Monday, December 24, 2018

Love, Light, Life, and Hope

View of Bethlehem
patrick brennan [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Tonight we'll sing "O Little Town of Bethlehem." These words from that song have always stood out to me, "The hopes and fears of all the years/ Are met in thee tonight."

We all have hopes, and most of us have fears. Things don't go the way we want them to, and more things are out of our control than not.

But tonight, Christians around the world celebrate Love, Light, Life, and Hope being born into the world for everyone. Every one.

Whether or not you are a Jesus follower, who couldn't use some Love, Light, Life, and Hope?

Another song about Bethlehem touches me with these words:
"The heart is tired at Bethlehem,
No human dream unbroken stands;
Yet here God comes..."

Listen and take hope!

Monday, December 3, 2018

Merry Bookmas!

I love giving Christmas gifts, especially books--even to myself! If you need some holiday cheer, look no further than these two treats, one for kids and one for adults.

First, for the kids (or kids at heart), Elise Parsley brings us another funny Magnolia adventure in If You Ever Want to Bring a Pirate to Meet Santa, DON'T!. Yes, despite her dad's insistence that pirates are on the Naughty List, Magnolia brings the pirate. Kids and grownups alike will delight at pirate talk and behavior (the illustrations are hilarious, both in their action and characters' expressions) as the pirate and Magnolia wait in line to see Santa. The stand-off between pirate and Santa lead to an unexpected ending, with an unexpected transformation of Santa. And does the pirate remain on the Naughty List? Read the book to find out. (But my recommendation--if you want to avoid making a scene at the mall--is to follow the advice in the title.)

Elise held the attention of her large audience of kids and adults with a drawing demonstration at the book launch at our local Barnes & Noble. She also read the book and provided swag (including a pirate tattoo!) that kids loved.

For adults, I recommend A Very Merry Murder, the third in the Professor Prather cozy mystery series by Mary Angela. Set on a campus in a small Midwest town, Emmaline Prather again finds herself delaying semester grading; getting to know her neighbor, Mrs. Gunderson; attempting Christmas baking, and looking forward to a university-sponsored concert that includes her friend and fellow faculty member, Lennie. (Or is he more than a friend? Hmm....) Everything is holly jolly at the B&B where the musicians are staying until one of them is found dead. As in the previous two books, Emmaline's imagination runs wild at motives and suspects. (Or is she onto something?) She finds herself in mortal danger as her hunches lead closer to the truth. (There! Now you have to read it to find out the rest!)

Mary Angela gave a reading and presentation at our local Barnes & Noble recently. I enjoyed hearing the basis for the novel, learning more about the characters, and getting a clue about book number 4. 

What new Christmas books are you reading?

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

We Are Grateful

This week in the United States, we emphasize giving thanks. Many of us realize that we should give thanks year 'round, not for only one day. That is the premise behind Traci Sorrell's new award-winning picture book, We Are Grateful. This book was just named a National Council of Teachers of English Orbis Pictus Honor Book (non-fiction award) for 2019!

Sorrell and illustrator Frané Lessac take us through a year with Cherokee people, showing us the things for which they are grateful, teaching Cherokee words along the way. This focus gives us non-Cherokees a peek into a different culture, leading to conversations about similarities and differences. The colorful artwork shows modern Cherokee people, not caricatures or stereotypes of long-ago Native Americans.  I am grateful for We Are Grateful!

This book makes me think of my own  heritage. My great-grandparents came from Denmark, and my grandma spoke Danish with her women friends throughout her life. When I was a little girl, I asked Grandma to teach me something in Danish. "Tak," she said. "That means 'Thanks.'"  There's no better word she could have taught me. Since then, I have learned "thanks" in several languages, an important word to know and an important emotion to express.

Enjoy the book trailer:

Have a happy Thanksgiving Day, and remember to say "thanks," "tak," or "otsaliheliga" throughout the year!

