Friday, January 30, 2015

Notable (Poetry) Books for a Global Society 2015

Just this week the IRA (now ILA) committee (for CL/R) announced it's latest list of "Notable Books for a Global Society." I was so pleased that they included 8 poetry books on their list of 25 titles published in 2014. Let's see which ones they highlighted, shall we?

Caminar
Harlem Hellfighters
Silver People
Voices from the March
Brown Girl Dreaming
Like Water on Stone
The Red Pencil
A Time to Dance

The pdf of the annotated list complete with book covers here:

I noticed that these are all novels in verse (except Harlem Hellfighters)! Which is lovely, but where are the anthologies that reflect global world views and connections? That's the next challenge for us! But each of these books is truly distinctive, beautifully written and offers a fascinating window into a culturally rich story. Don't miss them!

Here's complete bibliographic info for these 8 titles:

Brown, Skila. 2014. Caminar. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.
Engle, Margarita. 2014. Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Lewis, J. Patrick. 2014. Harlem Hellfighters. Mankato, MN: Creative Editions.
Lewis, J. Patrick and Lyon, George Ella. 2014. Voices from the March: Washington, D.C., 1963. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press.
Pinkney, Andrea Davis. The Red Pencil.  New York: Little, Brown.

Venkatraman, Padma. 2014. A Time to Dance. New York: Penguin.
Walrath, Dana. 2014. Like Water on Stone. New York: Delacorte.
Woodson, Jacqueline. 2014. Brown Girl Dreaming. New York: Penguin.

If you want more information about this SIG (Special Interest Group) and the history of the Notables list, here's a nugget from their website:

"The Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group of the International Reading Association formed the Notable Books for a Global Society Committee in 1995. Under the guidance of Yvonne Siu-Runyan, who originated and spearheaded the project, the committee undertook to identify outstanding trade books that it felt would help promote understanding across lines of culture, race, sexual orientation, values, and ethnicity.

The Notable Books for a Global Society (NBGS) list was developed to help students, teachers, and families identify books that promote understanding of and appreciation for the world's full range of diverse cultures and ethnic and racial groups. Although advances in technology allow us to communicate quickly with people around the world and the growth of world trade brings us increasingly into contact with far-flung members of the "global village," today's society is rife with tension, conflict and ignorance of others different from us. If we hope to meet the many challenges that face us in the 21st century, we must recognize the similarities and celebrate the differences among all races, cultures, religions, and sexual orientations, and appreciate that people can hold a wide range of equally legitimate values.

Each year, the Committee selects twenty-five outstanding books for grades K-12 that reflect a pluralistic view of world society. These twenty-five titles represent the year’s best in fiction, nonfiction and poetry."


Plus criteria for selection are there as well as all the lists since 2010.

Well done, Chair Janet Wong and committee members!

I'm heading to the Midwinter conference of the American Library Association where more big (Newbery, Caldecott, etc.) awards will be announced on Monday (Feb. 2). I'll be sure to post news about any poetry titles that are included! Stay tuned. 

Meanwhile, where is the Poetry Friday party today? Over at These Four Corners. Thanks for hosting, Paul!  

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Happy Puzzle Day!

The word is out...

Our next installment in The Poetry Friday Anthology series will be published in March! And to whet your appetite for The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations, here is the poem for January 29 (today!):
And here are the Take 5! activities that accompany this poem:
Sample puzzle from National Geographic.com/games
1. Hold up a single piece from a (jigsaw) puzzle and ask children to guess what it is from. Then read this poem aloud slowly.
2. Invite everyone to join in on the final line (“a puzzling scene”) while you read the poem aloud again.
3. Just for fun, work together to complete an online jigsaw puzzle. One source: NationalGeographic.com/games/photo-puzzle-jigsaw/
4. Pair this poem with this picture book: Hide-and-Seek Science: Animal Camouflage (Holiday House, 2013) by Emma Stevenson, and guide children in finding the hidden animals within each ecosystem to celebrate National Puzzle Day.
5. For another poem about 100 things, look for the poem “My 100th Day Collection” by Betsy Franco (mid-January to mid-February, pages 38-39) and for riddle and puzzle poems, check out Kindergarten Kids: Riddles, Rebuses, Wiggles, Giggles, and More! by Stephanie Calmenson (HarperCollins, 2005).

