin with character and story, and then determine what form that story will take.  However, in this particular case, form came first.  I'm fascinated with tanka poetry and wondered if it would be possible to write an entire novel using that form.

The idea for the subject matter was easy to arrive at, because body-image is such a fixation in this culture.  You can't turn on the television without hearing commentary on, or seeing a PSA about obesity in general, and childhood obesity, in particular.  It's a growing problem, and the topic is unavoidable.  (This is the second time I've addressed this.  I first took on the topic in Halfway to Perfect, a Dyamonde Daniel chapter book.)

I knew, from the beginning, that I would tell this story from a boy's point of view, rather than a girl's.  Stories on this particular subject are, more often than not, told from a girl's perspective, and I wanted to flip that.

I began with a clear idea and tight focus on theme, rather than character and story, and there's a danger in that.  The first polished draft was a portrait of an overweight boy in which all you learned about him was his experience of being overweight. There needed to be much more to him, and to his story, but I was too close to the material to see that.  Thinking I'd pretty much nailed the topic, I sent the first draft off to one of my editors.  

As it happened, that editor was both the best and the worst person I could have chosen to share this manuscript with. This editor had been an overweight young person, and still keenly felt the wounds inflicted by childhood bullies, still flinched at the memories of body insecurity, and all that came with it.  In fact, the editor found the piece difficult to read, and impossible to edit.  This was hardly the response I had anticipated!  Suddenly worried my text might do readers more harm than good, I set it aside for a year or two and all but forgot about it.

I went on to write books like Planet Middle School and Words With Wings, and after the latter went into production, the editor of that novel-in-verse inquired whether I had any other projects we might work on together.  I thought about that for a few days, and suddenly remembered the tanka manuscript I'd filed away.  "You know," I told her,  "I do have one manuscript that needs some work.  I don't know if you'd be interested in it, but..." I went on to explain a bit about the story, and she invited me to submit it.  I'm glad I did.

Rebecca Davis, an editor I'd worked with for years, not only read the manuscript, but saw what it could be.  She recognized the narrowness of the story's focus, and suggested ways I might broaden the story, and shift its focus so that weight became part of Garvey's story, and not the whole of it.  She posed questions about the emotional life of the character, about his back-story, his family, his relationships, and she challenged me to draft a revision that answered some of those questions.  I looked them over carefully, gulped, and finally agreed.  I knew I had my work cut out for me.

Why did Garvey over-eat in the first place?  That was a key question that helped me shape the story that finally emerged.  I had to come up with a rational, plausible answer, and it was exploring that question that led me into the intricacies of Garvey's relationship with his father.  It was my editor who identified this as the heart of the story.  She was right.

I certainly know what it's like to have a disconnect with a parent.  From the time I was six years old, I dreamed of being a writer.  And yet, my mother did everything she could to dissuade me from pursuing that goal.  My father, on the other hand, both understood and supported my dream.  (In Garvey's Choice, I flip the roles, posing the mother as the supportive parent.) To be fundamentally misunderstood by a parent is very painful, and I was able to draw from my own experience of that pain as I wrote about Garvey's.  As they say, we write what we know.  I may not have grown up as an overweight boy, but I understood Garvey's heart.

Garvey's friendships were also important to his story, as mine were to my story. The friends we let into the inner sanctums of our lives and hearts help to influence the people we become.  In the case of Garvey, his friends not only encouraged him to love himself, but also challenged him to stretch and grow in ways that were good and healthy.  Each recognized potential in Garvey that he, himself, was unable to see.  Our best friends can do that for us.

Little by little, the larger story of Garvey began to come together.  There was a problem, though.   As the manuscript became more complex, writing it entirely in tanka became more difficult.

A five-line poem is not much space in which to convey a complex narrative.  For that reason, my editor suggested I weave in additional poetry forms.  Of course, I was far too stubborn to accept her advice.  I'd set out to write a novel in tanka, alone, and that's what I was committed to doing. For the more compound narrative threads, I decided to try linking two or more tanka poems together. I wasn't sure it would work, but I'm glad it did.  Whew!

In the end, Garvey's Choice stretched me as much as Garvey's journey stretched him.  I hope this story will inspire readers to dare to follow their own dreams, whether or not loved ones choose to go along for the ride.  When we choose to follow our dreams, we discover who we are on the inside, and find the strength to be who we want to be, on the outside. Just like Garvey.

Note from Sylvia: I was also lucky enough to get the assignment to create an educator's guide for Garvey's Choice and I'll share a few nuggets next week. 

