Wednesday, February 29, 2012

My Birthday - Poems about Occasions

Photo by Amy LV

Happy birthday to all leap year babies!

Students - Today's poem is a holiday poem, a math poem, and a riddle poem! The other day, when I sat down to write, I got thinking about what a special year this is...leap year! I stopped to think about those with birthdays on February 29 and how they can only celebrate their true birth date every four years.

Writing a math riddle poem is a neat little exercise.  Just come up with a math problem in your head (or on paper) and then play around with it and with words, turning it into a verse.

Having a leap year birthday puts a person in a special sort of club, much like being a lefty. And so of course, there is a group you can belong to. It's called The Honor Society of Leap Year Day Babies. You can read about why founder Peter Brouwer founded this group here at the LOS ANGELES TIMES.

Did you know that there is a special newspaper that only comes out on leap days?  It's in France, and it's called La Bougie du Sapeur!

To read about some children who have leap year birthdays, check out THE WASHINGTON POST.  To read a bout a leap year couple, check out npr.  Too, npr has some suggestions about how to spend this extra 24 hours...

And now for a few words from Marilla, NY native, Scott Gowanlock, about having a leap year birthday.

I love having a leap year birthday because I can trick people when they ask my actual birthday. They don't actually believe I am actually five years old, so when I show them my license, they are amazed. Also, 75% of the time I can have a 2-day birthday because I was born in February so we celebrate it on the 28th, but I was also born the day after the 28th which is March 1. This gives me a 2-day birthday! We usually celebrate it on whichever weekend falls closest to the day, either before or after.

When I was born, I was supposed to be on the news as I was the first Buffalo leap year baby born in 1992. However, on that same day, a woman had her second leap year baby so they interviewed her instead.

Thank you, Scott.   Happy birthday!

Did you figure out the answer to this poem's question?

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Monday, February 27, 2012

Dilemma - Writing from "What If?"

by Amy LV

Students - More and more, I believe that writing without a plan is a good practice.  Sometimes people sit down and think, "I cannot write because I do not already have a writing idea."  But if you sit and just start writing any old gibberish, an idea will come and sit on your shoulder!  

The other day I sat and just wrote the words What if? in the margin of my big black notebook, and today's poem showed up.  

Try it sometime.  Sit down to write when you have no idea what you will write about.  Just start.  Let the idea sit on your shoulder!  (Don't think it will not come.  Such thoughts scare ideas away!)

If you're not sure what to write, start with What if?

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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Spark 15 II & Paula Lantz's Response

Boulders in My Heart 

Students - yesterday I shared a painting by artist Paula B. Lantz, the painting which inspired "The Water Tower." Today you can see how "White Fields," inspired this beautiful piece of art by Paula! To learn more about SPARK, brainchild of Amy Souza, and how the process works, visit here.

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Friday, February 24, 2012

Spark 15 & The Water Tower

Mixed Media on Canvas

Students - once again, it's been a delight to take part in SPARK...SPARK 15!  This time I was lucky enough to be paired up with artist Paula B. Lantz, and she gave me permission to choose any of her work from the Touchstone Gallery to spark my writing.  I so enjoyed browsing through her work, and when I saw the painting above, I knew it was the one!

Writing from art stretches a whole new part of one's mind, and I highly recommend it as an exercise.  You might find a shoe box and collect postcards from art museums or gather quirky pictures that somehow speak to you...  Then, if ever you think, "I have no ideas," you can simply pluck a picture and see where it takes you.  I have learned this from SPARK.

In writing today's poem, I worked to focus especially on color, to use color words all along the way.  Last year, a teacher friend shared some of his students' written stories with me.  Michael's story detailed a memory he had of a girl throwing up on his bus.  What struck me was his use of color: face purple like a grape, white like snow...  When I wrote this poem, I tried to write like Michael.  Try that sometime; write with color words.

Many thanks to Amy Souza for again putting together a wonderful opportunity for artists, musicians, and teachers to collaborate in this way.  This is my fourth time participating, and each time is nourishing and exciting!  All are welcome to participate, and I encourage you to check out the website and the pieces.  Too, Amy Souza, teacher Jamie Palmer, and I still plan to get a small SPARK KIDS going this spring.  More details to follow.