Monday, November 12, 2018

Scarlet's Magic Paintbrush

In the fall, trees look as if they have been painted with a magic paintbrush.  Just a couple of weeks ago, the leaves on our deciduous trees blazed gold and red. 

Which brings me to Melissa Stoller's debut picture book, Scarlet's Magic Paintbrush. Who wouldn't want a paintbrush that painted perfect pictures of whatever you commanded? Masterpieces made easy! That's what Scarlet had until she lost her paintbrush. Other paint brushes didn't contain the magic. Scarlet even tried improvising with cotton balls and sticks. What happens in the end is better than a magic paintbrush--Scarlet finds and embraces her own talent and style. Are the pictures as perfect as the magic paintbrush's? Yes, but in a different way. 

This book would be a confidence builder for any budding artist. The illustrations by Sandie Sonke show an eager Scarlet finding her own way with kid-desired paintings of unicorns, castles, and princes. See a sample of plot and pictures in this book trailer:

I blogged about Melissa's Enchanted Snow Globe chapter book series in January.  Watch for more in this series and more picture books to come! Meanwhile, apply your metaphorical paintbrush to life with your own special style and see what happens!

Monday, October 8, 2018

Happy Native American Day

In honor of Native American Day in South Dakota today, I offer these tidbits. The sculpture above stands over the Missouri River at Chamberlain. The sculpture is aptly called "Dignity." The back shows off her beautiful star quilt. At night it is lit and can be seen from the highway bridge across the river below.

To understand more, view this 2.5 minute video of  the sculpture's celebration: 

To hear more from the sculptor and see Dignity from other angles at different times of day, see this 2 minute video. 

And because I can't NOT talk about books, here are a couple of links to books for young people by and about Indigenous peoples: #IndigenousReads by Indigenous Writers and the American Indian Youth Literature Award. 

For an adult poetry read, please see this excerpt from "Whereas" by  Layli Long Soldier, an Oglala Lakota.

For interviews, oral history, and storytelling see the Wolakota Project.

Try learning a little Lakota by watching this Berenstain Bears Halloween clip!

In Lakota, there is no exact word for "goodbye." So I will leave you with Taƞyáƞ máni yo/ye! (Walk well.) Hear it and other farewell variations here

Monday, September 24, 2018

Celebrate the Seasons: Poetree

It's officially fall! We celebrate the changing seasons in many ways, and welcome fall with apple and pumpkin everything. We don our sweaters and sweatshirts and cheer our favorite football teams. We rustle through the fallen leaves and behold the beauty of the changing colors.

In Poetree, Caroline Pignat celebrates each season with sets of acrostic poems. From each vertical word come poetic words and phrases to describe it. For example:
Each spread is beautifully illustrated by Francois Thisdale. Don't you love the cover image where the tree trunk has a fountain pen nib as its root?

This book is a beautiful creative way to  help kids--and people of all ages--see the best in each season and try their own hand at acrostic poetry. Give it a try yourself! Leave an acrostic in the comments. Here's mine:

Frost is coming
Apples are ripe
Leaves change color
Let’s delight!

Monday, August 20, 2018

Back to School: Have a GREAT MORNING!

School starts this week here, and as a former teacher, I wish all students, teachers, staff, and administrators a GREAT MORNING! Fortunately, poetry queens Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong devised a way to make great mornings happen. Their latest anthology from Pomelo Books is aimed at elementary principals and teachers, but I think these poems are good for older students, too. The idea is that the school staff who do morning announcements include a poem from this book every day. What a great way to start the day!

The book is chock-full of short, school-related poems by some of the best children's poets today--Jane Yolen, Jack Prelutsky, Margarita Engle, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, Eric Ode, Kenn Nesbitt, and many more, including Janet Wong herself, and me!

In addition to the poems, Sylvia and Janet have included information on how and why to use poetry, tips for using the book, and a whole section on teaching activities, using poetry at home, and other resources. It's so helpful for teachers and administrators who may not be comfortable or familiar with poetry. The book is designed to help help them dive right in!

