Borrowed Names

In 1867 three women were born: Laura Ingalls, Sarah Breedlove and Marie Curie. The first went on to become a beloved children’s writer; the second became Madame C. J. Walker, an African-American business woman and founder of a haircare empire; and the last became the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the only woman to win two Nobels and the only person to ever win in multiple sciences.

Jeannine Atkins brings together these three women in a collection of poems. The poems center on the relationships between each woman and her daughter. The poems bring in true stories mixed with “imagination to fill in the gaps”. Atkins imagines Laura Ingalls Wilder and Rose Wilder Lane walking the same line between fact and fiction in the poem Shears:

Let just an edge peek out.
Rose takes back the notebook.
Begin with extravagance, but be ready to trim…

They put in poverty, blizzards, prairie fires,
leave out the milliner who cried
as she tied ribbons around hatbands
chose feathers, folded paper flowers, mourned
the husband who’d left her….

Don’t mention the children
who froze to death on Plum Creek,
the murderers in Kansas.
One family has troubles enough.

They won’t write about the baby
who was buried.
Even good dogs must die,
but such a shame that Jack was bartered.
Let’s let dear old Jack spend his last night at home
curled in a peaceful sleep.
Truth is as much justice as fact.

Due to the nature of the poetry the biographies of the woman are sketches only but rendered in a way that fleshes out familiar figures or makes the reader intrigued to learn more. I think this could be an excellent companion book for a study of the time period, or for a discussion of women’s history. Or just for the pleasure of reading the poems themselves.


Poetry Friday: The Donkey

Hudson 97 008a

The Donkey
By G. K. Chesterton

When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born.

With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil’s walking parody
On all four-footed things.

The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.

This is the poem we’re working on memorizing this month. To give credit where credit is due, I got the idea from Amy at Hope is the Word who mentioned it in a recent post.

Poetry Friday is posted at The Poem Farm today.


Poetry Friday: Once Upon a Memory

Does a feather remember it once was a bird?

Does a book remember it once was a word?

Nina Laden’s Once Upon a Memory uses beautifully poetic text to explore the concept of memory. The soft watercolor illustrations invite the reader into the imaginary world of a a little boy populated with animals and a sense of wonder.

Much more poem than prose, there is no real story here but the question and answer format leads the reader to think about the world in a slightly different way. It reminded me very much of one of my favorite book poems for kids, A Sock is a Pocket for Your Toes.

Poetry Friday is hosted this week by A Year of Reading.  And don’t forget that April is National Poetry Month!   Do you have plans to celebrate?

Poetry Friday: Lenten Poetry

IMG_2693Our assistant pastor’s wife sent me a link to a group of poems compiled for Lenten meditation. This came at a perfect time as I had just been bemoaning the fact that I always want to do more during Lent but somehow never do. I’m not sure yet how I’ll use these poems but they are beautiful and just reading them alone is probably enough.

The one for today is by Robert Herrick, a poet I know nothing about. It was written in 1648 so I’m going to assume it’s in the public domain and post the whole thing here.

To Keep a True Lent

Is this a Fast, to keep
The Larder lean?
And clean
From fat of veals and sheep?

Is it to quit the dish
Of flesh, yet still
To fill
The platter high with fish?

Is it to fast an hour,
Or ragg’d go,
Or show
A down-cast look and sour?

No: ’tis a Fast to dole Thy sheaf of wheat And meat
Unto the hungry soul.

It is to fast from strife And old debate,
And hate;
To circumcise thy life.

To show a heart grief-rent;
To starve thy sin,
Not bin;
And that’s to keep thy Lent.

Poetry Friday is hosted today at Reflections on the Teche. Stop by and share a poem.


Poetry Friday

I haven’t participated in Poetry Friday in a long time but I wanted to share a poetry project that David and I have recently finished. As I’ve shared before here and here, I have the kids memorize poetry beginning in first grade.

We started second grade by working on learning The Months by Sara Coleridge. The first few stanzas are below, you can find the complete poem here at 

January brings the snow,
makes our feet and fingers glow.

February brings the rain,
Thaws the frozen lake again.

March brings breezes loud and shrill,
stirs the dancing daffodil.

John had worked on this same poem a few years ago when he was in second grade. It’s a good poem for this age. It’s fairly easy to memorize, and it provides a natural way to discuss the months of the year and the seasons. However, some of the language is a bit out-dated. October finds the narrator “gathering nuts”; June “fills the children’s hands with posies”. John and I came up with the idea of re-writing the poem to reflect his year. It became a really fun and memorable project that year. So when second grade rolled around for David, I decided to do the same project with him.

IMG_0054“January brings the snow, Snowman now begins to grow.”
from David’s poem

It’s a fairly easy poem to rewrite as the structure is simple: couplets for each month with each line of the couplet having seven syllables. For each month, we would first brainstorm all the things we associated with that month. I then had David pick the thing he wanted to write about. We would then brainstorm words that came to mind with the topic. And finally we’d work on coming up with the actual lines.

IMG_0055October brings games and fun, it’s the best celebration.”
from David’s poem

So the process went something like this:

Ok, for October what could we talk about?

Halloween, leaves falling, going camping, getting cold, my birthday

So which of those do you want to use?

My birthday!

Allright, let’s think of words that go with your birthday.

Cake, ice cream, games, friends, presents, fun…

Great! Now which of those do you want to use for a first line?



