Thursday, April 29, 2010

Self-Portrait Poems

Nine-year-old minds are like little sponges. They are so open to possibilities, and they aren't afraid to venture into unfamiliar territory. I spent part of the day yesterday with two classes of third graders. We had a lot of fun working on self-portrait poems. It's a workshop that I love doing.

I read a few self-portrait poems from some earlier workshops, and I could see their wheels turning. Some with delight, like when the sample poet mentioned her dislike of all things related to school. Some with confusion. Why did she call herself a flower? Some with a little trepidation when I showed them how one poet wrote about himself by writing how other people saw him.

We made lists of things they liked, didn't like, were afraid of, important places, things that made them happy and sad, dreams and goals. I asked them to choose a physical attribute and make a comparison using "like" or "as."

Using my comparison, we talked about the way the words sound when they bump up against each other. Like the difference between these two lines.

My eyes are as brown as chocolate.
My eyes are brown, dark like chocolate.

As I left, they were excited about finishing their self-portraits. That's always a good feeling.

Here's one of my favorite self-portrait poems, written by a twelve-year-old student, in a workshop I taught a few years back. I always read it when I'm doing this workshop. The kids always like it as much as I do.

Self Portrait

Who thinks she is pretty?
Me, I do.
I think I do.

Strange but in a way like everyone else,
Always messy
Sometimes dirty.

Up in trees...
Down in the dirt...
King of the mountain...
Lord of the land...

Q: Would she have rather been a boy?
Q: Inside or outside?
Outside! Definitely

Nose in her books
Fingertips on pens
Ear to the door
Feet to the floor.

Would she want to live a different life?
No, she wouldn't trade.
She is content with what she has.
She does not ask for more
But could not live with less.

Small house.
Small room.
Small yard.
Big life.
Big feet.
Big knuckles.

Cold or hot, never warm.
Black or white, never pink.
Up or down, never on solid ground.

Always expressive
Smile, frown, laugh, or cry.

Saturdays...Yardwork. Ugh.


Saturday, April 24, 2010

I Conquered the North Pole

No fingers or toes lost to frostbite. My ears and nose are still intact. I've eaten no pemmican, suffered no scurvy.

I finally managed to write my script on the Peary/Cook controversy. I really enjoy research, sometimes too much. This was one of those times. I got caught up in the details of the story so much I lost perspective. I got emotionally involved. I didn't like the ruthless, egocentric Peary I found in the pages of his biographies. I didn't want to believe Matthew Cook was truly a con man. But facts are facts. So many facts. I couldn't figure out how to condense this story to a scene.

Right. One scene.

It's a little like writing a 30-second trailer for a 90-minute film, without leaving out the climax and the conclusion.

That's the heart of readers theater. Or readers' theater. Or reader's theater. Or any of those choices, plus the British spelling, theatre. Take your pick. It makes trying to find information on the internet absolutely maddening!

Anyway, I'm closing in on completion of this project. I'm already feeling my thoughts wandering toward the next one, which is actually the last project I put on hold in order to write this one. I'd like to think this mind flitting is like a hummingbird, moving delicately between hibiscus nectar to sweet clematis. Unfortunately it feels more like the Keystone Cops blundering from one half-open door to the next until the culprit of a thought disappears into thin air. I know lots of writers who work on multiple projects at the same time, but I haven't figured out how to do it very well myself.

I'm trying to stay focused.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Poetry Friday: Polar Animals

It's been a busy week and my brain is tired, so here goes with some silly, polar poems.

Please Remove Seal
Jack Prelutsky

the sign on the box clearly read.
I don't have a seal, but I'm taking no chances—
I'll toss out my walrus instead.

X.J. Kennedy

Around their igloo fires with glee
The Eskimos tell tales
Of Narwhal. Listen and you'll see
This unicorn of whales
Through frosty waves off Greenland's coast
Majestically advance.
And like a knight come forth to joust
Hold high its wary lance.

