Thursday, March 23, 2017


My one little word for 2017 is CHANGE so I've been doing a lot of thinking about my life, the things that work and things I want to change. 

I've always been grateful for the goodness in my life, but sometimes I feel overwhelmed by all negative voices on the nightly news, social media, and even overheard in grocery store conversations.
By the end of 2016, I felt like all that noise was distracting me from the things are really important. 

This was something I needed to change.  So on January 1,  I started a gratitude journal.  Every evening, I write about one event that happened that day and why it brought me joy. Maybe it was hearing my favorite song on the radio, a phone call from my son, or my cat purring on the bed beside me. For me, the key is the "why" piece because it causes me to do some reflection.

It's a small thing to do, just a few sentences, but it has made a positive difference in my life.  My focus has changed, and I find myself looking for the goodness in each day.  An added benefit is that recording life's joys gives me a chance to relive them again and again. When I'm having a bad day, I read through my gratitude journal and always find something to smile about. 

In the beginning, I worried it might end up being another chore to add to my day.  That didn't happen because most entries are very brief. Of course there are times when there are too many wonderful events to choose just one. On those days, I go ahead and fill the page with joy!

When I decided to start a gratitude journal, I remembered this poem.  Maybe it was there in the back of my mind inspiring me all along. 

                     -Barbara Crooker

This week, the news of the world is bleak, another war
grinding on, and all these friends down with cancer,
or worse, a little something long term that they won’t die of
for twenty or thirty miserable years—
And here I live in a house of weathered brick, where a man
with silver hair still thinks I’m beautiful. How many times
have I forgotten to give thanks? The late day sun shines
through the pink wisteria with its green and white leaves
as if it were stained glass, there’s an old cherry tree
that one lucky Sunday bloomed with a rainbow:
cardinals, orioles, goldfinches, blue jays, indigo buntings,
and my garden has tiny lettuces just coming up,
so perfect they could make you cry: Green Towers,
Red Sails, Oak Leaf. For this is May, and the whole world
sings, gleams, as if it were basted in butter, and the air’s
sweet enough to send a diabetic into shock—
Read the rest of the poem here.

Here are two good articles, if you'd like to learn more about the benefits of keeping a gratitude journal.

10 Reasons Why Keeping a Gratitude Journal Could Be Your Best Idea Ever!

The Benefits of a Gratitude Journal and How to Maintain One

I am thankful I got to meet my friend Catherine in person last fall at a Highlights workshop.  She is hosting Poetry Friday at Reading to the Core.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Inspiring Poetry

The more poetry I read, the more I'm inspired to write my own. 
Bobbi Katz has been one of my poetry heroes since I  read her "Things to Do if You are a Subway."  Many years ago, when I taught fifth grade, it was one of my favorite mentor poems.  My students loved the language and imagery, and they were eager to write their own "Things to Do" poems.  Bobbi's poems are extremely popular with teachers.  Once you read them, you'll see why.

Things to Do If You Are a Subway

Pretend you are a dragon.
Live in underground caves.
Roar about underneath the city.
Swallow piles of people.
Spit them out at the next station.
Zoom through the darkness.
Be an express.
Go fast.
Make as much noise as you please.

-Bobbi Katz, all rights reserved

Things to do if you are the Sun

Let planets loop around you.
Be Earth’s very own star.
Keep things warm enough for people.
Keep things cool enough for penguins.
Slip away to end the day.
Light the moon at night.
Let people and animals sleep.
And at the crack of dawn,
wake up the world!

     -Bobbi Katz, all rights reserved

Don't you just love imagining subways as dragons "swallowing piles of people"? My fifth graders sure did!  I still remember their giggles when we read those lines. I wonder if Bobbi had any idea when she wrote her "Things to Do" poems that they would inspire so many of us.

Elaine Magliaro said that Bobbi's poems were the inspiration for her THINGS TO DO collection.  It's a book I wish I had when I was teaching elementary school. The poems are so much fun to read and excellent for teaching figurative language!   Imagine the poems this book would have inspired my students to write!  If you haven't seen it yet, you're missing a good one.

