ARBOR DAY: A Poem by James, age 7 and Art by Miss A.

IMG_4220

Earlier this week my adorable seven year old neighbor, James, reminded me that Arbor Day was just around the corner and that to celebrate, he planned to write a poem. It think he told me this because he knows I like to write too.  I told him I’d love to read the poem once he’d written it and Thursday after school I finally got the chance. “I’m going to read it over the loudspeaker at school tomorrow” he explained.

And that gave me an idea! With his mom’s permission, I asked James if he’d like to share it on my blog as well. He thought that sounded neat! And, to illustrate, Miss A. offered to let us use her newest art work – a stained- glass illustration of a cherry tree in bloom.  Now, without further ado, please enjoy this delightful collaboration between two young artists in celebration of trees!

IMG_4219

And now a bonus… an illustration by James as well!

IMG_7086

I think both the artist and the poet did a great job!  Happy Arbor Day to all!

GUEST POST: ZOOMA-ZOOMA-ZOOM! Onomatopoeia with Picture Book Author and Poet Elizabeth Upton

This week, coinciding with National Poetry Month, I am delighted to have picture book author and poet Elizabeth Upton as my guest.  I met Elizabeth at KidLitTV’s Live Stream Read Aloud event last month and had the pleasure of listening as she read aloud her delightful debut, MAXI THE LITTLE TAXI, illustrated by Henry Cole and published in 2016 by Scholastic.  It’s a fun and bouncy story with spot-on rhythm and rhyme.  It’s also full of wonderful poetic elements and I’m delighted that Elizabeth has agreed to pen this post on one of my favorites – onomatopoeia! Take it away, Elizabeth!

It’s an honor to be asked by Laura Sassi to be a guest blogger during Poetry Month. I love poetry. Happily, my poetry has been in three collections by the amazing Lee Bennett Hopkins. My picture book, MAXI THE LITTLE TAXI, features poetic elements including rhythm, rhyme, repetition and word play. I was thrilled when the School Library Journal review that said MAXI THE LITTLE TAXI “is filled with onomatopoeia and amusing details sure to delight young readers.” Onomatopoeia [on-uh-mat-uh-pee-uh], according to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, is “the naming of a thing or action by a vocal imitation of the sound associated with it (as buzz, hiss)”. Children love to imitate, so this aspect of poetry is very easy for them to access.

In my book, it’s Maxi’s first day of work and off he goes!

Max ZIPPED here.

He ZIPPED there.

He ZIPPED everywhere—

From the park, to the river,

And back to the square.

He ZOOMED up.

He ZOOMED down.

He ZOOMED all around town—

Splashing in every big puddle he found!

All over town Maxi gets filthy and he finally arrives at a carwash full of playful sounds. Onomatopoeia is one of the driving forces that keeps the story moving in a fun and engaging way.  For example, the spray at the car wash goes “pish-pish”, the scrubbers to “flip-flop”, and the suds go “blip-blop”.

I hope that adults enjoy the lyricism and onomatopoetic playfulness of this story as much as children do. When you’re done reading, you may want to engage in word play with the child in your life.

IMG_3152Car and Truck Onomatopoeia: Anyone who has seen children play with cars and trucks, has witnessed their innate ability to use onomatopoeia (honk, honk, beep, beep). When children naturally use onomatopoeia, adults can say, ”Oh my! That’s a fun sound! That’s sounds like a little poem.” Make sounds with the child.

Bath Time Onomatopoeia: Maxi the Little Taxi is a bath poem. When children play in the tub ask them to think of what sounds they hear. Ask: “What sound does the water make when you fill the tub? What sound do your feet make when you get in the water? What sound does is make when you use the soap? What sound does the drain make when the water goes down?” (Examples: Whoosh, plip plop, drip drop drip, rub a dub dub, gurgle gurgle.) Then say: “Let’s make a lot of bath noises all in a row to make a little poem!”

img_3853Rainy Day Onomatopoeia: A rainy day is the perfect time to play with onomatopoeia!  Ask: “What does the rain say when hits the roof? What does it sound like on the window, etc.  Let’s say those fun little sounds all in row and make a little poem.” ( Example: Drip drop..plippity plip,plicka plicka plick!)

Read more picture Books with Onomatopoeia. Type “Picture Books with Onomatopoeia” in your search bar and you will find many resources.

Thank you for reading my guest blog! I hope you enjoy reading Maxi the Little Taxi with the children in your lives and that you have fun nurturing their natural poetic sensibilities!