The More It Snows
by A. A. Milne

The more it
The more it
The more it

And nobody
How cold my
How cold my

Be sure to stop by Anastasia Suen's blog, Picture Book of the Day, for other Poetry Friday posts.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Check Out These Blogs

Today is the first year anniversary (Blogiversary?) at Teaching Authors. The six children's authors who also teach writing are April Halprin Wayland, Carmella Martino, Ester Hershenhorn, Jeanne Marie Grunwell Ford, JoAnn Early Macken, and Mary Ann Rodman.

Stop by today's blog post and register for a free critique by one of the six bloggers. What a great giveaway to celebrate the blogiversary.

Over at Paula Yoo's blog, NaNoPiBoWriWee is getting ready to kick off. You write seven picture books in seven days. Okay, it's a little crazy, but it's fun.

If you're planning to join NaNoPiBoWriWee, check out Nancy I. Sanders Blogzone for some great preparation tips.

Write well!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Spring in my Backyard

Spring doesn't last very long in the deep South, but while it's here it's stunningly beautiful. I'm enjoying every minute of it.

Because I know that very soon my lovely garden will have a fight for its life with a jungle of weeds, briers, and searing heat. This prickly little vine is known as greenbriar. It can also be called bull briar, horse brier, and cat brier. It's such a monstrous nuisance people can't even decide on a single name or a consistent spelling. This little shoot may look innocent at the moment, but if it's not destroyed, it will soon grow straight up above everything around it until gravity pulls its nasty little stem downward into whatever grows nearby. The thing can grow up to twenty feet long and wrap itself in, around, and through every healthy plant within spitting distance.

Definitely a worthy antagonist.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

First Reading

I had a delightful visit with students at Hannan Elementary School yesterday. With students and teachers ready for a break from testing, I had four attentive audiences. Well, except for when the loud speaker called for the second graders to come get their snow cones in the middle of their author visit. We whizzed very quickly through the rest of the book we were reading together. After all, it takes something pretty special to compete with snow cones!

The fourth grade classes agreed to try out my script on Columbus, Vespucci, and Waldsemuller from the reader's theater book. They were such great sports about it. Eight students agreed to read the parts in front of the group, even though they had never seen it before. They did a great job. And it was a good evaluation for me to see a first reading.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Another Polar Poem

I'm still trying to wrap my brain around the Peary/Cook controversy. At some point research must stop and I must find a way to present this to middle-grade readers. The fact that it's still disputed a hundred years later makes me ask myself: What in the world am I thinking? I need more than a pick ax and a sextant to find my way through the morass! There is still a Peary camp. There's still a Cook camp. And they are still as diametrically opposed to one another as contemporary partisan politics. So, I'm taking a break from them and reading about S. A. Andrée, who tried to float over the North Pole in a hydrogen balloon. He didn't make it either.

Polar Explorer Salomon August Andrée (1897)

by Elizabeth Bradfield

O, terrible—silence over ice—
no panting dogs, no hissing runners,
no footfall to break it. Just the crack
and groan of its own awful straining
rising up.

You warm your hands at the flame
that lifts you. The balloon's silk
is a second sun, unsetting. You're always in its noon,
directly underneath its rippling light.

There's a red smear on one floe, white
bear loping away from the seal's meat.
There's a quick spout in a lead,
the whale's back there, gone.

When blizzards, no ground to fix
your boots to, just directionless swirl
and the compass' doubtful arrow.

Who else has breathed air this clear, crystals of it
hardening briefly in your lungs? Who else has so brightly
risen above the dangerous landscape?

And when you find that you are losing height,
when the earth calls you down to its own slogging,
when it's been decided that you've traveled long enough
as ghosts, silent and apart, you know
some disaster of hunger and cold awaits
—your bones' location to be a mystery for thirty years—
you know your limbs may no longer have the knack
of pulling, of recovery, of resistance, and you're glad anyway
to be mortal again, and stumbling.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Birthday Week

This is a week full of birthdays! Well, of course, lots of people were probably born this week, so you can all celebrate with us at our house. Birthdays include my daughter, my grandson, my best friend, my husband, and my daughter-in-law. That's a lot in one week.