Laura Purdie Salas also has a brand new picture book, IF YOU WERE THE MOON, that is also based on the "Things to Do" poetry form. Laura's book reads like a lullaby combined with nonfiction passages to help young readers learn facts about the moon.   My favorite line is: "Spin like a twilight ballerina."  Isn't that gorgeous?  I can't wait to read it to my grandchildren.

Laura wrote a lovely blog post here explaining how she was inspired by Elaine's poems. You can also read a poem from Elaine's book "Things To Do If You Are RAIN."

My Writing Life Update:  It's been a month since I retired and started writing full-time.  I've settled into a daily routine that works for me.  I usually write 4-6 hours every day depending on doctor's appointments, and other responsibilities.  I have been revising a collection of picture book poems, writing stand-alone poems for a special project, and planning the two writing classes I'm teaching this spring.  I'm so grateful for this time in my life!

Looking for more inspiration, head over to Heidi's place at My Juicy Little Universe.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Stepping Out of the Shadows in My Writing Life

Dear Mr. Hughes
-After reading “Dreams”

It’s hard to dream
with an eviction notice
on my front door.

It’s hard to dream
when I'm sleeping on
a living room floor.

It’s hard to dream
when I’m still hungry
but there isn’t any more

It’s hard to dream—
but one thing I know
for sure:

When I grow up,
I don’t want to be

I rarely post my own poems, but I’m trying to push myself to step out of the shadows a bit and share more of my writing life.  So, today I’m posting a poem from a novel-in-verse I started a few years ago.  Although it’s from the main character’s point of view, much of the experience comes from my own childhood.  I abandoned the novel, but this poem stuck with me.  Growing up in poverty influenced my life in both positive and negative ways, and the fear of being poor again has never let go. I have always been a dreamer, but I’ve known children (and adults) who say they don’t have a dream.  To me, that is the worst kind of poverty. 

A big thank you to Karen for hosting today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Change and Giveaway Winners!


The summer
still hangs
heavy and sweet
with sunlight
as it did last year.

The autumn
still comes
showering gold and crimson
as it did last year.

The winter
still stings
clean and cold and white
as it did last year.

The spring
still comes
like a whisper in the dark night.

It is only I
who have changed.

-Charlotte Zolotow

My one little word for 2017 is CHANGE.  Let me tell you why I chose this word.

Most of my adult life has been centered on the seasons of the school year. Every Autumn is a new beginning getting to know my students, developing relationships and discovering their strengths and needs. Winter, a time of digging deeper into the curriculum: assessing, extending, and anticipation. Spring, a season heavy with testing, planning for the next year, graduations, and good-byes. Summer is a blend of enrichment classes, reflection, and rewinding.

Predictable, yes, but for me  there is also a sense of comfort in this cycle I’ve come to know so well. Then, last fall, a series of events forced me to take a closer look at my life. Something inside me said it was time to make a change.

With the support and encouragement of my amazing husband,  I decided to retire from full-time teaching. It wasn't an easy decision. I spent many sleepless nights second-guessing myself. I had a ton of guilt over leaving mid-year, however, for reasons I won’t go into, I felt it was necessary. Change is terribly hard for me,  and this was a big one. 

Now, eighteen days later,  I know I made the right decision.  I’m living the life I always dreamed of—  the life of a full-time writer.  I can honestly say that I am happier now than I’ve been in years. I don’t know where this new journey will take me, but I’m grateful to finally be on the path.

On Sunday, my wonderful siblings threw me a surprise retirement party with this beautiful cake!

"Your best stories remain to be written!” I sure hope so.   This year, I'm trying to be more open and embrace change. After all,  sometimes change is a good thing! 

Congratulations to the five winners of YOU JUST WAIT! Please send me your snail mail address.

Sally Murphy
Leigh Ann Eck
Alice Nine
Molly Hogan
Jane  of raincitylibrarian

Have a great Poetry Friday!