Now head on over to Beyond LiteracyLink for the Poetry Friday party this week!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Celebrating Asian American Heritage Month

I didn't realize how many special occasions occurred in May until I worked on our Celebrations book with Janet Wong. Sure, it's the end of the semester and school year (in many places) and the home of Mother's Day and Memorial Day. But it's also National Photo Month, National Bike Month, National Physical Fitness and Sports Month, and the time we celebrate National Pet Week, National Teacher Appreciation Week, Children's Book Week, National Etiquette Week, as well as World Laughter Day, World Red Cross Day, and World Hunger Day (which is close to Red Nose Day also devoted to eliminating hunger). Wow. And of course there are many other occasions, once you start digging. My family teases me that I always find SOMETHING to celebrate!

Today I'd like to pause and celebrate Asian American Heritage Month and Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month-- with a poem of course! I posted this on Facebook and Twitter, so please forgive me if you've been inundated. I love this poem by my pal Janet Wong and what it says about celebrating Asian Americans, as well as our many diverse, blended, and intertwined roots in the U.S. 

And here are the Take 5 activities that accompany this poem in The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations (Teacher/Librarian edition):

  1. If possible, display a map in the background that features Asia and Pacific Islands while you read the poem aloud, pausing between stanzas. One source is,100,3z.
  2. Share the poem again with pauses so the children can join in on the key words Chinese, Korean, and plucots while you read the rest of the poem aloud.
  3. Talk about how new words are “coined” and how plucot is a combination of plum (plu) and apricot (cot), just as the plucot fruit is a hybrid combination of those two fruits. 
  4. Pair this poem with the picture book Grandfather Counts by Andrea Cheng (Lee & Low, 2000). And for more information about celebrating Asian Pacific Heritage Month, check out the resources at
  5. For another poem about a family with roots in more than one culture, look for “Our Family” by Kate Coombs (November, page 305) as well as poems in A Suitcase of Seaweed by Janet Wong (McElderry, 1996).
Plus, if you'd like even more poetry, here's a list from my book, The Poetry Teacher's Book of Lists.

Asian American Poetry for Young People

Asian and Asian American poetry for young people is not just haiku; there are many lovely, ancient and contemporary works to share with children. Here is a sampling of poetry for young people by Asian and Asian American poets.

Cheng, Andrea. 2005. Shanghai Messenger. New York: Lee & Low.
Ho, Minfong. 1996. Maples in the Mist: Poems for Children from the Tang Dynasty. New York: Lothrop, Lee, & Shepard.
Issa, Kobayashi. 2007. Today and Today. New York: Scholastic.
Izuki, Steven. 1994. Believers in America:  Poems about Americans of Asian and Pacific Islander Descent. Chicago, IL: Children’s Press.
Lai, Thanhha. 2011. Inside Out and Back Again. New York: HarperCollins.
Mak, Kam. 2001. My Chinatown: One Year in Poems. New York: HarperCollins.
Park, Linda Sue. 2007. Tap Dancing on the Roof; Sijo Poems. New York : Clarion.
Wong, Janet S. 1994. Good Luck Gold and Other Poems. New York: McElderry.
Wong, Janet S. 1996/2008. A Suitcase of Seaweed, and Other Poems. New York: Booksurge.
Wong, Janet S. 1999. Behind the Wheel:  Poems about Driving. New York: McElderry.
Wong, Janet S. 1999. The Rainbow Hand: Poems about Mothers and Children. New York: McElderry. 
Wong, Janet S. 2000. Night Garden:  Poems from the World of Dreams. New York: McElderry.
Wong, Janet S. 2003. Knock on Wood: Poems about Superstitions. New York: McElderry.

Wong, Janet S. 2003. Minn and Jake. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
Wong, Janet S. 2007. Twist: Yoga Poems. New York: McElderry.
Wong, Janet. 2008. Minn and Jake’s Almost Terrible Summer. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 
Wong, Janet. 2011. Once Upon A Tiger; New Beginnings for Endangered Animals.
Wong, Janet. 2012. Declaration of Interdependence: Poems for  an Election Year. PoetrySuitcase.
Wong, Joyce Lee. 2006. Seeing Emily. New York: Abrams.
Yep, Laurence, ed. 1993. American Dragons: Twenty-five Asian American Voices. New York: HarperCollins.
Yu, Chin. 2005. Little Green; Growing Up During the Chinese Cultural Revolution. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Now don't miss the rest of the Poetry Friday posts that Margaret is gathering over at Reflections on the Teche. See you there!