IMG_4008 (1)Elizabeth Upton is the author of Maxi the Little Taxi which was published by Scholastic Press in spring of 2016. Her poetry appears in the following collections by Lee Bennett Hopkins. 

Seasons, Margaret K. MacElderry Books (“Spring Sun” and “Summer Sun”)
Incredible Inventions, Greenwillow Books (“Ferris Wheel”)

Hamsters, Shells and Spelling Bees, Harper Collins [I Can Read! ] (“Show and Tell”)

For more information, please visit Elizabeth at Elizabethuptonauthor.com.

 

KINDERGARTEN POETRY MOMENT: How High Can a Cow Jump?

P1010023.JPGJust in time for National Poetry Month, I rediscovered this little treasure while paging through one of my old notebooks. It’s a perfect example, not only of seizing the moment, but of the power of poetry to spark not only conversation, but creativity!  ENJOY!

“How high can a cow jump?” my newly-minted five year old asks from the back of the car – all serious and deep in thought.

“Come again?” I ask.

“How high can a cow jump?” she repeats. “You know, COWS?” And she drags out the word C-O-W-S to make sure I really understand.

“They can’t,” I reply. “Cows can’t jump. They can moo and chew grass, and they sort of plunk along slowly, but they can’t jump.”

There’s a momentary quiet in the back and I can tell by my daughter’s squiggly brows that she’s perplexed. Finally, she says, in exasperation, “Then how did the cow jump over the moon?”

As we wait for the light to change, I consider the various ways I might answer this. “It’s just pretend,” I want to say, but this, I know, will be too abstract or her. She understands real versus make believe, in theory, but in practice she still gets scared during movies with cartoon characters. She also believes in fairies and Santa and so the distinction is still very fuzzy.

So instead, I say, “Come now, can a dish run? Can a spoon dance?”

My daughter giggles. “No!”

So I continue, “Can cats fiddle?”

“No!” she snorts between giggles.

“Do dogs laugh?” I ask.

By now, my daughter is hysterical. “Say more funny stuff!” she squeals.

So I do. “Do hamsters play flutes?” I ask. “Now your turn!”

My daughter explodes with laughter. Then she says, “No! Do fish dance ballet? Now your turn, Mommy.”

And so we continue, getting sillier and sillier with each passing car. As we head for home, it dawns on me that, as a poet and picture book author, this is exactly the kind of conversation I hope my writing will spark.  And I am reminded, once again, of the power of stories and poems, to spark – not only conversation – but creativity as well!

Happy National Poetry Month all!

FINDING YOUR INNER POET

IMG_2762I grew up in a family of readers. Indeed, some of my earliest memories include sitting in my mother’s lap while she read to me from A.A. Milne’s When We Were Very Young. I loved the rhythmic rhyming sound of Milne’s poems and memorized several, quite by accident, because I asked my mother to read them to me so often. I’ve carried the rhyming beat of those poems with me ever since.

As soon as could hold a pencil and spell (sort of), I started writing poetry on my own. How do I know this? I know because my parents sent me a box full of papers and notebooks from my childhood including limericks, riddles, and silly rhyming snippets – all proof that I’ve loved playing with language for a very long time.

IMG_2766As an adult, I have continued to foster that love by educating myself on the intricacies of meter and rhyme, by reading the best children’s poetry out there, and by honing my own skills by writing, writing, writing!

Poetry, especially rhyming poetry, is harder than it might first appear because it’s not just about good rhyme.  It’s also about rhythm and keeping a consistent rhythm throughout a piece.

Do you have an inner poet somewhere deep inside, too?  Here are tips to help  you find him/her:

1. Write from the heart.  Have an idea for a poem? At this early point, don’t worry about perfecting the rhyme or meter. Simply enjoy the process of writing and see where your pen and imagination take you. Dabble with rhyme and meter, if you feel so inclined, but it’s better to have fresh ideas than tight, strained stanzas. Once you have written from the heart, then you can go back and creatively work on meter and rhyme.

2. Read, read, read! It will help your inner poet grow if you read poetry. There are many great children’s poets out there. You might enjoy exploring poet Renee LaTulippe’s Big List of Children’s Poets. Her website, No Water River, also includes children’s poets reading their works. This is a great way to hear poems read and to appreciate how seemingly efffortless the final version should sound. I also make a habit of checking out poetry anthologies and collections from the children’s poetry section of my library.  I do the same with rhyming picture books. As I read them, I analyse what makes them work and take notes for future reference.  

