Thursday, April 10, 2014

POETRY FRIDAY: Celebrating Christina Rossetti and National Poetry Month!

Thank you to Michelle at Today's Little Ditty for hosting Poetry Friday this week!
Be sure to stop by Michelle's fabulous blog and wish her a Happy Blog Birthday! 
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In celebration of National Poetry Month, I am focusing on my favorite poets during April’s Poetry Friday posts. Today, I’m looking at the poetry of Christina Rossetti, a nineteenth century British poet who exemplifies all things Victorian.

Rossetti’s poems have long held my imagination—my favorite (and her most famous) poem is “Goblin Market,” which begins like this:

MORNING and evening
Maids heard the goblins cry:
"Come buy our orchard fruits,
Come buy, come buy:
Apples and quinces,
Lemons and oranges,
Plump unpecked cherries-
Melons and raspberries,
Bloom-down-cheeked peaches,
Swart-headed mulberries,
Wild free-born cranberries,
Crab-apples, dewberries,
Pine-apples, blackberries,
Apricots, strawberries--
All ripe together
In summer weather--
Morns that pass by,
Fair eves that fly;
Come buy, come buy...
To read the rest of this poem, click here.

It had been awhile since I’d read this entire poem, and reading it again I realized why Rossetti has always been one of my favorite poets—her imagery is exquisite, and she has a sharp, almost edgy manner of telling this particular tale. Those little goblins still creep me out, but I can’t stop reading!

Another favorite Rossetti poem of mine is also one of my favorite Christmas carols. Known to many people today as “In the Bleak Midwinter,” Rossetti’s “A Christmas Carol” is a beautiful poem celebrating the Christmas season and all that it symbolizes:

In the bleak mid-winter
   Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
   Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
   Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
   Long ago.
To read the rest of this poem, click here.

Rossetti also wrote poetry for children! SING-SONG, A NURSERY RHYME BOOK, is a book of children's poetry that Rossetti published in 1893. One of my favorites from this collection is:

If all were rain and never sun,
  No bow could span the hill;
If all were sun and never rain,
  There'd be no rainbow still.

Rossetti has some very serious poems in this collection, as well, exploring issues children commonly faced during the Victorian era. One of the more somber ones is:

A baby's cradle with no baby in it,
  A baby's grave where autumn leaves drop sere;
The sweet soul gathered home to Paradise,
  The body waiting here.
For the complete digital version of this book, click here.

I could continue on about Rossetti, but the best way to truly appreciate her poetry is to pick up a volume and submerge yourself into her world. You will be glad that you did!

Happy National Poetry Month, and Happy Writing!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

POETRY FRIDAY: Celebrating Shel Silverstein and National Poetry Month!

Thanks to Amy at The Poem Farm for hosting this week's Poetry Friday Roundup!
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Since April is a time to celebrate all things poetry, I decided to focus on my favorite poets in my Poetry Friday posts this month. Today, I'm focusing on my #1 favorite poet of all time, Shel Silverstein. A man of many talents, Silverstein is best remembered for the books of silly, funny poems that he wrote and illustrated.  

This is the first Silverstein book I remember reading.

I don’t remember exactly when I heard my first Silverstein poem, but I know that I became a huge fan very early on. The silliness and playfulness of his poetry delighted me, and fed my fascination with words and how they all fit together. I read his books for fun—not because I had to read them for school. My boys love these same books now too, and it tickles me when they choose one of Silverstein's books over whatever MG or YA adventure book they are reading on their Kindles.

One of my favorite Silverstein poems is “How Not to Have to Dry the Dishes,” from A LIGHT IN THE ATTIC. This made me laugh as a child because I thought it was brilliant! As an adult I marvel at the childish logic Silverstein channels in this poem. I see NOW why I loved his poetry so much THEN, and it inspires me to be more intentionally “childlike” when I sit down to write.    
How Not to Have to Dry the Dishes
If you have to dry the dishes
(Such an awful, boring chore)
If you have to dry the dishes
(‘Stead of going to the store)
If you have to dry the dishes
And you drop one on the floor—
Maybe they won’t let you
Dry the dishes anymore.
I always loved this drawing by Silverstein!
Another favorite Silverstein poem of mine was (and still is) “Sick,” from WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS.

"I cannot go to school today,"
Said little Peggy Ann McKay.
"I have the measles and the mumps,
A gash, a rash and purple bumps.
My mouth is wet, my throat is dry,
I'm going blind in my right eye.
For the rest of this poem, click here. 
For more fabulous poems by Silverstein, check out the list of books on the official Shel Silverstein website here. And the website is celebrating National Poetry Month, too! Check out this post for great teaching resources. For a treasure trove of fun activities for teaching (and playing with!) Silverstein’s poetry, explore the main site, here

What is your favorite Silverstein poem?

Happy National Poetry Month, and Happy Writing!