In a nutshell, The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations offers:
  • 156 new, unpublished poems by 115 poets
  • poems tied to holidays, celebrations, historic events, and wacky occasions across the calendar year
  • all the poems in both English and Spanish
  • Take 5! activities for sharing every poem with children
  • every poem paired with a picture book to read aloud for a story time or lesson plan
  • skill connections (for CCSS, TEKS, and NCSS)
  • poems appropriate for children preK-5 (and beyond)

Pre-order your copy today here. And for more info go here.


Friday, January 23, 2015

Poet to Poet: Jane Yolen and Lesléa Newman

I'm pleased to post another installment in my ongoing "Poet to Poet" series in which one poet interviews another poet about her/his new book. This time it's Jane Yolen and Lesléa Newman who have very generously volunteered to participate.  Lesléa has a powerful, heartbreakingly beautiful new book out just now, I Carry My Mother, a work for adults that has crossover appeal for teen readers too. 
Jane Yolen hardly needs an introduction, but I'm often surprised to find that people don't know about all the POETRY she has published. Her poetry for children includes these and more:
- Snow, Snow: Winter Poems for Children; Once Upon Ice and Other Frozen Poems, and more weather and seasonal poetry
- An Egret’s Day, Birds of a Feather, and many more wonderful bird-focused poetry books
- Mother Earth, Father Sky: Poems of Our Planet, Bug Off! Creepy Crawly Poems, and many more beautiful nature-themed poetry books
*Plus those very appealing "How Do Dinosaurs" books
*As well as collaborations with other poets such as:
- Self Portrait with Seven Fingers: A Life of Marc Chagall in Verse; Take Two! A Celebration of Twins both with J. Patrick Lewis
- Grumbles from the Forest: Fairy Tales with a Twist (and a forthcoming follow up book) both with Rebecca Kai Dotlich
- Switching on the Moon: A Very First Book of Bedtime Poems Here’s a Little Poem: A Very First Book of Poetry both edited with Andrew Fusek Peter.

Her book for adults, The Radiation Sonnets, inspired Lesléa's new book, I Carry My Mother. Both focus on coping with the serious illness of a loved one-- such a tough topic-- but poetry is such good therapy.

Lesléa Newman may be best known for her groundbreaking book, Heather Has Two Mommies (which will be reissued this year!) and she has many other picture books to her credit, but her poetry is also very compelling and engaging. Did you read October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard? So powerful, such craftsmanship. And last year, she published Here is the World: A Year of Jewish Holidays, a fun and engaging family treasure.

Jane read I Carry My Mother (and heard drafts read in the writers' group they share) and asked Lesléa several questions. Here we go. 

1. Mourning poems have a fine, long, old tradition. Did you think about that when choosing to write in forms?

The idea for the book was actually inspired by your collection, THE RADIATION SONNETS. I was so moved by both the poems themselves and the concept of a poet writing a poem each night after tucking a loved one who is ill into bed. So the first section of the book, which is a fifteen-part poem called “The Deal” and consists of triolets (a French form using a strict pattern of repetition and rhyme) was written while I was taking care of my mother. Each night for two weeks, after I’d tucked her into the hospital bed we’d set up in the living room, I’d climb upstairs, retreat to my childhood bedroom, and write a poem. After she died, I picked up my pen and began the second part of the book. It made sense to continue writing in form.

2. How long did the writing of the poems take, and when it ended was it like the lighting of a yahrzeit candle?

The poems took about a year, so yes, it was like lighting a yahrzeit candle. It was bittersweet because while I was writing, I felt my mom very close to me. She wanted to be a writer, and for various reasons never pursued it. I literally heard her voice in my ear while I was writing, encouraging me, and being proud of me. When I was finished writing the book, it was like losing her all over again.

