Saturday, December 12, 2020

A World Full of Poems: Something for Everyone


It's not too late to order this as a holiday gift for everyone. Yes, I know that it says "for children," but aren't we all children at heart? It also says "Inspiring," and who couldn't use some of that?

Seriously, this volume is destined to become a classic, containing  poems by some of the most well-known poets in the world: Jane Yolen, Jack Prelutsky, Emily Dickinson, Charles Ghigna, Naomi Shihab Nye, Margarita Engle, David L. Harrison, Janet Wong, and so many more (110 in all--see the whole list here). My friend, Eric Ode, and two Minnesota poets (I think of them as neighbors, but we've never met), Joyce Sidman and Laura Purdie Salas are there, too. It also contains poems by lesser-knowns, like me!

Published by DK, edited by the amazing Sylvia Vardell, the book contains poems under these section headings: Family and Friends; Feelings;  Animals and Nature; Cities, Towns, and Travel; Fun and Games; Science and Art; Body and Health; A World of Learning. You can see that it has something for everyone and does, indeed, contain the whole world. The book's child-friendly illustrations by Sonny Ross add to the classic feel.

The book's back matter contains poetry activities from reading, acting, hunting, discussing, and writing poems to poetic styles and terms. 

You'll find me on page 25:

(Yes, this is a reprint that first was published in Pomelo Books' Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations in 2015.)

This book is a treasure to enjoy every day for years to come. 

PS See Sylvia Vardell's celebratory posts here and here.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Hop To It: Poems to Get You Moving!

The official National Poetry Month is April, but for me this year, Poetry Month came in October, with the release of 3 new poetry titles that contain my poems! I'll start by introducing you to this one, edited by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong

Hop To It began pre-pandemic with a focus on physical movement. The editors decided to delay publishing and added poems about social movements and safety movements, making this a well-rounded book of 100 poems to get young people moving in all kinds of ways!

In addition to the poems by some of the top children's poets today, as well as lesser-knowns like myself, the editors included sidebars with extended activities, extra information about the topic or about poetry, and prose books that complement the poem with similar themes or topics.  This book is easy for teachers and parents to use to enrich a class session in a subject area or in language arts. It's aimed at grades K-5, but younger and older kids will enjoy the poems and action, too. 

For example, my poem, "Heartbeat" could be used in a science class talking about the circulatory system. In the sidebar, the editors included a fun fact about the number of human heartbeats per minute vs. the number of hamster heartbeats. But don't let me tell you; let these kids show you. Click the image for sound and action:

Get your own copy here or from your favorite online book seller. See other great Vardell & Wong poetry books for teachers and kids at Pomelo Books.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

International Book Lovers Day: Travel with ResQ!

You may be one of many disappointed people who had to cancel travel plans this year, but we can still travel via books. And what better book to celebrate International Book Lovers Day than with Eva J. Pell's middle grade novel, ResQ Takes on the Takhi, released this June by Tumblehome Books, which specializes in STEM books for kids?  Pell's extensive science background, including her position as Under Secretary for Science at the Smithsonian Insitute, informs her writing. 

Where are we going with the ResQ crew? Mongolia! ResQ is formally comprised of eleven-year-old inventor, Wheaton and his cousin, twelve-year-old naturalist, Stowe. They are accompanied on this adventure by their photographer grandmother, Ariella, who has contacts in Mongolia.

Batar from Mongolia calls to ask ResQ to help round up a stray band of takhi, Mongolian wild horses, and bring them back into the national park where they belong. Wheaton's inventions, Stowe's knowledge of nature, Ariella's wisdom and familiarity with the culture, and the help of their Mongolian hosts give readers an imaginative adventure. 

In joining ResQ's search for the takhi, readers learn Mongolian culture, language, climate, and geography. But Pell isn't writing a textbook. She vividly describes each scene, so that readers feel that they are part of the adventure. Wheaton and Stowe apply critical thinking, Wheaton's inventions, and what's at hand to conduct their mission. Pell amps up the suspense by making this mission time-sensitive. With a blizzard swirling around them, Wheaton and Stowe get separated from their Mongolian guide. How will they survive? Will they get reunited? Will they bring the takhi back to the park? Drawings by Alexa Lindauer enhance the text and show, among other things, what a Mongolian blizzard might be like.