In keeping with National Poetry Month here are a couple of birthday poems to celebrate.

The Birthday Child
By Rose Fyleman

Everything's been different,
All the day long.
Lovely things have happened,
Nothing has gone wrong.
Nobody has scolded me,
Everyone has smiled.
Isn't it delicious
To be a birthday child?

by Louise Gluck

There was an apple tree in the yard –
this would have been
forty years ago – behind,
only meadows. Drifts
of crocus in the damp grass.
I stood at that window:
late April. Spring
flowers in the neighbor’s yard.
How many times, really, did the tree
flower on my birthday,
the exact day, not
before, not after? Substitution
of the immutable
for the shifting, the evolving.
Substitution of the image
for relentless earth. What
do I know of this place,
the role of the tree for decades
taken by a bonsai, voices
rising from the tennis courts –
Fields. Smell of the tall grass, new cut.
As one expects of a lyric poet.
We look at the world once, in childhood.
The rest is memory.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Poetry Friday: Explorers

This week my research for the reader's theater book on Explorers took me to the North Pole. I'm reading Cook & Peary: The Polar Controversy Resolved by Robert M. Bryce. It was a story that caught the interest and ire of the entire country for years.

I've never been in a place that's extremely cold like the Poles. I don't like being cold, so it's hard for me to imagine anyone wanting to go there, especially more than once. But the explorers who once set foot in these frozen lands always wanted to go back. This poem by Mark Strand, captures the longing.

I Had Been a Polar Explorer
Mark Strand

I had been a polar explorer in my youth
and spent countless days and nights freezing
in one blank place and then another. Eventually,
I quit my travels and stayed at home,
and there grew within me a sudden excess of desire,
as if a brilliant stream of light of the sort one sees
within a diamond were passing through me.
I filled page after page with visions of what I had witnessed—
groaning seas of pack ice, giant glaciers, and the windswept white
of icebergs. Then, with nothing more to say, I stopped
and turned my sights on what was near. Almost at once,
a man wearing a dark coat and broad-brimmed hat
appeared under the trees in front of my house.
The way he stared straight ahead and stood,
not shifting his weight, letting his arms hang down
at his side, made me think that I knew him.
But when I raised my hand to say hello,
he took a step back, turned away, and started to fade
as longing fades until nothing is left of it.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

It's National Poetry Month

And I'm slow jumping on the band wagon. It's been the business of life and a book deadline that's making me irregular on the blog. I love poetry, and I've been reading some of the wonderful blog posts over the last week featuring poetry for children and adults. I've enjoyed the daily interviews with poets over at The Miss Rumphius Effect. Loved the reader's theater version of Love that Dog, one of my favorite novels in verse. Take a few minutes and view it here.

I've been reading, too. I just finished Shakespeare Bats Cleanup, a novel in verse by Ron Koertge. A perfect combination to the first Atlanta Braves baseball game this week. And I'm in the middle of Beanball, another baseball novel . Loving the way Gene Fehler handles such a tragic drama in verse.

Since the reader's theater book I'm working on is about explorers, I hunted down a few poems on the subject to share this month. I just finished a script on the Antarctic expeditions by Robert Falcon Scott and Roald Amundsen. This poem by Joseph Brodsky paints the polar experience in just a few short lines.

A Polar Explorer
by Joseph Brodsky

All the huskies are eaten. There is no space
left in the diary. And the beads of quick
words scatter over his wife's sepia-shaped face
adding the date in question like a mole to her lovely cheek.
Next, the snapshot of his sister. He doesn't spare his kin:
What's been reached is the highest possible latitude!
And, like the silk stocking of a burlesque half-nude
queen, it climbs up his thigh: gangrene.

Roald Amundsen, first explorer to reach the geographic South Pole.

Robert Falcon Scott, reached the South Pole a few weeks after Amundsen. He and his four companions died on the return journey, just 11 miles from their resupply station.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Happy Easter

God’s Grandeur
Gerard Manley Hopkins

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah!
bright wings.