Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine for...

Naomi Shihab Nye's poem, Valentine for Earnst Mann, has always been one of my favorites poems.  I first heard it in a workshop years ago when Georgia Heard shared it with us.  And since then, I've become a fan.  Her poem "Famous" is also a favorite of mine (thank you Donalyn Miller for sending it to me just when I needed it most)!
    Valentine is one of those pieces of poetry that has become memorable for me as a reader and writer.   I wish you all a Happy Valentine's Day today.  Why not write your loved one a poem, or two.  Wrap your words with a bow across a page just for yourself.  Or better yet, write a poem and "put it in your pocket" and hand one to a stranger you meet today!  What a surprise that would be...

Valentine for Ernest Mann

You can't order a poem like you order a taco.
Walk up to the counter, say, "I'll take two"
and expect it to be handed back to you
on a shiny plate.

Still, I like your spirit.
Anyone who says, "Here's my address,
write me a poem," deserves something in reply.
So I'll tell you a secret instead:
poems hide. In the bottoms of our shoes,
they are sleeping. They are the shadows
drifting across our ceilings the moment
before we wake up. What we have to do
is live in a way that lets us find them.

Once I knew a man who gave his wife
two skunks for a valentine.
He couldn't understand why she was crying.
"I thought they had such beautiful eyes."
And he was serious. He was a serious man
who lived in a serious way. Nothing was ugly
just because the world said so. He really
liked those skunks. So, he re-invented them
as valentines and they became beautiful.
At least, to him. And the poems that had been hiding
in the eyes of skunks for centuries
crawled out and curled up at his feet.

Maybe if we re-invent whatever our lives give us
we find poems. Check your garage, the odd sock
in your drawer, the person you almost like, but not quite.
And let me know.

This poem is published in Paul Janeczko's book The Place My Words are Looking For, which is a wonderful collection of poetry and advice from poets.  I'd forgotten what a great book it is.  This book and Seeing the Blue Between are two important books to have in our collections.  Helping young writers find that "place" is something I think we need to focus on more... a child's writing place isn't necessarily found in a "power paragraph" or a "five paragraph essay."  With our state tests looming around the bend, let's not forget the real reason writers write.  Let's not forget to help children learn to fall in love with words and language and their own creativity.  Let's not forget to read beautiful poetry out loud to students.  Let's not forget to model our own writing and the ways our writing gives us a voice.
     Happy Valentine's Day.  And, thank you Naomi Shihab Nye for your beautiful voice and for sharing your words with us.  I can't think of a better way to start today!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Happy Birthday - Jane Yolen

Birthdays come and birthdays go... but a February birthday, well, that's something extra special.  Who was born in February?  
     Lots of folks, famous and infamous.  My sister Joy, who turns 82 on February 13th (she was the subject of one of my very first blogs).  Lincoln.  Washington.  Clark Gable.  Langston Hughes.  Cindy Crawford.  Larry the Cable Guy.  Tina Louise (Ginger!).  Sarah Palin.  Mark Spitz.  Laura Ingalls Wilder.  Ida Lupino (For all you movie buffs).  Jim Backus (The millionaire).  Longfellow.  Bernadette Peters.  Dinah Shore (golf, anyone?).  Johnny Cash.  Carrot Top (really?).  Judy Blume.  Oh, and there's me, on February 20th!
     But I can't let February zip by without wishing one of my favorite authors the happiest of birthdays.  Today is Jane Yolen's Birthday!  Of all the people born in February, I owe her more than gratitude.  I owe her a standing ovation.  Without her dedication to story, and language, and children, my teaching life wouldn't be as rich or as  blessed.  So, I chose to wish Jane "Happy Birthday" with a little blog tribute.  As I reread my older posts, I noticed that I've blogged about her several times (12/9/10, 10/12/10, 8/10/10, 8/17/1010/14/09), but wanted to once again thank her!
     Today, I read All Those Secrets of the World to my students in celebration of her birthday.  As I shared, I found several emails tucked safely inside (correspondence between Ms. Yolen and me from 2002).  I was having trouble finding copies of All Those Secrets of the World and Before the Storm and I emailed to ask her about the availability (subject line:  A search, A request, A frustration).  She graciously offered to send me a copy of both books stating, "Cover price, and I will take care of the postage.  Autograph is free!"  As I read the emails to my students, they were in awe, "You emailed Jane Yolen and she ANSWERED!"  It was the beginning of a wonderful read at the beginning of writer's workshop.  We did a memory write after I read the book.  Several students wrote wonderful pieces.
     Tucked inside was the memory write I wrote about our daughter, Anneke, on January 27, 2003, it read:  "I remember the day you were born.  You came swimming out of your mother with arms and elbows flying.  And we were so happy.  We had our little girl and you were beautiful.  You cried until your mom held you close and the sound of her voice made you stop and look and listen.  We both stared at you and couldn't believe how perfect you were, how absolutely lovely your skin was, and how soft and cuddly you were... we were amazed!"  Anneke is now 20.
     Today I wrote:  "Oompah, pah!  Oompah, pah!  I miss tuba sounds floating through the house.  The tuba has paved the path for more eclectic noise--that of an electric guitar.  Instead of John Phillip Sousa, now all I hear reverberating through the house is AC/DC, Metallica, and periodically, The News Boys.  
     I long for those innocent days when Jens's musical career was more about playing marches in bass clef rather than raucous strumming of the bass itself!"
     "Turn down the bass!"  I yell up the stairs.  But he doesn't listen (can he hear?).  Oompah, pah has transformed into "Drrrrerrr, drreeereee, drreee, derreee!"  The back beat has changed in clarity--with the hidden tune that of "Seek and Destroy" rather than "Ode to Joy!"
     In the concert band, I could always hear Jens.  His "oompahs" holding the beat of each piece, each song.  His cheeks puffed as he filled the twisted labyrinth of the tuba with air.  In  the rock band, all I see is head shaking, all I hear are riffs, and all I understand are the mumbled versions of what was once someone's poetry.  
     Screaming has replaced clarity for these old ears.  BUT, what hasn't changed is the love Jens finds in his music.  That's the joy!"
     So, I must thank Jane Yolen, for giving me the nudge to write about my own children.  When I have my students do a "memory" write (really to build and strengthen our writing muscle), they briefly jot possible thoughts in their notebooks as I read the story.  I give them a few minutes to chat with a friend to "get their writing out into the air." Then together, we spend 10 minutes in our notebooks, jotting fodder for future work.  Today was such a day.
      And, so again... Happy Birthday, Ms. Yolen!  Happy Birthday to you!

