Poetry Friday - Open Mic Event

Last night, I had an opportunity to experience poetry as only middle schoolers can perform it.  A few months ago, I pitched an idea to the Coordinator or my District's After School program (LEARNS) and to a friend, Jane Gov, who is the Teen Librarian at the Pasadena Public Library.  I have wanted the schools to partner more with the public library.  With Poetry Month coming up, I thought it would be a great way to try doing an event together. 

At all of our Middle Schools, the LEARNS program staff worked on a writing class called The Spoken Word.  As part of the class students worked on writing original poetry. Some students added interpretive dance to their poetry and others performed their poetry to rap music. No matter which format a student used, the poetry was authentic and powerful.

The LEARNS Program staff also brought student created art to display in the room. I was in awe of their work.

This young lady danced before reading her poem.

One of the staff encouraged her son to join in and he read an original poem about bullying. I tried videotaping it but unfortunately, the sound did not come out clear enough.

There were several girls who performed poems that were very personal and touching.

And there was even a group of boys who learned that lyrics are really just poems in disguise.  They performed biographical poems as Rap Songs.

The energy before, during, and after the event was incredible. Family and friends watched and celebrated with their poets. And at the end, everyone celebrated with pizza. 

In the end, the unanimous sentiment was that this should be an annual event.  I was thrilled that my idea could find feet and wings with the support of talented staff, who helped see it through.

The Best Part of Me...Poetry Project by Jan Tappan

This past weekend, Jan Tappan, a teacher friend of mine shared about a class poetry project that she did recently with her 4th graders. 

From Jan...

I got the idea for the "Best Part of Me" poems from Carol Raby, an Elementary Librarian & a source of a great number of really terrific ideas. Hope Anita Smith visited Carol's school to conduct poetry workshops with the students there. The poetry project I was interested in was the one where the students used paint colors as metaphors for aspects of themselves (physical characteristics, emotions: "When I'm mad, I'm Maine Lobster," for example) and then illustrated the poems with torn white core scrapbook paper collage.

When Readers (a monthly book group comprised of teachers and librarians) visited her school, Carol showed me her photo album of the paint color poems, and I had great success with those last year. As I looked through her scrapbook, I found the photos (see example above) with poems displayed in a very unusual way. The sign on that bulletin board said that the poems had been inspired by Hope Anita Smith, but I later learned about the Wendy Ewald book, The Best Part of Me: Children Talk About Their Bodies in Pictures and Words and Literacy and Justice Through Photography: A Classroom Guide, the source for the original idea. Carol told me that the poems celebrated the "best part" of each student and that they used one metaphor, one simile, and one other kind of figurative language. The poems started and ended with "The best part of me is.."

I asked my students to write poems about what they felt was their best visible feature. The kids had a great time thinking up similes and metaphors to go with the body part that they had chosen, a process they found not as easy as they first thought! They shared their poems with each other for help with editing, revising, and ideas for metaphors and the "other figurative language" line. We took closeup photos of the kids' faces and of the body parts they wrote about. The kids used our word processors to type their poems, we formatted them so they looked the same and mounted them so the photos stood out from the board. It was a great success at our open house!

Mounting directions: Fold the 8 1/2" ends of letter size paper to the center line, creating two side flaps. Glue the student's face picture to the outside of the right flap, and the student's body part photo on the side facing the center line so the two photos are glued back to back with the body part photo facing the poem. Mount the poem's final copy in the center between the two flaps. I laminated the poem/photo display to make the photos stand out and to protect the display which is in a crowded hallway. When I put the bulletin board up, I backed each of the poems with a contrasting paper and re-folded the flaps on the poetry frame.

Additional Resources:

Check out this "Best Part of Me..." Resource on Scholastic.

Click here for an article about Wendy Ewald's work.

Thanks Jan for sharing about this great project...I can't wait to try it with students. - Alyson

An interview with Amy VanDerwater - Forest Has a Song

Today debut author, Amy VanDerwater  has stopped by to chat and share her thoughts about her new book Forest Has a Song and a little bit about her writing life.  She has also shared some great ideas for celebrating National Poetry Month.  Thanks Amy for stopping by.

Amy, your book is beautifully illustrated and the poetry is very lovely. In Forest Has a Song, all of the poetry is focused on nature. Do you have other topics you like to write about? 

Thank you very much; I adore Robbin Gourley’s illustrations too! And yes…I often write about the small observations in my life such as hugging warm laundry fresh from the dryer or curling up with a dog. I love to write about play and questions and making things. Many of my poems explore the border of daily life and mystery – that in-between space. Many more are about connection; I am fascinated by how we are all connected to each other and to animals, to history and to plants, to art and to song.

