Monday, April 27, 2015

Favorite and Fabulous Animal Stories

Congratulations, Rosi H! You won THE DEATH OF A HAT by Paul B. Janeczko!

Animal stories have always been popular. Ancient peoples told stories of mythic animals depicting universal truths about humanity. Over two thousand years ago, Aesop told the story of the fox that coveted a bunch of juicy grapes, of the frog who wanted to be king, and of the proud town mouse who visited his country mouse cousin.

 Animal stories have always been some of my favorites reads, including Anne Sewell’s Black Beauty (1877), Robert C. O’Brien’s Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (1971), Walter Farley’s The Black Stallion (1941), and the quintessential animal story, E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web (1952).

 And this year, I’ve found more to add to my collection!

Lumpito and the Painter from Spain (Pajama Press, April 2013): Monica Kulling’s poetic narrative retells the story of a special friendship with sparse eloquence. Dean Griffith’s rich, vivid watercolors capture the luscious landscape, the bold personality of the painter, the soulful expression of Lumpito as he dodges Big Dog, and Lump’s sheer delight as he finds his new home. A gorgeous and rewarding tale of love, and a perfect read-aloud for a rainy – or any -- day!

When Emily Carr Met Woo (Pajama Press, August 2014): Monica Kulling is the master of biography. Her series depicting little known inventors, Great Ideas, remains one of my favorites on the topic. However, it is when her biography showcases the iconic relationships between human and animal that her poetic narrative truly shines. This book follows eccentric Canadian artist Emily Coo, who lives in a camper she calls Elephant. She takes her puppies for walks using a baby carriage.
Folks called the painter a strange bird! One day Emily Carr adopts a small lonely monkey, whom she calls Woo. And the fun begins!

Call Me Amy (Paperback, Luminis Books, 2013): Marcia Strykowski’s coming of age story is a wonder. Amy Anderson is the shy protagonist. The quirky Miss Cogshell is dubbed Old Coot by the town’s children. And the mysterious Craig, the most popular boy in class who doesn’t have any real friends. One day, Craig finds a stranded, injured seal pup and asks Amy to help him, and the three come together to save Pup. This book reminds me in many ways of Hoot, the 2003 Newbery Honor by Carl Hiaasen.

Snow Ponies (Paperback, Square Fish Reprint, October 2013): First published in 2001, the book begins “On a cold, gray day, Old Man Winter leads his snow ponies outside. "Are you ready?" he asks. Using her signature quiet, poetic narrative, Cynthia Cotten captures the magic of winter as Old Man  Winter takes the snow ponies across the frigid landscape. As the ponies gallop, faster and faster, everything they touch turns white with snow. This is a poetic masterpiece, and a perfect read aloud.

  It’s Raining Bats & Frogs! (Feiwel & Friends, August 2015): What’s a witch to do when a rainstorm threatens the Halloween Parade? Rebecca Colby’s book doesn’t come out until August, 2015, but I can’t wait! I loved Rebecca’s previous book, There Was a Wee Lassie Who Swallowed a Midgie (Floris Books, May 2014). Her language in this retelling of the familiar tale of the the old woman who swallowed a fly was so much fun! Rebecca used the Scottish landscape to tell the story about “a wee Lassie who swallowed a midgie, so tiny and squidgy!” I have no doubts this one will be just as entertaining!

 “Why did you do all this for me?' he asked. 'I don't deserve it. I've never done anything for you.' 'You have been my friend,' replied Charlotte. 'That in itself is a tremendous thing.” -- Charlotte's Web, E.B. White 

What are your favorite animal stories?

Bobbi Miller

Friday, April 24, 2015

The ABCDs of Research

The last few posts from my fellow TeachingAuthors have been on poetry.  Each of them has written eloquently on the topic.  But trust me when I tell you that I have nothing worthwhile to contribute to the topic of poetry.   So, I’ll share a topic with you that I do know about:  research. 

I enjoy sharing how to do research with students and teachers.  I offer a variety of program options including several different types of sessions on brainstorming, research, and writing.   I love to be invited into a school for a live author visit.  But that isn’t always possible.  In the last couple of years, I’ve done lots of Interactive Video Conferences as part of the Authors on Call group of 

During these video conferences, I’ve come up with ways to teach students from third grade through high school how to approach a research project.  One method I use is to give them an easy way to remember the steps to plan their research using A, B, C, and D:





The earlier students learn good research skills, the better.  Learning some tips and tricks like my ABCD plan will help.  I hope it makes the whole process less daunting.

