Friday, February 17, 2017

Finding Poems in Moments of Surprise - And a Giveaway!

Mini Monster and Sarah
Photo by Amy LV

Students - Sometimes as I go through my day, I notice something curious. Yesterday, I looked at the couch and saw Mini and Sarah...sharing!  These two are not exactly pals, so it was a small ah-ha! moment for me, a bright moment of the afternoon.

Writing ideas are all around, and one place you can find one is in the small bits of life that surprise you. Yesterday I also saw a flock of robins swooping up from a sumac tree.  There's a poem in there just waiting...

And now...a Poetry Peek and a giveaway too...

Today I am very happy to share the latest from Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong...HERE WE GO!  This book, like YOU JUST WAIT is a POETRY FRIDAY POWER BOOK, meaning that it is an interactive book full of mentor poems, places for young writers to play with words, and pages for poetry writing.

This collection is very timely, addressing concerns that face many of our friends and neighbors right now.  It is a warmly and whimsically illustrated volume focusing on social action and stepping up to make your own corner of the world a more loving place.  And it's just full of poems, one each by Naomi Shihab Nye, Carole Boston Weatherford, Joseph Bruchac, David Bowles, Ibtisam Barakat, Eileen Spinelli, David L. Harrison, Kate Coombs, Robyn Hood Black, Michelle Heidenrich Barnes, Renée M. LaTulippe, Margaret Simon, and 24 poems by Janet Wong, threading the 36 poems into a story in different voices.

Here is a poem that is staying with me, one that helps me remember who I hope to be in hard times, by Michelle Heidenrich Barnes.

I asked Janet Wong to share a thought about this HERE WE GO with us today.  She says:

This book shows how you go from having a spark of an idea to getting your community behind you, including the important step of thanking your supporters. The kids who read this book might want to start, as the kids in HERE WE GO do, with something simple like a food drive or walk-a-thon to raise money for the local food bank. Fighting hunger is something that anyone in any town can agree on, right? And any school district, too: because if your students don’t have healthy food, they can’t concentrate. Fighting hunger = better learning! 

You can read more about HERE WE GO at any of these cozy homes online:
Irene Latham's Live Your Poem
Laurie L. Birchall's Poetry for Teaching
Mary Lee Hahn's A Reading Year 
Sylvia Vardell’s Poetry for Children 
Michelle Heidenrich Barnes's Today's Little Ditty
Linda Kulp Trout's Write Time
Katie's The Logonauts

Janet and Sylvia have generously offered to send 5 copies of HERE WE GO to one winner, someone who comments on this blog post by next Thursday evening, February 23. If you win, please give the books to a group: book club group, or home school group, or other group of students who will enjoy reading and writing on its pages.

Jone is hosting this week's Poetry Friday roundup over at Check it Out.  Head over there for poems, ideas, and community.  We are a welcoming community....and we welcome you!

Please share a comment below if you wish.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Love Repeat Love Repeat Love Repeat

I Love Granny Square Afghans
(I buy them at thrift stores...)
Photo by Amy LV

Students - Valentine's Day, the holiday of love, is just around the corner.  And today's poem is a celebration of love.  The other afternoon, I was walking with my husband, and I loved kicking a round rock down the sidewalk.  Yesterday evening, our daughter said, "I love drinking water!"  And always, I love black ink and cheese. 

One of my favorite poets, Billy Collins, has written a poem (and a book) titled "Aimless Love."  This poem is about loving the small things of life, and am quite sure that his poem planted a poemseed in my mind, a poemseed that grew into today's "Did You Know."

Writing is very much about love and falling in love with feathers and pumpkin muffins, socks and bike rides.  And Valentine's Day is a cozy time to think about how many good things there are to love in our world.  There are many many.

Today's poem does not rhyme, but you will notice some repetition.  Sometimes writers repeat lines throughout a poem and sometimes at the beginning and end of a poem. I've done both in this one, and you can try repeating in one of these ways too should you wish.  Writing techniques are free for the sharing.  I love that.

What do you love?  

If you write a poem today...will you play with repetition?


Last week I was honored to host teacher Holly Van Epps and her eighth grade poets with their haunting free verse poems written in refugee voices.  Please be sure to read their words if you have not yet done so. And Tony Johnston's beautiful book, VOICE FROM AFAR: POEMS OF PEACE, will soon be on its way to giveaway winner Linda B.  Please send me snail mail address, Linda, and I will get your book in the mail to you.