I won't give any spoilers, but I will tell you this--I'd love to have a Dynochute, one of Wheaton's inventions, and I thank Eva J. Pell for an advanced reader copy of this book.

If Mongolia and the takhi don't interest you, maybe you'd like to try ResQ's first adventure--ResQ and the Baby Orangutan, which will take you to Borneo. 

With books, you can go anywhere!

Friday, July 3, 2020

Happy Birthday, America; You're Beautiful!

"As an economic depression spread dark wings across the country, people filled the streets, feeling scared and angry and alone." Sound familiar? These were conditions in the United States in the 1890's, as described by Nancy Churnin in her biographical picture book about Katherine Lee Bates, For Spacious Skies.

Katherine Lee Bates, most famous for her poem that became a well-loved song, "America the Beautiful," strove for reforms to improve conditions for women and workers.

For Spacious Skies emphasizes Bates' desire for education and opportunity. Bates felt the power of words at an early age and was able to channel that power in her speaking, writing, and teaching.

In 1893, she stood at the top of 14,115-foot Pikes Peak, awed by the scenery that unfolded below her, inspired to write her famous poem. It was nationally published and loved, but she never took payment for it. It was a gift to her country.

Author Churnin helps readers understand the person behind the poem--a gracious, determined woman who used her education and words to unite a country. The Author's Note, Timeline, and Selected Sources fill in the story. Illustrator Olga Baumert enhances the theme by showing the beauty of "amber waves of grain," Pikes Peak, and Bates herself. 

Image by B Wellensiek from Pixabay 

While much divides us these days in the U.S., I think we can agree that "from sea to shining sea," the U.S. offers much natural beauty. May Bates' spirit of service inspire us all to use our talents to make the U.S. the best it can be.What beautiful places are your favorites? Let me know in the comments.

Many thanks to Nancy Churnin and Darlene Beck-Jacobsen for gifting me a copy of For Spacious Skies through commenting on Darlene's blog

Happy birthday, USA! Enjoy this version of Katherine Lee Bates' poem sung by Ray Charles:

Friday, June 19, 2020

Juneteenth: Meet a Real Civil War Hero, Robert Smalls

Today, Juneteenth, is the perfect day to introduce you to Robert Smalls. You may already know about his heroism in stealing a Confederate ship, saving enslaved families, and delivering them, the ship, and the four cannons on board to the Union! You may know that he went on to serve in the South Carolina state legislature and United State Congress, fighting and advocating for African American rights throughout his life. I knew none of this until I read Janet Halfmann's book for children, The Story of Civil War Hero Robert Smalls, illustrated by Duane Smith and published by Lee and Low in February.

Halfmann first wrote about Smalls in her 2008 picture book biography, Seven Miles to Freedom. She expanded and updated the information for grades 3-7 in The Story of Civil War Hero Robert Smalls. Keeping her young audience in mind, she begins both books with Robert Smalls' childhood as an enslaved boy, who at age six began service in the master's house. She writes with empathy, precision, and suspense so that readers of all ages can understand what being enslaved means and feel the danger involved in Smalls' daring escape.

The book contains a sidebar that details the Planter, the ship that Smalls steered to freedom. It also has a sidebar about slavery and one about a woman's daring escape. Back matter includes references and other reading guidance for more information.

This book is a great read for all ages. I thank the author for the e-advance copy she sent.

In a time when Confederate symbols and statues are coming down, the statue of Robert Smalls at the Reconstruction Era Monument in Smalls' hometown of Beaufort, SC, deserves to stand tall.

"My race needs no special defense, for the past history of them in this country proves them to be the equal of any people. All they need is an equal chance in the battle of life." 
-Robert Smalls, from the 1895 constitutional convention

Sunday, May 24, 2020


During this time of COVID-19, my library is closed, and I am one of several staff who have been reassigned to Parks (more on that another time), which must be why I think about grass more than usual--mowing, trimming, weeding, and admiring grass.