Friday, March 28, 2014

POETRY FRIDAY: Gearing Up for 2014 National Poetry Month

Thanks to Mary Lee at A Year of Reading for hosting Poetry Friday today!
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Tuesday, April 1st is the kickoff of this year’s National Poetry Month. Founded in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets, National Poetry Month celebrates the importance of poetry in our country. Schools, libraries, book sellers, publishers, poets, and readers all join in the fun with programs and events celebrated each year during the month of April.

This year's National Poetry Month Poster, from the Academy of American Poets.
Last year, I led a fun poetry activity in my boys’ classrooms on National Poem in Your Pocket day. (For a brief post about this, click here.) This year, I am working on a fun activity that will explore many different kinds of poetry, and I have some other ideas up my sleeve, as well.

For some great ideas on how to celebrate National Poetry Month, check out these links:

The Academy of American Poets



Reading Rockets


And here are two fellow bloggers who have a great list of links, as well:

Catherine at Reading to the Core
Karen at Teacher. Reader. Mom.

These are just a few of the many great resources out there! So how are YOU going to celebrate this year’s National Poetry Month?

I'm celebrating today because this is my 100th post! Happy Writing!   

Monday, March 17, 2014

YOUNG READER REVIEW: Picture Books and Mo Willems

My guest today is Tay, a spunky kindergartner with a boatload of imagination. This girl is going to go far in life, I just know it! I hope you enjoy her interview—she has some wonderful answers to my questions!
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Hi Tay! I am so excited that you are my guest today! Can you tell everyone a bit about yourself?

I am 5 and three-quarters years old and a kindergartener in Fort Mill, South Carolina. Some of my favorite things include riding horses, riding my bike, playing tag and hide and seek, reading, and going to the park.

All fun stuff, Tay! I know that you loved preschool and are really enjoying kindergarten. Now that you’ve been in kindergarten almost an entire year, what is your favorite thing about elementary school so far? 

I like recess and lunch and listening center and kitchen, which is one of my centers.

Do you have a favorite subject at school?

What’s a subject? Oh, I like reading and I guess it would also be working at Miss Newlin’s table.

I’m so glad that you love to read—that was always my favorite subject in school, too! What is your very favorite book these days?

Why is There a Monster in My Classroom? is probably my favorite. My Daddy wrote it. I like it best because there are all types of “creatures” that come into the classroom. It’s about a girl who has a lot of “pets” that follow her to school, and they get to sit in her class.
I also like No Such Thing. In this book, there is a kid and a monster and two moms (one for each of them). The Moms don’t believe that the other one exists. In the end, the monster climbs in the bed and the boy crawls under the bed and they both call out, “Mommy, come quick!”

And I like the one with the goose and the fox – That is Not a Good Idea!, by Mo Willems. 

That looks like a great book! What other kinds of books do you like to read?

Elephant and Piggie books.

So you are a Mo Willems fan! If you could read a story about anything in the world, what would it be about?

About a horse and a bunny.

What do you think it is important for authors to know about the kids who read their books?

Make sure you put things that we like in your books.  And to know which books we like to read at night.

Wonderful advice, Tay! And I have to ask—what would you like to be when you grow up?

That’s easy – a horse trainer. And a singer.

Now that sounds like a fun work combination!☺Thanks again for joining us today, Tay!

Friday, March 14, 2014

POETRY FRIDAY: Poems about Ireland

Thanks to Kara at Rogue Anthropologist for hosting Poetry Friday today!
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Last May, my husband and I visited Ireland. It was a fun week of road trips, castle ruins, music-filled pubs, a bit of “bog bouncing” (fun!), and lots of vegetable soup with brown bread (I ate this every single day at lunch).

Two pubs, Durty Nelly's and Sean's Bar, that claim to be the "oldest in Ireland."
Driving through the countryside (well, riding—my husband drove the car, thank goodness!) I was struck over and over again by the sight of castle ruins. Beautiful now, the fact remains that they are reminders of Ireland’s turbulent history. Viewed through the lens of time, however, these structures are truly something to see.
Ross Castle in County Kerry.
Bunratty Castle in County Clare.
A view from the Rock of Cashel in County Tipperary. The Rock of Cashel was the ancient seat of the High Kings of Munster. In the 5th century AD, St. Patrick is said to have orchestrated the conversion of King Aenghus to Christianity on this site (the ruin below is Hoare Abbey).

I also learned quite a bit more about Irish history during our trip, and especially enjoyed visiting Croagh Patrick in County Mayo, where St. Patrick fasted and prayed during the 40 days of lent in the 5th century AD. Concerned for the souls of the Irish people, he climbed the mountain and prayed for their salvation, and for God’s mercy and guidance. Every year, thousands of pilgrims repeat this journey in his memory.

Croagh Patrick

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day this Monday, I thought I’d share a few of the poems I’ve written during my reflections on this trip. They are not all “Leprechauns and sunshine,” though—it is impossible to visit Ireland without acknowledging the grief once experienced by its people. One of the sights that impacted me the most was the Famine Ship, located near Croagh Patrick. After driving through the rugged countryside where many hungry people once died (pointlessly and cruelly), we came to the memorial and I just stood there, unable to say a word. The memorial reminds everyone who sees it of the massive loss of life during the famine, both on Irish soil and on these small, poorly-made "famine ships" sailing west (notice the skeletons stretching over the deck).

