Poetry Friday: Interview with Laura Shovan

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Thanks to Catherine at Reading to the Core for hosting today.

Laura Shovan was interviewed at the CYBILS website earlier this week.  Here are follow-up questions for her.  These questions were generated from the CYBILS Poetry panel and judges.,

School closings like this don’t happen very often. Did you know of a school that was closing or where this idea come from?

School closings are quite common in Maryland. Schools here are part of large, county-wide systems. Boards of education will sometimes shift entire neighborhoods from one school to another to relieve overcrowding, or even close a school that’s below capacity. For example, in 2016, the year THE LAST FIFTH GRADE came out, a high school was closed in Carroll County, Maryland. There was a lot of push-back from the community and from families who wanted the school to stay open. Despite all the research that shows how important community involvement is in making a school feel welcoming and successful, community members are rarely consulted about such closings. They tend to be a financial decision.

How did you choose the character names and did you map out the characters and classroom dynamic in a visual way?

Some of the characters’ name have clues about their situation or personalities. One is Brianna Holmes (homophone for “homes”), whose family is temporarily living in motel. Another is Newt Mathews (the word “math” is embedded in his name), who prefers form poems where he can count out syllables. And the twins, Sloane and Sydney Costley, have the small word “cost” in their last name – a nod to the fact that they are somewhat wealthy.

I’m a visual person. I had my daughter’s fifth grade school photo taped inside my revision binder. Since I come from an education background, I had to make a seating chart. That helped me to see which characters might develop friendships … or tension. I also had a list of who lived in which neighborhoods, who rode the bus together, who lived close enough to the school to walk.
What choices did she have to make to keep each voice unique?

Giving each of the eighteen characters a unique voice was something I focused on during revisions. Instead of working on the book from the beginning to the end, I pulled out each character – one at a time – and only worked on that person’s poems. In that way, I could look at things like vocabulary, cadence, and formal elements. A free verse poem in Sloane’s voice, for example, will incorporate slang and have a lot of rhythms, to capture her attitude. A free verse poem in Norah’s voice will have longer lines and more descriptive language because Norah is more observant than Sloane.

Have you as a child or your children involved in a grassroots campaign?  

No. My family wasn’t very political when I was growing up. I don’t remember my parents talking about the Viet Nam war at all. I didn’t become politically active until I was an adult. My friends at All the Wonders recently did a post on this topic, featuring picture books.

What other books for children would you suggest if students want to learn more about becoming activists in their community?

There are many types of activism that are appropriate for children. I tend to like books about the Civil Rights movement of the 20th century and picture book biographies of civil rights activists. Three of my favorites are:

Andrea David Pinkney’s picture book SIT IN: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down

Debbie Levy’s WE SHALL OVERCOME: The Story of a Song.

Tony Medina’s LOVE TO LANGSTON, about Langston Hughes’ childhood.

Another great resource is this Nerdy Book Club list from 2014: Top 10 Picture Books for Activists 

What advice do you have for writers who are working on a novel in verse?

I hear from a lot of authors who love reading novels in verse. But because they don’t see themselves as poets, they’re afraid to give the form a try. My advice is to think about the poems as short monologues. In a novel in verse, the main character or characters take the stage and describe their thoughts, feelings, and a moment of change or realization. Poetic line breaks add rhythm to the character’s speaking voice. I think this is what makes the novel-in-verse form so well-suited for voice-driven books. The combination of monologue and rhythm helps the reader hear what the character sounds like.

Thank you, Laura, for your insight!

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 Happy Poetry.

Happy Friday.

Poetry Friday: Student Odes

IMG_1077Thank you Robyn at Life on the Deckle Edge for hosting Poetry Friday today.

My Poetry Rocks’ group worked on odes this week in response to the challenge at Today’s Little Ditty.  We started by reading some of the odes already on the March 2017 Padlet.

We wrote the group ode.

Ode to Recess

Children playing on swings
Children laughing with joy
Orange bark chips not good to eat
Friends playing together
Kids screaming with joy
The wind blowing
Children singing
Feel freedom feel the wind blowing
The smooth-rough play structure
Sad because no one plays with me
Taste the raindrops falling from the sky
Taste the wind blowing on my face
I wonder why kids are so loud
If it could be more fun
Because kids are having fun

~Poetry Rocks’ Kids

Finally, they wrote their own.