My poem, "How to Make a Friend," is reprinted from The Poetry Anthology for Celebrations by Pomelo Books.

How about starting every day with a poem, whether you are in school or not?

Sunday, July 22, 2018

It's Time for Fun in the Sun for Everyone!

I hope you've had time for fun in the sun this summer! And surely you have wondered how fairies enjoy this season. In How Do Fairies Have Fun in the Sun?,  Liza Gardner Walsh and Hazel Mitchell give you the answers to the title's question.

Walsh's rhyming text offers possibilities aplenty, and it turns out that fairies have fun in the sun in much the same way as humans. Mitchell's magical, detailed illustrations bring the text to life.

I won my copy from Hazel Mitchell in an online contest. (Thanks, Hazel!) The package itself was "sqee"-worthy-- 
Yes, I now have a Hazel Mitchell original on bubble mailer! 

Hazel very kindly autographed the book to my granddaughters, ages 5 and 2, and I was delighted to read it with them. They had made a fairy garden but most of it got washed away in a heavy rain. Had any fairies lived in the garden? I asked. The five-year-old thought. "Maybe the tooth fairy." Walsh includes tips for making a fairy garden on the book's last page. So what did the girls think? Walsh's lilting rhymes suggested lots of fun, and as I read we talked about what they thought fairies would do and whether the girls would do that activity, too. When I turned the page to the fairies' pool scene, the five-year-old gasped and said, "Wow!" A great endorsement. You can see part of that scene in the "Look Inside" feature here.

Walsh & Mitchell have spent time at fairy festivals this summer. Take a look here and host your own! 

Still want more? I wrote about Walsh, Mitchell, and spring fairies here.  

One thing is certain, summer is made for fun in the sun, whether you are a human or a fairy. How are you have fun in the sun?

Monday, July 9, 2018

What if Bugs Went to School? Crawly School for Bugs Review

Happy summer! School is out for most kids and teachers in the U.S., but young insects have a  lot to learn. Take a look at David L. Harrison's Crawly School for Bugs: Poems to Drive You Buggy to see what school might be like for ticks, termites, mosquitoes, and other insects. Imaginative, informative, and laugh-out-loud funny, the poems might make you think twice before grabbing the can of Raid.

Julie Bayless enhances the humor with her illustrations, characterizing scenes and caricaturizing the bugs. My favorite is the spread that accompanies "What's Left of Termite Class," which shows termites in classroom mayhem. (Use the "Look Inside" feature on Amazon to see it and other illustrations.)

Harrison's well-crafted poems have perfect rhythm and rhyme to make for fun reading out loud, with worthy punchlines at the end to amp up the humor. One of my favorites is "Stink Bug Class."

"Smell that smell?"
complained a kid.
At first we didn't,
then we did!"

I don't want to give away the rest, but this poem strikes me as one that kids will relate to.

I love the summer sun and fun, but when bugs start swarming? Not so much. This book helps me look at bugs in a whole new way!

Monday, April 30, 2018

Meditation on Mothers: Happy National Poetry Month!

My poet friend, Nancy Keck, is always inspired by her home in Northern Minnesota. In this dreamlike work, she ponders the eternal cycle of life and encourages us to remember our mothers and other women we have loved.


I walked into a forest and looked over the sea
     the Goddess came to me in memories of my mother, Jane
     my grandmother, Margaret, my friend, Martina
all gone from me now, but their love still very much with me.
I asked the Goddess to heal my broken heart
to somehow smooth together the fractures of loss, of hopes mislaid, of dreams forgotten.
I gave to the Goddess a lilac, one stem of purple flowers,
     the scent of spring , the image of my spirit
     of my love for this earth, for this life
     its beauty in brief and eternal time.