A special thank you to Jone at  Check It Out for hosting today.

Thursday, February 9, 2017


I haven't participated in Poetry Friday in a while because of the big changes happening in my life. I'll share more about that another time, but I'm just happy to be back, and I'm looking forward to posting on a more regular basis. Today I want to tell you about a book I love and what happened with I shared it with my students.

To begin with, getting my sixth grade reading intervention students excited about reading and writing is CHALLENGING! They would rather eat a big bowl of Brussels sprouts than read. So, I'm always looking for books that they will find engaging and meaningful.  When I heard about JUST YOU WAIT by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong, it sounded like the perfect choice.  JUST YOU WAIT is an interactive novel-in-verse with poems from the point of view of the three very relatable main characters: Paz, Lucesita, and Joe.  What makes this novel so different is that it includes activities and writing exercises in response to the poems. I love this feature because it encourages readers to become part of the story. Such a great idea!

My students were surprised to learn they would each have their own copy so they could write in the book. This was definitely motivating for them.  The program I teach is very structured so our time with YOU JUST WAIT was limited. In some ways, I think that worked to an advantage because students were eager to get back to "our book."

After we finished the novel, I gave my students a chance to share their thoughts about the book. Here are a few of their responses.  

What I liked about this book:
  • It had cool activities. 
  • One thing I liked about this book is the poems, and I want to know more about the characters. I hope the authors write another book like this one.
  • I really liked Paz because she reminds me of who I am.
  • I like Joe because he dreams of being in the NBA and so do I.
  • Lucesita, because she likes movies like I do, and she is funny.
  • I like this book because I'm great at it!
  • It's awesome to do the activities and write our poems in the book. 
  • Yay, we're working on our book today!

What I learned: 
  • I learned some things about myself thanks to this book.
  • I can be a creative person when I try.
  • I like reading other people's poems because they are fun.
  • Writing poems is harder than it looks.
  • I learned there are different ways to make a poem.
  • I learned how to write a poem. Thank you.
  • I have a lot of potential writing poetry.
  • Follow your dreams, be nice, and friendship is important.
One reason YOU JUST WAIT was such a hit with my sixth graders is because each of them connected with at least one of the characters.  As one student said, "She's a character in a book, but she's just like me.She loves her family the way I do." My students especially loved the activites because they found them meaningful and helpful in understanding their own lives a little better. 

My Spanish-speaking students loved reading the Spanish words and teaching all of us about some of the foods mentioned in the novel.  Some of my students brought in family photographs and found images online to tell about their favorite cultural foods. We learned many interesting things about each other that day.

Many students liked sharing their poems aloud and using the document camera to show their sketches.  This worked wonderfully for practicing fluency, especially when they took turns reading each other’s poems.

I helped students who were struggling with ideas, but I did not edit their poems. They were so proud of what they wrote, and I didn't want to take that away from them.  Seeing students who in the beginning of the year claimed they hated writing suddenly want to share their words with classmates was huge!  

Here are a few of their poems:

Cheerleading Extreme

I go up high
like I'm in the 
sky in my stunt

I do my dance,
have a chance
to shine

behind me
are other girls 
in crutches
waiting for their time
to shine

no lifts 
no kicks

Is is your time
to shine?
 - G.


My friend is
so energetic and fast

My friend is
generous and so joyful

My friend is
always there even
in the hardest times

My Friend

I like my friend
he is cool
like a pool
in the hot sun.

I like my friend
and he likes me
we watch TV
and play games

We have fun
I'll never give up
our friendship



Football is
the noise of 
helmets banging

Football is
the smell of
in the air

Football is
noisy fans
in the stadium.

I love it when a book makes a positive difference in the lives of my students (and mine too). I'm so glad they had the opportunity to read YOU JUST WAIT.   Not only did their attitude toward reading and writing improve, but an added bonus was that our classroom conversations became much more accepting and compassionate. Isn't it amazing how powerful one book can be?

