Category Archives: Poetry

Ashley Bryan


Ashley Bryan is the winner of the 2009 Laura Ingalls Wilder Award honoring an author or illustrator, published in the United States, whose books have made a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children.

Ashley taught at my school long before I came, but continues to come for visits.  In fact, one year the third grade interviewed him and wrote his biography.  We got to know each other even better over the years when we together attended the annual CLNE summer institutes.  (The image above is from the one in 2006.)   Just last May I was at a CLNE colloquy and well recall standing around a bonfire being led by Ashley in poetry recitation.

This past Wednesday our school celebrated Ashley’s own telling of his story, Words to My Life’s Song.  A high school a capella group sang the three spirituals from Let It Shine, I presented my class’s reading of Beautiful Blackbird (you can hear a podcast of this here), and Ashley spoke and recited and led us as only he can.

We are all so lucky to know Ashley in person, through his books, and through his being.


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Elizabeth Alexander’s Task

How to write a poem for a president

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Elizabeth Alexander selected as the Inaugural Poet

I am so excited about this.  A few years ago we were fortunate enough to have the wonderful poet Natasha Trethewey at our school as a visiting scholar and she spent some time working with our fourth graders.  Because of our focus on the Amistad, rather than using her own poems,  Natasha introduced us to the Amistad poems of Elizabeth Alexander.  We loved them and have continued to use them ever since. Last year Elizabeth, with Marilyn Nelson, did the lovely children’s book, Miss Crandall’s School for Young Ladies & Little Misses of Color,  And this year I arranged for her to come to our school to work directly with our students.  It so happens, just a couple of weeks after the inaugural.   Wow!


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Five Poems by Nina Lindsay

Five lovely poems by Nina Lindsay are here: Mudlark Poster No. 77 (2008).  Nina was my Newbery chair, but is also a very accomplished poet.  Her first collection was Today’s Special Dish, published in 2007 by Sixteen Rivers Press. Recent poems of hers have appeared or are forthcoming in Ploughshares, Columbia Poetry Journal, Fence, Shenandoah, and Northwest Review. She was a recipient of a 2007 Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prize.


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A River of Words

A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams is a pitch-perfect picture-book biography.  Illustrator Melissa Sweet has visually captured the art of this spare yet gorgeous poet.  Author Jen Bryan simply yet eloquently presents William’s life in a way that is perfect for young readers.  Not just the typical picture book audience either. This is a book for anyone who loves Willams’ work, wants to see a fabulous illustrator at work. an elegant writer of biography for children, or just wants to learn about a remarkable American.

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Poems of Childhood

The poetry of childhood is rarely simple; even an apparently straightforward poem of childhood memory, At the Sea-Side by Robert Louis Stevenson, has a deeper undercurrent running just below the surface. We are reminded that even children are subject to the tide that governs our affairs.

Poster poems: Childhood | Books |

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J. Patrick Lewis’s The Innocent

The Innocent

Emmett Till


There on a Mississippi Delta day,
Young Emmett Till would fall so far from grace
That Justice hadn’t anything to say.

No, colored boys should never disobey.
He whistled at a white girl to her face
There on a Mississippi Delta day.

They kidnapped him, two good ol’ boys at play,
A warning to the bravest of his race
That Justice hasn’t anything to say.

They beat him bloody, oh, they made him pay.
They kicked him, shot, and drowned him just in case,
There on that Mississippi Delta day.

Beware self-righteous predators who prey;
They make convenient evil commonplace
When Justice hasn’t anything to say.

The killers were acquitted, by the way,
A verdict Southern virtue would embrace
There on a Mississippi Delta day
When Justice hadn’t anything to say.

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Three Poems from J. Patrick Lewis

These three surprises came the other day from poet J. Patrick Lewis. What a lovely unexpected treat! Thanks so much, Pat!

July 10, 2008
For Monica

Road Block

I saw a bookworm in a book.
The bookworm said to me,

“Long have I lived these many years
On page 6, paragraph 3.”

I said, “Why don’t you move along?
There’s so much more ahead.”

“The author mistook its for it’s-
That’s where I stopped,” she said.

* *

Books Discover Children

Yes, children do discover books,
But books find children on their own,
And then can’t wait to get their hooks
In kids who think they’re all alone.

For instance, GOODNIGHT MOON knows why
That girl is thinking to herself,
How can I ever say good-bye….
When Rabbit pulls her to the shelf.

And FROG AND TOAD hops to the child
Who almost lost his closest friend:
The only way pain’s reconciled
Is by the letter that you send.

When CHARLOTTE’S WEB bumps into you-
A girl who’s fastened to a farm-
The simple life you thought you knew
Is spelled out in a spider’s charm.

As children hurry to the page,
The picture page talks back by turns,
Capturing kids of every age
For whom imagination burns.

* *

Library Lady

If you’re looking for good fiction,
Welcome to my jurisdiction!
I’m the Dewey Decimal Guard,
Who can find the perfect story,
Humor (witty), horror (gory),
Novels (great), adventure (glory)….
Let me see your library card.

No, there’s nothing’s more exciting
For a kid who’s reading writing
Than to fricassee a mind,
‘Cause a book is like an oven-
What it’s cookin’ is book lovin’.
Set the temperature then shove in
Every brain cell you can find.

* *


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Inside Out: Children’s Poets Discuss Their Work

The terrific JonArno Lawson has put together a completely charming book, INSIDE OUT: CHILDREN’S POETS DISCUSS THEIR WORK. Delightfully illustrated, this small book (just right for fitting in a hand) contains twenty-four marvelous poems. Each is accompanied by a commentary by its creator and these are fascinating and delightful, invariably as poetic and quirky as the poems themselves. The poets included are John Agard, Carol Ann Duffy, Philip de Vos, Jackie Kay, X.J. Kennedy, JoArno Lawson (and if you don’t know his other award-winning books of children’s poetry go find them now!), Dennis Lee, Margaret Mahy, Adrien Mitchell, Roger McGough, Stephen Mitchell, Pat Mora, Grace Nichols, Naomi Shihab Nye, Sally Farrell Odgers, Jack Prelutsky, Annushka Ravishankar, Christopher Reid, Michael Rosen, Jeanne Steig, Matthew Sweeney, Souvankham Thammavongsa, Richard Wilbur, and Nancy Willard.

Highly, highly, highly recommended.


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NCTE’s Poetry Blast

I spent last Saturday afternoon just listening to the most wonderful poets read and recite their most wonderful poems. Marilyn Singer conceived of the Poetry Blast some years ago for ALA, but has now been invited to bring it far and wide including, this year, NCTE. I can only urge you, if you get a chance, to attend one. It is really extraordinary to see such a line up of poets for children present their own work.

This time Marilyn Singer and her able co-host, Michael Santangelo (standing in for the absent Michael Cart) presented each poet and then we heard them in all their glory: Helen Frost, John Grandits, Nikki Grimes, Lee Bennett Hopkins, Alan Katz, Curtis Krisler, Marilyn Nelson, Lisa Ann Sandell, Joyce Sidman, Marilyn Singer, Charles R. Smith, Jr., and Janet Wong.

Wonderful. Delicious. Thought Provoking. Outstanding.

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