The Goddess gave me the hope of my dreams, the continuation of our family’s lineage
     through my cherished daughter, Suzanne,
     a tiny, perfect baby.
I kissed the baby’s fingers and held it tightly, yet gently
     realization of Suzanne’s longing to become a mother
     incarnation of my hope to become a grandmother
     connection with my mother and grandmothers
     link back through the women of our family
          to the ancient rocks of England, to ancient Celtic spirits
          to ancient voices singing through the waves of Lake Superior
          through the branches of pines in the Northern forest
          to the Northern Lights that danced all over the sky following my mother’s death.

I sit beside Lake Superior
watching the waves wash into the shore, then back out again.
One day those waves will carry my ashes, my spirit,
to join those of the women who have gone on before me
to become one with the Divine.

     ~Nancy Ronstrom Keck
     (c) April 26, 2009

How do you remember and honor the women who have gone on before you?

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Peachy Poetry: Happy National Poetry Month!

(all photos by Jane Heitman Healy (c) 2011)

If you follow this blog in late summer, you know I love peaches from Western Colorado. So when teacher-poet Janet Clare Fagal submitted these poems, my mouth watered! Enjoy the poem, leave a comment for Janet, and enjoy a fresh peach when you get a chance.                  

                                  After Spring Comes Summer: A Trio of Peachy Poems

                                                           The Peach

                                                           Rub, squeeze, chomp, sip
                                                           sweet fleshy globe.
                                                           Golden-pink like sunset.
                                                           Slips down your throat
                                                           cool as night.
                                                           Feels like summer.

                                                               Orchard Treasure

                                                               Silky summer
                                                               poised in the farmstand
                                                               Piled high, plump,

                                                                  Peach Cobbler

                                                                  Swirled like pearls,
                                                                  soft and plump,
                                                                  round like globes,
                                                                  gone in gulps.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Walking Watson: Happy National Poetry Month!

Watson, age 5

Happy Birthday (April 22), Watson! He loves his new ball and is grateful for spring because that means more frequent and longer w-a-l-k-s. (I'm in trouble if he learns how to spell!) Watson is a great walker now, but in his puppyhood, walking him was more challenging, prompting this poem from 2015:

Walking My Dog, Watson

When I walk Watson, he sets the pace.
He launches off  like he’s in a race
And runs a block or maybe two
While I hold on. Who’s leading who?
He trots and stops and circles back to sniff at every tree.
He jumps at squirrels, which seems to make him gallop vertically.
He lolls at every post and bush and runs full-out between,
And when we meet some people, he licks their faces clean.
Some ask why I do it, but the question ought to be
Am I walking Watson, or is Watson walking me?
                                                ~Jane Heitman Healy, (c) 2015
(This poem first appeared as a Word of the Month poem on David L. Harrison's site in April 2015. The word was "pace.")

Fall 2017

Monday, April 23, 2018

Earth Day Every Day: Happy National Poetry Month!

Paula, a scientist, is always thinking of ways to be kinder to the planet. Here's one offering: 


Goes 50 miles on just the electric

People ask, where is it charged? 
It can be done in your garage

Unplug the car, away you go
Forget the gas; it isn’t low

For the electric encourage more miles,
Build more plugs—the reward is smiles.
                                    ~Paula Struckman

I regularly play over at poet David L. Harrison’s Word of the Month poem. This month’s word is “earth.” My acrostic entry is below, and you can go to this page to see the others. Leave one of your own if you like!

Our Only Planet

Acts of kindness
Tender care of our
        ~Jane Heitman Healy

Saturday, April 21, 2018

The Importance of Bees: Happy National Poetry Month!

Elizabeth Neubauer knows a lot about insects and appreciates them more than the average person. We should all value bees for their ability to pollinate our plants, which in turn, creates our food.

                                                    April 7th
                                                    Bees rooting around in flowers for
                                                    Tongues slipping through petals
                                                    Touching pistils and stamens
                                                    Collecting pollen in bags
                                                    To take home to their babies
                                                    While fecund blooms
                                                    Ripen into fruit.