Carl Sandburg wrote his poem "Grass" and recites it here:

Which brings me to Memorial Day, a day to remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country. My family has a story that harks back to WWI and the 1918 Spanish Influenza pandemic. My great-uncle, the co-owner of a general store in our hometown, was very popular and highly regarded there. He was drafted into the Army in WWI and sent overseas. As you might expect, the folks back home worried about him and prayed for his safe return. And return he did! Growing up, I heard the story's ending as "and then he caught the Spanish Flu and died." Years later, a relative said that it was actually scarlet fever. Regardless, the result was the same. My great-uncle, who had fought in WWI half a world away returned safely only to die soon after from a disease in 1920. We remember.

In 1905, George Santayana's famous words, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" were published in The Life of Reason: Reason in Common Sense. While we vow to remember, time and generations pass, and the grass does its work. 

We have work to do, too, to tell the stories so that we can learn from the past and make the world a better place. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Happy National Poetry Month! Celebrating Nests

Birds are hopping, and flying, and singing, and --nesting! Yes, it's spring. The nest in the picture above is from last year, and I wonder if the same birds will come back to it. Time will tell. In the meantime, here's a poem I wrote for David L. Harrison's Word of the Month poetry challenge. (You are welcome to play along. Write a poem containing the word of the month and post it on that page.) 


                                                              Held high
                                                              In the branches,
                                                              A woven wonder
                                                              Of twigs, grass, mud;
                                                              Large enough
                                                              To shelter eggs,
                                                              Shield hatchlings
                                                              Launch chicks.
                                                                              © 2020 Jane Heitman Healy

A cozy rhyming picture book by Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple reinforces the theme of nest as home in You Nest Here With Me. The book shows a variety of birds and their amazing nests, with the title as comforting refrain for human chicks, illustrated by Melissa Sweet.

A brand new picture book about nests, released this March, by Randi Sonenshine, illustrated by Anne Hunter, is getting good reviews. Written like a rhyming "House that Jack Built," the text and pictures of The Nest That Wren Built detail the building of a wren's nest and life cycle.

How are you celebrating spring, nests, and poetry?


Saturday, February 22, 2020

After Dark: Poems about Nocturnal Animals Blog Tour Stop #3 AND A GIVEAWAY!

I'll be in touch about address.

I'm so excited to share the news of David L. Harrison's newest book, After Dark: Poems about Nocturnal Animals, releasing on 2/25! (You can order it now here or from your favorite book seller.) And excited to be the third stop on the After Dark blog tour! Toot! Toot!

David is a well-established, award-winning writer and poet for children and educators, so it's no surprise that After Dark is receiving great reviews from the likes of Kirkus and Publisher's Weekly

Yes, it's a picture book, but this is truly one for all ages, and one that kids can grow with. Young children will appreciate and learn from Stephanie Laberis' vivid illustrations depicting scenes from the poems, each set against the dark of night. A great example is the ominous illustration for "A Night's Work (Deer Mouse)" which emphasizes the mouse's need to beware of predators.

As children wonder more about the world outside, After Dark will answer their questions about what goes on while they are asleep. The 22 poems draw the readers into a scene with each animal, and fact pages in the back give extra information in easy-to-read bullet points.

Something I love about this book is that its poems feature creatures from a variety of environments, so that readers can learn more about animals that live where they do and learn about animals that are alien to them. My granddaughters readily identified the cougar, noting that we call them mountain lions. The armadillo is something they have only seen in pictures.

David gave his poems tantalizing titles, often using word play, to pique readers' interest. For example, "Don't Let Him Needle You" for the porcupine and "Armored Night Knight" for the armadillo. His poems' vocabulary stretches young readers. An example is his use of the word "pilfer" rather than the simpler "rob" in "No Fooling (Raccoon)": "Know how to pilfer, when to climb,/an escape artist, one of a kind." Readers can understand "pilfer" by using context clues from previous lines: "Light-fingered nighttime thief,/dines in style on what you leave" and interpreting the illustration.

I asked David about his sense of word choice, and here's what he said, "I can’t say I have a set rule or system. Word choice is probably a combination of experience, sense of fit, concern about my reader’s vocabulary, goal of keeping my language fresh, and occasionally choosing between the familiar and a stronger alternative that is more or less defined within the text. Sometimes I feel confident that even if my word choice isn’t in my reader’s reading vocabulary it’s probably in his speaking vocabulary, which should help him decode the word in print."  