Famine Ship

Words cannot convey
The beauty, pain, and horror
Captured in one look.

The visits to church sites were also especially moving and unbelievably beautiful.

Ancient Windows

Ancient windows between past and present;
Symbols of Faith
That stand the test of time.
Walls may crumble,
Stones may tumble,
But these Holy remains
Still sing
Hymns of praise.   
And finally, a little bit of limerick fun:

No Helpless Maid

There was a young maid in the tower,
Who sat up there hour after hour.
When no Prince came to save her
She used what God gave her,
And climbed back down, shouting “Girl Power!”
Happy St. Patrick’s Day, and Happy Writing!

Friday, March 7, 2014


Thanks so much to Margaret at Reflections on the Teche 
for hosting this week's Poetry Friday Roundup!
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For Poetry Friday today, I thought I’d revisit one of my favorite poetic formats, math poems. Math poetry combines creative writing with mathematical equations to create fun poems that appeal to a wide audience. (I have seen kids who say they “hate” writing poetry become very excited about writing math poems!)

A math poem follows the format of a mathematical equation. This can be a simple equation or it can be much more complicated. (For more information about math poems, read this post and this post.) Below I’ve written a few examples, ranging from simple to a little more complicated:

peanut butter + jelly + bread = PBJ sandwich               

                                                                   gentle rain       
                                                                 + warm bed
                                                        good night's sleep
2(boy) + pjs + movie = family fun night 
And here’s one for those of you who are laboring away at revisions:
∞(draft) + ∞(critique + edit) + editorial genius + revision(however many it takes) + (critique from very tolerant critique partner + edit) = final manuscript
*Special shout out to my very tolerant critique partner!*

If you’d like to try your own math poem, I’d love to see it in the comments! Happy Writing!  
* * * Be sure to check out all of the wonderful math poems in the comments section!* * *

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Generating New Ideas

In the past few months, I have been focused on revising several picture book manuscripts and an in-depth rewrite of a longer chapter book. The picture books are polished and the chapter book is *almost* where it needs to be—a few more weeks, and it should be finished. Next on my list is to finish the first draft of another longer chapter book, which I have already researched, outlined, and written the opening chapters for.  

I have a lot going on writing-wise, and am enjoying every minute I get to spend working. As I focus on my longer projects, however, I like to have shorter projects to work on when I need to clean out the “mental cobwebs” before a big edit, or just to be able to come back to a longer w.i.p. with fresh eyes. But for the first time in years, I don’t have several picture book ideas floating around in my head!
I know that I am super focused right now on my longer projects, so I keep telling myself that more ideas will come…and I know they will. But in the meantime, I am looking for ways to generate ideas. Here is what I have come up with so far:

Carefully comb through old writing or “idea” files. I know that I have at least one old idea that never panned out. Maybe this will be a possibility!

Visit a library or book store and spend some time just browsing. Too often when I am at a book store, I am looking for something specific and don’t have the time to just be there.

Revisit favorite children’s books. What makes you love them? What did you love to read as a child?

Think about any special interests or hobbies that you have. Could any of these become a nonfiction book or provide the spark for a new story?

Search for “current needs” lists. Sometimes magazine editors, school librarians, teacher organizations, etc. will share what readers or teachers are looking for. If current needs match with your interests, then you can run with it!
Have a chat with a writing friend and bounce some ideas off each other. Sometimes just talking with a like-minded writer will bring ideas to life!

Pay attention to your dreams, and keep a notebook by your bed. Yes, like when you are sleeping. My middle grade w.i.p. began from a very vivid dream I had one night, but I didn’t have a pencil anywhere nearby so I ended up scribbling everything in eyeliner on a random piece of paper—never again will I let this happen! Stephenie Meyer shares here about a dream that proved tremendously successful for her career.  
Spend some time around children. Kids provide the best inspiration, hands down! The main character in one of my picture books was inspired by a little girl at Barnes & Noble who was wearing red cowboy boots and a cowboy hat. I overheard a little boy teasing her, saying, “Girls can’t be cowboys!” She immediately retorted, “Yes they can!” and then turned around and picked a book off the display wall and started to read. At that moment, a character was born!   

READ children’s books. Lots of them!
READ children's magazines, as well. If you do not write for children's magazines, why not give it a try? Often the process of writing articles or short stories can spark ideas for authors.
Relax, and have faith in yourself as a writer. I firmly believe that as writers, we go through seasons much like the natural world. There are times when we bloom with new ideas (spring), and then we carefully cultivate these ideas until they are thriving and strong (summer). Then we edit, polish, and submit our completed work (fall). Finally, we take a deep breath, rest, and wait for the blooming to begin again (winter). Spring is right around the corner!

This is a short list, I know, but it got my wheels turning. If you’d like to share about how you generate ideas, please comment below. Happy Writing!