                                                             ~Elizabeth Neubauer (c) 2018

Elizabeth's poetry also appeared here earlier this month. Leave her a comment if you like.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

What Really Counts?: Happy National Poetry Month!

See more from Carmen Graber here this year. She teaches 8th grade English Language Arts, a grade whose students take part in a district-wide poetry slam each year. She wrote this poem while working with her students on their poetry slam poems. Is it really what's inside that counts?

On the Outside

It’s what is on the inside that matters.
How many times have you heard that?
How many times have you said that?
To a child, to a teen, to a friend.
Words of comfort
From well-meaning persons
To make someone feel better.
But what about the tears
Sliding down the cheeks
Of a young boy
Trying to hide the bruises.
Those are on the outside-
Does that mean they don’t matter?
What about the thin red lines
Appearing on the arm
Of a young girl
Trying to end the pain.
Those are on the outside-
Does that mean they don’t matter?
What about the anger and rage
Of a teenage boy swallowing steroids
So he can make the team.
The explosions are on the outside -
Does that mean they don’t matter?
What about the protruding ribs and bones
Of the teenage girl
Starving herself to become model thin.
Those are on the outside -
Does that mean they don’t matter?
What about the emptiness and despair
Prominently displayed on the faces
Of a young man or young woman
Whose forever after has suddenly ended.
Those are on the outside -
Does that mean they don’t matter?
What are we missing
By only looking to the inside?
Not everything on the outside
Is superficial.
Sometimes -
The outside provides a window
Into the soul of the people around us
And together that is what matters.

                                     ~cjgraber (c) 2018

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Celebrating International Haiku Day with Amy Losak: Happy National Poetry Month!

by Amy Losak

Today is International Haiku Day, according to the Haiku Foundation. Celebrate with haiku lovers around the world with these by Amy and her mother, Sydell Rosenberg!

You met Amy last week when her mother's book for children, H is for Haiku: a Treasury of Haiku from A-Z by Sydell Rosenberg, came into the world.

Amy, why do you practice haiku?

The economic but endlessly evocative qualities of haiku -- saying a lot with few words and in few lines; leaving things out so readers can "fill in" their own meanings -- is what makes this poetic form challenging, sometimes frustrating, and ultimately rewarding. 

by Amy Losak

Amy adds: For me, a haiku poem rarely occurs in a flash of inspiration -- a "Eureka" moment that needs no revision. Haiku, despite (or perhaps because of) their brevity, can take a long time to polish. The poem may never be "perfect." I am rarely satisfied. I sometimes have several versions of a poem, and I go back and forth with changes and my preferences, even after submission or publication.

And I’m learning that this is okay. Haiku is about more than craft and the end product put down on the page. Haiku impels me to slow down, take a breath, be in the moment and deeply observe my surroundings. It is an act of both focus and flow. Writing haiku takes practice and discipline, but it shouldn’t be intimidating (though I admit I sometimes am intimidated!). As we observe and write, it’s fine to allow ourselves to “play” too. Still, I’m striving to hone my haiku.

Thanks for these insights into this deceptively simple poetic form, and thanks for sharing your haiku. Here are three from Sydell Rosenberg, (1929-1996):

(all images from pixabay)

If you want to learn more about haiku, a wealth of online and social media resources are at your fingertips. So Amy and I hope you will haiku, too. Enjoy!

Sunday, April 15, 2018

How to Live "In Spite" of Hardship: Happy National Poetry Month!

Teacher, poet, friend Carmen Graber graced these pages last year herehere, and here. I'm pleased to have her back with this poem, which was inspired by a friend's daughter who was having health issues in high school and maintained such a positive attitude through it all. May you also be inspired, and if you are, please leave a comment for Carmen.