3. I know you workshopped most of the poems, which could have felt like people stepping on your deepest emotions or taking flint and knife to your mourning. How did you sidestep such a feeling?

I have been writing poems for a really long time—half a century!—and I know that I am not the best judge of them. I am always grateful for honest, kind, thoughtful feedback which helps me make the poems the best they can be. I am also very careful about choosing my readers. For example, I trust the women in my writers’ group completely. I have learned to detach from my poems emotionally and just look at what’s on the page, almost as if someone else wrote them. You have to be tough on yourself! I tell my students that the first draft of a poem and the final draft of a poem resemble each other as much as a fish resembles a bicycle. I hold myself to the same standard. I am not my poems and my poems are not me. So it wasn’t difficult to receive feedback. Though it never fails: the lines that I am the most attached to are always the ones that need to be cut. And that can be hard. But only momentarily. Then I see that the cut actually improves the poem, and once again, I am impressed with my own brilliance!

4. You pull no punches. Some of the poems are relentless and unsparing—the pukes, moans, groans, asking for a pill to die. And yet even within the tough, gritty poems, your voice of love soars. I wonder which was harder—recording the disorderliness of your mother’s dying or chronicling your own shattered heart?

I definitely felt more emotional when I wrote about my own grief. While my mother was still alive, no matter what shape she was in, she was still among us, and she was still very much herself. Her absence leaves such a large hole. It is almost unbearable, even more than two years later. So the poems in the third section of the book, such as “Looking at Her” in which I describe applying makeup on my mom while she’s lying in her coffin, and “How To Bury Your Mother” were rather excruciating. But necessary.

5. There is anger in these poems, too, as when you say, “I am an orphan and not an orphan…” or the poem that ends with the thought that your mother, who died of a cancer brought on by cigarettes, had a life that had “gone up in smoke.”

It’s interesting that you read them that way. I don’t see the poems that way.  Which doesn’t mean you are reading the poems “incorrectly” as there is no right or wrong way to read a poem. I never felt anger about my mother’s illness and death. Lots and lots of sadness, and much despair, but never anger. My mother was very clear about her choices. She was also very smart. She knew the risks of smoking two packs a day for more than sixty years. When the doctor told her she had six months to live—actually he told me, and I was the one to tell her—my mother absorbed the news and then said matter-of-factly, “Everyone dies of something. This is my something.” She felt no anger. I felt no anger. Only sorrow.

6. And then there is a sprinkle of galgenhumor—gallow’s humor. My favorite of these is the Seussical: “Pills.” Were those written to lighten the book or because you needed a moment of playfulness to hold yourself together?

Humor is a tool of survival that I inherited from my mother. Actually everyone in my family uses humor—often self-depreciating humor—to get by. One day I was thinking about all the pills my mother had to take and I tried writing a poem in the voice of her pills but that didn’t work. Often when something doesn’t work on the page, something else emerges. What emerged was the poem “Pills” which of course is modeled after Dr. Seuss’ poem, “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.” The start of the poem is amusing:

One pill
two pills 
red pills
blue pills

Then the poem turns darker, though still maintains its humor:

pills so that her blood won’t clot
pills so that her brain won’t rot
pills to only take with food
pills to change her rotten mood

And the poem ends with no humor at all:

pills that make her stomach churn
pills that make her insides burn
pills that make her wonder why
she has no pill to help her die

In a way a poem like this is more devastating than the others because the tension between the lightness of the form and the heaviness of the content pulls at the heartstrings in a very painful way. But to answer your question, the whole book held me together, both while my mom was dying and afterwards. I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t write poems. Writing poems has gotten me through all the tough times in my life. I am exceedingly grateful that I have this outlet and that the poems often resonate and offer comfort to others.

+++ 

THANK YOU, Jane and Lesléa-- for this wonderful exchange. I really feel like I'm eavesdropping on two friends talking deeply about a serious subject, but with the care and lightness of a long friendship. What a privilege! 

Now head on over to A Teaching Life where Tara is hosting this week's Poetry Friday gathering.