Each poem takes the form it needs to tell its story. Some poems rhyme and some are free verse. I enjoy David's poetic language and the observations he makes about each animal. For example, from "Mouth of Doom (Flathead Catfish)": By night--/silent submarine,/solitary stalker...." 

David began his studies and adult career in biology. You may not think that science and poetry have much in common, but in fact, both require keen observation and the ability to describe what one observes. David said that the kernel for this book started when he was 6 years old camping with his parents, and it has finally come to fruition. In this, David's 97th book (!), he combines his love of nature and his mastery of poetry into a book that all ages can enjoy and learn from. 

David L. Harrison’s books for children and teachers have received dozens of honors, including Society of Midland Authors award for best children’s nonfiction book, 2016; Missouri Pioneer in Education Award; and Missouri Library Association’s Literacy Award. His work has been widely translated and anthologized more than 185 times. His poems have been set to music and sandblasted into a library sidewalk. He has been featured at hundreds of conferences, workshops, literature festivals, schools, and colleges. David holds two science degrees and two honorary doctorates of letters. He’s Drury University’s poet laureate. David Harrison Elementary School is named for him. 

He also encourages other poets of all ages and sponsors the Word Of the Month poem on his website. I've played there for many years, sometimes with greater success than others, but always with interest in seeing how other writers treat the word. (This month's word is AGE if you want to play along.)

GIVEAWAY INSTRUCTIONS--Yes, you want this book! And wouldn't it be fun to WIN it? Thanks to WordSong for making this giveaway possible. To enter, please leave a comment on this blog post by midnight CST on Friday, February 21, and a way to contact you if you win (email, FB, twitter handle). Available to those living in the US only. And spread the good news about this book in your own networks!

Catch a ride on the After Dark Blog Tour train! Next stop, Poetry for Children! All aboard!

Monday, February 10, 2020

Brave Women You've Never Heard Of: Black History Month

To commemorate Black History Month, I'd like to introduce you to two brave black women you've never heard of--Lilly Ann Granderson and Sarah E. Goode.

In Midnight Teacher: Lilly Ann Granderson and her Secret School, author Janet Halfmann tells Granderson's story in this picture book biography from the time Lilly was an enslaved child working in the master's house. She played school with the master's children when adults were not watching. She knew that she needed to hide her learning, but her desire to learn was unquenchable. Illustrations by London Ladd show Lilly teaching reading and writing to other enslaved children. Soon people of all ages attended her lessons. All of them knew the risks they faced if caught, but they continued. Lilly's students went on to teach others, creating a ripple of education. Halfmann makes clear the difficulties and risks Lilly took to create a good life for her family and help others learn. The difference between being enslaved and free before, during, and after the Civil War is stated directly. The Afterword fills in the historical record, and selected references show readers Halfmann's scholarship and places where they can find more information.

Vivian Kirkfield's picture book biography of Sarah E. Goode, Sweet Dreams, Sarah, shows a determined young black woman in pursuit of a dream. In lyrical language, Kirkfield describes Sarah's childhood as a slave and her dreams for something better: "A husband, A family, A job that she loved." Kirkfield continues to tell how Sarah achieved all three by moving to Chicago after emancipation, marrying Archibald Goode, starting a family, and opening her own furniture store. That might have been enough, but Sarah was skilled with people and with woodworking tools. She found a need--to make room for more beds in small apartments--and set to work. The furniture in her story wouldn't work: "Too boxy! Too bulky! Too big!" But she had an idea that led to Sarah Goode being the first black woman to hold a patent. Kirkfield shows Sarah's failed attempts at creating a cabinet bed (a forerunner of the Murphy bed) and the denial of her first patent application. After those trials, her patent acceptance and sale of her cabinet beds were a sweet dream come true. The illustrations by Chris Ewald show Sarah in action and emotion, helping readers to feel the depth of her dreams and understand the difficulties of her challenges.The back matter fills in more of the story with an Author's Note, an explanation of what a patent is, and a timeline of Sarah's life.

Both books are good for the older picture book reader through adults because of  their empowering facts and emphasis on persistence in pursuing one's dreams. 

And stay tuned! Next week, I get to host David L. Harrison and tell you about his forthcoming book as part of his book launch blog tour!