Carla Killough McClafferty

To find out more about booking an Interactive Video Conference with students or teachers:

Contact Carla Killough McClafferty


Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration (search for mcclafferty or inkthinktank)

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Wednesday Writing Workout: Sing a Song of Six TA's!

It’s our TeachingAuthors Blogiversary 6!!!!!!

Today I'm working out by writing our readers and my fellow TeachingAuthors a heart-felt Thanku².

All of you have kept me writing Sunday to Sunday these past six years.

It bears repeating: thank you!

Esther Hershenhorn

            It’s Mutual!

     Our true-blue readers
     gifting Six TeachingAuthors*
     with treasured smarts and hearts.

     Six TeachingAuthors*
     gifting readers for six years
     with their hearts and smarts.

 *Carmela, JoAnn, April,
  MaryAnn and Jeanne Marie,
  Jill and Laura,
  Bobbi, Carla -
  little ol’ me

P.S. It's also the last day to enter our giveaway for a chance to win an autographed copy of THE DEATH OF A HAT by Paul B. Janeczko . See April's post for details.

Monday, April 20, 2015

I Was a Teenaged Poetry Hater

       I was a teenaged poetry hater.

       There. I said it.  I blame whoever threw together the literature curriculum for the many school systems I attended.

      Poetry was no big deal in elementary school. Maybe once a year our teacher would substitute writing a poem for a book report,  Yes, it had to rhyme.  Yes, it had to have rhythm.  Yes, I was awful at them. I think I recycled the same poem about a pretty kitty in the city every year.  

     When we moved to Mississippi when I was in fifth grade, I discovered we had a subject called "oral expression." (You can't make this stuff up.) Every Friday we had to memorize and recite a poem, the longer the better. That brought the natural ham out in me.  You haven't lived until you've heard 10-year-old me doing "Christopher Robin is Saying His Prayers"...complete with British accent copied from Herman's Hermits records.  I could always count on an "A" in "oral expression." I read a lot of poetry those years, looking for unusual choices (I just remembered another one..."Sea Fever" by John Masefield. Yep....another British accent.) I enjoyed the poetry because I could read whatever I wanted. However, all that reading didn't improve my poetry writing skills.  I was still using my "Pretty Kitty in the City" poem.

   Middle school let up on the poetry writing requirements except for the short and snappy (haiku and limericks). But oh the reading assignments. Someone on the curriculum committee had a thing for Longfellow and narrative poems.  We read "Hiawatha."  "Evangeline." "The Courtship of Miles Standish." I loathed them all. We had to keep voluminous notebooks of commentary on each one. God bless, Mrs. Stokes, my eighth grade English teacher who appreciated my snarky take on "Evangeline." At least I could put "Pretty Kitty" to rest.

    High school was more of the same. "Kubla Khan."  "Rime of the Ancient Mariner." When the school switched gears and allowed students to take specialized literature course such as "Modern Drama" and "Modern American Novels" I immediately signed up for all the courses that didn't involve poetry.  Goodbye, Longfellow. Hello, Faulkner.

     Fast forward many years. I am a high school librarian. I learn that every student is required to put together a poetry notebook, the major grade for the semester.  I, the librarian, am to lead my flock of students to the deep wells of Great Poetry.  I discover that these students are also weary of Longfellow.

   Flipping through the library's poetry selection, I re-discover a book that I read toward the end of my own senior year of high school, Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle compiled by Stephen Dunning and Edward Luedders.  These weren't childish poems, or poems written for teens.  They were just poems that could appeal to a teen. They certainly appealed to poetry hating me. They used plain English, sometimes slang. Sometimes they didn't even rhyme!  The poems were about flying saucers, The Bomb (the book was published in 1967 and is still in print) as well as more timeless thoughts on strawberries, popsicles and water sprinklers.  That collection got heavy circulation during "Poetry Unit" time.