By the way... it was a tough job narrowing down from so many titles, but here are my favorite Jane Yolen books.  Which ones do you love?


Saturday, February 5, 2011

At the Write Place...

Sitting in the general session at CCIRA on Thursday morning turned out to be one of the highlights of our local reading conference.  Little did I know, Kevin O'Malley was sitting at my table.  And, to my surprise, I soon discovered he was doing more than just listening!  As the keynote spoke, he was drawing on a brown drawing pad, chuckling, and creating the most magnificent sketches.  Next to the pad, he had several drawing pens and white Prism colors at the ready.  I was enthralled!  He handed one drawing to Stevi Quate (seated on my left), then drew another and handed it to the lady (retired teacher from Brush, Colorado) on my left.  He handed me this drawing... Poor little Timmy!  I was stunned, not only was it beautiful, it was brilliant!
     As the keynote concluded, he handed a final drawing to a woman who walked in at the end of the keynote (it was of a rooster and I secretly hoped he would hand it to me and say, "Have another!").  He was absolutely passionate, engaged, and thoroughly enjoying himself!  After the keynote, we chatted a bit about how he had always drawn while he was learning (does that speak to the doodling our children like to do in their notebooks?) and it was how he "survived" school.  I started thinking about often teachers might squelch a student's need to doodle, to draw, to create.
     Kevin just won the 2010 Colorado Children's Book Award for his book Once Upon a Cool Motorcycle Dude.  On Friday, when I returned to school (my wife went on Friday to CCIRA, we tag-teamed), I discovered more than half of my students had read it... and loved it!  He had two other illustrators work on the book with him.  He drew the main characters, but the publisher enlisted two other illustrators... one to draw the girl's story ("because if I drew her, she would have looked just like me, but wearing a pink dress") and one to draw the boy's version ("a marvelous illustrator who captured the story magnificently").  In fact, one of my students read it to us and we did an impromptu reader's theatre!
     Then my fourth graders told me about all the Miss Malarkey books that he illustrated, which many of them had checked out from our library.  We also rediscovered that he wrote and illustrated one of our favorite read aloud books, Velcome!  If you haven't read it to your students, get your best Boris Karloff voice ready and try it out.  The perfect book to read to your students, letting them see that prosody plays such a crucial role in the opportunities we have to share books with other readers... they love the part of the book when it's time to throw a cough drop at the coffin and the coffin stopsStop reading if you are scared... such a fun text to read and it inspires some play on word writing from students!  
     Another hilarious book by O'Malley is Gimme Cracked Corn & I Will Share.  It's full of rather slapstick writing (which after meeting him, I see why) and it makes me laugh!  One night chicken had a dream about buried treasure--a treasure trove of corn.  I enjoy the playfulness of the language, the quirkiness of the illustrations, and the fun of this book.  
     You never know when you're going to be in the "write place at the write time"... and on Thursday morning I chose just the right seat!  I am off to buy a frame to protect my drawing... and to search my library for more of Kevin O'Malley's books!