I have recently had fun teaching children about writing cinquains. Is there a type of poetry that you most enjoy writing or teaching? 

I like to write just to see what happens. For me, a poem often grows from a snip of thought or wonder or joy or just good-sounding words. I’m a notebook keeper, and I enjoy discovering what arises from my entries. I do like reading others poems and studying their forms, experimenting with those forms on my own. I always think of it as like trying on dress up clothes and seeing what fits. When I teach, I most want children to understand that we write not to fit a template, but to illuminate what matters to us.

When did you decide you wanted to write poetry? Do you write a lot of poetry as a child?

I did write some poetry as a child. I kept diaries here and there (when I was really little, Mom took dictation for me), and I remember loving the play of words. In sixth grade I wrote a poem about mothers that ended like this:

Mothers always yell at you/ like make your bed or tie your shoe/or pick up that sock you left on the ground/but mothers make the world go round. 

I was very happy with that ending rhyme.

What is the question that you most frequently get asked by children who write to you?

I do not yet receive many letters from children…but maybe someday! - I (Alyson) suspect that will change now that your book is out. :-)

What suggestions would you give teachers for celebrating National Poetry Month? 

Just fall in love. Begin each day of April by reading a fantastic poem “just because”. Choose nature poems, funny poems, sad poems…poems that span human experience. Our currently-crazed testing culture is not supportive of reading poetry for poetry’s sake, but we are teaching children with great minds and souls, and these minds and souls need poems. Children are hungry for meaning, and there is meaning in poems. From this meaning-place, our students will want to write, and then revise, edit, and maybe share their own poetry. Don’t worry about making every poem fit an activity or a form; just fall in love with words, let poems wash over and through you.

I share some ideas for sharing and writing poems at my blog, The Poem Farm, and you can find links to many poetry-happenings in the Kidlitosphere this month at Jama Rattigan’s Alphabet Soup -  and at Poets.org

I will also be the Author-in-Residence at ReaderKidZ for the month of April.

One thing I am always curious about is the writing habits and writing space of authors? Some work in their home or a writing space, and others in coffee shops. Some like music playing in the background and others have special snacks or beverages. Tell us a little bit about your writing space and habits.

I am not very organized, so alas, I have not made an organized or lovely writing space. I write anywhere: flopped in the grass, at a local bakery (background music is not good for me), stretched out on our living room floor, at my messy antique roll top desk. I do best when I’m in a rhythm, and this April, I’m getting back into writing rituals by drawing each day in my new sketchbook. I am hoping that poems will grow from these drawings which I will post daily at my blog.

If we were to get a peek at your “To-be-read” pile, what titles would be see in the stack of books?

Right now I am looking at Lewis Turco’s TURCO’S BOOK OF FORMS, a book that I’m not sure how I’ll attack. I’m finishing Ted Kooser’s THE POETRY HOME REPAIR MANUAL, am rereading THE TREE THAT TIME BUILT poems selected by Mary Ann Hoberman, and I am about to read MINDSET: THE NEW PSYCHOLOGY OF SUCCESS by Carol Dweck. I need a novel!

Cake by Luci Levere of Elm Street Bakery E. Aurora NY
Do you have any other future writing projects in the works? Anything you can share? 

READING TIME, a collection of reading poems, will be published by WordSong at some point in the future, and I do have my fingers crossed for a couple of other manuscripts too…but those are still secret.

Thank you very much for hosting me here at KidLitFrenzy, Alyson. It has been a pleasure. 

Some special links and resources from Amy...

The Poem Farm (my poem blog)

Sharing Our Notebooks (my notebooks blog) 

Information about FOREST HAS A SONG - click here

HMH's Spring Poetry Kit - Spring 2013 Poetry Kit on Scribd 

Illustrator of FOREST HAS A SONG - Robbin Gourley's website http://robbingourley.com/

Don't forget to enter to win a copy of A Forest Has a Song from Blueslip Media. a Rafflecopter giveaway

April is National Poetry Month

Tomorrow is the start of National Poetry Month.  How are you going to celebrate with your students?  Here are a few ideas to try this month... 

- Poem of the Day: Have different students share a favorite poem each day of the month.

- Poem in Your Pocket: Have children carry around a poem in their pocket and be prepared to share it with classmates and others at school.

- Spine Poetry:  Have children create poems from interesting titles of books.  Stack the books so that the titles can be read like a poem.