     My favorite poem, however, is not fromWatermelon Pickle. It's by Gwendolyn Brooks. This is the poem I always showed "the dudes"....the boys who thought poetry was for geeks and girls. This one poem usually made them a believer, and sent them in search of more Gwendolyn Brooks.

     "We Real Cool."

     We real cool. We
     Left school.  We

    Lurk late.  We
    Strike straight. We

    Sing sin.  We
    Thin gin.  We

    Jazz June.  We
    Die soon.

     Years of "Poetry Units" introduced me to other kinds of verse, blank verse. Cinquains. diamantes, shape poems.  I have a whole new bag of poetry tricks that I use with my Young Writer's Workshops.  And oh yeah.  I have started writing poetry myself...the non-rhyming kind.

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman


Friday, April 17, 2015

5 ways to use poetry in class RIGHT NOW

Howdy, Campers! Happy Poetry Friday! (the PF link is at the end)

Authors-anthologists-publishers Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell have written an article well-worth reading (it's brief!) for National Poetry Month in the online magazine Bookology which begins:

"We are pressed for time, so we multitask. You might be eating breakfast while you’re reading Bookology, or doing laundry, or both. “Killing two birds with one stone” or “hatching two birds from the same egg”—integrated teaching—is the best way to fit everything in, especially in the K-5 classroom." (read the whole article here)

Janet and Sylvia's Poetry Friday Anthology series does a LOT of heavy lifting including:

1) helping pressed-for-time teachers and librarians teach poetry while meeting the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), and the Texas TEKS for English Language Arts (ELA)/Poetry and Science & Technology,


2) including a “Take 5!” mini-lesson with every poem in their collection for librarians, teachers, and parents with instructions for sharing, picture book pairings, and curriculum connections.

And in their NEW collection Janet and Sylvia have added another bonus: each of the 156 poems in this newest book appears in both English and Spanish--WOWEE!

JoAnn's recent post sang out about this book (which includes JoAnn's terrific Graduation Day poem), and Esther's post continued, including an interview of these two visionaries and Esther's very green Saint Pat's Day poem.

As JoAnn writes:
I’m thrilled to be one of 115 poets (and 3 Teaching Authors!) whose poems are featured in the brand-new Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations

I'm thrilled that they've included two of my poems. This one's for National Thrift Shop Day (who knew?)
(Click to enlarge )

Have a fabulous Poetry Friday...and consider donating to a thrift shop today and then shopping in one, too ~

Remember to enter our Book Giveaway to win an autographed copy of Paul Janeczko’s 50th book, DEATH OF A HAT, illustrated by Chris Raschka.  You can enter between now and April 22 (which just happens to be our SIXTH TeachingAuthors Blogiversary!).

And...please stop by my poetry blog where all Poetry Month long I'm posting PPPs--Previously Published Poems--from anthologies, Cricket Magazine and my novel in poems.

Thank you, dear Robyn Hood Black for hosting PF today!
And thanks, too, to Jama Kim Rattigan for posting the 2015 National Poetry Month Kidlitosphere Events Roundup

posted with love by April Halprin Wayland with help from Monkey and Eli ~

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations Celebration – continued!

Hip! Hip! Hooray!
Today’s the day – I – post to celebrate

As JoAnn noted in her Friday post, the anthology, which offers 156 bilingual (English/Spanish) poems celebrating 156 holidays, is the newest in a series of Poetry Friday anthologies compiled by award-winning poet Janet Wong and children’s poetry expert Dr. Sylvia Vardell, Professor in the School of Library and Information Studies at Texas Woman’s University.

The “transmedia” project offers its intended audience of K-5 readers and intended users of teachers and librarians a bounty of opportunities, including:
  • a book version in paperback
  • collectible trading cards, postcards and posters with poems on  them, distributed or in sets as “Pocket  Poems cards” or a “Book  in a Box
  • an e-book version, website and/or app featuring additional materials such as songs, audio readings, poem movies and video versions.

And Good News!  Readers can find and print their own cards for free at the PomeloBooks and PoetryCelebrations websites – as well as – on Pinterest.   

I am so honored Janet and Sylvia included my March 17 St. Patrick’s Day poem, which appears at the end of this celebratory post, in their original, child-friendly anthology. (Check my November 3, 2014 post as to the writing of this poem.) 
How terrific of these talented anthologizing women to answer the following questions asked on behalf of our TeachingAuthors readers and honestly? – to satisfy my own curiosity as a participating poet.