3. Pick a poem to model. This is a great exercise for broadening your poetic skills.  I love doing this when I have writer’s block or am between projects. First, I pick a poem that I like.  Maybe I’ll pick a limerick one week and something with couplets the next. Once I’ve picked my poem, I dissect it – examining each line, as well as the whole – to see how the poet put it together. I also make guesses as to why the author chose certain wording, or a certain theme.  Then I pick a topic and/or theme that is completely different and write my own poem using the form I’ve just studied.  I’ve learned A LOT this way!  Plus, it’s just plain fun and your inner poet will love it.

IMG_27634. Invest in several poet-friendly resources. Of course in this day and age, we poets have lots of free poetry- aiding resources at our finger tips. These include on-line rhyming dictionaries such as the one found at RhymeZone. This nifty resource includes not only rhyming options but can also serve as a thesaurus. Most computer dictionaries also have a thesaurus function. However, in my experience, nothing is quite as good as two old-fashioned resources that will forever be my bffs when it comes to writing poetry.  The first is Roget’s Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases. I have still have the 1982 edition I got when I was in junior high!  The second, I bought for my inner poet on my birthday in 2008.  It’s called The Complete Rhyming Dictionary, Revised. Edited by Clement Wood and revised by Ronald Bogus, it includes not just an exhaustive rhyming dictionary, but The Poet’s Craft Book  as well.

5. Finally, remember to HAVE FUN! There is joy in playing with words and it’s a real treat to carve out time to write. So, my last tip is to enjoy the process. I do! Happy writing, all!

Happy Mother’s Day: MY LITTLE ALARM CLOCK

Happy Mother's Day pic

With Mother’s Day just around the corner, I thought it would be fun once again to celebrate with a poem of mine that originally appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul New Moms : 101 Inspirational Stories of Joy, Love, and Wonder (2011). Inspired by my first little alarm clock (I now have two and they aren’t so little anymore), I hope my poem fills you with a sense of the wonder (and exhaustion) of being a new mom. Happy Mother’s Day!

Little Alarm Clock

THE POWER OF SMELL: An Olfactory Reminder for Writers

Pee ew stinkyRecently, prompted by a very whiffy truck ahead of us, my daughter and I passed a most enjoyable half-hour brainstorming all the smells we love and hate. Some we agreed upon. Others we did not.  Still, we both agreed that smells add richness to life.

The lists we compiled serve as fragrant and stinky  reminders that kids LOVE the idea of SMELLINESS and that, as a picture book author, I need to remember my readers noses. Take a whiff (rather than a peek) at our lists below. What would you add?

Our List of FAVORITE SMELLS… coffee percolating,  puppy ears, strawberries, asphalt after a summer rain, salty sea air, damp earth, pizza in the oven, a clean baby, skunk (faint), lilacs in bloom, a crackling fire, candle smoke, newly mown grass, bubble gum, spring, balsam needles,  hamburgers on the grill, freshly laundered sheets, pumpkin pie, impending snow, herbs snipped from the garden, freshly sharpened pencils, old books, freshly polished wood, crayons, bacon sizzling, rubber boots, spent matches, peppermints, perfume, vanilla, honeysuckle, clover, brownies baking, mountain air, waxed hallways, leather, curry, onions sautéing, cedar chests, roses, hay, apple pie in the oven, soup simmering, new sneakers.

Our List of STINKY SMELLS… hot tar, mucky marshes, skunk (strong), cigar smoke, bus fumes, sour wash clothes, new mulch, dirty diapers, rotten eggs, doggy doo, butt snorts (as we call them in our family), clammy feet, stinky socks, wet wool, moldy cheese, manure, chicken coops, summer garbage cans, nail polish, sweaty armpits, old melon rind, gym lockers, dank cellars

A hint of odor, skillfully incorporated, can be a powerful addition a story. Indeed, I repeatedly hear from parents everywhere that their kids favorite spread of all in GOODNIGHT, ARK is the one in which two creatures, who shall remain nameless, make a BIG stink! 

What whiffy addition will you add to your WIP this week?

Happy writing!