Ode to Summer

The sun shining
The wind blowing
The grass under my feet
The popsicles melting in my mouth
I wonder how long the summer is going to last
It does last kind of long

Marcella C., Grade 3
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Ode to Unicorns

I see unicorns every day
I hear unicorns singing
I feel rainbows in my heart
I taste rainbows
I wonder if I could really see unicorns
And unicorns are not real

Italy M., Grade 1
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Ode to Anything

I see people running
I hear the wind blowing
I feel the wind blowing in my face
I taste mint
I wonder what is
Airports

Charlie K., Grade 1
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Ode to Candy

Goodness
Crinkles of the wrapper
The candy melting in my mouth
A wonderful taste of caramel
I wonder what other candy tastes like
It does taste magical

Angel B., Grade 3
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Ode to Logs

Logs in the woods
I hear them molding
I feel the hardness of the wood
I taste the bugs in the wood
I wonder what bugs are in the wood
I know they are spiders.

Ella K., Grade 2
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Ode to Slime

My hands play with your substance
The pop of your bubbles
Your creamy texture
Taste of a grape laffy-taffy
I wonder if you are a waste
No, you’re great

Haylie S., Grade 4
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Ode to a Cat

A fur ball big and fat
A meow there at the door
The fur  in my fingers
What would it be like to be a cat?
It would be wild

Taylor D., Grade 2
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Ode to Spring

Flowers blowing in the wind
Quietness everywhere
I feel at home where it feels nice
I taste the wind in the air
I wonder how it is so beautiful
Because of the world

Bentley C., Grade 2
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Ode to Poetry

Children listening to poetry
Children singing poetry
Happy about singing poetry
I wonder if poetry could be magic
It is magic because you can sing poetry at home
And at Poetry Rocks

Eliza P., Grade 2
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Ode to Candy

I see chocolate
I hear a drumroll
I feel rock candy
I taste gummy bears
I wonder where it comes from
Candy

Kruz G., Grade 1
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Ode to Computers

I see letters and numbers
I hear typing
I feel the keyboard
I taste the fresh air
I wonder if new games could be made
It should

Macy M., Grade 2
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Ode to a Fairy

I see really fast flapping wings
I hear lots of chattering teeth
I feel little feet walking across my hand
I taste the wind of fairy’s wings
I wonder why you’re so small
Because you don’t want a lot of people around you.

Lilly P., Grade 2
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Ode to Recess

Kids playing with friends
Balls bouncing
I feel happy at recess
I taste candy
I wonder if school could go on in summer
It does not

Dakota R., Grade 2
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Ode to Candy

I see rainbows
I hear voices
I feel sticky
I taste sweetness
Why is candy so sweet?
To make it so sweet it’s good for people

Piper C., Grade 2
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Ode to a Boa Constrictor

I see scales
I hear “SSSSS”
I feel scared
How can snakes move without legs
Read books about snakes

Nevaeh S., Grade 3
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Ode to Dogs

Green fur
Soft barking
I feel softness
Lots of love
I wonder why dogs are so funny
Because they don’t know any better

Jazzlynn S., Grade 3
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Ode to Flowers

I see your pretty petals
I hear you blowing in the wind
I feel your soft pretty petals
I smell your beautiful taste of wind
I wonder if I could eat a flower
Somebody, please create it!

Avery W., Grade 2
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Ode to Poetry

I see kids listening to poetry
I hear the poetry kids listening to the speaker
I feel poetry on my arm
I taste poetry in my mouth
I wonder why poetry is so fun
Poetry is so great

Taryn E., Grade 2
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Ode to Spring

Your sunset at night
The wind blowing
The sunset shining
Taste the wonderful season
I wonder if rainbows can shine everyday
Spring is fun anyway

Lauren A., Grade 2
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Ode to Candy

I see colors and candy
I hear hands sliding down the glass gumball machine
My eyes getting big at the sight of sweet candy
I taste the clean cut sweet and
I wonder if anything can be better than watching TV
and eating stretchy taffy
Nothing.

Ashlynn M., Grade 3
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Ode to Cheating

The other person’s paper
I hear the class tattle telling the teacher
I feel I’m going to the principal’s office later today
Taste the victory of cheating
I wonder why I cheat
I don’t know yet

Haylie S., Grade 4

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Poetry Friday: Happy Birthday to Billy Collins

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Thanks to Heidi for hosting Poetry Friday today.  What I love about our Poetry Friday community is that someone will have an idea and we will run with it.  Not only is Heidi hosting, she encouraged us to find a Billy Collins poem in honor of his birthday later this month.

I love this quote by him:

The first line is the DNA of the poem; the rest of the poem is constructed out of that first line. A lot of it has to do with tone because tone is the key signature for the poem. The basis of trust for a reader used to be meter and end-rhyme. Billy Collins

And there is a poem at The Poetry Foundation which I love.