With each title in The Poetry Friday Anthology series, you continue to mine new opportunities that invite young readers to embrace poetry and language. How did The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations come to be?
JW: Sylvia is FANATIC when it comes to holidays. Several years ago she loved creating our ebook holiday anthology, Gift Tag. I think she’s wanted to do a larger-scale holiday book ever since.
SV: Yes, it’s true. I do love the preparation and celebration that comes with birthdays and other special occasions. But I also know that children find something to celebrate in lots of new moments they are experiencing and I love that energy and freshness. I’m hoping our book will introduce new ways to look at some of those familiar celebrations, as well as present brand new holidays and events that get kids thinking and trying new things.

You invited an august body of poets to select an occasion and create a relevant poem.  What were some of the challenges of the selection process?
JW: The hardest part of the selection process: having to say no to terrific poets and poems. We received triple the poems that we could accept. The 156 poems in both Spanish and English plus resources plus teaching tips makes the Teacher/Librarian Edition 372 pages and 1.8 pounds! We fit in as much as we could.
SV: An additional challenge was selecting the celebrations themselves. There are so many more holidays that we would’ve loved to feature. Janet and I went back and forth over which days to include. She wanted to omit Dewey Decimal Day—but there was no way that I’d let her do that!

Which celebrations were most poet-popular/poet-unpopular?
JW: We tried to limit the number of poems that we would receive for any particular holiday by steering poets toward unselected (or less-selected) holidays, but many poets sent us poems for a half dozen or more holidays, including ones that we already had “covered”—so we had multiple poems to choose from for just about every celebration. Pizza Day, Pasta Day, Sandwich Day, and Cookie Day were among the favorites. We poets apparently love our carbs!

Can you share with our readers your vision for the “trading card” aspect of the experience?
JW: Most kids love “stuff” more than they love books. A librarian once told me that the biggest sellers at her book fair were the little necklaces (that happened to come with a book). Making Pocket Poems® cards is a way to make poetry more accessible and inviting to everyone. People can find and print their own cards for free at our websites, and

What has been most gratifying for you in creating these singular collections?
JW: For me, the most gratifying thing is that we've been able to inspire lots of educators (and whole school districts) to integrate poetry PLUS another content area—poetry plus science, for instance.
SV: Personally, it’s been so fun to get to know so many poets who write for young people and sift through hundreds of poems—just a pleasure to read and read and read poetry. And professionally, I’ve been so gratified at the responses of teachers and librarians who learn about our anthologies, try the “Take 5” activities and say with surprise, “I can DO this!” For people who have never really been comfortable with poetry, that is the best compliment we could get!

Happy St. Patrick's Day, belatedly!
And Happy Poetry Month!

Esther Hershenhorn

Don’t forget to enter our Book Giveaway to win an autographed copy of Paul Janeczko’s 50th book, DEATH OF A HAT, illustrated by Chris Raschka.  You can enter between now and April 22 (which just happens to be our SIXTH TeachingAuthors Blogiversary!).

Friday, April 10, 2015

The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations! Hooray!

Yippee! I’m thrilled to be one of 115 poets (and 3 Teaching Authors!) whose poems are featured in the brand-new Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations! Each of the 156 poems appears in both English and Spanish.

Here’s mine! (Click to enlarge if your eyesight is like mine!)

The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations is the newest in a series of Poetry Friday anthologies compiled by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong. Watch this space for more details and poems by Teaching Authors April Halprin Wayland and Esther Hershenhorn.

Look for more Poetry Celebrations fun at Then you can order your own copy of The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations from Pomelo Books.

Don’t forget to enter our Book Giveaway for an autographed copy of Paul B. Janeczko’s The Death of the Hat: A Brief History of Poetry in 50 Objects, illustrated by Chris Raschka. You can also read about Paul’s approach to writing poetry with young writers.

For National Poetry Month, I’m posting a haiku each day on Facebook and Twitter (@JoAnnEMacken). As soon as I catch my breath, I’ll gather them all up on my blog.

Our friend Laura Purdie Salas is hosting the Poetry Friday Roundup today at Writing the World for Kids. And Jama Kim Rattigan has a 2015 National Poetry Month Kidlitosphere Events Roundup. Hooray! Celebrate! Enjoy!

JoAnn Early Macken

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

2 Paul Janeczko Freebies: a Book Give-Away & a Poetry Writing Exercise

Howdy, Campers!

Lucky you--you arrived just in time for another episode in TeachingAuthor's 5-Star series,

to binge-read all of our WWWs, click on the menu button above, "Writing Workouts"

Today's WWW is brought to you by Paul B. Janeczko (who visited our blog last week), author of--gasp!--50 books, including his latest, The Death of the Hat--which you could WIN--yes, you--your very own autographed copy--simply enter our book-giveaway which runs until April 22, 2015 (details at the end of last week's post)!

Okie dokie--welcome back, PBJ! Would you elaborate on the writing exercise you talked briefly about last Friday?

What I said last Friday was that it was more an approach than an exercise. I like to use poetry models when I work with young readers. I try to show them poems by published poets, but also poems by their peers. When you’re in the 4th grade, Emily Dickinson or Robert Frost may not impress you, but reading a poem by another 4th grader may be just the motivation that you need. And before I turn the kids loose to write, we read the poem, and I give them the chance to talk about what they notice in it. Then we do something a group rough draft so they can begin to see the writing process in action. Then it’s time for them to write.

One of the poems I use is based an an English street poem called “I’d Rather Be.” Here are a few lines:

I’d rather be hands than feet.
I’d rather be honest than cheat.
I’d rather be a bed that a seat.
I’d rather be a blanket than a sheet.
  1. I give the kids a copy of this poem, which runs about 20 lines.
  2. I break it into 3 parts and have a different student read each part. (Part of every workshop is reading aloud!)
  3. I then ask the students if they detected any pattern in the poem. Rhyming poems generally follow a pattern.
  4. The kids can identify 3 ingredients of the pattern: end rhyme, repetition of “I’d rather be” at the start of each line, a comparison or opposite in each line.
  5. Taken together, these 3 ingredients give the 4 part of that pattern: rhythm.
  6. Before I turn the kids loose to write 3-4 lines of their own “I’d Rather Be,” we try to create an example of 4 lines out loud. The kids are usually quick to get the hang of it. 
  7. Just to make sure, we try another 4 lines with a different end sound.
  8. Then they are ready to read.
  9. After 10-15 minutes of writing, it’s time to read examples aloud. Usually, there are many takers.
This is one poem that they will have the chance to continue and complete with their teacher.

The kids write stuff like this:

 I’d rather be wood than concrete
 I’d rather be huge that petite

 I’d rather be gloves than a hat
 I’d rather be a ball than a bat

 I’d rather be hands than toes
 I’d rather be a finger than a nose

 I’d rather be love than hate
 I’d rather be alone than a mate

Sounds like an exercise that I can take directly to the classroom--and one that packs a lot of punch, Paul.  Thanks again for dropping by!  (AND surely that English street song is the origin of Paul Simon's El Condor Pasa (If I Could)...)

Readers, here's a preview from Candlewick about Paul's latest collaboration with illustrator Chris Rashchka (for a chance to win an autographed copy, see our latest Give-Away which ends 4/22/15...enter at the end of last week's post):

A celebrated duo reunites for a look at poems through history inspired by objects—earthly and celestial—reflecting the time in which each poet lived.

A book-eating moth in the early Middle Ages. A peach blossom during the Renaissance. A haunted palace in the Victorian era. A lament for the hat in contemporary times...In The Death of the Hat: A Brief History of Poetry in 50 Objects, award-winning anthologist Paul B. Janeczko presents his fiftieth book, offering young readers a quick tour of poets through the ages. Breathing bright life into each selection is Chris Raschka’s witty, imaginative art.

Thank you for reading this today.

posted with affection by April Halprin Wayland and Eli (who--at this very minute is ripping apart his beloved stuffed animal, Rabbit)
You'll find my poems, posted each day of Poetry Month 2015, here.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Three Favorite Sparklie Poems

I so enjoyed April Halprin Wayland's interview with Paul B. Janeczko! Thank you, April!

And congratulations to Jone M, who won IN DEFENSE OF READ-ALOUD!

