Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Winter Poem Swap

Welcome all to our last TeachingAuthors post of 2021. I have to make this a quick post because, in addition to preparing to host family dinner on Christmas Eve, I'm having an infected tooth pulled on the "Eve of Christmas Eve." So I'm publishing this post ahead of schedule. 

This year, I participated in my first Winter Poem Swap. I was paired with Linda Mitchell, who sent me a lovely trio of gifts in addition to her poem and a handmade note card.  

Of course, the poem alone is gift enough, but I enjoyed receiving the accompanying gifts too, especially the mug celebrating Linda's home state. I didn't know before receiving it that Virginia and Illinois share the same state bird: the Northern Cardinal. I happen to have a special affinity for cardinals, so the mug is a perfect gift for me. I think I've used it every day since it arrived! I'll put the soap and lip balm to good use, too.

And here is the marvelous poem Linda sent:

I love how the title is incorporated into the poem. And the images are so wonderfully vivid, especially the winds pirouetting and bowing in the second stanza, and later, their tantrum. As an added touch, Linda's note card repeats the image of the mittens from the poem. How marvelous!

If you'd like to see the poems and gift I sent Linda, you can read her post here. Come Friday, don't forget to check out this week's Poetry Friday round up hosted by Buffy Silverman

As the year draws to a close, I want to thank you, our blog readers, for following our blog. I wish you all joy, peace, and love during this holiday season and in the New Year.


Friday, December 17, 2021


Children’s books do important work,” I emphatically remind my students and writers throughout my classes, workshops and meet-ups. “They help young readers make sense of their world.”

But some children’s books - for instance Sean Rubin’s beautiful and important This Very Tree (Henry Holt, 2021), help readers of all ages, especially when their world experiences a traumatizing hurt. Think: the events of September 11, 2001.

The book’s subtitle, though written above the title, says it all: A STORY OF 9/11, RESILIENCE, AND REGROWTH. 

The story is that of a Callery pear tree planted in New York City in the 1970’s.  Every year it ushered in the spring until September 11, 2001, when everything changed. Workmen uncovered one branch of the pear tree amidst the rubble in October.  One limb remarkably offering up leaves! A fighter tree if ever there was one, because, once moved to be nurtured, fed and cared for, nurserymen returned the tree to Vanquillen Park where it thrives today. This Very Tree tells the tree’s triumphant story, and how our nation continues to recover from this tragedy.

Two other children’s picture books published this summer paid tribute to the 20th Anniversary of 9/11: Charlesbridge’s Branches of Hope, written by Ann Maggee and illustrated by Nicole Wong, and Little Brown’s The Survivor Tree, written by Marcie Colleen and illustrated by Aaron Becker.

In This Very Tree, the pear tree tells her story.  Her voice grabbed me from the get-go.

 On a personal note, I began teaching my very first Picture Book Workshop at the Newberry Library, Wednesday, September 26, 2001, 15 days after that unforgettable Tuesday. Sadly, I was one of many who experienced a personal and indescribable loss that day, that of my young nephew, our family’s first-born grandchild – a much-loved husband, father, son, son-in-law, grandson, brother, cousin, friend, colleague, a loss that still tears at my heart. I was wobbly, to say the least. I remain forever grateful to my students that first year for blanketing me with their kindness that Fall.

This past September, the 20th Anniversary of my Newberry Library Picture Book Workshop, how could I not choose This Very Tree as my featured picture book for the semester?

  • In pure Show, Don’t Tell fashion, writers could see the important work children’s books do.
  • They could see me, Living Proof that, in time, healing happens.
  • By sharing other picture books that told the same story, they could see the infinite possibilities available when telling a story. Indeed, each successive week, I presented three picture books that came at the same story three different ways.
  • And what Writer, as well as Human Being, doesn’t need to know about Resilience and Regrowth?

The Callory pear tree, the first tree to blossom in Vanquillen Park, continues to inspire.

         “… everyone who sees my flowers knows that spring will come.

FYI: you can learn more about this Life-affirming pear tree here.

You can also click on this YouTube video.

Each year three communities that endured tragedy in recent years receive seedlings from the Survivor Tree, thanks to the Survivor Tree Seedling Program.

I offer sincere thanks to my fellow TeachingAuthors – and you, our TeachingAuthors readers – for helping me make it through yet another CrazyCrazy Year…with the knowledge, of course, that Spring will come again.

Let’s keep keepin’ on!

Esther Hershenhorn


Thanks to Jone at Jone Rush Macculloch for hosting today’s Poetry Friday.

Friday, December 10, 2021

2 Picture Books That Will Change You. Forever.

Howdy, Campers, and Happy Poetry Friday! (my poem, the PF link, and a link to my upcoming Poetry for Children class are all below)

This round, we, in the towering TeachingAuthors' treehouse, are recommending a book (or two or three) we love. 

the renown TeachingAuthors' Towers

Zeena starts us off by introducing her fellow NCTE presenters and their books; Bobbi follows, recommending three wonderful books on the nuts and bolts of writing and the business of writing while inspiring us with well-chosen quotes; Mary Ann sings the praises of the most wonderful time of the year--book recommendations

And now it's my turn.

Man, oh, man. Just as Charlotte wove "some pig" in her web,

...this sure has been some year.  Err...some years.

I'm recommending two picture books that may not have even had a chance at publication a few years ago. Two books that changed me--and may change you--forever.

1.The first picture book, by Carole Boston WeatherfordUnspeakable: the Tulsa Race Masacre , pulled back the curtain on a history I knew nothing about. (Watch a YouTube reading of it here). 