I will share Paula's response to my poem tomorrow, Saturday! 

In other writing news, this week I have a column about ears and holes in the "My View" column of THE BUFFALO NEWS.

Thank you to Ruth Ayres of Ruth Ayres Writes and Two Writing Teachers for her generous sharing of both notebooks and writing process this week over at Sharing Our Notebooks, a resource for teaching students all about notebook keeping and for the nosy among us to peek into others' notebooks.

Jone is hosting today's Poetry Friday over at Check It Out.  Check it out!

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Kindness - Poems About What We Have Learned

by Amy LV

Students - I am a dropper, a spiller, a tripper...and so there have been many times that people have helped me pick up my crayons, my boots, my silverware. Whenever someone else drops something, I know how he or she feels. I have learned to stop and help that person as others have helped me.

Today's poemstory represents just a snip of time - the first six lines could take place in maybe one minute. The last two lines are a reflection on what the speaker has learned from this experience - to be kind, to help.

What lesson have you learned from an experience? Might this find its way into a notebook entry or poem? What is a trait you admire? Can you think of a tiny story which illustrates this trait?  I always feel a twinge of worry and sadness when someone makes a big spill, and somehow that twinge came into my mind last night.

Teachers - one poem I mention in this space over and over, is Naomi Shihab Nye's Kindness. It has changed my life.

Over at Mentoring Monday, Lisa Dabbs has a post about kindness in the classroom and information about the movie, FINDING KIND.

And today, on the same kindness wavelength, is Mary Lee Hahn over at A Year of Reading.  Do not miss her list of books that evoke empathy.

Ruth Ayres has been kind enough to share her notebooks and fierce wonderings over at Sharing Our Notebooks this week.  If you're a notebook peeker, you will not want to miss it!

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Monday, February 20, 2012

Manderson Snickafreed & Double Dactyls

Apples and Fairy Tales
(DA da da DA da da)
Photo by Amy LV

Students - today's poems are double dactyls, a funny (and tricky!) form invented by Anthony Hecht and Paul Pascal in 1961. This form has many rules which you can find online or in one of my favorite new books, IN THE PALM OF YOUR HAND, by Steve Kowit. Here are the rules, as described in my book:

A double dactyl has 2 quatrains.
The first three lines of each quatrain are dactyls (DA da da DA da da, example is Hickory Dickory).
The final line of each stanza is a single dactyl and a single accented syllable (DA da da DA).
The first line is a nonsense phrase which must rhyme with the second line.
The second line must be a proper name or noun.
The second line of the second stanza must be a single word (a six syllable word with stresses on syllables one and 4).
The last line of each stanza must rhyme.

The Poetry Foundation and Wikipedia indicate that some purists hold to the Hecht's and Pascal's original rule that the sixth line of a double dactyl must be a word that has never before been used in line six a double dactyl. Many do not.  Mine do not, I'm sure!

On Saturday night, I found myself thumbing through this book and delighted in reading the double dactyls therein. That night, I wrote Manderson Danderson. Then, on Sunday, I was worried that I might not be able to do it I tried and wrote Hickafreed Snickafreed.

Here are some double dactyls from a 2009 Poetry Stretch with Tricia over at The Miss Rumphius Effect.  This would be a brave challenge to try as a class. No need to finish the poem all at once either!  Simply begin it on a sheet of chart paper (I found it easiest to begin with line 2 or line 6) and then everyone can just keep thinking about it over a couple of weeks.  You might even wish to make a list of dactyls on a separate chart: CEN-ti-pede, UN-der-wear, SU-per-star....

Below you can see the drafts for my two double dactyls.  You'll see how in some places I marked the syllables and stresses to be sure that they were solid.

Double Dactyl Draft
by Amy LV

Another Double Dactyl Draft
by Amy LV

Yet Another Double Dactyl Draft 
by Amy LV

(My husband just asked how many of these I plan to write.  He said that he wonders if I am becoming obsessed.  Maybe so, maybe so.)

For a link to Hans Christian Andersen's THE LITTLE MATCH GIRL, click here.  For the story of Johnny Appleseed, click here.  And for information about Dav Pilkey's CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS books, click here.

Over at Sharing Our Notebooks (my other blog) Ruth Ayres offers a look into her notebooks and questioning process.  Thank you, Ruth!

HAVE a good MONday now!

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Friday, February 17, 2012

Fear and Poems about Changing Your Mind

by Amy LV

Students - have you ever felt afraid of something, faced your fears, and then realized that the scary thing was not so bad after all? There have been many times in my life when I have felt sure of something and then later changed my mind. Today's poem is a changing-your-mind poem, telling the story of fear changing to wonder.

If you find yourself looking at a blank page of your notebook today, consider writing about a time when you changed your mind, when you realized something new, when you gave someone or something a second change. Such moments of realization and change are good seeds for writing.

You may notice that each stanza of "Fear" has three lines and that the first line of each stanza is short, only two syllables. I enjoy playing with patterns and sometimes even borrowing patterns from other poems I love. You can try that too. Choose a poem that you like and then ask yourself:  How long is this poem? How does the rhyme work? How does the repetition work? How can I take one of these ideas and make it my own?

My husband's biology class has just added a new friend, a ball python who doesn't have a name yet. And a warm box in our basement is currently home to three little chicks (Georgia named one Petronella, after a character in GOOD MASTERS! SWEET LADIES! VOICES FROM A MEDIEVAL VILLAGE.) It's animal season around here!

As-Yet Nameless Ball Python
(about 3 weeks old)
Photo by Mark VanDerwater

On Valentine's Day, the winners of the 2011 CYBILS were announced. In the poetry category, Paul B. Janeczko won for REQUIEM: POEMS OF THE TEREZIN GHETTO, a haunting and beautiful book, a book to make each of us more human. It was an honor to be a first round judge for this year's CYBILS, and I offer many congratulations to Paul.  Visit the CYBILS website to read about winners in all categories.

And now for a bit of personal happy news! I am extremely grateful that Boyds Mills Press will publish my collection of reading poems for children! More news when I have it...what fun to dream of illustrators...

Myra is hosting today's Poetry Friday roundup over at Gathering Books. Fill your arms and pockets with gathered poems and words, and many good wishes for a lovely weekend!

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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Cat's Recipe and Writer's Notebooks

Sarah Waits
Photo by Amy LV

Students - one of the great things about keeping a writer's notebook is that your writing just hangs out in there. You may not see value or meaning in one day's piece of writing, but it will be there, waiting for you. And then, a week, month, or year may come back to it and find the value, find the meaning.

I wrote a version of this poem several months ago and let it just sit. And then on Sunday, our cat Sarah sat staring out of the front window as several fat Blue Jays zipped in for suet. "Snap!" went the picture. "Hmmm!" went the brain. I remembered this old poem, dusted it off, revised it a bit, and here you go!

I learned this song in Girl Scouts.  Do you know it?

Make new friends
but keep the old.
One is silver
and the other gold.

Here it is with a few little changes...for writing!

Write new thoughts
but keep the old.
One is silver
and the other gold.

Sometimes thinking and writing grows better with time and layers, the same way that trees grow ring-by-ring.  Try going back to some of your old writing, in notebooks or paper piles, and find something you'd like to visit again.  Set a time to just sit and reread what you've got.  Then, when the perfect day arrives, you will remember, "Oh!  I have an entry about that!"

You can peek inside some different notebooks (Naturalist! Artist! Novelist! Poet!) at my other blog home, Sharing Our Notebooks.

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Monday, February 13, 2012

February 13 & Tap-Tap-Tapping

Henry's Valentine Hearts & Scraps
Photo by Amy LV

Students - When I sat to type and reread and revise today's poem, our daughter Georgia came to ask me a question. I said, "Just a minute...I have to finish something." Then she watched (and listened) as I drummed my right hand fingers quickly and quietly on the desk.

When finished, I looked up at Georgia and said, "Yes?"

"What were you doing?" she asked.

"Counting syllables in each line," I said, proceeding to tap again. I showed her how every line in this poem has eight syllables, except for line six, which only has seven syllables.

Yes, poets do count! Try this with a rhyming poem you like. Count and see if there is a pattern to the beats. You may notice a pattern to the rhymes as well. In "February 13," each group of four lines ends with a different rhyme:  -OO,     -ACE, and -ISS

There is still time to make a valentine for your family, friend, or crush! Try a woven heart basket, as in the photo above, or sewn paper hearts like the ones below...or maybe a heart snowflake like the one you see at the bottom of this post.

Gigi's Valentines
Photo by Amy LV

Here's another crush poem!

Happy Valentine's Day to you and yours!

Hope's Heart Snowflake
Photo by Amy LV

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Friday, February 10, 2012

Poetry Friday & Unicorn

by Amy LV

Students - did your writing ever just make you happy? Writing "Unicorn" made me very happy. It might be because I love magical creatures like Puff (the Magic Dragon) and unicorns. It might be because this is a mask poem, written in the voice of another, in the voice of a unicorn. This is one of my favorite kinds of poems to write.

One thing I especially enjoyed while writing this poem was working on the ending. I hope that it surprised you. By titling the poem "Unicorn," I hope that a reader will think the poem is about believing in unicorns. Of course, it's really about believing in CHILDREN, and I want this to be a surprise.

This week's poems and lessons all focused on endings. Monday's "I Doodle Poodles" took an ending-lesson from David McCord's "The Pickety Fence."  And Wednesday's "Tucked Twinkie" ended abruptly, a different kind of surprise than today's twisty ending.

Endings are important in poetry. If the beginning lines of a poem make a first impression, helping a reader decide whether or not to continue reading, the last lines of a poem leave a taste in a reader's mouth. After you write something, reread the ending and ask yourself, "What taste am I trying to leave in my readers' mouths? Is it working?"

Laura is hosting today's Poetry Friday roundup over at Writing the World for Kids. Swing by and check out all of this week's offerings.  And if you feel like writing and sharing, don't miss Laura's 15 Words or Less photograph!

SPARK 15 registrations are up.  This is a great opportunity for writers to connect with artists and musicians - sharing and inspiring!

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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Tucked Twinkie and Writing Endings

Snack Time!
Photo by Amy LV

Students - I think the idea for poem came from this week's Chevy's Super Bowl commercial. Funny how one little thing sticks in one's mind, isn't it? In the first couple of drafts of "Tucked Twinkie," the ending lines rhymed right along with the rest. But when I asked my children to read the poem aloud, each looked at me and said, "I don't get it." If someone says "I don't get it," after reading your writing, it's a sign that you need to revise.

So I did.

I went back to the Twinkie-writing-drawing-board, and I played around a bit more until I came up with this abrupt ending. And it made my daughter Georgia crack up. So I kept it. Sometimes keeping a rhyme pattern going, lulling the reader along, and then dropping her on the floor makes for a good surprise ending. Please let me know if you give this a try as I would love to read your work.

Speaking of Twinkies, Hostess has filed for Chapter 11, and so soon the Twinkies will disappear. Here are a few ways you can enjoy the last boxes that may ever exist. For the truly strange among you, consider making a Twinkie Weiner Sandwich. If you would like to make your own Twinkies, check out this recipe at Top Secret Recipes. Or if you would like to make an organic, vegan version of Twinkies, visit instructables. If you just want to deep fry some Twinkies, check out to learn how. We may actually do this on Saturday, and I'll keep you posted if we do.

Perhaps you are not very interested in EATING Twinkies. In that case, you might wish to check out some science experiments involving Twinkies from npr. Or maybe you'd just like to hear opera singer Hai-Ting Chinn doing her part to help Hostess by singing all of the ingredients in a Twinkie.

Would you call this a found poem?

Teachers and grown up friends - it is time to register for Spark 15, a wonderful opportunity for artists, musicians, and writers to swap work and inspire. This will be my fourth year participating, and I encourage you to consider joining the free artistic fun! Later this year, I plan to help Amy Souza and Jamie Palmer begin a small version of Spark for Kids.

And in case you, too, thought that Twinkies will last find out their real shelf life here at Snopes.