In Spite
In spite of my fears, I will be brave
In spite of my sorrow, I will laugh.
In spite of my hurt, I will love.
In spite of my pain, I will face each day.
In spite of all the world throws at me,
I will LIVE!
In spite of my faults, God loves me.
In spite of my weakness, God strengthens me.
In spite of my doubts, God encourages me.
In spite of my silence, God hears me.
In spite of hard
times,God blesses me.

                                    ~cjgraber © 2018

Thursday, April 12, 2018

First Bike: Happy National Poetry Month!

Remember learning to ride your bike? Minnesota poet Dave Healy has captured the experience with poignant precision.

First Bike

At Montgomery Wards the bikes and trikes
were segregated and arranged by size.
My father made a deal: I could have
the biggest trike or smallest bike—
no choice at all for any five-year-old.

When we got home he got a wrench 
and attached the training wheels. 
I rode that four-wheeler for a year
or so until one day my father said
“I think it’s time to take then off.”
He got a wrench and did the deed.

How did he know that it was time?
For when I climbed aboard the craft 
that had been shorn of its supports
I pedaled off as if I had been riding 
two-wheelers all my life.

Halfway down the block I stopped
and turned around. My father stood
there, wrench in hand, looking for 
the son who left him far behind.
                      ~ Dave Healy (c) 2018

See another of Dave's poems when he was featured last year here.

Monday, April 9, 2018

H is for Haiku: Happy National Poetry Month!

Happy Book Birthday tomorrow to Amy Losak and, posthumously, Sydell Rosenberg, Amy's mother. Amy has worked long and tirelessly to honor her mother's desire to publish a children's book of haiku--and now it's here! Penny Candy Books proudly releases H is for Haiku: a Treasury of Haiku from A to Z by Sydell Rosenberg, illustrated by Sawsan Chalabi on April 10!

I featured Amy last April here, and she offered an update below. 

Why haiku, Amy?

I started on this unusual journey several years ago, thanks to my mom, Sydell Rosenberg, a teacher and charter member of the Haiku Society of America and served as secretary in 1975. HSA was founded in New York in 1968. This year, it celebrates its 50th anniversary. I’m a member now, as well.

Mom wrote haiku and senryu for a long time – I think about 30 years. Mom also studied the art and craft of these forms. She published her first haiku in 1967, I believe, in a journal titled, American Haiku. Over the years, her work (not just poetry, but also short stories, word and literary puzzles, and more) was published in a variety of media, including journals and anthologies. Her senryu even was featured in a novel public art project called Haiku On 42nd Street in 1994. Short poems were displayed on the marquees of old movie houses in the heart of New York City.

Tell us how H is for Haiku came to be.

Despite her accomplishments as a writer, Syd very much wanted to publish a kids’ book: a haiku A-B-C reader. She started submitting at least one manuscript to publishers in the 1980s – perhaps even in the 1970s. Years after she passed away in 1996, I picked up where she left off.

Along the way, I did other things to bring her “city haiku” (as she called her work in the classic 1974 text, The Haiku Anthology) to the public, especially kids. Among several projects, I have partnered for several years with a New York nonprofit arts education organization, Arts For All. Mom's haiku have been used in a Bronx and Queens public school to teach the basics of painting, drawing and collage; music; and theater. I view mom’s haiku as miniature stories, in a way, with characters and plots – and many have a lively, appealing visual quality. They pair well with other art forms.

But the ultimate goal has been the book. 

          "This is a dream come true,
          at last – not only for my mom,
          but her family."

                             Syd Rosenberg and her daughter, Amy (photo submitted by Amy)

Wonderful haiku poetry is being written today around the world. It truly is a global, diverse – and very generous -- community.

If you want to learn more about haiku, there is a wealth of online and social media resources available. So I hope you will haiku, too. Enjoy!

Congratulations, Amy, on the release of H is for Haiku! Readers, I'm featuring some of Amy's and Syd's haiku on April 17, International Haiku Poetry Day. You'll want to stop by and enjoy!