(My book club paired that picture book with the beautifully presented, thoroughly researched Black Birds in the Sky by Brandy Colbert for ages 14 and up, which got six starred reviews.)

2. The second picture book, by Lee Wind and illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky, Red and Green and Blue and White, has gotten four starred reviews and was featured in the New York Times as one of the best books of 2021.

It's a beautifully told story inspired by a true incident. We all know the phrase Show, don't Tell. Well, this picture book sure shows "how a community came together in response to an act of bigotry."

And there you have my book recommendations!

Here's a poem that has nothing and everything to do with this strange year we've traveled through:

by April Halprin Wayland

POTUS leans BACK under the OAK.

“Man-oh-man, this is the best.”

And it was: his CANOE,

the smell of BACON wrapped KABOBs

and corn on the COB.

No need to think about BANK rates

or snakes out to get him.

None of that.

Just ripples on the river

and their EBB and flow against the shore.

Nothing more.


How this poem came to be:

I was trying to come up with a poem for a live poetry reading. The topic for each poet was: VISIONS OF HOPE FOR THE FUTURE.

That day I read an opinion piece by columnist Robin Abcarian. The first two words in the title of her article were: "President Backbone."

I decided to write an In One Word poem [see how to write an In One Word poem] based on the word backbone.

Total Number of words made out of Backbone = 85. 

Of the 85, these words appealed to me the most--hence this was my playground:

 beacon  beckon  kabob   bacon  canoe   ocean  cone  cake  cane  once  bone  bake  bane  babe bank   beak  bean back  oak  nab ace  boa  can  cob  con  one  ebb  eon  ban  cab  bob1) on  ok  no  be


So...maybe not everything has been horrid.

Maybe some things were even terrific. 
Maybe we just have to lean back against an oak
and not think about bank rates or snakes.
Just ripples on the river. Nothing more.

PS: One terrific thing in my life is teaching. I love teaching...and, much to my amazement, I love teaching via Zoom! So I'll be teaching my three-hour Writing Poetry for Children class (for rock bottom beginning poets) again through UCLA Extension via Zoom on January 15th at 12 noon PST. Come join us--I'd love to meet you!--enrollment is limited (to 30!)

Thank you, Cathy, of Merely Day by Day for hosting!

Poem (c) 2021 by April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved.

Posted with love by April Halprin Wayland and the Procrastinate Fairy.

Thursday, December 2, 2021

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year--Book Recommendations!

The new book recommendations post is my favorite. There's nothing this former librarian enjoys more than sharing the best books of the year. (OK, admittedly, this is limited to the "best books that I read.") I've picked one from each of the age group: picture book, middle grade and young adult. Without intending to pick books with a "theme," it appears that I did anyway. The female protagonists of these books all struggle with self-acceptance.

Be Strong
 by Pat Zietlow Miller (ill. by Jen Hill) the sequel to Be Kind, is my picture book choice. Tanisha is discouraged when her gym class takes on a rock wall. She barely has the strength to tote her backpack, let alone climb a wall. She learns that strength is not just a matter of muscles, but of perseverance, leadership and caring about others. I took heart from the advice Tanisha's family and friends offer--"Mama says...being strong means moving forward. 'Tiny steps are fine,' she says,"As long as they take you in the right direction." Yes! 

 by Lisa Fipps, narrated by 11-year-old Ellie, is a novel-in-verse. Ellie hates her nickname, Splash. Her older sister gave it to her, after a five-year-old Ellie landed a memorable cannonball in the family pool. Ellie is labeled "fat" by her family, and almost everyone else. Her relationship with her mother, who  insists that Ellie have bariatric surgery (!!!) is especially harrowing. The reader encounters the many ways Ellie is bullied, shamed and ignored by her peers. The book is Ellie's journal where she lists her "Fat Girl Rules"--"You don't deserve to be seen or heard, to take up room, to be noticed. You make yourself small." Even worse, Ellie's best friend Viv moves away just as the two enter the Fearsome World of Middle School. Fortunately, Ellie has allies--her dad, a therapist and a new next-door-neighbor. With their help, Ellie learns to accept herself just as she is, and to throw away her "Fat Girl" rules. 

I had just finished reading Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo, when it was named a National Book Award winner. This is my kind of book, historical fiction, in which the author builds her world so well (in this case, San Francisco, 1954) you fall completely into a time and place with the protagonist. 17-year-old Lily Hu is the American-born daughter of Chinese immigrants. She tries her best to be a "good Chinese daughter,"--studious, industrious, modest and respectful-- but she knows she is different. She is fascinated by science fiction and aeronautics, and yearns to fly "space rockets." When she happens upon an ad for male impersonator Tommy Andrews, she doesn't understand her intense curiosity. Then Lily befriends classmate Kath, who not only likes all the same things as Lily, she has seen the mysterious Tommy Andrews perform at The Telegraph Club, a lesbian bar. When Kath challenges Lily to go with her to the club, Lily's life completely upends. 

I loved this book, but it does cram a lot of the 1954 world into the story--racism, McCarthyism, Lily's father's possible deportation (although he is a citizen), the criminalization of homosexuality, the Chinese Nationalist movement...not all of which are part of Lily's narrative. There are a ton of "walk-on" characters that add little. There are short sections sandwiched into Lily's story, flashbacks about Lily's parents and other relatives in which Lily does not appear. For me, they disrupted the mounting tension of Lily's story. However, these are small quibbles. The delicate, yet unflinching language of Lily and Kath's evolving relationship and the pull-no-punches plot is what made this my favorite YA of 2021.

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman