Saturday, April 28, 2012

From My Pocket to Theirs

Thursday was “Poem in your Pocket” day and we decided to celebrate in a big way in the speech room. (That is a very large paper pocket in case you can’t tell.) I filled it with poems for my younger students and they were delighted to dig around and find a special poem - and to make it their own.

They added a few decorations and tucked their chosen poem into their pants pockets. Of course they didn’t stop there. They added more poems to the paper pocket, hoping to fill it to overflowing.

Poems are a wonderful way to introduce new vocabulary, rhyming, humor, and even speech practice with the catchy lines kids love to repeat. There are many entertaining books of poetry for children but this week I especially enjoyed introducing my students to Book Speak! by Laura Purdie Salas, Illustrated by Josee Bisaillon.

My students were drawn to this book from the moment they looked at the cheery cover. They immediately wanted to hop a ride on the hooked-handle of the umbrella. And when I turned to the poem, “Calling All Readers” they were entranced by the illustrations and the words,

“I’ll tell you a story.
I’ll spin you a rhyme.
I’ll spill some ideas-
And we’ll travel through time.

Their ideas spilled out in a rush: places they’d travel, which balloon (or dragon) they’d ride, and what they’d see. This book is full of poems about books and it made me want to spend this weekend curled up with some of my favorites, which is what I plan to do once I finish this post.

Poetry month is drawing to a close but there will be no shortage of excellent children’s books to read. Last Saturday I attended the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference in Rocklin, CA. It was wonderful day. As usual, I came away with fresh insights and inspirations for my own writing and was introduced to books that I’ll soon be using with my students.

I hope you have found more poems to love during this poetry month. And I hope you remember to remove them from your pocket before laundry day!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Spring Break!

Mine officially started on Monday of this week when my husband walked out the door to go to work, and I didn’t. The first thing I did to celebrate my vacation was to gather an armful of flowers from our garden and place them on my coffee table. Take a look:

The second thing I did was grab my backpack chair, fill its oversized pocket with books, put on my hiking boots, and head to Big River. It is a short seven-minute drive from my home. Here is where I settled for a time of reading, writing and contemplation:

The second day I met a friend for breakfast and the meal was almost too pretty to eat, almost. 

It was big enough to share and have leftovers, but we didn’t. We didn’t have leftovers that is - we DID share.

My husband took off the last half of the week so we could travel to the wine country for a stay in a Bed & Breakfast. We spent our mornings and evenings sitting on the deck enjoying the pastoral view, reading, chatting, and writing.

Yesterday morning, sitting behind that coffee cup you see above, I reread poems from a book by Mary Oliver and that reminded me of a poetry exercise I learned in a writing class. I enjoy the way it helps me feel the rhythm of language used by poets I admire. If you’d like to try it, start with a line or stanza in a poem and exchange each word with another of your choosing, using the same part of speech, noun for noun, verb for verb. Here is one I wrote yesterday using four lines from Mary Oliver’s poem, Lightning:

Her words:
            The oaks shone
            gaunt gold
            on the lip
            of the storm before
            the wind rose,

My words:
            A rock glistened
            sharp silver
            in the gaze
            of the morning after
            a cloud passed,

You get the idea. If you or your students try this exercise, I’d love to see what you write.

Now back to my Spring Break. You know that hike I took on Day One? You saw the relaxing spot I found, well I had passed it about five minutes into my hike, but did I stop? No. I kept hiking, searching for the perfect place - tree branches to hang over my chair, enough sunlight filtering through to keep me warm and light my book but not too much glare, close enough to the river to hear it rippling, and far enough from the trail so I wouldn’t be interrupted by other hikers. I wasn’t asking for much! Now my chair has two padded shoulder straps but after 45 minutes of hiking and searching, the padding seemed thin. Then there is the metal bar that gives wonderful support when I’m sitting, but doesn’t feel so wonderful digging into my lower back with the added weight of a small stack of books. I finally figured out I wasn’t going to find the perfect place so I turned back toward the pleasant place near the beginning of my hike. I had achy shoulders and a bruised back when I got there. I loved the hike but I loved the final destination even more.