Continuing our celebration of poetry, here's another of my favorite poets.

 Cynthia Cotten   is a gentle writer. Her poetry sparkles like the water on a creek chanced upon during an early morning walk. Very gentle and soothing, and unexpected. Cynthia’s poetry, like all good poetry, is an emotional exchange. The language of the poem, as Mary Oliver taught us, is the language of the particulars. And Cynthia’s language incorporates images that are at once tender and sensuous. Her rhythm twinkles, as in her Night Light, and sometimes the rhythm pops like a good smirk, as in her Ack!

But sometimes, just like that early morning creek, Cynthia's poems sends shivers up our spine, as in her poem, Missing.

Night Light

 Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
 I know what you really are:
a blinking bug in flickering flight,
 lighting up my yard tonight,
in the treetops, near the ground,
 winking, flashing all around.
 I watch you and I'm mystified--
 how did you get that bulb inside?

(from Switching on the Moon: A Very First Book of Bedtime Poems, collected by Jane Yolen and Andrew Fusek Peters. Illustrated by G.Brian Karras. Candlewick Press, 2010)


 I always know just what to say.
 The perfect words are there--
words that render others speechless,
uttered with such flair.
My comments are insightful,
my wit is unsurpassed.
Oh, yes, I know just what to say--
too bad the moment's passed.

(from The Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School - compiled by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong. Pomelo Books, 2013)


 My brother is a soldier
 in a hot, dry
sandy place.
He's missing--
missing things like
baseball, barbecues,
fishing, French fries,
chocolate sodas,
flame-red maple trees,
 blue jays,
and snow.

I'm missing, too--
his read-out-loud voice,
his super-special
banana pancakes,
his scuffed-up shoes
by the back door,
his big-bear
good night

There are people
with guns
in that land of sand
who want to shoot
my brother.

I hope
 they miss him,

 (from America at War - Poems selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins. Illustrated by Stephen Alcorn. Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2008)
“Hello, sun in my face. Hello you who made the morning and spread it over the fields...Watch, now, how I start the day in happiness, in kindness.” -- Mary Oliver 

And don't forget our giveaway!   Enter here to win an autographed copy of Paul's newest anthology, his 50th book, Death of a Hat, illustrated by Chris Raschka.  You can enter between now and 4/22/15 (which just happens to be TeachingAuthors' 5th Blogiversary!)

Bobbi Miller

Friday, April 3, 2015

7 Things I Betcha Don't Know about Paul B. Janeczko

Howdy, Campers!  Be sure to enter our Paul Janeczko BRAND NEW Poetry Book Give-Away (details below).

Happy Poetry Friday (today's host link is below)...and happy
In honor of USA's annual poetry jubilee, I've invited someone to climb into the TeachingAuthors' treehouse who looks a lot like my co-op roommates in the 1970's.

Who? Why Paul B. Janeczko, that's who--magnificent poet, poet herder, anthologist, author, speaker, teacher, compassionate human and all-round cool guy. (Does this sound a little too fan-girl-ish? Full disclosure: my poems appear in five of Paul's anthologies.) Here's a previous TeachingAuthors post about his beautiful, multi-star-reviewed collection illustrated by Melissa Sweet, FIREFLY JULY--a Year of Very Short Poems.  (And here are all the TA posts which include the tag "Janeczko".) 

Years ago, I was invited to shadow Paul when he visited schools in Southern California.  Paul's a masterful and charismatic teacher, and he spreads poetry like Johnny Appleseed spread his you-know-whats. Paul's collections of poetry and his anthologies make poetry enjoyable and do-able. 

Paul B. Janeczko and April Halprin Wayland 
ha ha ha

Howdy, Paul! How did you become interested in writing?
I got interested in writing when I was a 4th or 5th grader. Not by writing poems or stories, but by writing postcards and sending away for free stuff. I’d see these little ads in my mother’s Better Homes and Gardens: “Send a postcard for a free sample of tarnish remover.” I had to have it! I had nothing that was tarnished or would ever be tarnished, but I had to have it.  It was the first time that I really wrote for an audience. And I knew I had an audience: I’d send off a postcard and get a free packet of zucchini seeds.