Katie is hosting this week's Poetry Friday roundup over at The Logonauts.  Head over there for poems, ideas, and community.  We are a welcoming group....and we welcome you!

Please share a comment below if you wish.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Voices of Refugees: A Free Verse Poetry Peek

this girl you see
by Amy LV

Students - Sometimes I write about the news and pictures I see in the news.  I am often aware of the fact that while I happened to be born free and safe, this is not the case for many people, including many children. When I think about this truth, I want to do good.  I want to be kind. I want to help.

Today I am honored to welcome eighth grade teacher Holly VanEpps and her student writers from A.D. Oliver Middle School in Brockport, NY.  Greetings to these young poets doing good, thoughtful work.  Thank you, Holly, for joining us.

Voices of Refugees: Free Verse Poetry

Our inspiration: This poetry project came about during our study of Thanhha Lai’s novel INSIDE OUT AND BACK AGAIN. 

The novel is written in free verse poetry form and is told from the perspective of a young Vietnamese refugee. As readers, we feel her heartbreak as she has to flee her home and leave everything behind. We can see her life being turned inside out when she escapes, and can feel her hope as she settles into her new home in America.

Expeditionary Learning has a unit on this book in their module from Engage NY. We use a lot of this unit, which culminates in a research-based free verse poetry assignment. Students are to research a country with a refugee crisis, and write a poem from the perspective of a refugee. Over the years, I have modified this assignment to incorporate more recent refugee crises—Syria, Iraq, Sudan, and Afghanistan. Some students got permission to choose from outside of this list—for example, one student from the Ukraine wanted to write as a refugee from his family’s home country. 

The Process: I recently changed the method of research—moving from hard-copy research folders to online research guides for each country. Students watched videos and read news reports, articles and websites to gather their information. They spent several days researching their country of choice, taking notes on the country, its conflict, and the culture, history, and traditions of its people. Their goal was to create a ‘culturally appropriate’ narrator and to include historical and cultural details in their writing in order to make their poem authentic. We studied closely the poems from Lai’s book to see how she was able to skillfully weave in researched details with ease.

Guidelines: Poems were to be written in free verse form, from the perspective of a culturally appropriate narrator. They had to include at least three historical or cultural details, and had to also include several instances of figurative language. The poem had to be set in the context of a specific scene, and needed to show how the refugee’s life had been turned ‘inside out.’

The end result of this assignment was something truly beautiful. Students—even ones who do not love ELA or writing—created really powerful poems that captured what it might mean to be a refugee— the struggle, the fear, the heartbreak, and sometimes the triumph that goes along with this life-changing experience. And they did it all with their words. 

Darth Vader No More

I am like the
Darth Vader of everything,
for I always come at the wrong times,
for I always cause destruction.

Since living in Iran, I feel
a little
less like the fatal villain.
I am starting to help my old mother out
by sewing brown
 w        r
       o       m
 looking fabric into big squares of fabric.

Mother says it will help earn Iranian Rials,
which will help me pay for tuition.

Since moving into my two story, green apartment
I am the magnet for my age, drawing many peers near.
I have made many new friends,
all having the same
background as me.

One girl I met, with
shiny, black hair
happens to be from Herat!

I found a small, Afghan diner
which serves my favorite food,
which I can buy for just 2 IRR’s!
The sweet aroma it gives off
I can smell from my home,
t h r e e    b l o c k s   a w a y.

Adjusting to my new home, I don’t feel
as if I am the only
in a tunnel of
as I had felt in the torturous refugee camp.

by Allie

Teacher Note: I really like how this student used a simile that many students could connect with—comparing their destructive ways with Darth Vader. I also like how she played around with concrete poetry form, making some of her words visually represent that word. 

What If?

As we wait in the field like crippled field mice
for the Serbs—the hawks—to kill us,
a funny thought occurs to me.

What if when Edvin—my best friend—
fled with his family, my family had followed?

What if eight days ago when the Serbs came to our home in Foca
to deliver a first—and final—warning
to leave or be murdered,
Father had agreed?

What if Father had not instead
grabbed the gun of the first,
shot the second,
and gotten shot by the third,
all while yelling for us to run?

What if I had grabbed Mother, as well as Mirsada,
as I heeded his advice?

What if I had not run at all?

Perhaps carpets would still hang
on the walls
and lie on the floor
like familiar
and beautiful
reminding us that
everything was how it should be.

I would be sipping
my morning kava
instead of letting the
fall on my tongue.

As the Serbs turn toward the west,
I turn toward the east.

Toward Croatia,
toward hope.

As the Serbs
mislead themselves
now over a mile away
I take Mirsada’s hand
and we walk
into the sunrise.

by Alex

Teacher Note: I love the simile in stanza one of this poem, and the repetition of “What if?” throughout. The detail about the carpets on the walls and sipping a morning kava are really beautiful.

They Day They Came

They came
as a pride of lions,
so quiet
and unsuspecting,
always prowling
in the near distance.

The inevitable threat,
waiting to strike.

Much stronger
than us,
much faster
than us,
much more feared
than us.

They came just three weeks after Muharram,
the new year.
And a month
and two and one-half weeks before Mawlid,
Mohammad’s birthday celebration.

They were angry,
shouting things like
allahu akbar,
Mohammad is greater.

This we know,
for we are Islamic,
but we do not fight.

have come
for war.

by Jacob

Teacher Note: This is just the beginning of this student’s poem—it is a much longer poem that tells a great story. I included this excerpt because of the great metaphor in the first stanza.

The Ride of a Refugee

My name is Darya, meaning sea, because mama refers to me as a wave,
going away, then being strong and coming back again.

I’m an average 13-year-old girl,
riding on the endless ride
of being a refugee.

My life is like a rollercoaster,
except it’s not the woo-hoo! kind of roller coaster,
it’s more like the type of roller coaster when all the suspense
builds up at the top, and at that very moment
you know you made the wrong decision.

No one told me to hold on like they do at
the cheesy carnivals before they start the ride.
No, not at all.

So when I was forced to flee
my house in Maiden Shar,
a small little town located in Afghanistan
with a population of 2400,
I was kind of shaken around.

Like any other rollercoaster, my life is full of thrill.
Twists and turns here and there,
but my life is constantly

This horrible ride just keeps on going.
Mama woke me up at the crack of dawn.
She told me to do one thing, and only one thing.
I don’t know what I was packing for
Or why I even needed to pack,
but I did what mother told me.

My stuffed dog that I have had ever since I was little,
a pair of clean clothing,
my one and only blanket,
and my other pair of shoes is all that I bring,
leaving all the other memories behind.

As soon as we are both out she locks the door, not knowing this now,
but that was her last time ever locking the door.

Run she says.
Mama tells me to run and get on the ship

I opened my eyes and ran.
Ran all the way until the people on the streets were just a blur.
And that’s when I knew the ride had just begun.

by Morgan

Teacher Note: This is also a shortened version of this student’s original poem. I loved that she carried the metaphor of the amusement park throughout the entire poem.


New desk, mahogany.
There’s chewing gum stuck under the table of it,
            as am I.

Faint, but close.

BOOMING ShrapnelShrapnel


Footsteps. Wait, bullets.

Flying past the building,
family of 13, gone.

Lost, burqa turned burnt cloth.

Stuffed animal,
burnt to a crisp.

The whole camp,

Bullets. Wait, footsteps,

Coming up the stairs, fast.

Malik! The girl I had met earlier,
Northern Iraqis behind,
Mila, Gone.
Me, out the window.

هذا الفتى! (That boy!)

They may have me.
Not just yet.
I’m a fast runner…

by Ethan

Teacher Note: I love how he played with sentence structure. I think the shorter sentences, and even the fragments, are pretty powerful. He is another student who worked with some concrete poetry form. The contrast of the line, "Footsteps. Wait, bullets" and the one later on that says "Bullets. Wait, Footsteps" is also a favorite part. I appreciate that he ended his poem with a cliffhanger. 

Thank you to Holly and to these thoughtful poets for joining us today.  In gratitude, I will send them a copy of a book that broke me open this week, Tony Johnston's VOICE FROM AFAR.  I will also send a copy to one commenter on this post, drawn at random next Thursday, February 9 and announced next Friday.

