Friday, July 31, 2009


With only two weeks before school starts, there's so much to do to get ready! I'm always looking for time savers, and I just found a great one in J Patrick Lewis' new collection, COUNTDOWN TO SUMMER: A Poem for Every Day of the School Year. It is an excellent choice for teachers who want to bring more poetry into their classroom.

My first thought was that this would be a wonderful gift for new teachers who don't yet have files of resources. What a fun way to encourage them to share daily poems with their students!

But new teachers shouldn't have all the fun. This collection is an excellent resource for all teachers. The poems in COUNTDOWN TO SUMMER are perfect for daily warm-ups. Kids will love watching the days decrease with each daily poem.

The 180 poems are short and contain lots of teaching points. For example poem 172 begins:

Eid ul-Fitr

The new moon is rising.
Ramadan has passed,
Holiest of holy months
When true believers fast.

Gathering at the mosque,
Borne on wings of prayer,
Quitting fast to feast,
A festival affair

I teach in a school where many religions and cultures are represented. Wouldn’t this poem make a great discussion starter or writing prompt for students to share some of their own customs and traditions? In addition, kids are learning about a culture they probably aren’t very familiar with. Other poems about Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Chinese New Year, Easter, St. Patrick, etc., will also provide students with cultural mini-lessons.

Another time-saving feature of the collection is the poems are written in many different forms: concrete poems, epitaphs, quatrains, acrostics, riddles, limericks, haikus, and even an abecedarian. I teach many of these forms so I’m always looking for examples kids will understand and relate to. For example, I think poem 175, “Reading Harry Potter Under the Sheets” is perfect teaching quatrains and rhyme scheme. The first three stanzas:

I’m quarter-past Chapter One
Of the last of Harry’s feats.
This flashlight’s my midnight sun.
I burrow under the sheets.

Book Seven’s supposed to be
The last of the Rowling run.
Gazillions can’t wait to see
Who’s defeated and who’s won.

Will Voldemort get his due?
Will Ron or Hermione die?
Or Hagrid? Is Hagrid through?
Now who will it be and why?

This poem will definitely get my middle school students’ attention!

An abecedarian isn’t a form I’ve taught in the past, but with this example, I think my students would be able to write one of their own. Poem 174 begins:

The Librarian

After school one day I was talking to Mr.
Butterwinkle, the school librarian.
Can you
“Easy,” he said. “But
First I think you should
Go to the Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, and…

Note: (You can read more abecedarian poems from a Miss Rumphius’ poetry challenge here.)

J Patrick Lewis has provided busy teachers with a time-saving resource. Like the poems, the illustrations by Ethan Long are lively and fun. I can’t wait to share COUNTDOWN TO SUMMER with my students. This collection will be a delightful addition to any classroom and especially enjoyed by children in grades 3 and up.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Poetry Friday: SOLD

I finished reading SOLD by Patricia McCormick last week, and I still can't stop thinking about it. This book was painful yet riveting to read. At one point, I put it away determined not to finish it because the story just too horrifying, but then I had to know the ending.

Written in free verse, the story is told from the point of view of 13 yr. old Lakshmi who lives in Nepal with her mother, little brother and negligent step-father. Her family lives in poverty, food is scarce and daily survival is increasingly difficult.

Lakshmi spends her days tending to her small garden, caring for her goat, going to school and dreaming of a brighter future. Then, something happens that changes her life forever; she is sold. Believing she is going to work as a maid for a wealthy family, she soon finds herself living a nightmare.

This book took an emotional toll on me. As I read, I couldn't comprehend how something this monsterous could happen and continues to go on. Each year 12,ooo Nepali girls are sold into sexual slavery. Patricia McCormick did extensive research traveling to Nepal and India to interview the women who suvived to tell their story. The book is written in their honor.

This is an important book that brings awareness to a generally unknown human crisis.

SOLD is YA novel and is recommended for readers high school age and beyond.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

While I Was Away...

Wow, it's been quite a while since my last post! I've had a very busy month: writing curriculum, attending a week-long children's lit conference, taking gradutate classes, planning for next year, household chores, and spending time with family. You know, all those things teachers do while they have the summer "off."

One of the hightlights of the summer was attending the Shenandoah University Children's Lit Conference. The theme was "Getting Boys Hooked on Books." I got to hear some terrific authors: Jon Scieszka, Ralph Fletcher, Jack Gantos, Jerry Pinkney, Gordon Korman, Chris Crutcher, David Macaulay, among others. It was great fun to hear how some of their books came about and their thoughts on motivating boys to read.

One author suggested having a "Guys Only" section of reading material in the class. I like that idea very much, and it got me to thinking that I might try a "Recommended by Guys" section. Middle schoolers love to share their opinions and having their peers recommend a book might be the encouragement my boys need to do more reading.

I returned home with some fresh ideas and fantastic new books to share in August. I'll be writing more about the conference in future posts.

So, how's your summer going so far?