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Monday, February 6, 2012

I Doodle Poodles - Reading Changes Writing

Sylvie in the Grass
Photo from the Collins/Fleischer Family

Poodle Doodles
by Georgia & Amy LV

Sylvie at the Lake
Photo from the Collins/Fleischer Family

Stoodlers - I mean Students - sometimes it is just fun to play with words, to feel them in your mouth like food, roll them around with your tongue, let them bounce your teeth. Moments before drafting this poem, I was reading my newest old book, AN ALMANAC OF WORDS AT PLAY (1975) by Willard R. Espy, found on Saturday at Buffalo, NY's Rust Belt Books. Month-by-month Espy's book takes a reader through many many wordtumbles, and just reading made me feel playful!

Remember this - we are changed by what we read. After I wrote the ending of "I Doodle Poodles," I heard an echo of the ending of one of my favorite poems, "The Pickety Fence" by master poet David McCord.


Who do you want to be like?  Hang around people who will help you be more like you wish to be.  Who do you want to write like?  Read their books!

"Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another's skin, another's voice, another's soul." -- Joyce Carol Oates

Do you think you know the difference between Doodles and Poodles? Find out here!

And if you are over 16 and interested in becoming a Book Giver (a wonderful chance to hand out free books on April 23), this is the last day to apply. Visit World Book Night for more information. I am excited to be a part of this celebration of reading!

Sylvie at Home
Photo from Photo from the Collins/Fleischer Family

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Friday, February 3, 2012

Poetry Friday & Language(s)

by Amy LV

Students - I hold great respect for children and adults who speak two languages.  Having grown up with only English, I love knowing that some families cross the borders of word and sound, have double the words and expressions for the same experiences.  When I was a teenager, I lived for a year in Denmark, and during that year I learned Danish.  It was very difficult, and I was afraid to speak for some time, afraid to sound stupid.  But my host family encouraged me, and I finally realized that speaking was the only way that I would make friends.  In time, I learned to speak Danish well and even thought and dreamed in it.  And when I came home to America, I would sometimes search for a perfect word...and find that it did not exist in English.

This is a free verse poem, a poem that expresses a longing for something, a poem of admiration and a touch of jealousy.  Do you speak two languages?  For what do you long?  In such heart-echoes, we find poems.

This book written by Helen Recorvits and illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska is one of my favorite books about learning a new language.

And a favorite bilingual children's poet?  Why, Pat Mora!  I have been reading Pat's wise book ZING: SEVEN CREATIVITY PRACTICES FOR EDUCATORS AND STUDENTS, and here is just one of her beautiful bilingual children's books, GRACIS/THANKS illustrated by John Parra.

Oh!  Today is the day after Groundhog Day.  If you're wondering what Phil is thinking right now, check out last year's poem, February 3.

Karissa is hosting today's Poetry Friday over at The Iris Chronicles. Head on over to taste this week's poetry delights!

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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

My Suitcase - Eavesdropping Poems

Time to Unpack
Photo by Amy LV

Students - once again, I would like to encourage to to keep your ears open. If you are in a public place and hear an interesting snippet of language or a curious comparison or a clever mishmosh of words, you can tuck it in your brain and save it for later writing. I overheard such a line yesterday...on an airplane!

Last night I came home from two days of teaching and working with wonderful teachers at Fowler School and Green Meadow School in Maynard, MA. Waiting for our plane to arrive at the gate, I found myself listening to a little girl talking with her mom. She said, "We'll go get our suitcases from the little roller coaster now." It was one of the cutest sentences I'd ever heard, and I knew that it would form the beginning of today's poem. Great lines are dropping from the sky every day, but our ears must be ready to catch them!

I still may play more with this one. Part of me wants to try a free verse poem using this little girl's words as well. If I do, I'll share it in this space. And if you try sprouting a poem from an overheard line, please let me know.

As for roller coasters, I'm not a rider. But I do love Marla Frazee's book ROLLER COASTER.

If you've ever wondered how roller coasters you go!

It's February 1!  This means that there are only 2 weeks left until we find out about the winners of the 2012 CYBILS!  Here, again, are the poetry finalists.

Many congratulations to Kristine O'Connell George for winning Bank Street College's Claudia Lewis Award for EMMA DILEMMA!

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