Penny is hosting today's Poetry Friday roundup over at her place where you can celebrate second grade teacher poet Heidi Mordhorst's wonderful young poets with their coral reef poetry and art along with links to all kinds of poetry goodness.

Please share a comment below if you wish.

Friday, January 27, 2017

It's OK to Make Mistakes, & It's OK to Write About Them

An Unnecessary Boundary
by Amy LV

Students - This poem is about long car trips and it is about making lines and it is about being sorry and it is about admitting mistakes.  Have you ever done anything that you've later regretted? I sure have.

Sometimes writing ideas arise inside of us from the past and they mix up with ideas we are thinking about in the present.  Today's poem is one of those.  I played around with the words for quite a while in my notebook, moving around line breaks, listening for sounds that wanted to come forward.

Do this. Read your words out loud. And don't be afraid to admit if you make a mistake.  We all do.  Poems are a free and open field for talking about mistakes.  

Poems forgive.

Carol is hosting today's Poetry Friday roundup over at Beyond Literacy Link. Please visit her place to learn about what's happening poetry-wise all around the Kidlitosphere this week.

Please share a comment below if you wish.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Personification and Poems and Woodstoves and Joy

Tonight's Fire
Photo by Amy LV

Students - Today's poem is about how I think poems might feel...if poems could feel. If a poem could talk, it would offer to be your friend. And it would offer to be my friend.  It would offer to be everybody's friend.  And it wouldn't show off or say rude things or act fancy or self-absorbed.  A poem would be a cozy friend, always there to listen or give you a foot rub when you most need it.

For me, that's what poems are and that's what poems do.  Poems keep me warm when I feel cold.

May it be so for you, sweet friends.

Violet is hosting today's Poetry Friday roundup over at Violet Nesdoly/poems. Please visit her place to learn about what's happening poetry-wise all around the Kidlitosphere this week.

Please share a comment below if you wish.

Friday, January 13, 2017

What to Write? Assign Yourself an Idea and Structure!

Thinking Cactus
by Amy LV

Students - For this week's poem, I knew that I write a poem following the meter of someone else's poem.  But as of yesterday, I had not yet chosen which poem.  Nor had I chosen an idea.

I decided to force myself to find an idea by looking around the Aurora Town Public Library.

I looked at bookshelves, deciding to write a poem inspired by a book title.  I almost did too...I almost wrote a poem inspired by the title MAKING MISTAKES ON PURPOSE.  Can you find that book on the shelf below?

Bookshelf at the Aurora Town Public Library
Photo by Amy LV

Then I looked at magazines and the succulent wreath caught my eye.  I thought about cacti and how much I admire their toughness.  It was just a fleeting thought.

Magazines at the Aurora Town Public Library
Photo by Amy LV

I began freewriting about cacti to get some thinking down in my notebook.

Freewriting about Cacti
(Click to Enlarge)
Photo by Amy LV

Now, I had already assigned myself the task of writing a poem that matched the meter of another poet's poem.  So, I read in this book by Nancy Larrick to choose a meter and rhyme scheme to copy.

Beautiful Library Discard I'd Brought with Me
Photo by Amy LV

And I decided to imitate the meter and rhyme scheme of a poem I have always loved, the poem by Christina Rossetti that begins "Hurt No Living Thing" - in the public domain.

By Christina Rossetti 
Photo by Amy LV

Then it was time to get to work.  I had given myself an assignment: write a cactus poem in the meter and rhyme scheme of Rossetti's poem.  Below you can see some of that work. Note the numbers next to my lines - count to see if they match the numbers of syllables in Rossetti's lines.  What do you notice about the rhymes in each poem?

Draft of "Once"
(Click to Enlarge)
Photo by Amy LV

I played and I wrote and I tapped the table and I read aloud...and at the end of it all, I had written the silly verse you find above.  (To be truthful, I had a little giggle with cactus/fact is.)

Writing a new piece is a little bit like taking a trip.  Part destination, much exploration.  You might wish to document the journey of one of your pieces sometime.  And if you have never given yourself an assignment, try that too.  You might use mine or you might make up something completely new, just for you.  The important thing is to follow through.

As I left the library last evening, I giggled again as - for the first time - I saw:

this Christmas bloom

Christmas Cactus at the Aurora Town Public Library
Photo by Amy LV

this jade plant, also a succulent.