We’ve left the trails and vineyards behind and now we’re in Roseville. I am attending a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) conference today. I’ll write again next week but in the meantime, I hope you’re able to see your perfect/pleasant places, moments, and circumstances before you travel too far past them, and before you accumulate too many bruises along your path.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

School Library Month

What a wonderful idea! I can’t let this one slip by. The American Association of School Librarians established April as “School Library Month” and their theme this year is, “You belong @ your library.” I couldn’t agree more.

I have wonderful childhood memories of my weekly trips to our school library. That’s where I first met, The Black Stallion, King of the Wind and my favorite, Justin Morgan Had a Horse. The librarian very patiently helped me search for the perfect book each week, even when I was the last one in my class to come to a decision. I remember very clearly the day she told me I’d read every horse story in the library and gently suggested I move on to another topic, like “dogs.”

Library day was the highlight of my week and I see the same excitement in my students when they tell me about their library books. Unfortunately, they can no longer check them out every week due to cutbacks. Next year, things could become even more dismal. It breaks my heart to see the budget cuts in our schools. All programs are hurting, and all are important, but I feel it is imperative that we safeguard our school library. If we expect our students to want to learn to read and write, we need to tempt them with good literature and warm associations with books. When my children were young, they could hardly wait to start school. And the reason they wanted to go to school was to learn to read all those marvelous stories they’d heard from books. We need to keep that yearning alive in our students.

Take a look at some of my speech kids enjoying (and showing off) their library books:

I want to see these happy faces remain excited about our library and the treasures they find there. In hopes of generating funds to extend the hours and keep it open in the coming year, I am donating all the proceeds of a book I’ve written, to our library.

When the wind rattles Kristy's window she is certain a ghost has come into her room. She repeatedly calls her mother who assures her there is no ghost but still Kristy cannot sleep. From the beginning to the surprising ending, children will have the opportunity to learn the letter “g” and to pronounce its sound as they “help” tell the story.  

Besides providing entertainment, The Ghostly Night will encourage pre-reading skills and articulation development in young children. I hope you’ll consider supporting our library by purchasing this book or passing the information along to others. Here are a few of the people who will appreciate your help:

School librarian, Allison Brown with a sea of kindergarten students.
Photograph by Keith Wyner.

Our photographer, a retired teacher and volunteer, assured the kids:

Thank you, readers, for all you do to support your children, our children and children’s literature! 

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Kids Flock to "Birds of a Feather"

National Poetry Month is here and poetry is everywhere - on websites, blogs, in our classrooms, and hanging in the halls. The beautiful and playful language found in many children’s poetry books provides a wealth of material for building vocabulary, phonemic awareness, and giving students practice pronouncing their sounds.

Yesterday I brought in a book of poems by Jane Yolen, Birds of a Feather. Jason Stemple’s photographs accompanying the poems are so close-up and crisp they practically fly off the page. My first-grade students snatched this one off the table before our speech session began. Next time I’ll have to bring in several copies – they fought over this book. They loved the perfect pairing of words and photos – the Mohawk on the Kingfisher, the cheery chickadee, and the group of strutting “Oystercatchers on Parade.” After listening to Jane Yolen’s poems they wanted to write their own. I thought they’d try for bird poems but no; they expanded the theme to all animals. One student wrote,

I like yellow monkeys
Running and playing.

Then he said, “That’s kind of a poem,” and I had to agree. One of my kindergarten students dictated a poem about his cat. I’m not sure of the spelling, but here is the closest I could come:

Sammy de clonie de ponie
She scratches me
And jumps
        on the kitchen counter.

I liked his creative rhymes!

Another group of kindergarteners were excited when they discovered the names of their pets rhymed. We worked together to create this poem about their animals:

Luke has a hamster named Taco
        And Zayd has a cat named Paco
        Avery’s bird is Neena
        And Hailey’s rat is Tina.

        We hope these pets will never meet
        For fur might fly and one might eat
        a pretty pet, a favorite friend,
        and give our poem a sad, sad end.

You’ll find better-crafted poetry in Jane Yolen’s book but my students had fun collaborating with me on this one. If you’d like to share your poems or those of your kids or students, I’d love to see them.

Have a wonderful Easter and Passover!