”June brings swimming in a race, Swimming at a perfect pace.”
from John’s poem

I don’t have to list how things meet Common Core standards or come up with “learning objectives” met. But if I did, I could come up with long list of skills worked on with this project. Handwriting. Capitalization. Rhyming. Rhythm. Learning the months of the year. Drawing skills. It took a fair amount of time because we only did a bit each week, maybe one or two months a week, which meant we worked on this for about 9 weeks. But in the end the boys had a finished book that they are very proud of.


“December brings gifts to shop, Playing with Grandma and Pop.”
from John’s poem

I say “we” worked on it because although I tried to make it as much their work and ideas as possible, it was really a joint project. In the end, I think this is what made it so memorable and fun for them. We ended up laughing a lot when we thought of silly topics or lines. The boy doing the project got some valuable one-on-one time and the experience of brainstorming and bouncing ideas off another person.

One interesting thing to me was how similar their topics ended up being. There were obvious things like fireworks in July or Christmas in December. But they also both chose to write about bike-riding in April and leaves falling in September. It will be interesting to see what Ruth comes up with in three years when she’s in second grade.

Poetry Friday is hosted this week at Write.Sketch.Repeat. Stop by and take a look.



Poetry Friday: The Highway Rat

Just in time for National Poetry Month, I have a fantastic new book by Julia Donaldson to share. The Highway Rat is the story of a dastardly character, a rat so mean and wicked that he steals the food of every creature he meets on the highway. Donaldson is the Children’s Laureate of the UK and she tells the story in rollicking rhyme that is inspired by the classic poem The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes .

The highway rat was a baddie. 
The highway rat was a beast.
He took what he wanted and ate what he took.
His life was one long feast.
His teeth were sharp and yellow, his manners were rough and rude,
And the Highway Rat went riding-
Riding along the highway
and stealing the travelers’ food.

The illustrations by Axel Scheffler are bold and funny. You can’t help but be charmed by the wicked but debonair rat. Donaldson creates the perfect ending for her Highway Rat.(Parents of preschoolers don’t need to worry, his fate is much less bloody than the original.) He gets his come-uppance thanks to a clever Duck but still has a happy ending.

This is one we all enjoyed. Afterwards we looked up the original Noyes poem and read that too. (Some of you might recognize it as one of the poems Anne Shirley recites for “the real authoress”.)

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Read, Write, Howl.

Poetry Friday: Hailstones and Halibut Bones

 I didn’t read a lot of poetry as a kid. Most of the poems I remember are either from A. A. Milne or from this 1961 classic by Mary O’Neill. Hailstones and Halibut Bones contains poems about all the colors of the rainbow. There is something vaguely psychedelic but in a comfortable way about the poems and the illustrations by John Wallner.
It’s a very accessible book for kids and a great one for poetry memorization.

John memorized about half of What is Black ? when he was in 1st grade and now he is working on all of What is Gray?. David is working on he first half of What is Orange? The first few lines are below.

What is Orange? by Mary O’Neill
Orange is a tiger lily,
A carrot,
A feather from a parrot,
A flame,
The wildest color
You can name.


Poetry Friday is hosted this week at Teaching Authors.

Poetry Friday: Math Puzzles

The word “unique” probably gets used too much to describe new books. I think I’m safe though in calling this collection of poems by J. Patrick Lewis (the Children’s Poet Laureate) unique.  Part poetry collection, part math puzzles and part tribute to 14 classic poets, Edgar Allan Poe’s Pie is truly one of a kind. It’s probably best for older kids as many of the math puzzles involve fractions and percents or other more advanced math concepts. It also may be best enjoyed if you first know at least some of the poems that these refer to. I like that Lewis includes short blurbs on each poet at the end. All in all it’s a fun book. I would definitely recommend it if you have a student who enjoys math and maybe isn’t so sure about poetry. Or a student who really likes poetry but needs a little something extra to spice up math.

Here’s an excerpt from the title poem “Edgar Allan Poe’s Apple Pie”:

Once upon a midnight rotten, 
Cold, and rainy, I’d forgotten
All about the apple pie
Still cooling from the hour before. 

Poetry Friday is hosted this week at Violet Nesdoly Poems.

Poetry Friday: All That is Gold Does Not Glitter


All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king. 

-J.R.R. Tolkien from The Fellowship of the Ring

This is the current poem the boys are working on memorizing. John was especially excited as we are reading through The Lord of the Rings together and Aragorn is one of his favorite characters. The poem is a great one to memorize. It’s short enough to be fairly easy but rich in both language and meaning.
A list of some of the previous poems we’ve memorized and more on the general process we use. 
Poetry Friday is hosted this week by No Water River

Poetry Friday: If I Never Forever Endeavor

If in all of forever,
I never endeavor
to fly, I won’t know if I can.
I won’t know if I can’t.
I won’t know
if or whether
a flight I
might fly,
should I choose
to not ever give it a try.

I got If I Never Forever Endeavor out of the library for “N” week for Ruth school. (Nests. Also noodles and noses.) Holly Meade’s book poem perfectly captures the fear of a fledgling about to leave the nest for a first flight and provides a charming metaphor for anyone stepping out with trepidation to try something new. I could see this making a really nice alternative to the now overdone Oh The Places You’ll Go graduation gift.

Poetry Friday is hosted this week at Radio, Rhythm and Rhyme. Why not make it a resolution to have more poetry in your life in 2013? Consider stopping by and participating.