The First Line of a Poem

Before it flutters into my mouth
I might spend days squinting
into the wind
Like an old man
trying to thread a needle
by a window
in the dying light of  late afternoon.

The rest of the poem is HERE.

At Deowriter, I took 10 words and wrote a first draft of a poem, At the First Light of Day

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Happy Poetry.

Celebrate: Five Star Things About the Week

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It’s Saturday. Time to celebrate all the goodness of the week at Ruth Ayres Writes.

ONE

Summer vacation has begun as of today!  Our last day of school was yesterday. While bittersweet with eight people leaving us, it was a joyous day. So much love to be shared by students, staff, and parents.

TWO

Last weekend I was at my brother’s graduation from the Southern California Health Institute.  Forty years ago this month I graduated from Lewis and Clark College.  This weekend is our fortieth reunion.  Good to catch up with people.

THREE

Kindergartners who brought me cards for reading to them all year.  Singing “Metamorphosis” with the minders…it’s a song about change.

FOUR

I was accepted into the Darcy Pattison Revision Retreat along with 19 other people. In January 2015 (six months away).

FIVE

Getting my first summer poem in the mail for the Summer Poetry Swap from Diane Mayr.  Thanks, Diane.

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What are you celebrating?
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In Conversation With Amy VanDerwater

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Today I have Amy VanDerwater, author of FOREST HAS A SONG: POEMS. Her book was recently selected as the winner of the 2013 CYBILS Award for Poetry.
I first interviewed Amy at Check It Out in December 2102

And this just in: Amy informed me that FOREST HAS A SONG just won 2014 Golden Kite Honor Book Award for Picture Book Text that FOREST from SCBWI.

Imagine Amy and me sitting in some cozy chairs, drinking tea, and nibbling on cookies.

Jone: Amy, congratulations on winning the CYBILS’ Award for Poetry. How did you find out?

AMY: Thank you, I was truly surprised, and it was fun to awaken to Mark holding the laptop at the bedside at 5:30am.

Jone: Well, I wonder if we could have a conversation about the process regarding FOREST HAS A SONG? The idea that a poetry book had an arc or a “spine” was discussed during the CYBILS’ deliberations in both rounds. It’s also been discussed among my poetry friends. So how did you decide the arc or the “spine” of the poems for FOREST HAS A SONG?

AMY: I wrote to Marcia Leonard at HMH about your FOREST arc question because I did not determine the order of the poems at all.  I thought that Robbin Gourley, the illustrator, had done so, but she referred me to Marcia. She told me, “Marcia Leonard decided the order after my first attempt. And she was right about everything and got the project on track. She would probably love to share her thinking. I remember she said she spread everything out on her table (my sketches, etc.) and ordered the poems which in the end felt exactly right, very organic.”

Jone: Okay, so did any poems change their form?

Amy: Below you can see two draft  versions of “Farewell”, the last poem in the book, from earliest and then newer and then newer….  A notebook keeper, I still have a soft spot for this first version though it does not give FOREST the voice that the final version does.

Original Draft:
Secrets

Reading my notebook
I think of them all —

Woodpecker poet

Smoke-blowing ball

Tiniest tree frog
trying to woo

A wintergreen leaf

Her silky shoe

One spider spinning
shimmering floss

Mysterious bones

Chickadee

Moss

Forest holds secrets
wild
lovely
small.

Reading my notebook
I think of them all.

Revised Last Draft:

Forest Breathes
Forest breathes
a spicy breeze.
It blows
into my home.
I find a path
of pinecones.
Between tall trees
I roam.
On narrow trails
I silent step.
I go
I don’t know where
through
light brown
dark brown
every brown
on airy earth
in earthy air.

Jone: The transformation of the final poem is incredible.  I felt I was reading the list of secrets of the forest in your notebook.  And then in a process of letting go, the second poem reminds me of a flash draft of the essence of the poem, what you most want to remember.  And then finally you seem ready to say “farewell”   and the essentials returned. So lovely.
What else do you remember about the process of writing this book?

Amy: Sometimes I fear that I am not a very thoughtful writer.  I cannot remember too much about process or why I did things a certain way.  It seems at times that a word is just off or a line must be a particular way, and I don’t even feel that it is me making the decision.  The poem decides.  This  might sound strange, but it feels very true to me.

This is a book about family memories: memories of  my childhood camping days, our family’s hikes behind the house, and our trips to my husband’s family camp in the Adirondacks.  I’ve said before that this book is a sort of love letter to Mark, who carefully observes each wild creature we see or hear.  When I flip through the pages of FOREST now, I can be many places, in many times, at once.