 

 

A BLOG BIRTHDAY! (And a Poem)

Happy blog birthdayIt’s hard to believe, but this month marks the start of my fifth year of blogging! Four years ago, I shyly and rather nervously took my first baby steps into the blogging world (and social media in general). What I have found is a wonderful community of people – writers, readers, parents, teachers – who share my love for picture books, poetry, and life!  Two picture books later (with more fun announcements on the horizon), I’m still loving connecting in this way. Thank you for reading my blog!

This year, I wanted to repost a favorite poem whose delightful illustration represents one of only two collaborative projects my mom and I ever got to do together. The first was working together to create the banner that graces this blog. I had the idea and she executed it with her charming sense of humor and design. The second is this illustrated poem. She passed away a mere seven months after this poem and illustration first appeared on my blog in April of 2013.

When I look at my mom’s illustration, I marvel at how we both drew on our shared memories in creating the final project. The boy in the poem was inspired by my son, pictured above at age three.  The little stool in the illustration was a gift given to him by his paternal grandparents (though the name has been changed in the illustration) and the little bear he holds was my bear. And the whole idea of him turning found objects into imaginative playthings still captures the essence of who he is!

Happy Monday, all!
Happy Birthday Illustration

Happy Birthday poem text

SPRING POEM: The Spelling Bee

Spelling bee picToday I am delighted to be sharing a favorite poem of mine as part of Rebecca Gomez’s POETRY WEEK BY WEEK: A National Poetry Month Celebration. Rebecca is author of Hensel and Gretel: Ninja Chicks (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, May 2016) co-written by Corey Rosen Schwarz and illustrated by Dan Santat as well as What About Moose? (Atheneum, June 2015) also co-written by Corey Rosen Schwartz and illustrated by Keika Yamaguchi. She also writes poems for children which have appeared in Highlights for Children and elsewhere. Each week during April she is celebrating a different variety of poetry.  Last week she celebrated concrete poems. This week’s focus is animal rhymes. My poem, “The Spelling Bee” is a whimsical look at a new kind of bug.  Please buzz on over for a peek!  Happy  rhyming!

10 Ways to Celebrate POETRY with your kids!

10 ways to celebrate poetry with your kids

Did you know April is National Poetry Month? Here are 10 ways to celebrate with your kids.

#1 Write/ illustrate a poem with your child.  Picture book author and poet, Penny Klostermann, runs a series on her blog in which a poet and child collaborate on a poem. My daughter and I even contributed a collaboration – an experience we will be both cherish for a lifetime. First, have fun together exploring the series.  Then, using the series as a model, either write a poem and have your child illustrate it, or let your child illustrate something and then write a poem based on the illustration. Don’t worry about perfection – just have fun celebrating poetry together!

#2 Participate in Poem in Your Pocket Day. Even littlest ones can enjoy the fun on April 21st as people all over the nation carry favorite poems in their pockets to read and share throughout the day.  Teachers should ask parents ahead of time to help their little one select a short, simple poem to tuck into their pocket and bring to class. Throughout the morning, pause to read and celebrate each child’s poem.   For more information check out the Academy of American Poets website

#3 Memorize a poem together.  I still remember the A.A. Milne poem “Disobedience” which my mother and I memorized when I was three. Actually, I’m not sure we even memorized it on purpose. I just wanted her to read it to me every night and pretty soon we were reciting it – just because we loved it so much. To hear it recited by Tom O’Bedlam, press here. Is there a poem you and your child love? Then consider memorizing it together.  (If you’ve been reading it to them a lot lately, they may surprise you by already knowing it by heart.) Have fun!

#4 Have a Chalk-A-Bration. On the last day of this and every month, copy or create a poem in chalk with your child on a sidewalk, driveway, or playground surface for others to enjoy. For more details, visit kindergarten teacher and chalk poem lover, Besty Hubbard,at her blog Teaching Young Writers.  

#5 Listen to poetry on the Highlights for Children’s Poetry Player. Follow up with an activity.  For samples of possible follow-up activities see my previous post on this wonderful resource.

#6 Hear your favorite children’s poets read their own work at No Water River.  Poet Renee LaTulippe has a lovely and growing video collection of authors reading samples of their poetry for kids. Each video segment is accompanied by an interview and extension activities. You can even find me reading my poem“Sir Ned”.  Enjoy!

#7 Sip tea and listen to poems at a “Poetry Teatime”. Visit Brave Writer for tips on hosting a successful teatime with little ones. Though geared to a homeschool setting, her tips for teatime can easily be adapted to any family setting. 