Jade Plant at the Aurora Town Public Library
Photo by Amy LV

It's funny how once I start thinking about a thing...I see it everywhere!  Has this ever happened to you?

Congratulations to Linda A. for winning last week's giveaway - a signed copy of FINDING WONDERS by Jeannine Atkins!  Linda, please send me an e-mail to with your snail mail address, and I will pass it along to Jeannine. Thank you, Jeannine, for the beautiful post and book!

Keri is hosting today's Poetry Friday roundup over at Keri Recommends.  Please visit her place to think about reflection and to learn about what's happening poetry-wise all around the Kidlitosphere this week.

Please share a comment below if you wish.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Finding Questions and Wonders with Jeannine Atkins

Winter Chickadee
Photo by Amy LV

Students - Today's poem came from my own wonders about migrating birds (How do they KNOW?) and from the birds we see in our yard each winter. Today I share a questioning nature poem - from Chickadee's point of view - in honor of our special guest, a poet I admire so deeply.

Jeannine Atkins

It is my absolute honor to welcome Jeannine Atkins, author of, among other books, BORROWED NAMES, LITTLE WOMAN IN BLUE, VIEWS FROM A WINDOW SEAT, and her latest...gorgeous...FINDING WONDERS.  Stay tuned for her forthcoming STONE MIRRORS (later this month) but today, please enjoy Jeannine's words about FINDING WONDERS, a book that has received stars from both Booklist and The Bulletin of the Center of Children's Books, a book that has been named a Book that Makes a Difference by The Horn Book, a book that has made me cry and cheer out loud.

I asked Jeannine, "Do you feel that you BECOME these girls when you write about them?"

She answered, Yes, there is some sense of channeling, of reading enough and getting the details till I feel like I have a special key.

Welcome, Jeannine!  Please tell us about this latest book.

Finding Wonders is about three girls who were born in earlier centuries and whose lives focused on the close looking needed in science. Poems often begin with close looking, too. I want to see past words, which sometimes seem in the way, to what’s in front of my eyes.

A Room in the Queen’s Gallery in London
Honoring the Plants and tools Maria Merian Worked with 
after Sailing from Europe to South America in 1699
Photo by Jeannine Atkins

Maria Sibylla Merian grew up helping her stepfather in his studio and learning to paint. She loved the colors of butterflies, moths, and flowers, but she was even more fascinated to watch how a small animal changed, from a caterpillar or silkworm to a chrysalis or cocoon, then to a butterfly or moth. Maria Merian’s paintings had to be still, but sometimes she painted all the stages of a life in one picture.

Maria Sibylla Merian’s Work on Display
in the Queen’s Gallery in London
Photo by Jeannine Atkins

To write some poems, I also wanted to show these small creatures in motion. I watched videos of silkworms spinning sticky silk around themselves, and weeks later, breaking open the cocoon. I wrote metaphors comparing the spinning to dancing and twirling a spoon around a cake to frost it.

Can you watch an action, such as a caterpillar crawling up grass or a spider making a web? Try comparing the motion to something from your own life.

Writing about Mary Anning, the first person to make a living selling fossils, meant I had to imagine her life, back before there was a word for “dinosaur.” In my mind’s eye, I saw Mary walking down the beach, picking up what she called curiosities. These stones with an impression of plants or animals are what we call fossils. I wrote about the questions these stones might have raised in her mind.

Trilobites and Ammonites 
Such as those Mary Anning Collected
Photo by Jeannine Atkins

Choose a scientist from the past to write a poem about. What do you know now that she or he wouldn’t know then? Can you write a poem as a conversation between you and this scientist, speaking about something now known that wasn’t known long ago?

Thank you so much to Jeannine for joining us here this week...and we are even luckier still because Jeannine is offering a giveaway of one signed copy of her book to a commenter on this post.  The winner will be posted in this same space next Friday, January 13, so please leave your comment by Thursday evening, January 12.

For more about FINDING WONDERS, visit here:

Doraine Bennett's post at Dori Reads, November 18, 2016
Linda Mitchell's post at A Word Edgewise, January 6, 2016

Linda is hosting today's Poetry Friday roundup over at TeacherDance.  Head on over and join the poetry joy.  All are always welcome.

Please share a comment below if you wish.