The poems are short, perhaps because I have a short attention span.  But I like being right there in the center of just a few words, evening them out again and again, saying them out loud until all of the extras are gone.  Sometimes I miss one or two extra words, and they can drive me crazy!

Hmm…it is fun to think about something I have not thought about in a long time.  Usually when I write, I simply move on to the next project-voice in my head.  (Keeps the insecurities away!)

Jone: Any word from Marcia?

Amy: Yes, here are words from Marcia:
“As I studied the manuscript, I was struck by the richness of the images and the fluidity of the language, but I was concerned that that the book not be simply a collection of disparate pieces.  When I consider any project, I always ask myself: What will distinguish this book from others that cover the same subject? What is the unexpected element that will add value beyond the intrinsic quality of the text and art?  Very quickly I saw that the poems could be rearranged to create a narrative arc and reflect a year in the life of a girl who loves to explore the woods near her home.  Robbin could then show the progression of the seasons—through the changes in the forest and the actions of the main character, her dog, and her family.  And the reader could absorb all this without it being overtly stated.  It was very satisfying to see the results.  In essence, I feel that my role was to help Forest Has a Song become the book it wanted to be.”

So gracious and smart. I am lucky.

Jone: I find that the idea of creating an arc, or an order of poems fascinating. It’s made me think about my own little book of poetry.
Looking back, I know I could have put more emphasis on the order. It really takes a team to create a book from the manuscript, doesn’t. How great to have an editor like Dinah Stevenson and Marcia Leonard as editorial consultant.

Can you talk about bit about the different forms you used in the book?

Amy: It is so fascinating to see how many people work together to make a book a book.  I feel so lucky to get this peek behind the scenes.  It still feels magical and mysterious, and I love learning about it.
I hear what you are saying about ordering poems.  I wonder if it helps to have a different reader, someone not so close to the work, to see new possibilities in order.  Don’t you just feel like you can be too close to it?

Regarding form, I mostly write in some kind of meter and rhyme, even if it is not a named form.  I do a lot of counting of syllables and spend lots of time flipping through my rhyming dictionary, making lists of rhymes.  In FOREST, there are a couple of haiku, and I explore various forms in my notebook and on The Poem Farm, but usually I just let a poem find the voice it wants to find.  I enjoy trying out the various meters and rhyme schemes in poems I admire; that is a great exercise.  Sometimes I hear favorite poems in my head when I write, and so snips of meters from favorite poems nuzzle their way into my own verses.

Jone: What was your biggest surprise with FOREST?

Amy: My biggest surprise is that FOREST is actually a book and that people have actually read it.  I am honored that Clarion would choose those poems, thrilled that Robbin would take the time to illustrate them, and am just surprised every time likes the book.  I feel lucky to be part of it all, but in a way, I don’t feel responsible.  In a way, it’s as if I got to be there when those poems wanted to be written.  But I did revise them!

Jone: Amy, thank you for stopping by today. I could talk poetry all day long. Thanks for bringing by the cookies.

Please return on Friday for a poem featured in the new POETRY FRIDAY ANTHOLOGY for SCIENCE. Bonus: hear Amy read her poem.

Poetry Friday: First Friday

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It used to be that the “First Friday” of every month, grade levels would go to the library to share their writing. We don’t get to do that any more. Time is tight in all classrooms. But what I can do is offer up student poems here on the first Friday of each month.
These poems are a result of the three days with author, Susan Blackaby.

I jump and run fast so cats don’t get me I’m
Tiny but sneaky. I can hide in plain site
And if people try to catch me I will bite
I’m also can be cute nice but if I’m scared
I can fight I’m small but in my head I’m tall

~Rylee D.
4th grade

I am a pink pig.
I am as chubby as a bookshelf.
I waddle and trottle.
I oink like thunder.
I am the barn pig.

~Brevin B.
4th grade

I am a white wolf
I’m faster then a horse
I leap, gallop
I’m invisible in snow

~Vadim C.
4th grade

I am a blue bird.
I am as small as a mouse.
I hover, flap, and glide across the sky.
Dog bark at me as I drift above them.
I am one type of my 9,000 different species.

~Mariah K.
4th grade

This is a sneak peak of the poems coming in April. Poetry Friday is held at Reflections on the Teche.

It’s Monday, What are You Reading?

Last week I was sidelined with asthma so I caught up with some books that have been on my TBR pile.

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The One And Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

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May B.: a Novel by Caroline Starr Rose

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The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis

Find out what others are reading at Teach Mentor Texts.