#8 Take a field trip… to the library!  Poetry collections are shelved separately from fiction and picturebooks. Ask the librarian (or better yet let your child ask the librarian) to direct you to the poetry section. Then spend some delightful time exploring the wonderful breadth and diversity in children’s poetry books. Check out your favorites to bring home.

#9 Play with words.  This is what poets do!  We play with sound and imagery.  Little ones love to do this too!  So, instill a love for poetry by playing rhyming games. Foster rhythm by stomping or clapping to to the beat of the words.  Play with onomotopeia by creating your own sound words and acting them out.  Have fun with alliteration by taking turns making fun and crazy lists of words that begin with the same sound.

#10 Bring poetry alive with free, ready-to-print poetry activities from Scholastic.   Activities include soccer poems, creepy crawly poems, weather poems and more.

Happy Celebrating!

 

 

If the Shoe DOESN’T Fit: Thoughts on Rhyming…or Not”

IMG_1753My daughter loves shoes, especially sparkly shoes. “Like Cinderella!” she used to cheer as a toddler. But unlike Cinderella and her lovely glass slipper, my daughter learned early on that the shoe doesn’t always fit. Too big and it’s hard to walk in without wobbling. Too small and squeezing your foot in just plain hurts.

I love rhyme as much as my daughter loves sparkly shoes. It’s my passion and my preferred writing style. I’ve sold rhyming stories and poems to kids’ magazines including Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse Jr., Highlights for Children, Spider, and Ladybug. And my first two picture books, GOODNIGHT, ARK and GOODNIGHT, MANGER, both published by Zonderkidz, most definitely rhyme.

But though I love sparkly rhyming tales, rhyming doesn’t always fit the story. Sometimes rhyming makes the story dreadful and forced, perhaps even un-readable. How is a writer to know whether to rhyme or not? In keeping with Cinderella and her shiny shoes, here are three questions I ask to see if the rhyming “shoe” fits.

Question #1: Can I rhyme well?

Good rhyme is hard to carry off because it must also be paired with perfect meter. To carry that off you need to have a good ear for the rhythm of words. In addition, the rhyming words you choose must be unexpected and fresh. For me, the perfect rhyming story is one that flows so well that the rhyme seems organic to the piece. Accomplishing this takes lots of revision, fine-tuning and patience.

 Question #2: Does rhyming fit the mood of my story?

When I first indulged my passion for rhyme, I wanted to make EVERY story rhyme and did so with disastrous results. My favorite failed example is a rhyming story I drafted about a boy who takes Splash, the class fish, home to watch over vacation. The fish, unfortunately, dies,and the boy must decide whether to replace it with a look-alike or confess the truth. Here’s my dreadful rhyming version of the moment he discovers the fish is dead.

“One morning at the end of break,

Jerome said, “Time to sup!”

But Splash, alas, moved not one bit.

“Look, Mom! He’s belly up!”

Even now, I cringe when I read that. Not only is it distressingly forced, but the mood and the rhyme don’t jive. I now reserve rhyme for light-hearted and humorous pieces. As for Splash, I wisely re-wrote the entire story in prose. The non-rhyming version of my fishy tale appeared in the April 2011 issue of Clubhouse Jr.

Rhyming Question #3:  How old are my readers?

I once wrote a humorous three verse poem with fresh rhymes and impeccable meter.  A perfect sell for the kid’s magazine market, or so I thought.  Turns out, it’s fatal flaw was that it included a couple lines about algebraic expressions. Not something your typical rhyme fan is familiar with. Why? Because, as I’ve learned both as a former teacher and now as a mom and writer, the biggest fans of rhyming are the very young. Toddlers and preschoolers love playing with sounds and pointing out, repeating, and making their own rhymes. So, while I still love writing rhyming poems for the age 8 – 12 crowd, I’ve discovered that the pieces of mine that shine the most are the short and pithy rhyming pieces for youngest readers.

Happy writing (and rhyming) all!

For more thoughts on rhyming, check out these terrific posts:

ReFoReMo Day Four: Sudipta Bardhan Quallan Rocks Rhyme! by Sudipta Bardhan Quallan

“ICING THE CAKE: Writing Stories in Rhythm and Rhyme” by Dori Chaconas

“Why Do Editors Say Not to Write in Rhyme?” by Tara Lazar

“Tips for Writing Picture Books: Don’t Write in Rhyme” by Josh Funk

“Writing Rhyming Picture Books” from the  Children’s Book Insider

Note: A version of this post previously appeared on Anne E. Johnson’s blog.