Janet and Sylvia ( Pomelo Books) create books that get readers thinking and doing. They have a wonderful new book, HERE WE GO. This book is sure to inspire readers to change the world.  It should be on every elementary and middle school reading list.  Yes, it's that good!  We all hope to make a difference, HERE WE GO shows us the way!

Now for the GIVEAWAY!   I'm giving 5 lucky folks a copy of YOU JUST WAIT!  To enter the drawing, please leave a comment. Good luck!

A special thank you to Katie for hosting today's Poetry Friday at The Logonauts.  

Thursday, September 22, 2016

My Poetry Workshop Adventure Part 2

Here I am, back in the real world after four amazing days at Highlights. There is so much I want to share, but I've been grading papers all evening, and it's nearly 11PM.  So for now, I’ll just say that it was every bit as magical as I hoped it would be.

Spending time with Rebecca Kai Dotlich and Georgia Heard was a dream come true. I was very nervous to meet them, but their warm, welcoming ways instantly helped me feel at ease. They are kind and generous teachers who filled us with inspiration and encouragement. We laughed, we sang, we read, we wrote, and we deeply listened to each other. Each poem, each critique, each person mattered. We were all there to celebrate poetry!  I’ve been to many workshops, but this was by far the best one.  “The Heart and Craft of Poetry” was a life-changing experience for me because for the first time in my life I felt like I found people who spoke my language and shared my heart.

                                                        our group photo
I was happy to finally meet some of my Poetry Friday buddies.  They are an incredible bunch, and it felt like we were all old friends.
                                      The Poetry Friday gang with Rebecca and Georgia.

The folks at Highlights took excellent care of us, and made us feel at home with delicious food and cozy accommodations.
                                                   my home for four fabulous days

I wrote in my notebook each night before bed so I wouldn’t forget a single moment.  I sure hope I get to attend another Highlights workshop. If you have the opportunity to attend one, I know you will love it!
                                                            our poet-tree

My friend, Catherine is hosting today's Poetry Friday at Reading to the Core. 

Thursday, September 8, 2016

My Poetry Workshop Adventure Part 1

I only have time for a quick post because I'm busy packing for my trip to the Highlights Foundation.  The workshop I’m attending is The Heart and Craft of Poetry.  Just the title alone makes me swoon with anticipation!  

A poetry dream team of Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Georgia Heard, Rebecca Davis, and a special Skype visit by our beloved, Mr. Lee Bennett Hopkins will immerse us in poetry from Sunday-Thursday.  I’ve wanted to do this for sooooo long; I plan to soak up every single word! I can’t wait to learn from these poetry heroes who I’ve admired forever!

                                                 my home for a few days

I’m also looking forward to meeting some of my Poetry Friday buddies including: Heidi Bee Roemer, Charles Waters, Buffy Silverman, RobinHood Black, Linda Baie. I apologize for not remembering everyone who told me they would be there, but I look forward to meeting every one them!  I’m thrilled (and a little nervous) to be in the company of so many brilliant poets! I just know I’m going to learn a lot from them too.

For the past two weeks, I’ve been pondering what to bring with me. We were sent a list:
·         3 poems to polish (not sure which ones I’ll take just yet)
·         a notebook (I’m bringing several, you know, for all that soaking!)
·         one book of children’s poetry (That’s a tough one. I have so many favorites. I’ll bring several and decide later which one to share.)
·         one small object (Oh, I think I have that one covered.)

I’m also going to take my current WIP because the workshop location will provide the perfect inspiration!

One more thing I’m going to take with me is the advice of my very wise mentor, Laura Purdie Salas  and make a list of goals for the workshop. (Thanks, Laura!)  

This will likely be my one and only opportunity to attend a Highlights workshop so I want to make the most of it.  I’d love to hear your tips and/or advice for a successful workshop experience.  Being a newbie,  I’m open to suggestions! I've never done anything like this so I am beyond excited!   I'll tell you all about my adventure in a future blog post. Let’s just hope I don’t embarrass myself too much with all my swooning!

Be sure to stop by The Poem Farm where my talented friend, Amy has today's Poetry Friday roundup.