- Poetry Night/Poetry Reading:  Talk with your local library or Independent Bookstore and arrange for a poetry reading event.  Invite parents and friends to listen to students read poems that they have written.

- Poetry Workshops - Set up the classroom with images, and props to inspire children to write their own poetry.  You can even have students go on a walk around the school and bring back a picture or an item to write about.  

- Poetry Videos:  Have children create their own videos featuring their poetry using a website such as Animoto

- Poetry Wall: Create a space where students can post favorite poems that they have discovered and also, post their own poetry

And don't forget to just simply share dozens of different types of poetry books and styles of poems with children.  Poetry can be a wonderful way to support all learners in a classroom in building vocabulary and in developing as writers.  

Here are a few new poetry books that I love ...

Forest Has a Song by Amy VanDerwater; Illustrated by Robbin Gurley - check out my review and giveaway here.

Follow, Follow: A Book of Reverso Poems by Marilyn Singer; Illustrated by Josée Masse (Penguin,

Seeds, Bees, Butterflies and More!: Poems for Two Voices by Carol Gerber; Illustrated by Eugene Yelchin (Henry Holt, February 2013)

For more of my favorites check the links below:

Poetry Books for Teachers (Kid Lit Frenzy, July 12, 2012) - A list of 10 of my favorites.

Four Poetry Books to Add to Your Collection (Kid Lit Frenzy, December 11, 2012) - 4 more favorites of mine.

Here are some on my favorite websites for poetry:

National Poetry Month for Poets.org

Reading Rocket's National Poetry Month Page

Scholastic's April is National Poetry Month Page

Poetry for Children Blog

Dare to Dream Poetry Contest for Kids

Poetry Lessons and Plans (The Teacher's Guide)

Kristine O'Connell George's Teacher Resources

Amy VanDerwater's  The Poem Farm

Kathi Mitchell's Poetry for Kids

Happy National Poetry Month - may you and your students be inspired!

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday (13)

As part of the Non-Fiction Picture Book Challenge 2012 (Twitter: #nfpb2012), my goal is to read and review as many of the new non-fiction picture books that are released this year.  Wednesdays will be my primary day to post the reviews.

I just realized that today is the last Wednesday of the month.  Where did April go?  Seriously!!!  It is time for a giveaway.  And it is also National Poetry Month.  So I might be stretching this a bit to fit a poetry book into a nonfiction review, but I'll share why below.   My nonfiction giveaway of the month will be a copy of Douglas Florian's unBEElievables.  You have until Wednesday, May 2, 2012 to enter the contest.  It is open to international participants. 

Author/Illustrator:  Douglas Florian
Publisher:  Beach Lane Books (March 2012)
Number of Pages: 32
Source: Personal Copy
Audience: K-5
Poetry * Bees * Nonfiction

Description from the publisher's page:
The buzz is big for Douglas Florian’s new poetry collection about the unBEElieveably unique lives of honeybees—and the vital role they play in our ecosystem. Come inside the honeycomb—a busy, buzzy, bee-filled home—and learn about the unexpected wonders of these tiny insects’ lifestyles, families, and communities. In fourteen funny, fact-filled honeybee poems and paintings, Douglas Florian explores the natural history of these often-unappreciated critters, revealing them to be a totally cool—and totally important—part of our ecosystem. Indeed, these buzzy bugs have been in the spotlight lately as wild bee populations are dwindling, honey prices are rising, and beekeeping has become a popular hobby. 

My thoughts on this book:
When I first saw this book, I fell in love with it.  My initial thought was how cool to mix poetry and nonfiction in the same book. Florian has a brilliant concept within the pages of this book.  There are 14 poems about bees (bees, bee anatomy, queen bees, types of bees, and more), and they are all very accessible for children (or for those adults who are still trying to figure out poetry).  Though I really enjoyed the poetry, I was impressed with how each poem was accompanied by a corresponding "bee fact" about the same topic as the poem.  There was even a few further reading suggestions at the end.

This is certainly one of those books that can be used with various grade levels and also in different parts of a curriculum.  I love books that I can keep referring to all through the year and not just for a specific unit or feature in a month.  I also like things that I can share with more than one grade level and allows for multi-age projects.  Additionally, Florian's illustrations had this great "kid" feel to them which gave me ideas of how to combine both art and poetry into a lesson for the students.

If you want a chance to check out this book, don't forget to enter the giveaway (no reviews necessary but you do need to fill out the form.) 

Also, if you are participating in the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge, link up a recent review. 

Don't forget to add a link to your own nonfiction picture book reviews from this past week. Thanks for participating in the challenge.