From postcards to post did you officially become a TeachingAuthor? That is, tell us how you went from being an author to being a speaker/teacher in schools, etc, if this was your trajectory.
Actually, for me in was more of a coming back to where I started. I started out as a high school English teacher. Did that for 22 years. During that time, I published 8-10 books, but I decided that I’d like to have more time to write. So, when my daughter, Emma, was born in 1990, I became a mostly-stay-at-home parent. Emma was with me a couple of days week and in child care the other days, and that’s when I did my writing and started doing author visits. So, in a lot of ways, it was a very easy transition for me.

I've seen the map, Paul--you're been to a gazillion schools.  What have you noticed as you visit schools is a common problem students have these days? 
One of the main problems that I see is not so much a “student problem” as a “system problem,” and that is that most schools to not give writing the time it needs to have a chance to be good. The time pressure on teachers is enormous, notably when it comes to “teaching for the test.” So, teachers are, first of all, losing time to the actually testing, but they are also losing time prepping their kids for things that they do not necessarily believe in.

Can you hear our readers murmuring in agreement? But--how can you address this?
Because it is a systemic problem, there’s little I can do about as a visiting writer. However, I make it clear to the teachers and the students that our goal in the workshop is not to create a finished poem. That will take time. What I do, however, is usually get the kids going on a few different poems and get the teacher to agree that he/she will spend class time working on those drafts.

You say you get the kids writing poems.  Would you share one of your favorite writing exercises with our readers?
More an approach than an exercise: I like to use poetry models when I work with young readers. I try to show them poems by published poets, but also poems by their peers. When you’re in the 4th grade, Emily Dickinson or Robert Frost may not impress you, but reading a poem by another 4th grader may be just the motivation that you need. And before I turn the kids loose to write, we read the poem, and I give them the chance to talk about what they notice in it. Then we do something a group rough draft so they can begin to see the writing process in action. Then it’s time for them to write. (Readers, Paul has agreed to elaborate on this when he comes back here on Wednesday, 4/8/15 and gives us step-by-step instructions.)

You're so productive, Paul! What else is on the horizon for you?
I am finishing an anthology of how-to poems, which will be published in the spring of 2016, with the illustrator to be determined. And I have 3 non-fiction books lined up for the next three years. Little Lies: Deception in War will be a fall 2016 book. The two after that will be Phantom Army: The Ghost Soldiers of World War II and Heist: Art Thieves and the Detectives Who Tracked them Down. And I’m mulling a book of my own poems. Nothing definite on that project.

WOWEE Kazowee, Paul!  

Since it's Poetry Friday in the Kidlitosphere, would you share with our readers?

This is poem that I wrote for a book of poems and illustrations that marked the 200th anniversary of the White House.

Mary Todd Lincoln Speaks of Her Son’s Death, 1862
by Paul B. Janeczko

When Willie died of the fever
Abraham spoke the words
that I could not:
“My boy is gone.
He is actually gone.”

The word was a thunder clap
deafening me to my wails
as I folded over his body
already growing cold.

The word was a curtain
coming down on 11 years,
hiding toy soldiers,
circus animals,
and his beloved train.

The word was poison
but poison that would not kill
only gag me with its bitterness
as I choked on a prayer for my death.

Abraham spoke the words
that I could not:
“My boy is gone.
He is actually gone.”
And I am left 
with grief 
when spoken
shatters like my heart.

poem © Paul B. Janeczko 2015 ~ all rights reserved

Incredibly haunting, Paul. Thank you so much for climbing up to our treehouse today!
And readers: remember, we're in for TWO treats:
(1) Enter via the Rafflecopter widget below to win an autographed copy of Paul's newest anthology, his (gasp!) 50th book, Death of a Hat, illustrated by Chris Raschka.  You can enter between now and 4/22/15 (which just happens to be TeachingAuthors' 6th Blogiversary...woo-woo!)

a Rafflecopter giveaway (2) Paul is coming back this Wednesday to this very blog to explain how he teaches on his poetry writing exercise.  Thank you, Paul!

(P.S: Every April I post original poems. This year's theme is PPP--Previously Published Poems and you can find them here.) 

Thank you, Amy of the Poem Farm for Hosting Poetry Friday today!

posted poetically by April Halprin Wayland and Monkey--who offered lots of ideas today...